The number of people apprehended by immigration agents while trying to enter Texas illegally dropped by more than 35 percent during the federal government’s 2015 fiscal year, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics released Tuesday.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents stopped some 210,470 people in Texas between October 2014 and September 2015, compared to 332,457 the previous year. On the entire southwestern border, 331,335 people were apprehended in the 2015 fiscal year, compared to 479,371 the year before.
Homeland security leaders attribute the dip to lower numbers of would-be illegal crossers and a ramped-up border security effort that has nearly doubled the number of agents on the southwestern border since 2001. The number of Mexican nationals apprehended decreased by 18 percent, they said; apprehensions of people from countries other than Mexico — mainly Central Americans — decreased by more than 65 percent.
The new data is not likely to allay the concerns of GOP state leaders, who argue the Obama administration is failing in its duty to secure the border and remove undocumented criminals already present in the country.
Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he'd be keeping National Guard troops on the state’s border with Mexico instead of sending them home as planned, the result of a spike in illegal crossings by minor children in the Rio Grande Valley in October and November of this year. The Guard is deployed to assist federal agents and state troopers in surveillance and border crossings but has no arresting or removal powers.
The downward trend in federal apprehensions wasn't just limited to the border; nationally, they decreased by about 30 percent between 2014 and 2015.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement also removed roughly 80,000 fewer undocumented people from the country — a total of 235,413 — in 2015 than the agency did the prior year.
During a conference call with reporters, homeland security officials said of Immigration and Customs Enforcement removals in 2015, about 86 percent were considered "Priority 1" — immigrants who pose a viable threat to national security, border security and public safety.
The 2015 totals also include roughly 40 percent fewer unaccompanied minors and family units.
Homeland security officials said their focus in 2016 would be "more interior enforcement" to return "convicted criminals" to their home countries.