In the nearly five months since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, there has been a marked drop off in illegal immigration from Mexico. Some of the border sectors that were most active a year ago have seen more than a 50 percent drop in crossings.
Border Patrol agents in southern Arizona have had fewer people to detain in recent months as the result of a dramatic decrease in illegal crossings over the boundary.
Last year, ranchers in the Douglas, Arizona, area were taking the law into their own hands to stop immigrants who were damaging irrigation systems and breaking down fences as they crossed through cattle pastures. Border Patrol agents were hard pressed to keep up with the constant flow of illegal entrants.
But the situation has changed, according to Border Patrol spokesman Rob Daniel. "Looking at the line area, the ports of entry, in southeastern Arizona today compared to just a year or two ago, it is a dramatic difference," he said. "Where we used to see groups of 100, 200 or more, we are now seeing, if we see activity in a given area, it is going to be half-dozen to a dozen at most."
Mr. Daniel says the reinforcement of the border around Douglas with more agents, as well as fences, lights and technological devices has discouraged many immigrants. But, he says, the slowdown in the U.S. economy has also been a factor.
Many immigrants who worked in the service industry lost their jobs after September 11, and the word has gone south that opportunities are now limited. Some would-be immigrants also express the fear of being in the United States when another terrorist attack occurs.
All of this has been hard on the people who used to make lots of money smuggling immigrants across the border, according to Rob Daniel. "The smugglers, in order to stay in the business and to attract the business, they are actually having to lower the price for potentially smuggling into this nation," he said.
Mr. Daniel says human smugglers, and drug smugglers as well, have been frustrated by the build up at the border. As a result, he says, there has been a significant increase in attacks on Border Patrol agents, mostly in the form of smugglers tossing rocks across the line at the agents.
But the anger can also take a more serious form. Last week, in El Paso, Texas, marijuana smugglers fired shots into a Border Patrol vehicle after running back into Mexico to escape arrest. No one was injured in the incident, which is under investigation by both U.S. and Mexican authorities.