"Here, they say you can't cross the river right now because there are a lot of kidnappings. They're killing a lot of people," said Josue Manuel Vazquez, who added that he escaped kidnappers who held him for five days as they tried to extort $4,500 from his daughter, a legal U.S. resident.
Some contend the budget cuts are relatively small when put in the broader context of the huge build-up of border security over the past decade.
According to the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Homeland Security assigned about 28,100 people in 2004 to patrol land borders and inspect travelers at all ports of entry at a cost of about $5.9 billion. By the end of 2011, those figures were 41,400 employees at a cost of $11.8 billion.
"The scale of (automatic budget cuts) is minuscule compared to the vast build-up," said Geoff Boyce, spokesman for No More Deaths, an immigration advocacy group in Tucson, Ariz.
The effects of the cuts are being seen in border cities and among agents. Customs and Border Protection reduced overtime for its officers at ports of entry. In San Diego and other crossing points, that translated to fewer lanes open at land crossings and longer waits for people and trucks carrying produce and other goods from Mexico.
Those waits are only expected to worsen in coming weeks as the agency begins furloughs amid a hiring freeze. In a letter to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned that peak wait times at the busiest border crossings could reach five hours or more.
Border Patrol agents received notices advising them they would face up to 14 days of furloughs during the next six months and would no longer be eligible for overtime that for years has added an average of two hours to every agent's shift.