Maritime smuggling of people to the U.S. is on the rise

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Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Maritime smuggling of people to the U.S. is on the rise toward California and Florida, with two recent capsized boats near San Diego and Key West showing the deadly consequences.

Why it matters: Experts stress that for several years toughened security has not decreased migration, just made adult migrants seek other, more dangerous paths.

  • The Coast Guard reports a 50% rise in people trying to migrate by sea, with over 7,500 detained trying to do so during the 2020 fiscal year.
    • Border officials say sea interdictions have gone up 80% in the Caribbean and 92% in the Pacific.
  • Drowning and presumed drowning were among the top causes of death recorded by the International Organization for Migration in the Americas region during 2020.

This May, four migrants died in two separate incidents near the San Diego coast when the smuggling boats overturned.

  • Two Cuban migrants died and 10 others were lost at sea near Florida late last month.
  • Smugglers use outdated vessels that lack safety equipment or potable water. They often sail at night, when tides are higher and patrols are fewer, officials say.

Between the lines: Families pay up to $16,000 to sea coyotes for trips on dinghies or fishing vessels, Noticias Telemundo reports.

  • The boats through the Caribbean stop in Panama or the Bahamas, where some people have disappeared.
  • Those sailing the Pacific set sail from uninhabited islands near Tijuana.

The big picture: Crossings on foot are becoming deadlier. A record number of people died in 2020 going through remote areas of the U.S.-Mexico border.

  • Immigrating through legal channels can take 2 to 24 years with no assured outcome.
  • Requesting asylum has also become more difficult. The former administration ruled victims of domestic and gang violence, for example, were ineligible for asylum, despite evidence of significant and ongoing trauma, per a report from UCLA and Physicians for Human Rights.

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