Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said yesterday that 1,700 new U.S. Border Patrol agents will be assigned next year for what he called a “key element” in the government’s ongoing effort to secure the Southwest border.
“By increasing the number of agents … and giving them better infrastructure and technology to do their jobs, we will be able to greatly increase interdictions and create a strong deterrent to illegal crossings,” Mr. Chertoff said.
Last year, Border Patrol agents apprehended 1.15 million foreigners trying to sneak in between U.S. land ports of entry — more than 3,100 a day — a 24 percent increase from the year before. About half of them were caught trying to cross through Arizona.
Mr. Chertoff said his department, through U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), was seeking to put “more Border Patrol boots on the ground in the most heavily trafficked areas of the Southwest border.”
Of the new Border Patrol agents, 643 will be sent to Arizona, 452 to Texas, 352 to California and 253 to New Mexico. About 10,000 of the agency’s 11,268 agents are assigned along the 1,940-mile U.S.-Mexico border.
Border Patrol Chief David V. Aguilar said the additional agent staffing — which will be assigned between the ports of entry — would “have immediate impact in securing our country from the threat of terrorism while improving the quality of life of communities along the border.”
The new agents are part of a multiyear plan to secure U.S. borders and reduce illegal immigration. Known as the Secure Border Initiative (SBI), it is designed to enable the department to gain operational control of the northern and southern borders within five years.
Mr. Aguilar has said that the major elements of SBI include more agents to patrol the borders, secure ports of entry and enforce immigration law; expanded and more efficient detention and removal capabilities to eliminate “catch and release” programs; and a comprehensive upgrading of the technology used in controlling the border.
He also said the program includes improving infrastructure at the border, providing additional physical security to reduce illegal border crossings, and boosting enforcement of immigration laws, especially at work sites.
Agents also made 8,577 drug seizures, confiscating 1.4 million pounds of illegal narcotics with an estimated street value of $1.62 billion.
Agents also helped identify and arrest 23,000 criminal suspects through a new biometrics fingerprint technology that allows agents to simultaneously search CBP’s Automated Biometrics Identification System and the FBI’s criminal fingerprint database. The new system was activated late last year at all 148 Border Patrol stations throughout the country.