Operation Vigilant Sentry


In preparation for possible future mass migrations in the Caribbean, such as those that occurred from Cuba and Haiti in 1994, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) developed Operation Vigilant Sentry (OVS) in 2003. The plan was signed into force in 2004 and updated in 2007. “OVS is a comprehensive DHS contingency plan for a unified response to a mass migration event in the Caribbean,” particularly from Cuba to Florida. The plan, which would be implemented by a coalition of some seventy-five local, state, and federal agencies, can be operational in twenty-four hours. The plan is managed by the Homeland Security Task Force – Southeast, with the commander of the seventh Coast Guard district as its director and the chief patrol agent at the Border Patrol sector in Miami as deputy director. In December, 2006, the responsiveness of Vigilant Sentry was tested during a tabletop exercise in Broward County, Florida. The hypothetical threat was an exodus of refugees caused by civil conflict in Cuba following the death of Fidel Castro.[1]

According to a fact sheet released by DHS in March, 2007, the plan “provides guidance for four, broad mass-migration activities: (1) at sea rescue and interdiction operations in response to a mass migration from Cuba, Haiti, or other Caribbean nations; (2) deterrence and dissuasion; 3) land-based law enforcement operations; and (4) migrant processing, protection, and detention procedures.” A tent-camp site was prepared at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo, Cuba to accommodate ten-thousand migrants, and tentative OVS plans include another camp that could accommodate thirty-five thousand more. OVS is complemented by Operation Epic Response, which involves enhanced DHS actions to deter mass migration.[2]

[1]The first quoted passages is from Department of Homeland Security, “Testimony of Rear Admiral Wayne E. Justice, Assistant Commandant for Capabilities, Before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, ‘Overview of Coast Guard Drug and Migrant Interdiction’” (Washington, D.C.: March 11, 2009), npn. Regarding the tabletop exercise, see Michael Peltier, “The Day After Fidel,” HSToday: Homeland Security Insight and Analysis (April 30, 2007), npn.

[2]The fact sheet is linked here: http://www.piersystem.com/go/doc/1038/148670/. See Department of Homeland Security, “Testimony of Rear Admiral Wayne E. Justice”; and Curt Anderson, “If Cuban Migration Crisis Occurs Again, U.S. Ready,” Tampa Tribune (April 10, 2005).