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Border apprehensions up again. Big blow to immigration reform efforts?

Apprehensions of illegal border-crossers are on pace to rise compared with last year. While the numbers are near historic lows, they could influence immigration reform efforts in Congress.

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A US border patrol agent looks out at the desert near Falfurrias, Texas, earlier this year. New data suggest illegal immigration might be shifting more to Texas.

Eric Thayer/Reuters/File

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After years of steady declines, the number of people caught trying to cross the US-Mexican border illegally is ticking slowly upward.

The latest data from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) show an increase of 13 percent over last year for the six-month period ending April 1. This follows fiscal year 2012, which saw a 9 percent rise in apprehensions along the southern border – the first such annual increase since 2004. [Editor's note: The original version misstated the full name of the CBP.]

Demographers suggest that the numbers do not necessarily represent the beginning of a reversal, but rather natural fluctuations within evolving trends. More border traffic appears to be shifting away from Arizona, where the border patrol has increased its presence, and a rising share of the border-crossers in Texas are coming from Central America, not Mexico, they note.

But the report could be significant in Congress, where many conservatives say their support for immigration reform depends on establishing a secure border. While lawmakers are divided over a way to measure security, rising numbers could complicate efforts at compromise. 

The CBP data represent the half-year tally for fiscal year 2013. Along the 2,000-mile US-Mexican border, the agency recorded 189,172 arrests. While those numbers are up from last year, they are still near historic lows. Only two years have recorded fewer first-half apprehension figures than this year – 2011 and 2012.

"We really did hit bottom on the flows, and they may have gone up a little bit," says Jeff Passel, a senior demographer at the Hispanic Pew Center. "But they are well below what we saw in the middle of the last decade and are a small fraction of what we saw around 2000."

In 2000, apprehensions hit 1.68 million. At the current pace, apprehensions this year would near 380,000.

Immigration, demographers note, is driven by an array of factors, including border enforcement, and the economic conditions in Central America and Mexico.

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