SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — Border agents stopped 52 people who were attempting to enter the U.S. illegally off the coast of San Diego during the weekend.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection says one intervention involved 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 CBP. “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 the evening of July 8, a crew from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Petrel stopped a recreational boat about nine nautical miles southwest of Point Loma, which is considered the entrance to San Diego Bay. 

The small boat had 31 people on board, including 22 men and nine women, ages 18-61, and all were Mexican nationals except for one person from Ecuador.

All were turned over to U.S. Border Patrol agents, who confirmed that all were in the country illegally.  

Agents with CBP’s Air and Marine Operations seized the recreational boat, and Homeland Security Investigations and 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.”

Two days later, at about 8:10 a.m. on July 10, a CBP crew aboard an Air and Marine Operations boat detected a suspected smuggling vessel traveling north about three nautical miles north of the maritime boundary line between the U.S. and Mexico. 

The crew stopped the boat being crewed by two U.S. citizens. 

Agents found three additional people on board, as well as an inflatable raft with a paddle. 

The two U.S. citizens were arrested and are now facing smuggling charges. 

The three other individuals were turned over to U.S. Border Patrol agents; all three were Mexican citizens without authorization to be in the U.S. 

The next day, another CBP crew aboard an Air and Marine Operations boat detected a suspected smuggling vessel. 

It was a panga boat with 18 people on board. All were turned over to U.S. Border Patrol agents, and none of the individuals had the proper documentation to legally enter the U.S.

The group, all from Mexico, included one 11-year-old boy who was traveling with his mother. 

“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.”

According to CBP, 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.   

The following year, there were 662 arrests in 195 separate incidents. 

In 2020, 309 smuggling attempts took place, with 1,273 arrests followed by 389 events and 1,968 arrests in fiscal year 2021. 

From October of last year through the end of May 2022, there have been about 370 smuggling tries that have led to 1,782 apprehensions.