PHOENIX - The number of people apprehended in Arizona for illegally crossing the U.S. border last year dropped to the lowest level nearly 20 years, federal officials said Thursday in an announcement that comes amid a heated debate on immigration reform.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported that apprehensions of illegal immigrants fell to 124,631 in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, a drop of more than 43 percent in the past two years and more than 82 percent since the highest mark in 2000.
Meanwhile, the number of agents stationed in Arizona rose to its highest level, with more than 5,100 in the state.
Such numbers are frequently cited by lawmakers who believe the government has done an effective job of securing the border, setting the stage for comprehensive immigration reform.
But the numbers also reveal the huge volume of drugs that smugglers are trying to bring into Arizona.
Border officials said the agency seized more than $500 million worth of illegal narcotics in Arizona, with marijuana accounting for the bulk of the more than 1 million pounds of drugs confiscated.
Agents processed about 22 million travelers crossing through Arizona ports of entry, stopping roughly 6,000 people who were identified as national security risks or possessed insufficient documentation.
Operations aimed at cracking down on drug cartels netted more than $5 million in cash, 21 handguns, 22 rifles and more than 48,000 rounds of ammunition that people were trying to take into Mexico.
The Border Patrol said enhanced security has made the Arizona border more difficult and dangerous to cross.
CBP's aviation resources in Arizona flew more than 16,000 hours and assisted in more than 26,000 apprehensions.
The CBP said officers arrested about 400 people wanted for crimes such as murder, rape, assault, robbery and other criminal activity.