SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Federal authorities have a stern warning for migrants and smugglers attempting to enter the U.S. illegally.
On Wednesday, Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman made a plea to anyone thinking about taking the risk. Grossman was joined by San Diego-area leaders from a handful of federal agencies, including Customs and Border Protection, Border Patrol, and the Coast Guard.
According to Grossman, the number of human smuggling-related deaths in the Southern California region in the first half of 2021 is on pace to pass all of the deaths in the fiscal year 2020.
Grossman says local agencies have seen 25 migrant deaths the in San Diego border area this year so far, compared to 29 deaths during all of the last fiscal year.
Officials provided several recent examples that they say show the dangers of trusting human smugglers, including:
- MARCH 2: A crash near Holtville led to the deaths of 13 Mexican and Guatemalan nationals when an overloaded SUV crashed into a semi-truck on an Imperial County highway. Jose Cruz Noguez has been charged with allegedly coordinating the smuggling operation.
- MAY 2: A panga boat crashed off the coast of Point Loma, claiming the lives of three Mexican migrants. More than two dozen others were rescued after being forced to abandon the sinking vessel. The alleged boat captain, Antonio Hurtado, pleaded not guilty this week to two dozen charges filed against him in a grand jury indictment. Survivors told authorities they paid between $15,000 and $18,500 to be smuggled into the U.S., court documents state.
- MAY 20: A panga boat capsized near La Jolla, resulting in one person's death and eight others being rescued from the water. The boat's alleged captain, Victor Alfonso Soto Aguilar, and another man who allegedly acted as a refueler -- Jose Ramon Geraldo Romero -- were charged in an indictment returned Wednesday. Migrants rescued in the alleged smuggling attempt said they paid between $12,000 and $15,000 to be smuggled, according to prosecutors.
Grossman says migrants should not be putting their lives in the hands of the smugglers, explaining that the smugglers do not care about the migrants' well-being and instead only care about the money they are paid.
"We are appealing to every person who is considering a desperate, perilous journey into the United States, whether in a boat, on foot or crammed in the trunk of a car," said Grossman. "Don't do it. Do not put your life in the hands of smugglers. These people do not care about you. They will jam way too many people on a boat or in a car just to make more money. They will direct you to hike in remote areas in dangerous weather conditions without adequate food, water or clothes. Smugglers care nothing for their customers. They care only about maximum profit."
The U.S. Attorney's Office says any suspected smuggler caught by authorities will be prosecuted to the fullest extent.
Authorities said they do not know why smuggling attempts are up.