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Border Patrol apprehensions in NM sharply higher this year

Correction: An earlier version of this story inaccurately reported the percentage of increased apprehensions in fiscal 2013. It has been corrected to show the increase is 41 percent.

LAS CRUCES – The Border Patrol on Monday said apprehensions of migrants crossing illegally into New Mexico jumped 41 percent this year.

The Border Patrol picked up 7,988 people who crossed illegally in fiscal 2013, compared with 5,662 migrants in fiscal 2012. The Border Patrol called the numbers “an unofficial count” that could change once final statistics are released.

Apprehensions in the El Paso Sector, of which New Mexico is a part, have been in sharp decline since 2006, when they totaled more than 122,250. Last year, the Border Patrol apprehended fewer than 10,000 crossers.

Analysts attribute the trend in declining migration across the southern border to a range of factors, including the recent U.S. recession, increased border security and a rash of violence on the Mexican side that has made a perilous journey even more dangerous. Greater economic opportunity in some regions of Mexico has also encouraged some would-be crossers to seek jobs at home.

Illegal migration reached historic highs during the 1990s, when the U.S. economy was booming and Mexico suffered a brutal peso devaluation.

In 1993, the Border Patrol apprehended 285,781 migrants in the El Paso sector – the high-water mark of the past 20 years for this region. Across the entire Southwest border, apprehensions peaked in 2000 at more than 1.6 million.

The increase in New Mexico came as the number of apprehensions fell in the Tucson sector and also at the Texas stations of the El Paso sector. The Border Patrol did not release apprehension statistics for those areas.

Enforcement successes in one region can push migrants to try crossing at another point along the border, said Joe Romero, acting special operations supervisor in the Border Patrol El Paso sector’s public affairs office.

“The success of neighboring sectors, such as Tucson Sector, may lead people away from that area in hopes of possibly finding a greater chance for success in our area,” he said in an emailed response to questions.

Last week, the office of the U.S. attorney in New Mexico attributed a rise in criminal immigration prosecutions this year to a “significant increase” in Border Patrol apprehensions, and the numbers reported Monday back that up. A study released last week by the nonpartisan Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University showed criminal immigration prosecutions jumped 46 percent in New Mexico in the first eleven months of fiscal 2013 to 5,999.

The consequences of crossing illegally have grown more severe over the past decade. Whereas a decade ago the Border Patrol routinely caught crossers and released them back to Mexico, today more migrants are arrested and booked. A first-time illegal crossing is a misdemeanor; a second attempt can result in a felony charge.

“This is one reason why you see a higher number of cases being referred for prosecution,” Romero said. “In the past, many individuals were simply returned to Mexico and this would allow them to attempt another illegal crossing the following day. That option is now very limited and with very real consequences… (and) most individuals now realize that being caught will not lead to a free pass…”