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Migrant apprehensions falling along Arizona-Mexico border
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Migrant apprehensions falling along Arizona-Mexico border

  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and U.S. Marshals prepare a group of teenagers to board a chartered airliner at Tucson International Airport, as part of an effort to deal with the influx of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America over the summer of 2014.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comImmigration and Customs Enforcement agents and U.S. Marshals prepare a group of teenagers to board a chartered airliner at Tucson International Airport, as part of an effort to deal with the influx of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America over the summer of 2014.

The number of people apprehended by immigration officials along the Arizona-Mexico border has declined nearly 25 percent in the past year, according to statistics released Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security. 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in Arizona detained 70,074 people between October 2014 and September 2015, compared to 93,174 people during the previous fiscal year. 

Overall, CBP apprehended 406,595 people nationwide, a decline of nearly 31 percent from the year before, following a decade-long trend since 2005 — when CBP officials apprehended nearly 1.2 million people. 

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson praised the change, attributing the decline in apprehensions and drug seizures to a "long-term investment in border security." 

Among the southwest border states, only New Mexico saw an uptick in the number of apprehensions, which increased there nearly 30 percent. However, the number of apprehensions in the state remains low compared to apprehensions in other border states. 

CBP officers apprehended 210,468 people in Texas and 39,575 people in California during the same period that New Mexico saw only 11,218 people taken into custody. 

In Arizona, the agency also said that it had refused entry to more than 9,000 people who were deemed "inadmissible" into the United States, and CBP officers had arrested 8,246 people wanted for serious crimes nationwide. 

At the same time, Johnson noted that Homeland Security officials are continuing to shift their priorities when it comes to the removal of immigrants from the United States. 

Johnson also highlighted the shift in priorities for deportation and removal by DHS officials, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. 

Johnson said that 2015 was a "year of transition" marked by the new approaches announced in November 2014. 

While the number of removals by ICE was down from 2012, Johnson said that nearly 91 percent of those were previously convicted of a crime, highlighting the agency's focus on those who have just crossed the border or are a threat to public safety or national security. 

Of the 235,413 people removed in 2015, about 59 percent were convicted criminals according to ICE statistics. The remaining 41 percent were people who were convicted of "non-criminal immigration violations." 

This includes those who were convicted of felony re-entry through the fast-track system known as Operation Streamline. 

Just over 70 percent of those removed by ICE were apprehended along U.S. borders, however, nearly 70,000 people were picked up as part of "interior enforcement." 

Johnson said that the agency would increase interior enforcement in 2016, focusing on removing convicted criminals. To do this, Johnson said the agency was rebuilding ties with state and local law enforcement as part of the Priority Enforcement Program, which was created in November 2014 in order to replace the often-criticized Secure Communities Program. 

"Of the 25 largest jurisdictions that had placed restrictions on their own cooperation with ICE, 16 are now working with us again for the good of public safety," Johnson said. 

Johnson also noted the shift of migration patterns, including the arrival of thousands of unaccompanied minors, as well as family units, along the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014, and again in 2015.  

While the total number of unaccompanied minors and family units are down, from 2014 to 2015, DHS officials reported that in October and November, the number of both groups had more than doubled. 

In Tucson Sector alone, more than 1,285 unaccompanied children were apprehended by CBP officers. 

"Higher numbers of Central Americans crossing our border require greater resources, as the removal process for this population takes more time, personnel resources, and funding to complete compared to the removal process for Mexican nationals," Johnson said. 

This includes people from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, countries that have experienced a rampant increase in violence over the last two years. 

Johnson said that many of those were asserting claims of credible or reasonable fear, a process that requires "careful adjudication, and therefore, take longer to process."  

"Early data indicates that some individuals have successfully obtained asylum in the removal proceedings process," Johnson said. 

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