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Border Enforcement, Organized Crime, and Deaths of Smuggled Migrants on the United States – Mexico Border


In response to ever increasing numbers of illegal immigrants entering the United States from Mexico, the United States adopted a border enforcement strategy in the 1990s that sought to bring the problem under control. This strategy relied primarily on increasing the number of Border Patrol agents directly on the border, the erection of walls at heavy traffic areas, and insertion of electronic surveillance systems. While these efforts succeeded in making it more difficult for illegal migrants to gain entry into the United States undetected, it also resulted in an increased reliance on human smugglers. Thus, the nature of the problem has shifted from one of illegal immigration to one of human smuggling. In an effort to gain entry successfully, smugglers have continued to lead migrants through hazardous terrain along the border where surveillance is less intense. Anecdotal evidence is presented which suggests that smugglers' drive for profit often results in the abandonment and death of migrants. Implications for future border policing strategy and research are discussed.

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Correspondence to Rob T. Guerette.

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An earlier draft of this paper was presented at the International Conference on Organized Crime and Humanitarian Disasters at the initiative of the International Scientific and Professional Advisory Council of the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme (ISPAC) in cooperation with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Courmayeur Mont Blanc, Italy, December 3–5, 2004.

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Guerette, R.T., Clarke, R.V. Border Enforcement, Organized Crime, and Deaths of Smuggled Migrants on the United States – Mexico Border. Eur J Crim Policy Res 11, 159–174 (2005).

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Key Words

  • human smuggling
  • illegal immigration
  • migrant deaths
  • migrant smuggling
  • organized crime
  • unauthorized immigration
  • undocumented immigration