Congressman Questions How Many Illegal Migrants Enter US
March 22, 2012

A Republican Congressman is challenging the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on its reporting of illegal migrants crossing into the U.S. through the Mexican border. For the past two years, officials have said that illegal crossings into the U.S. are down.

But now the department is accused of not fully reporting the number of people who cross the border successfully.

The U.S. Border Patrol regularly releases its number of how many illegal migrants are apprehended at the border. They also have a way of tracking the people who cross the border illegally and get away. Agents count the number of footprints or signs of people who slipped past them. That number is used internally by the Border Patrol to come up with rough estimates of how many illegal migrants made it in.

But Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Vista) says he has data from within homeland security that shows that in the past year, the agency hasn’t counted everybody who got away.

In a letter sent to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano on March 1, Issa says he analyzed a series of Border Patrol shift reports over a one-week period in Casa Grande, Arizona. Those reports showed 82 people who crossed illegally and were never caught, but were also never counted as so-called “got aways.”

DHS officials deny the accusation.

"The allegation that we’re misrepesenting the data for whatever reason is just patently false at this point,” said Michael Fisher, head of the Border Patrol.

Fisher says he went out to that particular station and found that agents chased and counted “got aways” as a matter of policy.

Issa wrote that if 82 got away in Casa Grande, then multiplied out over a year and across the whole border, he estimates more than a quarter million people crossed into the U.S. and blended into society.

Shawn Moran, a spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council, says this undercounting is nothing new. Agency officials at local levels have manipulated the numbers in the past.

“We have managers that have ordered sensors that we have in the ground turned off in areas that we know illegal aliens are using to get into the country,” Moran said.

Border Patrol Chief Fisher says he has agreed to share agency information with Issa.

The last time Border Patrol data was investigated was in 1998. At that time, the Office of Inspector General concluded there were no attempts to mislead the public. But, it did discover inefficiencies in data collection and reporting.