EL PASO, Texas -- Since doubling the amount of border patrol, the number of agents working is the greatest it has ever been. The increase in border patrol is part of a proposal for Congress to move forward with their immigration reform plan.
Operation Blockade began 20 years ago along an area of the border in El Paso. At first the operation was supposed to be a temporary effort to improve enforcement, but it remains a permanent strategy.
Border patrol agents call the area the line, and in El Paso they spend a lot of time there, keeping an eye on border activity.
“It is altogether different from when I came in to where I sit today,” said Mark Woody, an assistant border patrol chief.
When Woody worked 20 years ago, agents pursued hundreds of people crossing over the border into El Paso, a main destination for undocumented workers before they moved on to another city.
“When I was working on July 4 in 1993, at the El Paso International Airport alone we had over 1,000 apprehensions. We average around one a day at El Paso International Airport today, so the dynamics totally changed,” Woody said.
Border patrol efforts changed on Sept. 19, 1993, when Operation Blockade began. It was later renamed Hold the Line and expanded to more border cities besides El Paso. The strategy changed with plans to stop illegal crossings rather than focus on catching people after they crossed into the U.S.
Today there is a fence along the border, compared to open space 20 years ago. Although the fence halts border crossings more than when the space was wide open, some continue to cross by cutting through it and climbing over it.
Attempts to get past the fence keep border patrol alert in capturing people illegally entering the U.S., but today agents do not leave their assigned border region to chase people. Border patrol along the line can only leave when a replacement comes.
When cities created tighter border enforcement, illegal immigration and smuggling attempts shifted to more remote regions. Arizona is a top area for illegal border crossings. Some critics say border patrol changes have led to an increase in deaths because people take more dangerous routes when crossing the border into the United States.