One person died and 15 others were taken into Border Patrol custody following a suspected smuggling operation discovered off the La Jolla coast Thursday morning.
It's the third suspected smuggling incident in San Diego waters in the month of May, and immigration experts say the refugee crisis in Central America, the pandemic and the United States' asylum policy all play a role in the growing trend.
The U.S. Border Patrol said an agent spotted a panga off the coast of Point Loma and saw several people in the water in distress. San Diego lifeguards responded and helped rescue 10 people. The others who survived managed to make it to the shore.
“Rescue work is inherently high risk, but we are well trained and this is what we trained for and what we do,” said James Gartland, Chief of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Lifeguard Division.
The people on board the vessel are migrants suspected of being smuggled into the country, according to the U.S. Coast Guard and Border Patrol.
“It’s definitely something we’ve seen an increase of over the past couple fiscal years. Last year was a record for maritime apprehensions with 1,273 apprehensions in the maritime environment,” Border Patrol Agent Jacob Macisaac said.
Maritime apprehensions are on pace to break last fiscal year's record, according to the Border Patrol. Meanwhile, University of San Diego professor Everard Meade thinks we'll see more of these attempts in the short-term, but explains this is not indefinite.
“The recent history has been three months, four months, five months and then things change, and what I hope is we don't just wait for things to change because the situation is really great and we have a responsibility legally, ethically morally, to do our best to make the situation better,” said Meade.
There are some factors outside of the U.S.'s control leading to the increase in smuggling attempts, according to Meade.
“That particular regional refugee crisis has gotten bad again," he said. "People are very desperate. It's a combination of a security crisis, which is shared with Mexico, natural disasters and political crises in these countries.”
You can also add the pandemic to the list. It's furthered economic desperation and increased migrants' willingness to risk their lives to get to the U.S., according to Meade. Then, there's the asylum policy at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“So what that means is when you close all the official channels, people take to the sea, they take to the mountains, they take to the desert, they take to the river,” Meade explained.
While maritime apprehensions are growing, Meade said they are far less than apprehensions recorded on land near the southern border.