Number of illegals on the rise

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) ­ A 56-year-old man sits under the shade of a tree as temperatures climb into the 90s in the northern Mexico town of Palomas.

The man is one of many who wait for the temperatures to cool down before walking into the desert in hopes of crossing into the United States without being caught.

The man, who declined to give his name, has illegally crossed the border about 20 times before this and has been caught by the Border Patrol about 15 times. But his goal is always the same ­ to earn better wages than what he can get working in his home state of Durango.

The man's plan is to head north by foot and train to work on a ranch in northern New Mexico for six months and earn about $1,500 a month. Then he'll return to Mexico.

Another man waiting in the town's square said he's also crossing into New Mexico. The 45-year-old man who gives only his first name, Jose, said he hopes to get to Chicago to work in a cannery or perhaps construction. He plans to send money back to his family in Mexico.

Illegal immigration in the El Paso Border Patrol sector, which includes the entire New Mexico-Mexico border, is on the rise, according to Border Patrol statistics. The number of apprehended immigrants since Oct. 1 of last year ­ the start of the Border Patrol's fiscal year ­ is ahead of the previous year's end-of-May figure by 12 percent.

Sixty-three percent of people captured this year have been caught at least once before.

Agents from Las Cruces-area stations have apprehended 4,387 undocumented immigrants so far this year, which is about 700 people shy of the total from three years ago. Las Cruces agents last year caught 5,790 undocumented immigrants.

Apprehensions in the entire El Paso sector during the 2003-04 year were up 17 percent from the previous year's total of 88,840.

Elias Garcia, Border Patrol spokesman for El Paso sector, said the jump in apprehensions is a result of increased use of technology to find immigrants and more agents patrolling the border.

The sector currently has 1,102 agents and is slated to get 244 more.

It's too soon to tell whether the Minuteman Project in Arizona caused border traffic to shift to the El Paso sector, Garcia said.

Carlos Corral, director of the Family Unity and Citizenship program in the Las Cruces Catholic diocese, has worked with undocumented immigrants for the past 20 years. The program helps immigrants gain residency status, or citizenship if they qualify.

Corral said lately he has noticed a trend caused by a tightening of border security.

"They used to come and work and go back," he said. "Now when they cross, it's more difficult. They know that if they leave, it will be harder to come back."

A 35-year-old undocumented immigrant, who feared to give his name, lives with his wife and daughter in Sunland Park, located on the border.

He and his family came five years ago so he could find a job.

Although his hometown is just across the border in Juarez, the man said he's afraid to visit his parents and other family members because he might not be able to return to the United States.

Clare May is the police chief for the Village of Columbus, which sits directly across the border from Palomas. May said though his office doesn't enforce immigration law, he has seen an increase in crimes tied to undocumented immigration, such as vehicle theft and vandalism of vacant houses in the area.

His two-man police force last year recovered 40 stolen vehicles that were used to transport drugs or immigrants ­ a figure that doubles the number recovered during each of the two previous years.

May recalled one case in which a man from Mexico came to him for help in finding his 12-year-old daughter, who had been kidnapped and taken into the United States. The FBI found her in Florida, he said.