Adam Isacson

Still trying to understand Latin America, my own country, and why so few consequences are intended. These views are not necessarily my employer’s.

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Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: June 24, 2022

With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. See past weekly updates here.

This week:

  • Several data points across border sectors—including a shocking 10 drownings in El Paso’s irrigation canals since June 9—point to a historically high number of migrants dying in the Rio Grande and on U.S. soil this year, mainly of drownings, dehydration, and falls from tall segments of the border wall.
  • The Supreme Court was expected to issue a ruling this week on the Biden administration’s effort to end the “Remain in Mexico” program, but no decision came. Media reports this week revealed that one woman assigned to Remain in Mexico attempted suicide in June, and three men were kidnapped in April.
  • Migration levels remain very high in June across the border. A court filing showed that CBP is increasingly granting parole—which doesn’t include an assigned immigration court date—while releasing migrants with tracking devices. Remnants of an early June caravan are arriving near the U.S. border, though Mexican states have been preventing the mostly Venezuelan migrants  from boarding buses.
  • Mexico sent hundreds more troops to the border cities of Tijuana and Matamoros in response to outbreaks of violence. A document from Mexico’s Defense Department shows the current extent of the military’s border-security and migrant-interdiction mission.

The migrant death toll increases further

Migrants continue to die at the U.S.-Mexico border, usually of drowning, dehydration, or falls from the border wall, with a frequency that appears unprecedented. WOLA’s Border Updates of May 13, May 27, June 3, and June 17 discussed migrant deaths. While U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has not reported official border-wide deaths data since 2020 (despite a legal requirement to do so), partial information points to the trend worsening further.

Since the U.S. government’s 2022 fiscal year began in October, CBP has reported 14,278 “search and rescue efforts,” which already exceeds 12,833 rescues in all of fiscal 2021 (October 2020-September 2021).

The U.S. Border Patrol divides the Mexico border into nine sectors. In its El Paso Sector, which covers 264 border miles in far west Texas and all of New Mexico, the agency reports recovering the remains of 37 migrants who died of injuries, drowning, dehydration, or vehicle strikes since October, according to a thoroughly reported El Paso Times story. Border Patrol had recovered 39 remains in all of fiscal 2021, and fiscal 2022 still has 3 very hot months to go.

Fifteen of the thirty-seven migrants who have died in the sector in 2022 have drowned in fast-flowing irrigation canals that run from the Rio Grande. At least 10 people have drowned in the two weeks since June 9, as “irrigation season”—when authorities increase the flow of water through the canals—has just begun.

“The purpose of the canal is to get water as fast as possible to our agriculture community,” Border Patrol Agent Orlando Marrero told the El Paso Times. “At 62 pounds per square foot, the water traveling nine miles per hour will create exactly 302 pounds of force. Imagine an average person, five-feet-eight or nine, in 10-foot deep water: There is no way. They are going to be swept.” Fernando García of the El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights, said, “We have never seen so many deaths in a short period of time. The structure of that canal means that whoever falls there does not come out alive.”

The danger is worse in El Paso’s American Canal, where the most drownings have occurred, because it runs right alongside a segment of border fence that was built to 30 feet during the Trump administration. “That made it more dangerous,” Irrigation district manager Jesus Reyes told the El Paso Times. “Those people are coming over and, in some cases, they climb over and fall directly into the canal.”

Five of the sector’s thirty-seven deaths in 2022 have been heat-related: while the El Paso area’s Chihuahuan Desert is not as intensely hot as Arizona’s Sonoran Desert to the west, it is still deadly, and climate change is making it more so.

CBP reports that 229 migrants have suffered injuries since October, in the El Paso Sector alone, from falls from the border wall. Injuries range “from ankle injuries to brain injuries,” according to CNN. Some falls are fatal, like that of a man who fell from an El Paso Sector border wall segment near the Santa Teresa, New Mexico port of entry in the pre-dawn hours of June 17. He died the next day after suffering “a brain hemorrhage, skull fracture, sternum fracture and broken ribs.”

In Border Patrol’s Big Bend Sector in remote west Texas—the part of the border that sees the fewest migrants—the agency has recovered 24 remains during the first 8 months of fiscal year 2022, already tying the number for all of fiscal year 2021.

Partial data point to migrant fatalities increasing in other sectors. In the Tucson Sector, which comprises most of Arizona’s border with Mexico, Border Patrol reports finding the remains of 48 people since October, according to the Tucson Sentinel. The agency’s fatality numbers, though, are consistently lower than those compiled by local officials and humanitarian groups: the Pima County Medical Examiner has processed the remains of 98 people found in the Sonoran Desert since October. Together with the humanitarian group Humane Borders, the Medical Examiner recovered 225 remains of people believed to have been border crossers during the 2021 calendar year; some of that number may have died in prior years.

In the Tucson Sector, migrants who seek to avoid apprehension rather than turning themselves in to ask for protection are “nearly 90 percent of people crossing,” according to Sector Chief John Modlin. This population is seeking to avoid stepped-up enforcement by “increasingly attempting to cross the stark reaches of Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, as well as craggy heights in the Baboquivari Mountains to get into Arizona,” the Sentinel reported.

Further west, in Border Patrol’s Yuma Sector, in western Arizona and eastern California near the Colorado River, Sector Chief Chris Clem reported “six migrant deaths” during the week of June 12 to 18.

To the east, in south Texas’s Laredo Sector, which has reported just 5 percent of all border migrant encounters this year, Sector Chief Carl Landrum stated that Border Patrol has rescued “over 5,000 people this fiscal year.” This number seems oddly high, since Border Patrol has reported 14,278 rescues in all 9 sectors so far this year, including 2,192 in the deserts of the Tucson Sector. Landrum did not report a number of deaths in the Laredo Sector.

This year’s increase in fatalities along the border is partly a consequence of a larger overall population of migrants: as noted below and in WOLA’s June 17 Border Update, this is a record year for migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The situation is worsened, though, by the “Title 42” pandemic border policy, which closes official border crossings to people who wish to seek asylum, and incentivizes repeat border crossing attempts by quickly expelling those who are caught. (The Biden administration’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had sought to end Title 42 by May 23, 2022, but a Louisiana judge has ordered that it remain in place.)

Across from El Paso, according to Border Report, “Officials estimate that at least 15,000 migrants are in [Ciudad] Juarez waiting for the end of Title 42 so they can apply for asylum in the U.S. “ El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said, “If Title 42 was not in place, they would be able to form, be able to come across and the process would flow. When the process doesn’t flow, there is a huge sense of desperation.” As a result, said García of the Border Network for Human Rights, “They are still crossing, and they are dying in extraordinary numbers.”

Supreme Court may rule soon on Remain in Mexico

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling soon on whether the Biden administration can terminate the Migrant Protection Protocols or “Remain in Mexico” Program, which a Texas judge forced it to restart last August. A ruling was thought probable on June 21 or 23, but the Court did not issue it.

When migrants from the Western Hemisphere who are not from Mexico ask for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, CBP may place them in the “Remain in Mexico” program, which sends them back into Mexico until their next immigration court hearing date. The Trump administration, which invented Remain in Mexico and began implementing it in January 2019, sent 71,076 migrants back into Mexico. At least 1,544 of them suffered “murder, rape, torture, kidnapping, and other violent assaults” in Mexican border towns, Human Rights First reported. Since its court-ordered restart of the program got underway in December, the Biden administration has sent more than 4,300 (or 5,114, or at least 5,600) migrants, primarily from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, back to Mexico to await hearings.

The Biden administration began shutting down the Remain in Mexico program in January 2021, bringing many of the asylum seekers into the United States. That process was halted when Amarillo, Texas judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled—in a suit brought by the Republican attorneys-general of Texas and Missouri—that the Biden administration had not properly terminated Remain in Mexico. Kacsmaryk ordered the program to restart, and the Biden administration appealed.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in April, and its decision is imminent. Though the Court has a conservative majority, it is not guaranteed to rule against the Biden administration, believe court-watchers like Aaron Reichlin-Melnick of the American Immigration Council, who explained his view in a June 21 Twitter thread. If they do not uphold Kacsmaryk’s decision, justices could “punt,” determining that the courts have no jurisdiction on immigration enforcement, or they could throw the case back to lower courts to determine whether the Administration’s second attempt to terminate Remain in Mexico met requirements.

Meanwhile, very troubling outcomes of the program are emerging.

  • The Syracuse University-based Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse project found that only 2.4 percent of the 1,109 Remain in Mexico asylum cases decided so far have resulted in grants of asylum, compared to half of cases in 2022 in the regular immigration court system.
  • Earlier this month, a woman assigned to Remain in Mexico attempted suicidewhile waiting at a migrant shelter in Monterrey, Mexico.
  • Reuters revealed that three men whom the program returned to the dangerous border city of Nuevo Laredo were kidnapped on April 10, while local authorities were transporting them to a shelter. (Most of those made to “remain” in Nuevo Laredo get transported further south, to Monterrey, but these three men were COVID-positive, requiring them to quarantine in Nuevo Laredo.) One of the victims, a man from Peru identified as “Raúl,” said they were held in a two-story house with about 20 other migrants. They beat him and released him after contacts wired a $6,000 ransom payment. Reuters reports: “‘You think you’re in good hands,’ Raul said of the U.S. government, asking that his last name be withheld out of fear of retaliation from the kidnappers. ‘But that’s not the case.’” After the kidnapping, Raul successfully petitioned to remain in the United States for the duration of his asylum case.

Migration levels remain high in June

As discussed in WOLA’s June 17 Border Update, U.S. authorities reported in May 2022 their largest number of encounters with undocumented migrants since they began publishing monthly records in 2000 (though with many repeat crossings, the number of individual migrants—177,793—may not have been a record). Arrivals at the border appear to remain very high so far in June.

In south Texas’s Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol Sector, which usually sees more migrant arrivals than any of the agency’s nine U.S.-Mexico border sectors, the agency reported encountering 533 migrants in 3 large groups during the 4 days ending on June 21. “A group of more than 100 migrants is considered a large group,” reads a CBP release; Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol has encountered over 100 large groups, totaling more than 15,000 people, since fiscal year 2022 began in October 2021.

In the mid-Texas Del Rio Sector, which gets about 50 percent of the border’s “large groups” right now, Sector Chief Jason Owens tweeted on June 18, “In the past 48 hours, agents encountered 8 groups totaling 1,780 migrants.”

In Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector, Border Report disclosed, agents were apprehending about 1,000 migrants per day in mid-May, in the runup to the expected May 23 termination of Title 42. When a Louisiana judge ordered Title 42 to remain in place, “apprehension numbers went down to 700 to 800 a day in the sector.”

The Biden administration’s latest monthly court filing in the “Remain in Mexico” litigation, shared by the Associated Press (AP), found that CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released 95,318 migrants into the U.S. interior in May, slightly over half the 177,793 individuals encountered at the border last month. The rest were either held in ICE detention centers or expelled (at times more than once) under Title 42.

