Nightly News   |  July 13, 2013

Mexican smuggling boats race up California coast

While most of the Mexican immigrant smugglers drop off their human cargo loads in southern California near San Diego, the marijuana smugglers are traveling farther north to avoid detection. NBC’s Mark Potter reports

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>>> now to an nbc news investigation. in our series the war next door. as the immigration debate continues local and federal agents are keeping a close eye on mexican smugglers making increasingly risky moves on the high seas to traffic drugs and to bring foreign nationals into this country illegally. u.s. authorities estimate multiple smuggling runs are attempted into california every week with boat runners taking dangerous routes. nbc mark potter has our report.

>> reporter: in broad daylight mexican drug smugglers dump bales of marijuana as they try to outrun the u.s. coast guard . it happens routinely. day and night . up and down the california coast. off baja the mexican navy finds this boat crammed with immigrants trying to reach the u.s. with u.s. border security making it harder to cross illegally by land, mexican smugglers are taking to the seas using souped up fishing boats .

>> the operators have become more brazen.

>> reporter: those boats loaded with drugs or immigrants are heading farther north. one landed on the secured beaches of vandenberg air force base . smugglers run through the environmentally sensitive channel islands national park off the santa barbara coast.

>> they are using them as a barrier. they use it as a place to rendezvous, to refuel.

>> reporter: smugglers left immigrants stranded on one channel island and bales of marijuana on another. this area on santa cruz island is known as smugglers coffee and scene of a tragedy last december when authorities say a u.s. coast guardsman was run over and killed by two men in a boat. the victim was chef petty officer horn shown here on patrol last year. park rangers worry about half million channel visitors a year smugglers could confront tourists.

>> it's unfortunate this type of criminal activity is happening.

>> reporter: on the mainland, this rancher worries about smugglers off loading near his property.

>> that's where the boat landed and they scramble up the bluff with their load was marijuana.

>> they found wet clothing and footprints.

>> reporter: landowner says smugglers use this drainage tunnel connected to the beach to enter her land.

>> those kind of people can be desperate and that's what scares me.

>> reporter: authorities have stepped up patrols to intercept the boats. and increasingly make arrests. but the mexican smugglers show no signs of slowing down. mark potter , nbc news, ventura, california .