Border Economy Program
Arizona-Sonora Region - Border Crossings
By Lora Mwaniki-Lyman and Ruth Christopherson
Apprehensions of Unauthorized Immigrants
Persons Crossing through Nogales BPOE
Persons Crossing through the San Luis BPOE
Persons Crossing through the Lukeville BPOE
Persons Crossing through the Naco BPOE
Persons Crossing through the Douglas BPOE
Persons Crossing through the Sasabe BPOE
In 2009, over 25.4 million people crossed into the United States through the Arizona Border Ports-of-Entry (BPOE), which include: Douglas, Lukeville, Naco, Nogales, San Luis and Sasabe. This was the lowest number of northbound crossers as far back as the data has been provided by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Tucson Field. Border crossings reported are northbound and include both U.S. citizens returning home from Mexico and foreign nationals (about 70 percent) crossing legally to visit, work, other business or shopping. More than half of the border crossers, 17.4 million, crossed either in personally owned vehicles, in trucks (as drivers) or buses. The remaining 8 million people crossed through Arizona’s BPOE as pedestrians on foot. Northbound entry through Arizona’s BPOE peaked in 2002 with 37 million northbound crossers but has since declined 32.2 percent.
The decline in the number of northbound border crossings into the United States through Arizona's six BPOE is attributed to the introduction of more stringent requirements since September 11, 2001 and more recently as a result of the global recession. A study by the Pew Hispanic Center1 reported that the decline in number of Mexican immigrants, which is also seen in a declining number of apprehensions of unauthorized immigrants, clearly emerged with the onset of the recession and is a response to the downturn in the labor market.
A 2008 study by Pavlakovich-Kochi and Charney, Mexican Visitors to Arizona: Visitor Characteristics and Economic Impacts, 2007-2008, revealed that 99 percent of Mexican visitors enter Arizona through its six border ports of entry with the majority of them coming from Sonora, Mexico. Of those, 46.9 percent come from the border city of Nogales, the largest of Sonora’s border cities; 24.1 percent come from San Luis Río Colorado, 13.4 percent from Agua Prieta, and 1.3 percent from the capital city of Hermosillo. Eighty four percent of the Mexican visitors reported in the study were day visitors with more than two-thirds of them traveling for the purpose of shopping. Consequently, the effect of Mexican visitors on Arizona’s retail industry, referred to as ‘retail exports’, is enormous. Other reasons for traveling to the U.S. include visiting friends and relatives and for business.
According to the study, Mexican visitors spent about $2.7 billion in retail stores, hotels, restaurants and other spending-related activities during a 12-month period 2007-2008. Spending in stores (retail) was the largest expenditure category, accounting for about 57.5 percent of all Mexican visitor expenditures. This represents about $1.5 billion of the $2.7 billion total expenditures by all Mexican visitors. This direct spending generated about 23,400 jobs in Arizona with an additional 7,000 jobs generated from the ripple effect of their spending. These jobs accounted for $837 million in income, while the total impact was $3.6 billion (including income and tax revenues). Tax contributions to state and local government amounted to $235.3 million.
In 2009 the number of pedestrians, or persons on foot, crossing into the United States totaled 8.6million persons, about 31.6 percent of total border crossings through Arizona BPOE. The number of pedestrian crossings declined by 24.3 percent between 2008 and 2009 and has seen a decline since its peak in 2007 of 11.8 million of 32.8 percent (Graph 1).
Nogales, Arizona’s largest border crossing saw the highest number of pedestrian crossings with a total of over 4 million crossers or 46.8 percent of total pedestrian crossings (Graph 2). San Luis BPOE had the second highest number of pedestrian border crossers at 2.5 million crossers or 29.4 percent of total pedestrian border crossers followed by the Douglas BPOE with 1.3 million pedestrian crossers or 15 percent.
The number of people crossing into the United States in vehicles which includes personal owned vehicles, buses and trucks through Arizona’s BPOE in 2009 totaled 17.4 million or 68.4 percent of total border crossings in 2009. Since vehicle crossings peaked in 1999 at over 25.6 billion passengers, northbound passenger crossings have declined 32.2 percent. This pronounced decline in passenger crossings can be attributed to recessionary effects on Arizona’s job availability and an increase in border security.
Of Arizona’s six BPOEs, Nogales had the highest number of passenger crossings, accommodating over 8 million crossers or 46.4 percent of total passenger crossings. San Luis had the second highest number of passenger crossers with 4.3 million or 24.6 percent of the total and was followed by Douglas at 3.2 million or 18.5 percent. Arizona’s Naco, Lukeville, and Sasabe BPOE accounted for the remaining 10.1 percent of total passenger crossings (Graph 3).
Vehicle crossings, which include personal owned vehicles, buses and trucks reported 7.8 million total northbound crossings through Arizona’s BPOE in 2009. Total vehicle crossings has declined 36.5 percent since it peaked in 2002 at 27.4 million vehicle crossings. The Nogales BPOE accounted for the highest share of northbound vehicle crossings at 41.8 percent; it was followed by the San Luis BPOE with 30.5 percent and Douglas BPOE with 19.6 of total vehicle traffic (Graph 4).
Apprehension statistics as reported by the U.S. Border Patrol is one of the few available markers regarding unauthorized entry into the United States. The number of apprehensions declined from it’s peak in 2005 of 1,189,000 persons to 724,000 persons in 2008 as shown in Graph 5. The decline in apprehensions between 2005 and 2008 could be the result of increased border enforcement and a drop in U.S. economic growth.
Ninety seven percent of apprehensions transpired along the southwestern border with the majority (91 percent) of apprehended persons being Mexican nationals. Previously, apprehensions spiked in 2000 at 1,676,000 persons. The all-time apprehension record occurred in 1986 with 1,693,000 persons apprehended after the U.S. government passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA).