Of the 95,318 released into the country, 64,263 were released on parole, which the AP calls a “rapidly expanding practice” in recent months brought on by lack of detention space, overwhelmed processing personnel, and the difficulty of expelling many countries’ citizens under Title 42. The AP explains “parole,” which does not come with an immigration court appointment:

Parole shields migrants from deportation for a set period of time but provides little else. By law, the Homeland Security Department may parole migrants into the United States “only on a case-by-case basis for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.” Parolees can apply for asylum within a year.

Processing asylum-seeking migrants for immigration court—which happened about 33,000 times in May—can take “more than an hour each,” agents told the AP. “Parole, by comparison, is processed in minutes.”

All paroled migrants “have their criminal histories checked and generally arrive in families with an address where they will stay in the U.S.,” the AP reported. They are given a handheld device with an app that tracks their movements via GPS, and required to keep it with them. The devices cannot make or take calls, other than from ICE, Border Report notes.

The June 15 court filing reports that CBP’s daily approximate holding capacity is 6,535, combining spaces at ports of entry (935) and Border Patrol detention facilities (about 5,600). In May, Border Patrol was holding an average of 12,899 people per day.

During the week of June 6, at least 7,000 mostly Venezuelan migrants had participated in a “caravan” from the city of Tapachula, in Mexico’s southern border zone near Guatemala. As discussed in WOLA’s June 10 and June 17 Border Updates, that caravan quickly dispersed after Mexican migration authorities distributed Multiple Immigration Form (Forma Migratoria Multiple, FMM) documents reportedly requiring migrants to leave Mexico or regularize their status (mainly by applying for asylum) within 30 days.

During those 30 days, these migrants can travel freely through Mexico, and many appear to have headed for the U.S. border. Federal and local law enforcement officials in mid-Texas’s Del Rio Border Patrol Sector told the Washington Examiner that “many from the caravan successfully evaded Mexican authorities and were able to cross the border illegally into the United States over the past several days.”

This included a group of about 200 migrants apprehended near Eagle Pass, Texas. Citing federal authorities, the sheriff of Val Verde County, Texas, which includes Del Rio, said, “They’re getting remnants of the caravan. Yesterday, they had just shy of 2,000 people apprehended in the sector, which is probably an all-time high for the day.”

With arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border averaging about 8,000 per day in May, a dispersed 7,000-member caravan over several days would bring only a modest, barely perceptible increase.

As noted in WOLA’s June 17 update, the governors of Mexican border states Coahuila and Nuevo León have been preventing caravan participants from boarding buses to the border, leaving hundreds of migrants stranded in the bus station in Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo León.

It is not clear what legal authority is being employed to deny the ticket sales, since the migrants, having received travel documents, are not undocumented. Governors of the Mexican states bordering Texas appear to be wary of angering Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who responded to increased migration in April by using state authority to step up vehicle inspections near the border, badly snarling trade for nearly a week (see WOLA’s April 15 and April 22 Border Updates). Abbott said on June 17 that Texas state troopers and National Guardsmen were stepping up efforts to repel caravan arrivals.

This week, about 250 migrants stranded at the Monterrey bus station began walking to Coahuila, and to the border. (The border city of Piedras Negras, Coahuila, is about 240 miles from Monterrey.) The sheriff of Maverick County, Texas, which includes Eagle Pass across from Piedras Negras, told the Washington Examiner that many other migrants, blocked from buying bus tickets, were likely paying smugglers. “It’s actually giving business to the cartel, to the smugglers,” Sheriff Tom Shmerber said of the bus prohibitions.

Security worsens in Mexico’s border cities and the government sends more troops

Tijuana, considered the most violent city in Mexico, suffered 110 homicides during the first 15 days of June and has measured more crimes so far this year than in any year since 2019. Mexico’s federal government responded this week by sending 400 more Army personnel to the city: 200 paratroopers and 200 Special Operations Forces elements. Today, the city now hosts 3,600 military or paramilitary personnel: 1,600 from the Army and 2,000 from the National Guard, a recently created force largely made up of soldiers and marines.

At the border’s other extreme, the city of Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas, began the morning of June 19 with about 16 road blockades. Armed men positioned stolen buses and trucks across main entrances to the city and set them on fire, apparently in response to the detention (or imminent detention) of a leader of the Gulf Cartel, the city’s dominant criminal organization. Mexico’s Defense Department responded by sending 200 more army troops to the city.

Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval presented the latest in a series of security updates at a June 20 presidential news conference. Gen. Sandoval’s slideshow revealed that 28,463 Army personnel are currently deployed on missions supporting the government’s “Migration and Development Plan for the northern and southern borders.”

Military personnel, it continued, have contributed to the capture of 518,668 migrants since 2019, 105,795 of them so far in 2022. 85 percent of these captures occurred in Mexico’s southern border zone. Troops are focused along four “lines of contention”: along both of Mexico’s borders, across the Isthmus of Tehuántepec in Oaxaca and Veracruz, and in an arc passing through Guerrero, Puebla, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz.

Other News

  • In a new WOLA Podcast, staff discuss what they saw and heard at the June 8-10 Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, including that meeting’s migration declaration, and discuss findings of recent field research along the U.S.-Mexico and Mexico-Guatemala borders.
  • As this update is being written on the morning of June 24, the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, which is meeting to mark up its 2023 appropriation, has adopted a Republican amendment keeping Title 42 in place for at least six months after the lifting of a COVID-19 emergency, which could be years from now. It passed by voice vote. That language will now go to the full Appropriations Committee.
  • The May 24 death of Abigail Román Aguilar, a 32-year-old man from Chiapas, Mexico, has been ruled a homicide by the Pima County, Arizona Medical Examiner. Under circumstances that remain unclear, Aguilar died of stab wounds to the chest and blunt force injuries, apparently after an altercation with a Border Patrol agent, in Douglas, Arizona. The agent “ultimately stabbed Aguilar with a knife,” reported the Arizona Daily Star. The incident is under investigation by the FBI and by CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
  • A very brief June 20 statement from CBP recounts a June 18 vehicle pursuit near Falfurrias, in south Texas, “which later resulted in a use of force incident. One person is dead.”
  • “Under current practice, children who arrive in the United States without their parents…are taken to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing centers. But it doesn’t make sense to send children to the care of a law enforcement agency that has no expertise in child welfare,” reads a Vera Institute of Justice commentary finding that the agency continues to separate close relatives in custody. “A better system would place ORR [Office of Refugee Resettlement] officials at the border to immediately evaluate family relationships. This should be done in trauma-informed and developmentally appropriate settings, rather than in jail-like holding centers.”
  • As ORR struggled to keep up with increased arrivals of unaccompanied children in 2021, many kids assigned to the agency’s massive emergency reception facilities considered or attempted suicide while awaiting handover to relatives or sponsors in the United States, Reveal News reported based on documents obtained through litigation. Those who expressed thoughts of, or attempted, suicide had been in ORR custody for an average of 37 days.
  • The United States led the world in new asylum applications received in 2021 with 188,900, according to the UN Refugee Agency’s just-released Global Trends Report 2021. The number two through four countries are Germany (148,200 applications), Mexico (132,700), and Costa Rica (108,500).
  • During the first five months of 2022, Cuban authorities reported receiving 3,289 citizens deported from other countries: 1,276 from Mexico, 1,177 from the United States, 213 from the Bahamas, and 23 from other countries. Between January and May, U.S. authorities encountered 118,603 Cuban citizens, about 1 percent of the island’s population, at the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • More than 5,000 migrant children have walked through the dangerous jungles of Panama’s Darién Gap during the first five months of 2022, according to UNICEF. 170 were unaccompanied by parents or relatives, or had been separated on the way.
  • A new report from Refugees International examined migration through the Darién Gap from Colombia. Last year, the largest single nationality migrating through this route was Haitian. This year, the flow is mostly Venezuelan. Smuggling operations originating in Colombia, the report finds, are sophisticated and lucrative.
  • The nearly 180,000 Nicaraguans who have sought refuge in Costa Rica since 2018, when the Ortega regime’s crackdown on dissent intensified, is now greater than the number of Nicaraguan applications for protection in Costa Rica during the Contra war of the 1980s.
  • DHS announced that “it would overhaul the disciplinary process for its employees,” the New York Times reported, after the Times and the Project on Government Oversight found that the Department’s Inspector-General had failed to release disturbing findings about the extent of sexual harassment within the DHS workforce and the number of personnel facing domestic abuse allegations. The DHS Inspector General, Trump administration appointee Joseph Cuffari, had responded in May with a letter blaming his subordinates. “I would never have written this,” Gordon Heddell, a former Defense Department inspector-general, said of the letter in the Times article. “To me, what he’s saying is, ‘I’m leading a very dysfunctional office.’”
  • Four former Border Patrol chiefs and other former senior officials sent a letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas demanding that the ongoing, slow-moving investigation of agents involved in the so-called Del Rio “whipping” incident be impartial. The letter criticizes President Biden and Vice President Harris for “predictively prejudging” the investigation’s outcome. Biden and Harris had called for consequences after photos showed agents on horseback charging at Haitian migrants who had arrived en masse in Del Rio, Texas in September 2021. The National Police Association announced a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit demanding records about CBP’s investigation of the Del Rio incident.
  • Border Patrol reported capturing 15 people in May who were in the FBI’s terrorist screening database. Analysts were quick to note that none of those captured face specific charges. “This is an indictment of terror watch lists because zero of these individuals ended up being terrorists,” tweeted Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute.

I haven’t aged a bit

A colleague at the Institute for Policy Studies sent me this photo from October 2007, when Colombian President-Elect Gustavo Petro won the organization’s Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award.

Latin America Security-Related News: June 17, 2022

(Even more here)

June 17, 2022

Western Hemisphere Regional

At the end of 2021, 89.3 million individuals worldwide were forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or events seriously disturbing public order.

Latin America is stuck in a development trap, argues Michael Reid

The US is touting the resettlement of 20,000 refugees from this hemisphere as a bold deliverable when there are 5 MILLION REFUGEES from Venezuela alone

Brazil

Bruno Pereira highlighted the ravaging of the rainforest and abuse of human rights. Dom told his story. We should honour them

Brazil, Colombia, Peru

A key police outpost lies in ruins after a daring raid – a sign of the growing danger in an increasingly lucrative smuggling route

Colombia

Con más de 20 capturas, decenas de allanamientos y otros procedimientos, la Policía arremetió contra líderes de las protestas del paro nacional del 2021

Will the historically conservative country select its first leftist president? Or will it take a gamble on a political outsider?

