Federal agents foil human smuggling attempt in Del Mar; 21 arrested

Panga boat seized after suspected smuggling foiled in Del Mar
U.S. Border Patrol agents spotted this panga boat as it approached Del Mar about 3 a.m. Friday. They eventually arrested 21 people — five suspected smugglers and eight people believed to be entering the country without permission.
(Courtesy U.S. Border Patrol)

Agents spotted panga off shore of Del Mar’s Dog Beach about 3 a.m. Friday


Twenty-one people, including five suspected smugglers, were arrested after Border Patrol agents spotted most of them in a boat in the ocean near Del Mar early Friday morning, Dec. 11.

The agents saw the panga-style boat about 3 a.m. near the city’s Dog Beach and — anticipating the boat’s likely landing site — headed to Camino Del Mar, at the north end of Dog Beach, Agent Justin Castrejon said in a news release.

There, they saw 16 people in life jackets running toward three waiting vehicles. Two of the vehicles raced off, but a 2003 Mazda minivan stopped for agents, Castrejon said.

Inside the minivan, agents found a 68-year-old U.S. citizen at the wheel, Castrejon said. He had eight passengers, all of whom were Mexicans believed to be in the country without permission.

Other agents tailed the two cars that got away, staying on them until they stopped at a hotel in Carlsbad. They arrested the drivers — each was a U.S. citizen — as well as their eight passengers, all of whom were Mexicans also suspected to be in the country without permission.

As agents on land focused on the cars, the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted the panga as it headed south toward Mexico. Two Mexican men onboard were arrested.

The three drivers and the two boat operators face possible charges of human smuggling. One of the boat passengers may be charged with re-entering the U.S. after having been removed before, Castrejon said.

The other 15 boat passengers were expected to be returned to Mexico.

— Teri Figueroa is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune