A woman died, and 36 people were detained after they tried to swim around a metal border fence that stretches into the Pacific Ocean and separates Mexico and the United States, authorities said Saturday.

The woman was part of a group of about 70 migrants attempting to enter the United States late Friday night by swimming from Tijuana, Mexico, around the border barrier and into San Diego, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said in a statement.

The steel fence, topped in some places by concertina wire, plunges about 300 feet into the ocean and is heavily monitored, making it one of the most difficult places for people to cross along the 1,900-mile border dividing the two nations.

Border Patrol agents have reported a recent increase in the number of migrants trying to reach California’s coast, often aboard overcrowded, small fishing boats known as pangas led by migrant smugglers, which has prompted CBP to expand patrolling operations across 114 coastal border miles.

The rise in the number of migrants taking to the sea, prompted by a mix of factors including financial devastation caused by the pandemic across the hemisphere, highlights the greater dangers they are willing to face to reach the United States.

U.S. authorities acknowledged the phenomenon in August, when CBP reported record levels of maritime smuggling events in California’s Orange, Los Angeles and Ventura counties, resulting in the detention of 90 undocumented migrants.


“Smuggling along the California coastline is inherently dangerous and criminal organizations are not concerned with public safety,” officials noted in a news release. “They see migrants and narcotics as simply cargo.”

Border Patrol agents responded to reports of a group attempting to reach the San Diego beach about 11:30 p.m. Friday. When they reached the area, they found an unresponsive woman.

They tried to resuscitate her while requesting more assistance from San Diego Fire-Rescue Department firefighters and lifeguards. The woman was declared dead at about 12:30 a.m., authorities said.

Border Patrol, the U.S. Coast Guard, and authorities from state and local agencies continued to search the area and took into custody 36 Mexican citizens – 25 men and 11 women – who had swam around the border barrier.

The Coast Guard, which dispatched two cutters and a search helicopter, rescued 13 of those migrants from the water before handing them over to Border Patrol, a Coast Guard spokesman said, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

All 36 people were taken to a Border Patrol station for processing.


It was unclear whether the rest of the migrants in the group returned to Tijuana or were missing. CBP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“This is yet another example of the ruthless tactics smuggling organizations use to bolster their power and profits,” San Diego Sector Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke said in a statement. “We will work tirelessly to pursue and bring to justice those responsible for this tragedy.”

The United States is grappling with a record number of detentions along the Mexico border. During fiscal 2021, which ended in September, Border Patrol agents detained more than 1.7 million migrants along the southern border – the highest level recorded to date, according to CBP data.

But regardless of stricter border security policies and number of detentions, the growing trend in maritime apprehensions in San Diego coastal waters became evident in May with several reports of intercepted vessels carrying migrants including one vessel carrying 33 people that overturned at Point Loma, in San Diego, an resulting in the death of three people, and several hospitalizations.

“It’s definitely something we’ve seen an increase of over the past couple fiscal years. Last year was a record for maritime apprehensions with 1,273 apprehensions in the maritime environment,” Border Patrol Agent Jacob MacIsaac said at a news conference, NBC San Diego reported.

On July 8, two migrants were hospitalized with hypothermia after another vessel capsized in the beach city of Encinitas in Southern California.

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