After years of decline, apprehensions of people crossing the border illegally are on the rise again

2013-05-12T00:00:00Z 2013-05-13T10:59:54Z After years of decline, apprehensions of people crossing the border illegally are on the rise againPerla Trevizo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 12, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The number of people apprehended along the Southwest border is rising for a second fiscal year after an eight-year decline.

As of April 2, 192,298 people have been detained this fiscal year, compared with 170,223 during the same period last year, unofficial data shows.

The fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.

Apprehensions in the Tucson Sector - the busiest section of the border - are down 1 percent so far this year to 64,514. But the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, arrests are up 53 percent to 59,147. Apprehensions are used as an indicator of how many people are crossing into the United States.

Most of the recent growth in apprehensions is due to more Central Americans attempting to cross, unofficial data shows.

Victor Perez and Manuel Mendez left their native Guatemala on April 2, hopping trains along the way until they arrived in Altar 15 days later.

The pair recently sat on a wooden bench in the patio of the migrant shelter in Altar - a small town in northern Sonora that became an immigrant hub in the late 1990s and early 2000s - trying to figure out what to do next. They were approaching their third night at the shelter, the maximum amount of time they are allowed to stay there, and had spent all of their money in two attempts to cross the desert.

"The smugglers told us we would only walk three nights," but it wasn't true, said Mendez, 21.

They waited four days in the desert on the Mexican side for the guide to say it was safe to cross - the guides usually wait for Border Patrol agents to leave and make sure they are not interfering with drug trafficking. They walked about eight hours before running into Border Patrol agents and decided to run back to avoid being detained.

That same night they tried again, but failed once more.

"We have no money to go forward," Mendez said.

They chose Altar because they heard it was more dangerous to cross through South Texas, the chosen route for many Central Americans. Actually, it was just as difficult here.

More Central Americans

The Tucson Sector still accounts for the biggest share of apprehensions along the border, but the Rio Grande Valley has been steadily creeping up.

Today the Tucson Sector accounts for 34 percent of apprehensions and the Rio Grande Valley Sector for 31 percent.

While migration from Mexico is on the decline, the economic outlook and gang-related crime is pushing more Central Americans to the United States, said Eleanor Sohnen, a policy analyst with the D.C.-based think thank the Migration Policy Institute.

About 60 percent of all apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley Sector as of April 2 this fiscal year are of people classified by the Border Patrol as "other than Mexican," who tend to be in its majority from Central America.

In Tucson, only about 17 percent of apprehensions are "other than Mexican."

Border enforcement also plays a role in what routes migrants use.

"When a crackdown occurs in other sectors, smugglers rely on other ways to get people across" and more of them are looking to South Texas, Sohnen said.

The Border Patrol has directed more resources and manpower to the Tucson Sector since it surpassed the San Diego Sector as the busiest in 1998. The number of agents has grown from 1,013 to 4,176 last fiscal year.

In the Rio Grande Valley, the number of agents surged from 1,107 to 2,546 during the same period.

Some news reports have said more people are crossing the border in the hopes of benefiting from immigration reform if it passes. But Sohnen said the rise in apprehensions started before immigration reform became a possibility.

"I don't think they are connected," she said. "Generally the planning takes longer and hearing something like this, that's certainly not a sure thing by any means, is not necessarily going to spark somebody to get up and go."

Securing border

A path to citizenship is contingent upon securing the border in the comprehensive immigration reform bill introduced last month by a group of senators.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved an amendment Thursday that would require a plan to stop 90 percent of illegal border crossings along the entire southern border.

The rate is calculated by adding the number of people apprehended and those who turned back to Mexico and dividing it by the estimated number of people who tried to cross. Using that formula, the Government Accountability Office reported the Tucson Sector had an 87 percent effectiveness rate in 2011.

The proposed law also calls for up to $6.5 billion for more surveillance, agents, customs officers, fences and drones. More than four-fifths of Arizona's 378 miles on the border have some type of barrier.

But some will try to cross no matter how many agents patrol the border and how tall the fences are.

Elias Castillo, 55, lived in California for more than 30 years until he lost his permanent residency and was deported for drug possession.

Castillo, a small man with a full head of gray hair, tried to cross the desert near Sasabe, north of Altar, but the guide abandoned his group and they turned themselves over to the Border Patrol.

Still, he said he will try again.

"What am I going to do in Mexico?" he asked as he waited for breakfast to be served one recent morning at the migrant shelter in Altar.

He has a son in the U.S. Navy and another in the Marines who tell him to stay in Mexico, to not risk his life again. But at his age, he said, no one will hire him.

"I'm screwed either way."

On StarNet: Find extensive coverage of immigration issues at

Next Sunday

Visit a town where illegal immigration and drug smuggling intersect - and the priest who lives between both worlds.

Contact reporter Perla Trevizo at or at 573-4213. On Twitter: @Perla_Trevizo

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Get weekly ads via e-mail