Authorities in San Diego, California, confirmed that eight people died after two suspected smuggling boats carrying what may be illegal immigrants crashed off the coast on Sunday.
A woman on one of the panga-style boats called 911 late Saturday to report that the other vessel had overturned in waves off Blacks Beach, according to U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Richard Brahm.
“The woman who called stated that the boat that overturned had 15 people on it, but that was just an estimate,” Brahm said.
Coast Guard and San Diego Fire-Rescue crews pulled eight bodies from the water, but thick fog hampered the search for additional victims. A Coast Guard cutter combed the area early Sunday, and officials hoped to get helicopters in the air when the weather improves, Brahm said.
Illegal immigrants frequently travel on panga-style boats from Mexico to Southern California. It’s not clear if there were any arrests made or if officials have determined the nationalities of those who died.
San Diego Fire-Rescue Department spokeswoman Monica Munoz told Newsweek that lifeguards could not access the beach due to high tides after 911 was called.
The lifeguards “proceeded north on foot wading through knee- to waist-deep water,” she said. “After a couple hundred yards, lifeguards on the beach reached dry sand and then began to find lifeless bodies and two overturned pangas spread over an area of about 400 yards.”
“Lifeguards pulled victims from knee-deep water and from the waterline up the beach to dry sand,” she added. Later, an eighth person was found dead by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers.
Life jackets and barrels of fuel were also found during the search, she told Newsweek.
Illegal border crossings skyrocketed after President Joe Biden took office in 2021. Many illegal immigrants have resorted to turning themselves into Border Patrol officials before being released into the United States to pursue their immigration cases.
But a federal judge last week struck down the administration’s program of releasing many illegal immigrants rather than holding them until their court cases. The judge, in a scathing ruling, argued that the rule violated federal law.
“The evidence establishes that Defendants have effectively turned the Southwest Border into a meaningless line in the sand and little more than a speedbump for aliens flooding into the country,” U.S. District Judge T. Kent Wetherell, a Trump appointee, wrote in a ruling.
Meanwhile, a pandemic-related rule that is slated to end May 11 currently denies illegal immigrants and asylum-seekers due to grounds that they can spread COVID-19.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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