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New Drone Radar Reveals Border Patrol ‘Gotaways’ in High Numbers

Posted on Apr 11, 2013
Diablo Azul (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Andrew Becker, Center for Investigative Reporting

(Page 3)

At the same time, Miller and other lawmakers have questioned the use of apprehension statistics as the most accurate way to measure border security. They have challenged Customs and Border Protection to do a better job of establishing meaningful measurements of success.

“The truth is that we need to refine and strengthen the metrics we use to determine how secure our borders and ports of entry are,” Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in a statement.

Nicley, the retired Tucson sector chief, said a key measurement has always been the number of people who evaded the Border Patrol rather than apprehensions. Gotaways are readily discernible to the agency, he said, but they’re not made public readily.

“It’s easy to ascertain how secure the border is,” he said. “Just compare the number who came across the border and the number who were caught, but that’s not what they want to do. Why aren’t they doing it? The only logical explanation is because the numbers won’t be good.”

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Border crossing data

The Government Accountability Office recently reported that the percentage of unauthorized crossers caught by the Border Patrol has increased in six of the Southwest border’s nine sectors.

Some of that increase has been negligible. In the Tucson sector between 2006 and 2011, for instance, border apprehensions rose 2 percentage points. Agents there in 2011 caught 64 percent of crossers, up from 62 percent in 2006.

The Republican-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last year sought similar data from the Homeland Security Department as part of an investigation into allegations that officials had released “false and misleading border crossing data” that understated the volume of gotaways, according to a letter sent to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

In a response to the committee’s chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher denied the accusation, writing, “Any suggestion that USBP data collection methods were altered in order to enhance overall border statistics is patently inaccurate.”

Agents say the Border Patrol sometimes labels subjects as “outstanding” for the next shift to search, rather than gotaways, which obfuscates the number of people who evade apprehension, a poor accounting practice that Nicley, the former sector chief, confirmed.

“It’s bad record-keeping. It’s not accurate,” he said. “It doesn’t allow the agents to pin them down.”

Art Del Cueto, president of the Tucson chapter of the National Border Patrol Council, the agents union, said agents are being assigned to agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration or asked to do tasks like southbound traffic checks for money and guns rather than their traditional immigration enforcement and drug interdiction roles.

“They say there’s more agents on the line that ever before, but there are not enough agents available to patrol, because we’re not doing Border Patrol work,” he said. “It is very disturbing.”

Agustin Armendariz contributed to this report.


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