(WSVN) - Border protection agents off the South Florida coast are constantly facing dangerous duties.
On the seas and in the skies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers safeguard our shores. With the number of smuggling operations on the rise, their jobs are becoming even more challenging.
“A lot of people don’t see how dangerous it really is out here and how much of an impact we’re actually making out here,” said Jonathan. “We’ve seen an increase in smuggling operations in South Florida.”
With incidents on the rise, they don’t take any chances if something is suspicious to them. This is an inside look at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine operations through their eyes
“At nighttime, we’re completely blacked out. You won’t even know we’re coming,” said Jonathan.
These agents face a unique set of challenges at night. They use a red light to help keep the crew safe as they patrol. Once the sun rises, it doesn’t mean their challenges disappear.
“A lot of these smugglers, they like to blend in with local traffic during the day,” said Jonathan. “It’s getting harder to detect bad guys. That’s why we try to stop as many boats as we can.”
Attempts to make it into the United States, especially in this part of the country, are common, but there has been a noticeable surge. The reasons for fleeing vary.
According to CBP reports, agents have already responded to more than 104 smuggling events that hit our shore in the last seven months.
“This is obviously not the correct process to claim asylum and come to the U.S.,” said Alex.
As they search by water, agents are also scanning boats from the sky. How fast they’re going and the direction they’re headed will tell them a lot.
7News was embedded with several teams for four days, going as far north as Boca Raton to as far south as Key Largo. Their mission is to keep crime, including drugs, from entering the U.S.
A critical part of these missions is the communication between agents. They are constantly communicating on board these flights and with their agents below.
“These smugglers don’t take care of these people at all. They don’t really care about these people at all. They just care about money,” said Jonathan.
CBP reports three large incidents between January and March, 650 migrants from Haiti alone made landfall in the Florida Keys.
Video shows people hanging out of a boat near Ocean Reef, one of the biggest recent cases.
“All these vessels, they’re jam-packing as many people as they possibly can on board,” said Alex.
7News traveled with agents to the north end of Key Largo, where some abandoned boats can be seen off shore.
“You can see here there’s some clothing. Each person is going to bring about a backpack worth of supplies,” said Alex.
“It’s common to see people with seasickness and dehydration,” said Fritz.
New pictures of different incidents give more insight into the conditions people are traveling in.
“Unfortunately, a lot people lose their lives out here in these rough seas,” said Jonathan.
“We always think about the emotional side of it,” said Fritz. “People want to come here into the country and have an opportunity to work, right, and you have to think about the opposite side of that. There’s people here that are being deceived and forced into labor and into conditions that they don’t want to be in.”
Which is why agents keep training and patrolling, immediately questioning anyone they determine they need to investigate further.
“If everything’s OK, we’ll go back up there and return their IDs and their registration and cut them loose,” said Fritz.
They do this with the help of other agencies. Agents stopped and boarded two boats while 7News was with them.
CBP: “Have you been stopped by the police on the water?”
They said while at least one passenger on board both boats had a criminal history that included smuggling, this time, everything checked out.
“If we don’t dig, nobody else is gonna,” said Alex.
They said their duty is to protect our coast.
“Our main job is basically protect our nation and the people living on it,” said Manny.
Border Protection continues to stop more migrants at sea. Twenty-eight migrants came ashore to the Keys over the course of 12 hours this weekend. All of them arrived on homemade vessels and all are said to be in good condition.
The number of landings has now increased to 120. Agents said, compared to last year, they have seen a more than a 300 percent increase in maritime smuggling events.
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