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    Illegal Cuban migrants slip from Turks into Miami

    Posted on Saturday, 03.23.13

    Illegal Cuban migrants slip from Turks into Miami

    By Juan O. Tamayo

    Sixteen illegal Cuban migrants have slipped out of the Turks and Caicos

    Islands as mysteriously as they arrived, and at least a dozen have been

    delivered to Miami by what authorities suspect is a people-smuggling ring.

    The Miami arrivals include the mother and other relatives of Oakland

    Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who told ESPN last week that he

    was ecstatic after having just seen her for the first time since he

    defected in 2011.

    Clara Gardiner, in charge of the Turks and Caicos' Ministry of

    Immigration and Border Control, said Thursday that authorities are

    investigating the Cubans' escape but that she did not know when the

    inquiry would be completed.

    The Cubans' disappearance points to the existence of a ring suspected of

    smuggling Cubans and Haitians westward through the Bahamas and to

    Florida, according to officials in the Turks and Caicos, a British-run

    territory about 250 miles northeast of Cuba.

    The case started when a Turks and Caicos coastal radar detected a speed

    boat coming out of Cuba in October, according to two detailed reports on

    the Cubans by the territory's Sun newspaper. Authorities followed it to

    a waterfront mansion in the Discovery Bay area of Providenciales, the

    third largest island in the territory.

    Police detained a total of 25 illegal Cuban migrants in the rented

    mansion and other parts of the island chain, the Sun reported, including

    Cespedes' mother, Estela Milanes Salazar, three children, a

    seven-month-old baby and her 17-year-old mother.

    Some of the Cubans had fake Turks and Caicos stamps on their passports.

    One told authorities that she had arrived more than three months

    earlier, according to the newspaper. Most appeared to have arrived by

    speed boat.

    The four children and their two mothers stayed with a Cuban doctor

    legally in the Turks and Caicos, and the rest were taken to the Five

    Cays Detention Centre, where Milanes and nine others asked for political

    asylum. It's not clear what happened to the others.

    A judge ordered the 10 Cubans freed in January, after their attorney

    complained that conditions at the detention center were terrible and

    that one of the women had suffered a miscarriage for lack of medical

    attention. They had to post a $20,000 guarantee and report to police

    once a week.

    Prosecutors opposed the request, arguing that the Cubans had requested

    asylum only after they were found by police, that not all asylum

    applicants were legitimate and that the Cubans would be free to slip out

    of the Turks and Caicos illegally.

    Authorities believe that smugglers spirited the 16 Cubans out of the

    Turks and Caicos aboard speed boats. "Based on what we've seen so far,

    this is an extremely well-organized operation," the Sun quoted one law

    enforcement source as saying.

    The ESPN report on March 12 noted that Cespedes had just returned to

    Oakland As' spring training camp in Phoenix after seeing his mother and

    11 other family members in Miami for the first time since he defected in


    ESPN reported that Cespedes, speaking through an interpreter, Oakland

    coach Ariel Prieto, said his 12 family members had left Cuba illegally

    more than one year ago for the United States but was "vague" on details.

    He mentioned a stop in the Dominican Republic — southeast of the British

    islands — and claimed they had been "released" from the Turks and

    Caicos, according to the ESPN report.

    Cespedes said his mother, now 44, was a pitcher on the Cuban Olympic

    softball team and could throw an 80 mph fastball.

    Four Cuban women detained in the Bahamas as illegal migrants said,

    meanwhile, that they have declared a hunger strike to block plans to

    send them back to the communist-run island, according to the blog Diario

    de Cuba.

    The women are among the 33 Cubans who arrived illegally in the Bahamas

    in different groups in recent months and are being held in the Nassau

    Detention Center. Bahamas authorities usually repatriate almost all

    Cuban migrants detained there.

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