In the year 2000, Border Patrol agents arrested 1.6 million people attempting to cross the border illegally from Mexico into the United States, an all-time high. Lured by the prospect of higher wages and better employment opportunities, many people felt that the chance of possible arrest/immigration detention was well worth the risk.
Flash forward over a decade, however, and the situation appears to have changed considerably. Poor economic conditions in the U.S. coupled with strict immigration laws in several states and enhanced border security have lead many people to conclude that an illegal border crossing is perhaps not in their best interests.
In fact, recently released statistics show that the number of arrests by Border Patrol agents in fiscal year 2011 was 327,577, marking the sixth year in a row that such arrests have declined and the lowest arrest levels since the 1970s.
"There is no single thing we can point to," said Doris Meissner former head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. "I think it's perfectly legitimate to say that border security is working. But it is not legitimate to say they are entirely responsible. Obviously it's a combination of the economy and enforcement."
While the exact reasoning behind the persistent decline in illegal immigration from Mexico may be difficult to pinpoint, it has served to shift the focus of the ongoing immigration debate here in the U.S.
Simply put, much of the dialogue among politicians now has to do with how to manage the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.
"Increasingly the problem is the 11 million people [living in the country illegally], rather than the border itself," said Demetrios Papademetriou, president of the Migration Policy Institute.
Indeed many politicians have spoken of treating undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. with humanity and compassion, while others have adopted a far less forgiving stance.
With the 2012 presidential elections looming closer than ever, it should be interesting to see whether the candidates keep the immigration debate focused on border security or on how to treat undocumented immigrants moving forward.
Stay tuned for more from our Los Angeles County/U.S. immigration law blog ...
If you are facing immigration detention or have already been detained on an immigration-related matter, an experienced lawyer can help ensure that your rights and best interests are fully protected.
This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.
USA Today, "Arrests at the U.S.-Mexican border continue to drop" Dec. 7, 2011