Adam Isacson

Defense, security, borders, migration, and human rights in Latin America and the United States. May not reflect my employer’s consensus view.

Archives

Undoing a Human Right, Without Even Acknowledging that Alternatives Existed

When coming out in support of rolling back a decades-old human right, it’s best to at least make it look like you considered the alternatives.

Some prominent centrist and center-left commentators have published pieces supporting last week’s Biden administration imposition of severe restrictions on the legal right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. Some viewed it as an unfortunate but necessary step; some were downright celebratory.

  • “I’m conflicted, finding myself caught between pro-refugee instincts and a practical recognition that the system wasn’t working,” wrote New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. Couching it as an “open borders” question, not a “right to seek protection” issue, he concluded, “we can’t absorb everyone who wants in, and it’s better that the ladder be raised in an orderly way by reasonable people.”
  • Also at the New York Times, columnist David Leonhardt called the right to enter the U.S. asylum system, which was created after the United States’ 1968 accession to the Refugee Convention and 1980 passage of the Refugee Act, a “loophole.” It may be true that some people are applying for asylum because they know the backlogged U.S. system will let their cases drag on for years, but Leonhardt does not discuss options for fixing that.
  • At his Liberal Patriot Substack, Democratic Party-adjacent demographer Ruy Teixeira excoriated the “progressive left” for holding Joe Biden “prisoner” on migration policy, and celebrated the new asylum curbs as a “jailbreak” for the President.

These columnists are entitled to their views. They may be right that inaction on the border could cost Joe Biden with some swing voters. And as noted, they may be right that the asylum system’s slowness and inefficiency could be a “pull factor” for some migrants.

These opinion pieces fail, though, by refusing to recognize that another option exists: an option that isn’t “swinging the doors open” (Kristof’s phrase). If the asylum system is broken (of course it is), then the Biden administration could fix it. This would be an administrative challenge—a fair amount of hiring and training—but hardly a moon shot for the U.S. federal government.

None of these columns talks about making the U.S. asylum system viable, and faster, adjusting it to a new era of historic worldwide migration. They don’t even mention it as an option to be discarded. Their analyses treat the asylum system as a fixed and immutable variable that we can’t do anything about. (So, incidentally, does the text of the administration’s interim final rule laying out the new asylum restriction: it laments the system’s backlog but scarcely mentions ways to address it.)

The new rule focuses only on the asylum system’s initial entry point: the U.S.-Mexico border. That makes it yet another in a ten-year-long series of efforts to deter asylum seekers at the borderline itself, or just before it. Like the others, from family separation to Remain in Mexico to Title 42 to Mexican government crackdowns, it will hurt people in the short term but will fail to move the numbers in the long term.

Where change is most urgently needed is further along in the asylum process. The backlog isn’t at the border: it lies in what happens afterward.

Imagine if it took less than a year to hand down most people’s asylum decisions, with full due process and without locking them up in detention. Imagine it being rare and unusual for cases to take longer than a year, because the system had enough judges, asylum officers, processors, case managers, and access to legal representation.

Right now—a full ten years after the first wave of Central American child and family asylum seekers surprised the Obama administration—the U.S. government is very far from that. With 725 immigration judges—9 fewer than in October!—and much fewer than 1,000 asylum officers available to attend to 1.3 million asylum cases and about 2 million other immigration cases, asylum decisions commonly take many years. In 2022, TRAC Immigration estimated an average of 4.3 years.

People who may not have understood the intricacies of U.S. asylum requirements when they came here—they just learned about the backlog’s effects via social media—end up in the United States, living their lives and awaiting a decision, for a very long time.

In many cases, such a long stay could be a good outcome because of the contributions people make while here. But it is insanity to require them to hire smugglers to get through the Darien Gap then run Mexico’s predatory organized-crime gauntlet just to touch U.S. soil, suffering abuse along the way.

Along with opening up other legal pathways, then, the goal should be to slash asylum backlog wait times while respecting and expanding rights. Fewer people who are unlikely to qualify would opt for the asylum system if the normal wait was shorter.

All that stands in the way of that is the hiring and training of a few thousand judges and asylum officers. A hiring expansion along these lines ($110m for new immigration judges, 4,338 new asylum officers) was part of the “border deal” legislation that failed in the Senate earlier this year.

Organizations and experts have recommended variations of this solution a ridiculous number of times. They include WOLA, Human Rights First, the Migration Policy Institute, the American Immigration Council, the National Immigration Forum, and the Bipartisan Policy Center, among many others.

What the Biden administration did last week is not that solution. Far from it. They decided to shut things down on the front end, rather than move to reduce the backlog.

Instead of shoring up and rebuilding the system to match an era of historic protection-seeking migration, they have made the system itself harder to access, in a way that is likely to endanger people and is almost certainly illegal.

We need an explanation for why the administration chose not to pursue the “reduce the backlog” option (and why that hasn’t been an important part of DHS budget requests since 2021). Defenders of last week’s “asylum shutdown” should at least add a sentence somewhere saying, ”We considered this but decided against it because X.”

The opinion columnists defending the “shutdown” fail even to mention action to reduce the asylum backlog. None even glance at building up asylum processing and adjudication capacity to get those ridiculous wait times down.

They don’t even raise it in order to shoot it down. They don’t say “this is impractical,” “this costs too much,” or “this might be a good way forward, but it’s gradual and can’t move the needle between now and November.” Instead of engaging this viable alternative, they blame “the left” for constraining the President from cracking down on asylum seekers.

Others have pointed out factual inaccuracies in these widely read pieces. But the most unsatisfying part of what they wrote is the failure even to acknowledge the “reduce the backlog” option, even just to dismiss it.

The United States is watering down a human right granted in past generations. This shouldn’t be done lightly, by blithely ignoring widely proposed, doable alternatives.

Latin America-Related Events in Washington and Online This Week

(Events that I know of, anyway. All times are U.S. Eastern.)

Monday, June 10, 2024

  • 11:00-12:15 at the Inter-American Dialogue: Addressing the Root Causes of Migration: Insights from the US Strategy for Central America (RSVP required).
  • 2:00 at the Atlantic Council: From competition to competitiveness: Unlocking growth and productivity in LAC (RSVP required).

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: June 7, 2024

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.

Due to an extended period of staff travel and commitments, this will be the last Weekly Border Update until July 26; we look forward to resuming a regular publication schedule on that date.

Support ad-free, paywall-free Weekly Border Updates. Your donation to WOLA is crucial to sustain this effort. Please contribute now and support our work.

THIS WEEK IN BRIEF:

As of 12:01 AM on June 5, migrants who enter U.S. custody between U.S.-Mexico border ports of entry, with few exceptions, may no longer apply for asylum. The Biden administration made this long-signaled change with a proclamation and an “interim final rule” on June 4. Asylum access is “shut down” until daily migrant encounters at the border drop to a very low average of less than 1,500 per day. The ACLU, which challenged a similar asylum ban during the Trump era, plans to sue. It is not clear whether, with its current resources, the administration will be able to deport or detain a significantly larger number of  asylum seekers than it already is.

Mexico’s refugee agency, COMAR, reported receiving 36,860 requests for asylum during the first five months of 2024. That is 42 percent fewer than during the same period in 2023. As in recent years, Honduras, Cuba, and Haiti are the top three nationalities of asylum seekers in Mexico’s system, and most applications are filed in Tapachula and Mexico City. This year’s drop in applications is unexpected, as Mexico’s government reports stopping or encountering over 480,000 migrants between January and April alone.

THE FULL UPDATE:

Read More

Daily Border Links: June 6, 2024

Get daily links in your email

Daily Border Links are following a sporadic publication schedule between May 3 and July 19. Due to staff travel, this is the last daily update for a while. Regular daily updates will return on July 22.

Developments

The Biden administration’s new proclamation and rule curtailing asylum access at the U.S.-Mexico border, which it calls “Securing the Border,” went into effect at 12:01 AM on Wednesday, June 5. A leaked ICE implementation guidance is also available.

For explanations of the new rule’s provisions, implementation, and likely outcomes, see analyses from WOLA, the American Immigration Council, Human Rights Watch, the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association, the Cato Institute, and a coalition of legal and human rights groups. The American Immigration Council also published an in-depth explainer.

For migrants who cross the border between ports of entry, fail to specifically ask for protection (known as the “shout test”), or cannot prove a very high standard of fear of return, the legal right to asylum is now suspended until the daily border-wide average of Border Patrol migrant apprehensions drops below 1,500.

The last month with an average that low was July 2020, in the early moments of the COVID-19 pandemic. Reporters from the New York Times and CBS News tweeted that Border Patrol apprehended about 4,300 people on Tuesday June 4 and about 4,000 on Wednesday June 5. The daily average in May, one of the Biden administration’s lightest months, was about 3,800. The Washington Post cited internal DHS projections expecting an average of 3,900 to 6,700 apprehensions per day between July and September.

Should the daily average ever drop below 1,500, the rule would suspend the asylum restriction until the average once again climbs above 2,500.

The new measures add to the Biden administration’s May 2023 “Circumvention of Lawful Pathways” asylum ban, which already denied asylum to non-Mexican citizens who crossed between ports of entry, cannot prove a higher standard of fear, and did not have an asylum application turned down in another country along the way.

It is unclear whether the new rule resulted in increased returns or deportations of migrants yesterday—a briefing from DHS officials offered no numbers—and if so, how they were carried out.

“We intend to challenge this order in court,” the ACLU announced. Aaron Reichlin-Melnick of the American Immigration Council noted that the ACLU “successfully blocked” a similar “2018 Trump asylum ban within days.” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), the principal Democratic negotiator on an unsuccessful “border deal” that sought to legislate a similar asylum limit, said “I am sympathetic to the position the administration is in, but I am skeptical the executive branch has the legal authority to shut down asylum processing between ports of entry on its own.”

A UNHCR statement voiced “profound concern” about the Biden administration’s new rule.

The administration’s announcements did not refer to increased capacity to implement its new barriers to asylum seekers. That would involve costly measures like more asylum officers for expedited removal proceedings, more detention space, or more capacity to deport migrants (more flights, or permission from Mexico to deport more non-Mexican citizens by land). Three DHS officials told the Washington Post that “the administration has not scheduled a short-term increase in deportation flights to ramp up the number of migrants returned to their home countries under the new measures.”

The New York Times’s Hamed Aleaziz reported that when asylum seekers in custody try to prove that they meet higher standards of fear of return (called “reasonable probability” of harm), they will have just four hours to find legal representation. “Migrants previously had at least 24 hours or more to find a lawyer.”

Reports from the border documented worry and perplexity among migrants. Migrants passing through the northern state of Durango told Milenio that the U.S. policy change did not alter their plans. “We do not have a plan, and we cannot return. This is a low blow,” a 64-year-old man from Colombia told the Guardian in Ciudad Juárez. Some told the Guardian that they are now considering crossing through the dangerous nearby desert. Shelter operators in northern Mexican border cities braced for new strains on their capacity.

Coverage of the new rule’s political and electoral implications found progressive Democrats outraged by the rollback of asylum rights; most Republicans claiming it is “too little, too late” and doesn’t do enough to stop migrants from arriving; and centrist Democrats—especially those from tightly contested states or districts—supporting it.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador told reporters that, in a June 4 conversation with President Biden, he encouraged Biden to deport non-Mexican migrants directly, not into Mexico: “Why do they come to Mexico? We have no problem, we treat migrants very well, all of them, but why triangulate?” (Mexico accepts up to a combined 30,000 U.S. deportations per month of citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.)

Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens tweeted that the agency has documented more than 300 deaths of migrants on U.S. soil since the fiscal year began in October, with the hot summer months just beginning.

Mexican migration agents and National Guard personnel carried out a June 5 operation to evict migrants from a plaza near the Mexico City headquarters of the country’s refugee agency, COMAR.

The Panamanian government’s human rights ombudsman filed a criminal complaint about more than 400 alleged cases of sexual violence perpetrated against migrants in the Darién Gap region. Before Panama’s Health Ministry suspended its permission to operate in March, Doctors Without Borders had been documenting these cases.

Analyses and Feature Stories

The Washington Post reported on the Texas state government’s intense campaign to shut down El Paso’s Annunciation House migrant shelter.

“Though there’s little to be done now about this recycled immigration policy” at the border, President Biden “could use his executive power to shield immigrants from deportation and allow them to work legally,” argued Andrea Flores of Fwd.us in a New York Times column.

A feature at the Guardian told the stories of five asylum seekers’ difficult and even traumatic passage through the U.S. asylum system.

The New York Times reported on how the San Diego region has been impacted by a notable increase in migration over the past several months.

An Inter-American Dialogue slide presentation cited “1145 charter flights of at least 150 passengers en route to the Mexico-US border” landing in Managua, Nicaragua between July 2023 and January 2024.

The Catholic Charities humanitarian migrant respite center in McAllen, which receives people released from CBP custody, commemorated ten years of operations. Headed by Sister Norma Pimentel, the well-known shelter was a response to the first major arrival of child and family asylum seekers, which at the time was mostly Central American citizens arriving largely in south Texas.

From WOLA: “The Futility of ‘Shutting Down Asylum’ by Executive Action at the U.S.-Mexico Border”

Past generations granted new rights. We’re living in an era when government is taking those rights away. Roe v. Wade (1973) got perforated two years ago by Republican judicial nominees. Now the right to asylum, enshrined in the Refugee Act of 1980, no longer applies to threatened people who came to the border to ask for protection “the wrong way” and at a time judged “too busy.”

Here’s a Q&A I wrote for WOLA explaining the basics of what just happened:

  • What does the executive action do?
  • Doesn’t this violate U.S. law?
  • Is this a new “Title 42?”
  • The Senate failed twice to pass a law trying to do this. How is this executive action legal?
  • Doesn’t this rely heavily on Mexico’s cooperation?
  • Will this, in fact, deter migrants?
  • Instead of “shutting down” asylum, is there a better way to manage large numbers of arriving asylum seekers?

Read the whole thing here.

Daily Border Links: June 4, 2024

Get daily links in your email

Daily Border Links are following a sporadic publication schedule between May 3 and July 19. Regular daily updates will return on July 22.

Developments

Later today, President Biden will sign a sweeping proclamation shutting down the right to seek asylum for migrants apprehended on U.S. soil between the U.S.-Mexico border’s ports of entry. Several border-region mayors, mainly from Texas, will be on hand, along with some centrist Democratic legislators. The Departments of Homeland Security and Justice will issue an interim final rule laying out how they will implement the “asylum shutdown.”

According to several media reports, the “asylum shutdown” would be triggered when Border Patrol’s daily migrant encounters exceed 2,500 per day, as they have in every month since February 2021. The right to asylum between ports of entry would not be restored until migrant apprehensions drop below a daily average of 1,500 per day, which has not happened since July 2020.

Of the 296 months since fiscal 2020, the daily average has exceeded 2,500 in 110 of them: 37 percent of the time. During those 110 months, had the executive order been in place, it would have triggered an asylum shutdown. The daily average has dropped below 1,500 just 42 percent of the time (124 months), which would have made restoring asylum difficult had the executive order been in place.

Unless there is a radical change in migration patterns at the border, then, this is an effective ban on asylum between ports of entry. The Trump administration sought to implement a similar “asylum ban” 2019—making it absolute, without the numerical thresholds—but courts threw it out because it violated Section 208 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which guarantees due process for people asking for asylum on U.S. soil.

Other likely elements of the executive order, according to secondary reports:

  • Its legal justification will be Section 212(f) of the INA, which allows the President to prohibit the entry of entire classes of non-citizens considered “detrimental to the interests of the United States.” It is doubtful, however, that 212(f) applies to people who have already arrived on U.S. soil and are requesting protection. “ A reliance on 212(f) that prevents access to asylum arguably directly conflicts with the INA,” reads a new policy brief from the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association.
  • It will not apply to unaccompanied minors or victims of “severe” trafficking.
  • It will not apply to people who have made appointments at border ports of entry using the CBP One app. We have heard nothing about any possible changes to the number of appointments that this app will make available; the current cap is 1,450 per day.
  • People will be screened for fear of return only if they specifically manifest such fear to U.S. authorities.
  • Unlike Title 42 expulsions, those who are removed under this new arrangement will be penalized, probably by being barred for several years from reentering the United States.

Elements that are not clear include:

  • What would happen if the number of apprehended migrants exceeds border authorities’ ability to deport them, detain them, or screen them for the executive order’s likely elevated criteria for fear of harm. All of these require resources. During the “Title 42” era, thousands per day were released into the U.S. interior because authorities could not detain or remove them.
  • What the Mexican government’s cooperation with deportations of rejected asylum seekers might look like.

Democratic legislators who defend migrants’ rights are upset, the Washington Post reported. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus told White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients that the measure is “very, very disappointing.”

The Republican-majority House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee met this morning to “mark up” (amend and approve) its draft of the chamber’s 2025 budget bill for the Department of Homeland Security. The draft bill, which reflects Republican priorities, has virtually zero chance of passage before the November election.

It includes mandatory spending on border wall construction. It provides funding for a total of 22,000 Border Patrol agents, nearly 3,000 more than the present workforce. It would eliminate funding for the Case Management alternatives-to-detention pilot program, the Office of Immigration Detention Ombudsman, and the Family Reunification Task Force, and the Shelter Services Program. It would prohibit use of the CBP One app “to facilitate the entry of aliens into the country.” It would increase ICE’s detention bed capacity to 50,000, up from the currently funded level of 41,500.

Amid increasing pre-summer heat, CBP reported four deaths of migrants in its El Paso Sector (Texas-New Mexico) over the weekend.

Arizona’s Republican-majority legislature is close to approving a law similar to Texas’s controversial S.B. 4, which makes it a state crime to cross the border improperly. Rather than go to Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat who would veto it, the law would become a ballot measure when Arizonans vote in November. S.B. 4, which would let Texas enforce its own immigration policy and incentivizes racial profiling, remains suspended as litigation continues.

The police chief of San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, Mexico—a border city just south of Yuma, Arizona—was assassinated in a broad-daylight ambush in the middle of the city yesterday.

A Border Patrol agent in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley was arrested on charges of helping migrants cross into the United States in exchange for bribes.

Analyses and Feature Stories

Following a U.S. Government Accountability Office report about Border Patrol agents’ confiscation of migrants’ belongings and documents while in custody, Cronkite News talked to advocates and service providers in Arizona who are documenting the problem and filing complaints.

The New York Times looked at recent poll data showing reduced support for immigration within U.S. public opinion.

On the Right

Latin America-Related Events in Washington and Online This Week

(Events that I know of, anyway. All times are U.S. Eastern.)

Monday, June 3, 2024

  • 9:00 at atlanticcouncil.org: Post-election rundown: From Mexico’s markets to broader transition priorities (RSVP required).

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

  • 11:00-12:30 at thedialogue.org: Mercados eléctricos y la transición verde en Centroamérica (RSVP required).
  • 12:00 at GCIR Zoom: Beyond Borders: Reflections from the U.S.-Mexico Border for Funders and Allies (RSVP required).
  • 1:00 at Crisis Group Zoom: Militares y crimen: los retos para la nueva presidenta de México (RSVP required).
  • 3:45-4:30 at the Atlantic Council and online: The new Mexican administration: A conversation with Ambassador Ken Salazar (RSVP required).

