Sweeping through the roadways and countryside of North County early Tuesday morning, the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended 558 illegal aliens, the most yet in a single search of the northern parts of San Diego County.
At least one farmer said the arrests could affect productivity temporarily.
Special teams made up of agents from the El Cajon Border Patrol station and of deputies from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department’s Special Enforcement Division began rounding up the aliens about 3:30 a.m. in rural and urban areas of Oceanside, Vista, Carlsbad, Bonsall and Escondido, Border Patrol spokesman Ed Pyeatt said.
The operation was finished by midmorning, Pyeatt said, adding that some of the aliens were agricultural workers and others were workers waiting for jobs in the cities.
The sweep included gardeners, tomato and strawberry pickers, and “a little bit of everything,” Pyeatt said.
Vic Pankey, owner of Pankey Farms, near Bonsall, said, “In the short run, it will have an impact.”
Pankey, who grows mainly avocados and oranges, said the biggest problems will be the picking of strawberries and the day-to-day chores such as crop irrigation, which is especially crucial with the recent hot weather.
“There’s a whole range of vegetable crops just now coming up,” Pankey said.
Crops coming up include squash, peppers, tomatoes and strawberries.
For farmers’ weed control, laying of irrigation pipes and general construction, however, the sweep won’t make much difference, Pankey said.
The raid probably won’t make a difference in the long run, either, Pankey said. After a few days, new workers will come in to replace those who were arrested.
In fact, the same workers may be back. Many illegal aliens who are returned to Mexico come right back, Pyeatt said.
Pete Mackauf, general manager of Carlsbad Tomato Farms, questioned whether the sweep would have even a short-term effect on local growers, saying that many of the arrests may have been of illegal aliens not involved in agricultural work.
The Border Patrol decided to make the raid after complaints about illegal aliens in the area were received by the sheriff, the patrol and several congressmen, Pyeatt said.
Most of the illegal aliens were Mexican men, but there also were two Guatemalans, 26 women and seven children among those apprehended, Pyeatt said.
They were put into buses and vans, and most were taken back to Mexico voluntarily, Pyeatt said. The others are being held at the San Ysidro Border Patrol station awaiting deportation proceedings.
Repeat offenders will be prosecuted, he added.
Authorities also recovered a stolen pickup truck used to smuggle illegal aliens.