The passage of IRCA stipulated increased border enforcement, allowed the legalization of millions of unauthorized immigrants, and established employee sanctions for the comprehensive hiring of unauthorized immigrants. A study conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center revealed that the apprehensions have been decreasing in direct relation to the onset of the recessions in U.S economy. As elsewhere, the decline in existing jobs and the lack of new jobs Arizona’s economy delay illegal crossings from Mexico.
Nogales has a well established transportation and warehousing sector that services trade flows and major northbound passenger crossings between Mexico and the United States. In addition Mexican shoppers frequent Arizona's retail trade sectors, contributing substantially to the economy in Nogales, the biggest city in Santa Cruz County. Established in 1935 the U.S. Custom House at Nogales serves as a reminder of the importance of Nogales as the primary BPOE between Arizona and Mexico and is also considered Arizona’s largest international border town. The Nogales BPOE saw the largest share of northbound border crossings in 2009 at 12.1 million crossings accounting for 47.6 percent of all passengers and pedestrians crossings into the U.S. through the Arizona BPOEs. Of these, 66.7 percent crossed in vehicles and 33.3 percent crossed the border as pedestrians.
Border crossings through the Nogales BPOE spiked in both 2000 at 16.6 million crossings and then again in 2007 with 16.8 million crossings. Since 2007, border crossings across the Nogales BPOE have declined 28 percent. This decline in border crossings can be attributed to the effects of the global recession on the spending habits and willingness to travel both in Mexico and the U.S. in addition to increased wait times due to border security measures such as the US-VISIT program, which checks digital visas against police databases of known criminals and suspected terrorists.
The border county of Yuma houses Arizona’s second busiest border crossing and international border town, San Luis. With 27.8 percent of total border crossings in 2009, San Luis has the second highest share of border crossings among Arizona’s BPOE. Total northbound border crossings through the San Luis BPOE peaked in 2002 at 10.9 million people, but in the first few months of 2010 experienced a decline of 37.4 percent. Like elsewhere, this slowdown can be attributed to the downturn in the U.S. economy since December 2007 in combination with new and complex document requirements for entering the U.S. due to security issues. However, San Luis experienced a high flow of pedestrian crossings accounting for 37.2 percent of its reported border crossings due to the proliferation of day workers crossing the border to work on farms and other businesses in Yuma County.
The number of people crossing into the U.S. through the Lukeville BPOE comprised 4.7 percent of total northbound border crossings through Arizona BPOE in 2009. This increase has occurred as students and other vacationers increasingly select Puerto Peñasco as a prime spring break vacation and general retreat location with Lukeville being the most convenient border crossing entry to access the area via State Route 85. The majority of people crossing through the Lukeville BPOE cross in vehicles, which can further be accredited to the fact that Lukeville is a small unincorporated community consisting of a gas station, a duty free shop, a general store, and a bus terminal, and serves primarily as a crossing point for other destinations. Over 75 percent of visitors who shopped in Lukeville went to the general store with 35 percent going to the gas station. Since border crossings through the Lukeville BPOE peaked in 2006 with over 1.48 million crossings it has seen an overall decline of 19.7 percent.
The Naco BPOE is located in the Naco census-designated place in Cochise County. Naco is a small residential community with limited commercial activity resulting in low numbers of northbound pedestrian crossings and a high concentration of passenger border crossings. In 2009 passenger crossings generated 89 percent of total northbound border crossings while pedestrian crossings accounted for only 11 percent. The Naco BPOE contained 2.9 percent of total northbound border crossings through Arizona’s BPOE in 2009. Naco saw substantial increases in border crossings between May 2003 and March 2005, with border crossings peaking at 213,912 passenger crossings in May 2003. Border crossings through Naco BPOE saw a considerable spike in 2004 with over 2.2 million crossings, but the number of crossings has since declined 67.6 percent.
In 2009, 4.5 million persons crossed into the U.S. through the Douglas BPOE, of which 3.2 million crossed in vehicles and 1.3 million crossed on foot. Douglas saw the third largest amount of border crossings amongst Arizona’s BPOE reporting 17.7 percent of total Arizona border crossings for 2009. Northbound crossings through Douglas BPOE spiked in 2002 with 8.5 million total crossings but declined by 47 percent in 2009. Total border crossings in 2009 through the Douglas BPOE have declined by 6.3 percent since 1995. An interesting trend found at the Douglas BPOE is the increase in the volume of pedestrian crossings which has increased by 90 percent since 2000.
Sasabe is Arizona’s smallest BPOE and is considered an unincorporated border community located in southern Pima County. The number of people (passengers and pedestrians) that crossed into the United States through Sasabe BPOE in 2009 was only 0.27 percent of total border crossings through Arizona’s BPOE. While the number of people crossing through the Sasabe BPOE has increased by 12.9 percent since 1995, it has seen a decline of 40.9 percent since its peak in 2003 of 114.8 thousand crossings. These figures show that all of Arizona’s BPOE were affected the global economic downturn and more stringent regulations for entering the United States.
1. Passel, Jeffrey S. and D’Vera Cohn. Mexican Immigrants: How Many Come? How Many Leave? Pew Hispanic Center. Washington, DC. July 22, 2009.
2. Rytina, Nancy and John Simanski. Apprehensions by the U.S. Border Patrol:2005-2008. Office of Immigration Statistics, Department of Homeland Security. June 2009.
Pavlakovich-Kochi, Vera and Alberta H. Charney. The Mexican Visitors to Arizona: Visitor Characteristics and Economic Impacts, 2007-2008. December, 2008.
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