Adam Isacson

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


Daily Border Links: February 29, 2024

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President Joe Biden will be in Brownsville, Texas today for the second U.S.-Mexico border visit of his presidency. About 300 miles upriver along the Rio Grande, Donald Trump will be in Eagle Pass.

We can expect Trump to attack Biden’s border policies, and immigration in general, which is one of his campaign’s principal themes and, according to polls, an electoral vulnerability for the President. We can expect Biden to blame Trump and Republicans for blocking reforms, including a “border deal” that died in the Senate earlier this month even though it conceded significant parts of the Republican agenda by curbing migrants’ right to seek asylum.

We do not expect Biden to announce any new executive actions to implement new curbs on asylum, a step that the White House continues to consider.

The dual visits highlight the deadlock in Washington on any decisions regarding the border and migration: no change—whether a reform or a crackdown, or even a new budget—has passed the 118th Congress, which began in January 2023.

Budget shortfalls have limited the Biden administration’s effort to subject more asylum seekers to rapid screening interviews shortly after apprehension, in a process called “expedited removal,” the Associated Press reported. Asylum officers carrying out the credible-fear interviews “are too understaffed to have much impact,” able to interview a number of migrants equal to about 15 percent of those who were instead released with “notices to appear” in immigration court.

Colombia’s navy last week seized two of the many boats that take migrants—with the permission of local organized crime—across the Gulf of Urabá from the town of Necoclí to Acandí, where the treacherous Darién Gap route into Panama begins. As a result, the New York Times reported, all boat transportation has halted and Necoclí, a small beach resort, is filling up with hundreds of migrants arriving each day, who are now stranded there.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, accompanied by Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, met in Washington to discuss migration approaches with the foreign ministers of Mexico and Guatemala. They discussed addressing migration’s root causes and expanding legal pathways, and agreed to form a trilateral “operational cell” to share information and coordinate strategies.

The three governments agreed to launch a new “dashboard” of migration flows data, “which will enhance data-driven decision-making and coordination.”

U.S. officials praised Mexico’s recent increase in operations to control U.S.-bound migration flows, crediting them for some of the recent drop in migrant arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border, though some of the cause is seasonal.

Guatemala will host the next ministerial-level meeting of the 22 signatory nations of the 2022 Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection. There is no date yet for that meeting.

A tweet from Border Patrol’s chief indicates that the agency apprehended about 136,000 migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border during the first 27 days of February. At that pace, the month-long apprehensions number will be about 146,000: 22,000 more than January, but the 7th-fewest of the Biden administration’s 37 full months in office.

Republican politicians, and a dramatic spike in Fox News stories, are promoting the idea of “migrant crime” as a Venezuelan man who arrived at the border in 2022 stands accused of murdering a nursing student in Georgia last week.

Analyses continue to point out that “migrant crime” is a myth, as migrants proportionally commit less violent crime than do U.S. citizens. The alleged perpetrator of the Georgia murder, meanwhile, arrived at the border during the height of the Title 42 expulsions policy, showing the irrelevance or futility of harsh curbs on asylum.

A 29-year-old Mexican man died after falling from a 30-foot-tall Trump-era segment of border wall east of San Diego on February 27. Mexico’s consulate, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, recorded 29 deaths and 120 injuries at the San Diego-area border in 2023 alone, down slightly from 42 and 124 in 2022 (not all were wall-related).

In 2009, Canada imposed visa requirements on arriving Mexican citizens, amid an increase in asylum applications. In 2016, Canada lifted those requirements. Yesterday, Canada reimposed those visa requirements; more than 25,000 Mexican citizens sought asylum there last year.

Analyses and Feature Stories

Bloomberg mapped out where asylum seekers are settling after they reach the United States, finding a remarkable dispersal to both urban and rural areas. On a per capita basis, states experiencing the largest numbers of migrant arrivals in 2023 were probably New York, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, Colorado, and Illinois.

The Washington Post published a series of maps detailing Texas’s security buildup along the Rio Grande in the Eagle Pass area.

At the New York Times, Jack Healy visited the border near Sásabe, Arizona, where asylum seekers continue to turn themselves in to Border Patrol in large numbers, though they are fewer than they were in the record-setting month of December.

Diego Piña Lopez, the director of Tucson’s Casa Alitas network of migrant shelters, worried that federal funding is running out for non-profit facilities receiving migrants released from Border Patrol custody, which means street releases may come to Tucson next month. “It’s not going to be a trickle. You broke the faucet completely off.”

