Border Patrol To Target Repeat Crossers

The U.S. Border Patrol announced Tuesday what it's calling a new strategy to target repeat crossers and better measure illegal immigration and enforcement issues.

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The number of people caught crossing illegally from Mexico into the U.S. is at a 40-year low. There are many reasons, including fewer jobs in the U.S. and more in Mexico, but experts agree that increased border security has also played a part. So the Border Patrol says it's time to reexamine how it does its job.

Today, the agency announced its first new strategy since 2004. NPR's Ted Robbins reports.

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Eight years ago, the U.S. Border Patrol had roughly 11,000 agents. Today, it has more than 21,000. It also has almost 700 miles of fencing and vehicle barriers in place, along with drones, helicopters, ground sensors, cameras and radar towers.

Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher told the House Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security Tuesday that it's time to use all those resources more quickly and effectively.

MICHAEL FISHER: One, are we maximizing the capability of all of those resources and, two, do we have them in the right locations against the emerging threats?

ROBBINS: Chief Fisher said the plan calls for relying on intelligence and working with local agencies to find drug traffickers and possible terrorists. The agency will also continue to target and punish people who repeatedly cross the border illegally.

Members of the House committee from both parties noted that those are existing Border Patrol goals. Here's committee chair, Candice Miller, a Republican from Michigan.

REPRESENTATIVE CANDICE MILLER: What is really new? What is really new in this strategic plan? I'm looking at it and everything in here - I mean, I agree with everything that's here, but there wasn't really something that grabbed me as being really new.

ROBBINS: One example, said Chief Fisher, is the recent capability to look at areas along both the southern and northern borders over time, looking for changes indicating possible new threats. The agency has also stopped using the term operational control to describe areas of the border with adequate resources.

Skeptical Republican and Democratic committee members asked how the Border Patrol knows what's working and what isn't. Again, Republican Candice Miller.

MILLER: When we hear terms like, the border is more secure than ever, that may be so, but how do you measure that? By what? And that's what we're really looking for.

ROBBINS: The agency is developing a way to measure its effectiveness. Something called the Border Condition Index. No one outside customs and border protection knows yet how it will work and Chief Fisher says it won't be ready until next year. He did say, however, that the Border Patrol could always use more resources.

Ted Robbins, NPR News.

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