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McALLEN, Texas -- Central American immigrants crossing into the United States illegally in South Texas drove an increase in Border Patrol apprehensions last year, according to data released Friday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The Border Patrol made 420,789 apprehensions in the fiscal year that ended in September. That is a 16 percent increase from the previous year but still 42 percent below 2008. As usual, more than 98 percent of those arrests were made on the Southwest border. And nowhere saw more arrests than Texas.

Agents in Texas made 235,567 arrests. For much of the last decade, Arizona had been the busiest section of the Mexican border. Agents there last year made 125,942 arrests.

Border Patrol made a total of 414,397 arrests in 2013 on the Southwest border. In 2012, Border Patrol made 356,873 arrests there and 327,577 in 2011.

In October, Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher said much of the increase was due to an influx of would-be immigrants from Central America who had been arrested in South Texas.

While apprehensions of Mexican citizens remained nearly unchanged, arrests of immigrants from other countries, including Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, rose 55 percent. Limited economic opportunities and widespread gang and drug cartel violence in Central America have driven tens of thousands north along a dangerous route through Mexico.

Border Patrol has responded by sending additional manpower and technology to South Texas, where stations had at times been overwhelmed as agents hit a bottleneck processing those they had arrested. A fleet of unmanned drones patrol the border, and the agency has deployed repurposed surveillance technology from the Department of Defense, including helium-filled aerostats carrying powerful infrared cameras.

Along the Southwest border, Customs and Border Protection also seized 2.9 million pounds of drugs.

Border security remains an issue as Congress debates potential changes to the nation's immigration laws.

Associated Press,

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