Neither candidate has a clear plan to contain rising levels of conflict and armed violence in the countryside

Colombia, Panama

>

Guatemala

El proyecto, que fue apoyado por todos los integrantes de la Comisión de la Defensa, propone que se otorgue un aporte total de Q36 mil, durante tres años, a cada miembro del personal de tropa que prestó servicio militar durante el conflicto armado interno

“The desire is to erase any legacy, any vestige” of anticorruption efforts, said political analyst Edgar Gutiérrez. “They are constructing an authoritarian state”

Haiti

Helen La Lime, the top U.N. official in Haiti, said insecurity is rapidly deteriorating in the country of more than 11 million people, with an average of almost seven kidnappings reported a day

Honduras

En las últimas horas, la Policía Militar del Orden Público (PMOP), bajo control de las Fuerzas Armadas, ha realizado operaciones de saturación en diferentes barrios de Tegucigalpa

Mexico

La Comisión Estatal de Derechos Humanos reveló este jueves que recibieron mil 500 reclamos de migrantes venezolanos por robo, maltrato y discriminación

U.S.-Mexico Border

The announcement comes as Congress investigates the removal of damaging findings from reports on domestic violence and sexual misconduct by department employees

>

“These coins anger me because the hateful images on them have no place in a professional law enforcement agency,” CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said

Immigration arrests along the U.S. southern border rose in May to the highest levels ever recorded, as growing numbers of migrants arrived from outside the Western Hemisphere, U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures show

This update is based on interviews with 74 asylum seekers conducted by Human Rights First researchers in Ciudad Acuña, Nuevo Laredo, and Piedras Negras, Mexico

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: June 17, 2022

With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. See past weekly updates here.

This week:

  • CBP reported a record number of migrant encounters at the border in May. Nearly half of migrants were not from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. 42 percent were expelled under the Title 42 pandemic authority, which continues under court order. The 2 millionth migrant was expelled last month.
  • Thousands of participants in a large migrant caravan that was “dispersed” on June 10 are now in northern Mexico. Many are being prevented from boarding buses, though they have documents allowing them to be present in Mexico. Most are from Venezuela, and more are coming: over 9,800 Venezuelan migrants walked through Panama’s treacherous Darién Gap jungles in May.
  • Along with increased migration, an alarming series of reports points to a sharp increase in migrants dying in the U.S.-Mexican border region of dehydration amid extreme summer heat, drownings in the Rio Grande and canals, and falls from the border wall.
  • Several media reports this week pointed to an aggrieved internal culture and toleration of human rights abuse at Border Patrol. They include agents complaining to conservative press about the Biden administration, offensive “challenge coins” being produced by an unknown party, a harrowing upcoming book from a former female agent, and revelations that a third of migrants who have passed through CBP’s jail-like facilities in recent years have been children.

Record number of migrant encounters in May

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released data on June 15 detailing its encounters with migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border the previous month. In May 2022, the agency took undocumented people into custody 239,416 times, a 2 percent increase over April. Since fiscal year 2022 started in October, CBP has apprehended migrants 1,536,899 times at the border. 2022 is certain to be a record year for migrant encounters, exceeding the 1,734,686 measured in 2021.

CBP’s Border Patrol component encountered migrants 222,656 times, the largest monthly total since the agency began reporting data by month in fiscal year 2000. The record for between ports of entry had been 220,063 apprehensions, measured in March 2020.

It is unclear, though, whether more “encounters” last month meant more “people” than 22 years ago. May’s 239,416 “encounters” were with 177,793 individual people; there is no record of how many individual people were encountered during the previous record-breaking month of March 2020. Still, 177,793 is the most since CBP started reporting individuals in its monthly releases last July, and 15 percent more than reported in April.

The Biden administration’s continued use of the Trump-era “ Title 42” pandemic policy—after its lifting was blocked by a federal judge last month—and which quickly expels many migrants with few consequences, has incentivized repeat crossings. Last month, 25 percent of migrants encountered had already been in CBP custody at least once in the past 12 months; in the six years before the pandemic, the percentage of repeat encounters had been much lower: 15 percent.

69 percent of May’s border encounters were with single adults, a greater share than was common in the years before the pandemic. (Though many single adults turn themselves in to seek asylum, they are less likely to do so than children and families; as a result, a greater share of repeat crossings inflates numbers of single-adult encounters.)

Single adult encounters declined by 2 percent from April to May, to 165,200. Encounters with members of family units (defined as parents with children) increased 8 percent, to 59,282, from April to May, and encounters with children arriving unaccompanied increased 21 percent, to 14,699. “In May, the average number of unaccompanied children in CBP custody was 692 per day, compared with an average of 479 per day in April,” CBP reported.

May saw the migrant population at the border diversify further. Migration from the number one and two countries, Mexico and Cuba, actually declined from April. Migrants from April’s number-three country of origin, Ukraine, declined sharply as the Biden administration’s “United for Ukraine” effort created a process for seeking refuge that no longer involved crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Migration from Haiti, Brazil, and Ecuador increased the most, in percentage terms, from March to May. Migrants from Colombia—whose citizens do not need visas to visit Mexico—climbed to fifth place, virtually tied with Hondurans.

As recently as 2019, more than 90 percent of migrants at the border were from four countries: Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. That is no longer the case: these countries combined to total only 53 percent of migrants at the border in May. Only 29 percent of migrants arriving as families were Mexican, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, or Honduran.

This is a result of the pandemic increasing desperation, and migration, throughout the hemisphere. But it is also a result of how Title 42 has been implemented: because Mexico accepts expulsions of its own citizens, and citizens of the other three countries, across its land border, citizens of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras comprise the overwhelming majority of migrants expelled under the pandemic authority (94 percent in May).

Citizens of countries where expulsions or removals are difficult—because of the cost of air travel, or because of poor diplomatic relations—are expelled much less frequently. Migrants’ chances of expulsion after being encountered in the United States, and thus their ability to seek protection in the United States,  vary dramatically by nationality. So far in 2022, 88 percent of Mexicans and 67 percent of Guatemalans have been expelled, compared to 4 percent of Colombians, 2 percent of Cubans, and 0.4 percent of Venezuelans.

Cuba  stopped accepting flights from U.S. migration authorities in 2018 (when the U.S. stopped operations for the Cuban Family Reunification Parole program, which was resumed this past May). Nicaragua’s November 2021 decision to stop requiring visas of visiting Cubans has opened up a route through Managua, with Cubans routinely paying about $4,000 for one-way tickets there. The Biden administration pressed Mexico into agreeing to accept some land-border expulsions of Cubans and Nicaraguans, however, and about 3,000 had Title 42 applied to them in May.

Because so many migrants come from these “other” countries, CBP expelled 42 percent of migrants it encountered in May, a smaller share than had been normal. (55 percent of single adults were expelled, as were 17 percent of family unit members.)

Still, May saw the expulsion of the 2 millionth migrant from the U.S.-Mexico border since Title 42 went into effect in March 2020. The Biden administration has carried out over 77 percent of those expulsions. The administration’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sought to end the pandemic policy by May 23, 2022, but were rebuffed by a Louisiana judge hearing a lawsuit from Republican-led states.

One country, however, has seen a significant percentage of its citizens expelled by air. So far this year, CBP has applied Title 42 to 36 percent of Haitian migrants, including 30 percent of those encountered in May. Last month, the tempo of expulsion flights to Haiti increased sharply, to 36. This happened, according to the New York Times, “after renegotiating agreements with the island nation.”

Among the more than 26,000 people removed to Haiti by air during the Biden administration, many are so desperate to leave that a shady industry of charter flights has sprung up, according to a remarkable Associated Press investigation. Haitians who had earlier emigrated to Brazil or Chile and now have some migratory status there are paying thousands of dollars to be taken back, often to attempt the journey once again to the U.S.-Mexico border.

The probability of being put on a plane back to the hemisphere’s poorest nation, currently undergoing a paroxysm of gang violence, has caused many Haitians to pause in Mexican border cities rather than attempt to cross into the United States and turn themselves in to authorities. A June 12 Los Angeles Times feature documented attacks, discrimination, and lack of access to health care suffered by Haitians stranded in Tijuana, where the Haitian Bridge Alliance, a U.S. non-governmental organization, “has funded funerals for 12 Haitian migrants since December, mostly because of violence and medical negligence.”

Meanwhile, a new DHS report shows that the court-ordered revival of the “Remain in Mexico” program continues, and continues to expand. 7,259 asylum seekers, all adults, have been enrolled in the program since December 2021, of whom 4,387 have been made to wait in Mexican border towns for their hearing dates. 59 percent of those enrolled—52 percent in May—have been citizens of Nicaragua.

A report from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), which requests and shares government data, found that while most asylum cases within the program (81 percent) have been decided within six months, only 5 percent of those made to remain in Mexico have been able to find an attorney to represent them. Of 1,109 Remain in Mexico asylum cases that had been decided by the end of May, only 27—2.4 percent—ended with grants of asylum. “This is a dismal asylum success rate,” TRAC notes. “During the same period of FY 2022, fully half of all Immigration Court asylum decisions resulted in a grant of asylum or other relief.”

Caravan participants, given visas, approach U.S. border

WOLA’s June 10 update reported that a migrant “caravan,” with several thousand mostly Venezuelan participants, was dispersing in Mexico’s southernmost state of Chiapas, about 25 miles from the Mexico-Guatemala border zone city of Tapachula, where it began on June 6. Thousands of participants, given documents allowing them to stay in Mexico for a month, have traveled north to seek refuge in the United States.

A June 11 statement from Mexico’s National Migration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migración – INM) reported that, following negotiations with caravan organizers, the agency provided “an immigration document certifying their stay in the country” to about 7,000 participants. The document reportedly requires migrants to leave Mexico within 30 days, during which they can travel freely through the country.

Thousands of migrants boarded buses to Mexico’s border state of Coahuila, from where more than half of the 97,696 Venezuelan migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year 2022 (October 2021-September 2022) have crossed. However, Coahuila’s governor, Miguel Ángel Riquelme, has sought to block their progress. Riquelme had signed an April agreement with Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R), who had sought that month to pressure Mexico into blocking migration by stepping up state vehicle inspections, snarling cross-border cargo trade for days.

Though the caravan participants had valid travel documents, Coahuila authorities turned away buses bringing as many as 2,000 to the capital, Saltillo, diverting them back to Monterrey, capital of the neighboring state of Nuevo León. Hundreds remain in the Monterrey bus station, trying to figure out where to go next. Many complain that they bought bus tickets but did not receive refunds after being blocked from boarding.

It is not clear what legal authority the local governments are using to prevent the migrants’ progress, or whether the intent is merely to meter their flow in order to prevent a mass arrival at the U.S. border. Either way, with about 8,000 migrants arriving at the border each day right now, an extra few thousand may get little notice.

In Tapachula, where the caravan began, many migrants remain stranded, made to remain in Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state, while they wait for the country’s overwhelmed asylum system to adjudicate their applications. (See WOLA’s June 2 report on conditions in Tapachula.) Local media report that thousands are gathering each day outside the offices of INM and the refugee agency, COMAR, in Tapachula and in the nearby town of Huixtla, Chiapas.

Arrivals of Venezuelan migrants are likely to continue, and increase. Panama recorded 9,844 Venezuelans passing through the treacherous Darién Gap jungle region in May alone, 3.6 times more than in April, and part of an overall flow of 13,894 people last month.

