Four days ago, CNN reported on an unexpected rise of families and children crossing the southwestern border. “Unexpected”, as in, border enforcement and statisticians were caught by surprise.
This is a far cry from a little over a year ago when, at the end of May 2014, CBS Houston reported that the Border Patrol had arrested more migrants in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley in the last eight months than they had made in the previous twelve.
This is a slightly edited blog post from one originally published in early June 2014, shortly after the CBS Houston report appeared.
Nearly 160,000 arrests had been made in the Valley, according to the report, since October 1, 2013, the start of the federal government’s fiscal year. The sum total of arrests made in the same region during fiscal year 2013 (October 1, 2012 – September 30, 2013) was only 154,000 arrests.
Arrests on the southwestern border plummeted after the financial crisis in 2008, to the point where, as the Pew Center Hispanic Trends Project reported in 2012, net migration from Mexico to the United States fell to zero, if not into negative territory. So the rise in apprehensions might, at first glance, appear to indicate growing confidence and optimism among border crossers from Mexico and Central America.
Rio Grande Valley Border Crossings: What Do the Numbers Mean?
But, as with most numbers related to border crossings, their meaning is not as self-evident as it might first seem. In addition to spotlighting the rising number of apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley, the media report also explains that the number represents a geographical shift.
During the first decade of the 2000s, Arizona was the hotbed of international border crossing activity. (In fact, just a few years ago, the city of Nogales, Arizona got its second border fence in the span of 15 years). When the number of Border Patrol agents assigned to cities in Arizona jumped during those years, undocumented aliens began avoiding populated communities and began crossing in the middle of the arid Sonoran Desert, leading to heat- and dehydration-related deaths.
The Border Patrol subsequently established a specialized Tucson, Arizona-based emergency search and rescue unit called BORSTAR (or Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue). And incidentally, the first BORSTAR unit developed in San Diego since that was where Operation Gatekeeper launched in 1994 to push alient traffic away from the now-heavy concentration of agents in the city and more toward the less populated, more isolated regions.
So Border Patrol apprehensions in 2014 began to reflect the increasing attraction of Texas as one of the best land-based border crossing routes. And for those who might have wondered if the difference in Rio Grande Valley apprehensions between 2013 and this year is just an aberration, it might be worthwhile to also note that the number of migrants arrested in the Valley during fiscal year 2012 was under 100,000. The rising number is beginning to look more like a trend than anything else.
The Rio Grande Valley – The New Arizona?
Arizona continues to play a role, albeit a strange one, in this new pattern. Also back in 2014, as this phenomenon began to play out, the Christian Science Monitor reported that Texas was “dumping” hundreds of illegal immigrants at bus stations in Tucson and Phoenix. Apparently, Texas didn’t quite have the bandwidth to process the increasing number of apprehended border crossers. But Arizona, having been THE place to cross for a long time, ended up with years and resources to build up a detainment and processing infrastructure. So perhaps, figures Texas, why not just bring detainees there?
Needless to say, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who has never been the most lenient advocate when it comes to illegal migration and who just a few years ago participated in a high-profile, finger-wagging conversation with President Obama about her disappointment with the Administration’s border policing policy, was not amused. She used the source of her latest frustration to reach out to the President once again–though this time, she used a written letter instead of a pointed finger.
Equally interesting was that a large number of migrants crossing into Texas were not from Mexico but from Central American countries. And they weren’t just men, they were families escaping “crimes, gangs and poverty”, to quote the CS Monitor. Apparently rumor had it that women and children who cross into the United States were allowed to stay.
So while, yes, it’s true, the American economy may indeed be improving–in June 2014, every major news outlet under the sun reported that the full sum of jobs lost during the recession had been recovered as of the latest Department of Labor report–one other factor contributing to the rising number of apprehensions, at least in a certain part of the country, was this: the patterns of job seekers coming into the United States from Mexico and Central America seemed to be radically changing. Rio Grande Valley has turned into the new Arizona.
To wrap up, however, and to return to 2015, it is sadly possible, as the CNN article notes, that the well-publicized migration of thousands of citizens from Syria into neighboring countries in recent months, has also encouraged other underprivileged individuals to try to move, as well, and that has caught border enforcement in the Southwest by surprise.
What events impact the next change in border crossing patterns remains to be seen.
Comment: Are you a current or former Border Patrol agent who worked in southern Texas? How demanding was your job while you were there in terms of the numbers of undocumented aliens who attempted to cross into the United States? Leave a comment below.