A year ago today, federal officials kicked off a multimillion-dollar campaign to gain “operational control” of Arizona’s border and dramatically decrease the number of migrants crossing, and dying, in the desert.
Border Patrol Chief Gus de la Vina said the extra money and manpower gave the government “an excellent shot” at closing down the border completely.
Hundreds of sensors were buried underground. Thousands of Mexicans were flown deep into Mexico at U.S. expense. Two unmanned aerial vehicles scanned the desert.
And migrants are still crossing and dying in record numbers.
An analysis by the Tucson Citizen shows that nearly half a million people were apprehended in the year that ended Sept. 30, 2004—41 percent more than the previous year.
But the Border Control Initiative appears to have had little to do with the increase. Nearly as many more illegal immigrants were caught in the six months before the initiative as in the six months after.
From October through the first half of March in fiscal year 2004, Border Patrol apprehended 40 percent more than they did during the same period a year earlier.
During the six months after the initiative began, 42 percent more were apprehended than the same period a year earlier.
“I don’t think you could label the ABC a success,” said U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., who supported the idea but criticizes the implementation. “It certainly has not reduced by any measurable amount that anybody can determine the number of illegal immigrants coming across the border.”
The initiative included 260 more agents, 28 Humvees and two new helicopters, as well as a pilot drone program and $1 million in underground sensors. The initial six months was budgeted to cost $10 million, but eventually cost $28 million, $13 million of which went to voluntary repatriation flights to Mexico during the summer.
Agents on the ground are “being overrun,” said T.J. Bonner, longtime Border Patrol agent and president of the Border Patrol union. “We’re working our tails off, but the problem is much greater than the resources we have.”
Bonner criticizes the initiative’s focus on costly projects such as the repatriation flights and aerial drones instead of hiring more agents or investing in proven technology, such as manned helicopters.
During one 39-day test period last summer, the $4 million Israeli-made Hermes drones led to the apprehension of 248 people.
“You could go out there with a nine iron and golf balls and hit more migrants on the head than that,” said the Rev. Robin Hoover, head of Humane Borders, a group that puts water in the desert for migrants. Hoover said the latest crackdown has had little impact on stemming migrant flow or saving lives.