13 arrested hours after man dies in smuggling attempt

SAN DIEGO — Thirteen people who entered the United States illegally by boat were arrested in Imperial Beach just hours after one man died and another was rescued from rough surf in a similar human-trafficking operation near La Jolla, the Border Patrol reported Wednesday.

The Mexican nationals captured in Imperial Beach were spotted in a panga boat around 2:30 a.m. Sunday, about three hours after another boat with seven people aboard was spotted off the coast of Tourmaline Beach, said Border Patrol spokeswoman Mary Beth Caston.

In the incident off La Jolla, a drowning victim’s body washed ashore and a 32-year-old Mexican man was treated for hypothermia after they were apparently ordered into the water when their boat was spotted by authorities, Border Patrol Agent Tekae Michael said. The smuggling boat and its pilot were believed to have returned to Mexican waters.

As Border Patrol agents, San Diego lifeguards and other authorities were searching the waters off La Jolla for the other four people ordered into the water there, the other boat was spotted about 20 miles south of Imperial Beach.

“A total of 13 people were intercepted, which included the boat captain, a co-pilot, and 11 passengers,” Caston said. “Upon questioning, all 13 admitted they were Mexican nationals illegally present in the U.S.”

The 10 men and three women arrested, all between 23 and 45 years old, were taken to a nearby Border Patrol field office for processing, Caston said. The boat was seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.

“The captain and co-pilot are in (Department of Homeland Security) custody and face human smuggling charges,” Caston said.

Officials said the two incidents Sunday morning showed the dangers of human smuggling.

“These smugglers put people into life-threatening situations and the repercussions can be fatal,” San Diego Sector Chief Patrol Agent Rodney Scott said. “Combating human smuggling at sea is a top priority for CBP and its law enforcement partners.”