The U.S. Border Patrol arrested nearly 500 illegal aliens early Monday during a three-hour sweep of northern San Diego County areas frequented by undocumented farm workers.
Mike Vallina, assistant chief patrol agent in San Diego, said the raids resulted in 494 arrests. That represents a nearly fivefold increase in the number of aliens normally apprehended each day in an area that stretches from Del Mar north to Carlsbad along Interstate 5.
Vallina said the raids were prompted by reports that aliens had been loitering in the area and were occasionally bothering residents.
"We've had a lot of complaints from local citizens up there," Vallina said. "We just had the manpower today and decided to do it."
He described the raids as the first in a series to be staged throughout North County, where illegal aliens are a prime source of farm labor. Most of those arrested Monday were picked up on streets and in staging areas as they awaited buses and other transportation to nearby fields.
Farmers in San Diego County, as in other parts of California, say they depend on illegal labor to harvest their crops because U.S. citizens are hesitant to take the low-paying jobs. Ben Hillebrecht, past president of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, said Monday that the prospect of losing potential workers to the Border Patrol is part of doing business.
"It's just one of those things we have to live with," Hillebrecht said. "It's not ideal, but that's the way it is."
The 40 agents involved in the raids Monday used horses, four-wheel-drive vans, three-wheeled motorcycles and a helicopter to pursue the aliens, officials said. Officers were removed from other duties to participate, Vallina said.
Most of those arrested are Mexican citizens and will be returned there. The 10 Central Americans apprehended will be held pending legal proceedings.
San Diego County is considered the busiest point along the 1,900-mile U.S.-Mexico border for illegal aliens entering the country. In fiscal 1986, which ended Sept. 30, Border Patrol agents in San Diego recorded 630,000 arrests of illegal aliens, a 47% increase over the record 428,000 in 1985.