Drop in Border Arrests Tied to Enhanced Security; Critics Question Agency's Interpretation, Cite Lack of Accurate Data

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An 8 percent drop in the number of apprehensions of illegal aliens on U.S. borders in fiscal 2006 was hailed yesterday by the Department of Homeland Security as the result of enhanced border enforcement, but both immigration advocates and proponents questioned the claim.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said that the challenge of controlling the borders "has been with us for 30 years," and that the problem will not be solved in 30 minutes or in 30 days.

"But what is important is to put into place a strategy that, if consistently followed, will put us on a course that will get us security at the border," he said at a press conference at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington. "That's what the public has a right to expect."

Mr. Chertoff also said a guest-worker program was needed to slow the flow of illegals into the United States, although conservative House Republicans have blocked efforts by the Bush administration to pass a temporary-worker bill. He said getting control of the border without such a program would be "very, very difficult."

Frank Sherry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said enhanced border security measures by the administration and Congress may have had an effect on the number of illegal entries, but the government's interpretation had the sound of "an infamous general who once said there was a light at the end of the tunnel."

"The problem of illegal immigration didn't start at the border, and it's not going to end at the border," said Mr. Sherry, whose organization builds support for public policies that welcome immigrants and refugees. He said the government has to deal with the 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens now in the United States and their employers. …