The United States Coast Guard detained 13 people last week in the waters off Palm Beach County as they allegedly tried to enter the U.S. illegally.
Five of those men face federal charges for either trying to return to the U.S. after previously being deported — one for a sex-related felony — or aiding others in their illegal efforts to enter the country.
Court documents filed Monday indicate authorities detained two men from the Bahamas, two men from the Dominican Republic, two men from Jamaica, one man from Ireland, a man and a woman from Sri Lanka and four people from Haiti, including a boy and his mother.
One of the men, Donovan Cleveland Brown, told authorities he paid $2,500 to board the boat in Freeport, Bahamas, with Eric Wilford Higgs, a Bahamian citizen.
Another migrant, who is not named in federal documents, told authorities a man who owns a barbershop in Freeport offered to help him get to the U.S. That’s how he ended up on the boat.
Brown said five people on board each paid $5,000 to be there. Brown said he was ordered to hold another five in a La Quinta Inn and Suites hotel in Plantation until each of their families paid a $7,000 fee. Brown said he and Higgs would get that money.
Court documents indicate that Coast Guard authorities spotted the 16-foot boat Brown was steering toward Florida at about 1 a.m. April 19. Records do not state how far off the coast the boat was, but they noted that it was in international waters when U.S. authorities first saw it heading west without lights on.
One of the migrants told authorities they stopped to refuel the boat and that was when the Coast Guard boat’s police lights flipped on. Brown threw a duffel bag overboard. Someone hit the throttle, seemingly trying to flee. One man fell and hurt himself because of the sudden movement, records state. He was later hospitalized. Someone eventually stopped the boat. It began to take on water and eventually sank.
Coast Guard authorities noted the boat didn’t have life vests or any other safety features. They brought the 13 people to the U.S. Border Patrol office on Riviera Beach just west of Singer Island.
When fingerprinting the migrants, authorities learned four had previously been removed from the United States.
— Higgs was deported in August 2014 to the Bahamas.
— Oneil Alphonso Bailey, who initially told authorities he was named Vincent Uriah Jackson, was sent back to Jamaica in March 2015, December 2010, December 2006 and April 1997.
— Silvestre German-Andujar was deported to the Dominican Republic in March 2016 after being found guilty in February 2016 in a Delaware court to possessing an illegal substance. He’d previously been deported for an unlawful sexual-contact conviction in July 2002, also out of Delaware.
— Jose Luis Solano was deported in September 2017 to the Dominican Republic, as well.
It was not immediately clear whether any of the eight other migrants face federal charges.
Also that day, 14 other migrants were arrested after trying to come ashore on Singer Island, according to Homeland Security. Records do not indicate whether those migrants were connected to the 13 found earlier that day.
Staff researcher Melanie Mena contributed to this story.