The US-Mexico Border
By MPI staff
June 1, 2006
About 11.8 million people live in the US-Mexico border area. Approximately one-quarter of the population in the US counties bordering Mexico live at or below the poverty line. This is over double the rate of the national average (12 percent) of the US population living in poverty. Furthermore, the unemployment rate in US counties on the southern border is 5.6 percent compared to 4.7 percent in the rest of the country. Mexican border states have an average poverty rate of 28 percent, significantly below the Mexican national average of 37 percent. (Sources: Environmental Protection Agency; Pan-American Health Organization/World Health Organization; Inter-American Development Bank; CIA World Factbook)
The border area in the United States consists of 48 counties in four states. Approximately 300,000 people live in 1,300 colonias in Texas and New Mexico. Colonias are unincorporated, semirural communities characterized by substandard housing and unsafe public drinking water or wastewater systems. Communities on the Mexican side of the border generally have less access to basic water and sanitation services than border communities in the United States. (Sources: Environmental Protection Agency; Pan-American Health Organization/World Health Organization)
Two of the 10 fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States, Laredo and McAllen, are located on the Texas-Mexico border. Estimates indicate the population of many border cities will double in 30 years. The population along the Texas border region is increasing at twice the rate of Texas as a whole. (Source: US Census Bureau)
Mexicans constitute 29.5 percent of all foreign born in the United States, by far the largest group. The Philippines and India follow with about four percent each. (Source: March 2005 Supplement, CPS)
The United States issued 906,622 nonimmigrant visas for Mexicans in fiscal year (FY) 2005. In addition, 732,566 laser visas (which replaced the old border crossing cards for those who live on the Mexican side of the border but work in the United States) were issued in FY 2005, down from 1,990,402 in FY 2001. Note: The US government's fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30. (Source: US Department of State Visa Statistics)
As of March 2006, the estimated unauthorized population in the United States was 11.5 to 12 million, of which 4.5 to 6 million entered legally with inspection and 6 to 7 million entered illegally without inspection. Those who entered legally with inspection include nonimmigrant visa overstayers (4 to 5.5 million) and border crossing card violators (250,000 to 500,000), while those who entered illegally without inspection evaded immigration inspectors and the Border Patrol. On average, there are 700,000 to 850,000 new unauthorized migrants arriving annually by all modes of entry. An estimated 6.2 million (or 56 percent) of all unauthorized migrants are from Mexico. (Sources: Pew Hispanic Center Estimates based on March 2005 Current Population Survey; DHS reports)
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In FY 2004, 12,338 trucks crossed the border daily, up 63 percent from FY 1994, the year the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was enacted. Cross-border land trade with Mexico totaled just under $225 billion in 2004, nearly double the $115 billion in cross-border trade in 1998. (Sources: US Department of Transportation; the Washington Post)
The volume of land inspections at the southern border decreased 21 percent between FY 2000 and FY 2004. Land inspections at the southern border decreased from 324 million in FY 2000 to 255 million in FY 2004. Land inspections made up 78 percent of all inspections (429 million) in FY 2004, and 76 percent of the 333 million total land inspections were conducted at the southern border. These inspection figures include individuals who make multiple entries, such as visitors with nonimmigrant visas or border crossing cards. (Source: PAS G-22.1 Inspections, Office of Immigration Statistics, DHS)
In 2004, there was an average of 660,000 passenger crossings per day across 35 points of entry (POEs) on the 1,952-mile border between the United States and Mexico. Crossings by personal vehicles rose 43 percent between 1995 and 1999 and then fell 21 percent (to 191 million) by 2004. Almost 20 percent of passenger crossings into the United States from Mexico in 2004 were made on foot, while bus crossings only constituted 1.4 percent (3.4 million) of crossings from Mexico. In 2004 there were over 20 million pedestrian crossings in Texas alone. (Source: US Bureau of Transportation Statistics)
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Of the approximately 11,000 Border Patrol agents, 89 percent work along the US-Mexico border. In contrast, there are approximately 980 agents currently working along the 4,000-mile US-Canada border. In a recent speech on immigration reform, President Bush pledged to add 6,000 more Border Patrol agents by the end of 2008. In the interim, 6,000 National Guard troops will be sent to the southern border to provide support services to the Border Patrol, such as construction and surveillance. (Source: Customs and Border Protection)
In FY 2004, there were 1,139,282 apprehensions of immigrants on the southern border. Apprehensions reflect the number of arrests, not individuals, as many migrants are caught several times. The level of apprehensions has fallen from a high of 1,643,679 in FY 2000 but is still greater than the 905,065 apprehensions in FY 2003. While historically most apprehensions have taken place in California and Texas, in FY 2004 the Tucson, Arizona, Border Patrol sector was responsible for 43 percent (491,771) of apprehensions, while only 12 percent (138,608) took place in the San Diego sector and nine percent (104,399) in the El Paso sector. As border enforcement has been strengthened in urban areas along the border, unauthorized immigrants have increasingly attempted to cross over the more remote and dangerous desert areas along the Arizona border. (Source: USCIS Office of Immigration Statistics)
For a map of Border Patrol sectors, see the Spotlight on US Immigration Enforcement.
