Route to Recovery

A trip through the epicenters of the recession

Crossing the border loses some of its allure

November 4, 2009


CALEXICO, California – The American Dream’s promise of prosperity for hard work has long drawn illegal immigrants, but that pull appears to have faded during the long, deep U.S. recession.

The number of people apprehended while attempting to illegally cross the U.S. border from Mexico fell to 800,000 in 2008, down more than half from an all-time high of 1.8 million in 2000.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, part of the Department of Homeland Security, attributes the decline to increased manpower, surveillance cameras, sensors and fences along the 2,000 mile border the country shares with Mexico.

“It’s a question of deterrence,” said Adrian Corona, a supervisory patrol agent standing beneath a camera-topped tower just over a mile from the Mexican border. “We’ve caught people who pay up to $3,000 to smugglers to get them across the border. When they see and hear about the operations we have in place here, they think twice about attempting it.”

But James Smith, senior economist at the Rand Corporation, said that the downturn in the United States had undoubtedly played a role.

“It’s clear that one of the characteristics of the labor market for undocumented workers is that it is extremely flexible,” he said. “It comes when it’s needed and stays away when it’s not.”

“If there is less for illegal immigrants, then it is easier for them to stay in a lower cost environment like Mexico,” he added.


The total number of Mexican-born people in the United States has not changed much through the boom and bust, according to a July report from the Pew Hispanic Institute, holding steady at about 11.5 million.

Hans Johnson, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, said increased security may have persuaded many illegal immigrants to stay in America rather than risk going home.

“But when it comes to the fall in people trying to enter the country, it would not surprise me if the largest factor was the economy,” he said. “It’s almost entirely responsible for the slowdown in illegal immigration.”

Even in November It is scorching hot in the desert outside Calexico, but summer temperatures can be lethal, making the crossing dangerous for both illegal immigrants and the border agents who pursue them. There are 1,100 agents in this sector that covers around 70 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border. Apprehensions this year are down about 18 percent.

“It’s tough work, but the extra technology we have in place has made my job a lot easier,” Corona said.


Billy Whitford, U.S. Customs and Border Protection port director at the border crossing in Calexico, said that illegal immigrants still try to make it past his agents “on a daily basis” using false documents and that many of them were headed far from the border.

“A lot of the people who come through here illegally are heading for big markets like Los Angeles to find work,” he said.

Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Kelly Ivahnenko also attributed the falling numbers to improved security measures and increased agent numbers.

“Our job is to prevent people crossing the border illegally, not to speculate on whether the economy is playing any role,” she said.


How much of the economic recession is a result of the prosecution of immigrants (illegal or not)?

Posted by John | Report as abusive

that’s one of the smartest things i’ve read… unfortunately the average person isn’t well educated enough to think about things that way. we’re too “patriotic” (whatever that means these days)

Posted by andy | Report as abusive

The United States Weak Economy is Known around the world. No one really wants to come here. You cannot stop natural movement from coming over the border just as you cant stop the wind, rivers, wildlife from crossing so what makes you think a “couple of cameras and barriers” are keeping less people from coming over. Stop wasting Tax Dollars on Useless Tactics. “We need to help keep jobs here” and “not have American Companies leave the U.S. and Exploit workers in other countries”, so that we can have less people wanting to come over.(This is Common Sense) Do not Ignore a problem and try to stop it from growing if you cannot Cure the Cause of the problem!!!

Posted by Get Real | Report as abusive

Interesting article, but the wages in Mexico are still much lower than in the US, especially in the outlying communities and rural areas. The recession in the US is not only felt in the US. It is affecting many other countries and economies. The devaluation of the dollar has hurt the Mexican economy as much as the US.
When a good hourly wage is $1.30 an hour, even the promise of $7.00 an hour over the border, is worth the risk of illegal entry by many impoverished Mexicans.
I think that the biggest deterrent is not the wage scale but the cost of living. It costs too much for food and housing in the US, proportionate to the value of the dollar and the hourly rate of pay, which is an important factor in the equation, when deciding to cross illegally or remain in a poverty stricken environment.


Andy, the fact that you don’t KNOW what being PATRIOTIC means speaks VOLUMES about you … and why you have no clue about the real PROBLEMS of ILLEGAL immigration. Any nation WITHOUT borders cannot survive AS a nation. It’s really that simple.

Posted by Phil | Report as abusive

Open the borders! Close the welfare offices! Problem solved. If the immigrants are coming here illegally to work, then let the companies which are illegally hiring them bear absolutley 100% of the cost of “importing” that labor. I’d rather take my chances in an honest free market than hope for lower prices by subsidizing business’ imported labor costs through publicly supported programs which benefit illegals.

Posted by David | Report as abusive




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