It took federal immigration officials 37 years to deport Ivan Vaclavik to the former Czechoslovakia.
And it took only a few months for Vaclavik to come floating back. Twice.
The 67-year-old former Boston resident was deported to the Czech Republic in late 2013 after the Globe detailed how he had dodged deportation while racking up more than 100 criminal charges, including felony assault and accosting a child. His victims cheered.
But by July, Vaclavik was sneaking back into America on a raft across the Rio Grande. He was caught, slapped with a misdemeanor, and deported. Then last month, he was at it again, picked up by the Coast Guard on a powerboat sinking off Florida.
Now Vaclavik’s dogged efforts to return are raising new questions about the mysterious emigre and why federal officials didn’t charge him with a tougher crime when they caught him last year.
This time around, Vaclavik — tentatively set to appear in federal court Monday — is facing a stiffer penalty than in the past. He and his skipper were charged with federal felony charges in Florida for illegally reentering the United States, a more serious crime that carries up to 10 years in prison.
His return also comes as some Republicans in Congress are renewing efforts to punish nations that refuse to take back their citizens.
Representative Ted Poe, a Texas Republican, said Vaclavik should have been deported long ago, which might have lessened his desire to return. Immigration officials blamed the Czech Republic for the delay, for failing to quickly issue him a passport needed to send him home. Hours before prosecutors charged Vaclavik on Wednesday, Poe refiled a bill that would restrict diplomatic visas to nations that block or delay deportations.
“It’s a long way from the Czech Republic to the border of Texas,” Poe said in a telephone interview. He added, “It’s easy to cross. That’s why people are coming in. Everybody. We’re getting the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
Also, for the first time, inspired by a 2012 Globe series, Poe said the bill would require immigration officials to notify law enforcement, and crime victims “when possible,” when they release criminals they cannot deport.
A Massachusetts woman with a restraining order against Vaclavik said she did not know that Vaclavik had returned to this country. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement — known as ICE — did not notify the public, but the Globe found him by searching the agency’s online detainee locator. The woman said she has signed up again for victim notifications from ICE.
“They better not release him,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified because she is afraid of Vaclavik. “It’s been so nice to not have to look over my shoulder . . . to enjoy my family and my life and to not worry. If he’s let back in carelessly, it would break my heart.”
An ICE spokesman said the agency will seek to deport Vaclavik and the skipper of the powerboat Granny B. — Henry Noel, who had been convicted of manslaughter — when their criminal cases are completed in federal court.
Vaclavik first arrived in the United States in 1974, a seemingly erudite man in his 20s who told people he was an architect, though he was never licensed here. He stayed illegally, rented cheap rooms in Boston, and drove an Audi. How he paid the bills is a mystery because he appeared to have no job. It is unclear whether he has any relatives.
He was ordered deported in 1976 but never left, despite his long record. Much of his record consists of lesser offenses, such as shoplifting and breaking and entering. But he also served time in jail. He attacked a stranger at the Starbucks on Beacon Hill in 2005, broke into the Charles Hotel in 2007, and accosted an 11-year-old girl near a hotel pool in Waltham in 2009.
Immigration officials tried for years to get Czech officials to issue him a passport so that he could be deported but had to release him repeatedly in the United States. The Supreme Court has ruled that immigration officials cannot jail immigrants indefinitely if they cannot be deported.
On July 3, during last summer’s border crisis, the Border Patrol caught Vaclavik near the city of Mission, Texas. They charged him in federal court with entering the United States illegally, a misdemeanor. Days later, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to about four months in prison, less than the national average of 10 months for that crime, according to the Justice Department. He also had to pay a $10 fee.
Because Vaclavik had already been deported, officials could have charged him with the much stiffer felony he faces now in US District Court in West Palm Beach.
Border officials said they did not know why Texas agents did not charge him with the felony in July.
“I cannot second-guess why the supervisor or the station manager chose to charge him with that at that time,” said Oscar Saldaña, a Customs and Border Protection spokesman.
Others said the lighter sentence encourages Vaclavik and others to try again.
“Everybody reentering after deportation should be charged with a felony,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington.
Vaclavik was deported Dec. 8.
Weeks later, the Coast Guard in Florida received an emergency call from the Granny B., an 18-foot blue-and-white powerboat taking on water. Then, someone on board fired flares into the air about 8 miles east of Lake Worth.
Rescuers dispatched a helicopter, a boat, and a high-speed cutter to find them.
On board were Vaclavik, Noel, and two Brazilian nationals identified in court records only as J.S. and M.S.
“They claimed they were island-hopping in the Bahamas and they got stranded,” said Petty Officer Mark Barney of the Coast Guard, which turned the case over to immigration and border agents.
The Brazilians said they had paid a total of $14,000 to get smuggled into the United States through the Bahamas, according to federal court records. They said they met Vaclavik at a hotel in the Bahamas, and the three boarded the boat with Noel, a Bahamian deported in 2013 after serving time for possession of marijuana and cocaine. He had also been convicted in the 1990s of manslaughter in Florida.
Vaclavik told Border Patrol officials in Florida that he flew from the Czech Republic to the Dominican Republic and later to the Bahamas.
Czech officials declined to comment on Vaclavik’s travels, citing privacy rules. But Czech consul Pavel Pitel said that once a citizen has a passport, it is not easy to take it away. “If the person is a Czech Republic national, he is entitled to get a passport that may be withdrawn from him only by a court decision,” Pitel said in an e-mail from Washington.
The Globe left messages for Vaclavik at the immigration detention center, where he was jailed before last week’s criminal charges, and with his prior attorney in Texas, but they did not respond.
Vaclavik is being held at the Palm Beach County jail, awaiting medical clearance to appear in federal court in West Palm Beach, according to the US attorney’s office.
Maria Sacchetti can be reached at email@example.com.