Migrant deaths along the Arizona border are down, latest statistics show, while instances of "birth tourism" — when expectant women from Mexico cross into the U.S. to give birth — is not as widespread as previously thought.
According to USA Today, the U.S. Border Patrol has recorded 132 migrant deaths through July 31, compared with the 212 migrant deaths logged during the same 10-month period in the fiscal year before.
That 38 percent drop corresponds with a 44 percent drop in illegal-immigrant apprehensions by the Tucson Sector, which covers the majority of Arizona's border with Mexico. The sector made 108,900 apprehensions through July 31, compared with 194,065 during the same period last year.
Speaking at a border security conference in El Paso, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin credited the decline to the 6,000 agents patrolling Southern Arizona, and the increased use of aircraft and drones in the Tucson sector.
Bersin said the U.S. recession and a growing Mexican economy had also contributed to the decline in the number of illegal immigrants, the Houston Chronicle reports.
However, Border Patrol officials were hesitant to draw a link between the drop in migrant deaths and the drop in apprehensions, USA Today reports.
Last fiscal year, Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, the agency also recorded a drop in illegal-immigrant apprehensions, but migrant deaths soared that year to 249, a record.
Critics have previously blamed rises in migrant deaths on Border Patrol policies that have pushed migrants and smugglers into more remote and dangerous areas of the desert. But figures this year indicate that despite more tougher enforcement measures, migrant deaths declined.
Meantime, accepted wisdom about Mexican women entering the U.S. legally as tourists and paying cash to deliver babies at hospitals in Nogales, Yuma and Tucson is under renewed scrutiny.
"Birth tourism," as it has been dubbed has been occurring along the border for years, USA Today reports, a result of the widespread perception among foreigners or various nationalities that medical care is better in the U.S. — and the fact that their babies automatically become U.S. citizens, under the 14th Amendment.
Expectant women from overseas also arrive by plane with tourist visas, with the goal of giving birth during their stay.
But, the paper reports:
there is little proof the practice is widespread, even in border states such as Arizona, where last year less than 2 percent of babies were born to non-resident mothers.
Although up nearly 50 percent since 2000, the 7,462 children are still just a tiny fraction of the 4,255,156 babies born in the U.S. that year.
A much larger number of children are born to undocumented parents residing in the U.S., "which supporters of limiting birthright citizenship also point to as a problem," the paper reports.
The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that 350,000 children with at least one undocumented parent residing in the U.S. were born in the U.S. in 2009. That is about 8 percent of all births that year.