PHOENIX — The Border Patrol said Thursday that it nabbed nearly 600,000 illegal immigrants coming into Arizona in the past year, a drastic increase that is due in large part to an aggressive enforcement effort launched in March.
The beefed-up enforcement involves helicopters, ground sensors, two unmanned surveillance aircraft and dozens more border agents in Arizona — the busiest illegal entry point on the U.S.-Mexico border.
"We are just making it very difficult for the smuggling organizations to get across the border," Border Patrol spokesman Andy Adame said. "Enforcement has never been better in southern Arizona than it is now."
The Border Patrol apprehended about 586,000 illegal immigrants in the fiscal year that ended Thursday. That is an increase of nearly 184,000 compared to the previous year.
It is the second most apprehensions ever, behind the record 725,093 in 2000.
Since the $28 million enforcement initiative was launched six months ago, more than 375,000 illegal immigrants have been apprehended in Arizona. That compares to nearly 250,000 during the same period last year.
Richard Boren, a volunteer with No More Deaths, a coalition of human rights groups and churches from both sides of the border, said the initiative has been a "massive failure" and has done nothing to address the country's broken immigration system.
"All the failed attempt to seal the border has done is divert people into the most dangerous regions," Boren said.
The program was supposed to wrap up Thursday, but some agents, prosecutors and helicopters that were transferred to Arizona will remain here permanently.
Arizona's Yuma sector, know for scorching temperatures and harsh terrain, saw a 73 percent increase in apprehensions this year. Border Patrol spokesman Joe Brigman said the increase is the result of more immigrant traffic and more agents patrolling the area.
There were a record 31 migrant deaths in the Yuma sector as of Thursday, Brigman said. That is up from 12 last year.