The United States’ border with Mexico hasn’t always been an area of national concern. Back in the 1920s, the US Border Patrol was created to halt bootleggers bringing illegal liquor from Canada. Now, the Border Patrol has turned its attentions to the US-Mexico border. Why did this happen?
You probably thought about illegal immigration. Maybe you thought about stopping the flow of drugs. Both of those are things the Border Patrol is trying to stop. If you look at the map above, you’ll see they have to cover nearly 2000 miles of territory. If you know anything about that area, you’ll know it’s a dry, dusty, rocky, rugged region that is not kind to strangers.
All along the Texas side is the Rio Grande. As a river, the Rio Grande has many locations with shallow waters and slow currents, making them good locations to cross on foot or vehicle. The Arizona border is dominated by both the Rocky Mountains and the Sonoran Desert. To get an idea of how rough the country is in that area, the Spanish named a road that went through that area, “El Camino del Diablo,” or “The Road of the Devil.” There is very little water out there and temperatures can easily become dangerously hot on most days of the year.
The temperate areas of the border, near San Diego in California and along the lower Rio Grande in Texas, are also the most densely populated areas, where the majority of the 12 million people that live along the border make their homes. In fact, the cities of San Diego-Tijuana and El Paso-Ciudad Juarez are considered to be the two largest “international cities” in the world. Even though a border runs through them, they are almost as one, large urban area.
Where there are a lot of people, the Border Patrol has set up many fences and barriers to discourage illegal crossings. Some people do try to cross at those points, and they put their lives in danger doing so. When people try to cross in the more desolate regions, they also risk their lives. Many times, the Border Patrol has to rescue the illegal aliens before it can arrest them. Other times, people making the crossing die in the deserts.
The Border Patrol estimates that it has effective control of 700 miles along the US-Mexico border. While several hundred people die attempting to cross in the remote regions, about half a million people each year enter the US illegally along the US-Mexico border. Some officials in the Border Patrol have asked for additional people to man the border. While the Border Patrol employs 20,000 today, some would like to double its size so it can patrol the entire border more effectively. Not only are there times when Border Patrol agents have to pick and choose which illegal entrants to capture if a large group scatters in many directions, they also have to face increased organization among drug smugglers. One Border Patrol group was halted in its pursuit of a drug smuggler when it ran into a group of armed men in Mexican army uniforms.
Some state governors have ordered members of their state national guard units to assist in patrolling the border, but all of them look to the US government in Washington, D.C. for financial support for these operations. California’s current budget problems make it exceptionally eager to receive federal funding for its border patrol operations. Arizona went one step further and passed a controversial law that would enable its own law enforcement personnel to operate with powers normally granted to the federal Border Patrol. Governors of the border states point out that illegal aliens are a large drain on state budgets and that the expenditures on border control are balanced out by the savings in state programs.
Critics of stricter control point out that most illegal aliens work in the agricultural industries in the border states. The illegal aliens are typically paid much less than domestic or resident alien workers. If we eliminated illegal immigration in the US, then many agricultural businesses would either shut down or have to raise prices sharply in order to afford domestic labor. This would have a major impact on the US economy.
It would also have a major impact on the economy of Mexico and Central American nations, particularly El Salvador and Guatemala. Many illegal aliens send a large part of the money they earn in the USA back to relatives in their home countries, providing their relatives with the cash they need to keep going.
The USA does permit 700,000 legal immigrants each year, but that number is from all nations, combined. When immigrants cannot get awarded a legal entrance in the immigration lottery, many choose to enter illegally. They make this choice because they feel that their situation in their home country is much worse than what it could be in the United States.
Central American immigrants make the most terrifying journey of all, passing through parts of Mexico that are controlled by the Mara Salvatruchaa gang. The MS gang often robs, assaults, and murders immigrants from Central America. While the money and clothing they steal from each individual immigrant is small, they rob and kill so many that they are able to profit from their wholesale crimes. After passing through the gang country, the immigrants will travel north by hopping on trains. The two major train routes in Mexico follow its major mountain ranges: the Sierra Madre Oriental (Eastern Sierra Madre) and the Sierra Madre Occidental (Western Sierra Madre). Many immigrants are injured or killed as they jump on or off the moving trains. Finding food along the way is also very difficult. Mexico itself maintains a border patrol on its southern frontier in order to turn back these illegal entrants. Once in Mexico, the government will encourage them on their way north: the Mexican government even printed an illustrated guide on how to enter the US illegally and safely.
Once at the border, all the illegal immigrants are faced with a question of how to continue their journey into the USA. Once in the USA, they have to avoid law enforcement officers as they seek out jobs that often pay very little and that have unacceptable working conditions. They cannot speak out against their oppression for fear of deportation.
There is also a flow of US citizens into Mexico, although it is much smaller than the number of immigrants leaving Mexico and Central America for the USA. There are about 200,000 Americans living in Baja California, just south of San Diego, and that number grows each year. Americans choose to live in Mexico because the cost of living there is much less than in California, although because of their move to the region, the cost of living is increasing overall in Baja California.
When the US economy entered a recession in 2008, illegal immigration to the US went down by a large amount. When times are not as good in the USA, many people feel the risk of entering the US illegally is not worth the potential benefit. Improving conditions in Mexico and Central America also reduce the number of illegal aliens attempting to enter the USA. When the civil wars ended in El Salvador and Guatemala, for example, immigration from those nations decreased as people chose to stay in their homes as their lives improved. Nevertheless, the flow of immigrants from Central America and Mexico continues and the Border Patrol remains busy dealing with that issue.