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The Border Line: A Photo Essay

The border between the U.S. and Mexico is a complicated and controversial place. Every year, thousands of illegal immigrants cross the border seeking a better life. Some of these dreams stop in the desert, where many die from dehydration. Some activists come to their aid by leaving bottles of water in the desert. But the heat isn't the only enemy of the migrant. Other activists watch the fence and alert Border Patrol of suspicious activity. This photo essay attempts to capture these elements. (Photography by Julien Pearce)

Related Story: "European Perspective On US-Mexico Border: Build Economies Not Fences"

As of January 22, 2010, U.S. Customs and Border Protection had completed roughly 643 miles of fencing (344 miles of primary pedestrian fence and 298 miles of vehicle fence) along the Southwest border. This is the most modern version of the fence in southern San Diego.

As of January 22, 2010, U.S. Customs and Border Protection had completed roughly 643 miles of fencing (344 miles of primary pedestrian fence and 298 miles of vehicle fence) along the Southwest border. This is the most modern version of the fence in southern San Diego.

Photo by Julien Pearce

In 2005, Congress approved the construction of the U.S.-Mexico border fence for an initial cost of $2 billion. Tijuana can be seen on the right just beyond the fence.

In 2005, Congress approved the construction of the U.S.-Mexico border fence for an initial cost of $2 billion. Tijuana can be seen on the right just beyond the fence.

Photo by Julien Pearce

This year, the U.S. will spend $3.6 billion patrolling the country’s borders - almost triple the amount spent 10 years ago.

This year, the U.S. will spend $3.6 billion patrolling the country’s borders - almost triple the amount spent 10 years ago.

Photo by Julien Pearce

U.S. Border Patrol agents have seen a decrease in illegal crossing attempts in the past two years. This agent believes the decrease stems from the economic recession.

U.S. Border Patrol agents have seen a decrease in illegal crossing attempts in the past two years. This agent believes the decrease stems from the economic recession.

Photo by Julien Pearce

Jose, 45, is an illegal worker coming from Puebla, Mexico. He first crossed the border three years ago but now plans to return home because of the economy.

Jose, 45, is an illegal worker coming from Puebla, Mexico. He first crossed the border three years ago but now plans to return home because of the economy.

Photo by Julien Pearce

Agriculture and tourism are the main jobs that employ unauthorized workers in California.

Agriculture and tourism are the main jobs that employ unauthorized workers in California.

Photo by Julien Pearce

Andrés is one of the three million illegal immigrants who live in California. He first crossed the border in 1999 and used to be a coyote, human trafficker, for years. Now he works as a day laborer.

Andrés is one of the three million illegal immigrants who live in California. He first crossed the border in 1999 and used to be a coyote, human trafficker, for years. Now he works as a day laborer.

Photo by Julien Pearce

On the Mexican side of the fence, crosses represent the migrants who died during crossing attempts. Some crosses bear names, ages and hometowns of the migrants, while some are unidentified. The Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs lists 2,554 Mexican migrants who have died during their attempts since 2004.

On the Mexican side of the fence, crosses represent the migrants who died during crossing attempts. Some crosses bear names, ages and hometowns of the migrants, while some are unidentified. The Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs lists 2,554 Mexican migrants who have died during their attempts since 2004.

Photo by Julien Pearce

Enrique Morones, founder of the Border Angels, drives through the desert toward Terrace Park Cemetery in Holtville. Border Angels is a faith-based group that helps illegal immigrants to survive in the desert.

Enrique Morones, founder of the Border Angels, drives through the desert toward Terrace Park Cemetery in Holtville. Border Angels is a faith-based group that helps illegal immigrants to survive in the desert.

Photo by Julien Pearce

A Border Angels volunteer places a cross at a grave in Terrace Park Cemetery in Holtville (Imperial County).

A Border Angels volunteer places a cross at a grave in Terrace Park Cemetery in Holtville (Imperial County).

Photo by Julien Pearce

Undocumented migrants who died in Imperial Valley are buried in Terrace Park Cemetery in Holtville. There are over 250 gravesites of unidentified people named John Does or Jane Does. Most of them are illegal immigrants.

Undocumented migrants who died in Imperial Valley are buried in Terrace Park Cemetery in Holtville. There are over 250 gravesites of unidentified people named John Does or Jane Does. Most of them are illegal immigrants.

Photo by Julien Pearce

Border Angels drop bottles of water in the desert and near the fence where migrants pass. One of the main causes of migrant deaths is dehydration.

Border Angels drop bottles of water in the desert and near the fence where migrants pass. One of the main causes of migrant deaths is dehydration.

Photo by Julien Pearce

Peering through a hole in the rusty fence, the new barbed wire fence can be seen. The increased fencing has pushed migrants to the desert or Arizona where it is still easier to cross.

Peering through a hole in the rusty fence, the new barbed wire fence can be seen. The increased fencing has pushed migrants to the desert or Arizona where it is still easier to cross.

Photo by Julien Pearce

A tractor tire is pulled behind Border Patrols vehicles to erase tracks on the road. This makes it easier to identify fresh tracks left by migrants.

