Mexican Economy Up, Border Arrests Down

ByABC News
February 6, 2001, 3:22 PM

L A R E D O, Texas, Feb. 6 -- Arrests of illegal immigrants have droppedall along the Mexico-U.S. border in what experts say could be asign that Mexicans are staying home to enjoy a growing economy andrising hopes under the first opposition president in seven decades.

From October through January, detentions were down 22 percentover the same period a year ago. The decrease marked the largestpercentage drop since the U.S. Border Patrol started beefing up itspresence in 1993 to stop a growing tide of illegal immigrationacross the 2,100-mile border.

Even in January, when the numbers traditionally go up asundocumented workers return to their U.S. jobs after visiting theirhomeland for the holidays, agents caught 33 percent fewer peoplethan during the same period last year.

U.S. officials gave several possible reasons for the decrease,including increased patrols in some areas, better technology suchas ground sensors and infrared cameras, an advertising campaignabout the perils of crossing illegally and an unusually coldwinter.

But they also say some of the credit may go to the Mexicaneconomy which is stronger than it has been in seven years andto President Vicente Fox, who on July 2 ended the InstitutionalRevolutionary Party's 71-year grip on power.

Fox's election created a wave of hope among many Mexicans,especially the young who overwhelmingly voted for him and who makeup a large chunk of potential migrants. He took office Dec. 1.

"We've been hearing anecdotally that with the election of Fox,there seems to be a renewed hope in Mexico. Some people may bestaying in Mexico to see what happens," said Nicole Chulick,spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service inWashington.

"By midyear, we should have a better handle on whether to callit a trend or an anomaly."

Hope for No More Walls

Fox's administration says if it turns out to be a trend, itcould be just what the president needs to back up his controversialproposal to work toward evening out the economies of the UnitedStates and Mexico and eventually open up the border to people aswell as goods.