Migrant arrests dip: deterrence or economic slip? | VailDaily.com

Migrant arrests dip: deterrence or economic slip?

TUCSON, Ariz. ” President Bush and the Border Patrol have been citing dramatic declines in illegal immigrant apprehensions this year as evidence that their deterrence efforts are paying off by discouraging crossing attempts.

The Border Patrol, which has been helped for the past 12 months by large numbers of National Guardsmen taking on support roles and added agents and technology, has reported a 24 percent dip in apprehensions along the Mexican border from Oct. 1 through June compared to the same period a year earlier.

But a number of people who observe border developments and migration flows dispute the reasons the agency is giving for that, or say that any deterrence from added enforcement is but one factor among several possible reasons for a decline.

Some contend that more immigrants are staying home because the U.S. economy has soured; others say there’s been no reduction in the flow of first-time migrants or that there’s no way to know how many people slip across undetected. Even a top Border Patrol spokesman says political, social and economic factors are part of the mix.

“People can read lots of different things into apprehension data,” said David Martin, a University of Virginia law school professor and one-time counsel for the old U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. “Sometimes increases are claimed as successes, and sometimes decreases are claimed as successes.”

Take the president. In an April visit to Yuma, Ariz., he noted, “The number of people apprehended for illegally crossing our southern border were down nearly 30 percent. We’re making progress.”

But 17 months earlier, Bush cited a 42 percent increase in Border Patrol apprehensions over the previous year as “one of the best examples of success.”

The agency feels the latest apprehension data indicate a decrease in crossing attempts, said Michael Friel, a Border Patrol spokesman in Washington.

Friel pointed to many changes, including the addition of the National Guard last year and new barriers and fencing as reasons for the decline, but he also acknowledged that social and economic factors play a role in border security.

Dawn McLaren, a research economist at Arizona State University, is among those who said she doesn’t buy into the deterrence argument.

She insists that a slowdown in the U.S. economy is the key. McLaren pointed to gross domestic product growth of only 0.7 percent in the first quarter of 2007, versus 5.6 percent for the same period last year.

Immigrants on the Southwest border are drawn by and react specifically to the economy, she said. “So if the economy is a magnet and our magnet loses strength, we see fewer people crossing the border.”

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