immigrant gateways: it has not been effective in stemming immigration into most cities where the program has been implemented.


Even before the buildup of border enforcement, migrants would travel to the border region and attempt to cross, generally in groups and typically assisted by a guide or smuggler, known as a coyote or pollero. Smugglers typically require partial payment up front; full payment is due once the migrant is delivered to awaiting friends or relatives in the United States. Fees for smuggling services often allow for multiple attempts to cross the border, in the event that a migrant is apprehended by USBP one or more times. The share of migrants using smugglers has increased from about 80 percent in 1990 to roughly 90 percent today.24 Smuggler prices have risen in inflation-adjusted terms from about $600-$1,000 in 1990 to $2,500 in 2010 (Roberts et al., 2010). Prices also vary by region and mode: anecdotal accounts indicate that crossing into the United States by boat in the San Diego sector is about two to three times as expensive as crossing by land, which suggests that the probability of apprehension during unauthorized maritime crossings is low.

Figure 2-3 shows a stylized version of the undocumented border crossing process, along with the sources of survey and administrative data (which are described and evaluated in Chapters 3, 4, and 5) that can potentially and partially measure these flows. The process starts in the home community, where people decide to travel to the border region and attempt an unauthorized crossing. In some cases, individuals may use border-crossing cards or visas to cross and then work in the United States (Chávez, 2011), although this is less common for Mexicans (particularly those who do not reside in the border region)25 than for people of other nationalities (Massey and Riosmena, 2010:304-305).

As noted above, a majority of migrants use the services of smugglers, especially those attempting to cross for the first time (López Castro, 1997; Orrenius, 1999; Roberts et al., 2010:4; Spener, 2009:81). Once a smuggler is hired, migrants attempt to cross through nonfenced, more remote areas


24 Data on smuggling usage and price are from the Mexican Migration Project website at (March 19, 2012).

25 Using the same regional classification of Mexican states provided in Riosmena and Massey (2012), the panel’s own calculations using 2006 and 2009 ENADID data, described in Chapter 3, suggest that migrants coming from the Mexican border region have considerably lower shares of the undocumented (35 percent and 29 percent) compared to migrants from the central-western (68 percent and 67 percent), central (86 percent and 79 percent), and southeast (85 percent and 79 percent) regions.

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