El Toque counted the deaths or disappearances of more than 800 Cuban migrants over the past 10 years at the U.S.-Mexico border, at sea, in Mexico and Central America, and in the Bahamas and Cayman Islands.

On the Right

Deterring Asylum Seekers: an Increasingly Bipartisan Idea that Won’t Work

I felt a need to write something, without feeling constrained by word count, responding to today’s bipartisan wave of calls to “get tough” on asylum seekers coming to the U.S.-Mexico border. So buckle in.

tl;dr: This piece doesn’t make a human rights argument about asylum access, though it does acknowledge cruelty and human cost. Instead, the argument here is cold, analytical, and practical: the past 10 years’ numbers and experience show that trying to deter protection-seeking migrants just doesn’t work. All it does is push their numbers down temporarily.

I wrote this in a hurry and would like it to coincide with Joe Biden’s and Donald Trump’s February 29 visits to the border, so this document is by me, not my employer. (If I gave my WOLA colleagues a few days’ advance notice to look it over, this would be a much better, tighter document with fewer unfortunate word choices. But it’s a busy week at WOLA.)

As President Biden and candidate Trump head to the Texas-Mexico border, immigration opponents are blaming the President’s border policies for the horrific, tragic February 22 murder of a nursing student in Georgia. But the case of the alleged killer, a 26-year-old Venezuelan man named José Ibarra, shows the futility of trying to put asylum out of reach at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Title 42 was a “nuclear option” for denying asylum—yet it didn’t deter people from coming

Since 1980, U.S. law has clearly stated that any non-citizens on U.S. soil have the right to apply for asylum, regardless of how they arrived, if they fear for their lives or freedom upon return to their country for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Once here, they are entitled to due process, and even Donald Trump’s administration had to honor that, hundreds of thousands of times (though they constantly sought to cut corners).

That is presumably what José Ibarra sought to do when he arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso in September 2022. But in fact, Ibarra came to the U.S.-Mexico border at a time when the U.S. government was going to extreme lengths to make asylum unavailable.

Between March 2020 and May 2023, the “Title 42” pandemic policy—begun by Donald Trump and continued by Joe Biden—used public health as a pretext for carrying out the toughest restriction on asylum seekers since 1980. Title 42 empowered U.S. border officials to expel—not even to properly process—all undocumented migrants they encountered.

If they said “I fear for my life if you expel me,” in most cases migrants still didn’t get hearings: they were expelled from the United States as quickly as possible. If they were Salvadoran, Guatemalan, or Honduran—and later Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, or Venezuelan—Mexico agreed to take many of them back across the land border.

In September 2022, when Ibarra turned himself in to Border Patrol, Title 42 was in full effect. But “expelled as quickly as possible” was often complicated.

In September 2022 alone, 33,804 Venezuelans—fleeing authoritarianism, corrupt misrule, violence, social collapse, and cratering living standards—arrived at the border.

Data table

That month was an especially busy time for Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector (one of the agency’s nine U.S.-Mexico border sectors, comprised of far west Texas and New Mexico). Agents there encountered 49,030 migrants over those 30 days, 20,169 of them from Venezuela, including José Ibarra.

(Let’s recall, too, that the vast majority of those people were seeking to step on U.S. soil and turn themselves in to Border Patrol. They weren’t trying to get away. The presence of a border wall near the riverbank is irrelevant: they just want to set foot on the riverbank.)

Of those 20,169 Venezuelan migrants in El Paso that month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) used Title 42 to expel… 2.

Why so few? Because U.S. authorities had nowhere to “put” expelled citizens of Venezuela and many other countries. At the time, Mexico was accepting Title 42 expulsions of three non-Mexican nationalities, but not Venezuelans. (That came later, in October 2023, bringing a temporary drop in Venezuelan migration. But despite the threat of expulsion, by the last full month of Title 42—April 2023—the number of Venezuelan migrants had recovered to 34,633, at the time a record.)

In 2022—and again, now—Venezuela’s government, which has no diplomatic relations with the United States, was refusing deportations or expulsions by air. Those flights are very expensive anyway for a country thousands of miles away.

At that pandemic moment, but still today, the sheer number of arrivals at the border—often more than 200,000 per month, at a moment of more worldwide migration than at any time since World War II—often makes detaining asylum seekers impossible, for lack of space and budget. So then, and still now, U.S. authorities release many into the U.S. interior with a date to appear before ICE or immigration courts in their destination cities. (The vast majority show up for those appointments.)

