Even though we are one month into calendar year 2011, the Department of Homeland Security has not yet released the final fiscal year 2010 statistics.
The fiscal year ended four months ago on Sept. 30.
In my five years covering the border at the Arizona Daily Star, the lag time between the end of the fiscal year and the release of border statistics such as apprehensions, drug seizures, rescues and border deaths has increased each year. Understandably, government officials like to take time to make sure the figures are accurate, study them and sometimes, plan press conferences to highlight what they think are the key figures. In recent years, they've released the final figures within one to two months. But this year's wait has taken it to new levels — public information officers still are not authorized to release the fiscal year 2010 figures.
But, thanks to a weekly email sent out by the Center for Immigration Studies, I found a Customs and Border Protection webpage that has at least one of the statistics: Illegal immigrant apprehensions made by Border Patrol. Interestingly enough, the 2010 figures in the document are still listed as "unofficial" so apparently, they are still doing work to make these numbers official.
A few things that stand out from the numbers:
• Apprehensions are down again
No surprise, but apprehensions went down for the sixth straight year both in the Tucson Sector and across the Southwest Border.
The 212,202 apprehensions registered in the Tucson Sector (which covers the area from New Mexico to Yuma County) are less than half the 491,771 made in fiscal year 2004, and 12-percent less than the 2009 total.
The 447,731 apprehensions made along the Southwest Border are less than half of the 1.1 million made each in fiscal years 2004 and 2005, and 17-percent less than 2009.
Though flawed (see below) the Border Patrol and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano use the drop in apprehensions as proof that fewer people are trying to cross the border. Most experts agree that's happening, but likely because of fewer jobs being available due to the "Great Recession." Immigration experts acknowledge that the massive buildup of agents, fences and technology over the last decade has made it more difficult to cross the border illegally but say it hasn't kept people from coming.
• The Tucson Sector continues to account for a larger percentage of total apprehensions along the Southwest Border.
The Tucson Sector's 212,202 apprehensions were 47 percent of the total apprehensions in fiscal year 2010. That's a higher percentage than any of the previous 10 years. The sector accounted for 44-45 percent of Southwest apprehensions each year from 2007-2009 and for 37-43 percent each year from 2000-2006.
Apprehensions are, of course, a flawed statistic to measure the flow of illegal immigration because they don't take into account those who make it past Border Patrol agents. In addition, apprehensions register an act, not a person, meaning there is likely double- and triple-counting. (I explained the issues with the "apprehension" statistic in this 2006 story.) But, since it is one of the only consistent statistics, many use it to get a balllpark gauge of traffic.
So, in that context, this shows that Arizona continues to be the most popular crossing point for people smugglers, perhaps more than ever.
• The proportion of apprehensions of non-Mexicans increased for the third straight year.
There were 16,281 apprehensions of "other-than-mexicans," commonly known as "OTMs" in the Tucson Sector in fiscal year 2010, up from 11,628 the previous year. In fact, the total was more than any of the previous 10 years. And the number accounted for 8 percent of the total apprehensions, a larger chunk than any of the previous 10 years.
Along the Southwest Border, apprehensions of non-Mexicans accounted for a larger percentage — 11 percent — than any of the previous four years. The only year when OTM apprehensions accounted for a larger percentage was in fiscal 2005 when the nearly 155,000 apprehensions of non-Mexicans accounted for 13 percent of all apprehensions.
I don't have the breakdown of which countries accounted for the bulk of the arrests but traditionally El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras lead the way.
• The trek appears to be getting more deadly each year for illegal border crossers, the the Arizona Daily Star's border-death database shows.
Now that I have the Border Patrol apprehension figures, I can update a statistic I maintain regarding the risk of dying for illegal border crossers crossing through Arizona. I compare the number of illegal border crosser bodies found by authorities and handed over to Southern Arizona medical examiner's offices per 100,000 Border Patrol apprehensions. This year's figures show the continuance of a grim trend: that the risk of dying is greater every year.
There were 118 known deaths per 100,000 apprehensions in the area covered in the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector in fiscal year 2010, up from 88 known deaths per 100,000 apprehensions in 2009 and 57 per 100,000 apprehensions in 2008. And going back even further, that's nearly three times as high as the 39 known deaths per 100,000 apprehensions in 2004.
As I wrote in this 2009 story about the trend, the increased risk of death parallels the historic buildup of agents, fences, roads and technology along the U.S.-Mexico border, calling into question one of the Border Patrol's mantras that a "secure border is a safe border."