A Day at the Beach in California May Include a Meet-Up with Drug Smugglers, Human Traffickers

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

August 3, 2013

Summer beach vacations in California may include some unpleasant surprises, namely, stumbling across marijuana loads that smugglers have dropped off along the coast or encountering groups of illegal aliens hoping to find their way inland.

A recent NBC news story, dateline Santa Barbara, reported that Mexican boats have landed as far as 300 miles from the Baja Peninsula. The smugglers, hoping to avoid detection by traveling further north than their normal routes, recently dropped marijuana cargo valued at $4 million on the beach close to the pricey homes near Refugio State Park and the secure Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The Coast Guard reports an average of 150 alien passengers per month stowed away in 10 to 12 different vessels. See “Mexican smuggling boats race up California coast,” by Mark Potter, NBC News, July 13, 2013.

Said Lt. Commander Casey Hehr, Chief of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Coast Guard sector in Los Angeles-Long Beach:

“These folks are out there without life jackets, without signaling devices, without radios, so if anything were to happen it would be a major tragedy, it would be a severe loss of life.”

For the last three years, some of the smugglers have refueled at Channel Islands National Park, a chain of environmentally sensitive islands off the Ventura and Santa Barbara coastline. The Channel Islands also serve as a convenient hideout. With more than a half-million visitors to the Channel Islands annually, park officials fear that violent smugglers who pose a threat of bodily harm could confront unknowing tourists.

Despite the increased numbers of smuggling arrests, criminal indictments and stepped-up involvement by the Department of Homeland Security, law enforcement officials said they see no signs of the Mexican traffickers slowing down. In fact, they have become more brazen. Many now use recreational boats, rather than pangas, to more effectively hide their illicit loads.

Smuggling – humans or drugs – is an age-old practice. But with rumors circulating throughout Mexico of a pending congressional amnesty and the widespread knowledge that the United States imposes only light penalties, if any, on the small-scale smugglers it may apprehend, and has no internal immigration enforcement, the traffickers have nothing to lose by ratcheting up their criminal enterprises.

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