In response to the early 1990s return to increased cross-border illegal traffic flows, the INS launched a series of aggressive Border Patrol initiatives in the mid-1990s. In September 1993, the El Paso sector began "Operation Blockade" later renamed "Operation Hold-the-Line". Increased Border Patrol staffing and activities appeared successful as apprehension fell by more than half the following year. In the San Diego/Tijuana area, "Operation Safeguard" met with similar results in 1995. However, numerical declines in these areas did not necessarily indicate overall border deterrence.
The failure of the North American Free Trade Agreement to alleviate significant economic inequalities and the Mexican financial "bail out" in 1994 perpetuated the high number of immigrants entering the US, unleashing a renewed nativist sentiment in the United States as witnessed by California law makers approval of Proposition 187. In 1996, the Mexican congress voted to change the Mexican constitution to permit dual citizenship. These two factors have combined to touch off a new flood of applications for naturalization in the late 1990 s producing a new influx of illegal immigrant family members seeking entry into the US.
Redirected migrant flows through rural sections of the border materialized as border crossers adopted new strategies to enter the US. Immediately after the implementation of the El Paso and San Diego border initiatives, the regions most impacted were the El Centro, CA sector, where apprehensions doubled, and the Tucson Sector, where apprehensions tripled between 1993 and 1996. By 2000, the Tucson sector far outdistanced all others in number of apprehensions with a staggering 616,346, followed by El Centro with just over a third that number.
Concurrent with rising apprehensions of illegal migrants, the 1990s reflect a staggering increase in the smuggling of illegal drugs. vAs the Southwest borders have become more militarized, many scholars and activists have focused on the human costs of undocumented border transit. Since 1997 there have been an estimated 1,600 possible fatalities associated with illicit border crossing, mostly due to hypothermia, hyperthermia, and dehydration.
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