ARTHUR H. ROTSTEIN
The Associated Press
August 22, 2008
PHOENIX â€” Arizona is “Ground Zero” for the Border Patrol in its quest to gain effective control of illegal immigration into the United States, and agents are making headway, the chief of the agency’s busiest sector says.
The progress is reflected in a 16 percent drop in apprehensions in the patrol’s Tucson sector through Aug. 19 for the current fiscal year, compared to the same period a year ago, and by what officials believe is an even bigger decrease in entries, Chief Patrol Agent Robert Gilbert told The Associated Press this week. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
“We have a ways to go, but we’re a lot closer today than we have been, and we’re seeing the results,” Gilbert said. “We’re at a 10-year low right now with apprehensions.”
Federal officials frequently cite lower apprehension figures as a measure of success since Border Patrol officials believe they indicate fewer people are trying to cross illegally.
As of Aug. 19, agents in the Tucson sector had made 291,000 apprehensions versus nearly 349,000 through the same date last year.
Gilbert noted the numbers are lower than figures hit in the 2002 fiscal year, when apprehensions plummeted following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. And they’re far below the highest arrest total of the decade â€” 557,000 during the 2000 fiscal year.
But the sector, with its 262 miles of border, is still the busiest on the Mexican frontier, registering 46 percent of all Border Patrol arrests and 50 percent of its total marijuana seizures, Gilbert said.
As a result, the sector has received the most border fencing and vehicle barriers and been the test site for high-tech pilot programs, from virtual fencing to unmanned surveillance drones.
“This is for the Border Patrol our Ground Zero,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert credits several factors for sector successes, including increases in manpower, the fences and other physical barriers, efforts to prosecute some illegal immigrants and a program to fly some illegal immigrants caught in Arizona to the Mexican interior. The aerial repatriation program is intended to separate illegal immigrants from their smugglers.
“We’ve tried a lot of different things here, but one of the mistakes that I believe we’ve made is trying to eat the whole apple at once,” Gilbert said. “So now we’re taking sections of the border back.”