Migrant deaths in San Diego are latest example of how deadly the border has become

At least eight people were killed when two migrant smuggling boats capsized in shallow but treacherous surf amid thick fog, authorities said on Sunday, marking one of the deadliest people-smuggling operations at sea off US coasts.

A Spanish-speaking woman on one of the panga-style boats called 911 Saturday night to report that the other boat had overturned in the waves at Black’s Beach, authorities said. She said there were 15 people on the capsized ship and eight on hers.

The San Diego Coast Guard and Fire Department pulled the bodies of eight adults from the water, but fog made finding more victims difficult.

Recovery efforts resumed Sunday, but no more bodies were found. The Coast Guard said on Twitter that the search was suspended at 3:30 p.m

Survivors may have fled ashore, including the woman who called 911. The authorities did not know her whereabouts.

James Gartland, chief of lifeguards for San Diego, said rescuers found the two boats overturned in shallow waters when they arrived. The surf was modest, with waves around 1 meter, but the sky was foggy and black.

“This area is very dangerous even during the day,” Gartland said at a news conference. high knee high water thinking you can safely exit the water but there are long holes in the shore. If you step into these holes, these currents will pull you along the coast and back out to sea.”

Black’s Beach is located about 15 miles north of downtown San Diego in a secluded area close to popular La Jolla Shores. Its reputation for some of the best breaks in Southern California attracts many surfers.

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Hundreds of smuggling operations, sometimes fatal, take place off the California coast each year. In May 2021, a boat packed with migrants capsized and broke apart in heavy surf along San Diego’s rocky shoreline, killing three people and injuring more than two dozen others.

Seaborne smuggling attempts more than tripled in San Diego between fiscal years 2019 and 2022. Federal agencies, including the US Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), documented 669 “maritime events” in 2022. Those events also include drug seizures and arrests.

More than 800 migrants died trying to cross the southern border illegally in fiscal 2022, a new record according to CBP data.

Immigrant advocates say President Joe Biden’s failure to reverse Trump-era immigration policies that limit legal access to the country is one reason for the rising death toll.

“Without any type of relief for them, and with policies that continue to deny them the opportunity to present themselves at a port of entry for asylum, we will continue to see migrants who will be injured or die,” said Pedro Rios and activist with American Friends Service Committee.

Smuggling off the California coast has waned and waned over the years, but has long been a risky alternative for migrants to bypass heavily guarded land borders. Pangas arrive from Mexico in the middle of the night, sometimes charting hundreds of miles north. Pleasure boats try to mix unnoticed with fishing and pleasure boats during the day.

South of the US border are many secluded private beaches with gated entrances nestled between high-rise buildings with stunning sea views, some of which were only partially built because funds dried up during construction. A fishing village where narrow streets are lined with vendors selling a wide range of local catch, Popotla is favored by smugglers for its large sandy beach and relatively gentle waves.

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Mexico’s consulate-general office said Monday it believed seven of the eight migrants who drowned off the coast of San Diego this weekend were Mexican nationals based on the type of IDs some of them were carrying .

Illegal border crossings have surged under President Joe Biden, with many migrants surrendering to border guards and being released into the United States to pursue their cases in an immigration court.

Biden faces greater pressure to address the border crisis as a controversial pandemic rule is set to end on May 11.

The rule, Title 42, denies migrants the ability to seek asylum to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but enforcement has fallen disproportionately on Mexicans, Hondurans, Guatemalans and El Salvadorans as these were the only nationalities that Mexico could face agreed to take them back.

As a result, people in these four countries were more likely to try to evade capture, knowing they would likely be expelled under the public health rule known as the Title 42 Authority. Mexico recently began taking back Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans under Title 42.

The migrant deaths came a day before Biden visited San Diego to discuss a new security pact with Australia and the UK.

Supporters were disappointed that Biden’s visit did not focus on border issues. “I don’t feel like border and immigration issues are a priority for President Biden,” Rios said.


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