CHULA VISTA, Calif. (AP) — Two Mexican men were found dead at sea in the San Diego area and another was critically injured, the latest casualties among migrants who are increasingly using the Pacific Ocean to enter the United States illegally.
A 43-year-old man was found late Tuesday in the water near Imperial Beach, which borders Tijuana, Mexico, authorities said. The Border Patrol said two companions who swam ashore told authorities that he was a weak swimmer.
A 41-year-old man was found dead inside a boat that landed early Wednesday in the densely populated and brightly lit Pacific Beach neighborhood, authorities said.
Both men were believed to have drowned, though the San Diego County coroner has not determined a cause of death, said Remedios Gomez, Mexico's consul general in San Diego. Their names were not released.
Border Patrol agents chased and captured 14 other Mexican nationals who were spotted aboard the boat, said spokesman Michael Jimenez. Eleven were found injured, including one with hypothermia and others with bumps and bruises.
One man aboard the boat was in critical condition at a San Diego area hospital, Gomez said.
Migrants are turning to the Pacific Ocean to cross the border illegally as entering by land has turned more arduous and dangerous. As sea patrols increase near San Diego, some boat smugglers are venturing further ashore and as far north as suburban Los Angeles to escape detection. In June, 10 suspected illegal immigrants were detained in Malibu, roughly 150 miles north of the Mexican border.
"It's a very dangerous method to come in," Jimenez said.
Smugglers typically try to land boats in poorly lit areas with easy freeway access. The Pacific Beach neighborhood offers neither, suggesting that the migrants may have been in distress.
Authorities were interviewing them to determine what went wrong and whether anyone aboard was a smuggler, Jimenez said.
The smugglers use old, single-engine wooden vessels known in Mexico as "pangas," typically about 25 feet long. The Border Patrol didn't immediately disclose the size and condition of the panga that came ashore Wednesday.
Sea smuggling arrests in Southern California more than doubled during the government's fiscal year 2009 to 867, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Arrests dropped to about 630 last year as federal prosecutors adopted a policy to charge boat passengers — not just smugglers — with felonies.
Few deaths have been reported. An 18-year-old Guatemalan woman and a 34-year-old Mexican man who tried to save her died after a rope got stuck in a propeller, capsizing a boat at San Diego's Torrey Pines State Beach in January 2010. Two smugglers were each sentenced to five years in prison.