By Dan Moffett
Immigrants have landed on Manalapan’s shores several times during the last year, and perhaps it isn’t by chance.
Authorities are beginning to believe that the town has something the migrants are looking for: taxis for hire.
It turns out that, even in the wee hours before daybreak, Manalapan can be a great place to get a cab.
“The immigrants have cellphones and they are arranging to be picked up on A1A,” says Chief Carmen Mattox. “That’s one of the reasons they choose our location — because we’re so close to A1A. They come right off the beach, they have a cab waiting for them and they’re gone out of the area.”
Mattox says immigrants who landed in the town on Jan. 16 came armed with cellphones, knew who to call and quickly summoned a taxi for a ride.
“Basically, we located three of them in the back of a cab and turned them immediately over to Border Patrol,” Mattox told commissioners during their Jan. 28 meeting.
When it comes to human smuggling and immigration law, the federal government has priority, so U.S. Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement takes the lead when migrants come ashore. Federal agents arrested 17 people after the predawn landing in Manalapan. They were believed to have been smuggled in a vessel from the Bahamas and included 16 Haitians and a Jamaican.
Mattox says his officers have to work well with other agencies when landings occur. Besides federal authorities, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and county Fire Department play important roles.
He said it’s up to the federal agencies to look into the ties between taxi drivers and this type of cab call. “We turn that over to Border Patrol and they investigate it.”
“What we try to do is make sure there is no immigrant on private property in our community,” Mattox said. “We make sure that our residents are secure.”
Town Manager Linda Stumpf said it might be possible to alert oceanfront residents by group email when police learn of beach landings by migrants: “We’ll see if there’s something we can do.”
Mattox said he knows of no case where a migrant tried to break in to a Manalapan residence. Generally, they’re trying to get out of the town as fast as they can.
“We’ve had them outside the beach homes,” he said, “but never had one enter a home.”