- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

Immigration officials say that tighter border security since September 11 has caused a continuing decline in the number of people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, but others are not so sure why all is quieter on the southwestern front.
For the eighth month in a row, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service reported a sharp drop in the number of immigrants detained entering from Mexico, viewed as the best gauge of how many are crossing the border illegally.
"It's going down at an average of about 300,000 a year," said Border Patrol spokesman Mario Villarreal. "That's pretty good."
Analysts and some patrollers, however, are cautious about jumping to conclusions. A report released yesterday by the Public Policy Institute of California said that, despite the short-term drop in apprehensions, illegal immigration has continued to rise for the past nine years.
From Oct. 1 to May 31, the Border Patrol caught 639,218 persons trying to cross along the 2,000-mile border that runs from California to Texas, according to INS statistics. That number is down 32 percent from the same period last year, continuing the biggest decline since 1994.
But the California study, based on census figures and community surveys, counters that illegal immigration nearly tripled during the past decade despite a major border crackdown in 1993 and a tripling of the annual border re-enforcement budget to $2.5 million.
Border apprehensions have fallen since 2000, when they reached an all-time high of more than 1.6 million.
Immigration officials credit tougher post-September 11 border security and a less promising U.S. job market for the decrease in border apprehensions. Apprehensions plunged in October and November after the attacks and have been creeping back up since then.
"The economy almost certainly [has] an impact," said Steven Camarata, director of research for the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies. But "it's very difficult to know what's going on here."
The Border Patrol office in Del Rio, Texas, responsible for policing a 60-mile stretch in the southern part of the state, watched its apprehension levels fall 40 percent from last year. Just two years ago, it was the second-busiest post in the nation.
Not all offices are reporting such high declines. A California station in El Centro caught 16 percent fewer border crossers. As it gets harder to cross, officials say, immigrants move to new entry points that quickly become hot spots. That can create misleading results.
"There's no such thing as a trend on the border," said Dennis Smith, a spokesman at the Del Rio Border Patrol Office. "The fact that we're down now doesn't mean we're going to stay that way."
Still, Mr. Smith said, the patrol has tightened the border. At border crossing points, pedestrians must show photo identification and are checked against a national criminal database. Unarmed National Guard troops have helped boost security around stations and checkpoints.
Analysts and INS officials agree that while the drop in apprehensions may not be permanent, it probably has not bottomed out.
"If you look at the numbers and we're coming into the slow part of the year for apprehensions I think we're going to come in well below that 1.26 [million apprehensions last year]," Mr. Villarreal said.

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