By BRITTANY LEVINE
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
U.S. Border Patrol agents plan to increase their Orange County presence as maritime smuggling of people and drugs is on the rise, officials said.
"You're going to see a lot more Border Patrol agents in your area," Steve McPartland, supervising agent at the Border Patrol station south of San Clemente, told about 60 people at a town hall meeting Thursday night in Dana Point.
Border Patrol agents want local residents to look out for panga boats like this one photographed April 14 at San Onofre State Beach. The patrol's San Diego sector plans to increase its presence in Orange County as more immigrant smugglers land on the county's coast. More than 20 people from this boat were detained.
It was the first time the Border Patrol had held a meeting to address its new battle on the sea following at least four recent apprehensions at local beaches of groups of people suspected of sailing to the country illegally.
In one those cases, Feb. 15, agents apprehended 18 Mexican nationals in a boat off Dana Point. That was a day after a similar group was apprehended at San Onofre State Beach.
Officials point to tighter scrutiny of land borders as a cause for the new sea smuggling routes. They say that despite the rise in illegal operations on the water, the overall number of people trying to enter the country illegally has dropped.
The Border Patrol's San Diego sector, which covers San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties, has held many town halls in border towns to talk about how to report suspicious activity connected to land crossings. But now agents are preparing coastal communities to do the same and described Dana Pont Harbor as an optimum spot for smuggling.
"Quite frankly, we can't be everywhere at once," McPartland said.
He flipped through a slide show of images of panga boats, water scooters and sailboats, all of which could be used by smugglers. In fiscal 2010, which began in October 2009, federal agents apprehended 867 people coming in from the sea, according to Border Patrol records. In fiscal 2009, maritime apprehensions were about half that, and a quarter as much the year before. Paul Beeson, chief patrol agent of the San Diego sector, said apprehensions are likely to reach beyond 2010's numbers this year.
The boats often start at Rosarito Beach, Mexico, go out 40 miles and then head north. Many stop on the San Diego coast, but recently more are stopping along the 42 miles of Orange County coastline, often in the pre-dawn hours, with the occupants rushing toward vehicles ready to spirit them away.
"Orange County has become the issue now. It's the center of the action," McPartland said.
If you see a small boat, a life vest or gas cans and other fuel containers along the beach, report it, agents said.
And while human smuggling is increasing onshore, more drugs are being transported in ultra light aircraft – a common occurrence along the Arizona border that is creeping into California as well, officials said. Pleasure boats also are beginning to be used more for drug transport because they are unexpected, McPartland said.
Friday, March 4, 2011
Border Patrol to boost O.C. presence
By BRITTANY LEVINE