United States-Mexico border crossing: Experiences and risk perceptions of undocumented male immigrants

Lawrence A. Deluca, Marylyn M. McEwen, Samuel M. Keim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Undocumented immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border face many hazards as they attempt to enter the United States, including heat and cold injury, dehydration, and wild animal encounters. In the Tucson sector of the US-Mexico border, there are over 100 deaths a year from heat-related injuries alone. Public awareness campaigns have been undertaken to disseminate information on the dangers inherent in crossing. Little is known, however, about the ways in which undocumented immigrants actually receive information regarding the risks of crossing the border, how such information impacts their preparation for crossing or how the journey itself effects their motivation to cross again in the future. A qualitative descriptive method was used to describe and analyze information from adult males who had attempted to illegally cross the US-Mexico Border and had recently been returned to Mexico. Semi-structured interviews were conducted, and responses were classified into several broad themes. Interviews were conducted and analyzed iteratively until thematic saturation was achieved. The responses validated the established risks as being commonplace. A total of eight (8) male undocumented immigrants participated in the interviews. Individuals sought information prior to crossing from the media, their families and friends, and acquaintances in border towns. They did not appear to value any particular information source over any other. New areas of risk were identified, such as traveling with others who might have new or existing medical problems. There was also substantial concern for the family unit as both a source of inspiration and motivation. The family emerged as an additional at-risk unit due to the destabilization and financial strain of having one of its members leave to attempt to immigrate to the US for work. While many planned to cross again, the majority of the men in our sample had no intention of seeking permanent residence in the US, instead planning to work and then return to their families in Mexico. This preliminary study found that individuals crossing the US-Mexico border appear willing to put themselves and their families at substantial perceived risk in order to seek economic opportunity. Future public awareness campaigns may choose to shift focus solely from the individual risk of the crossing to the additional risks to family and community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)113-123
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Immigrant and Minority Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2010


  • Border crosser
  • Heat stroke
  • Risk perception
  • Undocumented immigrant

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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