More Fencing and More Patrols Won't Stop Immigration

Migrants see themselves as valuable part of American economy, not law breakers.

U.S. border patrol agents and a pilot from the U.S. Office of Air and Marine talk on April 11, 2013, in La Joya, Texas.

More border agents, longer fences and harsher punishments may not deter illegal border crossings, a new report finds.

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The Senate's solution to curb illegal migration in the U.S. is $46 billion, 700 miles of new border fencing, and 20,000 new border patrol agents.

[READ: Why Immigration to the U.S. Is More Dangerous Than Ever]

But a build up in infrastructure may not be enough to deter immigrants from entering the country illegally.

A new study out of the University of Southern California shows that "neither threat nor punishment" may keep immigrants from crossing the border illegally. Other factors such as economic opportunity and family reunification are much stronger pulls to keep them coming.

"Perhaps there is very little that border enforcement can do. Increased enforcement in the past has had little impact on the total volume of unauthorized migration into the U.S. as well as an individual's propensity to migrate," says Emily Ryo, a law school professor and researcher at USC.

Mexican migration in particular has been on the decline as the economy in Mexico has steadily improved. In 2011, the most recent data available, the number of Mexicans living in the U.S. illegally was at its lowest rate in two decades.

In her full report, Ryo found that many migrants don't view crossing the border illegally as an immoral offense partly because it is such a common occurrence within the Mexican community, a cultural norm.

[VOTE: How Much Border Security Is Enough? ]

"Communities with a long history and high prevalence of out-migration might have a culture of migration and, for many young men, migration can be seen as a rite of passage," Ryo says.

The other factor Ryo discovered was that many migrants view crossing the border illegally as the only choice they have to overcome an unfair and hypocritical visa system.

"They see that there is a huge gap in our political rhetoric and the economic reality," Ryo says. "They talk about the fact that the work they do, that that kind of work results in benefits to the American economy."

Take for example agricultural workers. A report by the National Center for Farmworker Health shows that 70 percent of them are foreign born, 68 percent born in Mexico and about half of the migrants are not authorized to work in the United States.

But scores of researchers, pundits and politicians recognize that without the workers - legal or not – the country wouldn't be able to support the $28 billion fruit and vegetable industry. A report by the Center for Global Development released a report in May showing that despite the fact that North Carolina had high unemployment, only 163 North Carolinians reported to work in the fields and just seven stayed for the entire growing season.

One deterrent, however, that left many migrants from crossing the border illegally was increasing fear that it may cost them their life.

"The situation weighs heavily, way more than concern over border enforcement," Ryo says.

[ALSO: On the Border, Fear of More Security Grows]

The danger, ironically, is a result of the border build up. As more and more border agents have been deployed to the southwest border, migrants have been forced to take more treacherous routes through remote areas, resulting in a spike in migrant deaths.

During a July press conference, lawmakers gathered to warn that a build up of the border wasn't going to stop migrants. They argued it would only lead to more migrant deaths.

"We have seen increasing deaths of migrants despite decreasing crossing attempts," Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas., said during the July presser. "It's logical to assume that if we continue to wall up, militarize and fortify the border, we're going to push those fewer and fewer migrants who choose to cross into more treacherous territory, thereby ensuring greater death and suffering."

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