In FY 2005, there were a record-breaking 473 migrant deaths at the border; over 260 were on the Arizona border. This number represents a 43 percent increase over the 330 border deaths in FY 2004. The previous high in recent years was 383 deaths in FY 2000. Officials attributed the increased deaths to more than 30 straight days of 100-degree-plus temperatures in parts of Arizona and to better recordkeeping by the agency, which now checks with coroners' offices to include bodies located by other agencies. The Border Patrol also rescued a record 2,570 migrants in FY 2005, nearly twice as many as the 1,347 rescues the previous year. (Source: US Customs and Border Protection Public Affairs Office)
Currently, there are 74.8 miles of fence along the US-Mexico border, mostly in California and Texas. A bill passed by the House of Representatives in December 2005 calls for about 700 miles of new fencing, while the proposal approved by the Senate in May 2006 calls for about 370 miles of fencing. (Sources: Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, H.R. 4437, 109th Congress, 2nd session; Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, S. 2611, 109th Congress, 2nd session)
The Secure Border Initiative (SBI) is a multiyear plan by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to secure the nation's borders and prevent unauthorized migration. SBI aims to increase staffing and funding for the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is responsible for immigration enforcement in the country's interior. The initiative also includes ending a practice called "catch and release" in which immigrants apprehended for unauthorized migration are released into the United States pending their immigration hearing; upgrading border control technology and infrastructure; and strengthening immigration enforcement at the workplace. (Sources: DHS; the Washington Post; GovExec.com)
SBI will bring new technology and ideas to Border Patrol operations. In its border control efforts, SBI employs electronic sensors, night vision scopes, ground vehicles, aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles. SBI replaces previous border security initiatives, including the America's Shield Initiative (ASI). DHS is offering a contract, with an estimated value of $2 billion, to private firms for the initiative's border security component, called SBInet. SBInet will be an integrated network of sensors and cameras along both of the nation's borders. The request for proposals was issued in April 2006, and DHS plans to award a contact in September. As part of this process, DHS is actively seeking new ideas from the private sector on how to improve border control operations. (Sources: DHS; the Washington Post, GovExec.com)
Since 2002, Mexico has launched several major initiatives, both independently and bilaterally with the United States, to address cross-border issues such as security, organized crime, drug trafficking, and human smuggling. Mexico and the United States signed the 2002 US-Mexico Border Partnership and Action Plan (known as the Smart Border Agreement), which harmonizes point-of-entry operations, combats alien smuggling, and improves screening of third-country nationals. Mexico independently launched Operation Centinela in 2003 to strengthen detention operations of certain unauthorized immigrants and to improve measures to target organized crime and human trafficking.
The United States and Mexico signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2004 to assist both governments in managing migratory flows and protecting the human rights of immigrants. In 2005, the two countries launched Operation Against Smugglers (and Traffickers) Initiative on Safety and Security (OASSIS), which expanded existing efforts against violent human traffickers. The United States and Mexico also formalized the Permanent Program against Human Smuggling aimed at prevention, victim’s assistance, and information exchange. (Sources: Migration Policy Institute; DHS; MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base)
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The United States is Mexico's largest trading partner, and Mexico is the United States' second-largest trading partner. Trade between the two countries reached $290 billion in 2005, averaging about $795 million a day. US exports to Mexico in 2005 were $120 billion, and US imports from Mexico were over $170 billion. Exports to Mexico have more than doubled since the passage of NAFTA in 1994, when US exports to Mexico were over $50 billion. (Source: US Census Bureau, "Foreign Trade Statistics")
For more on US-Mexico trade and migration, see MPI Fact Sheet #11
In 2005, Mexico imported more than US$101 billion in merchandise from just 17 US states. Texas was the top state exporter to Mexico, with export earnings of US$50 billion, followed by California, with exports earnings of US$17 billion. (Source: US International Trade Administration)
There are more than 2,700 maquiladoras in Mexican border states. Maquiladoras (export-oriented factories) on the border account for about 71 percent of all such factories in Mexico. The maquiladora industry is a major source of Mexico's export earnings. (Source: Environmental Protection Agency)
As part of the trilateral Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), launched in 2005, the United States, Mexico, and Canada are working to enhance security while facilitating cross-border movement, trade, and economic cooperation. The three countries plan to speed border-crossing times for people and commerce by expanding the trusted traveler and trusted trader programs and improving infrastructure at ports of entry. They aim to implement a single, integrated trusted traveler program by 2008. The members are working to develop common regulations and standards on food safety and other products to facilitate trade and eliminate duplicative testing and certification processes.
The three participating countries have also formed a North American Competitiveness Council (NACC) to provide recommendations on developing competitive industries in the region. Their goal is to cooperate on clean-energy technologies, energy conservation, and market facilitation to build greater energy security and sustainable development in the region. (Sources: Department of Homeland Security; the White House, "Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America Prosperity Agenda")
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