Fewer Mexicans are crossing to the United States illegally, while the numbers of people from other regions, mostly Central America, keep rising, Border Patrol data shows.
The apprehensions of Mexicans crossing the border illegally are about a sixth of what they used to be 12 years ago.
Border Patrol apprehensions are often used as an indicator of the flow of unauthorized migration. The fewer people arrested, in general, the smaller the estimated number of people trying to cross illegally into the United States.
The Border Patrol apprehends about 60 percent of those entering the country illegally, a recent report from the Government Accountability Office found.
From fiscal years 2000 to 2012, the number of Mexicans apprehended decreased from about 1.7 million to 265,755.
During the same period, the number of immigrants from other countries nearly tripled to 99,013 - although it's down from a high of 165,170 in 2005.
The breakdown by country of origin was not made available in the apprehensions report, but Department of Homeland Security data from 2010 show most of the people apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border who are not Mexican come from Central America.
Worth the risk
On Thursday, about half of the migrants staying at the Juan Bosco shelter in Nogales, Son., were from Central America, primarily Honduras.
Hernan Cruz, 35, first left his native Honduras in 1996, "to look for a job to help my family," he said.
He's been deported several times, but said he keeps trying because he feels it's his only option.
Next to him were two teen boys, 15 and 17 years old, trying to cross for the first time. Both of them dropped out of school and worked in agriculture back home.
Most of the migrants from Honduras have been on the road for more than 20 days, riding buses from one country to the other and then on top of trains from the south of Mexico all the way to Nogales.
"The system in Honduras doesn't work for the poor," Cruz said in Spanish.
The trip is worth the risk, he said, "because if you make it, you know that means a job that's going to help you solve your problems."
Another man had been in Honduras 12 years working in agriculture after he got deported from California in 2000.
"But you barely make enough to eat," said José Medina, 38. "You have to try."
Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America and has the world's highest murder rate, according to the Department of State.
And Guatemala, also one of the poorest countries with a high birth rate, has one of the highest violent crime rates in Central America. Between January and September 2012, there were an average of 95 murders reported per week, the State Department said.
The reduction in the apprehension of Mexican border crossers result from a combination of three factors, said Judith Gans, manager of the Immigration Policy Program at the University of Arizona:
• Increased enforcement in the border region has increased the "costs" of entering the U.S. illegally, such as payments to smugglers, risks of getting caught, physical dangers.
• Continued weakness in the economic sectors that have tended to hire unauthorized immigrants - construction in particular.
• Improved economic opportunities in Mexico.
"Wages in China have increased to the point that Mexico is now competitive with China in attracting foreign investment," she wrote in an email. "Also, birth rates in Mexico have declined to the point that they are approaching those in the U.S.," she said. On average, women in the United States have 1.9 children and women in Mexico have 2.3 children.
About 30 percent of all immigrants in the United States - both legal and illegal - were born in Mexico, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
"At the same time, Central American countries aren't seeing the same economic improvements," said Eleanor Sohnen, policy analyst with the D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute.
"People are leaving in greater numbers from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras," she said, as well as from countries in Asia and Africa, although not to the same extent.
One area where the change is evident is in the agricultural sector, she said. Since the mid-2000s there aren't as many new immigrants from Mexico; most of them are coming from the Central American countries.
Geoffrey Boyce, spokesman with the local organization No More Deaths, said the group has seen the shift in the last several years. The organization provides humanitarian aid to illegal immigrants crossing the border, including first aid care, food and water.
"Hondurans have eclipsed all other nationalities, except Mexicans," he said.
Mexicans still comprise about 73 percent of all apprehensions - but they used to make up close to 98 percent 12 years ago.
Still busy here
After six years of consecutive decreases, apprehensions went up nationwide by about 20,000 people to 364,768.
Still, it's the lowest it has been since 1971.
Most of that jump came from arrests made in four sectors of the Southwest region, not including Tucson, where arrests decreased by nearly 4,000 to 120,000.
"These numbers illustrate the investments made by CBP to improve border security, increase efficiencies and facilitate the flow of legal travel and trade through our nation's borders," David Aguilar, Customs and Border Protection deputy commissioner, said in a news release.
Between fiscal years 2005 through 2012, Customs and Border Protection's budget rose from $6.3 billion to $11.7 billion, a Migration Policy Institute report found. Staffing grew about 50 percent from about 41,000 employees to more than 61,000 - the largest share going to the Border Patrol in the southwest.
The Tucson Sector is among the busiest in the nation. In fiscal year 2011, it made more than 38 percent of total apprehensions in the southwest.
"While apprehensions may tick back up as the U.S. economy - especially construction and other low-skill service sectors - improves, I think it is unlikely that they will go back to the levels we saw in the 1990s and early 2000s," Gans said.
Whether or not this number will continue to rise depends on many factors, including the economic conditions in the United States, whether the construction sector rebounds and what happens with immigration reform, said Sohnen, of the Migration Policy Institute.
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Contact reporter Perla Trevizo at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 573-4213. On Twitter: @Perla_Trevizo.