Thursday, June 6, 2024

  • 10:30-12:15 at wilsoncenter.org: The High Seas Treaty: Latin American Leadership on Ocean Conservation (RSVP required).
  • 11:00-12:30 at wilsoncenter.org: Mexico’s Elections: Outcomes and Implications (RSVP required).
  • 3:30 on Zoom: La importancia y monitoreo a la Declaración Americana sobre los derechos de las personas afrodescendientes (RSVP required).

Daily Border Links: June 3, 2024

Get daily links in your email

Daily Border Links are following a sporadic publication schedule between May 3 and July 19. Regular daily updates will return on July 22.

Developments

President Biden is expected to issue an executive order tomorrow (Tuesday June 4) at least partially “shutting down” the right to ask for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. It is likely to enable U.S. border authorities to channel asylum seekers into rapid removal from the United States, at times when daily migrant arrivals exceed a certain threshold, probably 4,000 or 5,000 people per day. At busy moments along the border, the executive order could institute a policy similar to the pandemic-era Title 42 expulsions regime.

The administration is expected to claim that the new “shutdown” authority’s legal underpinning is Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which allows the President to bar the entry of entire classes of non-citizens considered “detrimental to the interests of the United States.” However, courts have cast doubt on whether 212(f) can in fact be used to remove an asylum seeker already on U.S. soil and asking for protection, who are protected by Section 208 of the INA.

It appears that the “shutdown” would only apply to asylum seekers apprehended between the land border ports of entry. Those with appointments made using the CBP One smartphone app would still be processed.

The move comes just after Sunday’s presidential election in Mexico, whose government will be expected to cooperate in receiving at least some of the migrants refused asylum access and sent back across the land border. Claudia Sheinbaum, the mayor of Mexico City and the candidate of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s MORENA party, won in a landslide.

At least two Texas border-city mayors are expected to be on hand in Washington for tomorrow’s executive order announcement.

CBS News and Fox News reported that Border Patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico border apprehended about 118,000 migrants during May 2024, which would make May the third-lightest month for border migrant arrivals of the Biden administration’s 40 full months in office. This continues a trend of reduced migration, dating from January, that appears to owe a lot to the Mexican government’s migrant interdiction operations.

ICE removed migrants to their countries of origin on 151 flights in May, the most in a month since August 2023 (153), according to the latest “ICE Air Flights” report by Thomas Cartwright of Witness at the Border. This added up to 6.6 deportation flights per weekday, “just over the prior 6-month average of 6.4.” 90 percent of those flights went to Guatemala (47), Honduras (29), Mexico (18), Ecuador (17), El Salvador (13), or Colombia (12). For its part, Mexico carried out nine deportation flights: five to Honduras, three to Guatemala, and one to Colombia.

“The United States is in talks with Venezuelan authorities to resume direct repatriation flights” to Caracas, noted the Venezuelan opposition-aligned daily Tal Cual.

For the second straight week, the chief of Border Patrol’s Tucson, Arizona sector reported more migrant apprehensions than did the chief of Border Patrol’s San Diego, California sector. Tucson had been the border’s number-one migration destination, measured by apprehensions, between July and March, but was outpaced by San Diego in April. A Fox News correspondent cited preliminary Border Patrol data indicating that Tucson apprehensions exceeded those of San Diego in May by a margin of 33,000 to 32,000.

Corrupt Mexican migration (INM) agents operating a checkpoint at the Tijuana airport have been using it to extort money from migrants passing through, and this has happened “for years,” municipal migration official Enrique Lucero told Border Report.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced the completion of construction at a state government military base near Eagle Pass. 300 Texas National Guard soldiers are now quartered there, a number that will rise to 1,800.

Abbott also reported that since April 2022, Texas has bused over 117,900 released migrants to the Democratic Party-governed cities of Washington DC, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Denver, and Los Angeles, without first coordinating with or informing those cities’ municipal officials.

Analyses and Feature Stories

The New York Times detailed an election-year spike in threats and infiltration attempts suffered by humanitarian organizations, like shelters, assisting migrants on the U.S. side of the border. It identifies James O’Keefe of the provocateur organization Judicial Watch as a ringleader of the campaign against border charities.

In 2023, only 56 percent of unaccompanied migrant children defending their cases in U.S immigration court had attorneys representing them, ABC News noted. The immigration court system does not guarantee a right to counsel, even for parentless children, so “minors are left to navigate the different avenues of relief alone, fill out documents in a foreign language, and argue their case before a judge.”

At the New Yorker, Stephania Taladrid profiled Mexico’s foreign minister, Alicia Bárcena, who has sought to defend Mexico’s interests and to push for more action on migration’s “root causes” amid U.S. pressure to crack down on migration transiting Mexico. That pressure has intensified this year, the article notes, as perceptions of border security and migration could determine some voters’ decisions in a tight U.S. election. An unnamed Mexican official described the Biden administration’s approach to migration policy as “schizophrenic.”

At the San Diego Union-Tribune, Wilson Center analysts Alan Bersin and Diego Marroquin Bitar predicted that Mexico’s approach to the border and migration will change little with the June 2 electoral victory of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s chosen candidate, Claudia Sheinbaum.

The Nicaraguan opposition-aligned investigative media outlet Onda Local identified some of the officials directing a thriving human smuggling route through Nicaragua, which does not require visas for most visiting nationalities. It alleges that the director of Air Transportation of Nicaragua’s Civil Aeronautics Institute, Róger Martínez Canales, “has the task of collecting the ‘fee’…from the money generated by human trafficking, which amounts to several million dollars, since for each migrant a sum of between $5,000 and $10,000 is charged then distributed among those involved, the airlines and international companies indirectly involved in the business.”

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: May 31, 2024

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.

Due to an extended period of staff travel and commitments, we will produce Weekly Border Updates irregularly for the next two and a half months. We will resume a regular weekly schedule on July 26.

Support ad-free, paywall-free Weekly Border Updates. Your donation to WOLA is crucial to sustain this effort. Please contribute now and support our work.

THIS WEEK IN BRIEF:

After failing twice to enact such a measure through legislation, the Biden administration appears poised to issue an executive order that would allow U.S. border authorities to turn back or deport asylum seekers whenever the number of arriving migrants exceeds a specific threshold. The legal authority on which such an executive order would be based appears shaky, and there is a significant probability that it would not withstand challenges in the judicial system.

Mexico’s government reported encountering or stopping 120,879 migrants during the month of April, a record that only slightly exceeds similar numbers reported every month since January. Well over half of April’s total were citizens of South American nations. Mexico’s stepped-up efforts to block migrants, which appear to involve aggressive busing into the country’s interior more than deportations or detentions, have left large numbers of migrants stranded there amid a notable drop in U.S. authorities’ migrant encounters.

The U.S. Border Patrol was founded 100 years ago this week. Some analyses of the milestone have focused on the agency’s checkered human rights record. The Southern Border Communities Coalition and congressional Democrats, drawing attention to a recent GAO report’s findings, voiced concern that reforms aimed at more impartial oversight of use-of-force cases aren’t going far enough.

Colombia voices skepticism about Panama’s new president’s promise to shut down Darién Gap migration. UNHCR data continue to show that many Venezuelan migrants in the Darién first sought to settle elsewhere in South America. Ecuadorians are skipping the Darién route by flying to El Salvador.

THE FULL UPDATE:

Read More

Daily Border Links: May 31, 2024

Get daily links in your email

Daily Border Links are following a sporadic publication schedule between May 3 and July 19. Regular daily updates will return on July 22.

Developments

Reports that the White House may launch an executive order to limit asylum access at the border are converging on Tuesday (June 4) as a likely date for an announcement. The measure would enable U.S. border authorities to “shut down” access to asylum seekers, instead channeling them into rapid removal from the United States, at times when daily migrant arrivals exceed a certain threshold, probably 4,000 or 5,000 people per day.

At busy moments along the border, then, the executive order would institute a policy similar to the pandemic-era Title 42 expulsions regime.

The Biden administration appears to be relying on a provision in U.S. law (Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act) that allows the president to ban arrivals of entire classes of migrants. Any order will face legal challenges, and courts may rule that Section 212(f) does not apply once a migrant has already arrived on U.S. soil and is requesting protection under U.S. asylum law.

“The talks were still fluid and the people stressed that no final decisions had been made” about the executive order, the Associated Press cautioned.

Texas security forces, principally National Guard soldiers, have begun firing non-lethal ammunition at migrants—mainly pepper irritant projectiles but perhaps also rubber bullets—on what seems to be a routine basis along the Rio Grande between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. The Texas personnel are discharging these weapons even though the migrants are usually on the other side of fencing and concertina wire, and thus pose no imminent threat. Those claiming to have been in the line of fire include families and journalists.

Migrants in Ciudad Juárez told EFE that the Texas personnel fire at them even “while they sleep.” They displayed bruises and un-ruptured projectiles. “In addition to aggressions with weapons, said migrants on the river, are constant verbal aggressions and the use of laser beams to damage the eyes,” the report added.

As May draws to a close, “the El Paso, Texas-Juarez, Mexico area recorded a maximum temperature of 96 degrees on Thursday,” Border Report reported. “Juarez city officials say several migrants in the past two weeks have come down with heat-related illnesses, including dehydration.” Most of the city’s migrant shelters, which are about 60 percent full right now, force single adults to spend daylight hours off their premises.

Analyses and Feature Stories

The University of Texas’s Strauss Center released the latest in a long series of reports about asylum processing at U.S.-Mexico border ports of entry. “In May 2024, the ports of entry in Tijuana and Matamoros each had nearly 400 daily CBP One appointments, constituting 52 percent of all available slots,” while all official border crossings border-wide allowed about 100 “walk-ups” per day.

