|The Bush administration says efforts
to secure the U.S. border with Mexico are reducing the flow of illegal
aliens into the country. The announcement follows President Bush's signing
of a bill authorizing the construction of 1,100 kilometers of fencing
along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In May, President Bush urged Congress to enact
comprehensive immigration reform and, at the same time, ordered immediate
steps to boost vigilance
and security along the 3,000-kilometer U.S.-Mexico border.
Those steps included deploying National Guard troops to the border,
training more border patrol agents, and using advanced technology to help
monitor remote border regions.
So far, Congress has yet to enact
the sweeping immigration reform package the president wants. But Homeland
Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says the administration's efforts to
secure the border are already showing results.
"Because of the additional border patrol, because of the additional
infrastructure, and because the president directed the National Guard to
get to the border through "Operation Jump Start," we have begun to see,
for the first time, a significant turnaround in terms of the number of
illegals we are finding crossing the border," he
Chertoff says the total number of apprehensions along America's
southern border is down by more than eight percent from a year ago,
indicating that fewer aliens are entering the country illegally.
But Chertoff is quick to add that the reduction is not simply a matter
of better border enforcement. Equally important, he says, was the recent
termination of the "catch-and-release" policy that used to apply to
illegal aliens from all nations other than Mexico.
Under the old policy, so-called "Other Then Mexicans" apprehended by US
authorities would be released on bail until their case went to trial.
Rarely did such individuals return for their court date, opting to
disappear into U.S. society instead.
Chertoff says detaining rather than releasing non-Mexicans necessitated
increasing detention capabilities and revamping administrative procedures
- but produced the desired effect.
"We did it first of all by acquiring more beds, so we had more space to
detain people," he said. "The second thing we did was to dramatically
decrease the amount of time it took to return non-Mexicans to their native
countries. But that is not the full picture, because the real message here
is deterrence. As illegal migrants began to see that they were not simply
going to be released, we started to have a deterrent effect on their
willingness to try to cross the border."
The Homeland Security secretary says federal agents are also being more
aggressive in cracking down on U.S. businesses that hire undocumented
workers, and that special efforts are being made to apprehend illegal
aliens involved in drug smuggling, money laundering and gang activity.
Polls show immigration as a leading issue for a significant portion of
American voters one week before congressional elections.