Arrest of 2 DACA recipients for immigrant smuggling sparks debate

SAN DIEGO — Immigration advocates took issue Tuesday with what they contend was an inflammatory and politically motivated statement released by the San Diego-area Border Patrol regarding the arrests of seven people in two apparently unrelated human smuggling cases, among them a man living in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and another whose DACA protections were expired.

The DACA program, which provides protections for certain immigrants who were brought into the country as children, has been the subject of fierce controversy since President Donald Trump announced last September that he would end the program — which was championed by his predecessor — in March.

Negotiations for a new DACA deal, which would affect roughly 800,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, were also at the center of the recent federal government shutdown.

In a news release issued Monday, the Border Patrol San Diego Sector office announced the arrests last Wednesday and Thursday of seven people, including a U.S. citizen and four others in the country illegally. The release highlighted the arrests of the 22-year-old DACA recipient and 20-year-old man whose DACA protections expired, via a heading that read: “agents arrest (two) DACA recipients for involvement in human smuggling.”

“It wasn’t politically motivated,” Border Patrol public information officer Theron Francisco told City News Service this morning. “It was just a news release about human smuggling events — two in a short period of time.”

Francisco said the decision to release the information was made by local officials in the San Diego Sector office and not at the direction of higher-ups at the Department of Homeland Security or Customs and Border Protection.

Andrea Guerrero, executive director of Alliance San Diego, said such releases “vilify” all DACA recipients, known as Dreamers.

“Human smuggling is a global problem that puts migrants in vulnerable situations where they can be abused and exploited, and we should all work together to address the conditions that force people to migrate,” she said in a statement. “However, to vilify entire groups of people based on isolated incidents is irresponsible and unhelpful.”

Local immigration attorney Stephanie Alcala told 10News that the release was “more inflammatory than it needed to be.”

“Most Dreamers — like 99.9 percent — are ideal citizens,” Alcala told the television station. “If DHS thinks it’s a good idea to release this information, they should release it with more specificity.”

The first arrests referred to in the Border Patrol’s statement happened last Wednesday. A citizen reported a suspected smuggling boat at Torrey Pines State Beach, and the investigation led agents to Interstate 5 near Dairy Mart Road in San Ysidro, where they found a car stopped on the side of the freeway a little after noon, according to the agency.

Inside the car, the agents found the 20-year-old Mexican man whose previous DACA protections were expired, the Border Patrol said. Also inside the car were that man’s 22-year-old cousin and a 21-year-old man, both of whom were Mexican nationals in the U.S. illegally, according to the agency’s statement, which said the driver and his cousin “admitted their involvement with human smuggling in the area.”

Around 8 a.m. Thursday, in an apparently unrelated incident, Border Patrol agents arrested two illegal immigrants in Campo, and a short time later spotted two suspicious vehicles near Buckman Springs Road. The agents followed and eventually stopped a blue Honda sedan, later determining the driver was a 22-year-old Mexican man and Dreamer who lives in Riverside County who “admitted that he was performing scouting duties for a smuggling crew,” according to the Border Patrol statement.

“He also admitted that he was coordinating with another driver of a vehicle to relay information related to Border Patrol operations in the area and the status of the Border Patrol checkpoint to aid in illegal smuggling,” the statement said.

A 25-year-old U.S. citizen was also arrested that same day in connection to the smuggling scheme, the agency said.

The 22-year-old was being held in DHS custody for removal proceedings, and the 20-year-old whose benefits expired was also in federal custody, according to the Border Patrol, which did not release the names of the arrestees.