Second Boatload of Alleged Undocumenteds in a Week
• Smugglers Left 15 People Stranded
BY ANNE SOBLE
Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency concerns that the use of boats to smuggle undocumented immigrants into the area is on the rise appear to be borne out by another roundup of suspected seafarers last weekend.
This time, however, it was the alleged illegal immigrants who turned themselves in to the authorities because they had been left stranded on Santa Cruz Island—the largest of the Channel Islands off the local coast.
Because Santa Cruz is part of Channel Islands National Park, this meant the National Park Service was involved in the incident, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard and ICE.
Federal authorities took 15 undocumented immigrants into custody after one of them placed a cell phone call to 911 reporting they had been left on the island without food or water.
It was not known whether the smugglers were aware that Santa Cruz was a safer drop-off point about 18 miles off the coast than the farther south and smaller Santa Barbara Island with its sea lion colonies and accompanying great white shark population.
A dozen or so immigrants and a few crewmembers is the usual load carried by the boats—mainly panga-types—that are used for transport. Travelers can pay as much as $5000-$7000 for the arduous trip on the high seas.
It is still being determined whether the smugglers feared they had been spotted and left their human cargo to fend for themselves on the north side of the island. Smugglers will often unload immigrants in dangerous circumstances to avoid being caught with them on board.
ICE has issued alerts asking passersby to call 911 to report suspicious activity along the stretch of coastline from Malibu to Point Mugu. However the craft often travel without lights, usually arrive in the pre-dawn hours, and are often not readily visible to motorists.
Agency spokespersons indicate that they expect sea smuggling to increase as landside enforcement becomes more stringent.
Their concern is that, in addition to human trafficking, there is extensive narcotics trafficking. It has been confirmed that some of the illegal immigrants are covering part of, or the entire, pricey journey by serving as mules, or couriers, for drug dealers.