Illegal Migrant Arrests Down in U.S.

The Associated Press
Wednesday, December 27, 2006; 6:00 AM

NOGALES, Mexico -- Arrests of illegal migrants along the U.S.-Mexican border have dropped by more than a third since U.S. National Guard troops started helping with border security, suggesting that fewer people may be trying to cross.

U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested 149,238 fewer people from the start of July through November, down 34 percent from the same period last year, according to monthly figures provided Tuesday by U.S. Border Patrol spokesman Mario Martinez.

Arrests also had dropped by 9 percent for the same period from 2004 to 2005. If the downward trend continues, it would be the first sustained decrease in illegal immigrant arrests since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

National Guard troops started arriving along the border June 15, and 6,000 were in place by August.

Victor Clark, a Mexican migration expert in Tijuana, says many migrants fear they will confront U.S. soldiers on the border.

"The presence of the National Guard has had a big impact on migrants," he told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Border Patrol officials usually attribute a drop in arrests to fewer people crossing.

"We have seen some tangible results," Martinez said. "But we'll have to see over the next few months if it holds up. We are optimistic."

The National Guard troops are not allowed to detain migrants and have been limited to monitoring surveillance cameras and body heat detectors, but they have freed Border Patrol agents and "have helped us tremendously to detect illegal migration traffic," Martinez said.

The United States plans to expand the Border Patrol from just over 11,000 agents to about 18,000 by 2008. The U.S. also plans to build 700 miles of additional border fence.

Other measures may also be deterring crossers. In July, U.S. and Mexican officials started working together to prosecute human smugglers on both sides of the border.

U.S. immigration officials also have been raiding U.S. companies for illegal workers. Earlier this month, 1,300 people were detained in a sweep of meatpacking plants in six states.

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