LOS ANGELES (AP) - A majority of recent illegal immigrants from Mexico came into the United Stated using smugglers, a significant increase from less than half who relied on them 15 years ago, according to a study by the University of California, San Diego.
Also startling, more than half said they recently made it across on the first or second try, despite increased border security.
The study by Wayne Cornelius, director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at UCS, was one of the topics discussed Thursday at a conference on immigration and homeland security hosted by the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute.
Speakers at the conference called on Congress and President Bush to reach an agreement on immigration that would combine a guest worker program with some kind of an amnesty.
The study by Cornelius, based on interviews with 600 potential migrants in towns in the Mexican states of Zacatecas and Jalisco, found that 84 percent who crossed recently had used smugglers. His 1989 study found that less than half had relied on smugglers.
Once in the United States, immigrants are staying longer and are more likely to bring their families, experts said.
"They are staying in the U.S. longer because we've succeeded in making it too costly and dangerous to cross back," Cornelius told the audience of federal and local officials, immigration attorneys and community activists.
The time undocumented Mexican immigrants stayed in the United States increased somewhat between 1993, when the Clinton administration began tightening the border, and 2000, according to recent Mexican government studies.
The number of weeks the migrants stayed in this country climbed from an average of 40 weeks to 50 weeks, with the reasons for their departures varying. Their stay jumped from 50 weeks to an average of 70 weeks between 2000 and 2002.
Meanwhile, nearly half of Mexicans living in the country illegally today are women and children, a far cry from the days when a male relative would come to the United States and send money to his family back home, Cornelius said.
"We always want to think about these people as labor, but these people are often family people and their families do come," said Harry Pachon, director of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute.