Illegal immigration from Mexico is plummeting, according to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, giving the United States a unique chance to toughen its border efforts.
Napolitano says that the department has seen a "pretty significant decrease" in illegal immigrants crossing over from Mexico because the number of available jobs in the United States has decreased.
"I think we need to move and take advantage of that," she said at a briefing with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials, according to Fox News.
"You can reasonably anticipate that when our economy comes back -- and it will -- it could be accompanied by another wave of illegal immigration."
Asked to explain how the economic downturn has reduced illegal immigration, Napolitano said the "lull" is driven by a loss of construction jobs -- which she dubbed "a prime draw" -- and a loss of "tourism-related jobs" in the United States.
A DHS official told Fox News that Napolitano wants to accelerate the construction of the security fence along the southern border. Most of the 670-mile fence has been completed, but more than 60 miles -- mostly in Texas -- remain unfinished.
Napolitano also wants to "accelerate" efforts to mandate the E-verify program, which allows employers to verify the legal status of workers online, free of charge. The program is currently a volunteer-based system, and only a relatively small number of employers are participating. Congress would have to take action to give it any legal or regulatory backing.
"This is one of the things that she wants to push to make sure that the illegal immigrant population comes under control," the official told Fox News.
A study by the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute found that illegal immigrants "are motivated, in large part, by employment prospects in the United States." Estimates of illegal immigration have consistently increased over the past eight years, except for two periods: the recession of 2001-2002 and the start of the current economic downturn.
In fact, according to CBP statistics, the number of illegal aliens apprehended at the border has fallen significantly in the past several years, dropping 21 percent in the last year.
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