Authorities detained four men suspected of illegally entering the country through Crystal Cove State Park, the second instance of human smuggling via boat on the same coastline in as many weeks.
Nearby El Morro Elementary was placed on a “soft” lockdown “out of an abundance of caution,” a police statement said, though passengers apparently escaped into the wilderness park.
A similar 20-foot boat made landfall on the park shoreline last Monday, June 11, with a dozen passengers, all of whom remain unaccounted for.
In 2010, nearly 900 people were caught trying to sneak into Southern California by land and sea, including some stranded in the open ocean when the engine of smuggler’s boats sputtered to a halt. Those figures have dropped in recent years from that peak period.
In today’s incident, Border Patrol agents searched for five more passengers who came ashore at the same time and fled the scene, said Border Patrol spokesman Eduardo Olmos in San Diego. “This information given to us could have been part of the call or foot prints that agents were able to track,” he said.
With the assistance of a sheriff’s helicopter, authorities located four of the suspected passengers within the wilderness area of the state park. Olmos said the four individuals who were detained are Mexican nationals and were transported to a nearby Border Patrol facility for processing.
Crystal Cove is about 81 miles from Mexico’s border.
Police received a call about the open-bow, outboard-powered boat landing at Crystal Cove State Park about 6:31 a.m., three hours before today’s morning low tide. Its passengers had already fled the abandoned craft.
On the El Morro campus, which is bordered by park land on three sides, parents and buses were allowed to drop off students for classes that begin at 7:55 a.m. “Students were escorted to rooms and remained inside until the lockdown was lifted,” about 9:45 a.m. when normal school activities resumed, district spokeswoman Leisa Winston said.
Officers remained on campus during the lockdown, police said.
Ocean-going smugglers of human cargo as well as illicit drugs have at least three times made use of Crystal Cove’s shoreline, where activity is minimal in the early morning hours.
Border Patrol agents reported an upswing in illegal crossings in the southwest region of Texas, Arizona and California since March and through the peak crossing period of May, the agency’s website shows. So far this year, 252,000 people have been apprehended, more than half of those halted nationwide in attempting an illegal or inadmissible entry, the website indicates.
Along the California coast, agents have made 191 arrests and 43 seizures, from wave runners to vehicles, between Oct. 1 and June 1, Olmos said. “It comes in waves; it fluctuates with what’s going on in other countries.” That compares to similar figures in 2017 for the California office, he said.
Most smuggling in Orange and San Diego counties involves labor, while seizures further north typically involve drugs, he said.
This story was updated at 4:19 p.m. Tuesday, June 19.