In October 1994, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) launched Operation Gatekeeper to crack down on people entering the country through San Diego, California. Militarizing the border with more border patrol agents and resources has forced immigrants to cross through the Imperial Desert or over the mountains north of Tecate. Global Exchange states that the number of immigrant deaths has increased over 600 percent since 1994. Several thousands have died along the U.S./Mexico border since Operation Gatekeeper began. Mexicans have drowned in canals and rivers and have died of dehydration, hypothermia and heat stress in the desert. Some have been shot by ranchers in Arizona and Texas. In the year 2000 alone, 369 immigrants perished trying to cross the border - almost half from exposure to heat or cold. Because of increasing amounts of border patrol officers and equipment, many undocumented workers are staying longer in the U.S., unable to return to see their families for long periods of time and swelling the immigrant population.
In July 2001, Mexican President Vicente Fox asked President Bush to consider granting legal status to about three million undocumented Mexicans. U.S. Congressman Luis Gutierrez backed a bill that would legalize immigrants who could prove U.S. residence since 1996. Others in Congress, business and labor pushed for a guest worker program, wherein Mexican workers could freely come and go across the border but would not be allowed to stay in the U.S. permanently.
After September 11, 2001, U.S. officials told the Mexican government that because of terrorism fears, the immigration laws were unlikely to change anytime soon. At the same time, there has been a big drop in Mexican immigration to the United States since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Even before September 11, border crossing had been down, undoubtedly due to the slowing economy and rising unemployment rate. Apprehensions of illegal immigrants in California's two border patrol districts dropped an average of 57 percent compared to October of 2000. Legal immigration has also fallen 29 percent compared to the previous year, according to journalists at the University of Berkeley.
1 Mexico's National Council of Populations, Sept. 2001
2 Migration Policy Institute, February 2001
3 INS Triennial Comprehensive Report on Immigration, May 1999
4 Center for Immigration Studies
5 Immigration and Naturalization Service