Border Patrol Apprehensions Down Along Southern Border

Border Patrol apprehensions down along southern border

By Elizabeth Newell July 12, 2007

The Customs and Border Protection agency announced recently that Border Patrol apprehensions of suspected illegal immigrants along the southwestern border have dropped 24 percent from last year.

Between Oct. 1, 2006, and June 30, 2007, Border Patrol agents made 682,468 apprehensions along the southwestern border, compared to 894,496 in the same period the previous year. The greatest decrease occurred in the Yuma, Ariz., and Del Rio, Texas, sectors.

In a statement, CBP said this drop indicates a decline in illegal cross-border activity. CBP spokesman Michael Friel said increased surveillance on the southern border, coupled with the decrease in apprehensions, gives CBP a good picture of activity levels.

“You would think, logically, [that] additional resources would lead to an increase in apprehensions,” Friel said. “But we've increased situational awareness and apprehensions have gone down. It's fair to say that is a good indication of decreased overall activity.”

But T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, was skeptical.

“I think it's far more likely that there's been a shift,” Bonner said. “Any time you put pressure in one area, there will be a shift. Smugglers are interested in getting their cargo across the border, whether it is human cargo or contraband. They're not going to do a frontal assault on our area of greatest strength.”

The southwestern border between the United States and Mexico has undoubtedly been an area of increased focus. In the past year, 6,000 National Guard members have been stationed there while CBP brings on more Border Patrol agents. The agency also has improved technology and infrastructure, adding roads, lights, fencing and vehicle barriers, Friel said.

“We are seeing a deterrent effect from our operations — from additional resources and increased border security,” he said.

Bonner said apprehension levels have remained fairly constant at about 1 million a year for the past 20 or 25 years. He attributed ebbs and flows largely to the availability of jobs in the United States.

“I'm not sure any of this has much significance,” Bonner said. “Historically, apprehensions are fairly constant; it doesn't matter if, going back 25 years, we had 2,500 agents or, today, if we have 13,500. The number [of apprehensions] remains amazingly constant.”

Bonner added that three months ago, CBP was advertising the fact that apprehensions were down 29 percent, not the 24 percent announced July 7.

“They conveniently neglected to highlight that,” Bonner said. “That means apprehensions are going up, and this time of year that is very unusual. It's the hottest time of year and apprehensions generally go down.”

In the recent announcement, CBP also touted the fact that Border Patrol agents have increased the amount of marijuana and cocaine seized along the southwest border by 27 percent and 22 percent, respectively, from the same period last year.

Friel said the less time agents have to spend responding to illegal immigrant activity and processing apprehensions, the more time they have to deal with drug smuggling.

“Because of the decrease in apprehensions, we are better able to confront the continued drug smuggling activity on the border,” Friel said.

Both Bonner and Friel agreed that a 48 percent decrease in the level of apprehensions of non-Mexican nationals — called “other-than-Mexicans” by CBP — was the result of a policy change last August. Before then, other-than-Mexicans, if caught illegally crossing the border, were given notices to appear in court and released into the United States. Most did not show up for their court date.

Friel said the end of the “catch-and-release” policy for non-Mexicans has been a deterrent. “DHS has expanded expedited removal, allowing us to apprehend and remove nationals from countries other than Mexico,” he said. “The end state is that when you're able to apprehend and remove someone, the story gets out.”

Bonner said previous apprehension numbers for other-than-Mexicans were inflated by the fact that many turned themselves in voluntarily in order to get a permission slip to be in the country until their court date.

“Now they're the most desperate because there's a big difference between being sent 15 yards and 1,500 miles,” he said. “They are the ones taking every conceivable measure to ensure they don't get apprehended.”