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Redeployed agents factor into drop in apprehensions?

January 15, 2002|By JENNIFER SARANOW, Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — Illegal border crossings into southern states have dropped significantly in the wake of Sept. 11, and nowhere more dramatically than in the El Centro Border Patrol sector, according to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Between Oct. 1 and Jan. 10, arrests along the El Centro sector decreased 63 percent to 13,103, as compared to 35,878 during the same period last year. That is the biggest decline of any sector on the southern border, officials said.

The decrease nationally was 49 percent.

The INS uses arrest rates as an indication of illegal cross-border traffic.

Dionicio Delgado, a Border Patrol spokesman for the El Centro sector, said the agency attributed the sector's significant drop to more than just a weak economy. He said agents were redeployed in different areas of the sector to dissuade illegal immigrants from crossing.

Before the realignment, local agents were responsible for a horseshoe-like area around the Calexico region. Now they cover only the territory east of Calexico, most importantly in areas where a year-old 24-hour video surveillance system has recorded the most illegal activity.

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"If we were saying there was a drop somewhere around 40 percent for El Centro following Sept. 11, the fact that there are less jobs in the U.S. might have been the reason because that's something common through every sector of the border," Delgado said. "But we're saying 63 percent, so we know that the increase in manpower and the restructuring of our sector have to be playing a part."

Jim Dorcy, a consultant with the San Diego-based Federation for American Immigration Reform and a retired immigration agent, agreed.

"They've moved more personal into the El Centro area and they have more of a visible presence over there, which has resulted in people giving a second thought to crossing over there," he said. "It's a very difficult crossing and if the chance of success is threatened by the strategy of the Border Patrol, (fewer) people are going to try it."

He and other immigration policy advocates pointed out the role of the economy in the reduction of crossings can't be overstated.

"The opportunities for getting jobs right now have been greatly reduced, and there's already a large resident illegal population, so the jobs that ordinarily would be open to people entering illegally just aren't there because the people who came previously have taken them," Dorcy said.

Nearby border sectors also recorded large apprehension-rate reductions. For example, the rate in Yuma declined 57 percent and in Tucson it dropped 59 percent.

Both these percentages stood in sharp contrast to apprehension numbers before Sept. 11.

Nicole Chulick, a spokeswoman for the INS here, said the agency experienced a decline in apprehensions starting in January 2001 of about 25 percent because of "what people are calling the Fox factor, or increased optimism in Mexico encouraging people to stay and increased publicity about the dangers of crossing illegally." She said the agency continued to see declines of about 25 percent monthly until Sept. 11.

Delgado said he expected apprehensions in El Centro for January to be down 49 percent compared with last year, signifying a slow rise as illegal immigrants start to come back north after celebrating the holidays at home.

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