** TO GO WITH STORY SLUGGED MEXICO TIJUANA POLICE ** A police car patrols at the Libertad neighborhood, near the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana, Mexico, Thursday, June 26, 2008. The city is now on a campaign to rejuvenate its beleaguered police force, after drug cartels' violent feuds changed the reputation of this tourist trap to risky. A deficit-strapped City Hall is planning layoffs at the end of the month, and officers suspected of corruption could be the first to go. (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias)
(CBS) The U.S. Border patrol today reported a dramatic decrease in the number of people caught trying to cross the border from Mexico illegally. Back in 2000, 1.6 million arrests were made. This year, the number is down to 705,000, the lowest level since the mid 1970s. The government is crediting toughter immigration enforcement, but others say it's the economy. CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker reports.
The Border Patrol says it's now catching about 2,000 illegal border crossers every day, down from more than 4,000 a day eight years ago, reports CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker. The government says that's a barometer indicating that fewer people are trying to sneak across the border.
"We've seen a collapse in the number of people who come across the border illegally," says Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
Border Patrol attributes the sharp decline in the number of nabbed border jumpers to several factors:
The border fence: About 550 miles have now been completed.
More Border Patrol agents: 6,000 new agents have been assigned since 2006.
Tougher workplace Enforcement: In 2002, just 485 undocumented workers were arrested on the job. A nationwide crackdown this year nabbed 5,184 immigrants working in the U.S. illegally.
"We've actually seen record low levels we haven't realized in over 30 years and we think that's been achieved through the combination of tactical, the increase of border patrol agents, as well as the technology we've employed along the border with Mexico," says Jay Ahern of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Border observers say beefed up security is a factor, but the number one reason fewer immigrants are sneaking across the border is the sharply weaker U.S. economy, Whitaker reports. It's no longer worth the $3,000 and more they pay to get smuggled into the country.
"Home construction was a huge magnet for several years and that has dried up. The hospitality industry is not hiring and food processing is in decline."
Many border observers predict the numbers will follow past trends, meaning that when the economy improves, they expect the number of illegal crossings to rise again.
© MMVIII, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.