The report discusses some of the difficulty that asylum seekers are experiencing in reaching the U.S.-Mexico border due to Mexico’s 2024 crackdown on migration. Mexico’s Migration Policy Unit released data this week showing that authorities had stopped or encountered 481,025 migrants between January and April, 231 percent more than during the same period in 2023.

The International Refugee Assistance Project published a second update with information about the State Department-coordinated “Safe Mobility Office” (SMO) program. As of mid-May 2024, about 190,000 people had registered for appointments to seek legal migration pathways at SMOs, managed with UNHCR and IOM, in Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Guatemala. The majority of SMO registrants—at least 110,000—were Venezuelans in Colombia. Over 21,000 registrants at all offices have been approved for resettlement under the State Department-run Refugee Admissions Program.

The SMOs already refer a few registrants to legal migration pathways in Spain and soon Canada. CBS News reported that the offices may soon channel some Latin American migrants to Greece and Italy.

Telling the story of a Northeast Cartel hitman killing carried out in Zapata, Texas, a feature from USA Today’s Rick Jervis illustrated the difficulty of carrying out cross-border organized crime investigations. Political disagreements about “Operation Lone Star,” Jervis noted, has worsened law enforcement cooperation between Mexico and the state of Texas.

Between January 1 and April 16, Guatemala has expelled over 7,500 migrants into Honduras, UNHCR reported. “77% were Venezuelans, 9% Colombians and 6% Ecuadorians.” Meanwhile, funding cutbacks have drastically reduced, “from over eight to three,” the number of humanitarian organizations offering assistance in Agua Caliente, the Honduran border town where most Guatemalan expulsions take place.

At Public Books, S. Deborah Kang examined the historical and current challenges that asylum seekers face in Border Patrol custody, from many agents’ predisposition against asylum to the expansion of Expedited Removal.

Within Six Months

I had to do a triple-take on this observation, from a recent On Being podcast episode about Hannah Arendt. The speaker is Arendt scholar Lyndsey Stonebridge:

I hadn’t realized this until I’d looked either, that in The New Yorker, between ’62 and ’63, the autumn of ’62 and the spring of ’63, three essays were published. One was Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Then that was followed by James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time. Then Hannah Arendt on the Eichmann Trial. Within six months. And with laying out with visionary precision, the poisonous master plots of contemporary life: violent racism, planet catastrophe, banality of evil, right in front of us.

Wow. Silent Spring, The Fire Next Time, and Eichmann in Jerusalem, all published within six months of the life of a print magazine.

If there’s an outlet that vital today, I don’t know about it. (I’d love to hear about it.)

Or maybe there are outlets, and individuals, out there today doing similar caliber work. If so, they’re no doubt being relegated to obscurity by “the algorithm” and by gatekeepers saying things like “nobody is going to read a 40,000-word piece.” I hope they keep on producing their best work in spite of all that.

Daily Border Links: May 30, 2024

Get daily links in your email

Daily Border Links are following a sporadic publication schedule between May 3 and July 19. Regular daily updates will return on July 22.

Developments

Three San Diego-area House Democrats, along with Texas Rep. Joaquín Castro, sent a letter to leadership of DHS and CBP with questions about oversight of Border Patrol in human rights cases. Castro and Reps. Juan Vargas, Sara Jacobs, and Scott Peters called on the border agencies to follow recommendations in a May 13 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, which found that Border Patrol’s Office of Professional Responsibility needed to improve the independence and impartiality of personnel investigating critical use-of-force incidents. The Southern Border Communities Coalition had raised the issue at a May 28 event in San Diego.

Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff (D) visited the border in El Paso, Ciudad Juárez, and New Mexico. The centrist member of the Senate Intelligence Committee warned, “The threat of terrorism associated with unlawful entry to the United States is real.”

Upon searching a mobile phone at a vehicle stop of a car smuggling migrants in Arizona, Border Patrol agents claim to have discovered a Telegram group chat involving 1,000 people sharing information about plans to pick up and transport undocumented people.

About a quarter of people in Venezuela are considering migrating, but of those, 47 percent would stay if the opposition were somehow allowed to win the country’s July 28 presidential elections, according to a Delphos poll reported by the Associated Press.

Analyses and Feature Stories

In a Time excerpt from a new book about immigration, Stanford University Professor Ana Raquel Minian provided a rapid overview of the history of U.S. detention of apprehended migrants. It concluded: “Rather than caging migrants and refugees, the government should simply release them and allow them to reside with friends, family, or community members in the U.S. while it examines their cases.”

Sabbatical, Day 9

I’m in the middle of week two of this two-month work sabbatical. I’d hoped that by now, I’d have had many moments of solitude and calm, as I caught up on reading and posted deep thoughts to this site.

There haven’t been a lot of deep thoughts posted here, and I haven’t been having many to begin with.

I recall that this happened the last time I had a sabbatical: I spent the first part catching up overdue projects that my regular schedule hadn’t allowed me to work on. It’s happening again.

This time, the main project is a long-suffering report. Back in October and November, I spent two weeks in Colombia (I posted many photos here at the time). I came back, got all my notes together, and then started writing about it. I worked bit by bit, section by section, whenever I had the chance to move the project forward.

As winter and spring passed, there were entire weeks—even some two-week periods—when I did not have that chance at all. It turns out that running a communications-heavy advocacy program about the U.S.-Mexico border and migration, during the highly charged 2024 election year, doesn’t lend itself to also writing an in-depth field research report about migration in Colombia.

Now that I’m on sabbatical, it’s finally happening. I’ve put in about 24 of the past 96 hours working on it, and today I handed off a polished draft to WOLA’s program and communications teams. It’s really nice to no longer say “the report is coming.”

It hasn’t been painless. What was a 16,000-word draft at the beginning of the weekend, with 170 footnotes, by Monday night was a 20,000-word draft with 242 footnotes. By today, I’d managed to whack it back to 14,500 words and 169 footnotes.

If you’ve never had to cut 5,000 words from a 20,000-word report, eliminating entire lines of research that you’d gathered from your fieldwork… well, I don’t recommend it. It’s brutal.

Between that and posting “daily border links,” I never made it outdoors at all today. (It was raining, anyway.)

But it’s great to have it behind me (except for suggestions and revisions). Being able to shut down much of the work over the past 10 days is what made it possible.

It still doesn’t really feel like a sabbatical, though.

Read This Site on the Fediverse

Just because it seemed like an interesting thing to do, I’ve linked this site to ActivityPub. Which means you can catch every post by following it from Mastodon, Pixelfed, Pleroma, or any other Fediverse application.

The address is @adamisacson@adamisacson.com.

(And as the graphic indicates, each post has its own unique shortlink using the domain “admis.me.” I figured out how to do that myself. Fancy.)

Daily Border Links: May 29, 2024

Get daily links in your email

Daily Border Links are following a sporadic publication schedule between May 3 and July 19. Regular daily updates will return on July 22.

Developments

Texas National Guard personnel fired at least one pepper irritant projectile on migrants at the Rio Grande in El Paso on Tuesday. The migrants, who included families with children, were separated from the soldiers by a mass of fencing and concertina wire and posed no apparent threat of death or injury, calling into question Texas’s use-of-force guidelines. Texas’s Department of Public Safety has not commented on the incident, caught on video from the Ciudad Juárez side.

“An unidentified Venezuelan man said two pepper balls struck him in the neck and side after he crossed the Rio Grande to plead with the soldiers to let families come across the razor wire,” Border Report reported. A Venezuelan mother and father told a videographer that they had “placed a piece of cardboard between two shrubs on the Mexican side of the river to protect their 1-year-old daughter from stray shots.” A photographer said that a guardsman shot at him twice while he filmed from the Mexican side.

“The reality is that some people do indeed try to game the [asylum] system,” the Biden administration’s homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, told CBS News. “That does not speak to everyone whom we encounter, but there is an element of it, and we deal with it accordingly.”

“The White House and a White House official told me that no final decisions have been made about an executive action that is potentially being considered” to shut down migrants’ access to asylum at the border at times of heavy migration, reported PBS NewsHour’s Laura Barron-Lopez. “But sources told me that this specific executive action could come as early as next week after the Mexican elections on June 2.”

Analyses and Feature Stories

Upon this week’s 100th anniversary of the founding of Border Patrol, the agency’s chief, Jason Owens, looked back on his career and told CBP’s Frontline magazine website that people considering a career in the force should fully commit to it as a “calling.” Owens described tools using AI technology as a “force multiplier” for agents in the field. “It would be so much better if the migrants went to the port of entry,” Owens added. (CBP has capped port of entry capacity to receive asylum seekers at 1,450 people per day border-wide.)

The Southern Border Communities Coalition commemorated the anniversary with a press conference in San Diego with loved ones of people killed, wounded, or racially profiled by agency personnel, none of whom has been penalized.

“Revelations of some agents’ racist vitriol toward migrants, along with allegations of sexual misconduct against women employees, have rocked public trust in recent years,” noted a Christian Science Monitor analysis of Border Patrol’s centennial.

The International Displacement Monitoring Center “recorded over 6.3 million total IDPs [internally displaced persons] in the Americas at the end of 2023, marking a 6% decrease from the end of 2022 but remaining on par with 2021’s figure of 6.2 million,” notes a summary of IDMP’s mid-May annual report at Jordi Amaral’s Americas Migration Brief. Conflict and violence displaced over 600,000 people in 2023.

What AI is Useful For Right Now (It’s Not Web Search)

Many more good ones in this Twitter thread
(Update: as of the evening of May 29, Google still provides the pictured result.)

