Number of Mexicans caught at US border takes dramatic plunge

A U.S. Border Patrol agent stands next to the U.S.-Mexico border fence on Dec. 9, 2014 in Nogales, Ariz.
A U.S. Border Patrol agent stands next to the U.S.-Mexico border fence on Dec. 9, 2014 in Nogales, Ariz.

The number of undocumented immigrants from Mexico who were caught trying to enter the country illegally took a dramatic plunge in 2014 to historic lows never seen before, according to fresh analysis released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center.

The latest analysis tracks more than six decades of data on apprehensions along the southwestern border, finding that for the first time, the number of non-Mexicans who were swept up by Border Patrol agents outpaced that of undocumented immigrants from Mexico. It's just the latest plot-point marking an end to a massive migration wave from Mexico that lasted for decades with millions of people who likely entered the United States illegally.

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The consistent dip in Mexican apprehensions also refutes claims that immigration policies enacted by the Obama administration serve as a magnet to encourage illegal immigration. Critics allege that President Obama's executive action on immigration will be perceived as "amnesty" and drive up illegal immigration by people who believe they have a shot at citizenship once they make it to the U.S.

Instead, just the opposite has happened.

Researchers have noted for years that illegal immigration from Mexico did shoot up over the course of four decades, dating back to the early 1980s. Border apprehensions of undocumented Mexican immigrants peaked in 2000 when 1.6 million were caught at the U.S. border, the Pew researched released Tuesday showed. Since then, the number of border-crossers caught by agents has plunged. In 2014, undocumented immigrants from the U.S.'s southwestern neighbor accounted for just 229,000 apprehensions, the analysis found.

Researchers believe the reasons behind the dip are in large part economic. Migration from Mexico swelled in the years after President Ronald Reagan signed amnesty legislation in the mid 1980s and continued through the 1990s while Americans were benefiting from a strong economy. But then, migration saw a sharp downward trend in the lead up to the Great Recession in 2007. Researchers from Pew believe the lack of job opportunities and a struggling housing construction market worked to deter people from entering the U.S. illegally.

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The new numbers also counter claims that the border is less secure than ever before -- in fact, the drop in Mexican apprehensions comes as the U.S. has continued to dedicate huge resources to border security. The number of "boots on the ground" along the southwestern border has jumped 94% since just 2004. There are now nearly 21,000 agents manning the border along with more than 650 miles of fencing that separate the U.S. from Mexico. 

What did increase though was the number of non-Mexican immigrants who were caught by border agents. In fiscal year 2014, Border Patrol agents recorded apprehending 257,000 undocumented immigrants who originated from countries other than Mexico, compared to 68,000 in 2007. The increase is likely due to a surge in unaccompanied young children who fled from Central America.