The U.S. Coast Guard's War on Human Smuggling

By Teska, David L. | Naval War College Review, Autumn 2012 | Go to article overview

The U.S. Coast Guard's War on Human Smuggling


Teska, David L., Naval War College Review


Noble, Dennis L. The U.S. Coast Guard's War on Human Smuggling. Gainesville: Univ. Press of Florida, 2011. 297pp. $29.95

Of the eleven missions of the U.S. Coast Guard today, none is more fraught with human drama, tragedy, and the capacity to touch the soul than the interdiction of the smuggling of illegal migrant workers into the United States. Dennis Noble, long a chronicler of the history of the Coast Guard, sets out this story from the perspective of those who dare to enter the United States illegally and of the men and women of the Coast Guard who respond to the challenge. That the story unfolds at sea only enhances the urgency of the tale.

Noble centers on the unique stories surrounding the migrant flows from Cuba (in the Fidel Castro era), Haiti (since the fall of the despot President Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier), and mainland China. A constant thread that runs throughout the narrative is how different laws, regulations, and political environments over time have resulted in disparate migrant policies. Cubans, for example, benefited from the "wet foot/ dry foot" policy, which did not apply to Haitian migrants, who were viewed as fleeing not for political reasons but for economic ones. Noble paints a vivid picture that highlights the experiences of all the participants from all aspects.

A strong point of this work is Noble's research, which includes visiting and photographing locations in Cuba that have played a significant role in the migrant story. He also excels in bringing out little-known aspects of migrant life. For example, a fact not commonly known is that since 1999 the U.S. Coast Guard has had a liaison officer assigned to the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. The Mariel boatliftof April 1980, in which at least 7,665 Cubans arrived in southern Florida, is well documented, but the number lost in that exodus is unknown. …

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