Guest Commentary - Progress: fewer illegals are crossing border
The President recently signed legislation that provides substantial financing for border security initiatives. This good news means that the Department of Homeland Security will receive the border and immigration resources it needs to continue efforts to stop illegal immigration.
The fiscal year 2009 DHS appropriations bill, which included the border money, advanced as part of HR2638, commonly referred to as the fiscal year 2009 continuing resolution. The DHS bill includes $775 million to complete the construction of 670 miles of border fencing, and it also provides money for 2,200 new Border Patrol agents.
The DHS legislation would increase the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds by 1,400, for a total of 33,400. The increases in detention space have allowed the government to eliminate the counterproductive policy of "catch and release," and instead apprehend and detain illegal crossers until a hearing can be held.
The bill will enhance the federal government's efforts to remove criminal aliens from the country by providing $100 billion to identify convicted criminal aliens and deport them. And, the bill would boost Arizona's border infrastructure by providing $96 million for Border Patrol stations in the state.
This money will build on recent progress along the border, including gains resulting from the $1.2 billion I helped to secure last year, and which enabled DHS to undertake a number of new enforcement actions.
Over the past few years, in response to the American people's call for improved border security, Congress has worked to ensure that the federal government has the resources it needs to secure the border and stem the flow of illegal immigrants into the country. Our efforts are showing some positive results.
For example, since approval of the Secure Fence Act in 2006, DHS has built both vehicle and pedestrian barriers along the southern border. Now 352 miles of border fencing exist - a substantial portion of that is in Arizona.
DHS also has increased the number of Border Patrol agents and continues to hire more. In 1996, when I began fighting to increase the number of border agents, there were only 4,000; today, there are approximately 17,300. This increased manpower has bolstered efforts to monitor the vast expanses of the border and apprehend those who are able to get across.
DHS also is using E-Verify, an online tool that allows employers to check whether potential employees are eligible to work in this country. Currently, nearly 88,000 employers are enrolled in the program, and 6.5 million employees have been checked.
This combination of border and enforcement resources and increased personnel has significantly improved overall efforts to stop illegal immigration into Arizona. In the Yuma Border Patrol Sector, for example, Operation Streamline (also known as Zero Tolerance), in existence since mid-2006, has helped to decrease violence and illegal crossings along the border by prosecuting and jailing nearly all individuals who are apprehended there.
As a result, fewer people are crossing the border illegally in the Yuma sector. In the year before Operation Streamline started, 136,767 illegal immigrants were apprehended there. Since then, apprehensions have drastically declined. Current data show that only 8,016 illegal immigrants have been apprehended there in the last 11 months. That's an 80 percent decrease.
In Tucson, where Operation Streamline began in 2007, the Border Patrol also is seeing success. There, 299,244 apprehensions of illegal immigrants have been logged in the past 11 months (down from 358,580 the year before).
Arizona's Border Patrol continues to apprehend more illegal immigrants than any other sector in the nation, but, as a result of programs like Operation Streamline, fewer illegal immigrants are attempting to cross the border into our state.
Border security is a matter of national security. The improvements in the infrastructure at the border, manpower, and resources within the country represent substantial progress from where we were just a few years ago. But, there is still a long way to go, and Congress must not let this recent progress lead to complacency.
Apprehensions are still too high. Overstays of visas continue to be a problem. We need to keep the pressure on Congress to maintain the necessary appropriations for these efforts. I will continue to monitor DHS's efforts along the border and within the country to ensure that this critical progress continues.
(U.S. Senator Jon Kyl is the Assistant Republican Leader and serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees. Visit his website at www.kyl.senate.gov.)