Texas Is Not the New Arizona When It Comes to Border Crossings

PHOTO: borderJohn Moore/Getty Images
U.S. Border Patrol agents take a group of undocumented immigrants into custody on May 20 near the U.S.-Mexico border in Havana, Texas.

Forget Arizona. Texas is the new "hot spot" for illegal border crossings, according to a recent article in The New York Times.

Except that's really hard to prove.

The number of people crossing the border illegally in Texas might be picking up, but we need some context to really understand why these stats could be off:

1. How we measure crossers is flawed

When the Times says that there are more crossings in Texas, what they're really saying is that there are more apprehensions. That's the number of people caught trying to cross the border.

Apprehensions are a pretty subjective measure and vulnerable to manipulation. If you station more agents in one area versus another or improve your enforcement strategy, you could alter the statistics.

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The immigration reform bill in the Senate could prod Border Patrol to adopt a more telling measure.

Under the bill, Border Patrol would need to estimate the number of crossers that it doesn't catch. The agency could use things like radar and reports from agents, which would give us a lot more perspective on what traffic across the border looks like.

2. You're counting the same person, over and over again

There's another problem: these numbers don't account for repeat crossers.

A report by the Center for Investigative Reporting looking at data from last year found that more than 100,000 of those apprehended had two or more previous apprehensions.

The center found five crossers who had at least 60 apprehensions on their record when caught in 2012.

Border Patrol tracks the number of repeat crossers, but they aren't made publicly available (the agency cites privacy reasons). If we knew how many repeat crossers there were, we could get an idea of the actual scale of illegal immigration.

3. Unauthorized border traffic is down overall. Way down

Even if apprehensions are an imperfect measure, it gives us some idea of the overall flow of illegal immigration.

And as the Times points out, the number of apprehensions has dropped fairly precipitously in the past decade or so. There were 356,873 last year compared with 1.6 million in 2000.

You should also consider that the number of Border Patrol agents has doubled in the past eight years, from 10,819 in fiscal year 2004 to 21,370 in 2012.

So you've got double the amount of agents and about a third of the apprehensions.

The Takeaway:

Texas may be overtaking Arizona as far as apprehensions, but that's a pretty easily manipulated statistic. And even if Texas is seeing more people crossing illegally, the numbers are far below what they were back in 2000.