SIERRA VISTA, Arizona – The U.S. Border Patrol in Arizona saw a significant decrease in illegal immigrant apprehensions in June, with news of the deployment of National Guard troops credited with driving immigrants into other regions and more remote areas.
At the same time, rescues of migrants and deaths increased or remained unchanged compared with the same period a year earlier, and immigrant rights groups blamed the increased border security for riskier behavior by migrants.
"We've heard people talking about crossing in other places, like Texas, because they've heard about the militarization of the Arizona border," said Jennifer Allen of the Border Action Network human rights group. "But yet because of that militarization, those who still cross in Arizona are taking more and more risks."
Allen said she is not surprised migrant deaths have increased as apprehensions decline.
The Border Patrol's Yuma Sector saw the most dramatic decrease in migrant arrests, posting a 48 percent drop from 11,522 in June 2005 to 6,030 last month. The larger Tucson Sector, which covers all but the state's western border areas, reported capturing 25,000 illegal immigrants last month, a 21 percent drop from the more than 31,000 caught in June 2005.
The Tucson Sector saw migrant deaths rise from 18 in June 2005 to 23 last month, spokesman Gustavo Soto said.
Soto said the agency tries to inform migrants about the dangers of illegally crossing the border anywhere, and it is wrong to blame the deaths on the Border Patrol's activities.
"The Border Patrol doesn't push anybody out into these outlying areas and we don't lead anybody to their deaths," Soto said. "It's the smugglers who do it."
Migrant deaths dropped slightly last month in the Yuma sector, from five in June 2005 to four in June 2006. Border Patrol rescues in the sector increased from 277 in June 2005 to 318 in June 2006, which spokesman Richard Hays said it a positive sign.
"We'd rather see those (rescue) numbers up," he said. "It shows that we're better able to get out there and get medical attention to individuals in distress."
Both sectors have had National Guard troops and military reservists assigned to help provide support. Soto and Hays said the troops have had a psychological affect in discouraging migrants, which combined with a doubling of agents in the Yuma Sector has led to the lower apprehensions.
Allen, however, was skeptical.
"Migrant movement is shifting, but I don't think its being deterred," she said. "It's only deterred in that people are not crossing in that particular spot. But people are still crossing, and they're doing it in other more dangerous and more risky areas."