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18 suspected illegal immigrants arrested off Dana Point

February 16, 2011 |  8:12 am

Eighteen suspected illegal immigrants allegedly trying to enter the United States on a small fishing boat were arrested off the coast of Dana Point, authorities said Wednesday.

Fifteen men and three women between the ages of 20 and 50 were spotted early Tuesday morning aboard a panga about six miles west of Dana Point.

Officers with the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection stopped the boat and detained everyone aboard, according to a statement from the Coast Guard.

The group, all of whom told authorities they were from Mexico, were taken to a Customs and Border Protection station, where they will be fingerprinted and questioned about who arranged the smuggling operation, said Michael Jimenez, a spokesman for the agency.

If a criminal and immigration background check does not turn up anything that would warrant holding the suspects, they will be allowed to voluntarily return to Mexico, he said.

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-- Paloma Esquivel

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