This is a very dangerous part of migrants’ journeys. Doctors Without Borders, which maintains a humanitarian aid facility near where migrants emerge from the Darién Gap, has attended to 100 victims of sexual violence so far this year, and 328 last year. Colombia’s human rights ombudsman meanwhile counted 210 children traveling unaccompanied through the Darién in May, of whom 169 were apparently less than 13 years old.

Migrants are dying at the border of drownings and extreme heat

“The terrain along the Southwest Border is extreme, the summer heat is severe, and the miles of desert that migrants must hike after crossing the border are unforgiving,” CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus stated in May’s migration update. As the border region enters a very hot summer, deaths from dehydration and exposure threaten to hit record levels along with record overall migration.

  • In Brooks County, Texas, where dozens die each year while walking to evade a Border Patrol checkpoint, Eddie Canales of the South Texas Human Rights Center told USA Today that 36 human remains have already been found. The grim count for all of 2021 was 119.
  • In Pima County, Arizona, which includes Tucson, the Medical Examiner’s office has received 110 remains so far this fiscal year, USA Today reports. It examined the remains of 226 migrants last year, the highest count since 2000.
  • Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector “has recorded 23 deaths due to falls from the border wall, hypothermia, drownings and heat strokes” so far this year, the Dallas Morning News reports. Last year’s total was 39.

In the El Paso sector, Border Patrol has installed more solar-powered rescue beacons that make it more possible for lost or dehydrated migrants to call for help. This, the Morning News reports, has kept fatalities from being much worse. In Arizona, Border Patrol announced on June 9 that it is piloting a new “heat mitigation effort,” handing out “Heat Stress Kits/Go-Bags that will be distributed to 500 agents” at two desert stations.

Drownings in the Rio Grande, and in irrigation canals, remain severe.

  • As WOLA’s June 3 Border Update noted, more than 20 Nicaraguan citizens drowned in the river between March 4 and May 19. Authorities continue to search for Nicaraguan child Sofía Abigail, whose mother, Irma Huete Iglesias, drowned trying to cross the river between Coahuila and mid-Texas last week.
  • Mexico’s Interior Secretariat reported this week that INM recovered 33 bodies from the Rio Grande between January and May, of a total of 37 migrant remains recovered throughout the country during those months. Of the 37, five were women. Most of the drownings happened between Coahuila and mid-Texas.
  • A June 11 Border Patrol statement counted five drownings in the El Paso sector’s fast-flowing irrigation canals, which drain water from the Rio Grande, in the “last several days.” The New York Post recalled that “agents are not allowed to go in and perform a water rescue, even if it is to save a drowning person.… Only members of a specially trained Border Patrol team are authorized to perform a water rescue, or a rescue/recovery team of another agency must be called in.”

Falls from especially high new segments of the border wall continue to cause a higher death toll, as the Washington Post reported in April. A June 15 CBP statement documented the May 6 death of a man who fell in the space between two layers of fencing between San Diego and Tijuana.

Border Patrol morale and organizational culture under scrutiny

A series of feature stories in U.S. and U.K. media this week have explored aspects of a troubled institutional culture at the Border Patrol. The agency has faced serious human rights abuse allegations, while its membership (as evidenced by the posture of its union, which claims to represent 90 percent of agents) detests the Biden administration’s approach to border security and migration.

  • Eight agents and managers, speaking anonymously to the Washington Examiner, voiced their view that “the last shreds of spirit have since been dashed by outright animosity from the Biden administration.” Agents are reportedly upset that the administration criticized the harsh response, caught on camera, to Haitian migrants crossing the Rio Grande in September 2021, while President Biden has yet to thank the agency for its response to the May 24 Uvalde, Texas school shooting. “Agents are afraid of ending up on the news for doing their job or getting in trouble for doing their job. There is no morale,” said an agent in Arizona. Another, who opposes releasing asylum seekers into the U.S. interior pending court dates, said, “It feels like we’re committing a crime by allowing all these people into our country.”
  • The National Border Patrol Council union president in the Del Rio, Texas sector sounded off to the Daily Caller on rumors that those involved in the aggressive actions against Haitians will be charged with “administrative violations.” Jon Anfinsen said of the Biden administration, “They’re trying to save face and propose some kind of discipline just so they can justify their claims from day one.”
  • The aggrieved mood at Border Patrol may be reflected in “challenge coins” available on eBay and elsewhere, documented by the Miami Herald and the Los Angeles Times, defiantly depicting the Del Rio incident with pride. “Whipping ass since 1924” and “Haitian Invasion,” reads one coin with an image of the iconic September 2021 photo of a Border Patrol agent on horseback grabbing a Haitian migrant’s shirt. These are not official items, and the coins’ tie to active-duty agents remains unclear. “These coins anger me because the hateful images on them have no place in a professional law enforcement agency,” said CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus.
  • Former Border Patrol agent Jenn Budd will soon release a memoir of her time in the force, when she endured severe harassment as one of its few female agents—including rape while a student at the Border Patrol Academy in the 1990s. At the Guardian, Budd discusses her role in uncovering Border Patrol’s Critical Incident Teams ( CITs), secretive units that have interfered with past investigations of agent wrongdoing. The CITs are to be shut down by the end of September.
  • “Of the total people detained by the Border Patrol between February 2017 and June 2021, 1 in 3 was under 18 years old,” finds an investigation by the Marshall Project, published by Politico. The report follows up on some shocking findings about children’s treatment in Border Patrol custody during 2021, which appeared in an April complaint by four legal aid groups. “The Border Patrol has resisted making changes to its facilities and practices to adapt to children,” the Marshall Project’s Anna Flagg and Julia Preston report, “even while officials acknowledge that the conditions young people routinely face are often unsafe.”

Other news

  • As noted in WOLA’s June 10 Border Update , the Summit of the Americas concluded with the “ Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection,” with four “pillars” covering assistance for communities affected by migration, legal pathways for migration and protection, “humane migration management,” and coordinated emergency response. The White House shared a list of “deliverables” that signatory countries would produce. Analysts and advocates struck a generally hopeful tone, with skepticism about how concrete the signatory countries’ commitments would be, in comments to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times, Al Jazeera, and Criterio, among others.  Organizations throughout the region, including WOLA, also issued a statement calling for the governments to “ensure that they develop action plans for fulfilling the rights-respecting commitments assumed in the Declaration with clear indicators and timelines for follow-up.”
  • Human Rights First published the latest in a series of in-depth reports documenting harm done by the Title 42 expulsions policy. It contains numerous alarming anecdotes about abuses that migrants have suffered, and calls on CBP to exercise discretion with Title 42 and afford more asylum seekers a chance to seek protection.
  • CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus and the director of Mexico’s National Migration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migración – INM), Francisco Garduño, met on June 13, touring the border near Reynosa and McAllen.
  • Mexican non-governmental organizations submitted an amicus curiae brief to their country’s Supreme Court arguing that the National Guard, a militarized police force created by the current administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, should not play a role in migration enforcement.
  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) claims that his “Operation Lone Star” surge of security personnel to the border has resulted in more than 14,000 arrests. But a Dallas Morning News investigation found that a fifth of that number were arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana, mostly of U.S. citizens, mostly at routine traffic stops, and many of them far from the actual border.

Latin America Security-Related News: June 16, 2022

(Even more here)

June 16, 2022

Brazil

Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s president, risks losing his October bid for re-election. If he disputes the result, his shrinking but increasingly far-right support base might take to the streets. State institutions should prepare to deal with baseless fraud accusations and to curb possible violence

The announcement appeared to bring a grim conclusion to the disappearance of journalist Dom Phillips and former government official Bruno Pereira

Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, 41, nicknamed Pelado, told officers he used a firearm to kill Pereira and Phillips

Colombia

Los grupos armados que se lucran del narcotráfico avanzaron en los últimos años sobre las fronteras con Venezuela, Ecuador y Panamá

MAPP/OEA expresa su altísima preocupación por la persistencia de acciones violentas por parte de grupos armados ilegales que afectan gravemente a las comunidades

Con estas detenciones el Fiscal General de la Nación mantiene una política de persecución, estigmatización y judicialización de la protesta social a los líderes sociales que acompañan las justas protestas

El sector de veteranos de la Fuerza Pública que adhirió a Gustavo Petro no lo ayuda a despolitizar sus propuestas de reforma a esta institución

Rodolfo Hernández bills himself as a paragon of democracy and a successful businessman who cares for the poor. A trip to Bucaramanga, the mountain-fringed city where he built his empire, reveals a different picture

El Salvador

InSight Crime focuses on the stories of Elvis and Flaca, two former gang members who left the MS13 for the church. Their experiences with violence, abortion and homosexuality reflect both what divides and unites these two ways of life

Mexico

Una sargento narra a EL PAÍS las trabas y el riesgo de acusar a un superior de una agresión sufrida en las instalaciones militares

Entregar la Guardia Nacional a la SEDENA sería el último clavo en el ataúd del Estado democrático de derecho

Cientos de migrantes siguen varados en la Central de Autobuses de Monterrey la mañana de este miércoles, casi 24 horas después de haber sido dejados a su suerte por autoridades del Instituto Nacional de Migración

U.S.-Mexico Border

When I learned of the death of Anastasio Hernández-Rojas, I felt I was in some way connected to it – I knew too much about how the system worked

May’s tally of migrant arrests surpassed the previous monthly record U.S. Border Patrol set in March 2000, when the agency recorded 220,000 apprehensions

More asylum seekers are risking their lives to cross deserts or trek over mountains to reach the U.S. during perilous summer months

The number of unique individuals encountered nationwide in May 2022 was 177,793, a 15 percent increase in the number of unique enforcement encounters over the prior month

Thousands of kids have been routinely detained in cold, overcrowded cells built for adults, while authorities have resisted improving conditions

Venezuela

To date, over 6.1 million have left their homes, of which 5 million are in the Americas

If implemented well, a mechanism allowing interested civil society actors to participate directly or indirectly could benefit future negotiations between political actors in Venezuela

The Nicolás Maduro regime has been exploiting the growth of armed groups in Venezuela, encouraging the strengthening of some illegal groups considered useful for social control and repression

Latin America Security-Related News: June 15, 2022

(Even more here)

June 15, 2022

Western Hemisphere Regional

Eduardo Núñez, director del programa de Seguridad Pública en Centroamérica del NDI, señala que los mecanismos internacionales deben reinventarse

Los acuerdos que firmaron Estados Unidos y países de América Latina en la Cumbre de las Américas sobre el derecho de asilo, las causas del desplazamiento o las alternativas legales para la migración son positivos, pero también hay muchas interrogantes

Carolina Jiménez Sandoval, president of WOLA, says that the recent Summit of the Americas failed to include a deep reflection or debate on how to curb authoritarianism

Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay

El Primer Comando Capital no es un grupo criminal tradicional. Sus miembros se definen como una “hermandad”

