James W. Brosnan, Albequerque Tribune, July 26, 2006
Washington — U.S. Border Patrol officials say there has been a 13 percent surge in the number of illegal immigrants caught in the New Mexico-El Paso Sector in the past 10 months, even though arrests are down overall in the four Southwest border states.
Spurred by complaints from New Mexico politicians, the Border Patrol last year added 305 agents to the El Paso Sector, which includes the two westernmost counties of Texas.
There are 1,642 Border Patrol agents assigned to the sector with plans to raise that number to 1,900 by the end of the year, said Doug Mosier, a spokesman for the El Paso Sector.
New Mexico also has 692 of the 4,500 National Guardsmen that President Bush ordered deployed to the Southwest border.
Guardsmen from Arkansas, Georgia, Montana, New Jersey, Oklahoma and South Dakota are assisting identification teams, manning observation posts, building vehicle barriers and roads and flying observation planes and helicopters, said New Mexico National Guard spokesman Tom Koch.
When border coverage increases, Aguilar said, “you see an uptick in apprehensions, because the flow doesn’t know that you’re there. Once you get that increase in apprehensions, you should have a down trend on it shortly thereafter.”
From the start of the federal fiscal year Oct. 1 through Sunday, 110,217 illegal immigrants were caught in the El Paso Sector compared with 97,194 over the same time in fiscal year 2005.
Overall, arrests dropped 2 percent along the U.S.-Mexico border, from 957,297 to 938,833, in the same time period.
The El Paso Sector accounts for 12 percent of all apprehensions, compared with 10 percent in fiscal year 2005.
Aguilar said the National Guard deployment is working to deter illegal immigrants.
In the 69 days since Bush announced the Guard’s deployment, apprehensions are down 45 percent, Aguilar said.
Normally, there is a summertime drop as fewer immigrants dare challenge the heat, but last year the drop was just 25 percent, Aguilar said.
The chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Steven Blum, said the Guardsmen are just assisting the Border Patrol, “not defending the United States from an invasion of Mexico” or closing or “militarizing our border.”
He said the reason the National Guard was selected for the mission is that the New Mexico National Guard and the other Southwest border state guard units have a history of cooperation with the Mexican armed forces.
“For example, New Mexico last year hosted a parachute competition between the Mexican Army and some paratroopers, U.S. Army airborne-qualified soldiers,” Blum said.
Washington — The number of people being caught trying to enter the U.S. illegally has dropped slightly this year. But the latest federal figures also show that the California and Texas borders are seeing increased traffic.
The numbers from the U.S. Border Patrol reveal that illegally crossing the border is just as deadly as last year. And that an increasing number of undocumented immigrants are being picked up near death by the border patrol’s search and rescue teams.
Such data are often used by both sides in the congressional illegal immigration debate. Some lawmakers say the only answer is to put even more agents along the border. Others say increased manpower must be accompanied by a new legal way for migrant workers to enter and work here. The political deadlock has led to two vastly different bills being passed in the House and Senate and no meeting of the minds in sight.
Ever since federal officials cracked down on the San Diego and Texas sectors in the 1990s, Arizona gradually has become the focal point for illegal crossers. The Tucson area still has more illegal immigrants coming over the border than any other single sector.
But the most recent numbers show an upswing in illegal traffic in San Diego and two Texas areas — El Paso and Laredo.
“We’re just making it harder for them to cross at Tucson,” said Maria Valencia, a spokeswoman for the Border Patrol.
Valencia said as the number of agents grows all along the border, federal officials hope it will become more difficult for people to cross.
But those who have made it their mission to look out for and try to help those illegal crossers who are sick and dying say that all the beefed-up enforcement has done is spur the illegal immigrants to make a more treacherous journey. Border Patrol officials agree.
It led last year to a record number of deaths along the border — 472, according to federal records — and the numbers are close to being on the same pace this year.
The 193 border agents who make up the rescue teams respond to the 80, 30-foot-high rescue beacons placed along the most frequented illegal immigrant routes. Someone in distress can press a button to signal the nearest Border Patrol station for help. The number of rescues has increased most in Texas.