The border between the U.S. and Mexico and the water dividing Europe and North Africa continue to be the world's main fronts in the fight against illegal immigration.
Although the U.S. Congress considered a number of immigration reform proposals in 2006, only one bill passed: the "Secure Fence Act" (see Issue #3: U.S. Immigration Reform: Better Luck Next Year). In addition, President Bush sent thousands of National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border this summer to help the U.S. Border Patrol. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the National Guard had assisted the Border Patrol with the arrest of 21,400 undocumented aliens as of mid-November.
A continent away, frustrations continued to mount in Southern Europe as thousands of sub-Saharan Africans found their way to EU territory using new routes, mainly over the Atlantic to Spain's Canary Islands and over the Mediterranean to Malta, which joined the EU in 2004. The Italian island of Lampedusa continued to be a destination.
To stem the flow to the Canary Islands — which have received an estimated 26,000 migrants according to press reports — the European border agency Frontex launched the Hera II mission in August. The approach involved sea and air patrols between the West African coast and the Canary Islands. In mid-October, Frontex reported a significant decrease in migrants in the patrol area, and decided to extend the mission.
Another approach to European border control popular in 2006 was multilateral discussions. The initial gathering of 57 European and African countries in Rabat, Morocco, in July produced only vague statements with no binding action plan. But, in a follow-up discussion, the EU promised 18 million euros in development assistance in exchange for African countries agreeing to tighten their border controls.
According to news reports in November, Libya agreed to participate in joint sea-patrols with Frontex. Previously, Libya had refused to participate in EU patrols of the Mediterranean. At the subsequent conference in Tripoli between the European Union and the African Union, Libya and other African countries pledged greater cooperation with the European Union to reduce irregular migration.
Meanwhile, in May, Australia approved a budget that increases spending on its northern maritime border, identified as a weak point in January after Indonesians from the Papua province were able to reach Australian shores and claim asylum. In all, the country will spend over AUS$500 million, including AUS$389 million over four years in a cross-agency effort to crack down on illegal fishing vessels that also pose security and migration risks.
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