This was the reality even during the draconian Title 42 period, when U.S. authorities did expel people—many of them asylum seekers—2,912,294 times. But even as Mexico took back land-border expulsions of many Mexican and Central American people with urgent protection needs, U.S. officials, unable to expel, released José Ibarra and many others into the United States.

Why cracking down on asylum doesn’t work

Let’s repeat: this is what was happening when it was U.S. government policy to expel as many asylum seekers as it could, as quickly as it could. Washington tried a massive crackdown on asylum, and it failed to deter people. This is what happened to Border Patrol’s migrant encounters during the Title 42 period:

Data table

Right now, though, curbing the ability to ask for asylum at the border is in vogue again. Language in a “border deal” negotiated by Senate Republicans and Democrats—defeated in early February because Republicans didn’t think it went far enough—would have switched on a Title 42-like expulsion authority whenever daily migrant encounters averaged more than 4,000 or 5,000 per day.

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Daily Border Links: February 28, 2024

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President Biden will visit Brownsville, Texas tomorrow, the second U.S.-Mexico border visit of his administration. Republican candidate Donald Trump will be several hours’ drive west, at the border in Eagle Pass.

The President will not announce any new executive actions tomorrow, like new limits on asylum seekers’ ability to seek protection at the border, said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. Media reports last week indicated that the White House is considering such a step, despite a lack of firm legal footing for curbing asylum access.

Border visits, the New York Times noted, have “become a compulsory bit of political theater for leaders who want to show they care about immigration.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas are meeting today with counterparts from Guatemala and Mexico to discuss “actions to strengthen humane migration management, joint collaboration to address the root causes of irregular migration and displacement, and ways to expand lawful pathways in the Western Hemisphere.”

For the first time since 2019, a Gallup Poll found that immigration is what Americans regard to be “the most important issue facing the country.” 28 percent of respondents cited immigration, up from 20 percent a month ago.

PBS NewsHour analyzed the February 22 murder of a Georgia nursing student, allegedly committed by a Venezuelan man whom Border Patrol released from custody in September 2022, when the Title 42 policy was still in place. Charis Kubrin, a professor of criminology, law and society at U.C. Irvine, recalled: “across all this research, by and large, we find that immigrants do not engage in more crime than native-born counterparts, and immigration actually can cause crime to go down, rather than up.”

CalMatters covered the resumption of “street releases” of asylum seekers released from CBP custody in San Diego, where elevated numbers of migrant arrivals exhausted resources for a county-funded “welcome center,” which closed its doors last week. Confused migrants are now being left at a trolley station, as volunteers struggle to orient them. Advocates allege that the county’s money was not spent sustainably.

San Diego County supervisors voted down a motion asking the federal government to shut down the border temporarily at moments of large-scale arrivals of asylum seekers. (“Shutting down” the border would make little difference, as asylum seekers have already crossed the border onto U.S. soil where they have a legal right to petition for protection.)

Analyses and Feature Stories

A harrowing, in-depth report from Quinto Elemento Lab described criminal organizations’ trafficking of Honduran women in the dangerous southern Mexican border town of Frontera Comalapa, Chiapas, and the complicity of Mexican and Honduran government officials.

A judicial settlement for victims of the Trump administration’s family separations allows them to apply for temporary legal status, work authorization, and some services in the United States, but does not guarantee them legal representation for their applications, reported Isabela Dias at Mother Jones.

At the Guardian, Luke Taylor covered studies from the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the UN Refugee Agency indicating that in South America, integrating Venezuelan migrants and refugees will contribute 0.1 to 0.25 percentage points to host countries’ economic growth every year between 2017 and 2030.

Daily Border Links: February 27, 2024

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On Thursday the 29th, President Joe Biden plans to visit Brownsville, Texas. It will be the second visit to the U.S.-Mexico border of Biden’s presidency. Former president and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump plans to be elsewhere at the Texas border, in Eagle Pass, on the same day. “We welcome that split screen,” a senior administration official told NBC News.

Biden plans to meet with Border Patrol agents and other law enforcement, and to call on Congress to pass border and migration legislation and funding. He is not expected to announce executive actions imposing new limits on asylum seekers’ ability to seek protection at the border, a step that the White House is considering and might announce ahead of the March 7 State of the Union presidential address.

“Immigration was by far the most dominant topic of discussion” during a February 23 White House meeting with state governors, NBC News reported.

Senate Democrats appear likely to dismiss the Republican-majority House’s impeachment of DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas without holding an actual trial, a move that would require just a simple majority vote.

