On Monday, Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, California Reps. Henry Waxman and Janice Hahn, and three of their colleagues in the California congressional delegation wrote to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to express their concern about increased panga boat smuggling on the California coast and to request a briefing with DHS officials to explore the federal role in our coast security.
Specifically, the lawmakers are requesting to be updated on the actions that DHS, including the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Border Patrol, are taking to combat increased panga smuggling off the coast of California and how the agency is coordinating with state and local law enforcement.
“While the tragic death of Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III has brought national attention to the issue of panga smuggling, California’s coastal communities, particularly the Central Coast, have faced a significant increase in the incidents of panga smuggling over the past two years,” Capps said. “Protecting against panga smuggling requires coordination at the federal, state and local law levels, and it is critical to ensure we are all on the same page. I want to urge DHS officials to redouble their efforts to address this issue and will continue to push for more federal support to help our local law enforcement officials address this growing problem.”
“The recent rise in smuggling off of the California coast is troubling,” Waxman said. “It is critical that our borders and our coasts are secure from drug and human trafficking and I’m committed to ensuring that federal, state and local officials have sufficient resources to combat this illegal activity.”
“The tragic death of Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne has reminded us of the increasing dangers of panga smuggling and the threat they continue to pose in Southern and Central California,” Hahn said. “Chief Petty Officer Horne’s death must not be in vain. We need to redouble our efforts to counter this threat, and ensure that we are effectively coordinating federal, state and local agencies to keep our shores and our people safe.”
In July, Capps hosted a meeting between federal and local law enforcement to discuss the increased incidents of panga smuggling, how best to focus limited resources, and how to better coordinate law enforcement efforts between federal, state and local governments. A recap of that meeting is available by clicking here.
Text of the letter sent to Secretary Napolitano is included below.
Dear Secretary Napolitano,
We are writing to express our concern for the increased incidence of panga boat smuggling off the California coast and to request an update on what the federal government has done to date to prevent these boats from landing on American shores. The panga boat encounter off the coast of Santa Cruz Island on December 2, 2012 that led to Coast Guardsman Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III’s death has highlighted the danger of these smuggling vessels.
As you may know, over the last few years Mexican drug trafficking organizations have begun smuggling both drugs and people onto California shores using small boats called “pangas.” These open-top boats are typically twenty to forty-five feet in length and built for speed. Local law enforcement officials estimate that each boat carries at least 1 ton of illegal drugs, usually marijuana although methamphetamine smuggling has also been reported. In addition, undocumented immigrants have been smuggled on these boats. These individuals who have come from as far as China are a border security risk, but could also be victims of human trafficking.
Law enforcement and the media report that panga boat interceptions have been on the rise. According to data kept by U.S. Border Patrol, in fiscal year 2011, 57 panga events off southern California were reported. To date in fiscal year 2012 already 64 events have been reported. They have been found up the California coast as far as San Francisco, and due to the increase in enforcement in the southern California region an increasing number have also been landing on the Central Coast. This increase is cause for concern, especially given the possibility for these boats to smuggle more dangerous cargo, like weapons and potential terrorists.
Unfortunately, it is hard to estimate the true prevalence of these boats as we can only count those intercepted by law enforcement or that are found abandoned on our shores. In that way, the issue could be even worse and yet we know nothing about them.
Given the risk these boats present and the tragedy that occurred on December 2, 2012, we are writing to request a briefing on the work of DHS, including the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, to combat the rise in drug and human smuggling from panga boats. We are interested in gaining a complete picture of the resources and tools at your disposal to address the threats these vessels pose and to learn how the federal government works with local and state officials to protect our shores. This is a unique security project involving local, state, and federal resources that must work together to be successful. We look forward to your prompt response.
Thank you for all you do to protect the citizens of the United States. We stand ready to work with you to ensure that we are doing all we can to keep our citizens and our coastline safe.
— Ashley Schapitl is press secretary for Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara.