Il­le­gal bor­der cross­ings plum­met in ’17

Fed­eral agents see stark change since Trump took of­fice with crack­down

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion across the south­west bor­der is down more than 60 per­cent so far un­der Pres­i­dent Trump, of­fi­cials re­vealed Tues­day, even be­fore the first new agent is hired or the first mile of his promised bor­der wall is con­structed.

Mr. Trump took a vic­tory lap over the “record re­duc­tions” in il­le­gal crossers, say­ing he is al­ready sav­ing Amer­i­cans’ jobs by pre­vent­ing them from hav­ing to com­pete with unau­tho­rized work­ers.

“Down 61 per­cent since inau­gu­ra­tion. Gen. Kelly is do­ing a fan­tas­tic job,” Mr. Trump told a la­bor union gath­er­ing in Wash­ing­ton, prais­ing Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary John F. Kelly, a re­tired Ma­rine Corps gen­eral.

Mr. Kelly is sched­uled to de­tail the num­bers Wed­nes­day to the Se­nate Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee, which is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the sit­u­a­tion on the bor­der.

Tes­ti­fy­ing to the com­mit­tee in a first hear­ing Tues­day, for­mer Bor­der Pa­trol Chief David V. Aguilar said the per­cent­age may be even higher than Mr. Trump teases. Com­pared with 2016, he said, ap­pre­hen­sions on the south­west bor­der were down 67 per­cent through March.

Mr. Aguilar cred­its Mr. Trump, who has freed U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment agents to pur­sue il­le­gal im­mi­grants in the in­te­rior of the U.S. and vowed to tighten bor­der con­trols.

“This ad­min­is­tra­tion has said we’re go­ing to ad­dress il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion. ICE has started work­ing in the in­te­rior, un­like other times. So that mes­sage res­onates,” Mr. Aguilar said.

The num­bers were an­nounced just hours be­fore the dead­line for the first round of pro­pos­als for pro­to­types of Mr. Trump’s bor­der wall.

Home­land Se­cu­rity is ask­ing for a 30foot fence that can with­stand up to four hours of cut­ting, blow­torch­ing or other

at­tempts to break through the bar­rier. Con­crete walls and fenc­ing are be­ing sought, and com­pa­nies se­lected will build pro­to­types that will be tested in San Diego.

The early suc­cesses of Mr. Trump’s get-tough ap­proach, how­ever, are spark­ing ques­tions about whether a wall is re­ally needed.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, Mis­souri Demo­crat, said the Home­land Se­cu­rity De­part­ment has si­phoned $20 mil­lion away from its tech­nol­ogy fund to pay for the ini­tial wall pro­to­types.

She said early es­ti­mates from the de­part­ment call for $2.6 bil­lion to build less than 75 miles of the wall next year — an av­er­age of about $35 mil­lion per mile. That is seven times the av­er­age cost of ex­ist­ing parts of the wall.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota Demo­crat, said she has not found any bor­der of­fi­cial who says a wall along the en­tire south­west­ern bound­ary with Mex­ico is needed.

“No one, not one per­son, no mat­ter what po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sion,” she said. “I just wish we could get be­yond that so we can ac­tu­ally talk about what we need to do on the bor­der.”

Mr. Aguilar and Ron­ald S. Col­burn, a for­mer deputy chief of the Bor­der Pa­trol, said tech­nol­ogy is the most im­por­tant fac­tor in se­cur­ing the bor­der — but both said bar­ri­ers do help.

Mr. Col­burn, who headed the Bor­der Pa­trol’s Yuma sec­tor in south­west­ern Ari­zona and south­east­ern Cal­i­for­nia, re­counted the dif­fer­ences be­fore and af­ter bar­ri­ers were built along the sec­tor’s 125-mile bor­der with Mex­ico.

Be­fore, he said, agents ar­rested 138,000 il­le­gal im­mi­grants, recorded more than 2,700 at­tempts to bar­rel across the bor­der in ve­hi­cles and seized nearly 36,000 pounds of drugs.

The year af­ter the fence was com­pleted, more agents were de­ployed and tech­nol­ogy was added, they saw just six ve­hi­cle at­tempts — all of which were stopped.

The num­ber of ap­pre­hen­sions dropped to about 8,400.

“Ask the Bor­der Pa­trol agents in the field — they know,” Mr. Col­burn said. “When I ask them about fence, ev­ery one of them re­sponds yes, build new bar­ri­ers where needed.”

He said the bar­ri­ers also made com­mu­ni­ties in Mex­ico safer. Be­fore the fence was built, ban­dits roamed freely, prey­ing on the mi­grants, of­ten in col­lu­sion with hu­man smug­glers. Rob­beries, beat­ings, rapes and killings were com­mon.

Mr. Col­burn said his agents recorded 200 at­tacks, with 1,800 vic­tims, the year be­fore the fence. That num­ber dropped to zero af­ter the fence.

The num­ber of as­saults on Bor­der Pa­trol agents also de­clined dras­ti­cally, he said.

Bor­der of­fi­cials have long tried to fig­ure out ways to carry Yuma’s suc­cesses to the rest of the south­west bor­der and ap­peared to have made progress through 2012. But a surge of il­le­gal im­mi­grants from Cen­tral Amer­ica, pushed by rough con­di­tions at home and en­ticed by law poli­cies in the U.S., sent the to­tals soar­ing again.

Now, Mr. Trump ap­pears to have re­duced those num­bers, judg­ing by Bor­der Pa­trol ap­pre­hen­sions. An­a­lysts say the num­ber of peo­ple caught is a rough yard­stick for how many peo­ple are try­ing and get­ting through — so fewer ap­pre­hen­sions means a lower level of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

Mr. Aguilar said sim­i­lar drops oc­curred dur­ing the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion af­ter Congress passed a broad amnesty grant­ing le­gal sta­tus to mil­lions of il­le­gal im­mi­grants and promised to get tough on en­force­ment.

The le­gal­iza­tion fol­lowed, but not the tough en­force­ment. Il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion soared in the en­su­ing 20 years.

“It doesn’t hold for long un­less those sub­stan­tive ac­tions con­tinue,” Mr. Aguilar said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

PRAISED: Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary John F. Kelly is sched­uled to de­tail im­mi­gra­tion num­bers Wed­nes­day to the Se­nate Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A por­tion of a new steel fence stretches along the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der in Sun­land Park, New Mex­ico. This fenc­ing just west of the New Mex­ico state line was planned and started be­fore Pres­i­dent Trump’s elec­tion, adding to the 650 miles of fences, walls and ve­hi­cle bar­ri­ers that al­ready ex­ist along the nearly 2,000-mile bor­der.

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