Shanties in Tijuana overlooking the U.S.-Mexico border fence (AP)
Only 327,577 people were caught crossing illegally from the Mexican border last year--a number that hasn't been so low since the days of Richard Nixon's presidency, according to the Washington Post.
The Department of Homeland Security says total border apprehensions for fiscal year 2011, which ended last September 30, are down 53.5 percent from 2008.
In 2000, when far fewer Border Patrol officers were stationed on the Southern border than today, a record-breaking 1.6 million illegal immigrants were caught trying to cross. Experts say three major factors are slowing illegal border-crossing: the stagnant American economy; a border that is manned with more officers and better technology; and the new hazards associated with crossing illegally since drug gangs have seized control of human smuggling routes.
Douglas S. Massey, co-director of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton University, told the New York Times in July that "net migration" from Mexico is at about zero for the first time in 60 years. Mexico is wracked by drug violence, but economic opportunities have been increasing there, as well. Average family income has increased by more than 45 percent since 2000 as the birthrate has plunged to an average of two children per woman, the paper reported.
As the potential economic benefit of crossing into America has decreased, it's become more dangerous to do so. In the past year, pits of human remains have been found near the U.S. border, and authorities say the bodies had been immigrants either captured by drug cartels, or double-crossed by cartel members who promised to guide them into America. As we reported last year, human smuggling is now completely dominated by drug cartels--a marked departure from the earlier immigration routes controlled by freelancing coyotes. The beefed-up presence of the U.S. Border Control has also pushed illegal immigrants to dangerous Arizona crossings, where hundreds each year die of dehydration.
Even with immigration on the downswing, the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that there are about 11.2 million illegal immigrants in the country right now. Of the 10.2 million who are 18 or older, 35 percent have been in the country for 15 years or more, while another 28 percent arrived 10 to 14 years ago. The share of illegal immigrants who arrived in the country five or fewer years ago has dropped from 32 percent in 2000 to 15 percent in 2010.
The number of agents on the Southern border is 18,152 today--nearly double what it was in 2004--but most of the border is still not under full control. The U.S. Border Patrol says it has about 873 miles, or 44 percent, of the border under "operational control," according to the AP--meaning that Border agents can detect and respond to all illegal activity there. Michelle Bachmann, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have all vowed to build a full 1,950-mile fence along the border if elected president.
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