WASHINGTON (AP) - Arrests of illegal immigrants along the U.S. border with Mexico are at the lowest level since the Nixon administration, indicating that fewer people are attempting to cross the border to live or work in the United States. The development could change the debate on illegal immigration from securing the border to handling the people who are already here.
It's the sixth straight year apprehensions have dropped.
"Increasingly the problem is the 11 million people (in the country illegally), rather than the border itself," said Demetrios Papademetriou, president of the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan research organization.
In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, Border Patrol arrested 327,577 people trying to cross the southern U.S. border. Meanwhile, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials deported a record 396,906 people over the same period. That marks the first time in decades that formal removals from the U.S. outpaced arrests at the border.
The number of arrests of people trying to sneak across the border has been steadily declining since 2006, after an all-time high of more than 1.6 million apprehensions in 2000. During those 10 years, more immigrants have become settled residents of the U.S.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, nearly two-thirds of the country's estimated 10.2 million adult illegal immigrants have been living in the United States for at least 10 years. A decade ago, fewer than half had been in the U.S. that long.