BY MADELINE BARO DIAZ | South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Instead of taking a smuggler’s speedboat across the Florida Straits, a Cuban woman airmailed herself from the Bahamas to South Florida inside a small wooden crate.
The woman, whose name has not been released, was processed by immigration authorities on Wednesday, hours after her arrival at Miami International Airport via cargo plane.
While stowaways from other countries might have been stamped “return to sender,” the woman’s status as a Cuban national means she will stay in the United States, where under federal policy, Cubans who make it to land generally are allowed to stay.
“We certainly don’t encourage it,” Customs spokesman Zachary Mann said of the woman’s unusual route to Miami. “We don’t encourage anyone to try to migrate to the United States illegally.”
DHL workers in a cargo facility at the airport discovered the woman, who is in her early 20s, about 10:20 p.m. EDT Tuesday while unloading the crate from a plane. She was inside a plywood box the size of a small, two-drawer filing cabinet, Mann said.
The package had not yet gone through Customs. A Spanish-language report on WSCV said the woman had water and a cell phone with her, but Mann would not confirm that.
Customs and Border Protection agents went to the facility, took the woman into custody and interviewed her late Tuesday and early Wednesday.
“She appeared to be in OK condition,” Mann said. “She was being interviewed and processed to determine where she came from and what the circumstances were surrounding her arrival.”
Customs agents have determined that the woman is Cuban, but was shipped from Nassau, likely with someone’s help, Mann said.
“It would appear she needed assistance,” he said.
The woman was taken to the Krome detention center in southwest Miami-Dade County early Wednesday afternoon. She will be released into the community, said Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez.
It was not clear Wednesday how the woman made it from Cuba to Nassau. DHL spokesman Jonathan Baker said the crate was dropped off at the company’s Nassau facility, but he declined to reveal who sent it as the incident is under investigation by federal authorities.
Although DHL operates in Cuba, only packages authorized under U.S. Treasury regulations can be sent to and from Cuba, including documents, informational material and humanitarian aid, Baker said. The company does not operate U.S. aircraft in Cuba and does not route the Cuba packages through Nassau, Baker said.
DHL said a third-party, all-cargo air carrier brought the package to the United States.
Baker said DHL also is investigating to determine if their security procedures were breached.
Although Mann said he could not recall any other instances in which an immigrant was shipped to the United States, he said many people have taken equally unusual and risky routes. Some have tried to enter the United States hidden behind dashboards of cars, some have tried to stowaway in ship containers and others have tried to hitch rides in the wheel wells of airplanes.
Several of the attempts have ended in death, Mann said. Last year, customs agents found a body inside a container that was on a ship docked in the Miami River. The vessel had come from the Dominican Republic.
By trying to hide as cargo, a person could be subjected to pressurization and extreme temperatures, Mann said. In the Cuban woman’s case, however, she was probably only in the air for 45 to 50 minutes, he said.
Earlier this year, New York shipping clerk Charles D. McKinley was placed on probation and fined for sending himself in a wooden crate via UPS from New York to DeSoto, Texas. Federal officials would not say Wednesday whether the Cuban stowaway would face similar federal charges.
“We don’t comment on any matter that might be under investigation,” said Carlos Castillo, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney in Miami.