Some things generative AI tools are really useful for:

  • Translation
  • Transcription
  • Suggesting code in many programming and scripting languages
  • Summarizing or pulling specific information from long, already-existing documents or collections of documents
  • Assistance with classifying or archiving information for easy retrieval
  • First drafts of low-priority correspondence
  • Thinking through complex ideas or narratives
  • Making entertaining images to help visualize things (but not to share publicly as embarrassing “boomer images“)

What generative AI tools really are not useful for:

  • Answering questions using information drawn from the open web: the answers are often vague or hallucinated, at times hilariously so, and always require further verification

You’d think that Google and other companies rushing to “put AI in everything” would know this. Anyone who has used even the best LLMs for more than a few hours has had the model tell them outrageously wrong things. It’s puzzling that Google put “AI overviews” at the top of their trillion-dollar company’s results pages when the tech is plainly not ready for that purpose yet.

Daily Border Links: May 28, 2024

Get daily links in your email

Daily Border Links are following a sporadic publication schedule between May 3 and July 19. Regular daily updates will return on July 22.

Developments

Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector (7,400) saw more migrant apprehensions than its San Diego Sector (6,157) last week, according to tweets from the sector chiefs. For a period of eight weeks, San Diego had measured the most migration of all nine of Border Patrol’s U.S.-Mexico border sectors, for the first time since the late 1990s. But San Diego was eclipsed, at least for last week, after experiencing a 39 percent drop in migration over 3 weeks.

If Joe Biden “were to try to shut down portions of the border, the courts would throw that out, I think, within a matter of weeks,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) told CBS News’s Face the Nation. Murphy was Senate Democrats’ chief architect of unsuccessful border legislation that would have, among other provisions, shut down asylum access when migrant encounters exceeded a certain level at the U.S.-Mexico border.

A CNN analysis noted how Democratic legislators and candidates in tight races are most likely to favor placing limits on access to asylum at the border.

“Last week U.S. authorities expelled 200 migrants who crossed through Gate 40 of the border fence [in El Paso] and handed them over to the Mexican National Migration Institute (INM) in Ciudad Juárez, where they were warned that they would be returned to Chiapas, a state on Mexico’s southern border,” EFE reported. Still, the article noted, Venezuelan migrants stranded in Ciudad Juárez are not giving up.

EFE also reported that fentanyl addiction is increasing in Ciudad Juárez, and some migrants in the Mexican border city are falling prey to it.

Throughout the Mexican northern-border state of Chihuahua, where Ciudad Juárez is the largest city, migrants are being caught up in a worsening wave of ransom kidnappings carried out by organized crime, France24 reported.

“We’re gonna be barricading every area where people are crossing—until we get every area to have like this area is right now,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) told CBS News’s 60 Minutes; “this area” was the heavily fortified Shelby Park in Eagle Pass. (Texas’s border with Mexico is about 1,200 miles long.)

In the same segment, Raúl Ortiz, who headed Border Patrol between 2021 and 2023, criticized Abbott for not cooperating with Border Patrol, but also voiced dissatisfaction with the Biden administration: “I’ve never had one conversation with the president. Or the vice president, for that matter.”

Former Border Patrol agent Hector Hernandez was sentenced to 87 months in federal prison for taking bribes to smuggle methamphetamine and migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border. Hernandez had been employed by Border Patrol in San Diego.

Analyses and Feature Stories

A Mother Jones analysis of the U.S. Border Patrol at its 100th anniversary highlighted aspects of the agency’s founding, at the urging of Texas Congressman Claude Benton Hudspeth, that reflect political and social tensions and contradictions about U.S. border security and immigration that remain in place today. “Chaos is not just the absence of a border; it is also the consequence of trying to maintain one,” Murphy wrote.

Of 128 migrants transiting Panama interviewed by UNHCR earlier this month, 69 percent were from Venezuela, and of these, half came directly from Venezuela. Of the half of Venezuelans who had sought to live elsewhere before migrating northward, 60 percent had applied for legal status in those other countries, mainly Colombia, Peru, or Ecuador.

Of all 128, 69 percent reported suffering physical insecurity (attacks, drownings, or falls) while crossing the Darién. 22 percent observed between 1 and 20 cadavers along the trail.

Colombia “would not agree with” Panamanian President-Elect José Raúl Mulino’s campaign promise to shut down the Darién Gap by deporting migrants who cross the treacherous route, said Foreign Minister Luis Gilberto Murillo. Instead, “what we have to offer is more humanitarian outlets for this population that crosses through that area.”

The Colombian news site Cambio looked at the logistical, human rights, and practical obstacles that would stand in the way of “shutting down” the Darién.

The Ecuadorian daily Primicias reported on the increasing number of northbound Ecuadorian citizens who are avoiding the Darién Gap by flying to El Salvador, which does not require visas of visiting Ecuadorians. “Between January and April 2024, 43,408 travelers have left Ecuador [for El Salvador] and 4,112 have returned.” Some are subject to bribery shakedowns and mistreatment by Salvadoran and other corrupt Central American officials.

On the Right

Latin America-Related Events in Washington and Online This Week

(Events that I know of, anyway. All times are U.S. Eastern.)

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

### Wednesday, May 29, 2024

  • 10:30-12:00 at wilsoncenter.org: Election Series | Freedom of Speech and Protecting Journalists in Mexico (RSVP required).
  • 11:00-12:00 at pbiusa.org: Courageous commitment to LGBTQIA+ rights / Compromiso valiente con los derechos LGBTQIA+ (RSVP required).
  • 3:00-4:30 at WOLA and wola.org: Argentina: Democracy and Human Rights Under President Javier Milei (RSVP required).
  • 4:00-5:00 at atlanticcouncil.org: Journalists report: Preview of Mexico’s June 2 election (RSVP required).

Thursday, May 30, 2024

  • 10:00-11:00 at wilsoncenter.org: The Dengue Epidemic: A New Test of Latin America’s Health Sector (RSVP required).
  • 10:00-11:00 at refugeesinternational.org: Living in Displacement in the Climate Emergency: Refugees and Climate Shocks (RSVP required).
  • 11:00-12:00 at wilsoncenter.org: Election Series | The Future of US-Mexico Security Cooperation (RSVP required).
  • 12:00-1:15 at the U.S. Institute of Peace: Strengthening Democracy in the Americas (RSVP required).

Friday, May 31, 2024

  • 9:30-10:30 at usip.org: Huawei’s Expansion in Latin America and the Caribbean (RSVP required).
  • 10:00-10:45 at the Atlantic Council and atlanticcouncil.org: The road to COP16 in Cali with Colombian Minister of Environment Susana Muhamad (RSVP required).
  • 1:30-2:30 at atlanticcouncil.org: Hurricane readiness: Building climate resilience in the Caribbean (RSVP required).

Daily Border Links: May 24, 2024

Get daily links in your email

Daily Border Links are following a sporadic publication schedule between May 3 and July 19. Regular daily updates will return on July 22.

Developments

The Democratic-majority Senate held a “test vote” yesterday on the Border Act, a series of border security and migration measures that resulted from bipartisan negotiations between November and February. Those measures included a provision that would cut off protection-seeking migrants’ access to asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, Title 42-style, when daily migrant encounters exceed an average of 4,000 (discretionary asylum shutdown) or 5,000 (mandatory asylum shutdown).

The bill needed 60 votes to proceed to open debate and an eventual vote; it failed by a 43-50 margin, with all but 1 Republican voting “no,” along with 6 Democrats (or Democratic-caucusing independents). Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) called it “a sad day for the Senate, a sad day for America.”

The Border Act was identical to legislation that failed to clear a procedural vote in the Senate on February 7, by a 49-50 margin, when—in response to Republican demands—it was attached to Ukraine and Israel aid.

Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski was the only GOP senator to vote for the bill yesterday; three other Republicans changed their vote to “no.” Two Democrats changed their votes from “yea” to “nay,” as did Democratic-caucusing independent Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona), who helped draft the original February compromise.

Voted contrary to party/caucus majority (7):

Democrats (voted “Nay”) (4):

– Cory Booker (NJ)
– Laphonza Butler (CA)
– Ed Markey (MA)
– Alex Padilla (CA)

Democrat-caucusing Independents (voted “Nay”) (2):

– Bernie Sanders (VT)
– Kyrsten Sinema (AZ)

Republicans (voted “Yea”) (1):

– Lisa Murkowski (AK)
From “Yea” in February to “Nay” in May (6):

Democrats (2):

– Cory Booker (NJ)
– Laphonza Butler (CA)

Democrat-caucusing Independents (1):

– Kyrsten Sinema (AZ)

Republicans (3):

– Susan Collins (ME)
– James Lankford (OK)
– Mitt Romney (UT)  

CBS News reported that during the first 21 days of May, Border Patrol has apprehended an average of just 3,700 migrants per day. If that pace continues through the end of the month, May 2024 would be the third-lightest month for migration at the border of the Biden administration’s forty months in office.

A continuing crackdown in Mexico is a key cause for what has been about a 54 percent drop in migration since the record-setting month of December 2023. “Mexican officials have pledged to help keep encounters at the United States’ southern border below 4,000 a day. But that will depend on whether the country has the money to keep up enforcement,” the Economist reported.

4,281 Border Patrol agents left the agency between October 2020 and April 2024, an annual attrition rate of about 6 percent, according to data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by Anna Giaritelli of the conservative Washington Examiner. The article cites unnamed agents blaming the Biden administration for low morale; many say morale is low because they cannot detain many apprehended migrants.

As Border Patrol underwent a surge of hiring in the years after September 11, 2001, a large number of agents are completing 20 years on the force and eligible for retirement, Giaritelli notes.

Texas’s state Department of Public Safety released aerial video recorded several miles inside New Mexico, near the Santa Teresa Port of Entry, showing people throwing sand and a water bottle at Border Patrol agents seeking to apprehend migrants at the border wall.

Analyses and Feature Stories

The Texas Observer and the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting published an in-depth investigation of vigilante groups’ and militias’ activities along the border. The piece highlighted these groups’ illegal actions, their relationships with law enforcement including some media-friendly right-wing sheriffs and some Border Patrol agents, and the dangers they pose to migrants and the rule of law.

