Rio Grande Valley – Why More Migrant Apprehensions?

A few days ago, CBS Houston reported that the Border Patrol had arrested more migrants in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley in the last 8 months than were made in the previous 12. Nearly 160,000 arrests have been made in the Valley since October 1, the start of the federal government’s fiscal year. The sum total of arrests made in the same region during fiscal year 2013 (October 1, 2012 – September 30, 2013) was only 154,000 arrests.

Border Patrol Truck in Rio Grande Valley, McAllen, Texas

“South Texas McAllen Fenceline Aerial, Rio Grande Valley” by U.S. Customs and Border Protection is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Arrests on the southwestern border plummeted after the financial crisis in 2008, to the point where, as the Pew Center Hispanic Trends Project reported in 2012, net migration from Mexico to the United States fell to zero, if not less. So the rise in apprehensions might, at first glance, appear to indicate growing confidence and optimism among migrants from Mexico and Central America.

Rio Grande Valley Border Crossings: What Do the Numbers Mean?

But, as with most numbers related to border crossings, their meaning is not as self-evident as it might first seem. In addition to spotlighting the rising number of apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley, the media report also explains that the number represents a shift in migratory patterns.

During the first decade of the 2000s, Arizona was the hotbed of international migration activity. (A few years ago, the city of  Nogales, Arizona got itself a new border fence). When the number of Border Patrol agents assigned to cities in Arizona jumped during those years, migrants began avoiding populated communities and crossed in the middle of the bleak, empty Sonoran Desert, leading to heat- and dehydration-related deaths.

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The Border Patrol subsequently established a specialized Tucson, Arizona-based emergency search and rescue unit called BORSTAR (or Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue). And incidentally, the first BORSTAR unit developed in San Diego since it was in southern California where most migrant activity occurred in the late 20th century.

So now, Border Patrol apprehensions have begun to reflect the increasing attraction of Texas as one of the best land-based migration routes. And for those who may be wondering if the difference in Rio Grande Valley apprehensions between 2013 and this year is just an aberration, it might be worthwhile to also note that the number of migrants arrested in the Valley during fiscal year 2012 was under 100,000. The rising number is beginning to look more like a trend than anything else.

The Rio Grande Valley – The New Arizona?

Arizona continues to play a role, albeit a strange one, in this new migration pattern. Just a few days ago, the Christian Science Monitor reported that Texas is “dumping” hundreds of illegal immigrants at bus stations in Tucson and Phoenix.  Apparently, Texas doesn’t quite have the bandwidth to process the increasing number of migrants apprehended trying to cross the border. But Arizona, having been the place to cross for a long time, ended up with years and resources to build up a detainment and processing infrastructure. So perhaps, figures Texas, why not just bring our detainees there?

Needless to say, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who has never been the most lenient advocate when it comes to migration and who just a few years ago participated in a high-profile, finger-pointing conversation with President Obama about her disappointment with the Administration’s border policing policy,  is not amused. She used the source of her latest frustration to reach out to the President once again–though this time, she used a letter instead of a lecturing finger.

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Equally interesting is that a large number of migrants crossing into Texas are not from Mexico but from Central American countries. And they’re not just men, they are families escaping “crimes, gangs and poverty”, to quote the CS Monitor. Apparently rumor has it that women and children who cross into the United States are allowed to stay.

More about that in a future post.

So while, yes, it’s true, the American economy may indeed be improving–just last week, every major news outlet under the sun reported that the full sum of jobs lost during the recession has been recovered as of the the latest Department of Labor report–one other factor contributing to the rising number of apprehensions, at least in a certain part of the country, is this: the migration patterns of job seekers coming into the United States from Mexico and Central America has radically changed.

The Rio Grande Valley, it seems, is the new Arizona.

About Joe Kovacs

I write literary fiction and am currently pursuing literary representation for my novel, Billy Maddox Takes His Shot, which is about a young Border Patrol agent in southern Arizona. Subscribe to The Write Place Blog by submitting your email address in the box in the right column of this page.
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