Border Patrol sees drop in arrests
By ALICIA A. CALDWELL, Associated Press Writer
Wed Dec 6, 5:14 PM ET

EL PASO, Texas - The number of illegal immigrants arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border fell sharply in October and November, a decrease the U.S. Border Patrol attributed in part to having more agents.

Arrests in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California dropped about 27 percent, or by nearly 43,000 arrests, compared with the same period last year, Border Patrol officials in Washington said Wednesday. Arrests dropped nearly 9 percent from 2004 to 2005.

If that trend continues, it would mark the first sustained decrease in illegal immigrant arrests since shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Assistant Chief Patrol Agent Xavier Rios said. The falloff is a sign that recently launched border security efforts are working, he said.

"All of these numbers are good," Rios said. "We're better staffed than we have been since the inception of the Border Patrol. We're more effective at what we do."

It's nearly impossible, however, to know whether the drop in arrests really means fewer people are coming across the border. Agents estimate they catch no more than one out of three illegal immigrants, said T.J. Bonner, president of the union that represents the majority of agents.

Border Patrol officials first noticed a drop in arrests last summer, shortly after National Guard troops were ordered to the border as part of President Bush's Operation Jump Start. Those troops staff cameras, help maintain Border Patrol equipment and watch for illegal crossers.

Arrests also started to slide last year after authorities stopped allowing suspected illegal immigrants to be set free after they agreed to appear in court. ... ol_arrests