SAN DIEGO — It first began in early summer, National Guard troops arriving to help protect the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona, Texas, New Mexico and California.
Now, the first indications the added effort may be working: the number of illegal immigrants caught trying to sneak in the U.S. has dropped almost by half.
Today there are 4,500 National Guard troops on the border in four states. They make no arrests, but help by improving roads and conducting surveillance. But the Border Patrol is the first to admit that their numbers, while promising, can be misleading. While the number of apprehensions are down border-wide they are now growing in parts of Texas, and especially in San Diego.
Headline news in Mexico of increased U.S. patrols, record-high temperatures, and a rising death toll appear to be driving immigrants away from popular crossing routes in Arizona, moving them to the east and west.
"If anything, the deployment of the National Guard probably has had the effect of driving more migrants into the hands of professional people smugglers," says Wayne Cornelius, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, "and if their crossings are assisted, they are more likely to be successful."
Wednesday, the government announced that some National Guard soldiers, despite concern the border is being militarized, will begin carrying weapons, but only under the strictest guidelines.
"There are a few certain very dangerous places, therefore we will arm certain soldiers and airmen," says Master Sgt. Michael Drake with the California Air National Guard.
In fact, there is evidence that coyote fees are going up — professional smugglers are demanding up to $1,000 more per head to help immigrants sneak in. And for every one caught, it's believed two more make it across America's hot and bothered border.
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