May 6, 2002 A group of nine Cuban immigrants appeared in federal court Monday on charges that they entered the Virgin Islands carrying false Spanish passports.
The four women and five men were brought to court in shackles to be advised of their rights. If convicted of carrying false passports, they could face up to 10 years in prison, Assistant U.S. Attorney Hugh P. Mabe said.
Even if they are convicted, they would be eligible to gain legal residency in the United States after they serve their sentences, said Ivan Ortiz, a spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Undocumented Cuban immigrants are sent back to Cuba if they are intercepted at sea, but they may remain in the United States if they make it to land, he said.
The nine Cubans arrived Sunday on St. Thomas aboard a ferry from Tortola, according to court papers. INS inspectors found that their Spanish passports did not have security markings when tested under an ultraviolet light, INS Inspector Francisco Teran said.
The photos in the passports also appeared to have been changed, he stated in a court affidavit.
When questioned, all of the immigrants said they were from Cuba and requested political asylum, Teran said. It was unclear how they arrived in the British Virgin Islands.
The nine people make up the second group of undocumented Cuban immigrants to arrive in the U.S. Virgin Islands in the past month. Until recently it was unusual to see Cuban immigrants in the territory, although undocumented immigrants from many other nations have made the Virgin Islands a common destination, Ortiz said.
The defendants were identified in court papers as Miriam Lavado, Jorge Busot, Teresa Cuni, Yoandra Velazquez, Magalis Rios, Joel Perez, Fernando Lavado, Rodobaldo Rodriguez and Bernardo Bermudez.
Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Resnick, who presided over the hearing by telephone, ordered them to be detained pending a court hearing Wednesday.