Argentina, Venezuela

Los posibles vínculos de la firma de Irán que manejaba la nave con una fuerza militar considerada terrorista. El enigma de la tripulación y los viajes previos

Brazil

Suspect is brother of first person held by police over disappearance of the British journalist and Indigenous rights activist

Central America Regional

This report, informed by the Dialogue’s Task Force on Climate Change in the Northern Triangle, complements the recommendations of the previous report in the series, on themes such as agriculture, water, energy, and finance, with strategic recommendations for US assistance to foster effective and sustainable adaptation, especially through empowering local leadership

Colombia

Un informe publicado por decenas de organizaciones sociales, bajo la Coordinación Colombia Europa Estados Unidos, raja al gobierno de Iván Duque en derechos humanos e implementación de la paz

El candidato de izquierdas les promete vivienda, salud y educación como parte de su propuesta de transformación de la fuerza pública

Los habitantes de varios municipios en los departamentos de Cauca, Nariño, Caquetá y Guaviare han vivido en las últimas semanas con temor ante las amenazas de disidencias de las Farc que estarían presionándolos en su intención de voto en las elecciones de este 19 de junio

Those concerns came to a head in January, when a military spouse anonymously texted a senior enlisted leader in 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade and directly accused an advising team in Tolemaida, Colombia, of debauchery

Cuba

Of those, 36 people were sentenced to up to 25 years in prison for sedition

El Salvador

Llamamos a la comunidad internacional a seguir vigilando de cerca la situación de El Salvador y a exigir al Estado salvadoreño el cumplimiento de sus compromisos internacionales en materia de respeto a los derechos humanos

Guatemala

Fiscalía contra la Corrupción asegura que no encontró indicios para poder perseguir penalmente al exmandatario

Haiti

Many of the customers are Haitians who had been living in Chile and Brazil before they made their way to the Texas border in September, only to be expelled by the Biden administration and prevented from seeking asylum

Haiti, U.S.-Mexico Border

Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating the creation of the coins and whether anyone at CBP is selling them

Mexico

The Mexican state of Veracruz hired a prominent lawyer to recover billions laundered in the Houston suburbs. Then things went awry

Colectivos presentan “amicus curiae” para respaldar acción de inconstitucionalidad en contra de las leyes secundarias del cuerpo de seguridad

Se transformó el tipo de violencias ejercidas hacia las mujeres. Es decir, con la estrategia militarizada, México se volvió un país armado. Tenemos un país altamente armado y eso tiene consecuencias muy puntuales

Durante casi cinco horas dispararon, quemaron vehículos, bloquearon calles, tomaron el control de una parte de San Cristóbal de Las Casas y, hasta que empezó la lluvia, o se hartaron, se fueron sin que ninguna autoridad se presentara en la zona afectada

Panama

La Defensoría del Pueblo de Colombia alertó este lunes, 13 de junio, que en mayo pasaron por el Darién, frontera de Colombia y Panamá, 210 niños sin compañía de adultos

Panama, Venezuela

La organización ha atendido a 100 pacientes por violencia sexual, y en salud mental se atienden en promedio siete pacientes cada día por problemas asociados a ansiedad, depresión, estrés agudo y otras afectaciones que deja el peligroso trayecto del tapón del Darién

U.S.-Mexico Border

Beacons placed in desert for those making dangerous crossing from Mexico in summer

The initial evidence from just six months of operation under MPP 2.0 is that history is largely repeating itself

Latin America Security-Related News: June 14, 2022

(Even more here)

June 14, 2022

Argentina, Venezuela

Until being sold to Emtrasur about a year ago, the plane had been owned by Mahan Air of Iran, a line the U.S. government has sanctioned for allegedly aiding the Quds Force and terrorist activities

Brazil

A meeting between the two presidents in Los Angeles foreshadowed bigger trouble ahead, as Bolsonaro looks set to challenge the vote

Colombia

Some politicians and business people fear Petro’s potential triumph could spark mutiny among the military, but eleven active officials from the army, air force, navy and police Reuters spoke to all ruled out that possibility

Jurisdicción le imputó ese delito a los excomandantes y ellos se negarán a aceptarlo

La Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz (JEP) acaba de reprender al director del Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica, Darío Acevedo, por querer olvidar a propósito el papel del paramilitarismo en el conflicto armado colombiano

El gobierno de Iván Duque señala que la muerte de este líder de las disidencias de las Farc en el Cauca representa un triunfo para la seguridad

Hasta el momento se desconoce el paradero de Omar, quien es integrante del Comité Veredal del Consejo Comunitario y funge como sepulturero en la comunidad

El Salvador

Entre los militares entrevistados para este reportaje reina el miedo a las represalias y algunos ya dan por hecho que, aunque la Constitución del país prohíbe la reelección, Bukele comenzará su segundo mandato en 2024

Guatemala

El elevado costo de la canasta básica ha puesto en riesgo la seguridad alimentaria de millones de guatemaltecos, según cifras oficiales

Mexico

Tuvimos 35,500 militares desplegados en promedio anual en tareas de seguridad pública en el sexenio de Vicente Fox y para mayo de 2022 el número llegó a 239,865

Desde la madrugada de este lunes, los migrantes de origen venezolano y cubano, en su mayoría, además de colombianos, haitianos y centroamericanos, comenzaron a abarrotar las calles de acceso del INAMI y de COMAR

Diversos ataques provocaron que 257 personas perdieran la vida de manera violenta durante el fin de semana pasado

Nicaragua

The U.S. remains deeply concerned about the regime’s unjust detentions of political prisoners and ongoing abuses against members of civil society, and committed to the restoration of democracy and respect for human rights in Nicaragua

U.S.-Mexico Border

For months, agents have warned that morale within the ranks of the federal law enforcement organization is sinking, but the last shreds of spirit have since been dashed by outright animosity from the Biden administration

Uruguay

Horas después la muy reciente aprobación unánime del acuerdo de Defensa de Uruguay con China, rápidamente votada en la Comisión de Relaciones Internacionales del Senado, el Parlamento decidió no continuar

Latin America Security-Related News: June 13, 2022

(Even more here)

June 13, 2022

Western Hemisphere Regional

The Summit of the Americas, hosted this year by Joe Biden, offers a measure of how far the U.S. has fallen

China’s powerful banks and state-owned enterprises have long been expanding their influence in the hemisphere

We remain committed to collectively leveraging the benefits of migration while addressing its challenges in countries and communities of origin, transit, destination, and return

President Biden is trying to confront repeated surges of migrants at the U.S. border by casting the issue as a problem for the entire region, not just the United States

Argentina

El Estado Mayor Conjunto de las Fuerzas Armadas argentinas ha iniciado las gestiones para incorporar cuatro helicópteros pesados Boeing CH-47 Chinook

As in the rest of Latin America, Chinese businesses in Argentina lack transparency and have many close relationships with political sectors

Argentina, Venezuela

A Irán le vendría muy bien acceder a la tecnología, que la Argentina domina, que le permitiría obtener plutonio 239 y cerrar el ciclo para el uso militar de la energía nuclear. En lenguaje liso y llano, la bomba

Bolivia

Áñez was convicted by the court of dereliction of duty and acting against the constitution when she proclaimed herself president in what Morales and his party have called a coup

Brazil

The leaders of Brazil’s armed forces have suddenly begun raising similar doubts about the integrity of the elections, despite little evidence of past fraud, ratcheting up already high tensions

Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips went missing in the western Amazon, but the search has been called inefficient

A main line of police investigation into the disappearance of a British journalist and an Indigenous official in the Amazon points to an international network that pays poor fishermen to fish illegally in Brazil’s second-largest Indigenous territory

Colombia

El ambiente político de los ex combatientes y cómo poco a poco han quedado desolados ante la creciente de las elecciones presidenciales

Luego de que la Corte Constitucional tumbó en enero pasado el Plan de Manejo Ambiental aprobado por la Autoridad Nacional de Licencias Ambientales (Anla), esta entidad estudia uno nuevo en medio de lo que las organizaciones califican como un trámite exprés que no cumple con los requisitos establecidos

Un informe presentado por la Comisión Colombiana de Juristas ante la JEP afirma que la Fiscalía tiene identificados a miembros del Ejército, la Policía y agentes del DAS que habrían participado de crímenes contra defensores de derechos humanos

Vorágine revela la declaración que un exsoldado dio ante un fiscal, en la que da detalles de una alianza entre los paramilitares y una unidad que estaba en cabeza del hoy comandante del Ejército cuando era capitán

Será una prueba de fuego para la democracia colombiana y demandará mucha responsabilidad y prudencia de todos los actores que la integran

De llegar a la presidencia, Gustavo Petro tendrá un reto mayor: establecer una relación armónica y transformadora con las Fuerzas Armadas. No será fácil. Las prevenciones y las distancias son enormes

El cabecilla del frente 36 salió de su refugio en el Norte de Antioquia, al parecer por grave enfermedad, y fue dado de baja en el Valle de Aburrá

The United States is about to lose its best friend in Latin America

El Salvador, Honduras

La viceministra de seguridad, Julissa Villanueva, considera que adoptar la política agresiva de seguridad del presidente de El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, bajo el denominado “Plan Control Territorial”

Haiti, Mexico

Two Haitian migrants in Tijuana were the most recent to die under circumstances that the community attributes to systemic racism in Mexico’s hospitals and U.S. border policy

Honduras

¿Iba a entregarse el día de su muerte? ¿Pertenecía a una pandilla? ¿Por qué hay contradicciones en la versión de la Policía?

Mexico

In its statement, the Mexican migration agency did not specify what kind of documents were issued but most of the migrants showed papers that gave them a period of one month or more to leave the country or begin regularization procedures

Some 6,000 migrants, many of them from Venezuela, set off from southern Mexico last week as leaders from across the Americas met in Los Angeles to discuss issues including migration

En 110 ventanillas de las oficinas de representación del INM se atendió a casi 7 mil personas

33 se ahogaron debido a la fuerza de la corriente, la profundidad y las bajas temperaturas del Río Bravo en los estados de Coahuila y Tamaulipas

Nicaragua

Funcionario de EEUU dice que gobierno de Joe Bide analiza poner en marcha “medidas contundentes” contra Managua por intercambio con tropas rusas

Venezuela

A photo accompanying the opposition statement shows Juan Guaidó being held back as people gather around him and someone rips his shirt off

Latin America-related events in Washington and online this week

All times are U.S. Eastern time zone.

Monday, June 13

  • 1:00-2:00 at georgetown.edu: What to Expect from the Colombian Presidential Elections (RSVP required).

Tuesday, June 14

Wednesday, June 15

Thursday, June 16

Big increase in Venezuelans coming through Panama’s Darién Gap

The Panamanian Migration Service’s latest data show a 145 percent increase, from April to May, in migrants coming through the dangerous, ungoverned Darién Gap jungles. 13,894 people took this several-day walk in May, risking drowning, disease, and assault, theft, and rape from criminal groups that operate with total impunity.

