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CBP

Beachgoers may see more Border Patrol agents on horseback

Border Patrol agents on horseback (U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Flickr)

Beachgoers may see more Border Patrol agents on horseback in coming weeks as the federal agency beefs up its presence along the coast to try to deter illegal smuggling of drugs and people.

While federal officials wouldn’t release any details on the number of horses being deployed or the areas where agents might ride, a Border Patrol spokesman said any beach in the county would be open to such enforcement efforts.

“We’ve had horse patrols for many years,” said Supervisory Agent Jeff Stephenson. “The difference here is they will be seen in areas where they haven’t been seen in in the past, particularly along the coastline.”

Stephenson said agents will work with local and state officials as they plan enforcement patrols. He said the horses might be seen anywhere, from the border to Oceanside.

“Our jurisdiction is anywhere in the U.S.,” he said. “There is nothing preventing us from operating on any of the U.S. coastlines.”

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In addition to preventing smugglers from bringing people and drugs into the country, he said the enforcement effort is designed to prevent further introduction of COVID-19 into California communities.

“It is a multifaceted concern,” Stephenson said. “Any illegal entry, we don’t know who we are dealing with until we arrest them, process them. We don’t catch everybody.”

He noted that anyone entering the country illegally who is ill would be treated in a hospital emergency room and put demands on emergency services during the global pandemic.

In the San Diego sector, this has been a particularly busy time for maritime smuggling.

In the first six months of this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, there have been 129 maritime events, which led to 485 arrests. and the seizure of 6,642 pounds of illegal drugs.

In all of last fiscal year, agents recorded 194 maritime events and 660 arrests, with more than 19,000 pounds of drugs being seized.

Stephenson said agents on horseback will be able to patrol areas that are inaccessible by four-wheel-drive vehicles or ATVs, and have a lower impact on the environment than motor vehicles. The horseback patrols also will provide a visual deterrent to smugglers, he said.

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© 2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune