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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Border Security

William La Jeunesse

Los Angeles, CA

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Illegal Immigration in Remote Arizona

September 7, 2010 - 3:45 PM | by: William La Jeunesse

While both sides of the immigration debate admit sealing America’s border is unrealistic, is it secure enough — for Democrats to propose comprehensive immigration reform?

That’s a political question we’re likely to see next year.

The security question is something else. The Administration points to declining apprehension numbers as proof that the border has never been more secure.

It also points to a new Pew Hispanic Center study which suggests the illegal population in the US declined from 12 million to 11.2 million the last three years. Still, that number is triple what it was in 1990. That same report however also says “this finding is not conclusive because of the margin of error in these estimates.”

But the most important number is one the agency doesn’t keep — how many did not get caught?

And while there’s no question areas around border cities like San Diego and Yuma are visibly more secure, with fences, and camera’s and lights – people in rural areas say new smuggling routes have never been busier.

“We haven’t seen much border patrol here and I guarantee you won’t see any along this border…there is nobody watching this place at all,” said Gary Thrasher, a rancher in southeast Arizona.

Thrasher is also a veterinarian. He drives the border road between Douglas, Arizona and Nogales almost daily. It is remote and rugged and Thrasher says he rarely sees any Border Patrol agents.

“Border agents tell me day or night there are 300 to 500 illegals coming across the Huachuca mountains,” he said. “The border patrol will tell you will tell you 1 in 4 is about what they catch – in some areas it is 1 in 3.”

Exactly how many illegal immigrants get through the border isn’t known. And critics say, even though illegal traffic on the border may be down, it doesn’t mean the border patrol is catching more people. Many experts believe traffic is down – not because of enforcement – but the economy.

Because of that, demographers at the Center for Immigration studies say it is premature to consider comprehensive immigration reform. A recent study by former immigration reporter Jarry Kammer (( http://www.cis.org/Videos/GamingtheBorder-CochiseCounty )) suggests the border is not secure in parts of Arizona where land is in large part, in the hands of ranchers, who see illegals crossing the property on a daily basis.

Others say ’sealing the border’ is unrealistic, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano complains Republicans keep ‘moving the goal posts’ – that no matter how secure the border becomes, they will oppose plans to legalize immigrants living here illegally. 

“The major factor seems to be the economy. When we look at trends over the last 20 years, immigration rises and falls with US economy,” says Jeff Passell, a researcher at the Pew Hispanic Center. “If an illegal immigrant is faced with the prospect of not finding a job in the US, they are probably not likely to come.”

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