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Updated Mar 28, 2013 - 6:29 pm

Study: Deportation doesn't deter border crossings

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Arrests and deportation from the United States largely isn't effective in keeping Mexican nationals from wanting to re-enter the country, particularly those who consider the United States their home, a study released Thursday by the University of Arizona found.

A team of researchers from the school's Center for Latin American Studies interviewed more than 1,100 people in Mexico within a month of their most recent deportation between 2010 and 2012. More than 60 percent said they wouldn't attempt another crossing within a week, but 56 percent said they would do so in the near future.

The desire to return to the United States comes despite reports from those surveyed of grueling walks through the desert, danger and violence, abuse, incurring debt and losing material possessions, said Jeremy Slack, one of the study's principal investigators. Those interviewed had a median household income of $280 a month before setting out for the United States from Mexico, and more than 40 percent reported being the sole provider for their household.

``That's a huge testament of people's will power,'' Slack said.

The study was released a day after a bipartisan group of U.S. senators crafting a sweeping immigration bill visited the U.S.-Mexico border. The group said it would be ready to unveil the bill aimed at securing the border and putting 11 million illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship when Congress reconvenes in less than two weeks.

Slack said the debate should include ways to keep families together or reunite them, although he acknowledged that might not be popular politically.

``This isn't necessarily a facts-based debate,'' Slack said. ``This is an emotional one. Because of that, there might be a lot of ways our work won't contribute. But perhaps to people who are trying to be more open or challenge some of those assumptions, this work can be very useful and very helpful.''

Half of the survey's respondents had at least one family member who is a U.S. citizen, and one-fourth had a child under age 18 who was born in the United States. Almost half of the respondents intended to make the U.S. their permanent home following their last border crossing, and 28 percent said the United States was their home.

Most of those surveyed previously had crossed the border or attempted to, and nearly three-fourths used a paid guide to do so. They spent an average of two days walking through the desert, with about a third of them running out of food and water.

The U.S. Border Patrol detained about two-thirds of them on their most recent journey into the United States, while the rest of them made it to their destination but later were picked up by authorities, the study said. Most interviewees said they were treated with some level of respect by Border Patrol agents and were happy to be saved when they were lost in the desert.

The researchers interviewed people who were at least 18 years old at ports of entry or shelters after they were returned to Mexico.

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