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Maps: Profile of Illegal Border Crossers

Profile of Illegal Border Crossers

The following description of "would-be illegal border crossers" was developed from research conducted by San Diego Dialogue in the San Ysidro Port of Entry (SYPOE), along the fence (FENCE) and in the Casa del migrante (CASA) in Tijuana. Supplemental information is included from the Cañon Zapata Survey (COLEF) conducted by El Colegio de la Frontera Norte. The demographic characteristics of would-be illegal border crossers can vary depending on the place chosen for the attempted crossing.


In the port of entry, women are a major share of would-be illegal crossers and greater than their share elsewhere. Historically, men have been a greater share of the crossers. To the extent that illegal crossers use the fence more than the port of entry, men are still a greater share of all would-be illegal crossers. (The fence population appears to be about 5 times as great as the population in the port based on 1994 monthly data for the apprehensions by the Border Patrol.)

Family Home for Would-be Illegal Border Crossers Michoacán is a Mexican state known for sending migrants to the U.S. In all four sources of information about where the would-be border crossers were from, Michoacán was given as the state of the family home or the place from which the would-be crosser came from by at least 10% of the would-be crossers. Except for the Cañon Zapata Survey (COLEF), the Districto Federal (Mexico City) was also mentioned by at least 10% of those included in the study. Mexico City has not been a traditional family home of migrants to the U.S.


Most would-be illegal border crossers are between 26 and 45 years. Only 1% are over 45. These ages are consistent with the fact that most illegal border crossers are going to the U.S. to work. Almost everyone in the Casa (96%) and on the fence is planning to work. In the San Ysidro Port of Entry, around 30% of illegal border crossers are returning residents and 30% are planning to seek work.

Marital Status

Would-be illegal border crossers on the fence are likely to be single. In the port of entry, possibly reflecting the proportion of women, the share of married persons is higher.

Previous Occupation

Most illegal border crossers worked as operators, fabricators and laborers or in service occupations. Farming occupations rank third. This suggests that migrants come both from the urban and rural areas. State level data cannot accurately separate urban and rural backgrounds. However, 99% of the cities named were large enough to be found easily on a map of México in the World Atlas . Considering that rural areas are the poorest in México, migrants coming to the U.S. are not necessarily the very poorest people from México.

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San Diego Dialogue

San Diego Dialogueis a partnership between the greater San Diego/Tijuana community and the University of California, San Diego for the purpose of addressing large issues of regional development in an atmosphere of quiet deliberation and careful research. San Diego Dialogue was established in 1991, has a membership of nearly 100 leaders from both sides of the border, and is non-partisan. Dr. William J. McGill, former chancellor of UCSD and president emeritus of Columbia University is the chair.

San Diego Dialogue can be reached via the internet at

January, 1996

Updated 03/29/2012