In 1994, President Bill Clinton established a prevention through deterrence border security strategy for the Border Patrol that concentrated enforcement resources on major entry corridors.

This made it more difficult for migrants to make illegal entries at those locations. Consequently, many of them went around those areas to make their entries at remote locations that were not patrolled so heavily, such as the Arizona desert.

This resulted in a humanitarian crisis.

According to U.S. Border Patrol data, 7,216 people died while illegally crossing the southwest border at remote locations in the 20-year period from FY 1998 to FY 2017. Most of them perished in the desert from dehydration, hypothermia or heatstroke.

The actual number of deaths is much higher. According to CNN, the Border Patrol usually just counts dead bodies they discover while patrolling the border. In FY 2017, for instance, the Border Patrol reported 294 deaths, but CNN identified at least 102 more, not including scores of other likely crossing deaths in which officials were not able determine whether the remains were migrants.

Clinton’s plan was to make some of the resources available for other locations when the Border Patrol had control over the major corridors. The Border Patrol would then monitor the flow of illegal entries and shift resources to areas that had a lot of activity.

The instructions on implementing the strategy acknowledged, however, that although the Border Patrol knew where apprehensions were made, it did not have a reliable way to determine where aliens who eluded them were crossing. This made it difficult to know where to place additional resources.


Published originally on The Hill.

Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an executive branch immigration law expert for three years. He subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years.