Border Patrol agents found body armor in the vehicle of a man arrested during a smuggling incident. Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

By SDCN Editor

San Diego, CA–In January, the Brown Field Border Patrol Station, in the San Diego Sector, encountered a significant number of events with undocumented migrants being smuggled in vehicles.

In one day alone, on Jan. 20, agents intercepted a total of 12 vehicles involved in smuggling.

The focus of the anti-smuggling operations was a 25-mile stretch of State Route 94, State Route 188 in Tecate, California, and Otay Lakes Road in Jamul, and Chula Vista. 

Throughout January, agents patrolling these areas intercepted and seized more than 130 vehicles involved in human smuggling and arrested over 150 suspected smugglers. While this is a significant number of arrests, only a small fraction of these events result in the driver not being compliant when agents attempt to pull them over. Of the more than 130 events, only seven failed to yield to agents.

“When you rely on smugglers to cross our borders, you are putting yourself in danger,” said San Diego Sector Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke. “We encourage everyone who wants to enter our country to use our ports of entry because they are legal and safe. Human smugglers are criminals breaking our laws.  We’ve seen an increase of smugglers carrying weapons and using unsafe tactics thus endangering the lives and safety of migrants, the public, and our agents.”

On Jan. 3, Border Patrol observed four individuals exit dense brush and rapidly enter a car that had pulled over on the shoulder of State Route 94. Agents stopped the vehicle, which was occupied by a driver and front seat passenger, as well as three additional people laying down in the rear seat. All passengers admitted to being illegally present in the United States and were placed under arrest. The driver, a United States citizen, was arrested and charged with human smuggling. A search of the vehicle revealed a handgun, located in the glove compartment, loaded with a high-capacity magazine containing 14 rounds. The driver was charged with alien smuggling and the gun was turned over to Bureau of Land Management officers.

On the evening of Jan. 9, agents observed a vehicle pick up individuals on Otay Lakes Road. Agents stopped the vehicle and noticed a person sitting on the floor of the front passenger seat, trying to conceal himself. In the rear seat, agents observed three more individuals on top of each other, attempting to conceal themselves. Agents questioned the passengers, and all admitted to being illegally present in the United States, and they were arrested. The driver was placed under arrest and charged with human smuggling. The driver was also found to be operating the vehicle with a suspended driver’s license.

The Bureau of Land Management was contacted and arrived to issue a citation for driving on a suspended license. Record checks revealed the driver had recently been released from jail and was currently on probation for child endangerment and transportation of a controlled substance. During a search of the vehicle, body armor was found in the trunk. A partner agency was contacted and responded, placing the driver under arrest for being a felon in possession of body armor. The San Diego County Probation Department was also informed of the arrest, allowing the driver’s probation officer to take further appropriate actions.

Another incident occurred the morning of Jan. 26 when agents observed four individuals exit the brush on the roadside of State Route 94 and enter a vehicle. When the driver later pulled over on his own, agents stopped to question the occupants of the vehicle. Agents noticed the rear passenger window had been smashed and the ignition system appeared to be alerted and damaged. Agents observed one person lying down in the back seat and three additional people concealed inside the trunk. The three individuals from the trunk and the one in the back seat admitted to being illegally present in the United States and were placed under arrest. Both the driver and front passenger (United States citizens) were arrested and charged with human smuggling. Record checks revealed the vehicle was stolen and the driver had an outstanding warrant. A partner agency responded, and arrested the driver on the warrant and the possession of a stolen vehicle.

All the interdictions by Brown Field Border Patrol Station in January resulted in the arrest of over 300 smuggled migrants. In three of these events, the smugglers were in possession of firearms; increasing the danger to smuggled migrants, agents, and the public.