A Brazilian couple was charged in Miami with attempting to smuggle undocumented immigrants aboard boats from the Bahamas.

The Miami Herald is reporting that Fabio Rodrigues and Juliana Rosa Tome Froes appeared before Magistrate Judge Chris McAliley on October 15, where they pleaded not guilty to the charges. This came less than a month after they were arrested in South Florida in a federal case that has led to exposing the growing issue of migrant smuggling involving Brazilians.

According to court records, federal investigators from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) insist Rodrigues and Froes are part of a smuggling network bringing undocumented Brazilians to South Florida using a complex system. The ICE allegations claim that immigrants are flown from Brazil to France, followed by England and then the Bahamas where migrants would then board boats heading to South Florida.

ICE believes these smugglings go as far back as at least 2009.

Court records indicate that the Brazilian smuggling networking was discovered because of a routine stop of a suspicious boat near Pompano Beach two years ago. The couple and their attorneys could not be reached for comment.

In July 2010, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWC) vessel encountered the boat carrying four people. Wellington Dos Santos Silva, who presented a Brazilian identification card, as well as the others on board, were questioned by U.S. Border Patrol agents. Dos Santos confessed he attempted to enter the United States illegally from the Bahamas. Dos Santos then told ICE investigators that he paid $16,050 to a Brazilian travel agency, known as Costamares Travel, to be smuggled to the United States. The announcement led investigators to explore, what the ICE affidavit filed in Miami federal court calls, the possibility of an “alien smuggling organization.”

The affidavit also explains that Dos Santos stated he was instructed to travel from Brazil to Paris, then London and finally the Bahamas where he stayed for one month before taking a boat ride to U.S. shores. Dos Santos reportedly told an ICE informant that his contact at Costamares Travel was Froes, a woman supposedly involved in smuggling other Brazilians to the United States.

Other Brazilians, like Dos Santos, revealed that they too paid the same agency similar fees to be smuggled to South Florida.

“Juliana gave specific instructions to Dos Santos to aid in his smuggling, such as directing him to dress and act like a tourist from Brazil, to discard his Brazilian passport that had been issued from a U.S.-based Brazilian consulate and obtain one from Brazil, and she explained that his itinerary through Europe would support his tourist cover story,” said the ICE affidavit. “Dos Santos stated that Juliana arranged his air travel from Brazil to Paris, then London and the Bahamas. At each stage of the trip, Dos Santos would speak to Juliana about his status and receive instructions.”

Unlike other smuggling networks with migrants heading to South Florida, such as Cubans and Haitians, some - like those involving Brazilians -  do not often get as much public attention. However, Coast Guard vessels have noted immigrants of other nationalities attempting to head to South Florida using boats in recent years, such as Dominicans, Ecuadorians, and Mexicans.

“While the primary [migrant smuggling] threat comes from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the People’s Republic of China, and Cuba, the Coast Guard has interdicted migrants of various nationalities throughout the world,” said a statement published on the Coast Guard’s Miami district website.

According to the Coast Guard, the largest numbers of interdicted undocumented immigrants were Cubans (1,275), Haitians (977) and Dominicans (456). In addition about 79 Mexicans were stopped at sea, as well as 138 others of various nationalities.

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