Illegal immigration falls along U.S. border

Sunday, August 12, 2007

TECATE, Mexico -- Mexican shelters, usually the last stop for northbound migrants, are filling with southbound deportees. Fewer migrants are crossing in the wind-swept deserts along an increasingly fortified border. Far to the north, fields are empty at harvest time as workplace raids become more common.

Mexicans are increasingly giving up on the American dream and staying home, and the federal crackdown on undocumented workers announced Friday should discourage even potential migrants from taking the risks as the United States purges itself of its illegal population.

U.S. border agents detained 55,545 illegal migrants jumping over border walls, walking through the desert and swimming across the Rio Grande between October and June. That's down 38 percent for the entire border compared to the same period a year before.

U.S. and Mexican officials say increased border security, including 6,000 National Guard troops, remote surveillance technology and drone planes, has thwarted smugglers who had succeeded for years at beating the system.

The biggest drop in Border Patrol detentions -- a 68 percent decrease -- was in the remote, heat-seared desert surrounding Yuma, Ariz., once popular with smugglers. Border Patrol spokesman Jeremy Chappell credits the additional troops and tougher security.

"Where an alien before was able to sneak across, now he has the National Guard watching him," Chappell said.

Deportations also are up for illegal immigrants who have lived in the States for years. Some are caught for minor infractions like a burned-out headlight. Others are rounded up in workplace raids that the Bush administration has vowed to intensify.

The new measures announced Friday will force employers to fire anyone who cannot prove their Social Security numbers are legitimate.

U.S. employers are already complaining, especially those in agriculture, where most workers are believed to be working with false documents. On a recent visit to Mexico, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said some crops are already rotting in the fields for lack of workers.

Many employers join President Bush in blaming Congress for stalling an accord that would allow more people to work legally.

"Pretty shortly people are going to be knocking on people's doors saying 'Man we're running out of workers,'" Bush said.

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