Nearly 500 illegal aliens were arrested by U.S. Border Patrol agents Monday during a three-hour sweep of northern San Diego County areas frequented by alien farm workers.
Mike Vallina, assistant chief patrol agent in San Diego, said the early morning raids resulted in 494 arrests. That amounts to about a fivefold increase in the number of aliens normally apprehended daily in the affected area, which stretches from Del Mar north to Carlsbad along Interstate 5.
The raids, Vallina said, were prompted by reports that the aliens had been loitering in the area and 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 the north county region, where illegal aliens are a prime source of farm labor. Most of those arrested Monday were picked up on the street as they awaited buses and other transportation to local fields.
Farmers in San Diego County, as in other areas of California, say they are dependent 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 was part of doing business.
"It's just one of those things we have to live with," he said. "It's not ideal, but that's the way it is."
The 40 agents involved in Monday's operation used horses, four-wheel-drive vans, off-road vehicles and a helicopter to pursue the aliens, officials said. Officers were removed from other duties to participate, Vallina said.
The vast majority of the aliens arrested were from Mexico and will be quickly returned there. The 10 Central Americans apprehended will be held pending legal proceedings.
San Diego County is considered the busiest crossing point for illegal aliens throughout the 1,900-mile U.S.-Mexico border.
In fiscal 1986, Border Patrol officers in San Diego recorded 630,000 arrests of illegal aliens, a 47% increase over the record 428,000 apprehensions in 1985.