Apprehensions of illegal immigrants are up 13 percent this year, the chief of the U.S. Border Patrol testified to Congress on Wednesday as lawmakers continued to bash the Obama administration for failing to have a way of measuring how secure the borders are.
The increase in apprehensions appears to contradict the administration’s assertion that the border is more secure than ever — a claim that is critical to advocates’ hopes of passing an immigration legalization bill this year.
“We have seen an increase in attempted entries,” Border Patrol Chief Michael J. Fisher told a Senate committee.
He said part of the reason for an increase is that Congress is talking about legalizing illegal immigrants, which is luring more foreigners to try to be in the U.S. when amnesty takes effect.
That appears to be a reversal from last month, when another top Homeland Security Department official testified that the yardsticks the department was using weren’t meant to be shared with Congress or the public.
“You have? You have?” Mr. McCain said. “And we’re using them?”
“We’re just starting to,” Chief Fisher replied.
The exchange highlighted one of the thorniest issues as lawmakers try to write an immigration bill this year.
The administration argues that the border is secure and that it’s time to legalize illegal immigrants. But a number of lawmakers, including Mr. McCain, say the public won’t accept legalization unless the border is considered secure enough to prevent a flood of illegal crossings into the U.S.
That is one reason why the increase in apprehension numbers is worrisome to lawmakers.
Though it appears counterintuitive, the Border Patrol says that when it catches more people crossing, that means more are crossing successfully as well. A 13 percent increase through the first half of fiscal year 2013 would represent a major step backward.
Still, lawmakers said there is little doubt border security is better than in the middle of the last decade, when millions of illegal immigrants were apprehended each year, suggesting millions more eluded capture and crossed successfully.
Sen. Thomas R. Carper, Delaware Democrat and chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he sees the signs of success.