Just starting a five-year sentence for illegally re-entering the United States, George Lewis stared at the officers staring back at him at Miami’s federal detention center and considered whether he’d risk getting on another smuggler’s boat — a chance that soaring numbers of Caribbean islanders are taking — once he’s deported again.

U.S. authorities deported Lewis following a four-year sentence for a felony drug conviction in May 2013 to the Bahamas, where he was born but lived only briefly. His Haitian mother brought him to Miami as an infant, and though he always considered the U.S. home, he never became a legal resident.

Just five months after he was deported, he got on a Bahamian smuggler’s boat with over a dozen other people trying to sneak into Florida. It capsized and four Haitian women drowned. He and the others were rescued.

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