New Mexico border arrests continue sharp downward trend

Officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) say apprehensions of people illegally crossing the New Mexico section of the U.S.-Mexico border have once again declined in fiscal year 2011.

CBP spokesperson Doug Mosier told the Associated Press the rate of apprehension has sharply declined over the past few years:

Mosier said the arrests are a 90 percent drop from five years ago in the El Paso sector, which covers New Mexico and two Texas counties. He said in the early 1990s the sector was sometimes experiencing 1,000 apprehensions a day. Today, that number is around 20 to 30 a day, he said.

“We have better systems in place…new agents and new technology that are helping,” said Mosier. “We are trying to remain proactive.”

Final apprehension numbers are expected to be released after the fiscal year.

Last year, Randy Hill, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol’s El Paso sector, said officers apprehended 7,800 immigrants during the 2009-2010 fiscal year in New Mexico. More than 76,000 immigrants were arrested in New Mexico during the 2004-05 fiscal year.

Illegal border crossings in the El Paso section of the border, which includes New Mexico, peaked in 1993, according to a report (PDF) by the Center for American Progress. A pincer strategy, which increased border patrol presence on the California and Texas portions of the border, squeezed the bulk of unauthorized immigrant flows into Arizona, which became the primary gateway for undocumented immigrants in the 2000s. Now even Arizona has seen significant declines in border crossings.

The decline is credited to a combination of poor economic conditions in the United States, marginally improving economic conditions in Mexico and enhanced border security efforts. The total number of Border Patrol agents has more than doubled since 2004, from 10,000 to about 21,000, 18,000 of which are patrolling the border with Mexico. Over one thousand National Guard troops have reinforced the Border Patrol with U.S. Defense Department technology that “help keep watch over highly trafficked areas and fill manpower gaps,” according to the CAP report.

The consequence for those unauthorized immigrants who do manage to cross the border is a sharp increase in the average cost of doing so. The typical unauthorized immigrant pays around $3,000 to cross the border, which means organized crime has replaced many of the mom-and-pop operations previously responsible for getting people across the border illegally.