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Border Patrol seeks help with maritime smuggling

COAST CITIES — Border Patrol agents are asking Del Mar residents for help in curbing maritime smuggling on city beaches, particularly between Fourth and Eighth streets, following two known events in December. 

“We are actively pursuing this and we are asking for the public’s help because we can’t be everywhere,” agent Edward Cleary said during the public comment portion of the Jan. 14 City Council meeting.

“As we gain greater control of our land border, the smuggling groups have moved to the maritime route to continue their practices,” he said. “These panga landings have occurred in Del Mar.”

The Coastal Border Enforcement Team, which works with the Coast Guard and local police, patrols beaches and bays 24/7 waiting for events to happen, Cleary said. Most occur between midnight and 6 a.m.

“Smuggling events are not random,” he said. “They’re constructed very well.”

Cleary said spotters drive around coastal regions looking for areas without law enforcement or a lot of pedestrian traffic.

The pangas are usually offshore with radio communications. Operators get the boats as close to shore as possible.

“Everyone jumps out and runs to a van or pickup truck,” he said. “Normally they are close to a major road with freeway access.”

Cleary said residents should call 911 or the Coast Guard at (800) 854-9834 if they see suspicious activity, such as “a whole bunch of people running through your neighborhood at 2 or 3 in the morning into a van.”

“I know it sounds a little simplistic but yes, that is exactly what’s going on,” Cleary said.

“But don’t get involved. Just be a good witness and get all the information you can because you are dealing with cartel members.

“There’s a lot of money in human smuggling right now,” he said, adding that smugglers can make between $5,000 and $10,000 per person.

“Wherever they’re being successful at is where they’ll keep moving,” Cleary said. “Last month they liked Del Mar.”

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