The number of illegal migrants arrested at the border has been dropping over the past few years but appears to be down by more than 25 percent this year.
Experts say that Border Patrol apprehensions are a useful marker for estimating the total flow of illegal migrants, though imprecise because the U.S. government has no idea how many are not caught. But coupled with census and labor data from both countries that show far fewer Mexicans coming to the United States and many returning home, it appears that the historic flood of Mexican migration north has slowed dramatically.
“We have reached the point where the balance between Mexicans moving to the United States and those returning to Mexico is essentially zero,” said Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center, whose conclusion was shared by many migration experts.
Such a steep drop in illegal crossings gives supporters of immigration reform ammunition to argue that now is a good time to tackle the issue.
GOP presidential contenders Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have been sparring over the estimated 11 million people living illegally in the United States. Gingrich says it would be heartless to kick out migrants who have worked and raised families here for years, while Romney blasted Gingrich for supporting “amnesty” for illegal residents but has not given a clear answer on what he would do.
In Congress, comprehensive immigration reform has been sidelined, stuck between those who would not allow illegal migrants to remain and others who are pushing, like President Obama, to create a “pathway” to legal status, but not necessarily citizenship.
The lower number of apprehensions supports the Obama administration’s contention that the border is more secure than ever — that the doubling of Border Patrol agents since 2004, along with hundreds of miles of new fence, cameras, lights, sensors and Predator drones, has helped slow the illegal flow northward.
But those who say the border remains out of control can point to the fact that hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants still try to make the crossing every year.
Fewer in search of shelter
At the Casa Betania migrant shelter in a rough section here in the sprawling border city of Mexicali, manager Jorge Verdugo has seen a steep decline in the number of ragged men who arrive each afternoon looking for a meal, a shower and a safe place to sleep.