By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Just off the plaza, I make the rounds of the tenement-like flophouses that charge five or 10 dollars a night to stack migrants on plywood bunk beds, or simply stow them on the floor. There is no question that the numbers are down from a couple of years ago. Where there might have been a hundred people or so crowded into one of these human warehouses, there are now maybe 30 or 40.
Nobody knows why. It might be that the bursting of the housing bubble in the U.S. means that fewer construction jobs are available. Or that migrant routes are shifting back toward Yuma, and even back into California, especially around Mexicali. More people are trudging through the mountains to the east in New Mexico, I’m told.
What we do know, what I can see for myself, is that there’s a greater percentage of women and children than ever before among the migrants jammed into the dank rooms of the flophouses, the ill-named “guesthouses” that dot the streets of Altar.
When I get back to Arizona and meet with him in Tucson, Wayne Cornelius offers a straightforward explanation. “Border enforcement has failed to keep people out of the country,” he says. “But it has been quite successful in keeping them in.”
As it has become more perilous to cross the border, more and more migrants who used to cycle in and out of the U.S. now stay here. The increased numbers of women and children I saw in the Altar holding pens were coming to join their husbands and fathers, who were bunkered in the U.S.
So great is the push to migrate north from Mexico and Central America — an hour’s wages in California are worth a day of labor in Veracruz — that, Cornelius predicts, a U.S. policy based completely on erroneous assumptions will continue to fail.
“As more enforcement pressure is being placed on land borders,” Cornelius says, “we are seeing a deflection toward maritime borders, especially in California. More than 20 smugglers’ boats have been found in Southern California since August 2007. I’ve been predicting this for a long time. And now it’s happening. Our government is building a border fence, but we’re already into the era of maritime people smuggling.”
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