The acting U.S. Attorney for the San Diego region made a plea to migrants Wednesday to reconsider putting their lives in the hands of human smugglers after several dangerous attempts this year led to dozens of deaths.
"We are appealing today to every person who is considering a desperate perilous journey to the United States -- whether in a boat or on foot or in the trunk of a car --don’t do it. Do not place your life in the hands of human smugglers. It's not worth it," said acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman at a news conference along other law enforcement heads pleading the same.
Grossman said deadly smuggling attempts are on track this year to surpass previous years. With months to go this fiscal year, there have been 25 deaths in human smuggling attempts in 2021 compared to 29 for the entire fiscal year 2020.
"Even one death is far too many. We’re doing something about it," Grossman said.
Grossman could not account for what's causing the increase but acknowledged smuggling is a profitable business with dangerous consequences. He said the law enforcement agencies present at the news conference Wednesday -- U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, San Diego Lifeguards, the U.S. Coast Guard and others -- were committed to ending it.
The U.S. Attorney's Office was cracking down on smugglers and said they had secured several charges, guilty pleas and sentences in the last several months against those suspected of bringing migrants illegally across the border.
The most recent indictment came down Wednesday against two men believed to be in charge of bringing about 16 people across the border on a panga. The smuggling attempt on May 20 failed and migrants were forced to jump off the boat and into the waters off La Jolla Shores. One person died and eight others were hospitalized.
Last Friday, a federal grand jury returned an indictment against the man accused of piloting a boat that crashed near Point Loma on May 2, killing three migrants and injuring dozens more.
"Our region has experienced a wave of tragedies in recent weeks as migrants have placed their hope and trust in smugglers who promised safe passage to the United States," Grossman said. "Those were false promises and those journeys have had devastating results."
On land, human smuggling attempts have proven just as catastrophic. On March 2, dozens of migrants were brought to the U.S. near Calexico in an SUV that later crashed and killed 13 people. The man suspected of bringing the Mexican and Guatemalan nationals into the U.S. was charged in March.
The U.S. Attorney's Office said they also secured sentences in April against two brothers suspected of smuggling three sisters on foot on a dangerous journey through the mountains along the U.S. Mexico Border. And, a man who smuggled several migrants through underground drainage pipes in San Diego County during heavy rains, leading to one death and one near-death, pleaded guilty to smuggling charges.
Beyond deaths, U.S. Border Patrol Chief for the San Diego Sector, Aaron Heitke, said their agency has rescued 5,600 migrants this year across the San Diego and Imperial County regions. That number has already surpassed all of fiscal year 2020, where there were 5,071 migrant rescues.