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Illegal immigration to US drops to lowest level in four decades

December 24, 2011

It may come as a surprise to those who follow news coverage from north of the border, or anyone who has watched U.S. politicians debating the issue, but illegal immigration from Mexico to the United States is less of a problem than ever.

A result of heightened border security, the faltering U.S. economy and the dangers of attempting to cross the frontier, illegal immigration has dropped to a 40-year low. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, just 340,252 migrants were arrested trying to cross the U.S.-Mexican border in the fiscal year that ended September 30 – the lowest number since 1972, when agents caught 321,326 people.

This represents a drop of 24 percent from the last fiscal year, when 447,731 people were apprehended trying to cross the border. Illegal immigration reached its peak in 2000, when 1,643,679 people were detained by border agents.

U.S. authorities say this drop in the number of apprehensions reflects a wide and significant decline in illegal immigration – the result of an unprecedented rise in law-enforcement personnel and technology in recent years.

As detentions have declined, the number of agents stationed along the border has doubled. The heightened security presence has driven up smuggling fees, making it not only riskier, but also more expensive for immigrants to attempt a border crossing.

Yet increased security is far from the only factor affecting immigration. The steady decline of illegal border-crossings over the past decade has also coincided with the deterioration of the U.S. economy.

The recession in the United States has brought about a rise in unemployment, particularly affecting industries such as construction and manufacturing, which disproportionately employ Latino immigrants.

Most Mexicans – who represent nearly 60 percent of illegal immigrants living and working in the United States – say they would prefer to stay at home with their families, but the lack of well-paid employment opportunities in Mexico has traditionally driven them to seek work north of the border.

But with few jobs currently available, the United States is no longer such an attractive option. Faced with higher risks and lower rewards, would-be immigrants now have little incentive to leave Mexico.

Despite this trend, the flow of undocumented “aliens” into the United States remains a hot-button issue, with congressman and Republican presidential candidates engaging in heated debates over immigration policy.

President Barack Obama says he wants to help undocumented workers gain legal status, but his DREAM Act has stalled before a reluctant Congress. The current administration has presided over a record number of deportations, with over one million people deported since Obama took office in 2009, including an unprecedented 397,000 in the last fiscal year.

All of the Republican candidates oppose allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the United States, aside from Newt Gingrich, who believes those who have settled in the country for more than 20 years should be able to earn legal status.

Stringent state laws are also thought to have acted as a deterrent to would-be immigrants. Arguing that undocumented workers are stealing jobs from Americans at a time of high unemployment, the states of Arizona, Alabama and Georgia have all recently passed strict anti-immigration measures.

A further factor in the decline in immigration is the fact that making the journey has become more dangerous than ever.

Mexico’s drug cartels have expanded their operations in recent years and now control people-trafficking routes into the United States. Small-scale border-crossing operations run by “coyotes” are becoming less common, as organized criminal gangs have taken over entire border towns.

A major disincentive for prospective immigrants is that in return for transport across the border, they may now find themselves indebted to the criminal organizations that aid their crossing. An increasing number of immigrants from Central America have even found themselves kidnapped upon entry to Mexico and press-ganged into working for the cartels.

The most high-profile example came in August 2010, when the bodies of 72 Central American immigrants were discovered in a mass grave in Tamaulipas.

Mexico’s migration commissioner Salvador Beltran del Rio recently said that far fewer illegal immigrants from Central America are now being apprehended in Mexico. The number has fallen from 433,000 in 2005 to 140,000 in 2010, suggesting that many are no longer willing to risk their lives making the perilous voyage through Mexico to the United States.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. richcat permalink
    December 25, 2011 20:09

    While the economy has been the main reason for the drop along with tougher laws against illegals have slowed the border crossings.

    BUT the BP is NOT arresting illegals or documenting them! They simply turn them around and boot them back over the border.

    Arizona’s jails are full of these illegals and their budget has been bled enough from providing bed and breakfast for these illegals.

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