South American gangs target San Diego homes for burglary after flying to US on Visa Waiver Program

"This is organized," San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said.

Jarryd Jaeger Vancouver, BC

San Diego, California is a common destination for travelers, however, a new set of visitors have taken advantage of what investigators say is a  "weak vetting system" to wreak havoc on residents in more affluent neighborhoods.

The phenomenon, which has come to be known as "burglary tourism," involves the obtaining of tourist visas by foreigners, typically members of South American organized crime groups, who then cross the border and steal from American citizens.

In an interview with NBC7, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan explained exactly the severity of the issue. 

"When a burglary happens [and] it's your home, you never feel the same," she said. "This is organized. This is not some kid."

She noted that, "the home is carefully selected," with perpetrators "watching from rented cars that blend into wealthy neighborhoods."

"They are masked, gloved and care little about cameras," she added. "They are in and out of your home in just minutes.

According to the DA, thieves are making off with "only what they can sell quickly," such as "jewelry, coin collections, cash and high end purses."

Stephan lamented the fact that the visa waiver program, in which some South American countries are enrolled, was "supposed to improve our economy and help tourism," but has instead "turn[ed] out to be a burglary tourist visa."

She noted that many suspected thieves are entering the US via Electronic System for Travel Authorization visas.

"The mother country has the responsibility to take care of business and make sure that they're not allowing these visas for unvetted people with criminal records," she added.

Eight people connected to a Chilean operation have been apprehended, accused of being "involved in multiple different burglaries."

As NBC7 reports, the US does have extradition treaties with some South American countries, including Chile, though the process is not straightforward. As a result, the move is typically only made to deal with violent criminals.

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