The recent release of illegal immigrants in detention, the Obama administration’s renewed push for amnesty, and the planned furlough of thousands of border patrol agents will result in more illegal crossings, immigration experts and border officials say.
"It’s the perfect storm," said Stuart Harris, the vice president of Local 1929 of the National Border Patrol Council in El Paso, Texas.
The planned furloughs of border patrol guards and the push for immigration reform has now given illegal immigrants the perfect opportunity to come across the border, he said.
"Now’s the time to do it," Harris said.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the nonpartisan Center for Immigration Studies, agreed.
"It’s a giant catch and release program," she said. "Why go through the expense of applying for a visa, when you can get turned down?"
Instead, said Vaughan, if you come here illegally, "you’ll get processed and get released and the worst that will happen to you is you will be turned back to Mexico."
The recent release of more than 2,200 illegal immigrants from detention centers sends a clear message that illegal immigrants will not be detained.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) release of detainees would be communicated back to friends and family in Mexico.
"They send word back," Vaughan said. "Our policy decisions make people think they have much to gain and it is easy to get in."
Agents on the ground are already seeing an increase. Harris, who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon as a union representative, is also an agent. He said he has seen an "increase in illegals coming through the border recently."
In addition to those of Mexican descent, he said, there has been a "significant increase in OTMs [Other Than Mexican]."
Tucson, Ariz., has also experienced an increase in illegal immigration, locals say.
"As of the announcement being made that amnesty is on the horizon, that has raised the amount of illegals," said Art Del Cueto, president of the Local 2544 Border Patrol Union.
"Agents are announcing a much higher amount of illegals, and there a higher amount of violence on the border," Del Cueto said.
He went on to explain the conditions in his region. "The people cross dangerous terrain," he said, and "there are border bandits who attack children and rape women."
Cuts to border patrol could put the immigrants themselves at risk.
"Less security will also mean more people will die in the desert," Del Cueto said. "These people cross with their children, with their newborn babies."
"[After three to four hours in the desert,] some turn themselves into us, saying they need food and water," he said. "You’re going to see a lot more deaths in the desert."
The Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has targeted border patrol agents for cuts. Border agents are facing furloughs beginning early next month of 14 days and major cuts in overtime. Union representatives say they are facing a 40 percent cut in pay due to furlough days and overtime cuts.
A Customs and Border Protection spokesman said in an email to the Free Beacon that they are trying to minimize the effects of the more than half a billion dollars in budget cuts due to sequestration and will "make every effort to minimize the sequester’s impact on public safety and national security."
"Even with these cuts, though, individuals apprehended illegally crossing the southwest border will still be processed as usual," a CBP spokesman said.
The CBP believes it can do more with less.
"Significant border-wide investments in additional enforcement resources and enhanced operational tactics and strategy have enabled CBP to address the changing composition of attempted border crossers, and maintain border security," the spokesman said in a statement.
A recent report indicated that some illegal immigrants were actually turning themselves into patrol agents, knowing they would not be detained.
Harris confirmed those reports and said he was aware of 1,000 apprehensions in the McAllen, Texas, station last weekend, many of whom turned themselves over to agents knowing they would not be detained.
Vaughn said this has happened in the past.
"I do know from having watched over the years, I have seen this phenomenon before," she said.
When visa restrictions were eased on Brazilians by Mexico in 2005 a large influx of Brazilians came through Mexico into the U.S., she said.
"After arriving at either the border patrol stations or approaching the agents in the field, they said, I’m here, arrest me."
Government statistics show that in 2005 there was a huge spike in apprehensions of illegal immigrants from the previous year. In some regions, such as the Rio Grande Valley and the Del Rio, the number of illegal immigrant apprehensions tripled.
Vaughn said the policy was for people not from Mexico to be released pending a hearing date, then "they would just disappear" and not be found.
History may soon repeat itself, as that policy of releasing OTMs on their own recognizance is increasing.
"The problem is that people are coming from different countries expecting to be released with no intention of reporting for their court dates," Harris said.
"They then will migrate to the interior of the United States where immigration enforcement is virtually nonexistent, with the intention of living out their lives until such time as immigration reform is passed, and they can get some sort of paperwork that allows them to be here legally."
"We have no way of checking criminal history in foreign countries," Harris said. "Essentially, we could be releasing very bad people into the general population of the U.S. with no hope of ever finding them again. … With the increase in illegal immigration, gangs are seeing more money, as are the drug cartels. None of this is in any way beneficial to the American public or to national security."
"It’s amazing that we’ve forgotten all the problems since 9/11," Del Cueto said. "We’re the first line of defense of this country, and we’re getting slapped in the face by our leaders. We’re being used as political pawns so politicians can further their careers."