Illegal immigrant arrests increase along N.M. border

By James W. Brosnan
The Albuquerque Tribune, July 26, 2006 ... 31,00.html

Washington -- U.S. Border Patrol officials say there has been a 13 percent surge in the number of illegal immigrants caught in the New Mexico-El Paso Sector in the past 10 months, even though arrests are down overall in the four Southwest border states.

The arrests are up now because New Mexico was shortchanged in the past, Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar said Tuesday at a briefing on the Southwest border.

'One area that we had not - and I repeat - we had not been able to do a very good job . . . was in the area of New Mexico: Deming, Lordsburg, that area. We just didn't have the resources,' Aguilar said.

Spurred by complaints from New Mexico politicians, the Border Patrol last year added 305 agents to the El Paso Sector, which includes the two westernmost counties of Texas.

There are 1,642 Border Patrol agents assigned to the sector with plans to raise that number to 1,900 by the end of the year, said Doug Mosier, a spokesman for the El Paso Sector.

New Mexico also has 692 of the 4,500 National Guardsmen that President Bush ordered deployed to the Southwest border.

Guardsmen from Arkansas, Georgia, Montana, New Jersey, Oklahoma and South Dakota are assisting identification teams, manning observation posts, building vehicle barriers and roads and flying observation planes and helicopters, said New Mexico National Guard spokesman Tom Koch.

When border coverage increases, Aguilar said, 'you see an uptick in apprehensions, because the flow doesn't know that you're there. Once you get that increase in apprehensions, you should have a down trend on it shortly thereafter.'

>From the start of the federal fiscal year Oct. 1 through Sunday, 110,217 illegal immigrants were caught in the El Paso Sector compared with 97,194 over the same time in fiscal year 2005.

Overall, arrests dropped 2 percent along the U.S.-Mexico border, from 957,297 to 938,833, in the same time period.

The El Paso Sector accounts for 12 percent of all apprehensions, compared with 10 percent in fiscal year 2005.

For New Mexico's political leaders, Aguilar's comments were confirmation of their complaints.

'For the last several years, I have been urging the administration to deploy more agents and direct more resources to our state's border, but I was told repeatedly that everything was under control,' said U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, Silver City Democrat.

'I'm glad that the White House has finally recognized that things have, in fact, not been under control and has begun to take the problem seriously.'

U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, an Albuquerque Republican, said he isn't surprised that arrests are up, 'because at long last, we have finally gotten serious about controlling the border.'

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, a Hobbs Republican who represents the border counties, said there has been 'a dramatic change' in the sector since August, when 'high-ranking officials in El Paso seemed unaware and unconcerned about the problem - and unwilling to make significant changes.'

Average detention time between capture and extradition has decreased from 60 days to 15, and drug seizures are up significantly, Pearce said.

Jon Goldstein, spokesman for New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, said the increase in arrests shows why the governor had to declare a border emergency last year and why he freed up $1.75 million for border county law enforcement agencies.

'The National Guard deployment is a helpful stopgap, but the governor still believes that what are needed are additional, permanent Border Patrol agents along the New Mexico border. These latest figures support that position,' Goldstein said.

Aguilar said the National Guard deployment is working to deter illegal immigrants.

In the 69 days since Bush announced the Guard's deployment, apprehensions are down 45 percent, Aguilar said.

Normally, there is a summertime drop as fewer immigrants dare challenge the heat, but last year the drop was just 25 percent, Aguilar said.

The chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Steven Blum, said the Guardsmen are just assisting the Border Patrol, 'not defending the United States from an invasion of Mexico' or closing or 'militarizing our border.'

He said the reason the National Guard was selected for the mission is that the New Mexico National Guard and the other Southwest border state guard units have a history of cooperation with the Mexican armed forces.

'For example, New Mexico last year hosted a parachute competition between the Mexican Army and some paratroopers, U.S. Army airborne-qualified soldiers,' Blum said.