Print outlets reported Bush claim that decrease in border arrests is a sign of progress, but not that he said opposite in late 2005

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER

In April 10 articles on President Bush's new immigration reform plan, four news outlets -- the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, the Associated Press, and McClatchy Newspapers -- noted that, during an April 9 speech at the Yuma, Arizona, headquarters of the U.S. Border Patrol, Bush touted the decrease in the "number of people apprehended for illegally crossing our southern border" as evidence that his administration is "making progress" in curtailing illegal immigration. But none of the four outlets mentioned that, in November 2005, Bush cited an increase in the number of illegal immigrant seizures in the same geographic area as an indication that his border patrol policy was "getting results." Similarly, reporting that Bush attributed the decrease in apprehensions to the efficacy of his administration's policies, The New York Times noted criticism of the link but also ignored the apparent inconsistency in the two claims.

As the weblog Think Progress noted, during a speech at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, on November 28, 2005, Bush claimed that a "42-percent" increase in the number of illegal immigrant apprehensions over the previous year was a sign that the administration's "actions" were yielding "results":

BUSH: Our actions to integrate manpower, technology and infrastructure are getting results. And one of the best examples of success is the Arizona Border Control Initiative, which the government launched in 2004. In the first year of this initiative -- now, listen to this, listen how hard these people are working here -- agents in Arizona apprehended nearly 500,000 illegal immigrants, a 42-percent increase over the previous year.

In his April 9 speech in Yuma, Bush discussed "Operation Jump Start," a border security plan initiated in August 2006 that involved sending National Guard troops to assist in border patrol operations in Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico. Bush emphasized that illegal immigrant seizures around the Yuma area decreased after the plan's implementation, saying that "one way that the Border Patrol can tell whether or not we're making progress is the number of apprehensions," adding, "When you're apprehending fewer people, it means fewer are trying to come across":

BUSH: I appreciate very much the fact that illegal border crossings in this area are down. In the months before Operation Jump Start, an average of more than 400 people a day were apprehended trying to cross here. The number has dropped to fewer than 140 a day. In other words, one way that the Border Patrol can tell whether or not we're making progress is the number of apprehensions. When you're apprehending fewer people, it means fewer are trying to come across. And fewer are trying to come across because we're deterring people from attempting illegal border crossings in the first place.

In its April 10 article, the Los Angeles Times reported Bush's claim but failed to note the apparent contradiction:

In his speech, Bush said that since his last visit, increased deterrence had resulted in a 55% reduction in apprehensions along the 125-mile border from the Yuma-Pima County line in Arizona to the Imperial Sand Dunes in California.

"One way that the Border Patrol can tell whether or not we're making progress is the number of apprehensions," he said. "When you're apprehending fewer people, it means fewer are trying to come across. And fewer are trying to come across because we're deterring people from attempting illegal border crossings in the first place."

Bush noted that under his watch, the number of border agents nationwide had risen to 13,000, from about 9,000 -- and that the total was to reach 18,000 by 2008.

"You can't do the job the American people expect unless you've got the manpower, and we're increasing the manpower down here," he said.

The Post, the AP and McClatchy also noted Bush's claim without mentioning his 2005 comments. From the Post article:

During his visit to Arizona, Bush attempted to highlight improvements in border security in recent years. He toured areas of the state's border with Mexico where illegal immigrants once could overwhelm the Border Patrol simply by rushing across. The deployment of National Guard troops, increases in the number of Border Patrol agents and improvements in technology have deterred such bold tactics, he said.

Last year, Border Patrol agents apprehended an average of 400 people a day attempting to sneak into the country in the Yuma sector of the border. Bush said that figure is now down to 140.

From the AP article:

In Yuma, Bush checked out a portable scope that tracks illegal immigrants trying to cross the border at night and the Predator, an unmanned plane used to monitor the region.

"The number of people apprehended for illegally crossing our southern border is down by nearly 30% this year," Bush said. "We're making progress."

Sharply at odds over the war in Iraq, Bush and the Democratic Congress are seeking to show some accomplishment on a core issue such as immigration.

From the McClatchy article:

Bush commended Border Patrol agents for their fight to control illegal immigration and said his administration's efforts were paying off. The size of the Border Patrol will nearly double by the time Bush leaves office, from 9,000 agents to more than 13,000, he said. The increase in manpower, he said, has contributed to a 30 percent drop in the number of apprehensions on the southern border this year.

In its article, The New York Times reported Bush's "interpret[ation]" of the decrease in apprehensions but did not mention his seemingly contradictory claim from November 2005:

President Bush said Monday that tougher enforcement and a new fence at the Mexican border had sharply reduced the influx of illegal immigrants, and he pressed Congress to pass a sweeping revision of the nation's immigration laws.

"It's amazing progress that's been made," Mr. Bush said on a return visit to a section of the border that he inspected 11 months ago.

In the last six months, the White House said, Border Patrol reports showed that apprehensions of illegal immigrants along the Mexican border fell by 30 percent, to 418,184, from 594,142 in the comparable period a year earlier. In the Yuma sector, which spans parts of Arizona and California, apprehensions fell by 68 percent, to 25,217, from 79,131 in the comparable period a year earlier.

There are now 13,000 Border Patrol agents, up from 9,000 a year earlier. The number will reach 18,000 by the end of next year, Mr. Bush said.

The White House interprets the decline in apprehensions as a sign that the tighter security is working.

"When you're apprehending fewer people, it means fewer are trying to come across," Mr. Bush said. "And fewer are trying to come across because we're deterring people from attempting illegal border crossings in the first place."

However, in contrast to the other outlets, The New York Times reported that experts have criticized Bush's reference to the decrease in apprehensions as evidence of success:

While Border Patrol commanders have expressed cautious optimism that a corner is being turned, immigration experts note that apprehension figures swing erratically over the years. The numbers can be driven by a variety of factors aside from enforcement, including weather, Latin American economics and decisions by illegal immigrants to make fewer trips back and forth between the United States and Mexico.

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