SAN DIEGO – Over the course of 54 hours this weekend, federal officials stopped 52 people attempting to enter the U.S. illegally at sea off the San Diego coast, including one incident with 31 people on one recreational boat.
“Stopping these boats at sea is part of our efforts to keep people safe,” said Brandon Tucker, director of the San Diego Air and Marine Branch for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “The conditions that smugglers put these people through are dangerous; stopping clandestine landing attempts can help keep those conditions from turning deadly. We will continue to work with our partners to stop these boats at sea whenever possible.”
On July 8, at about 7:45 p.m., the crew aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Petrel stopped a recreational boat about nine nautical miles southwest of Point Loma. The small boat had 31 people on board. All 31 were turned over to U.S. Border Patrol agents, who confirmed that none of the individuals had status to legally enter the U.S. The group of 31 included 22 men and nine women, ages 18-61. All were Mexican nationals except one individual from Ecuador. Agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations seized the recreational boat, and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Marine Task Force agents responded to assist with the smuggling investigation.
“The Coast Guard is focused on safety of life at sea,” said Capt. Timothy Barelli, commander, U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Diego. “Non-U.S. citizens illegally trying to enter the United States via the South Pacific marine boundary line are risking their lives. These vessels are often ill-equipped, under-manned and overloaded; this is a recipe for a dangerous life-threatening scenario.”
On July 10, at about 8:10 a.m., a CBP crew aboard an Air and Marine Operations boat was on patrol when they detected a suspected smuggling vessel about three nautical miles north of the maritime boundary line between the U.S. and Mexico, and traveling northbound. The crew stopped the boat, a small recreational vessel with a center console and twin engines, crewed by two U.S. citizens. Agents also found three additional people on board, as well as an inflatable raft with a paddle. The two U.S. citizens were arrested and will face smuggling charges. The three other individuals were turned over to U.S. Border Patrol agents, who confirmed that all three were Mexican citizens, two men and one woman, ages 31, 32 and 29, with no status to legally enter the U.S. HSI Marine Task Force agents responded to assist with the smuggling investigation; CBP marine interdiction agents seized the boat.
On July 11, at about 1:15 a.m., a CBP crew aboard an Air and Marine Operations boat was on patrol when they detected a suspected smuggling vessel. The crew stopped the panga without incident about three nautical miles west of Point Loma, with 18 people on board. All 18 were turned over to U.S. Border Patrol agents, who confirmed that none of the individuals had status to legally enter the U.S., and all were Mexican nationals. The group included one 11-year-old boy, traveling with his mother. The adults in the group, 12 men and 5 women, ranged in age from 18 to 57. CBP marine interdiction agents seized the panga.
“The collaboration and effectiveness of our maritime partnerships was well illustrated this weekend,” said San Diego Sector Chief Patrol Agent Aaron M. Heitke. “This was an outstanding collaborative effort with all of our partners from the Regional Coordinating Mechanism.”
Through the Regional Coordinating Mechanism (ReCoM), multiple agencies in the San Diego region routinely share intelligence, coordinate assets for coverage, patrols, and response, leverage resources dedicated to securing San Diego waterways plan operations and more. ReCoM partners, in addition to their standard patrols, perform targeted operations as conditions dictate and resources permit. Officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, including Air and Marine Operations, the U.S. Border Patrol, and the Office of Field Operations, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard and Homeland Security Investigations, have worked with law enforcement and public safety partners to ensure safe and legitimate maritime recreational activities and to target those criminal organizations attempting to blend and obscure their smuggling activities.
Recent years have seen an increase in maritime activity. During fiscal year 2018, there were 122 maritime events off the coast of San Diego, with 433 arrests. During fiscal year 2019, there were 195 maritime events, with 662 arrests. During fiscal year 2020, there were 309 maritime smuggling events, with 1,273 arrests. In fiscal year 2021, there were 389 events and 1,968 arrests. In fiscal year 2022 to date, from October through May, there have been about 370 maritime smuggling events, and 1,782 apprehensions.