Discussions about the nearly 2,000-mile-long border separating the United States from Mexico can be heard on a daily basis. Aside from illegal immigration, it doesn’t seem people know much else about it. Here are ten facts about the U.S.-Mexico border.
10. It’s the Most Frequently Crossed International Border in the World
More than 350 million people cross the U.S.-Mexico border annually, “making it the most frequently crossed international border in the world,” according to the American Bar Association. Each year, approximately $229 billion in goods and merchandise crosses the border–both legally and illegally. Additionally, more than 200,000 people cross the border illegally each year, with the majority of them crossing at the southern border–particularly the southern tip of Texas, the association added.
FYI, the border stretches 1,954 miles from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean.
9. It Was Formed Through Violence
Before declaring its independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico owned much of the lower portion of western America. However, U.S. militias used force to establish the border in the 1830s and 1840s and captured the territories that include the modern-day states of California and Texas, as well as all of the American southwest, the History Channel saidin an article on its website. The new borders were maintained by the Texas Rangers, also known as the Frontier Battalion, Miguel A. Levario, a history professor at Texas Tech, said in the article.
8. There are Barriers Already in Place
While on the campaign trail in 2016, President Donald Trump promised to build a border wall to keep illegal immigrants to the south out of the U.S. But, what some people may not know is that the border isn’t wide open. Barriers spanning 653 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border–mostly along the western half–are already in place. Most of it was built under President George W. Bush via the Secure Fence Act, Bloomberg said on its website.
Additionally, 18-foot-tall iron fencing, corrugated metal, makeshift vehicle barriers, and barbed wire block much of the southern borders of Arizona, California and New Mexico, according to Bloomberg.
Lastly, the Rio Grande serves as a natural barrier, the Smithsonian Learning Lab said on its website. The river constitutes more than half the length of the U.S.-Mexico border.
7. It Was Once Used to Keep Slaves In
The term “border security” typically conjures up images of patrol agents trying to keep illegal immigrants out of the U.S. But, many years ago, U.S. forces policed the border for escaped slaves. For many slaves, it made more sense to flee south to Mexico instead of trying to make it to the north since Mexico was closer to many of the slave states. But, after the Fugitive Slave Act said that escaped slaves had to be returned to their owners, vigilante slave catchers began monitoring the border, hoping to be rewarded for capturing runaways, the History Channel said on its website.
6. The First Illegal Immigrants Targeted at the Border Were Asians
…Chinese immigrants, to be exact. They began entering the U.S. mostly through Mexico in the late 1880s, after Canada passed a tax on Chinese immigration, according to the History Channel. As a result, immigration officials began to focus more heavily on the U.S.-Mexico border. Enter the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. This was the first significant law restricting immigration into the U.S. According to OurDocuments.gov, the exclusion act “required the few non-laborers who sought entry to obtain certification from the Chinese government that they were qualified to immigrate… The 1882 exclusion act also placed new requirements on Chinese who had already entered the country. If they left the United States, they had to obtain certifications to re-enter.”
Additionally, Congress barred State and Federal courts from granting citizenship to Chinese resident aliens, but they could still deport them.
5. Mexican Immigrants Weren’t Targeted Until the Early 1900s
Efforts to keep Mexicans out of the U.S. didn’t take shape until the start of the Mexican Revolution in 1910. To keep the fighting from spilling over into the U.S., armed forces began monitoring the border. Once large numbers of Mexicans began fleeing the decades-long bloody battle by immigrating to the States, the Texas Rangers and other militias formed along the border to keep them out. “The rangers were very much part of violence toward the indigenous Mexicans and Mexican Americans in the 1910s,” Levario said in an article on the History Channel’s website. Additionally, groups of Texas vigilantes known as “Home Guards” began patrolling the border. Even though they weren’t official U.S. forces, they still had “the blessing of the governor to operate,” Levario said.
Nearly 100 years later, our approach to border security with Mexico hasn’t changed all that much, he added.
4. Border Crossings Have Been Declining for Years
According to the New York Times, “border crossings so far this year have ranged from 20,000 to 40,000 people.” Compare that to the nearly 1.6 million who illegally crossed the border between the 1980s and mid-2000s, or the 71,000-200,000 crossers who were apprehended each MONTH in the year 2000, and you’ll see just how much that number has been dropping.
Border apprehensions have also been on the decline. According to Bloomberg.com, border apprehensions peaked at 1.6 million in 2000 and have plummeted since. “There were 303,916 border apprehensions in the southwest U.S. during fiscal year 2017–a 26 percent drop from 2016,” the website noted.
3. Most Border Crossers Nowadays are Central Americans
According to The Lawfare Institute, Central Americans, i.e. Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans, account for nearly half of the people crossing the border illegally today. Up until 2011, they constituted less than 10 percent of total border apprehensions. However, by 2012 that number went up to 25 percent, and by 2014, it was at 50 percent, The Law Institute said. “It’s not a coincidence that most recent news stories about migrant parents separated from their children feature families from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador,” the Institute added. According to The Wall Street Journal, many of them are fleeing extreme violence and poverty.
2. Deadly Lightning Strikes are Common There
According to the American Meteorological Society, northwestern Mexico is the cloud-to-ground “lightning capital of North America.” In fact, many people have been struck by lightning near the U.S.-Mexico border. A border patrol agent was struck by lighting back in 2005 while he and his partner were responding to a car accident near the border.
Several other incidents have also occurred. In 2014, a 17-year-old male was fatally struck by lightning while walking in the desert in Sonoita, AZ, and a 27-year-old male was fatally struck by lightning while doing maintenance work in a schoolyard in Sells, AZ. In 2015, a deadly lightning strike in Mexico claimed the lives of seven family members who were working in a field during a storm. Two other people also working in the field only suffered minor injuries.
1. Border Crossings Have Led to an Increase in Health Issues
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), large numbers of people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border for work, travel and the like, has led to an increase in health issues, particularly infectious diseases like hepatitis A, HIV, measles, and tuberculosis, as well as food-borne diseases associated with raw fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.
In response to this problem, both the CDC and the Mexican Secretariat of Health have launched several projects to address these issues and increase public health coordination between the U.S. and Mexico.