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Manisha asked: What strategy did US follow to check migration from Mexico? Can it be of relevance to India in terms of preventing illegal migration?

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  • Pushpita Das replies: For the United States, illegal migration from its southern land borders, especially from Mexico, has been a major border management challenge since the 1960s. However, the inflow of Mexicans assumed overwhelming proportions in the 1980s, compelling the Reagan administration to enact the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), making it illegal for employers to hire unauthorised immigrants. This Act did not prove effective as the trend of illegal migration continued in subsequent years.

    During the 1990s, under the National Strategy Plan formulated in 1994, several operations, such as Operation Hold-the-Line (El Paso 1994), Operation Gatekeeper (San Diego, 1994), Operation Safeguard (Nogales, Arizona 1994), and Operation Rio Grande (South Texas, 1997) to prevent the entry of illegal migrants from Mexico were conducted with some success.

    Currently, under the National Border Patrol Strategy of 2005, the United States Border Patrol (USBP), which is responsible for guarding the US borders, deploys personnel, tactical infrastructure and technology to prevent illegal migration. At present, of the total border patrol agents deployed along the country’s international borders, 80 per cent are deployed along its southern borders to ‘watch the line’ and interdict any unathorised entry in the United States. Besides, forward operating bases and check posts have been constructed for conducting and coordinating patrols along the border. Physical obstacles such as fences and vehicle barriers (permanent and temporary) have also been constructed to impede the illegal entry of people and vehicles. To date, nearly 650 miles of fencing, including 299 miles of vehicle barriers and 350 miles of pedestrian fence, have been erected along the US–Mexico border. To improve detection, floodlights are being installed, while roads are being laid for better mobility of patrol agents. Various electronic surveillance devices, such as remote video surveillance systems, sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles, mobile night vision scopes, radars, etc are deployed as force multipliers.

    The US strategy to prevent the inflow of migrants has achieved mixed results. The massive deployment of personnel and resources has indeed resulted in large scale arrests of persons trying to illegally cross into the United States. While apprehension figures since 2006 of illegal migrants from Mexico show a declining trend, indicating that fewer people are trying to cross the US-Mexico border, the fact remains that the number of illegal migrants in the United States grew from 3.5 million in 1990 to 10.8 million in 2009, of which 6.7 million were from Mexico.

    India too has employed a similar strategy to guard its borders against illegal migration. It has deployed border forces and installed electronic devices to guard the borders. India has also erected fences along its borders with Bangladesh and Pakistan to prevent illegal migration. Like the United States, India has to an extent been successful in preventing large-scale illegal migration. A decline in the number of illegal migrants apprehended by the Border Security Force over the years bears a testimony to this fact.