So close to the ocean and removed from development, the area looks like a great site for a campground.
A newly released letter from the U.S. border patrol explains why a San Diego County supervisor's push to place a campground near the border may not be a great idea: it's an active crime scene where 3200 people were apprehended last year, and a fourth of them were convicted criminals. And, the letter notes, in some locations, the campground itself would likely become a tool for smugglers "as a point of operation, coordination and/or observation."
"The more used and densely packed the camp sites become, the greater the likelihood of exploitation by smugglers," the letter says.
In October 2015, San Diego County’s Department of Parks and Recreation held an open house for public comment on six potential campground sites within a mile of the border in the area west of I-5 that is patrolled by the Imperial Beach border patrol station.
Sites include an area just east of the ocean near Friendship Park in Border Field State Park, two locations atop Spooner's Mesa, two more areas in the lowlands immediately north of Spooner's Mesa on the north side of Monument Road, and a sixth site near the community gardens on the north side of the river, about a mile from the border. The effort was part of a $100,000 feasibility study funded with Neighborhood Reinvestment Program money from the county.
After the meeting, acting San Diego Sector border patrol chief Rodney Scott sent the comment letter to the county parks department.
"It is easy to understand the desire to make favorable use of such a rich, scenic, and diverse ecosytem," the letter says. "There is, however, a less obvious aspect of the area, one not as apparent to passers-through or to those who do not have a constant presence in the area."
According to the letter, the Imperial Beach station alone apprehended more than 5300 people during fiscal year 2015, which ended on September 30, 2015.
"Over 3,200 of these apprehensions occurred within the immediate vicinity of the proposed campsites. Twenty-five percent of those apprehended had prior criminal convictions in the United States and some of the illegal crossers were documented gang members," the letter says.
The border patrol has never publicly released figures for a single station, instead providing sector-wide numbers for apprehensions. Several years ago, the public information offices estimated that about 17 percent of the people apprehended had prior U.S. criminal convictions that were serious enough to trigger deportation.
The Tijuana River Valley area is patrolled around the clock by agents in trucks and jeeps, on ATVs and horses, with the support of "low-flying helicopters." There's passive surveillance as well, the letter says. Border patrol enforcement activity "significantly detracts from the serenity that would typically be expected by campers," the letter states.
Sources who saw the percentage of convicted, deported crossers — at 25 percent — thought the percentage was low, though it does fluctuate from year to year. The Imperial Beach patrol station is widely thought to catch more deported criminals than other stations in the sector. According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement data, 19,603 people were deported through San Diego last fiscal year. Of those, 11,118 were convicted criminals. They are sent through a gate just west of the San Ysidro Port of Entry, about a mile east of the park, with whatever belongings they had when they were released from jail or detention.
Mexican officials have launched programs to provide deported people with food, shelter, medical care, and to cover the costs of travel to the cities and states where they have family and community. But some number of people deported after completing prison terms walk down the fence and look for a way to return to their U.S. families and communities.
Of the six proposed campground sites, the border patrol preferred the northernmost because the closer the campground is to the border, the more frequent and intense the disturbances will be, the letter says.
The north site "would be the least impacted, but will still experience some impact at times," the acting chief wrote.
Calls and emails for comment sent to the county parks and Cox's office Monday (June 6) did not elicit a response. Cox, who also serves on the California Coastal Commission, stunned local officials in 2013 by announcing his desire to use $1 million in mitigation fees paid by the Hotel del Coronado to build a campground in Border Field State Park, which was one of the proposed sites in the study. The coastal commission has collected more than $19 million in mitigation fees from developers of high-end projects and more than $10 million set aside for affordable lodging remains unspent, according to commission documents.