Mona Passage map

The Mona Passage is another dangerous route for undocumented immigrants.

The immigration reform debate is once again national front page news. It would seem at present U.S. is on the verge of really tackling the issue and reaching political reform consensus. Yet the nation may just kick the immigration can down the road once again. Which may be the best outcome of the current debate, maybe the only possible outcome. For the nation has been at this same juncture a few times before in its history.

Anti-immigrant sectors in the U.S. currently demand that a path to legal status not be implemented, or even considered, until the borders are “secure”. Not the border on the north, between U.S and Canada, which does not seem to alarm us too much. The border which must be plugged or sealed or secured, is of course, the Mexican-American border. It runs almost 2000 miles, across four American states and six Mexican districts. I blog about survivors of crossing the southern border at bordercrossingstories.blogspot.com/However, this blog is about the appalling conditions that awaits those daring to cross another border, one into Puerto Rico.

Anti-immigrant sectors will likely dismiss any sympathy over the horrendous trip immigrants endure. Sadly, a fraction of the U.S. may be pleased to learn that the conditions on this border are beyond horrifying, since the immigration act is considered “illegal”. Therefore, a desperate mother who risks her life in a journey that may take years, is considered just as illegal or immoral as a drug cartel assassin! I wonder if the anti-immigrant crowd also justifies the cruel treatment their ancestors probably faced once, for after all ours is a nation of immigrants.

There is another immigration route across the Mona Passage between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. A deadly trafficking operation conducted by organized criminal enterprises uses Puerto Rico as a stepping stone into mainland U.S. The recent pattern finds Cubans and Haitians migrating into the Dominican Republic, crossing the passage into Puerto Rico, and for the most part, eventually heading to the U.S.

About this deadly canal: the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea meet at the Mona Passage, which is a main route to the Panama Canal. The channel is located just south of the Puerto Rico Trench, the deepest point in the Atlantic Ocean. The converging currents are extremely dangerous, the strong Trade Winds are treacherous, waves average over 12 feet high all year around, and the sea is infested by sharks.

Small “yolas” vessels typically navigate the passage without instruments or lights, to avoid detection. These inadequate boats are overloaded with migrants. The frightening open sea and terrifying waves make many become hysterical. For fear of attracting sharks, menstruating women have been thrown overboard. Many passengers die from starvation or dehydration, many fall into the water, and many are reportedly thrown overboard by traffickers. Some may be forced to jump off boats in danger of capsizing. Survivors have declared having to resort to cannibalism, so often dead bodies are not discarded but kept on-board. Clearly, the number of fatalities must be disturbing. These risks are well known by participants and are not enough to prevent people from attempting the voyage. I ask myself, how hopeless must my future be in order for me to voluntarily seek and pay for a trip like this?

Traffickers on the Dominican Republic charge up to $6,000 to smuggle clients across the Mona Passage into Puerto Rico. Once migrants are in the Caribbean U.S. territory, they could travel to any U.S. destination freely. (It should be noted that Puerto Rico is a territory of the U.S., and the government of Puerto Rico has no authority over state matters such as immigration. Diplomatic relations with the Dominican Republic government are conducted by the U.S. government. Puerto Rican waters are patrolled by U.S. agencies as the Coast Guard and  Border Patrol).

How large is this immigration? The number of Dominican undocumented immigrants residing in Puerto Rico is not known, but in three decades, Dominican nationals have grown to be its largest immigrant group, about 2% of the island population according to the last census. The 2010 Census also estimated the nationwide Dominican American population at close to million and a half. The largest number of migrant Dominicans residing in the U.S today are in New York City and in San Juan, Puerto Rico. 

How large is the number of Mona Passage victims? It is not possible to tell with precision, but in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, news reports about mass tragedies are common. While navigating  “yolas”  fitting 20-30 people are typical, often larger vessels are utilized. About 500 people died in a single attempt a few years ago, leaving the coast of Nagua, Dominican Republic.

This blog is condensed from the author’s post at bordercrossingstories.blogspot.com/