An analysis by Christian Paz at Vox cited politicians’ rhetoric, the economy, and concerns about “chaos” as key reasons for a drop in support for immigration in U.S. public opinion.

The U.S.-Mexico border region is “not a political football or plaything to be bandied about. It’s not the stick to whatever carrot was dangled before the immigrant rights movement,” wrote Marisa Limón Garza of El Paso’s Las Américas Immigrant Advocacy Center.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: May 24, 2024

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.

Due to an extended period of staff travel and commitments, we will produce Weekly Border Updates irregularly for the next two and a half months. We will resume a regular weekly schedule on July 26.

Support ad-free, paywall-free Weekly Border Updates. Your donation to WOLA is crucial to sustain this effort. Please contribute now and support our work.

THIS WEEK IN BRIEF:

For the second time this year, the U.S. Senate’s Democratic majority sought to bring to a vote a package of border legislation that would, among other provisions, implement Title 42-style suspensions of the right to seek asylum at the border when the number of migrants at the border exceeds certain thresholds. The “Border Act” failed by a 43-50 vote in the face of opposition from some Democrats uncomfortable with the asylum suspension, and nearly all Republicans, who argued that it was not aggressive enough. Media are reporting that the Biden administration plans to issue an executive order in June to enable a similar asylum “shutdown” mechanism at the border.

Although May is normally a peak month for migration, the daily average of Border Patrol migrant apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border had dropped to 3,700 so far in May, one of the lowest points of the entire Biden administration. Weekly data indicate that even border sectors that had seen migration increases in the first months of the year, like Tucson, Arizona and San Diego, California, are now experiencing reductions.

Migrants allege that Texas National Guard personnel beat a Honduran migrant so badly that he later died on the Rio Grande riverbank in Ciudad Juárez. Arizona, not Texas, has seen the sharpest migration declines in 2024 despite Gov. Abbott’s claims that his policies have shifted migrants westward. Those policies,some of which Pope Francis called “madness,” have included striking levels of racial profiling, according to an ACLU Texas report. State authorities’ razor wire in Eagle Pass has caused “an unusually high number” of hospitalizations in Eagle Pass, “including young children,” USA Today reported.

THE FULL UPDATE:

Read More

Sabbatical, Day 4

May 23 was the first day of my two-month sabbatical that I got to spend entirely at home. In fact, it was the first day that I’ve spent fully at home since May 8. So in a sense, it felt like the first true day of the sabbatical.

I did quite a bit of work, though: a daily border links post, a draft of our weekly Border Update that will go out tomorrow, monitoring the Senate vote that once again killed the “Border Act” and its attempt to restrict asylum rights, and substantial progress on a nearly completed report about migration through Colombia.

The “sabbatical” difference was that I got to do all of that in my house while skipping some coalition meetings, turning off WhatsApp notifications, spending much of it writing in our little backyard with the birds and squirrels (it’s not too hot yet), and taking a nap in the middle of the day. I also made really good pizza from scratch, and we ate it over a bottle of wine.

Look at that pizza, I even made the crust from flour, salt, sugar, and yeast. You’d think you were in Naples, except for the pineapple.

Tomorrow will not be so becalmed. I’ve got two scheduled morning medical checkups (nothing wrong with me—I scheduled these months ago, this is what you do when you’re in your fifties) with “Border Update” posting in between. Also, a meeting with congressional committee staff.

But I should be back home, and in reading-writing mode, by mid-afternoon. That’s the plan, anyway.

Daily Border Links: May 23, 2024

Get daily links in your email

Daily Border Links are following a sporadic publication schedule between May 3 and July 19. Regular daily updates will return on July 22.

Developments

Today the Democratic-majority Senate will consider the Border Act, a series of border security and migration measures that resulted from bipartisan negotiations between November and February. The most controversial of these is a provision that would cut off protection-seeking migrants’ access to asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, Title 42-style, when daily migrant encounters exceed an average of 4,000 (discretionary asylum shutdown) or 5,000 (mandatory asylum shutdown).

The Border Act is identical to legislation that failed to clear a procedural vote in the Senate on February 7, when—in response to Republican demands—it was attached to Ukraine and Israel aid (which ultimately passed separately in April). At the time, nearly all Republicans, led by Donald Trump, opposed it, arguing that it was not aggressive enough against migration at the border.

Republican opposition is similarly certain this time, and it appears that fewer Democrats may vote for the bill today than in February, since Ukraine aid is no longer at stake. Still, the Biden administration and Senate Democratic leaders are viewing this defeat as good 2024 electoral strategy: they believe that it undermines Republican arguments that Democrats are insufficiently aggressive about border security, and that it reveals Republicans to be uncooperative.

Still, the result will be that for the second time in four months, most Senate Democrats will go on the record as supporting a historic rollback of threatened people’s right to seek asylum on U.S. soil: a right that emerged in the years after World War II and was cemented into U.S. law in 1980.

Adding to a Politico report from last Friday, NBC News reported today that the Biden administration plans to introduce an executive order in June enabling an asylum “shutdown” similar to that foreseen in the “Border Act.”

The report notes that this legally dubious measure would require much cooperation from Mexico’s government, which would have to accept a large number of non-Mexican migrants deported back across the border after being refused asylum. (This number would greatly exceed ICE’s capacity to deport people back to their often distant countries by air.) Administration officials are “in talks with Mexican leaders to get their crucial buy-in before proceeding” with the executive order, NBC noted.

The chief of Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector reported that agents there apprehended 6,157 migrants during the week of May 15-21. That represents a 39 percent drop in migration over the past 3 weeks in San Diego, which led all 9 of Border Patrol’s U.S.-Mexico border sectors in apprehensions in April. It is possible that San Diego may have dropped from the number-one spot among border sectors; available data, however, do not yet show migration increasing elsewhere along the border.

CBP reported seizing 11,469 pounds of methamphetamine at the Otay Mesa port of entry near San Diego on Monday. As the agency reported seizing 93,881 pounds of the drug during the first 7 months of fiscal 2024, this single seizure would increase CBP’s yearly meth haul by 12 percent.

As Mexico continues stepped-up efforts to make it more difficult for migrants to access the U.S.-Mexico border, Border Report reported that a “caravan” of about 1,000-1,200 migrants arrived in Puebla, southeast of Mexico City, while smaller groupings have been departing Mexico’s southern border-zone city of Tapachula, Chiapas. (Puebla is nearly 600 miles south of the nearest U.S.-Mexico border crossing.)

Analyses and Feature Stories

The Texas state government’s “Operation Lone Star” has spent more than $11.2 billion on a border crackdown that has racially profiled people (96 percent of those arrested have been of Hispanic origin) and principally ended up charging “people who pose no threat to public safety” for misdemeanor offenses, according to a new report from the ACLU of Texas.

A column from Migration Policy Institute President Andrew Selee noted that the early May regional migration summit in Guatemala highlighted the need for greater cooperation and coordination of nations’ migration policies at a time of increased flows.

On the Right

The Biden Administration’s Rush to Curtail Asylum at the Border Doesn’t Even Make Sense as a Campaign Strategy

(I think I wrote this in a way to make clear that I don’t want the Biden administration, under any circumstances, to harm asylum seekers’ right to due process and protection at the U.S.-Mexico border. Instead of appealing to morality, however, this post instead emphasizes cold, strategic calculation. Its tone errs on the side of cynicism.)

Imagine that you’re a political operative in the Biden administration or at the Biden campaign. You believe that the stakes are as high as they could be in 2024, as your insurrection-backing, authoritarian-trending, ethically challenged opponent enjoys a slight lead in most polls.

You want the migration situation at the U.S.-Mexico border to be as far off the national radar as possible. That means no chaotic images of mass migrant arrivals seeping into any “mainstream” media outlets (that is, all media to the left of Rupert Murdoch’s properties). No screaming “border crisis” headlines, no big-city mayors going off-message.

You know there’s no way to “solve” the broken U.S. border management, immigration, and asylum systems in the five-plus months that remain until Election Day. You also know that any policy change that toughens conditions for migrants at the border usually brings a short-term reduction in their numbers, even if it doesn’t last for very long. (We call this “wait and see mode”: migrants and smugglers hold back for a while to see what the new policy’s consequences will be, and then numbers recover.)

With others in the presidential brain trust, you have been preparing a measure that would refuse asylum access to people at the border, moving to deport them quickly. This measure would get triggered not by asylum seekers’ protection needs, but by how busy the border happens to be. It would shut down the right to asylum whenever the number of migrants arriving at the border exceeds a certain daily average.

That measure appears in legislation that failed in the Senate in February, and that is being reintroduced—and likely to fail again—this week. An asylum “shutdown” is also likely to be at the heart of a legally dubious executive order that the White House is getting ready to issue.

Perhaps you lament rolling back gravely threatened people’s right to petition for asylum on U.S. soil. (That’s a right that emerged after World War II, has been a U.S. international law commitment since 1968, and has been part of U.S. law since 1980.) You know you’re watering down this right, turning the humanitarian clock backward, and perhaps condemning thousands to possible death, torture, or imprisonment.

But perhaps you justify that, somehow, by telling yourself that you’re “saving democracy.” By pushing the migration numbers down for a few months, you reduce the salience of the border issue, one of the Trump campaign’s main themes, thus weakening the former president’s prospects for a re-election that could be catastrophic for the American experiment.

But then, so far this year, something unexpected has happened: migration at the border has declined even without harming asylum. The number of Border Patrol apprehensions lately is half of what it was during the record-setting month of December 2023. There has been no normal springtime increase. March was less than February, April was less than March, and the number of new arrivals seems to be dropping, too, in May.

