LOS ANGELES–It’s nearly a daily occurrence. Small, 30-foot fishing boats try to make their way to shore along the California coast. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents typically find two things onboard – thousands of pounds of dope or more than a dozen illegal immigrants.
Supervisory Special Agent Jeremy Scott attributes this surge in maritime smuggling to, “an increase in good enforcement along the Southwest border.”
Since the United States is doing a better job securing the border, more individuals are attempting to enter the country through different means.
Boats typically have three key individuals onboard – a person in charge of gasoline, a navigator and a captain – along with a slew of illegal immigrants or drugs. Boats may feature one to three engines and could be making treks that last a few hours to a couple of days.
“The risks involved in these smuggling attempts are truly chilling,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Los Angeles. “The smugglers are putting unsuspecting people into rickety, overloaded fishing boats and transporting them up to 100 miles out to sea in the dead of night, often without even basic safety or navigation equipment. It’s an equation for disaster.”
To help combat maritime smuggling, Border Enforcement Security Task Forces (BESTs), ICE-led teams of individuals from various law enforcement agencies, and the Marine Unified Command have expanded the use of marine patrols, land-based surveillance and collaboration with the Government of Mexico. In the last year alone, federal agents have seized more than 100 boats and arrested more than 600 individuals involved in maritime smuggling.
“Maritime smuggling is always a threat since it involves undocumented individuals coming through an unauthorized point of entry,” said Scott.