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Mexican immigration down; reasons vary

March 25, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
There is clear evidence that fewer undocumented immigrants are crossing the U.S.-Mexican border, looking for a better life in this countryThe number of people crossing illegally is down all across the U.S.-Mexico border, from California to South Texas. The United States Border Patrol says the drop comes due to new high-tech equipment and more boots on the ground. Meanwhile, others say it's the U.S. economy that's keeping immigrants from making the journey north.

It's a typical afternoon in North Hollywood, and the parking lot of the Home Depot is almost empty.

"It used to be that this store was full of people," says Miguel Diaz in Spanish. "People who needed workers. But not anymore."

The 45-year-old Diaz is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico City. He is one of about 10 day-laborers who stand on this parking lot looking for work. And these days, the work just isn't there.

"It's gone down a lot," says Diaz. "'It's getting so bad that people are going back home. And others don't want to risk crossing over. Coming here is just too expensive when you don't have work."

It's a reality that's playing itself out all along the southern border with Mexico. According to the Border Patrol, arrests of illegal immigrants have fallen 24 percent in the last five months. In some areas, the decrease is much more dramatic.

"Yuma is a success story for the entire Border Patrol control, because the results we got here were pretty much what people were looking for," said Michael Lowrie, U.S. Border Patrol agent.

Lowrie is an agent assigned to the Yuma sector. He says the 126-mile stretch of Arizona desert was once one of the busiest illegal crossing points into the U.S. But not anymore.

Yuma sector has seen a 95-percent drop in the number of illegal immigrant arrests. From 138,000 in 2005, to a little more than 8,000 in 2008.

Over the past several years, the federal government has spent millions on securing the border. The number of agents in this sector has doubled in recent years, to more than 900. Lowrie says it's the increase in manpower and equipment that's resulted in the dramatic drop

"Now those who would come on a whim are deterred, and that's the big job," said Lowrie. "That's the main job. Deter any entries."

The border there is flanked by a 15-foot-high wall, with rows and rows of stadium lighting, and that's followed by another wall -- the so-called "pedestrian fence" -- and a chain-link fence with barbed wire.

"You've got to be pretty motivated to try to come through here now," said Lowrie.

Jorge Mario Cabrera works for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). "Immigration has always been about jobs," said Cabrera. "When the economy is good, you see more migrants coming north. When the economy is bad you see migrants going south."

Cabrera says that for many undocumented immigrants, returning home just isn't an option.

"It is very difficult for an immigrant to come back with empty hands, and what we're seeing is families withstanding as much as they can so that they don't have to go back empty-handed," said Cabrera

Back in North Hollywood, Mario Diaz says he might someday return to his family in Mexico City. But he's hoping the economy here will improve. Because despite the downturn here, he says things back in Mexico are far worse.

The Border Patrol in Yuma said that a few years ago, they were arresting about 400 illegal border-crossers every day. And now they say that number is down to about 15 a day, with most of the arrests happening at night.


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