The U.S.-Mexico border that runs along Arizona saw the lowest number of illegal crossings in 20 years, federal officials say.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said that arrests of people trying to cross into the United States illegally had fallen by roughly 43 percent – to 124,631 – in the past two years, and more than 82 percent since the highest mark in 2000.
The Border Patrol said enhanced security has made the Arizona border more difficult and dangerous to cross. CBP's aviation resources in Arizona flew more than 16,000 hours and assisted in more than 26,000 apprehensions.
The announcement, made Thursday, comes amid a heated debate on immigration reform, and as Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer continues her fight to implement as much as possible of the state’s notorious immigration law, SB 1070.
An April 2 hearing has been set by an appeals court to hear arguments in Brewer's bid to overturn a ruling that bars enforcement of a minor section of the state's 2010 immigration law prohibiting the harboring of undocumented immigrants.
A coalition of civil rights groups that have challenged the law say the ban is trumped by a federal harboring law. The harboring ban was in effect from late July 2010 until a federal judge blocked its enforcement on Sept. 5 as part of the coalition's challenge.
Meanwhile, the number of agents stationed in Arizona rose to its highest level, with more than 5,100 in the state.
CBP officials said the agency also seized more than $500 million worth of illegal drugs in Arizona in the 12 months that ended Sept. 30, with marijuana accounting for the bulk of the more than 1 million pounds of drugs seized.
Agents processed about 22 million travelers crossing through Arizona ports of entry, stopping roughly 6,000 people who were identified as national security risks or possessed insufficient documentation.
Operations aimed at cracking down on drug cartels netted more than $5 million in cash, 21 handguns, 22 rifles and more than 48,000 rounds of ammunition that people were trying to take into Mexico.
The CBP said officers arrested 401 people wanted for crimes such as murder, rape, assault, robbery and other criminal activity, and seized 95,773 pounds of narcotics.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.