Boat Full of Undocumented Immigrants Capsizes Near San Diego Coast


Mike Karl Jacobson CBS 17

A shot from a boat breaking apart off San Diego coast

Elle Cavanaugh, Contributing Writer

Last Sunday at 10 a.m., a 40-foot cabin cruiser, or a “Panga,” capsized into the reefs of San Diego. Passerbys enjoying their morning spotted the crash and raced to help. Out of the 32 passengers on board, three have died, and five remain in the hospital. 

This ship was extremely overpacked and not fit to face the rocky waves of Point Loma. It began capsizing due to the heavy surf but immediately fell apart once the panga hit the rocks. Debris was everywhere by the time the boat received some help.

There were several people with Navy experience who happened to be on the scene that day. Rustin Brown, a former Navy sailor, had been exploring tide pools with his family when he witnessed the crash. Cale Foy, a current Navy aircrewman, had been hiking with his family when he saw Brown and others jumping in the water, encouraging him to do the same. Another man was training to be a Navy SEAL and helped with the rescue. These three men created a “casualty collection point” on the top of the debris and worked tirelessly until a rescue boat with lifeguards arrived.

All but one of the passengers were Mexican nationals without U.S. immigration documents. One passenger was a Guatemalan national, but he too lacked any papers. The Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary has announced that the Mexican passengers will be returning to Mexico.

Most of the passengers ranged in ages from 18 to 39, but one was a 15-year-old minor without anyone with him. There were both women and men on the boat.

Not much has been released on the captain of the panga, but he did have legal U.S. status and is now being held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

According to the CBP Supervisory Agent Jeff Stephenson, “Every indication from our perspective is that this was a smuggling vessel to smuggle migrants into the United States illegally.”

This would not be the first situation of immigrant smuggling that has resulted in tragedy. Just two months ago, a tractor-trailer hit an SUV carrying 25 undocumented immigrants over the Mexico-U.S. border.

Senior Genevra Donnelly insists, “We need to make it safer for immigrants to come over. We can’t keep having situations like this one.”

Senior Sabrina Hatch adds, “I think the issue of illegal immigration is extremely pressing right now, especially with the influence of our last presidency and the continuous attacks on essentially anyone that isn’t white in this country.”

During the Trump presidency, the administration took a strong standpoint on fighting illegal immigration, and many have been hoping that the inhumane policies would change with the Biden administration. On the campaign trail, Biden promised that during the first 100 days he would stop all deportations, but Texan courts blocked the order. Biden works to make immigration policy more humane and less harsh, but out of options, immigrants turned away by the treacherous, and often hopeless, pathways to citizenship, continue to find themselves in these dangerous situations. And, with such a demand, smugglers who profit off of illegal immigration, continue to provide extremely dangerous methods of entry. 

Hatch concludes, “I hope that moving forward, Biden’s presidency will begin to recover so much of the damage that has already been done. Immigrant’s rights need to be protected.”