The main reason appears to be a migration crackdown inside Mexico. Mexican authorities report stopping about 120,000 people per month, way more than they ever had before. (Mexico is also in the midst of a presidential election, with voting on June 2, a week from Sunday.)

This is causing enormous hardship for people stranded in Mexico, but as a hard-boiled political operative, that doesn’t concern you. What counts is that migrants are solidly in “wait and see mode” for now. Your campaign is enjoying a relative lull in media coverage and public consciousness of the border situation.

Maybe you won’t view it as politically necessary to eviscerate the right to asylum after all. Or, at least, not until cracks begin to show in the virtual wall that Mexico has built. No cracks are yet visible: May numbers are dropping at the U.S.-Mexico border, and also further south in the Darién Gap.

Even by your amoral political calculations, then, it makes no sense to drop an asylum-curtailing executive order right now. Do it too soon, and migrants’ “wait and see” period could fade before November, risking sharp migration increases at the border in the weeks and months leading up to Election Day.

If you share this view, though, then you’re not getting through to your colleagues. According to Politico, the White House is likely to drop the executive order in June.

A June announcement would likely come after Mexico’s election on June 2, half a dozen people familiar with the timeline told West Wing Playbook. It would also allow the White House to roll out the policy before election season really heats up and before the conventions later this summer. The current timeline will also put the president on track to announce the executive action before his debate with Trump at the end of the month.

That makes no sense. If your goal is to keep migration down before Election Day, here is a likely scenario for how this might play out—and it’s not what you’d want:

  • The June announcement of an executive order causes migration to drop further from levels that, apparently due to Mexico’s crackdown, were already among the lowest of the Biden administration.
  • The effect is that migration remains low throughout the summer.
  • But soon enough, migrants and smugglers discern that many asylum seekers can still be released into the U.S. interior. For instance:
    • So far this fiscal year, one-third of migrants apprehended by Border Patrol came from countries that (a) are not in Mexico and Central America, and (b) are not Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, or Venezuela, the four states whose citizens Mexico has agreed to accept as deportees under the Biden administration’s post-Title 42 “asylum ban” rule.
    • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) runs about 30 deportation flights per month to those countries, which means ICE’s aerial deportation capacity there is perhaps 4,000 people per month. But about 55,000 people per month from those countries have entered Border Patrol custody this year. These countries’ citizens’ probability of removal is quite slim, even with the executive order in place.
  • As has happened with so many previous short-term policy changes—most prominently Title 42—migration levels start rising, as the “wait and see” period eases. This could happen by early fall, just in time for the most intense period of the election campaign.

That’s why the possibility of a June executive order is perplexing, even from a cold, amoral, ends-justify-the-means political operative’s perspective. Why drop a nuclear bomb on the right to asylum when the migration numbers are already down, and when the effect on border arrivals is not likely to last long?

(My main problem with this piece’s argument is that it appears to green-light issuing an asylum-eviscerating executive order not in June, but later in the election cycle, should an increase in migration occur at that point. The only response is a grim one: if migrant arrivals do indeed start moving upward in the summer or early fall, a White House crackdown would be inevitable. The administration would be certain to take a drastic step to knock the numbers down ahead of Election Day.

In that miserable scenario, it would at least be less awful to see the administration drop its “asylum shutdown” executive order—which until then had been sitting, unreleased, on a White House hard drive—instead of adopting some new, even more harmful escalation on top of an executive order in place since June.)

Daily Border Links: May 22, 2024

Get daily links in your email

Daily Border Links are following a sporadic publication schedule between May 3 and July 19. Regular daily updates will return on July 22.

Developments

Border Patrol recorded about 3,000 migrant apprehensions on May 20, according to data obtained by CBS News. No full month of the Biden administration—not even February 2021—has recorded a daily average as low as that.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters that “the drop stems from several factors, including the administration’s efforts to expand legal migration channels and increase deportations of those who enter illegally, as well as more immigration enforcement by Mexico.” This appears to acknowledge that Mexico has been accepting a larger number of deportations of Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan citizens into its territory under the Biden administration’s post-Title 42 “asylum ban” rule.

As the Senate majority Democratic leadership seeks to bring the Border Act to a vote this week, with new restrictions on access to asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, it’s increasingly possible that the bill might get fewer votes than it did in February, when a similar measure attached to Ukraine and Israel aid failed in the face of Republican opposition.

All but five Senate Democrats voted for the bill in February, but the number of defections could be larger this time since Ukraine aid is not at stake—that aid package passed separately in April.

  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), who voted for the bill in February, declared his opposition.
  • A statement from leadership of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus warned that “if this bill passes, it will set back real comprehensive immigration reform by years.”
  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), the lead Republican in November-February negotiations that appeared to have led to a bipartisan deal on the legislation, said that he will vote “no” this time, changing his vote from February. The Border Act, Lankford told CNN, “is no longer a bill, now it’s a prop.”
  • Moderate Republican senators who voted for the bill in February (Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah) are sounding unenthusiastic about voting for it this time, though they still might do so.

Either way, the bill is certain to fail to get the 60 votes that it needs, under Senate rules, to proceed to debate and a vote on passage.

Analyses and Feature Stories

The Guardian reported San Diego-area aid workers’ struggle to help newly arrived asylum seekers navigate the complicated U.S. system, and to provide supplies to people seeking to turn themselves in to Border Patrol in increasingly remote border areas. “The philanthropic funding, I think due to a lot of the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from both sides of the aisle, has really dried up,” said Erika Pinheiro, director of local aid and advocacy group Al Otro Lado.

As the House Homeland Security Committee holds a hearing today on the use of AI for border and other domestic security missions, Faiza Patel and Spencer Reynolds of the Brennan Center for Justice issued policy recommendations to break DHS’s reliance on “unproven programs that rely on algorithms and risk the rights of the tens of millions of Americans.”

The Texas Observer profiled Laredo environmental advocate Tricia Cortez, who has led forceful local opposition to federal and state attempts to build border walls in and near her city.

“There have been an unusually high number of migrants hospitalized, including young children, in Eagle Pass after coming into contact with the razor wire” that Texas state authorities have laid down along the Rio Grande, noted a USA Today report from the mid-Texas border city.

Sabbatical, Day 2

I can’t really say that I’m in “sabbatical mode” yet, but I’m laying the groundwork, I suppose?

I’d stayed up a bit too late last night learning how to use Visual Studio Code and GitHub Copilot for my upcoming coding projects, and then I couldn’t stop myself from writing a data-heavy post about border trends. Knowing that I didn’t have to report to work the next day let me follow the topic wherever it took me, and by the time I looked up from my screen, it was 12:30 AM.

Though I was up later than on a regular work day, this morning otherwise looked like…a regular work day. I wanted to go through my news feeds and create a daily border links post because it’s impossible to look away from Senate Democrats’ deeply regrettable decision to move forward with asylum-restrictions legislation this week.

I also guest-taught a class of U.S. diplomats via Zoom. It was my second time trying out a 45-minute presentation about Latin America’s security challenges. The narrative flows across these topics:

  • The region’s chronic violence
  • Deforestation as an example of how laws are not enforced against the powerful and well-connected
  • What “impunity” means, and how impunity for official corruption tied to organized crime makes organized crime far harder to confront than insurgencies
  • How state absence from vast territories makes the problem even worse
  • Why a “pax mafiosa” is not progress, even if it lowers violence levels for a while
  • The solutions to violence that human rights groups and pro-democracy reformers propose: construction of a democratic security sector
  • A problem: my community’s proposed solutions can’t make people feel safer in six months. But some politicians offer short-term fixes to security
    • The “Bukele model” and why it may not work, and especially not in countries like Ecuador
    • Negotiations with armed and criminal groups, like gang pacts or Colombia’s “total peace”
  • Amid frustrations over short and long term timeframes, leaders (and U.S. policymakers) often content themselves with repeatedly pushing security challenges down to “manageable” levels
  • Where “manageability” falls apart (returning to the beginning) is deforestation and climate harm. There is no “manageable” level of that anymore.

While I’m on this sabbatical, I hope to polish this talk some more, then post a screencast delivering the narrative as audio over my slides.

After that talk, I spoke to a journalist about border trends for half an hour. Then I took my daughter out to the suburbs and sat in a cafe while she got a haircut. While in the cafe, I put out one of my weekly (OK, not quite “weekly”) emails to my mailing list.

I paid a quick visit to the grocery store after that, and upon returning home found on the doorstep some items that I’d ordered when I was in Medellín last week. I’m on a tight budget—non-profit salary, child at a private college—but had thought it would be worthwhile to set up a basic screen shelter and some sort of outdoor furniture in our tiny urban back yard.

More than two hours of assembly later, here it is. I now have an extremely rustic “writing shed” to work in during the coming months.

Yes I know, my back yard is a weedy mess. That’s a result of work deadlines, travel, family obligations on off-days, and a series of rainy weekends. I haven’t been here much when it’s nice out. I’ll clean it up during the sabbatical.

I’m writing in it now, and it’s just barely starting to feel, maybe, like I’m on sabbatical.

Tomorrow morning I’ll be working on some of the projects I’d discussed in my “sabbatical coming” post from last week. In the afternoon, though, I’ll be going to the Nationals baseball game with my mother and her husband, who live out in the suburbs. The weather is supposed to be perfect.

See also:

Email Update is Out

Screenshot

Here’s a new “weekly” e-mail about stuff I’ve been working on, for those who’ve signed up to receive them.

It has highlights from last week’s trip to Medellín, some writing and data work about the border, and some thoughts on my two-month work sabbatical, which started yesterday. There are also weekly events links (16 of them) and links to some good readings.

If you visit this site a lot, you probably don’t need an e-mail, too. But if you’d like to get more-or-less regular e-mail updates, scroll to the bottom of this page or click here.

