Migrant detention is down by 25 %

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Apprehensions of illegal entrants along the U.S.-Mexico border are down 25 percent from a record 1.62 million last fiscal year, the first borderwide decline in detentions of illegal migrants since 1986.

The numbers are down in each of the Border Patrol's nine sectors on the Southwest border.

In the Tucson Sector, the nation's busiest illegal immigration corridor, the numbers dropped from fiscal year 2000's record 617,716 apprehensions to 450,000 this fiscal year, which ended Sunday - the first dip since 1997.

Nationwide, the number of migrant deaths fell to 291 from a record 367 last fiscal year. But in Arizona's Tucson Sector, the number of deaths climbed from 74 last fiscal year to 78 this year. Another 23 migrants, including 14 people from a single group in May, died in the Yuma Sector.

Since the start of Operation Safeguard in 1994, the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector, which includes all of Arizona except Yuma at the southwest edge of the state, has grown from about 300 agents to nearly 1,600. The agents are backed up by video surveillance cameras, remote sensing devices, immigration checkpoints and a small force of helicopters and planes.

At Douglas, where apprehensions are down 44 percent from last year, the number of agents has increased tenfold since 1994, from about 50 to more than 500.

In Naco, where another 150 agents are based, apprehensions are down 11 percent and activity is shifting farther west from the San Pedro River to the Huachuca Mountains.

Yet in some areas of Arizona, apprehensions were up: 43 percent at Ajo and 88 percent at the Sonoita station, located in the San Rafael Valley west of the Huachuca Mountains.

Adjusting to the shifting flow of migrants is a major focus of the Border Patrol's efforts in the Tucson Sector, said agency spokesman Rob Daniels. But how that will be done, especially now, in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he would not detail, saying only "it will be very fluid."

Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever said even the reduced number of illegal immigrants represents four times more people than the population of Cochise County.

He said illegal migration continues to be a significant problem for the residents of remote mountain corridors of eastern Cochise County, as well as the San Pedro River and Huachuca Mountains.

Last month, a pair of Sierra Vista women were carjacked and robbed as they drove to Carr Canyon for a day of bird watching.

Since then, the Sheriff's Department has been conducting ongoing patrols in hopes of pushing smugglers away from rural residential areas of the Huachucas.

Dever said that while he supports the Border Patrol's efforts to stop illegal immigration at the border, he sees no real hope of long-term relief.

"There needs to be a predictable enforcement law at the points where they arrive, where they go to work and live, and that does not exist," said Dever. "They also need to recognize that their failure to successfully control the border, and deficient enforcement activities, result in a tremendous financial burden to local governments and economies."

U.S. Forest Service officials at the Coronado National Monument also are coping with illegal immigrants as well as drug traffickers, who have created a latticework of connecting trails through lush lowland grasses, along washes, and into the mountains where they connect with trails that lead them down into Carr Canyon, Ramsey Canyon and other residential areas south of Sierra Vista.

"We actually have a great supply of scouts and other volunteers doing virtually continuous cleanup projects, and it's still a mess," said Barbara Alberti, acting superintendent at the monument.

Concern about confrontations, particularly with drug traffickers who use scouts and even snipers, has caused staffers to adjust their activities, avoiding some remote areas and traveling in pairs or groups when venturing out.

The agency has two law enforcement officers on staff and has been authorized three more in next year's budget.

"Once we've hired our protection staff, we're hoping that we'll be able to push back just as the Border Patrol has pushed back at Douglas and Naco," she said.

Nationally, the biggest decline in apprehensions, 33 percent, was in Texas at the Del Rio Sector, the very stretch of international boundary Border Patrol strategists anticipated much of the migrant flow would go to as the efforts in the Tucson Sector, particularly at Douglas and Naco, sent smugglers scrambling for alternatives.

The downward trend was first reported in January. Then and now, Border Patrol officials say the Southwest Border Initiative, which began at El Paso and San Diego in 1993 and 1994, and has since been implemented all along the U.S.-Mexico border, is at least part of the reason for the decline.

"There are other factors, because we're seeing this across the board. There's what has been termed the 'Fox factor,' an increased optimism in Mexico so people may be staying put," said Nicole Chulick, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the parent agency of the U.S. Border Patrol.

"There's also the fact that many people may not have left to return to Mexico. There was a lot of talk, a lot of it unfounded, about amnesty, so there may have been people who stayed anticipating something would happen."

She said it's too early yet to tell how the slowing U.S. economy and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 will affect migrant flows and enforcement strategy. But adaptability has been the hallmark of the Border Patrol's efforts on the Southwest border, she said.

"We've been incredibly successful in places like San Diego, in El Paso, and we're seeing a turnaround in Tucson. Right now that is where we're concentrating our resources because we're still seeing a fair volume, but the Border Patrol strategy does allow for changes in flow and permits us to address them as we see them."

* Contact Ignacio Ibarra at (520) 432-2766 or at nacho1@mindspring.com.

-- K (infosurf@yahoo.com), October 01, 2001

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