The weathered vessel thumped the side of USCGC SPENCER for hours as the offload of the migrants continued. Its peeling white hull was visible through the small windows of the cafeteria where I was busy cleaning up a hasty crew lunch. It couldn’t have been more than twenty feet long.
Eager for information, I asked a passerby how many we had caught this time attempting the perilous journey to Florida. “About a hundred.” He said. Sighing, I began my usual preparation for migrants: cooking up a large kettle of rice and beans.
A lot of information you hear coming from the border is merely half the story. While I don’t know much about the dangerous trek from South America through the border of California, I can attest to the convoluted crossing by sea. While serving, I assisted in routine drug and migrant operations involving over $200 million of illegal drugs and around a thousand migrants. There were around 3,000 migrants captured at sea in FY 2018.
The journey for those travelling by sea is a bit different than the infamous caravan. Typically, from interviews of those who we detained, a family sells all their belongings and meets a smuggler who promises them a ride to the States. The smuggler has no intention of making it all the way but takes the offered money regardless. Using knowledge of past interactions with the Coast Guard, the smugglers make the trip last anywhere between a week and two weeks before getting caught.
Often the smugglers would make these trips during holidays. Christmas and New Years are the busiest times in the Caribbean not because of an anticipated relaxation of guard, but as a cover for the smuggler’s knowledge of American patrols.
By this point, those on the voyage are half dead, out of food and water, and in dire need of help. They don’t question the sudden rescuing by the authorities. We take them on, give them a basic medical screening, food, water, and a place to sleep, and we deport them back to their home countries.
One of the headlines the media has been blasting has been the idea that the parents are separated from their children, however, many times it is done for their own safety. There is this sort of privileged mindset we hold that a parent always knows what’s right and does the best thing possible for their kids. Sadly, this is not always the case.
The first thing we do after we pick up a group of migrants is separate the adults and children. The adults received basic clothes, blankets, and rice and beans while they wait to be seen by the doctor. The children got a basic health evaluation, water, fruit, and their own food. Many times, we would have to separate the groups further based on nation of origin, as there were generally tribal conflicts.
The parents were rice and beans because, after a week of starvation, it’s one of the things we know the adult stomach can handle without expulsion. The children got food higher in nutrients to help them recover from their torrid state.
From experience, the crew knew that if left together, the adults would steal whatever food, water, and clothing the children had. There was also the very real risk of the parents throwing their own children overboard. We separated the groups for their own safety.
After a simple meal, we would shower the groups separately. The ships doctor would then begin evaluating adults while the children got to play and relax. We would not allow much interaction between the ship’s cooks and migrants, as, again from experience, if there was an incident it most likely would involve the targeting of a cook.
We would keep them on this cycle until we were able to repatriate them to their home countries. This could take up to a week as we sorted out who was from where and negotiated with command the procedure to follow. The captured boat would be towed unless it was unseaworthy and taking on water, a case that happens all too often, and, when appropriate, we would burn the vessel until it sunk.
The migrants return with only $20 and a bus ticket to their home city, which is policy to provide for those returned. The smugglers are returned to the riches they got for the trip and start the whole process all over again.
The picture of the border is not that clear cut as the media makes it out to be. It’s ugly to think about, but many times children are brought with ulterior purposes. It’s crazy to think about, but government policy is not often without cause.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.