Daily Border Links: May 21, 2024

Get daily links in your email

Daily Border Links are following a sporadic publication schedule between May 3 and July 19. Regular daily updates will return on July 22.

Developments

The White House and Senate majority Democratic leadership remain determined to bring the Border Act to a vote this week.

Among its many provisions, this bill includes a temporary mechanism that would shut down access to asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border when daily migrant encounters exceed 4,000 per day (discretionary) or 5,000 per day (mandatory). If passed, this would be a historic rollback of threatened individuals’ half-century-old right to petition for asylum on U.S. soil.

Nonetheless, the White House issued a statement of “strong support” for the bill, and President Joe Biden called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) to urge them to support the bill.

Republicans, however, appear poised to block the Border Act in the Senate, where it needs 60 senators to agree to proceed to debate and a vote. Nearly identical legislation, attached to Ukraine and Israel aid, failed to clear this hurdle in the Senate on February 7.

Republicans contend that the bill is not restrictive enough, and are likely unwilling to hand Biden a legislative win on the border-migration issue in an election year. Democrats appear to be calculating that even a legislative loss helps shield them from campaign-season accusations of being insufficiently “aggressive” at the border.

Asked by CBS News about the state of Texas’s legal attacks on Annunciation House, a Catholic migrant shelter in El Paso, Pope Francis replied: “That is madness. Sheer madness. To close the border and leave them there, that is madness. The migrant has to be received. Thereafter you see how you are going to deal with him. Maybe you have to send him back, I don’t know, but each case ought to be considered humanely. Right?”

We’ve heard no new updates on local media reports citing allegations that members of the Texas National Guard severely beat a Honduran migrant on May 17 and pushed him across the borderline from El Paso to Ciudad Juárez, where he died of his injuries on the riverbank.

Analyses and Feature Stories

A UNHCR factsheet noted that 2024 financial requirements for integrating Venezuelan migrants in Latin American countries are only 15 percent fulfilled, increasing the likelihood that some may fail to integrate and move on to the United States.

On the Right

Texas Gets No Credit for 2024’s Drop in Migration

Of Joe Biden’s 39 full months in office, 2024 so far has seen the months with the third, fourth, eighth, and ninth fewest migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border. April was fourth-fewest.

This was unexpected, since it immediately followed some of the Biden administration’s heaviest months for migration, including the record-setting December 2023. The drop appears to owe to a sustained crackdown carried out by Mexico’s government, with migration agents, national guardsmen, and other security forces blocking migrants’ northward progress.

The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott (R), has been claiming that his state government’s border crackdown reduced migration there and pushed it to states further west. That’s not what the data show.

Since record-setting December, and also since migration dropped in January, Arizona—not Texas—has seen the sharpest percentage drop in migration. Arizona has a Democratic governor, and its state government is not carrying out a severe deterrent policy like Abbott’s $10 billion-plus “Operation Lone Star.” Yet Arizona’s migration reduction is similar. So Texas doesn’t get the credit.

We can zoom in further to look at what has happened to migration in each of Border Patrol’s nine U.S.-Mexico border sectors.

Viewed this way, one of Texas’s five sectors did see the sharpest drop in migration: Del Rio, in mid-Texas, fell 86 percent from December to April; 39 percent from January to April. It is the only Texas sector to have decreased more sharply than the border-wide average.

But Tucson, Arizona—Border Patrol’s busiest sector between July 2023 and March 2024—fell almost as steeply as Del Rio (61% since December and 38% since January).

And after a December-January drop, all other Texas sectors are increasing.

Del Rio’s migration decline was led by super-sharp drops in arrivals from Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua, three nationalities (along with Haiti) whose citizens the Mexican government allows the Biden administration to deport into Mexico under its May 2023 post-Title 42 “asylum ban” rule.

Deportation into Mexico without allowing a chance to seek asylum is almost certainly illegal: a federal judge already struck this part of the rule down (it remains in place pending appeal). It’s possible that this practice—more than Texas’s concertina wire, buoys, and soldiers—may have affected the choices these nationalities’ migrants made in Del Rio since January.

Border-wide between January and April, for every Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, or Venezuelan migrant who crossed the border irregularly (43,040), more than five instead arrived via legal channels: either the “CBP One” app (about 120,000) to make appointments at ports of entry, or the Biden administration’s humanitarian parole program (about 108,000) for these nationalities.

In Tucson, no nationalities declined as steeply as did Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, and Cubans in Del Rio. But the drop has happened across the board, with only modest increases in apprehensions of Colombians and Peruvians.

From what we know of the month of May so far, migration along the border could be declining even further. Twitter reports from the San Diego and Tucson Border Patrol sector chiefs have showed both regions declining over the past two weeks. The El Paso municipal government’s “migrant crisis” dashboard is also showing flat, even slightly reduced, numbers of encounters there.

Daily Border Links: May 20, 2024

Daily Border Links are following a sporadic publication schedule between May 3 and July 19. Regular daily updates will return on July 22.

Get daily links in your email

Developments

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) confirmed that the body’s Democratic majority intends to bring the “Border Act” to a vote this week. The legislation incorporates provisions of a bill that failed in the Senate in early February after months of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans.

Of its many provisions, the most controversial is a mechanism that would shut down access to asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border if daily migrant encounters exceed 4,000 or 5,000 per day.

This provision’s inclusion in the earlier bill, which also included Ukraine and Israel aid, was a large concession for Democrats, but Republicans still rejected it, echoing Donald Trump’s argument that it did not go far enough.

If the Border Act goes to a vote this week, it is unclear whether any Republicans will support it. But it would be the second time in three months that Senate Democrats go on the record supporting a historic rollback of threatened migrants’ right to seek asylum in the United States.

The White House and some leading Senate Democrats view the bill as a means to take the border issue away from Republicans during the election year by appearing “aggressive.” However, migrants’ rights advocates are urging Senate leaders not to take this step because of its potential for harm.

Local media are reporting that a Honduran migrant died just south of the borderline between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez after being severely beaten. Other migrants allege that the victim’s assailants were members of the Texas National Guard, who prevented them from crossing to the U.S. side to turn themselves in to U.S. federal authorities.

If accurate, the incident would be the first time in decades that a U.S. soldier purposefully killed a civilian on U.S. soil.

After U.S. authorities sent another deportation flight to Haiti on May 16, UNHCR’s U.S. office urged them to refrain from doing that again while the Caribbean nation’s public security emergency persists.

Despite concerns about the Salvadoran security forces’ human rights record and democratic backsliding, the U.S. government has granted them drone equipment valued at $4.5 million, which “will be employed along the border regions to reinforce El Salvador’s security against illegal smuggling and migrant crossings,” EFE reported, citing a U.S. embassy statement. The recipient unit is the armed forces’ Sumpul Task Force, a unit that focuses primarily on borders.

Of the nine sectors into which Border Patrol divides the U.S.-Mexico border, the two that have seen the most migration since January are Tucson, Arizona and San Diego, California. Both sectors have seen two weeks of declining migrant encounters, according to Twitter posts from their chiefs.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has been claiming that his state government’s border crackdown has reduced migration there and pushed it to states further west. In fact, though, Arizona—not Texas—has seen the steepest declines in migration since the record-setting month of December, according to data released last week by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Migrant encounters have in fact risen 5 percent in Texas since January as they declined 30 percent in Arizona.

“Historically, this sector had been number one in irregular migrants,” Andres Garcia, a Border Patrol spokesman in the agency’s Rio Grande Valley sector in south Texas, told a gathering of Latin American journalists. “Now we are down to number four. What is happening? It doesn’t depend on us, it depends on the ‘logistics’ on the Mexican side. I’m talking about the criminal organizations that move this traffic through other areas of the border.”

The presidents of Mexico and Guatemala met in the border-zone city of Tapachula, Chiapas, on May 17. Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Bernardo Arévalo agreed to deepen collaboration on border and migration management and to improve official border crossing infrastructure.

The director of Panama’s migration agency, Samira Gozaine, told the Associated Press that high costs and coordination challenges would make it impossible for incoming President-Elect José Raúl Mulino to carry out his campaign pledge to deport migrants passing through the treacherous Darién Gap region.

CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating whether top Border Patrol officials, including Chief Jason Owens and Rio Grande Valley Sector Chief Gloria Chavez, properly disclosed their contacts with Eduardo Garza, owner of a prominent Laredo-based customs brokerage company.

NBC News broke the story, adding to an earlier report that “Owens and Chavez are already under investigation by CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility for their contacts with [tequila maker Francisco Javier] González, who wanted to make a Border Patrol-branded tequila to celebrate the agency’s 100th anniversary this month.”

Analyses and Feature Stories

Since 2014, U.S. immigration courts have heard 1,047,134 asylum cases, and granted asylum or other deportation relief in 685,956 of them (66%), according to Syracuse University’s TRAC Immigration data project.

Of the more than 500,000 Nicaraguan people who have migrated to the United States since a 2018 crackdown on dissent, many have not applied for asylum, leaving their documented status uncertain, the Inter-American Dialogue’s Manuel Orozco told the independent media outlet Confidencial.

Brave New World

I keep a little webpage that generates tables of data about migration at the U.S.-Mexico border, using CBP’s regularly updated dataset.

For weeks, I’ve wanted to have the ability to sort the tables by clicking on their column headers. It seemed like a big job, though, especially figuring out how to keep the columns’ totals at the bottom, not included in the sort.

This evening, though, I thought to ask ChatGPT—and it gave me exactly what I wanted, with only a couple of dozen lines of code. Here’s what the tables can do now:

Animated GIF of the table being resorted, in descending and ascending order, when column headers are clicked.

The whole process took less than 20 minutes: two queries and me copy-pasting the code into the page. It works flawlessly, which is very cool, and perhaps a bit creepy.

Try it out here.

Older Posts
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.