SAN DIEGO -- An investigation into Marines accused of helping smuggle migrants into the United States led to the arrest Thursday of 16 of their fellow Marines at California's Camp Pendleton, just north of the U.S.-Mexico border.
In a dramatic move aimed at sending a message, authorities made the arrests as the Marines gathered in formation with their battalion.
None of the 16 Marines were involved in helping enforce border security, the Marine Corps said in a news release. They are accused of crimes ranging from migrant smuggling to drug-related offenses.
Officials could not immediately be reached for additional details.
The arrests came weeks after two Marines were arrested by a Border Patrol agent on suspicion of transporting three Mexicans on the promise of money after they crossed illegally into the United States.
The military said the investigation helped authorities identify the 16 Marines arrested at the largest Marine Corps' base on the West Coast, about 55 miles from San Diego's border with Mexico.
Retired Marine Lt. Col. Gary Barthel called it a "kind of black eye for the Marine Corps" and said it was important the military show criminal behavior will not be tolerated.
"Obviously I think it looks bad whenever you have the military that is helping protect the border and then you've got military people smuggling," said Barthel, an attorney at the Military Law Center in Carlsbad, north of San Diego.
Marines and other U.S. troops were brought in last year to help reinforce the border by installing razor wire on top of existing barriers, among other things. Troops are barred from arresting migrants.
All 16 were junior enlisted Marines. Barthel said smugglers may have targeted young troops who could be vulnerable to being enticed by fast money.