- SASABE, Mexico (AP) -- After
a four-year decline, illegal immigration from Mexico is spiking as several
thousand migrants a day rush across the border in hopes of getting work
visas under a program President Bush proposed. Many also are trying to
beat tighter security to come in June.
- The U.S. border patrol told The Associated Press that
detentions - which it uses to judge illegal migration rates - jumped 25
percent to 535,000 in the six months ending March 31 compared to a year
- Near Sasabe, a town bordering the Arizona desert that's
the busiest illegal border crossing area, an average 2,000 people arrive
- On a recent day, at a break in a barbed-wire fence outside
Sasabe, about 300 migrants scrambled out of 10 trucks and four vans within
30 minutes with their smugglers, who led crowds along a worn trail. As
the sun set, they disappeared into rolling hills that hide the treacherous
- Raudel Sanchez, a 22-year-old farm worker, said he wanted
to get back to his job at a Minnesota ranch.
- Sanchez crossed into the United States through Sasabe
three years ago, but says the journey is getting more difficult. He walked
three days in the desert and was out of water when he was caught in Arizona
- Undeterred, he said he planned to take a bus to Altar,
a northern city about 70 miles from the border where migrants hire smugglers.
From there, he planned to head back to Sasabe and cross again.
- ``It's already very hard to cross, but it's going to
be even harder,'' he said in Nogales. ``I need to try again, at least one
more time, and if I fail, I'll go back home.''
- Many migrants are betting on the approval of Bush's migration
proposal, which faces an uphill battle in Congress. About 75 percent of
those arrested are Mexican, while the rest are from Central America and
other places, U.S. customs officials said.
- In January, Bush proposed a guest-worker plan that would
give legal status to undocumented migrants already working in the United
States and to those outside the country who can prove they have been offered
- Because it's hard to get a job offer while in Mexico,
many are heading north now, hoping to get settled before a program is in
- Mexicans living in the United States have criticized
Bush's proposal. Many say they wouldn't apply, fearing it could be a trap
to deport them.
- But in Mexico, the program has given many migrants hope
that they might be able to seek something better north of the border, and
that is enough to convince some to cross now rather than later.
- ``I want to try and make it to the United States to find
out more about the permits because I've heard that with a job it will be
easier to get'' a visa, said Jaime Ulloa, speaking in Nogales after being
deported for a third time. He is trying to get to Florida, where a U.S.
farmer has promised him a job picking vegetables.
- Mark Krikorian, executive director for the Center for
Immigration Studies, a group that favors stricter immigration policies,
said the rise in illegal migration also shot up in 1986 when an amnesty
- ``Illegal aliens will respond to the messages the government
sends,'' Krikorian said. ``When we send the message that we are thinking
about amnesty, they decide it may be worth it to try to cross.''
- Illegal migration had been declining along the U.S.-Mexico
border since 2000. U.S. border patrol figures show detentions dropped from
1.6 million in 2000 to 905,000 in the fiscal year that ended last Sept.
- There is no exact data on the number of people crossing
illegally. But in an indication of increased traffic, 535,000 illegal migrants
were arrested along the U.S.-Mexico border from Oct. 1 to March 31, said
Gloria Chavez of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Bureau.
- In the same period, the border patrol's Tucson sector
detained 70,000 more people, an increase of 49 percent.
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert
Bonner attributes part of the jump to increased security. ``The main reason
we're seeing an increase in apprehensions is because the border patrol
is more effective, particularly in the Tucson sector,'' he said.
- But Mexican officials are also seeing an increase. Grupo
Beta, a Mexican government-sponsored group that tries to discourage migrants
from crossing and aids those stranded in the desert, said 56,000 migrants
went through Sasabe in March compared to 41,000 in March 2003.
- In Altar, a farming town that has become the gathering
point for those heading to Arizona, street vendors sell backpacks, water
jugs and salt pills by the thousands.
- The modest homes around the plaza, crowded with triple-decker
bunk beds, serve as makeshift motels for migrants. They're almost always
at capacity, said Francisco Garcia, a former mayor who now volunteers at
the town's only migrant shelter.
- ``We're a town with a population of 6,000, and there
have been weeks when we have twice as many people,'' Garcia said.
- Under new security measures, about 300 more U.S. border
agents will be deployed by June 1 along the Mexico-Arizona border. The
number of border agents assigned to the Tucson sector will eventually increase
from 1,800 to 2,500, Bonner said.
- Many of the additional agents already have been sent
to the Tohono O'odham Indian reservation, an area west of Sasabe where
illegal migrant traffic has ballooned, said border patrol spokesman Charles
- The heightened border security is driving more migrants
to more treacherous desert routes between Sonoyta and San Luis Rio Colorado
in western Arizona, said Enrique Enriquez, an agent with Mexico's Grupo
- Grupo Beta plans to assign rescuers to Sonoyta in May,
Enriquez said. Every year, hundreds of migrants die in the desert, where
temperatures soar above 100 degrees in summer.
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