Dave Graham, Reuters, March 20, 2013
Mexican grandmother Lucia Angulo has entered the United States illegally so often over the past three decades that she has lost count of how many times border patrols caught her.
But when she left San Diego to visit her dying mother in Mexico last April, she knew it would be harder than ever to return. Nearly a year later, she was still trying.
Angulo is one of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to the United States who have felt the force of tougher U.S. policing, new barriers and record deportations, which have helped cut to nil the net migration flow from south to north, according to a study last year by the non-partisan Pew Hispanic Center.
When she arrived in San Diego 26 years ago, the U.S. border held no real fear for Angulo, who used to cross it twice a year.
She no longer recalls how often she was caught, only that it was “more than 10 times,” and that she was never held for more than a few hours. One by one, she brought her three Mexican daughters across, and by 1992 all were with her in San Diego.
U.S. border security was tightened after the September 11, 2001, attacks, and increased further after the 2007-2008 financial crisis, forcing illegal immigrants and smugglers to think harder about how to get over, under or around the frontier.
One way was by sea. In the 2012 fiscal year, 779 people were apprehended illegally crossing the Pacific, up from 230 in 2008, U.S. Border Patrol data show.
Meantime, the amount of marijuana heading north seized on the California coast quintupled from 2010 to 2012, according to figures from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
Other smugglers chose to dig beneath the border. ICE figures show that 121 tunnels were found between 2006 and 2012, four times the number in the previous seven years.
Crossings on the Tijuana-San Diego section of the border are today a fraction of what they once were.
In 1986, when the United States passed a reform that granted amnesty to 3 million illegal immigrants, the Border Patrol arrested 630,000 people crossing into the San Diego area alone.
Last year, fewer 360,000 people were detained across the entire 2,000-mile (3,200-km) border, and only 28,500 in San Diego.
For all the improvements in security, Mexicans no longer have the same economic incentive to move north either.
The difference between the United States and parts of Central America is more pronounced, and illegal immigrants from countries like Guatemala and Honduras helped make up for a drop in the number of Mexicans arrested on the border last year.
With the western part of the border more secure, traffic has been pushed east, especially into the violent state of Tamaulipas that borders Texas along the Rio Grande river.
In San Diego, the Mexican daughters of Angulo hope the U.S. Congress will find a way of giving them the same rights as their two half-brothers and half-sister born in the United States. Angulo also has eight grandchildren, all born in the United States, making them citizens.