By land or by sea, tougher U.S. border tests illegal immigrants

Wed Mar 20, 2013 1:22pm EDT
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By Dave Graham

TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexican grandmother Lucia Angulo has entered the United States illegally so often over the past three decades that she has lost count of how many times border patrols caught her.

But when she left San Diego to visit her dying mother in Mexico last April, she knew it would be harder than ever to return. Nearly a year later, she was still trying.

Angulo is one of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to the United States who have felt the force of tougher U.S. policing, new barriers and record deportations, which have helped cut to nil the net migration flow from south to north, according to a study last year by the non-partisan Pew Hispanic Center.

That an experienced border crosser like Angulo has struggled to make it back matters not just to her and her family, but to policymakers in Washington as Congress embarks on what may be the biggest overhaul to U.S. immigration laws since 1986.

How effective U.S. border security is in stopping illegal immigration will be vital to convincing lawmakers, mostly Republicans, to back the bipartisan reform and accept some of its more ambitious parts, such as creating a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.

President Barack Obama and many other Democrats back the promise of citizenship, partly to placate Hispanic voters who turned out overwhelmingly for them in last November's elections.

After her mother died in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, Angulo went to the border city of Tijuana opposite San Diego. At first sleeping on the beach, she spent months watching the new 16-foot-high (5-metre) ocean fence that divides Mexico from the United States, and waited for fog or rain to give her cover to cross.

In October, Angulo made her move, trying to swim around the border. But the waves were too strong and she gave up, afraid of drowning. On October 30, she was helped over the fence, but a U.S. border patrolman spotted her and she fled back. Hours later, Angulo climbed it again, was arrested and sent back to Mexico.   Continued...

Mexican grandmother Lucia Angulo stands near the border fence between Mexico and the U.S. in Tijuana February 25, 2013. To match Feature USA-IMMIGRATION/MEXICO REUTERS/Jorge Duenes