That’s not a record—more migrants passed through the Darién in July-October of last year, a period when Haitians who had been living in South America massively migrated toward the United States.

This year, most migrants are Venezuelan: 71 percent in May, and 51 percent in January-May. Venezuelan migration through the Darién was 43 percent greater in May than in the first four months of the year combined. Migration of Colombian and Ecuadorian citizens in May was also nearly double the January-April total.

Until recently, Venezuelans seeking to migrate toward the United States would mostly arrive by air to Mexico, which did not require visas of visiting Venezuelan tourists. That route got shut down on January 21 when Mexico, at very strong U.S. suggestion, began imposing visa requirements for visiting Venezuelans.

Venezuelans are now taking to the treacherous land route. Once they make it through Panama, most are ending up in the Mexican southern-border zone city of Tapachula, where they are stranded. Venezuelans made up most of the attempted migrant “caravan” that left Tapachula a week ago. That caravan made headlines but is now mostly dispersed, as Mexican migration authorities have been providing visas allowing migrants to leave Tapachula.

The last polls are done in Colombia

It’s illegal in Colombia to publish new poll data less than 7 days before an election. The final round of the country’s presidential election is next Sunday, so this is it.

La Silla Vacía maintains a weighted poll of polls, sort of 538 style. It shows Gustavo Petro and Rodolfo Hernandez within 0.7 points of each other. And we’re not going to see any more polling after this.

With this close of a vote, and this much uncertainty, the looming question for the evening of the 19th and the days immediately afterward is: will the loser and his base of supporters concede? Or will the second half of June be a scary time of anger, fear, and disorder in Colombia?

If Petro wins by a razor-slim margin and Rodolfo Hernández rejects it: Hernández has picked up support from some wealthy and far-right elements who don’t have a history of playing by the rules. Though the political bosses, landowners and others who supported paramilitarism 15-20 years ago probably can’t force non-recognition of a Petro victory, they can spend the succeeding weeks and months making much of the country ungovernable and violent if they don’t accept the outcome. There also appears to be white-hot hatred of Petro in some corners of the military, and while I don’t foresee unconstitutional saber-rattling during the days following the election, I can’t dismiss the possibility either.

If Hernández wins by a razor-slim margin and Gustavo Petro rejects it: Petro’s supporters include core participants in last year’s national strike, which paralyzed the country for two months. They can control the streets again. And don’t expect Colombia’s National Police to obey proper use of force standards when they respond: they have little record of doing that in the past.

The second half of June could be really complicated.

Latin America Security-Related News: June 10, 2022

(Even more here)

June 10, 2022

Western Hemisphere Regional

In preparation for the Summit, the United States and other countries in the region developed a suite of bold new migration-related deliverables

Biden’s summit plan echoes his Indo-Pacific strategy: rewarding and bolstering nominally democratic allies while marginalizing Chinese-aligned autocratic states

Under an accord President Biden will unveil at the Summit of the Americas, several countries commit to taking in more asylum-seekers, among other steps

President Joe Biden and other Western Hemisphere leaders on Friday announced what is being billed as a roadmap for countries to host large numbers of migrants and refugees

First regional gathering in US in quarter century marred by squabbling over who could attend

Brazil

Jair Bolsonaro’s dog-whistle politics is risking the lives of Indigenous people and the reporters who tell their stories

Indigenous activists have been searching for the missing pair since just hours after they vanished, with support from armed members of the military police

The largest refuge for Indigenous tribes living in isolation is also a hotspot for poachers and illegal loggers and a major smuggling route for cocaine traffickers

It’s clear Bolsonaro would rather be meeting a different U.S. president, but finally meeting Biden (they hadn’t previously spoken) will likely help him counter the narrative that he’s isolated internationally

A staunch ally of former President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro has never disguised his displeasure at the Democrat’s victory and has sometimes publicly repeated the baseless accusation of fraud in the 2020 U.S. elections

Colombia

In an operation, an “UAS Spray Team (UST)” at a base in Colombia would receive a geo-fenced polygon of the intended spray area based on high-resolution imagery or other means

In the specific context of Colombia, this ‘head in the sand’ approach is demonstrably untenable, given the risks faced by human rights defenders who highlight human rights violations caused or exacerbated by business activities

Fuentes del caso señalan que esto podría ocurrir por acciones dilatorias de los abogados de Pérez y el cambio de juez en el proceso

En un nuevo informe de Viso Mutop, Ricardo Vargas investigador asociado, explora el origen y desarrollo de los modelos de Erradicacio?n Manual Forzosa EMF

As presidential elections take way in Colombia, the Washington Office on Latin America’s (WOLA) Colombia program has continued to receive alarming information about the ongoing persecution and stigmatization against social leaders, human rights defenders, and civil society organizations in the country

Ecuador

Analistas ven positiva esta propuesta, pero creen que Ecuador deberá tener claro qué requiere y qué está haciendo para combatir el narcotráfico

El Salvador

Journalists in El Salvador who write about gangs can now be sent to prison. Two brothers defy the law with a story tying President Nayib Bukele to violent street gangs

Another request to set up a call with Blinken, made through the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, was similarly rebuffed

Guatemala

Mientras el Congreso ratificaba el estado de Sitio en Tajumulco e Ixchiguán, las fuerzas de seguridad retomaron la seguridad y descubrieron varios búnker desde donde se coordinaban ataques armados

Haiti

The uptick has rekindled criticism that the Biden administration treats Black migrants differently than others, an allegation it denies

Mexico

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A group of about 2,000 mainly younger male migrants set out walking Thursday from the southern town of Huixtla

El pasado 6 de junio, un grupo de aproximadamente 50 personas protestaron en el patio y frente de la Estación Migratoria Siglo XXI, ante la falta de información sobre sus procedimientos migratorios, la escasez de alimentos y las restricciones de visitas y contacto con el exterio

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El secuestro y desaparición de personas se ha vuelto constante en esa región; sin embargo, en la mayoría de las ocasiones los familiares no han hecho denuncias

Nicaragua

Daniel Ortega es un aliado incondicional de Rusia desde su primer gobierno en la década de 1980

Panama

Relations with China have cooled during the Laurentino Cortizo administration due to strong criticism of infrastructure projects

U.S.-Mexico Border

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday made it nearly impossible for Americans to sue federal law enforcement officers who violate their constitutional rights, further narrowing the already limited path to hold U.S. officials accountable for even egregious misuse of their authority

  • Rafia Zakaria, Let Us Prey (The Baffler, June 10, 2022).

As Texas authorities insist on hunting down humans they call “illegal,” a predatory culture claims more victims

Three Points Station and Casa Grande Station personnel will be supporting the deployment of new Heat Stress Kits/Go-Bags that will be distributed to 500 agents

Venezuela

Venezuelan President Nicolas announced on Friday that a 20-year cooperation plan with Iran will be signed, as he arrived in Tehran

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: June 10, 2022

With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. See past weekly updates here.

This week:

  • Western Hemisphere leaders at the ninth Summit of the Americas are poised to publish a “Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection.” Provisions will endorse assistance to states managing large arrivals of migrants, legal pathways for migration, “humane” border management, and coordinated emergency response.
  • A large “caravan” of migrants departed the southern Mexico border city of Tapachula on June 6, but is now much reduced. Many migrants are apparently being offered humanitarian visas.
  • Newly revealed emails show that, in 2018, senior DHS officials sought to maximize the number of families being separated by the Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy. They complained when criminal prosecutions happened quickly enough to allow parents and children to be reunited.
  • A Supreme Court decision has gutted the ability to sue Border Patrol agents and other federal law enforcement agents who violate constitutional rights.

Migration at the Summit of the Americas

Western Hemisphere leaders gathered for the ninth Summit of the Americas are finalizing the text of the “Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection,” which is to go public on June 10. Previewing the document on June 9, a senior Biden administration official billed it as “a regional partnership to address historic migration flows affecting every country in the region.”

In a framework of “responsibility sharing” at a moment of historically high region-wide migration, the Los Angeles Declaration is to have four “pillars”:

  • Stability and assistance for communities: including assistance to address “root causes” of migration, support for countries hosting large migrant populations, the reintegration of migrants in their communities of origin, and a new package of aid to Haiti.
  • Legal pathways: including commitments to expand temporary-worker efforts like the United States’ H-2A and H-2B visa programs, to expand refugee resettlement, and to improve asylum systems.
  • “Humane border management,” a pillar which includes the role of the region’s border, migration, and law enforcement forces and collaboration on prosecuting human smuggling and trafficking networks. An administration official mentioned “cross-screening people that enter one border, repatriating people that don’t qualify.”
  • “Coordinated emergency response,” a pillar which presumably includes cooperation to manage sudden increases in migration.

“Unlawful migration is not acceptable,” President Joe Biden said in remarks opening the Summit on June 8. “We will enforce our borders through innovative, coordinated action with our regional partners.” The Associated Press noted that this cooperative approach contrasts with that of the Trump administration, “whose unilateral demands for cooperation included a threat to Mexico to close the border and raise tariffs.”

Implementing this declaration may be complicated by the challenges of translating lofty statements and commitments to concrete actions on the ground, and by the absence from the Summit of the presidents of seven of the nine Latin American countries whose citizens were encountered most often at the U.S.-Mexico border in April. The Biden administration did not invite the leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua, or Venezuela to the summit. The presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico declined to attend, though they sent foreign ministers or high officials and have likely been engaged with the Biden administration in negotiating the text. 

Vice President Kamala Harris, who is charged with developing the Biden administration’s “root causes” strategy for Central America’s “northern triangle” (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras), announced new assistance for those countries. Little if any of it would go to these three countries’ governments, whose presidents all skipped the Summit. The Vice President announced more than $1.9 billion in new commitments from corporations willing to invest there, part of a private-sector “call to action” that, according to the White House, now adds up to over $3.2 billion in new investments. Further efforts include “In Her Hands,” a program that aims to “empower, protect, and train women in Northern Central America,” the creation of a Central American Service Corps for the region’s youth, a food security initiative, a Caribbean climate partnership, and a program to train health workers.

“We’re dealing with a challenge that, for a whole variety of reasons, is beyond anything that anyone has seen before,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN. “Countries are already having to do this,” Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols said to the Associated Press, “so rather than each country trying to sort this out and figure it out for themselves, what we’re doing is saying, ‘Let’s come together in a coherent way and construct a framework so we can all work together to make this situation more humane and more manageable.’”

A June 6 letter from 108 U.S. non-governmental groups, including WOLA,  urged the Biden administration and regional governments to carry out their border and migration policies in coordination with civil society and migrant-led organizations. It offered a series of recommendations for protecting migrant rights, ensuring access to asylum (including ending the Title 42 and “Remain in Mexico” efforts that block asylum access), protecting immigrants in the United States, and expanding legal pathways to migration.

“What we hope to see in the Declaration are commitments more focused on access to protection and other legal avenues for migrants in need of leaving their countries of origin,” WOLA’s vice president for programs, Maureen Meyer, told Venezuela’s Efecto Cocuyo. “It is of concern that so far the main focus of the United States and several countries is migration control at the expense of the rights of migrants and access to protection.”

