Chasing the American Dream - As many as 10 million illegal
immigrants now live in U.S.
March 28, Sunday, 8 p.m. ET
Greg Smith / Corbis
What makes people willing to risk their lives in pursuit of the American
Dream? And, do they achieve the dream when they get here? “Chasing
the American Dream” includes rare footage of one Mexican family’s
high-risk journey across the deserts of Arizona in search of a better
life in America. Inspired by her experiences growing up in Los Angeles,
National Geographic Ultimate Explorer host Lisa Ling explores the
issues surrounding immigration into the United States, including looking
at the lives of undocumented workers revitalizing dying heartland
towns in such unexpected places as Oklahoma.
Hispanic immigrants living illegally in the United States are estimated
to contribute billions of dollars to the country’s economy each year,
and their labor supports industries ranging from agriculture to manufacturing
to food service. Many come to the United States to escape poverty,
often working several low-wage jobs to earn money for both themselves
and their families back home. But without proper documentation, these
men and women struggle to live and work under the radar of immigration
It is a difficult life, fraught with low wages, long hours, bottom-of-the-ladder
jobs, no healthcare and a deep-rooted tradition of exploitation. Yet
despite the frustrations of living without documentation, an estimated
half-million immigrants continue to risk their lives each year crossing
the U.S.-Mexico border. More people have died crossing this border
than died trying to cross the Berlin Wall during the Cold War.
Fact sheet: What you need to know about U.S.-Mexico immigration
One of out 20 working people in the U.S. are thought to be illegal.
At least 55 percent of Mexican immigrants in this country are vulnerable
to arrest and deportation at any moment.
As many as 10 million undocumented immigrants live in the U.S. More
than 60 percent of them are Mexican.
The San Ysidro border in Southern California, just across from Tijuana,
Mexico is the busiest international port of entry in the world. An
average of 5,000 vehicles pass through San Ysidro every hour. There
was a time when checkpoints like San Ysidro were the entrance of choice
for illegal immigrants into the U.S. People used to just sprint across
at will, but the laws changed in 1994.
Over the past ten years, the Federal Government has pumped more than
20 billion dollars into security at the four major border checkpoints:
San Diego, Nogales, El Paso, and McAllen. But the number of illegal
Mexican immigrants coming into the U.S. has actually climbed. They’re
just not using the same door to get in.
An estimated 2 out of 3 people who try to cross the U.S.-Mexico border
never make it. More than 2,000 immigrants have died in the wilderness
In 2002, hospitals in Arizona provided more than $40 million in care
to illegal immigrants and didn’t get reimbursed a penny from insurance
companies or Medicaid. Jim Dickinson, Director of Copper Queen Hospital
in Bisbee, Arizona, says they’ve seen almost a 500% increase in care
they’ve had to render for immigrants that are coming from Mexico to
Remittances from the U.S. are the second largest contributor to the
Mexican economy – second only to oil. ($14.5 billion a year)
No matter how we come down on the issue of illegal immigration, it’s
unlikely to disappear anytime soon. The truth is, we could build a
fence from sea to shining sea, and still people would find a way into
the promised land… as immigrants always have.
'National Geographic Explorer: Chasing the American Dream' premieres
March 28, Sunday, 8 p.m. ET on MSNBC.