The number of non-Mexicans who are illegally crossing America’s southern border has more than tripled over the past three years and is on pace this year to soar even higher.
A congressional study has found that only about 37,300 illegal immigrants from countries other than Mexico were caught breaching the border in 2002. This year, through early July, the number has mushroomed to more than 119,000 _ mostly from Latin American nations _ a surge so far of more than 58 percent.
The Congressional Research Service report says that no one is sure what is triggering the growing tide, which is surfacing mostly in Texas.
“The reasons for this dramatic increase, and its geographical concentration in Texas, are not altogether clear,” said the Sept. 22 report.
But the study suggested several general causes:
- Security measures introduced at U.S. airports and other official entry points after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks may have caused those seeking to enter illegally to view the vast southern land border as their best option.
- The U.S. Border Patrol has become “increasingly effective” in apprehending the border-crossers.
- People-smuggling gangs may be increasing in number and sophistication.
- More restrictive rules and procedures for getting student and other U.S. visas may be driving those who once would have entered that way _ and later overstayed their visas _ to instead take the illegal land route.
Some immigration and national-security experts said the growing numbers raise concerns that the 2,000-mile border from Texas to California is in increasing danger of becoming a portal for those with terrorist intentions.
“There are so many holes in the system,” said Michael Cutler, an expert at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington and a former Immigration and Naturalization Service agent.
But a look at the countries of origin of those caught slipping into the United States shows that most by far are from Latin American nations and very few from the “special interest countries” such as Iran, Syria and Pakistan pegged by the Department of Homeland Security as known to harbor terrorists.
In all, more that 1.1 million people were apprehended attempting to enter the United States last year. Of those, 93 percent were Mexican nationals.
Of the rest, most in 2004 were from Honduras (24,420), El Salvador (16,974) and Guatemala (11,628), the congressional study found. Just 164 came from Pakistan, the only nation in which the al Qaeda terror network has a presence to make it on the list of the top 25 countries from which the illegal border-crossers came.
This year, Brazil has soared into second place, with more than 27,000 caught trying to sneak into the United States. Last year, just 8,800 from that South American nation were apprehended.
Part of that increase is believed due to economic troubles in Brazil, the congressional study said.
The study also notes that the Texas border is by far the most popular area for illegal crossing by “other than Mexicans,” as the federal government calls them.
In the five Border Patrol sectors in Texas through May of this year, more than 78,500 were caught. In the two Arizona sectors, the total was 7,500, and in three California sectors, it was 1,300.
The congressional report said one possible explanation for the Texas influx is that news that the state has a shortage of beds to hold detainees has filtered out. Unlike Mexicans caught illegally in the border area _ who are sent back almost immediately to their home country _ those from other nations are often released on bail because the detention facilities are full. Once released, the would-be migrants never appear for their hearings before immigration judges and simply disappear.
Another reason could be that more smuggling networks operate along the Texas border than in other parts of the divide, the report said.
“The possible proliferation of smuggling organizations along the Texas border specializing in bringing drugs and human beings into the United States is clearly of concern to Congress, and presents an ever-present threat to homeland security,” the study said.
In reaction to the influx, 23 Texas Democratic and Republican congressmen last week declared a symbolic “state of emergency” for the Texas-Mexico border in order to draw attention to the situation. In a letter to President Bush, they called for help in their region.
(Contact Lisa Hoffman at HoffmanL(at)shns.com)