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July 2002, Volume 8, Number 3

Border: Apprehensions Down

From October 2001 through April 2002, border apprehensions dropped 38 percent to 526,000, the lowest level since 1985; the INS expects fewer than one million apprehensions in 2002 (there are about 15,000 apprehensions a year on the Canadian border). The INS estimates that the cost of a "coyote" (smuggling guide) to cross the Mexico-US border has increased fivefold since the mid-1990s, to $1,500 or more. Among the reasons cited for the drop in apprehensions, a crude indicator of illegal entries, are fewer jobs in the United States, increased air and land patrols after September 11, and TV commercials aired in Mexico stating that one migrant a day dies while trying to cross the border.

In FY 2000, more than 1.6 million people were apprehended on the US-Mexican border, the highest number ever recorded. Apprehensions dropped to 1.2 million in FY2001. As fewer migrants attempt to cross, there are fewer deaths. In 2000, 377 people died trying to cross the US-Mexican border. In 2001, 336 migrants died, and between October 1, 2001, and May 14, 2002, there were 99 deaths, compared with 140 deaths in the same period in FY2001.

The INS now spends $2.5 billion a year on border enforcement, or a total of $20 billion since 1993-94. The Public Policy Institute of California released a study in July 2002 that concluded that Operation Gatekeeper, the label for the INS's strategy of deterring entries by massing agents on the border and erecting hard-to-cross fences, has not deterred migrants from attempting entry, and encourages those who succeed in reaching the US to stay longer. According to PPIC, 30 percent of the Mexicans who eluded the INS returned to Mexico within a year in 1992, while in 2000, only 11 percent returned home within a year.

Smuggling fees rose from $300 in the early 1990s to $2,000 in 2001-02.

In 2001, 14 migrants died in the desert east of Yuma, Arizona. In June 2002, a Florida labor contractor went on trial in Phoenix, accused of wiring money to some of the migrants so that they could get across the border, and then come to Florida to work for Vasquez Harvesting in Lake Placid, Florida.

Lisa Richardson and Patrick Mcdonnell, "Immigration Crackdown Ineffective, Study Finds," Los Angeles Times, July 17, 2002.

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