San Clemente, California - U.S. Border Patrol agents took custody of 17 Mexican nationals last Friday west of Santa Catalina Island.  The group was in a small panga boat and was attempting to enter the U.S. illegally.

At approximately 5:30 p.m., U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Air and Marine (OAM) observed a heavily laden panga boat during a routine ocean patrol.  The boat was observed off the coast of Long Beach and approximately seven miles west of Santa Catalina Island.  OAM agents noticed the vessel had no visible hull identification numbers so they contacted the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) in Los Angeles for assistance.

At approximately 6:15 p.m., a USCG vessel intercepted the panga, which was 27-feet in length, and confirmed the presence of 17 migrants on board.  Border Patrol agents arrived shortly after on an Orange County Sheriff’s boat and determined that all 17 individuals were Mexican nationals illegally present in the U.S.  Agents assigned to the Border Patrol’s Smuggling Interdiction Group and Coastal Border Enforcement Team took custody of the subjects and transported them to a nearby Border Patrol station for processing. 

This event is part of an ongoing investigation by a Los Angeles-based task force, the Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST-LA), headed by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations.  Two of the subjects have been charged with alien smuggling and will be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.

During the course of this event, the USCG received a conflicting anonymous report of a second suspected panga.  Further investigation determined that this was a diversionary ploy by the smuggling organization, intended to hamper law enforcement efforts.  Actions such as these potentially endanger the boating public by diverting USCG assets to investigate false reports.

The U.S. Border Patrol collaborates with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies through the Regional Coordinating Mechanism (ReCoM) to address the transnational maritime threat along the Southern California coast.  The ReCoM mission is to increase homeland security by eliminating transnational crime along the coast.

If you have information about maritime smuggling or suspicious activity along the coast of California, please contact the Joint Harbor Operations Center at 1-800-854-9834.