- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Congress’ decision to bar the U.S. Border Patrol from building permanent highway checkpoints on the Arizona-Mexico border has led to a “substantial drop” in the arrests of illegal aliens at temporary checkpoints now operating in the nation’s busiest immigration corridor, according to a report.

The 260-mile stretch of border, known as the Tucson sector, is the only one of 20 Border Patrol sectors nationwide not permitted to set up permanent checkpoints.

The Department of Homeland Security, responding to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, said the legislation has limited the Border Patrol’s ability to stop illegal aliens and drug smugglers and to guard against terrorists.

The department, which oversees the Border Patrol, said national security “could be strengthened if permanent checkpoints” were used in all sectors. It said the lack of permanent checkpoints in the Tucson sector had “negative security consequences.”

Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican, was the chief sponsor of legislation outlawing permanent sites in the Tucson sector. His bill requires the agency to relocate the checkpoints every 14 days, although the requirement is expected to be lowered to seven-day intervals in fiscal 2006.

Mr. Kolbe, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee who asked for the GAO investigation, has argued steadfastly that permanent checkpoints are “an inefficient method of apprehending illegal immigrants,” saying they “may have a role near high population centers, not rural, wide-open desert.”

But Border Patrol Chief David V. Aguilar, who formerly headed the Tucson sector, told a Senate subcommittee last month that the permanent sites were “critical to our patrol efforts,” allowing the agency to “establish an important second layer of defense.”

The 91-page GAO report, noting that checkpoint performance varied in the 20 Border Patrol sectors, said a “substantial drop” in apprehensions began in the Tucson sector in 2002 when the agency was blocked from building permanent sites.

In fiscal 2001, the report said, highway checkpoints in the Tucson sector accounted for 521 apprehensions for every agent assigned, compared with 351 for each agent stationed on the line. In fiscal 2004, it said, checkpoint apprehensions in the Tucson sector averaged 119 per agent compared with 422 by line officers.

It said decreases in apprehensions since 2002 did not occur in three other Southwest sectors visited by GAO investigators, where permanent checkpoints are in operation.

During fiscal 2004, the report said, permanent checkpoints in nine Southwest sectors accounted for the detentions of 96,000 illegal aliens, more than 260 per day, and the seizures of 418,100 pounds of marijuana and 10,900 pounds of cocaine — 31 percent of the marijuana and 74 percent of the cocaine seized nationally.

The agency’s 33 permanent checkpoints are designed to force those who enter the country illegally to use less-traveled roads, where they are more visible and where less traffic permits a higher percentage of vehicles to be stopped.

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