Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz wants to increase the border patrol. Reuters

Sen. Ted Cruz, a 2016 presidential hopeful, wants to shore up both the U.S. border and his credentials as an implacable foe of immigration reform. So the Texas Republican traveled to the Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas on Tuesday to attend a border security briefing (and, later, a fundraiser). He criticized President Barack Obama’s immigration executive actions and prescribed more “boots on the ground” to increase security, even while border patrol agent numbers have reached near-record highs.

“One hears from the ground that the security threats remain significant and that we need adequate manpower, adequate tools to secure our border and protect our nation,” Cruz said, speaking near a border patrol station. “The cartels have manpower along the Rio Grande river, they monitor what’s happening on a real-time basis, and the single best tool is boots on the ground.”

In the past Cruz has favored giving police more power to question individuals' immigration and citizenship status, favored tripling the border patrol size and threatened to block all Obama nominations in 2014 after the president announced his executive actions on immigration. Cruz also filed a brief earlier this year with a U.S. District Court urging the court to uphold an injunction on the president’s deferred deportation action.

“It's important for every presidential candidate to address seriously the problem of securing the border and to have a serious plan and to demonstrate a willingness to enforce the law,” Cruz said this week.

But the number of border patrol agents in the U.S. is at one of the highest points in the agency’s history. There were 20,863 agents as of late 2014, according to data from Customs and U.S. Border Protection data. That number nearly doubles the size of the staff ten years earlier. Last year, the agency also had its biggest budget yet, at $3.6 billion.

U.S. Immigration Summary | InsideGov

While border patrol numbers have risen quickly, apprehensions along the border have dropped significantly. There were 229,000 Mexicans apprehended at the border last year, a big drop from the 2007 level of 809,000.

Raul Hinojosa, a professor at UCLA and immigration expert, says that changes in immigration levels reflect economic factors and the demographics in Mexico, the largest source of undocumented immigrants.

“The 'boots on the ground' approach is not responsible for either cyclical changes or long term impacts,” Hinojosa said. “I’m expecting that Republicans are going to try to suggest, which they’ve always done… that whenever immigration comes up, they just want to throw more money at the border -- as if that does anything.”

Hinojosa said the record spending isn’t exactly getting more bang for the buck, either.

“We have had an incredibly expensive and counterproductive set of policies on the border,” he said. “Twenty years ago we would spend about $1,000 for apprehensions, we are now close to $30,000 [per] apprehension.”