But the data apparently don't tell us whether it's affecting illegal border crossings overall.
Elizabeth Newell of Government Executive reports:
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 [that's a 24% drop -- the Editor]. The greatest decrease occurred in the Yuma, Ariz., and Del Rio, Texas, sectors.Apprehensions can drop for a variety of reasons: fewer immigrants might be trying to cross, or they might be crossing via some other route -- or something else might have changed:
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."
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."
It's not clear to me from the article how much of the overall drop can be attributed to the fall in the number of other-than-Mexican apprehensions. Also, read the full article to get the good news about how the reduction in apprehensions is leading to enhanced efforts against drug smuggling.
But if other-than-Mexican apprehensions are down, is it simply because those immigrants are no longer turning themselves in (as Bonner implies), or because they have been legitimately deterred? After all, if you're going to spend a lot of time, money, and effort to get from Guatemala to California, and you expect to be returned right away -- maybe you'll decide it's not worth the effort.
It could also be because Mexico itself is apprehending a lot more illegal immigrants coming across their southern border. That would significantly 'drain the pool' of other-than-Mexican immigrants traversing the US-Mexico border.
What does this all mean for the current immigration debate?