Monday, January 10, 2005

U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended 1.15 million illegal aliens last year trying to sneak into the United States between the nation’s land ports of entry, more than 3,100 a day — a 24 percent increase over the year before.

The agents, part of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), also made 8,577 drug seizures, confiscating 1.4 million pounds of illegal narcotics with an estimated street value of $1.62 billion, according to the figures released by the Department of Homeland Security.

The Homeland Security figures also show that CBP inspectors and officers at the nation’s 300 official land, air and sea ports of entry made 47,744 drug seizures worth an estimated $1 billion; seized more than $138 million in counterfeit goods, up from $94 million in 2003; and identified and arrested more than 23,000 people with criminal records — including 84 murder suspects, 37 suspected kidnappers, 151 wanted on charges of sexual assault, 212 robbery suspects and 2,630 others implicated in drug-related charges.

Those inspectors and officers also processed 428 million passengers and pedestrians, including 262 million aliens, denying entry to more than 643,000 aliens under U.S. law.

CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner attributed the increases to the reorganization under the new Department of Homeland Security, which allowed him to clarify the lines of authority and to give the new 42,000-member agency a clear mission.

He said the March 2003 unification of Customs, Immigration and Naturalization Service and Agriculture Department inspectors with the Border Patrol brought “an unprecedented transformation in the way people and goods arriving at American ports of entry are processed.”

“With additional resources and improved technology, America’s borders are safer and more secure than when border responsibilities were fragmented among different agencies,” he said. “CBP has moved aggressively to secure the flow of legitimate travelers and trade into our country, and the staggering amount of apprehensions and detentions prove it.”

The Border Patrol helped identify and arrest 23,000 criminal suspects through a new biometrics fingerprint identification technology that allows agents to search CBP’s Automated Biometrics Identification System and the FBI’s criminal fingerprint database simultaneously.

The new system went on line late last year at all 148 Border Patrol stations throughout the country.

The agency had long been ignored as a part of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), where it was often confronted with confusing chains of command and conflicting priorities.

Mr. Bonner, who formerly headed the U.S. Customs Service before his appointment by President Bush to lead CBP, said at the time a “strong and effective” Border Patrol was needed between the nation’s ports of entry to stop potential terrorists, apprehend the millions of aliens who seek to enter the United States illegally each year, and to stop drug smugglers from bringing tons of narcotics into the country.

“The Border Patrol is America’s main force between the country’s ports of entry,” Mr. Bonner said. “It has found a good home in U.S. Customs and Border Protection and will be supported in a way INS never did.”

Mr. Bonner has said that for CBP to carry out its priority mission of keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the country, the agency had to do “everything within our power to secure our nation’s borders.”

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