PHOENIX (Reuters) - U.S. Border Patrol agents have arrested 13 illegal immigrants from Mexico dressed in fake U.S. Marine Corps uniforms, authorities said on Tuesday.
The U.S. Border Patrol said agents pulled over a suspicious van with altered U.S. government license plates at a checkpoint on Interstate 8 near San Diego, California, on March 14.
"The agents determined (it) was occupied by two U.S. citizens and 13 illegal aliens - all wearing U.S. Marine Corps uniforms," said Jerry Conlin, a spokesman for the Border Patrol's San Diego sector.
Conlin said all the occupants of the van were arrested and the two U.S. citizens were subsequently charged with alien smuggling.
Ten of the unauthorized immigrants were returned to Mexico, while the other three were being held as material witnesses against the smugglers, he added.
An investigation into the incident is being conducted by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
Smugglers from Mexico are increasingly resorting to methods such as disguise in a bid to beat ramped-up security along the nearly 2,000 mile Southwest border.
In recent years, Border Patrol agents have seized vehicles including fake courier trucks and public utilities' vans used by smugglers to haul illegal immigrants across the heavily patrolled strip flanking the border.
"This effort is an example of the lengths smugglers will go to avoid detection, and the ... vigilance displayed every day by Customs and Border Protection personnel," Conlin said.
(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; editing by Peter Bohan)