By Liz Warren-Pederson


A new report issued by the National Center for Border Security and Immigration (BORDERS) offers a comprehensive picture of the motivations of undocumented immigrants entering the U.S. from Mexico.

The report compiles data from interviews with 1,000 detainees in the U.S. Border Patrol Tucson Sector. The interviews were conducted by a research team with BORDERS during the summer of 2012.

“We focused on economic migrants,” said Mark Grimes, lead researcher on the study and a third-year doctoral student in MIS at the Eller College. “In addition to learning about their current and previous attempts at crossing, we asked about their reasons for crossing, and their plans for future attempts.

The study revolved around two primary questions – whether the detainee planned to try to cross again within the next week, and whether he or she thought they would return to the U.S. someday.

Border Patrol agent at work.

Border Patrol agent at work.

The results augment existing interview surveys used by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Immigration Statistics to measure the overall inflow of unauthorized immigrants and to determine the probability of apprehension. The reliability of such estimates depends on having accurate information on attempted re-entry among previously apprehended immigrants.

Obtaining accurate information from the detainees required careful design, Grimes said. The BORDERS team worked with Border Patrol to set up interview space, but Border Patrol was not present for the interviews, which were conducted by researchers fluent in Spanish. Participants were anonymous, their responses were not shared with Border Patrol, and they had the option of ending the interview at any time. To cross-check honesty, the BORDERS team obtained fingerprint-verified data from Border Patrol, including date of birth and previous apprehensions of the interview subjects, which the team found squared with the self-reported data.

Among the report’s key findings are that detainees who have family and existing jobs in the U.S. were most likely to immediately attempt re-entry. In contrast, detainees without jobs or family connections – those without a solid plan, as Grimes said – were less likely to attempt to re-enter.

The BORDERS research team recommends that the Department of Homeland Security expand the survey scope to include additional Border Patrol Sectors, as well as conducting longitudinal analyses at these locations.

“We believe that monitoring both long-term trends and geographically specific perspectives will allow Border Patrol to track changes over time and identify emerging trends,” Grimes said.

To see the final report, please visit the BORDERS website here. BORDERS is a consortium of 18 premier institutions that is dedicated to the development of innovative technologies, proficient processes, and effective policies that will help protect our Nation’s borders, foster international trade, and enhance long-term understanding of immigration determinants and dynamics. BORDERS is headed by director Jay Nunamaker, a Regents’ Professor at the University of Arizona Eller College, and executive director Elyse Golob.

Photos courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Protection.