4 Challenges Immigrants Face Before the Border Fence

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UPDATE: March 28, 2013, 3pm

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said on Thursday that the woman apprehended was a 24-year-old Mexican national.

In a moment so well-timed it almost felt orchestrated, a group of senators touring a stretch of the border in Arizona encountered a woman trying to scale the border fence and cross into the U.S. on Wednesday.

See Also: Will The Next Immigration Wave Come From This Region?

The senators are part of a bipartisan group working on an immigration reform bill and were visiting Arizona to learn more about the border.

At present, reporters don't know who the woman was. She was apprehended by Border Patrol, according to a tweet by Sen. John McCain, a Republican member of the group in Arizona.

While we don't know anything about this woman, we'll venture that the 18-foot border fence wasn't the only obstacle that she confronted trying to reach the U.S. from Mexico.

In fact, for many migrants, the fence -- in this case, roughly as tall as two basketball hoops -- isn't even the most dangerous part of the journey north.

Here are some of the challenges that migrants might have to brave before reaching the border fence:

1. Travel

Geography plays a big part in how hard it is to reach the U.S.-Mexico border. If you're from Mexico, you'll have a shorter trip than someone coming from Central or South America. And some migrants come from as far as China to cross the southwest border.

For the poorest migrants from Central America, traveling north can mean riding on the top of a freight train that runs north through Mexico. Dubbed "La Bestia," or "The Beast," the train has a reputation for maiming its riders as they get on and off. Migrants also need to worry about getting robbed or raped by other riders. Even after a robbery, an unauthorized Central American migrant might be leery of going to the Mexican police for help.

The more money you have, the more comfortable you can travel. A bus ride or even a flight to the border would minimize the risk that other migrants face riding on top of a train, but for those without financial resources, that's not an option.

2. Health

Anyone traveling outside their home country might be concerned about a health problem cropping up.

But the risk increases when you factor in the nature of trying to cross into the U.S. illegally. Whether you're with a coyote, in an unguided group or alone, you'll likely want to cross in a secluded area to avoid detection.

The border around California is heavily secured, so that means crossing in via arid, remote parts of Arizona and Texas. That means when marching through the desert, a broken ankle can go from a minor injury to a fatality. Firsthand accounts from migrants included stories of people who are left behind when they are injured and can't keep up with the group. Add to this the temperature. In some areas, temperatures can soar during the day, but also plummet at night.

3. Food and Drink

When crossing the desert, dehydration can be a major concern. You can only carry so much, and it needs to last from when you enter the desert to when you leave.

If you get lost, you may suddenly find it takes days longer to cross than you had originally anticipated.

You might not find your bearings at all. Border Patrol finds the bodies of hundreds of migrants in the desert each year, and activists estimate that since 1994, there have been more than 6,000 deaths along the border.

The Arizona group No More Deaths has said the number could be five to 10 times higher, since the desert is so vast.

4. Money

This impacts every aspect of your trip. If you have a good deal of money, you can travel more safely.

Think about it: with enough money, you're probably more likely to hire a lawyer, try to get a tourist visa, hop on a plane and enter legally.

But most migrants crossing the southwest border illegally are coming to the U.S. looking for work. So the amount of money they have available for the trip north is probably limited.

A coyote will help you cross into the U.S., but can cost thousands of dollars. Still, there's no guarantee the trip will be a success.

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