Witness: Migrants smuggled in boat engine compartment

by: Julian Resendiz
Posted: May 3, 2024 / 05:26 PM CDT
Updated: May 3, 2024 / 06:10 PM CDT

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EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Two Americans who said they were fishing for tuna off the coast of Southern California are facing migrant-smuggling charges after the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted them 5 miles southwest of Point Loma.

According to court documents, the Coast Guard spotted a vessel entering U.S. territorial waters from Mexico and moved to intercept it.

An officer interviewed the boat’s captain, Steven Giffin, and was told only two people were onboard fishing. But the Coast Guard crew allegedly noticed the fishing rods lacked reels and were not the kind used for catching tuna.

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The Coast Guard also interviewed Jonathan Brent Salter, the boat’s other occupant, who told officers he had been working on the engine; further questioning allegedly revealed that the vessel had met with another boat in Mexico “to pick up people,” records show.

The Coast Guard notified the Border Patrol about a possible human smuggling encounter and instructed the captain to steer toward the U.S. Coast Guard Station in San Diego.

Records show that in addition to Giffin and Salterborder, border agents found 13 people in the boat, including a previously deported Mexican national and a Romanian named Mihail Enasoeai.

None of the foreign nationals had documents allowing their legal stay in the United States.

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According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, material witnesses told investigators they paid between $1,000 and $13,000 to be picked up by a small boat near Rosarito Beach, Mexico, and taken out to sea to meet a larger vessel.

The migrants allegedly were instructed to hide in the engine compartment of the vessel and stayed there until the Coast Guard intercepted them.

The complaint states the witnesses identified Giffin and Salter as the captain and the “co-captain” of the vessel that picked them up at sea and would take them to the U.S.

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The two Americans face charges of attempting to bring illegal aliens into the U.S. for financial gain, and aiding and abetting a crime. They had a preliminary hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jill L. Burkhardt on Thursday in federal court in San Diego.

Alejandro Martinez Sanchez, one of the passengers, was charged with attempted illegal entry after deportation.