Opening a window on a shadowy cottage industry that has been tolerated, however hesitantly, by local immigrant communities, federal prosecutors have begun cracking down on big-dollar smuggling operations that for years have hauled Cubans, Haitians and others into South Florida by boat.
Federal authorities, alarmed by a series of migrant deaths at sea and signs of increasing smuggling operations from Cuba over the past three years, have begun systematically cultivating informants to penetrate and shut down loosely organized rings that operate between South Florida and the Caribbean. They're also taking more suspects before grand juries and seeking tougher penalties.
The new emphasis by the U.S. attorney's office in Miami, with backing from agencies such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Coast Guard, comes after years in which immigrant smuggling across the Florida Straits received at best sporadic attention, and then typically only in cases involving deaths.
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