Magazine article National Defense

Dangerous Water Crossings Expected to Rise

Magazine article National Defense

Dangerous Water Crossings Expected to Rise

Article excerpt

SAN DIEGO -- BOATSWAIN'S MATE RYAN Rinowski throttles down the Coast Guard response boat a few hundred yards short of the border south of San Diego.

On shore in the shadows of a bullfighting ring that towers over the beach, a green and white Border Patrol truck sits facing Mexico. A construction crew nearby works on replacing a border fence that extends less than 100 yards into the ocean.

The new wall is designed to prevent would-be migrants from easily wading over the border. Beyond the demarcation, open water is the only barrier. The dim outlines of Mexico's Coronado Islands can be seen in the late morning haze. It's a weekday and there isn't much traffic.

While land-border crossings grab most of the media attention, almost forgotten by the public is the ocean route.

"Yeah, we don't get a lot of minutemen out here," jokes Boatswain's Mate Patrick Blakeley, referring to the volunteers who have taken it upon themselves to set up citizen checkpoints in Arizona, California and Texas.

Illegal immigrants wishing to take their chances with a water crossing can face deadly consequences. While the Department of Homeland Security proceeds with plans to upgrade the rusting and inefficient fence along the land border across from Tijuana, Blakeley predicts Coast Guard and Border Patrol marine units will get busier as migrants search for the path of least resistance.

A 10-year court battle over how to rein force the Tijuana fence ended in 2005, paving the way for the upgrades, which will include all-weather, easy access roads and improved surveillance. The Bush administration in its 2007 DHS budget proposal has requested $30 million to continue construction. The 2006 budget included $35 million for the project.

The myriad ways employed to make the dangerous trip over water is indicative of the lengths migrants and drug smugglers will go. Recently, several illegal aliens have been caught coming across on surfboards. Some navigate boats stripped down of everything but the basics, then beach them before making a mad dash. The largely uninhabited Coronados, which lie 13 miles southwest, are a common staging ground for such attempts.

Rinowski remembers a mission to help rescue two swimmers. Four Mexicans, including a brother and sister, put their clothes in trash bags and filled them with air to use them as makeshift floatation devices. Two of the party made it, but the woman and another man went missing. …

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