Members of a non-partisan, Chula Vista political action committee are expressing concern from Eastlake residents over an apparent increase in Border Patrol activity.
At a South Bay Forum meeting July 19, Vice President Norma Cazares discussed the perception that Border Patrol agents are specifically targeting landscaping truck drivers who appear to be Latino.
Longtime Eastlake resident Yolanda Leyva said she began noticing Border Patrol agents near her residence at Hunte Parkway and Clubhouse Drive beginning early May.
"I've lived in Eastlake Trails for more than 10 years and have never seen a Border Patrol agent stop someone in my neighborhood before," she said.
Leyva said she observed Border Patrol activity four times within a two-three week period. On one occasion, Leyva pulled over and stopped behind the Border Patrol agent to inquire if Arizona immigration bill SB1070 had been implemented in Eastlake.
"I told the agent I was going to discuss the incidents with my congressman and chief of police," she said.
Special Operations Supervisor Justin De La Torre, who works in the Information & Communication Division for Customs and Border Protection, said the San Diego sector has increased its staffing of Border Patrol agents to approximately 2,500 within the last few years.
"There may be the perception that patrols have increased in border communities; however, there is not a specific focus in the Eastlake area," he said.
"As a resident of Eastlake myself, I fully understand the concerns of our neighbors and I am very eager to take advantage of any opportunity to help inform the community just how important the Border Patrol mission is," De La Torre said.
Border Patrol agents' higher profile in the community might be attributable to the agency's nearby headquarters, said acting Deputy Chief Rodney Scott.
"Additionally the Chula Vista station conducts normal patrols routinely in this area with two Border Patrol stations commuting through Eastlake to get to their assigned areas in and around the Otay Mountains," he said.
"It is also important to note that the eastern and southern sections of Eastlake have been notorious for cross border criminal activity dating back long before any homes or businesses populated the area," Scott said.
De La Torre said that Otay Mountain, Otay Mesa and the surrounding non-developed areas to the east and south of Eastlake are notoriously used by criminal organizations to further their contraband activities or smuggle people into the United States.
"The main roads in Eastlake are often used by the criminal organizations as transit routes to get away from the border area and onto the north-bound freeways," he said.
In a June meeting with Congressman Bob Filner and Police Chief David Bejarano, Cazares and forum president Jose Preciado, along with Leyva, outlined their concerns about the patrols.
"I am not a person against Border Patrol agents," Leyva said. "I know there is a need for them and they have a job to do, what I'm concerned about is racial profiling."
According to Scott, the Border Patrol does not have any operations focused on legitimate landscaping businesses.
"Criminal organizations have been using various tactics to blend in with legitimately traveling people and companies for many years," De La Torre said. "As for the landscaping trucks, this is not a new tactic."
De La Torre said the majority of arrests made by Border Patrol agents in San Diego are related to human smuggling.
This year alone, San Diego sector Border Patrol agents have arrested more than 54,000 people, seized more than 15,000 pounds of marijuana and more than 700 pounds of cocaine.
"Our mission is to prevent dangerous people and capabilities from entering the United States in between ports of entry. In doing so, our agents patrol the border 24 hours a day, every day of the year," De La Torre said.