“Caravan” departs Tapachula

Thousands of migrants departed Mexico’s southern border-zone city of Tapachula, Chiapas, on June 6. This latest attempt to form a “caravan” is already dwindling as Mexico’s government engages in negotiations and prohibits participants from boarding vehicles.

Estimates of this caravan’s size have varied widely. Its principal organizer, Luis García Villagrán of the Mexican NGO Center for Human Dignity, who said it was deliberately timed to coincide with the Summit of the Americas, foresaw 15,000 participants, a number that appeared in widely shared initial reporting. As the group departed Tapachula, Reuters estimated “at least 6,000 people.” By June 7, Villagrán told reporters that numbers had dropped to between 5,000 and 8,000.

According to the Guardian, Villagrán said that 70 percent of caravan participants are women and children. While it’s not clear that this was accurate, a significant portion do appear to be neither male nor adult.

It is widely reported, though, that a majority of participants are from Venezuela—80 percent, estimates veteran Chiapas-based reporter Isaín Mandujano—with Central Americans, Haitians, Cubans, and citizens of African countries making up most of the rest. As they walked up Chiapas’s Pacific coastal highway leading out of Tapachula, some carried Venezuelan flags, sang Venezuela’s national anthem, or chanted insults aimed at the country’s authoritarian leader, Nicolás Maduro.

A large presence of Venezuelans in Tapachula is new. Until recently, Mexico did not require visas of visiting citizens of Venezuela, so most who intended to migrate to the U.S. border flew to Mexico City or Cancún, then traveled by bus with valid visas in their passports. That ended on January 21, when Mexico began requiring visas of visiting Venezuelans, at the strong suggestion of the U.S. government after encounters with Venezuelan citizens at the U.S.-Mexico border increased to over 20,000 per month.

Arrivals of Venezuelan citizens at the U.S. border soon plummeted—U.S. authorities encountered 4,103 in April—but Venezuelans determined to migrate northward have begun traveling by land in greater numbers. In the first five months of 2022, more than half of migrants walking through Panama’s treacherous Darién Gap jungles (16,720 out of 32,797 people) have been Venezuelan. In all of 2021, 2,821 Venezuelans took this route, and just 50 in 2020.

When Venezuelans without visas arrive by land in southern Mexico, they face the same choices as other undocumented migrants, most of whom end up in Tapachula: risk capture, detention, or deportation, or seek asylum in Mexico’s overburdened system. Almost 33,000 people applied for asylum in Tapachula during the first 5 months of 2022, and 89,604 applied in 2021. (Tapachula’s population is about 350,000.)

(While many can claim government persecution, even Venezuelan citizens who do not qualify for asylum are difficult to deport or remove. The U.S. government, which has sought to use Title 42 robustly to expel as many migrants as possible regardless of asylum needs, has expelled 1 percent of the Venezuelan migrants it has encountered, and most of those probably had some legal status that made possible their expulsion to Mexico.)

According to EFE, García Villagrán estimated that 45,000 migrants are currently stuck in Tapachula awaiting resolution of their asylum applications. Normally, Mexico requires asylum applicants to remain in the state where they first applied, though cases can occasionally be transferred to other states.

This is a hardship in Tapachula, an economically struggling city in Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state. With COMAR barely able to keep up, the agency’s Tapachula office is now scheduling initial asylum application appointments for August, and deciding cases many months after that. This leaves most migrants with no viable way to support themselves while they await decisions. (In early June, both WOLA and Human Rights Watch published detailed, vividly documented field research reports about the plight of migrants stuck in Tapachula.)

To some extent, the “caravan”—and several that have come before it—is a reaction to that. Though they continue to get a lot of attention in U.S. media, no caravan has arrived intact at the U.S.-Mexico border since late 2018. Mexico and Guatemala have dispersed them shortly after they’ve formed, either by blocking them through at times violent operations, by prohibiting participants from boarding vehicles, or by agreeing to allow marchers to transfer their asylum applications to other Mexican states—usually states with greater employment opportunities but still distant from the U.S. border. A few hundred participants in a late 2021 caravan walked all the way from Tapachula to Mexico City, roughly one third of the distance to the U.S. border, but dispersed after that.

The current caravan seems to be dividing. By June 8 its participants had traveled about 25 miles from Tapachula to the town of Huixtla, Chiapas, where Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) apparently offered to provide documents to those who desist. Mandujano reported that the document on offer is the Humanitarian Visitors Card (Tarjeta de Visitante por Razones Humanitarias, TVRH), which allows migrants to stay in the country for a year and work. Although humanitarian visas should be provided to asylum seekers while their cases are processed,  victims or witnesses of crime in Mexico, children, and for other humanitarian or public interest reasons, the U.S. government has often objected to Mexico’s use of this  visa because many who receive it go directly to the U.S. border.

It is not clear how many TVRHs the Mexican government is issuing to caravan participants. García Villagrán told EFE that “INM Commissioner Francisco Garduño called him and pledged to assist all of the members of the caravan with their immigration proceedings.” Over 2,100 had been issued by June 8.

The offer has apparently split or reduced the caravan. On June 9, about 2,000 migrants, mainly younger males, walked north from Huixtla, according to the Associated Press, “but throngs of families with children decided to wait in Huixtla to see if they could get some sort of temporary exit visa.”

In the United States, some are watching closely. Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols, according to EFE, warned caravan participants that “the U.S. border is not open… what I say to these people is not to risk their lives on a long journey that will not result in entry into the United States.” The caravan has been featured on the social media accounts of immigration and border hardliners like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), and the FOX News cable network.

Emails reveal that family separation was the point of “Zero Tolerance”

2018 email correspondence between Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials, made available via ongoing litigation, reveals that they sought to maximize the number of migrant parents and children being separated by the Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy. Officials, some of whom remain in senior positions today, were upset that some parents were being released from the U.S. criminal justice system quickly enough to be reunited with their children.

Starting in late 2017 and intensifying during the spring of 2018, the Trump administration, led by then-attorney general Jeff Sessions, sought the highest possible number of criminal prosecutions of migrants who crossed the border between ports of entry, which is a misdemeanor. Under the “zero tolerance” policy, adult improper border crossers were jailed and made to appear in federal courts, regardless of whether they were seeking asylum. Meanwhile, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) carried out a policy called “metering,” sharply limiting the number of asylum seekers who could approach ports of entry “properly” to ask asylum, making improper crossings the only viable way to seek protection without a very long wait.

If the criminally prosecuted migrants arrived with children, CBP took the children away from parents, on the pretext that children cannot be held in prison, then classified the children as “unaccompanied” and sent them to the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). These separations happened more than 4,000 times until a San Diego federal judge ordered a halt to the “zero tolerance” policy in June 2018. For reasons that remain unexplained, CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) made very little effort to note the connection between jailed parent and separated child. As a result, hundreds of parents were deported without their children, and many remain separated today.

Trump administration officials sought to portray the family separations as an unfortunate byproduct of its “zero tolerance” effort to enforce existing U.S. laws. (“On multiple occasions, high-ranking members of the Trump administration denied developing a family separation policy,” CBS News put it this week.) The trove of emails, first revealed by the Washington Post’s Maria Sacchetti, explodes that claim. They show that the family separations were, in fact, the point: an effort to deter future migration by inflicting suffering on migrants, including asylum seekers.

On May 10, 2018, senior ICE official Matthew Albence sent a memo to top colleagues voicing his concern that, because judges were often sentencing parents to time served and releasing them, parents were returning to DHS custody too quickly, before their children could be classified as “unaccompanied” and taken away from them. According to the Washington Post, “Albence said CBP should work with ICE ‘to prevent this from happening,’ such as by taking the children themselves to ORR ‘at an accelerated pace’ or bringing the adults directly to ICE from criminal court, instead of returning them to their children.” Albence now works in the private sector.

Tae Johnson, a senior ICE official at the time, complained on May 25, 2018 that CBP was “reuniting adults with kids” after prosecution in McAllen. “What a fiasco,” he added. Tae Johnson is now the acting director of ICE, a position he has held since the final days of the Trump administration.

“We can’t have this,” Albence responded to Johnson’s e-mail. “ORR needs arm twisted,” wrote ICE official David Jennings. Albence added on May 26,“This obviously undermines the entire effort and the Dept is going to look completely ridiculous if we go through the effort of prosecuting only to send them to a [Family Residential Center] and out the door.” CBP official Sandi Goldhamer responded by suggesting “that Border Patrol ‘cease the reunification process’ if officials are ‘concerned about appearances.’”

Lawyers representing victims of family separation obtained these emails as part of a lawsuit filed against the U.S. government after settlement negotiations broke down in late 2021. The officials’ words, they say, strengthens the plaintiffs’ case: “in practice, the government implemented a sweeping administrative family separation policy—the exact DHS proposal discussed throughout 2017—under the guise of a prosecution policy, which was merely a pretext for the ultimate goal: separating families to deter immigration.”

Supreme Court decision shields border agents

In a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 8 that a U.S. citizen could not sue a Border Patrol agent who assaulted him. The Egbert v. Boule decision will complicate future efforts to hold accountable federal law enforcement agents who violate constitutional rights.

The case stems from a 2014 incident in Washington state, along the U.S.-Canada border, in which Border Patrol agent Erik Egbert shoved and pushed to the ground innkeeper Robert Boule, who accused Egbert of illegally entering his property. The Supreme Court’s majority, in an opinion authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, decided that Boule did not have the right to sue a federal agent without explicit authorization from Congress.

This further weakens a 1971 Supreme Court ruling (Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics) that had allowed federal law enforcement officers to be sued for violating constitutional rights in some instances. The U.S. Constitution includes protections against excessive force or illegal search and seizure, but “it is silent about what the proper remedy is against an officer who violates these limits,” Ian Millhiser explained at Vox. The possibility of lawsuits as a recourse was already weakened by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 2020 (Hernandez v. Mesa), which prohibited relatives of a 15-year-old Mexican boy from suing the Border Patrol agent who, while standing on U.S. soil, shot and killed him from across the border.

In a dissenting opinion cited in the Washington Post, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that “the court had ‘absolutely immunized from liability’ thousands of Border Patrol agents ‘no matter how egregious the misconduct or resultant injury.’”

Cecillia Wang, the ACLU’s deputy legal director, told the Los Angeles Times that the Ebert v. Boule decision “leaves victims of police violence by Border Patrol agents without an effective remedy and endangers us all. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is by far the largest federal police agency, and it has an appalling record of injuring and killing people.” Added the Southern Border Communities Coalition, “The decision in the Washington state case is a setback for victims and survivors of Border Patrol agents’ violence. The court found that BP agents cannot be held individually liable for abuse and excessive force used during their work day.”

