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Border Patrol Chief Michael J. Fisher testified that his agency does track a number of different measures that could be part of an overall yardstick. He said Border Patrol is refining its estimates of how many people enter, how many people evade capture and escape into the U.S., and how many turn back before being captured.

He also said it is beginning to analyze how many of those they apprehend have criminal records or outstanding arrest warrants or were previously deported. Chief Fisher said those measures will fluctuate along the border, and his goal is to come up with a threat assessment and then be able to put the right amount of technology and manpower in those places where there are problems.

There are other measures, too, such as crime rates in border counties. Those have been dropping in the southwest, even as a drug war rages on the Mexico side of the border.

But drug seizures are up dramatically, which signals an increase in smuggling across the border.

Rep. Ron Barber, Arizona Democrat, urged the Border Patrol to get the input of ranchers and townspeople along the border before it finalizes its new border security yardstick.

“When I talk to ranchers, for example, and they tell me they are unsafe on their land and they can’t go to town without taking their children with them … then we are not secure, from their perspective,” he said. “It’s a matter of where you are and what you’re facing.”