Among those who returned to Mexico last winter, 77.3 percent said they returned home less frequently over the past five years because it was becoming too difficult to evade the U.S. Border Patrol, too expensive to pay a smuggler to help them cross back or too dangerous, the university study showed. Other research suggests a trend. In 1998, about 45 percent of the nation’s farmworkers said they’d spent time out of the country within the previous year, according to the National Agricultural Workers Survey. By 2002, 28 percent of farmworkers in the country said they’d spent time outside the U.S., the survey said. The U.S. Border Patrol increased enforcement following the 2001 terrorist attacks, catching 905,065 people in 2003 and 1,077,598 in the first eight months of this year. More border patrol agents along stretches that are easier to cross have pushed immigrants into rugged desert and mountain areas. A record 415 people died crossing the border illegally in the fiscal year that ended in September, according to the Border Patrol. The previous high was 383 deaths in 2000. Some examples of the drop in migrant crossings are dramatic. From Nov. 24, 2003, to Jan. 11, 2004, 141,412 immigrants entered Nogales, Mexico, from Arizona, according to Mexican authorities. That fell to 61,981 between November 2004 and January 2005. Between last Nov. 1 and Dec. 14, that number fell to less than 18,000. “Once people come over, they don’t go back because they don’t want to risk being caught,” said Rogelio Fernandez, a doctor and the associate director of the Parlier Family Health Center, which serves mostly farmworkers. University of California, Davis, labor economist Phil Martin calls it the “paradox of tougher enforcement. “You actually get more people to stay,” he said. One indication of the trend can be found in the public schools, where enrollments used to plunge in the winter. In Parlier, the school district has seen its population become more stable in recent years, a trend reflected in towns throughout much of California farm country. Of the district’s 3,400 students, 1,545 are the children of migrants, meaning their families have moved outside the district at least once in the last three years. That’s down from 1,621 migrant students just two years ago. Life can be difficult for those who stay. A 130-unit migrant housing complex, where a furnished apartment rents for $10 a day, shuts down in the fall. This year, 15 of the 25 camps around the state stayed open up to a month and a half longer. Parlier’s camp remained open until the end of October – one month longer than scheduled. With the camps closed, there are few affordable housing options. The town is one of California’s poorest, where many residents rely on seasonal farm work and migrants earn a median income of $6,250. The Community Food Bank of Fresno, which supplies Parlier with produce and other staples once a month, has seen demand rise throughout the San Joaquin Valley, chief executive officer Sarah Reyes said. Last year, the group distributed 7 million pounds of food to Fresno, Kings and Madera counties. This year, the total reached 8.4 million pounds. Immigrants would rather return to Mexico, where they have safety nets, but can’t risk the return trip, said Ron Strochlic, executive director of the California Institute for Rural Studies. “They’re stuck here, living these really deprived existences,” he said. “They are more of a drain on the system, and it’s working in everyone’s detriment.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! PARLIER, Calif. – Acres of leafless vineyards surround this town of 12,000 in California’s San Joaquin Valley, the bare branches a stark reminder that in the middle of winter, there is little work in the fields. Traditionally, many of the migrants who crossed the border illegally to plant and harvest returned home to Mexico by the time the winter fog unfurled over California’s farm belt, emptying towns such as Parlier to spend Christmas and New Year’s with family. That annual migration has slowed dramatically in the past few years, as tougher border enforcement has prompted fears of capture and persuaded many immigrants to stay put – even if there is little work in the U.S. “Who wouldn’t want to be home for Christmas?” asked Jorge Garcia, 26, who left the Mexican state of Michoacan two years ago to join two cousins and a brother working the grapevines around this town just south of Fresno. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECoach Doc Rivers a “fan” from way back of Jazz’s Jordan Clarkson Like roughly half the men and women who work the fields in the United States, he came illegally. He had hoped to go home during the winter, after the vines were pruned. Now, the fruit stands scattered around town are empty and shuttered, and there’s little for him to do. “Going home is too expensive and dangerous,” he said. Garcia and others like him choose to live meagerly through the winter rather than risk capture or dying of exposure when they try to return. Reliable numbers are hard to find, but a January 2005 survey by researchers at the University of California, San Diego, found that 37 percent of undocumented immigrants returning to Mexico had stayed in the U.S. longer than they expected. About 79 percent of those interviewed said they knew someone who had remained in the United States because of more stringent border enforcement.