Fifteen illegal immigrants found off Santa Barbara coast
July 12, 2011
Fifteen illegal immigrants were plucked off of Santa Cruz Island Sunday after being stranded and calling 9-1-1 for assistance. [LA Times]
Members of the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Park Service searched the islands off of Santa Barbara last weekend before coming across the group of famished Mexican immigrants.
“They were stranded and couldn’t get to the mainland,” Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Eggers said Monday. “It was a situation where they chose life over the possible ramifications of making that phone call.”
Smugglers increasingly are ferrying illegal immigrants — and drugs — by sea to Southern California. But in an effort to evade dragnets close to the San Diego-Mexico border, they have traveled farther north.
Boats leaving Mexican waters often head 100 miles out to sea before turning north, putting them on the west side of the Channel Islands, said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s homeland security investigations.
The goal is to get to the mainland, Arnold said. But when smugglers encounter engine trouble or believe the risk of being discovered is too great, they sometimes land on the islands.
It was unclear whether the 14 men and one woman were abandoned by a smuggler, or whether problems with a boat caused them to be stranded on the island. No damaged boat was found, nor evidence that one had sunk. Officials also did not know whether any smugglers were among the group.
The immigrants were turned over to the Santa Barbara Harbor Patrol before being transferred to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. They will be subject to deportation, , but some could stay in the country longer if they are needed as witnesses against the smugglers.