- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 7, 2007

The number of illegal aliens arrested along the Southwest border through the end of the second quarter of fiscal 2007, which ended March 31, is down 30 percent compared to the same period in the previous fiscal year, the U.S. Border Patrol said Friday.

Agency spokesman Michael J. Friel credited increased border enforcement and described the drop as part of a continuing trend in the overall decline of border apprehensions between ports of entry.

“Under the Secure Border Initiative, [Customs and Border Protection] continues to strengthen border security efforts through the deployment and integration of tactical infrastructure, proven technology and additional personnel,” Mr. Friel said.

From Oct. 1 through March 31, he said, Border Patrol agents made 418,184 arrests along the nation’s Southwest border — about 2,300 a day — compared to 594,142 during the same period last year. The Del Rio, Texas, and Yuma, Ariz., sectors experienced the greatest declines, with decreases of 68 percent in Yuma and 57 percent in Del Rio, Mr. Friel said.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff hailed the drop in apprehensions as part of the multiyear Secure Border Initiative (SBI), which is aimed at sealing U.S. borders and reducing illegal immigration.

SBI was designed to enable the Border Patrol and other elements of CBP to gain operational control of the Northern and Southern borders. Its major elements include more agents to patrol the borders, secure ports of entry and enforce immigration law; expanded and more efficient detention and removal capabilities; and a comprehensive upgrading of border technology.

But both immigration advocates and opponents have questioned whether the decline in apprehensions signals the success of the program.

Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, has said the problem of illegal entry into the U.S. does not start at the border and “it’s not going to end at the border.”

Mr. Sharry, whose organization builds support for public policies that welcome immigrants and refugees, said the drop in apprehensions may be the result of “smugglers and migrants trying to figure out where the border is most vulnerable,” adding that the government first has to deal with the 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens now in the United States.

Steven A. Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies, which seeks to limit immigration, said it is difficult to determine what the decline means 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.

In fiscal 2006, apprehensions dropped to 1.1 million from 1.2 million in fiscal 2005, but it is not known how many people enter the country illegally each year. Estimates on undetected aliens range from two to 10 for every one who is caught.

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