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2 boats capsized off the San Diego shoreline and at least 8 people are dead

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: At least eight people died over the weekend after two boats capsized off the Southern California coast late Saturday night. The boats are believed to have been bringing migrants to the U.S. NPR's Jasmine Garsd reports.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: This is Black's Beach in San Diego. It's a popular destination for surfers due to its big waves. But on Saturday, between 11:30 and midnight, 911 received a distressed phone call in Spanish. Two small pangas - that's small fishing motorboats - carrying 23 people had capsized. Here's James Gartland, lifeguard chief for the San Diego Fire Rescue Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES GARTLAND: This is the - one of the worst maritime smuggling tragedies that I can think of in California, certainly here in the city of San Diego.

GARSD: He said conditions were difficult for a search and rescue. The area is naturally dark at night, and there was a high tide and a thick fog on Saturday. None of the victims who were found at the scene were wearing life jackets. Tragedies like these have spiked recently in Southern California. Here's Captain James Spitler of the San Diego Coast Guard.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES SPITLER: Since 2017, we've had a 771% increase in human trafficking in the Southern California coastal regions. Since 2021, we've had 23 lives lost at sea.

GARSD: Jacqueline Arellano is with the immigrants rights group Border Kindness. She's based in San Diego.

JACQUELINE ARELLANO: What we are seeing overall is people taking desperate measures. That includes the desert. And unfortunately, in this case, it included taking to the ocean.

GARSD: Advocates like Arellano say increasingly desperate conditions in countries of origin and stricter border policies are pushing people to embark on more dangerous crossings.

ARELLANO: When measures are put in place that limit people's human right to present for asylum, they're going to take to more dangerous measures. And they're going to be funneled into conditions like the ocean, the desert, where it's actually less survivable.

GARSD: On Sunday afternoon, the search and rescue ended. Authorities are investigating where the boats came from and who the passengers were. No survivors were encountered on the scene.

Jasmine Garsd, San Diego, Calif.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEAS OF YEARS' "LIKE TALL SHIPS UPON THE SKY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.