Tough border enforcement meant to discourage illegal crossing over the years has largely backfired, encouraging permanent migration particularly by women and families. According to a new report by the University of Arizona’s Latin American Studies, women endure especially grueling and dangerous crossings, rarely making it to their destinations compared to men.
Migration to the U.S. was once entirely dominated by male laborers who crossed for seasonal work before returning home to Mexico. For the past decade, tougher borders have pushed workers to remain in the U.S. rather than risk another crossing. Meanwhile, women and families are beginning to make up a larger proportion of migrants, leading to more permanent migration. In surveys with more than 1,100 deportees over the past 3 years, more than half the deportees interviewed had at least one family member who is a U.S. citizen, while one in four had a child under 18 who is a U.S. citizen. As many as 61 percent planned to cross again because they considered the U.S. to be their home.
Twelve percent of deportees had witnessed some form of violence against women during the crossing, including rape, beatings, and kidnappings. Migrants share the route to the U.S. with drug traffickers, who will often accost, rob and rape groups trying to cross. Coyotes, the men paid to lead groups across the border, are also known to beat and rape women on their journey. Women had a higher rate of being abandoned while crossing than men. Men tend to repeatedly make the crossing after deportation back to Mexico, while women attempt multiple crossings much less frequently. However, after crossing, women tend to spend more time in the U.S. and put down roots.
Once employed in the U.S., workers grapple with exploitation in the workforce; 15 percent have been denied payment for work, while 17 percent were threatened with deportation or blackmailed by bosses and neighbors. Women, who make up 22 percent of the farm worker population, endure routine sexual violence and harassment, but do not report their abuse for fear of deportation.
Women have also suffered widespread abuse in federal detention centers, where they comprise 10 percent of the detained population. Between 2007 and 2011, there were 200 allegations of sexual abuse by staffers and other inmates, while many other instances likely went unreported. Many women have also reported they were denied medical care, strip-searched, and routinely shackled. They are regularly separated from male relatives and children and sent to unfamiliar border towns controlled by drug cartels. More than 200,000 undocumented immigrants whose children were U.S. citizens were deported over the last two years, while records show 5,000 children were placed in foster care in 2011 after their parents were deported.
The face of undocumented immigration has shifted to include more women and families. Nevertheless, border enforcement continues to treat migrants as dangerous criminals. The Obama administration spent $18 billion on immigration enforcement in 2012, more than every other federal law enforcement agency combined. Detention costs about $164 per person every day, and is projected to cost $1.96 billion in fiscal year 2013.