NOGALES, Mexico – Men and women recently deported from the United States often sleep here at night among the dead in a pebble-strewn graveyard, a hillside resting place, where winding, dusty trails bisect stone markers decorated with candles, flowers and personal mementos.
But Franklin Alexander Ordonez Ordonez, from the violent Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, was preparing to sneak back into the United States, his fourth attempt following three U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions. Ordonez said no number of arrests would discourage him from a familiar goal: Find work in America and send money home.
"I'll try until I make it," Ordonez, 29, said in Spanish. "It doesn't matter how many times it takes."
His repeated arrests are a common story, too. Despite efforts by the Border Patrol to deter migrants from entering the country without authorization and curtail repeat offenses, interviews and data newly obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting spotlight a revolving door where agents still see many of the same faces again and again.
The number of immigrants caught crossing the border illegally by the Border Patrol is at historic lows, which authorities attribute to bolstered security measures and the faltering U.S. economy. But in more than 21,000 cases last year, agents apprehended border crossers who already had been caught six or more times. According to the data, more than 100,000 cases involved two or more previous apprehensions. Five crossers had at least 60 apprehensions on their records when nabbed in 2012. The findings, along with an upcoming report by a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, challenge the Border Patrol's assertion that delivering consequences to offenders – criminal charges in the case of one program called Operation Streamline – can successfully dissuade people with little to lose who are determined to enter the country.
CIR obtained a database of immigration violations under the Freedom of Information Act, and it details about 365,000 immigration apprehensions made by the Border Patrol during the past fiscal year.
During the year, more than 183,000 people were apprehended for the first time, according to the data. Most are from Mexico, but tens of thousands more came from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. They might have been apprehended at other times throughout the year. In nearly 7,000 cases, no information is available on how many times they were caught previously.
As Congress grapples with the possibility of immigration reform, a key element for some lawmakers is the expansion of Operation Streamline, which the Border Patrol credits for reducing recidivism. Detractors say it's a costly strategy that jeopardizes due-process rights, clogs federal courts and might not yield results the Border Patrol intends.
For years, the Border Patrol's strategy has been to discourage crossers with fencing, surveillance technology and an increased number of agents standing watch over the nation's boundary with Mexico, an approach known as "deterrence."
"Deterrence is a failed strategy for the Border Patrol, even though that's what they claim is our main goal," said Shawn Moran, a vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, a union representing agents. "Displacement is actually what's happening. We squeeze one area, they show up in another."