Even as Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama vows to reform the nation’s immigration system, signs are emerging that the flow of illegal immigration is slowingdramatically — thanks to stronger enforcement.
Apprehensions, border deaths and pounds of marijuana seized — three key indicators of illegal border activity compiled by the U.S. Border Patrol — each dipped in the recently completed fiscal year in the Tucson Sector, according to a report Wednesday in the Arizona Daily Star.
The decreases were cited as evidence of the agency's success in slowing illegal immigration. But the sector’s chief, Robert Gilbert, stopped short of proclaiming control of his 262-mile stretch of U.S.-Mexico border. That stretch has been the busiest along the Southwest border for apprehensions since 1998, for border deaths since 2002, and for marijuana seizures since 2003.
“It's a sign that we are on the right path," Gilbert said Tuesday at a news conference in Tucson. "We had successes in '08 and I think our numbers prove that out, but we are long ways from saying we are where we want to be with border control."
Obama has said he would use his presidential power to curtail enforcement of federal immigration laws put some 12 million illegal immigrants on a “path to citizenship.”
But that blanket amnesty plan will overwhelm social service programs and forever alter the political balance in the United States, experts warn. He also has condemned the raids on businesses and other sanctuaries that are designed to round up and deport illegals.
Tucson Sector is ground zero for in the fight against illegal immigration. Despite accounting for only 13 percent of the nearly 2,000 linear miles, the Tucson sector accounted for 50 percent of marijuana seized, 45 percent of apprehensions made and 43 percent of border deaths recorded.
Apprehensions made in the Tucson Sector dropped for the fourth straight year, down 16 percent from 2007. Southwest border apprehensions dropped for the third straight year, down 18 percent from 2007.
With the numbers dropping across the Southwest border, many immigration experts have pointed to the downturn in the U.S. economy as the main reason behind the slowdown.
Gilbert, however, believes it plays only a minor role in the decreases. Construction is the only industry that employs a significant number of illegal immigrants that has been hit hard, he said.
“The service industry, where the majority of the people that are trying to come illegally work, has not suffered a downturn," Gilbert said. "I think the majority of it is a sound operational strategy and starting to see the resources it's going to take to move the strategy forward.”
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