WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

AP Photo/Eric Gay

25 Jan 2017 | News

Fact Sheet on the U.S.-Mexico Border

President Donald Trump has signed a series of executive orders geared at building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and at cracking down on immigration. The coming months, however, will see serious questions about the effectiveness and impact of these initiatives.

Expanding the Border Wall Would be Costly and Ineffective

  • There is already a barrier that blocks people and vehicles along 653 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. These 653 miles represent a 444 percent increase over 2005, when there were 120 miles.
  • While it’s true that about 1,317 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border lacks fencing, the Rio Grande forms a natural border along most of those miles. Those sections remaining are in rugged, inhospitable terrain, where building a barrier would be not only impractical, but expensive.
  • Building 1,250 miles more miles of fencing would cost $21.6 billion, according to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) internal report. This would be added to the more than $25 million DHS already spends annually to repair existing fences and border roads.
  • The vast majority of drugs trafficked into the United States are smuggled through legal ports of entry—in concealed departments in passenger vehicles, or hidden amidst legitimate merchandise—not brought through the desert. Building a bigger wall would do little to stem the flow of drugs into the country.

An Unnecessary Barrier: Number of Undocumented Migrants Attempting to Cross the Border Has Fallen to Early 1970s Levels

  • The number of undocumented migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border is near its lowest level since the early 1970s.  

  • Meanwhile, the gap between calls for a border buildup and the reality on the ground is growing clearer. Apprehensions of migrants per Border Patrol agent are less than one-tenth what they were in the 1990s. With 19 apprehensions per agent, FY2015 had the second-lowest apprehension rate for any year on record.
  • The total number of arrivals did increase slightly in Fiscal Year 2016, a trend that continued in the first two months of Fiscal Year 2017. However, this growth is due to an increase in arrivals of unaccompanied children and families, primarily from Central America, many of whom are fleeing threats and violence. For the most part, these kids and families are not trying to evade capture: they are seeking out U.S. border security authorities and asking for protection.

  • These people are fleeing for a reason. The countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—where most of these migrants are from—are facing unparalleled levels of violent crime. The three are all in the top ten nations with highest homicide rates, and those living there face some of the world’s most dangerous conditions outside of active war zones.

Deportations and ‘Sanctuary Cities’  

  • President Trump has vowed to deport undocumented immigrants with criminal records, describing them as “gang members, drug dealers.”  It’s important to note that the vast majority of immigrants, including most undocumented immigrants, are not criminals, drug dealers, or jobless people depending on government welfare payments.  In fact, research has shown that they are less likely than nonimmigrants to commit violent crimes or to be found in jail, and pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits.
  • Even among those deported in efforts to target migrants with criminal convictions, roughly 80 percent have been people whose only crime was immigration-related (like illegal entry or re-entry), or who are guilty of nonviolent offenses like traffic violations.
  • While the new administration has so-called “sanctuary cities” like Washington, New York, and Los Angeles in its sights, its ability to coerce these cities is limited. While some program-specific funding may be jeopardized, in South Dakota vs. Dole the Supreme Court ruled that local governments cannot be forced to act by the threat withholding all federal funds to the city.

Mexico’s Increased Enforcement Role

  • Although the Mexican government has pursued a restrictive migration policy for several years, since July 2014—at the urging of the United States—the government of Mexico has intensified its enforcement activities through the Southern Border Program (Programa Frontera Sur). The United States has provided $24 million in equipment and training assistance to Mexican migration officials in the country’s southern border area, and an additional $75 million has been earmarked for such purposes.
  • The Southern Border Program dramatically increased detentions of Central American migrants by 71 percent in its first year of implementation. The vast majority are quickly deported, raising concerns about due process.
  • This crackdown has not significantly let up in recent years. In fact, the 153,295 El Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans detained at Mexico’s southern border in FY2016 are the second most that Mexico has captured since the program began.