Tougher U.S. deterrents unable to dampen hopes of illegal immigrants


April 13, 1996
Web posted at: 7:15 a.m. EDT

From Correspondent Jennifer Auther

TIJUANA, Mexico (CNN) -- The recent beatings of illegal immigrants in Riverside, California, and the death of seven illegal immigrants in a truck crash the same week have not slowed the river of Mexican nationals pouring over the U.S. border.

beating in CA

The lure of jobs and the need to make a better life for themselves prove inescapable for these Mexicans, who look north at the U.S. border and its array of deterrents meant to dissuade them from crossing.

To them, there appears to be no better alternative than trying their luck at finding jobs, medical care, and family members who have already made the trek to the land where prosperity can be more than just a dream.

In the border town of Tijuana is Casa del Migrante, one of the few temporary shelters for people making the passage between Mexico and the United States. Hopeful migrants at Casa del Migrante say they do worry about the dangers of crossing the border and finding their way in a new country, but that the risks are far preferable to the sure fate of poverty at home.

Casa del Migrante visitors lament that while Americans are treated as guests in Mexico, Mexicans are sometimes treated as pests by U.S. by law enforcement agencies.

Mexican migrants have found it even harder to make the Mexico-U.S. journey since the initiation of Operation Gatekeeper in 1994. Beefed up patrols by the U.S. Border Police have led to higher fees among the ubiquitous "coyotes," those who smuggle immigrants across the border. The smugglers currently charge up to $500 per trip.

warning sign

"Because they don't know the road; they get lost. It's the desert and ... they've found them dead," says one coyote operating out of Tijuana.

The struggle between the strong will of Mexicans wanting to cross the border and the might of the U.S. Border Patrol has intensified since the implementation of Operation Gatekeeper.

Despite the new measures, the 66-mile-long area of the border near San Diego, California, sees 1,500 arrests of illegal immigrants per day, according to the U.S. attorney in San Diego.

Hope appears to be a more powerful force than fear of the border, the forces attempting to seal it, or what lies on the other side.


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