Links

  • On June 7, WOLA co-hosted with partner organizations the Summit side event “From Deterrence To Integration: Civil Society Voices On Migration Policy Challenges and Good Practices in The Americas.” Video of the event is here.
  • NBC News revealed that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is developing a plan to alleviate overcrowding at the border by transporting asylum-seeking migrants to cities in the U.S. interior after initial processing. A DHS spokesperson said that “no decision has been made” on the proposal. The plan has been in the works for months, a CBP source told Univisión. DHS officials are jokingly referring to it as the “Abbott plan,” citing Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) scheme to send released migrants on buses to Washington, DC.
  • A letter from 104 organizations (including WOLA) urges President Biden to use all available authority, “to the greatest extent permissible under existing court orders—in order to ameliorate the harms caused by Title 42 and ensure access to asylum… This should begin first and foremost with an immediate rulemaking to rescind the CDC’s Title 42 order.”
  • A copy of a Border Patrol Critical Incident Team (CIT) incident report has been shared with the public for the first time. It was obtained by the ACLU, which is litigating the case of Eric Molix, a U.S. citizen who died in an August 2021 high-speed Border Patrol vehicle pursuit in New Mexico. As first revealed by the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) last October, CITs are Border Patrol units that often arrive at the scene when agents may have committed wrongdoing, and are accused of altering crime scenes or otherwise seeking to build cases that might exonerate agents. CBP announced in early May that it would phase out CITs by the end of September 2022.
  • Witness at the Border’s latest monthly tracking of ICE flights found that May 2022 saw the second-largest monthly total of migrant removal flights (139) since the organization began tracking in January 2020. The countries now accepting Title 42 expulsion flights, it reports, “made up 95% of all removal flights in May.” Those countries are “Haiti (36), Guatemala (32), Honduras (30), Colombia (21), El Salvador (12), and Brazil (1).”
  • The Biden administration may soon be able to enforce vaccine requirements for federal workers, which could mean disciplinary action, even firing, for possibly thousands of Border Patrol agents who have refused the COVID-19 vaccine, the Washington Examiner reports.
  • A report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the U.S. Congress’s investigative arm, looked into oversight and data collection regarding Border Patrol’s 110 interior road checkpoints. It found that Border Patrol’s data on checkpoint drug seizures is reliable, but that the agency keeps poor records on “other checkpoint activity data, including on apprehensions of smuggled people and canine assists with drug seizures.”
  • A heavy presence of border law enforcement and military personnel “ultimately didn’t stop a homegrown shooter from inflicting terror” in Uvalde, Texas on May 24, the Dallas Morning News observed. At Palabra, Michelle García blames the border security apparatus and a “constructed war zone” for encouraging “violence and inhumanity.”
  • 500 Texas National Guardsmen assigned to Gov. Greg Abbott’s “Operation Lone Star” have been sent home during the past two months. This is a slight downsizing: about 6,000 were still stationed along the Texas-Mexico border as of May 27, and 3,700 are assigned elsewhere in Texas, according to Stars and Stripes.
  • In Mexico’s border state of Chihuahua, which includes Ciudad Juárez, kidnappings and disappearances of migrants happen most often in zones controlled by the Juárez Cartel, a regional organized crime structure now allied with the larger Jalisco New Generation Cartel, according to an investigation by the Mexican magazine Proceso.
  • Arizona’s Republican governor and Republican-majority legislature are near a budget deal that would devote $544 million in state funds to border security. “$355 million would be used for fencing,” Axios reports.
  • Mexican media reported on factories seeking to hire Haitian migrants currently stranded in the border cities of Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa, Tamaulipas.
  • The Texas Tribune profiles a Salvadoran family whose unification could be derailed by one of the Texas attorney general’s many lawsuits in the state’s federal courts. This suit would end the Central American Minors Program, which allowed threatened Central American children with family members in the United States to apply for protection at U.S. embassies. The Obama administration began the program in 2014, the Trump administration halted it in 2017, and the Biden administration revived it in 2021.
  • “Across the U.S., a surveillance system tracking the movements of tens of thousands of people seeking refuge or permanent residency in the U.S. is quietly but quickly expanding,” observes an investigation of alternatives-to-detention programs by Erica Hellerstein at Coda. Most are required to use a facial recognition app known as SmartLINK.
  • A New York Times photo essay depicts asylum seekers’ cross-border journeys from shelters on the Mexican side to custody on the U.S. side.

Latin America Security-Related News: June 9, 2022

(Even more here)

June 9, 2022

Western Hemisphere Regional

The “Los Angeles Declaration,” to be announced while Biden meets with his counterparts from North, Central and South America, is a brief call to action that supporters hope will guide countries on one of the most pressing issues surrounding migration — hosting people fleeing violence and persecution

Defesnores de derechos humanos advierten que el enfoque migratorio de los países que integran la Cumbre de las Américas no privilegia los DDHH

Brazil

Crime there is rife and government oversight scant, adding to fears about the duo’s whereabouts and condition

Since President Bolsonaro took office, however, we have seen Brazil led down a path more reminiscent of its authoritarian past than the proud, vibrant democracy the Brazilian people built from the ashes of its military dictatorship

Joe Biden is preparing for an awkward first meeting with Brazil’s far-right leader, who has raised doubts not only about his own country’s voting but about the legitimacy of the US president’s election

Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, Venezuela

Segun la policia colombiana, el PCC de Brasil, uno de los grupos mafiosos mas poderosos de Sudameica, coordino el homicidio de Marcelo Pecci

Colombia

Durante los últimos meses había estado al frente del espacio humanitario en esa zona para proteger a los pobladores del recrudecimiento de la guerra en la región

Ecuador

La norma, de 74 artículos, regulará a las servidoras y servidores de la Policía Nacional, Fuerzas Armadas y del Cuerpo de Seguridad y Vigilancia Penitenciaria

El Salvador

Sus familiares señalan que sus capturas son ilegales. Por eso presentaron un recurso de habeas corpus ante la Sala de lo Constitucional. Hasta ahora se registran 51 denuncias de capturas arbitrarias en la zona

At least 38,000 people have been arrested under Nayib Bukele’s draconic state of exemption

Guatemala

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Mexico

The Mexican government will attempt to quell a massive caravan of migrants traveling through the country to the United States’s southern border with the issuance of 1,000 humanitarian visas

The INM, which has been criticized for its sometimes brutal treatment of migrants, announced that it was ready to provide the participants in the caravan with transit permits

Homicide rate increases in Mexico are widely attributed to heightened DTO-related violence, often tied to territorial control over drug routes and criminal influence

Madres y padres de los normalistas desaparecidos y alumnos bloquearon la Autopista del Sol. Reclamaron al gobierno federal por la falta de avances en el caso y exigieron que se indague al Ejército y a la Marina

Mexico, Venezuela

Venezuelans make up a large proportion of this caravan, the biggest of the year, in contrast to previous ones. A factor appears to be a policy change implemented by Mexico in January requiring Venezuelans to acquire a visa to enter the country

U.S.-Mexico Border

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the court had “absolutely immunized from liability” thousands of Border Patrol agents “no matter how egregious the misconduct or resultant injury”

Egbert v. Boule is a severe blow to the proposition that law enforcement must obey the Constitution

DHS officials have jokingly referred to the model as the “Abbott plan,” an official said, referring to Texas Gov. Abbott’s decision to bus migrants from Texas to D.C.

The undersigned civil society organizations write to urge immediate action to preserve asylum and refugee law at the United States’ borders to the fullest extent, consistent with current court decisions concerning the use of Title 42

Venezuela

In what may be an attempt at damage control, Biden on Wednesday spoke with Guaidó. It was the first time the two leaders have spoken

If you can’t get an invitation to the biggest party in town, act like you’re too busy to care

Latin America Security-Related News: June 8, 2022

(Even more here)

June 8, 2022

Western Hemisphere Regional

  • El Negocio de la Represion (Animal Político, cerosetenta, El Deber, Efecto Cocuyo, El País América, El Universo, Interferencia, No Ficción, Revista Anfibia, UOL, Noticias Telemundo, Centro Latinoamericano de Investigación Periodística, June 8, 2022).

En los últimos cinco años en América Latina ha habido por lo menos veinte protestas ciudadanas de gran envergadura. Esperanzadoras y creativas, pero también fuertes y rabiosas

Ni en América Latina ni en Estados Unidos la casa parece estar en orden

Brazil

Indigenous expert last seen travelling with British journalist Dom Phillips was ousted from official role after Bolsonaro took office

Bolsonaro has not held many bilateral meetings in his three years as president

Colombia

Five years after the signing of the Final Agreement, the status of overall implementation shows 30% of provisions complete, 19% in intermediate status, 37% in minimal implementation status and 15 percent uninitiated

En este resguardo indígena de Buenos Aires (Cauca) hay 312 hectáreas de coca sembradas. Autoridades indígenas intentan prevenir que más jóvenes se vayan a trabajar a los cultivos ilícitos

Al menos 150 indígenas embera katío buscan refugio en Medellín, tras la ola de violencia e intimidación que azota a Chocó desde que los paramilitares se adueñaron de la región

En cuanto a los presuntos actores agresores, la Polici?a es el mayor presunto responsable con par- ticipacio?n exclusiva en 62,7% de los casos

Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela

Activists, dissidents and artists from countries not invited to the Summit of the Americas have made their way to Los Angeles for the event this week

Ecuador

Las estadísticas de la Fiscalía reflejan el nivel de impunidad detrás de la violencia de octubre de 2019. Esta institución recibió 743 denuncias relacionadas con esas protestas, la mayor parte por daño de bienes, pero solo en 66 casos ha habido personas procesadas

Guatemala

El decreto publicado por la Presidencia de la República establece que el estado de Sitio en estos dos municipios de San Macos será por 30 días

Mexico

The large group of migrants of a score of nationalities – most of them Venezuelan – resumed their journey on Tuesday morning from Alvaro Obregon, a community located 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) from the caravan start point in Tapachula

La caravana se dividió en dos partes, unos 4 mil se adelantaron y comenzaron a caminar a las 3 de la madrugada, otro contingentes de unos 6 mil más esperaron a las 5 de la mañana y comenzaron la marcha

Las detenciones y repatriaciones aumentaron 20 por ciento entre el primer trimestre de 2021 a comparación del mismo periodo de 2022

Despite the rollout of new measures to protect human rights in Mexico, the country has reached grim new violence milestones in recent years

As criminal organizations control more territory in less-populated regions, health care workers, caught in the crossfire, grow reluctant to work in such places

Peru

El Ministerio de Defensa rechazó las insinuaciones que señalan que las FF. AA habrían tomado partido por un sector político y recordó que no son deliberantes de acuerdo al artículo 169 de la Constitución

U.S.-Mexico Border

Internal data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection shared with the Washington Examiner show that nearly 4,000 of 21,000 total agents admitted to being unvaccinated as of late November 2021

In a vehicle pursuit that killed our client’s son, a newly-uncovered report shows Border Patrol’s unauthorized, conflict-ridden Critical Incident Team are the lead investigators

The children were being reunited too quickly with their parents, an official wrote on a Friday night in late May 2018

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