EL PASO, Texas – Border crossings -both legal and illegal - rose sharply between the U.S. and Mexico in 2012, sending mixed signals to members of Congress who have been critical of the security of the border.
Legal pedestrian crossings jumped 703,094 between 2011 and 2012 with the Ports of Entry at San Ysdiro, Calif. from Tijuana, Mexico and El Paso, Texas from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, being the busiest along the border.
Under the Obama administration, the Department of Homeland Security has dedicated historic levels of personnel, technology and resources to the Southwest border. CBP has more than doubled the size of the U.S. Border Patrol since 2004 to over 21,300 Border Patrol agents with 6,000 agents in South Texas alone, an 80 percent increase in manpower since 2004.
“CBP has transformed the way it does business on the land borders of the United States,” according to Kevin McAleenan, to CBP Office of Field Operations Acting Assistant Commissioner. “We’ve deployed cutting-edge technology – ranging from mobile devices to RFID scanners – on the front lines, enabling our officers to facilitate the entry of legitimate travel and trade quickly, efficiently, and, most importantly—securely,”
The increase in border personnel and technology has not gone unnoticed south of the border where Mexican officials are actually pleased to see and are benefiting from the ebb in immigration.
For years Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, across from El Paso, Texas, was called the “Murder Capital of the World” because of an insurgent-like drug war between two drug cartels, but in the past two years there has been a dramatic drop in murders and state and federally funded work projects are bringing the city back to life making it more attractive for residents and migrants to want to stay rather than take the risky journey across the border.
“Many people from southern Mexico on their way to cross illegally into the U.S. have decided to stay in Juarez and get work,” said Cd. Juarez Mayor Hector Murguia. “The economy in Juarez right now is actually better than what it is in the U.S. so people want to stay here.”
Despite the encouraging trends for legal border crossings, some Congressional leaders feel DHS’s efforts are insufficient and poorly managed and refer to the jump in apprehensions of illegal border crossers between 2011 and 2012 which saw a 29,296 jump in apprehensions.
The most glaring figures arose from the Rio Grande Valley Sector around McAllen, Texas, an area that has seen a shift in the violence from Ciudad Juarez to Tamaulipas state, a key operating base for the Los Zetas and Gulf Cartels as well as a traditional route of entry into the U.S. for migrants from Central and South America.
In 2011 there were 59,243 apprehensions in south Texas which jumped more than 60 percent to 97,762 in 2012. According to the Border Patrol, 49,939 of those apprehended were not from Mexico but from Central American countries, including El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
“While the Administration has claimed successes in stopping illegal crossings, the fact remains apprehensions have once again increased,” said Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) and chairman of the Congressional Committee on Homeland security. “Until the Administration creates a comprehensive border security plan that includes a reasonable definition of operational control we can measure, we cannot quantify success or failure,” McCaul said. “My overriding goal is to prevent repeating this debate ten years from now.”
Apprehensions in California, Arizona and New Mexico continued a downward trend, reflecting fewer individuals crossing the border. In FY 2012 apprehensions were 79 percent below their peak in 2000, and down 50 percent from FY 2008.
The sector with the highest apprehensions was the Tucson Sector with 120,000 which was down 3,285 from the previous year and 317,696 in 2008.
McCaul’s committee is concerned about the appearance of a haphazard border strategy that he feels is not providing accurate indicators of successful strategies.
However, it can be argued that the increase in apprehensions is not a policy failure but a successful application of resources to face illegal immigration trends that are not always predictable.
According to the House Committee on Homeland Security report that was released Feb. 13, Napolitano stopped using any metric of “operational control” of the border in 2010, where the department claimed to have only 44 percent of the border under operational control. These disconcerting gaps in the 2,000 mile long southwest border lead to an increase in attempted illegal crossings in 2012.
“We can no longer base our security solely on only apprehensions, without knowing the total number of individuals who cross undetected,” McCaul said. “Nor can we base success on the number of resources allocated to different sectors or components.”