Migrant crossings and Border Patrol apprehensions of undocumented immigrants might be sharply down, but attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border without the proper papers could be a much deadlier proposition than in the past.
Mexican consular reports reveal that while 369 Mexican nationals died during presumed border crossings in 2004- a year when much greater numbers of people were crossing the border- at least 310 still perished in 2011, a year the Border Patrol has classified as a historic low in terms of unauthorized crossings and detentions.
In Fiscal Year 2011, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency reported the detention of 340,252 migrants, the vast majority of them Mexican nationals, on the border between Mexico and the U.S. The number was one-fifth the total of detentions made in the peak year of 2000 when about 1.6 million people were apprehended, and comparable to 1971 levels.
According to Mexican consular reports, the principal causes of deaths along the border have included dehydration, drowning, vehicular accidents, hypothermia, "health complications," and reasons possibly connected to violence.
Of the slightly more than 3,000 border deaths of Mexican nationals from 2004 to 2011, as many as 1,116 could have been related to violence, according to Mexico's
Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Mexican government identified the Arizona-Sonora border, especially the Tucson sector, as the deadliest zone in the eight-year period studied. Approximately one-half the deaths, or 1,573 cases, happened along the Arizona-Sonora line. With 551 deaths almost split evenly, the areas around the Texas cities of McAllen and Laredo were also very deadly.
While the Arizona-Sonora border consists of remote desert where temperature extremes are the environmental rule, the Texas-Tamaulipas border is divided by the Rio Grande, a river which becomes a death trap for many people who attempt to swim the deceptively narrow and lazy waterway.
In terms of migrant detentions, the CBP statistics for Fiscal Year 2011 show that 129,118 people were detained in Arizona, 118,911 in Texas, 72,638 in California and 6,910 in New Mexico.
For the last fiscal year, the CBP "dedicated historic levels of personnel, technology and resources to the Southwest border," according to a news release from the law enforcement agency. In addition to beefed-up law enforcement, the Border Patrol considers weak demand for migrant labor and the perilous situation confronting Central American migrants passing through Mexico as factors in the historic plunge in apprehensions.
Besides expanding the Border Patrol to 21,444 agents by the end of the fiscal year-more than double the number from the 2004 force's strength-the CBP noted the deployment of "additional technology assets" including mobile surveillance units, drones, thermal imaging systems and "small-scale non-intrusive" inspection equipment.
According to a Border Patrol spokesman quoted in the Mexican press, a disproportionate number of Mexican nationals detained in Arizona are from the violence-ridden Pacific coast state of Guerrero.
Manuel Padilla told the Guerrero daily El Sur that approximately 9 percent of the Arizona detainees during Fiscal Year 2011 hailed from Guerrero. The detainees were mainly from the urban municipalities of Acapulco and Chilpancingo, both places where economic crisis or narco-violence are the lot of daily life, or from indigenous municipalities characterized by economic marginalization and out-migration.
Padilla said the trend of Guerrero detainees continued after the end of the last fiscal year, when once again about 9 percent of the 27,100 people detained by the Border Patrol in Arizona from October to December 2011 turned out to be from the troubled southern state.
Approximating 3.4 million people in 2010, residents of Guerrero constituted about three percent of Mexico's population of 112.3 million, according to official census statistics.
The U.S. spokesman warned would-be, unauthorized crossers to stay away, saying the situation was dangerous. Migrants are enlisted as drug-carrying "mules" or subjected to robbery and worse, Padilla said. On December 24, a young woman was raped and hospitalized with a lung injury, he said. "There are many dangers in trying to illegally cross the border," Padilla added.
The bodies of presumed migrants continue being recovered in 2012. Last week, it was reported that the Baja California state police came across the body of an unidentified migrant who was thought to have died while trying to cross the border between Tijuana and Tecate.
Kent Paterson is the editor of Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news from the Center for Latin American and Border Studies
- New Mexico State University.