Posted on April 16, 2024

Crisis in California: Surge in Migrant Boat Landings Brings ‘Chaos’ to Seaside Communities

Hannah Ray Lambert, Fox News, April 13, 2024

Conditions at Marine Street Beach were as beautiful as they get — crystal clear water, sunny blue skies. Perfect, except for the motorboat speeding toward Jack Enright.

Enright, a San Diego native and videographer who was out that morning taking pictures of the waves, swam out of the way and started recording as the small white boat carrying around eight people “flew up” onto the shore. Enright said he couldn’t remember if the driver even killed the engine.

“It was just chaos, honestly,” he told Fox News. “And everyone just jumped and started running.”

The group sprinted up a staircase to the street and disappeared into La Jolla. Enright had never seen it firsthand before, but knew he’d just witnessed a human smuggling operation, a near daily occurrence in the waters off California.

People have long sneaked into the U.S. by way of the Pacific Ocean, but over the last three years, California has seen an “exponential increase in maritime smuggling,” according to Brandon Tucker, director of Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations in San Diego.

In fiscal year 2020, federal, state and local law enforcement recorded 308 maritime smuggling events in the California area of responsibility, according to CBP. Last fiscal year, they recorded 736, a nearly 140% increase.

Air and Marine Operations uses planes equipped with radar and cameras to patrol above, looking for smugglers. Airborne agents are usually the first to find pangas, small fishing boats frequently used to smuggle migrants or drugs to the U.S., Tucker said. Then his team, as well as their Border Patrol and Coast Guard partners, can coordinate intercepting the boat at sea or on land.


Sometimes, CBP or the Coast Guard are able to stop them. Nearly 8,000 people have been apprehended while trying to enter the U.S. illegally through the Pacific Ocean, its coastlines or its inlets since 2020, data provided by CBP show.


Migrant drowning deaths off the coast of San Diego County spiked from 2020 through 2023, according to a University of California, San Diego study. There were 33 migrant drowning deaths reported in the four-year period, compared to just one in the previous four years. Researchers hypothesized the rise could be linked to the increase in border fence height from 17 feet to 30 feet, prompting more people to try to cross via water.