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 three-thousand 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."
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. 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.