February 28, 2011 (Pine Valley ) –“This is a grim example of human smugglers’ disregard for life. They place profits over life,” Ralph Desio, U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) public affairs specialist said of a tragedy this weekend.
Acting on a report from the San Diego Sheriff of eight people lost in a winter snowstorm near Sunrise Highway in the Pine Valley Area, the CBP activated its Border Search Trauma and Rescue Team.
“They were able to locate seven people suffering from hypothermia,” Desio said of the search team. The eighth person, an 18-year-old male teen, was found dead around 3:30 a.m. The individuals were undocumented immigrants who likely crossed the U.S.-Mexico border with the help of a smuggler, according to Desio.
“Most, if not all of the activities crossing the border now is driven by organized, trans-national criminal elements,” he advised. “They control passage of human cargo as well as drugs.”
Illegal immigrant has decreased dramatically in San Diego County since the advent of not only a wall along much of the border, but also increased manpower and technology. In fiscal year 2009 (from October 1, 2008-Septembe 30, 2009), 118,721 people were apprehended for unlawful entry in San Diego County.
“Last year, fiscal year 2010, we almost decreased that in half, to 68,565,” said Desio, who called the drop “impressive.” He attributes the dramatic drop to “better technology and greater infrastructure along the borders to help deter illegal activities as well as agents to apprehend those who attempt them.”
Deaths among border crossers increased alarmingly in the first years after construction of the border wall. A graveyard in Imperial County had interred over 600 border crossers who died in San Diego and Imperial Counties as of late 2008. But strides have been made in reducing the death toll, too, Desio said.
“We work collectively with the government of Mexico and we do public service announcements, particularly this time of year, to expose the danger of crossing in these elements,” noted Desio. Those efforts are having some positive results. From fiscal year 2009 to fiscal year 2010, deaths attributed to illegal border crossings in San Diego County fell from 15 to 7, he said.
That toll does not include individuals who die in wilderness areas but may never be found due to remote locations or wild animals such as coyotes and mountain lions that have been known to remove remains.
Smugglers take money from immigrants desperate to come to America, most hoping for a better life for themselves and their families.
“The blame needs to go on these humans smugglers,” the Border Patrol spokesman concluded. “Who knows what they told these people?” Desio said of the unknown smugglers who likely led Saturday’s immigrants into East County’s mountains on one of the coldest nights on record, where seven were found freezing—and a teenager froze to death.