Measuring Progress in Border Security – A Good Start from the GAO

Border Fence Arizona and MexicoBy Edward Alden, 1/15/2013

How hard is it for migrants to cross the southwest border illegally and enter into the United States? That question has long been difficult to answer, but it is one that has become more urgent as Congress prepares once again to consider a broader immigration reform. A new report from the Government Accountability Office gives a surprising assessment – that it appears to have become far more difficult than most Americans realize.

The GAO report is the first to assess the number of successful illegal entries across the border using a method called “known illegal entries,” or “known flow” for short. The number of illegal entries is the key statistic that matters in the debate over border enforcement. The U.S. government has for many years reported the number of “apprehensions” at the border – arrests of those attempting to enter illegally. Last year, that number fell to 327,000 at the southwest border, the lowest since 1972. While the decline in apprehensions from its 2001 peak of more than 1.6 million certainly suggests that many fewer people are trying to cross illegally, it tells us nothing definitive about the numbers who are still successfully evading the Border Patrol between the ports of entry and entering the United States.

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