SAN DIEGO — U.S. authorities along the Mexican border here reported a surge in arrests of illegal aliens in June, a fact that some say may indicate that fear of the new immigration law is diminishing among illegal immigrants.
"Word seems to be getting out that there's still jobs here," said Gene Smithburg, assistant chief Border Patrol agent for the San Diego sector, which accounts for more than one-third of border arrests nationwide.
Although arrest figures can vary greatly, depending on Border Patrol staffing, weather and other factors, officials regard the latest numbers as the best indicator of illegal entry into the United States.
Termed an 'Invasion'
Many experts cited the record 1.6 million border arrests in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 as proof of a veritable "invasion" of U.S. territory, and the growing numbers provided impetus for congressional action.
Since the landmark immigration bill passed last year, officials say, arrests of illegal aliens along the 1,900-mile U.S.-Mexico border have plummeted by about 40% from the same period last year. Experts have theorized that the law--and the fear and uncertainty that it has generated among would-be illegal border-crossers--is largely responsible for the drop.
In June, however, the Border Patrol here recorded 43,999 arrests, an increase of 51% over arrests in May and a rise of 25% over April. The June figures are also slightly higher than the number of arrests in March.
Usually a Busy Time
The differences are regarded as significant because the March-through-May period--a peak time for field work and other spring employment--is traditionally busier along the California border than June.
"This tells us that the surge is occurring again," Smithburg said. "We're getting back near the numbers that we saw last year."
Elsewhere along the border, the situation appears to vary from one area to another.
In El Paso, the second-busiest U.S.-Mexico border crossing, arrests of illegal aliens in June also topped the totals for April and May, but were slightly less than those recorded in March. However, figures for all months are still down considerably compared to the record numbers recorded in 1986.
'Not as Afraid'
George Cronin, a Border Patrol spokesman in El Paso, theorized that the June rise may have been connected to a lessening of fears about the new immigration law among potential border-crossers.
"They're beginning to realize what the law entails," he said. "They're not as afraid of it as they were."