by Jim Nintzel
The New York Times reports that Texas may be displacing Southern Arizona as the hot spot for illegal border crossings:
Now the Rio Grande Valley has displaced the Tucson enforcement zone as the hot spot, with makeshift rafts crossing the river in increasing numbers, high-speed car chases occurring along rural roads and a growing number of dead bodies turning up on ranchers’ land, according to local officials.
“There is just so much happening at the same time — it is overwhelming,” said Benny Martinez, the chief deputy in the Sheriff’s Department of Brooks County, Tex., 70 miles north of the border, where smugglers have been dropping off carloads of immigrants who have made it past Border Patrol checkpoints.
The increase in Texas is taking place even as the Obama administration says it has achieved unprecedented control over the border with Mexico. The administration, President Obama said last week, has “put border security in place,” with illegal crossings “near their lowest level in decades.”
Apprehensions at the Mexican border — the single best indicator of illegal traffic — are still far below their peak: there were 356,873 last year, compared with 1.6 million in 2000.
But after nearly a decade of steady declines, the count has started to rise again over the past year, driven by the rise in the southern tip of Texas, where the numbers so far this fiscal year are up 55 percent. Since October, 94,305 individuals have been apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley alone, topping the count in Tucson for the first time since 1993.
Sen. John McCain and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano weigh in:
Supporters of the bill say the surge in Texas is small compared with the steep overall decline in recent years, and the Senate legislation, while not formally mandating control all along the Mexican border, would provide at least $4.5 billion over five years for enforcement tools to help finish the job — a significant improvement that would come after two years of budget cutting.
“I have been on the border in Arizona for the last 30 years,” Senator John McCain, a Republican from that state who is one of the eight authors of the overhaul bill, said during the debate last week. “To somehow say there have not been significant advancements in border security defies the facts.”
The homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, acknowledged to a Senate committee this spring that in South Texas, “we have a problem there right now which we are fixing.”
The chief of the Border Patrol, Michael J. Fisher, said in an interview that he had begun last year to shift agents and surveillance equipment to the region, anticipating that an enforcement campaign in Tucson would push the illegal flow toward Texas. He said the patrol had sought to build up in Texas without diminishing its effort in Arizona.
“We did it smartly,” Mr. Fisher said. “We wanted to maintain some discipline and not move our resources from our primary focus in Arizona.”