A tractor tire is pulled behind Border Patrols vehicles to erase tracks on the road. This makes it easier to identify fresh tracks left by migrants.

Photo by Julien Pearce

These AK47 shell casings were collected at crime scenes in Tijuana. The shell and bullet on the left came from an incident where a policeman was murdered. Those on the right involved the death of a drug dealer.

These AK47 shell casings were collected at crime scenes in Tijuana. The shell and bullet on the left came from an incident where a policeman was murdered. Those on the right involved the death of a drug dealer.

Photo by Julien Pearce

A cross stands where Border Patrol Agent Robert Wimer Rosas Jr. was killed while attempting to apprehend a group of people crossing the border on July 23, 2009. Christian Daniel Castro-Alvarez, 17 years old, confessed to the crime and was sentenced to 40 years to prison.

A cross stands where Border Patrol Agent Robert Wimer Rosas Jr. was killed while attempting to apprehend a group of people crossing the border on July 23, 2009. Christian Daniel Castro-Alvarez, 17 years old, confessed to the crime and was sentenced to 40 years to prison.

Photo by Julien Pearce

A member of the Minuteman Project watches the fence on the top of his van. He goes nowhere without his loaded Beretta.

A member of the Minuteman Project watches the fence on the top of his van. He goes nowhere without his loaded Beretta.

Photo by Julien Pearce

Jim Gilchrist, 61, is a Vietnam War veteran who founded the Minuteman Project in 2004. The Minutemen watch the border to alert Border Patrol of illegal activity.

Jim Gilchrist, 61, is a Vietnam War veteran who founded the Minuteman Project in 2004. The Minutemen watch the border to alert Border Patrol of illegal activity.

Photo by Julien Pearce

Britt Craig, 61, is also a Vietnam War veteran. He lost an eye from a grenade explosion during his duty. Britt lives in his van four days a week to watch the border near Campo (East San Diego County).

Britt Craig, 61, is also a Vietnam War veteran. He lost an eye from a grenade explosion during his duty. Britt lives in his van four days a week to watch the border near Campo (East San Diego County).

Photo by Julien Pearce

Britt Craig demonstrates how migrants climb the fence using its features as a ladder.

Britt Craig demonstrates how migrants climb the fence using its features as a ladder.

Photo by Julien Pearce

At the San Ysidro border crossing, vehicles drive across these markers identifying the line between the U.S. and Mexico.

At the San Ysidro border crossing, vehicles drive across these markers identifying the line between the U.S. and Mexico.

Photo by Julien Pearce

San Ysidro port of entry is the busiest land border crossing in the world. It connects Tijuana to San Diego.

San Ysidro port of entry is the busiest land border crossing in the world. It connects Tijuana to San Diego.

Photo by Julien Pearce

Maria came legally to the United States after her illegally father crossed the border 36 years ago. He obtained legal residency through the Information Reform and Control Act of 1986.

Maria came legally to the United States after her illegally father crossed the border 36 years ago. He obtained legal residency through the Information Reform and Control Act of 1986.

Photo by Julien Pearce

Maria’s one-year-old son was born in the U.S. According to Maria, the boy’s father, an illegal immigrant, is in jail for driving without a driving license. He is waiting to be deported to Mexico.

Maria’s one-year-old son was born in the U.S. According to Maria, the boy’s father, an illegal immigrant, is in jail for driving without a driving license. He is waiting to be deported to Mexico.

Photo by Julien Pearce

A man walks along a rusty segment of the fence on the Mexican side. Many migrants travel north through Mexico with hopes of crossing the border, but settle in Tijuana because of the difficulty associated with the crossing.

A man walks along a rusty segment of the fence on the Mexican side. Many migrants travel north through Mexico with hopes of crossing the border, but settle in Tijuana because of the difficulty associated with the crossing.

Photo by Julien Pearce

The border fence extends west across the hills toward the ocean. Tijuana’s urban development is dense near the border.

The border fence extends west across the hills toward the ocean. Tijuana’s urban development is dense near the border.

Photo by Julien Pearce

The Mexican flag in Tijuana can be seen prominently from the U.S. side of the border. Tijuana is the sixth-largest metropolitan area in Mexico with a population of 1.5 million. By comparison, San Diego County has about 3 million people.

The Mexican flag in Tijuana can be seen prominently from the U.S. side of the border. Tijuana is the sixth-largest metropolitan area in Mexico with a population of 1.5 million. By comparison, San Diego County has about 3 million people.

Photo by Julien Pearce

Kids play soccer in the street in Tijuana. Mexicans around the world sent home $21 billion in 2009.

Kids play soccer in the street in Tijuana. Mexicans around the world sent home $21 billion in 2009.

Photo by Julien Pearce

The border between the U.S. and Mexico extends into the Pacific Ocean.

The border between the U.S. and Mexico extends into the Pacific Ocean.

Photo by Julien Pearce

A child plays in the sand while ignoring the fence that stands behind him.

A child plays in the sand while ignoring the fence that stands behind him.

Photo by Julien Pearce

San Diego can be seen on horizon through the border fence at the ocean.

San Diego can be seen on horizon through the border fence at the ocean.

Photo by Julien Pearce

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