- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2006

An 8 percent drop in the number of apprehensions of illegal aliens on U.S. borders in fiscal 2006 was hailed yesterday by the Department of Homeland Security as the result of enhanced border enforcement, but both immigration advocates and proponents questioned the claim.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said that the challenge of controlling the borders “has been with us for 30 years,” and that the problem will not be solved in 30 minutes or in 30 days.

“But what is important is to put into place a strategy that, if consistently followed, will put us on a course that will get us security at the border,” he said at a press conference at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington. “That’s what the public has a right to expect.”

Mr. Chertoff also said a guest-worker program was needed to slow the flow of illegals into the United States, although conservative House Republicans have blocked efforts by the Bush administration to pass a temporary-worker bill. He said getting control of the border without such a program would be “very, very difficult.”

Frank Sherry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said enhanced border security measures by the administration and Congress may have had an effect on the number of illegal entries, but the government’s interpretation had the sound of “an infamous general who once said there was a light at the end of the tunnel.”

“The problem of illegal immigration didn’t start at the border, and it’s not going to end at the border,” said Mr. Sherry, whose organization builds support for public policies that welcome immigrants and refugees. He said the government has to deal with the 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens now in the United States and their employers.

Mr. Sherry said the drop in the number of border apprehensions may be the result of “smugglers and migrants trying to figure out where the border is most vulnerable.”

Steven A. Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies, which seeks to limit immigration, said it was difficult to determine what the decline meant because there is “no solid body of information” on how many undetected people cross daily into the United States.

Mr. Camarota also said migrants looking to come to this country may simply have opted for other methods, including readily available border-crossing cards and temporary visas, which often result in overstays.

“This well may be a sign that the modest steps taken by the Bush administration to deal with illegal immigration have been effective,” he said. “But we just don’t know. With a number that falls into the margin of error, it’s very hard to tell if this is a trend or just a dip.”

In fiscal 2006, apprehensions dropped to 1.1 million from 1.2 million in fiscal 2005, which Homeland Security officials attributed to additional U.S. Border Patrol agents, enhanced technology and the presence of 6,000 National Guard troops.

But it is not known how many people enter the country illegally each year, with estimates on undetected aliens ranging from two to 10 for every one who is caught.

Homeland Secretary Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers, who heads U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said ICE set records for enforcement activity, ending the long-standing practice of “catch and release” on the nation’s borders.

She said that ICE removed 186,600 illegal aliens from the country in fiscal 2006, a 10 percent increase over fiscal 2005, and that there were more than seven times as many worksite enforcement cases as in 2002.

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