Border Patrol uses ‘sign-cutting' techniques to count people who got away after crossing illegally

CAMPO, Calif. - Under pressure from federal lawmakers, Border Patrol is using an old enforcement technique to count the number of people who crossed illegally and evaded capture.

Border Patrol agents have long searched for dusty footprints, broken twigs, torn cobwebs and overturned twigs to pursue migrants who enter the country illegally. Now they are using these human traces to determine how many get away.

Border Patrol data from fiscal 2011 show that 16 percent of estimated illegal crossings were people who eluded capture. Of the more than 85,000 getaways, 83 percent were counted by the old-fashioned art of "sign-cutting,” or tracking animals or humans by following footprints and other signs.

Despite such precise tallies, Border Patrol Chief Mike Fisher said sign-cutting "is not an exact science." He recently issued a directive to ensure agents are consistent in how they count.

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