Republicans, including Trump, are blaming Biden for the February 22 murder, allegedly committed by a Venezuelan man, of a 22-year-old nursing student in Georgia.

Border Patrol had released José Ibarra from custody in El Paso in September 2022, at a time when the El Paso sector was the second-busiest of the agency’s nine U.S.-Mexico border sectors. It is not clear whether Ibarra applied for asylum. ICE claims that he was arrested in New York City in August 2023 but released without a transfer to ICE custody; New York officials say they have no record of an arrest.

Progressive Democratic Reps. Adriano Espaillat (D-New York) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) introduced legislation that would provide Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to over 300,000 Ecuadorians in the United States fleeing “unspeakable violence.”

A Monmouth University poll found a majority of U.S. respondents (53 percent), for the first time, favoring border wall construction.

Analyses and Feature Stories

Curbed visited St. Brigid, a former Catholic school in New York City, which has become a “reticketing center” for migrants seeking new shelter. Many endured harrowing journeys and are now struggling with the city’s shelter system and often ending up living on the streets; some voice a desire to return home.

Of more than 100 ancient saguaro cacti that construction crews dug up and transplanted while building Trump-era border wall in Arizona, “dozens” have died.

On the Right

Daily Border Links: February 26, 2024

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In a February 23 White House meeting with state governors, President Joe Biden confirmed that he is considering executive actions to make asylum harder to obtain at the U.S.-Mexico border, but added that existing laws and budgets leave him with few options.

Migrant rights defense groups and progressive legislators continue to voice outrage about the possible executive actions, which came to light in news reporting on February 21.

As of February 25, year-to-date migration through the Darién Gap totaled over 68,400 people, about 22,700 more than the same period in 2023, EFE reported.

So far this year, the U.S. government has returned 12,144 Guatemalan citizens to their country on deportation flights.

The Texas Newsroom obtained invoices for four flights that Texas’s state government chartered to fly asylum-seeking migrants to New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. The total price tag of $845,000 was well over $1,000 per passenger.

A poll of Venezuelan citizens living in the United States found that more than 65 percent would return to Venezuela if the political opposition were to win this year’s presidential elections, a dim possibility amid rising political repression.

Analyses and Feature Stories

Analyses at the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times examined why migrant apprehensions are up (though leveling off) at the Arizona and California borders and declining in Texas. “Stepped-up enforcement efforts by the governments of Mexico, Panama and Colombia, and heightened violence by cartels on the Mexican side of the Texas border have likely slowed expected migration into that state,” wrote Andrea Castillo at the LA Times.

Asylum-seeker arrivals, and resulting Border Patrol releases, into San Diego have increased so rapidly that they have exhausted a county budget for a short-term migrant welcome center. As a result, CBP is leaving migrants outside a bus station.

The New Yorker, profiling El Paso’s Annunciation House, and the Arizona Daily Star, profiling Casa Alitas, pointed to the key role that migrant shelters play in receiving asylum seekers released from CBP custody. Shelters are facing a rising wave of rhetorical and legal attacks from right-wing politicians.

The Center for Public Integrity revealed that the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which receives and finds sponsors for migrant children who arrive unaccompanied, handled 2,724 reports of missing migrant children in the United States in 2022, many more than in previous years. Federal efforts to locate the missing children are insufficient.

In Eagle Pass, Texas, first responders are “overwhelmed and increasingly traumatized” by the frequency with which they rescue migrants—or recover their bodies—from the Rio Grande, NBC News reported. “On some shifts, firefighters with the Eagle Pass Fire Department can spend three to five hours in the water.”

A Rolling Stone feature looked at the impact that the Texas state government’s border security and migration crackdown is having on daily life in Eagle Pass.

In Arizona, younger Democratic voters are voicing frustration at the Biden administration’s rightward turn on border and migration policy, the Washington Post reported.

Congressional Republicans often urge President Biden to revive the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy despite its human rights impact, even though “it’s not clear Mexico’s government would play along,” Joseph Zeballos-Roig wrote at Semafor.

Voice of America and Mexico’s Milenio both published articles about Haitian migrants who have decided to settle in Mexico instead of pushing on to the United States.

On the Right

Email Update is Out

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

This one has a Weekly Border Update; a new mini-report plus a podcast about security in Ecuador; and a breakdown with links explaining the past month in Colombia’s peace process. Also, links to some good readings, and to an incredible 46 Latin America-related events that I know of in Washington or online this week (counting Inter-American Human Rights Commission hearings). It’s going to be a busy week.

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.

Latin America-Related Events in Washington and Online This Week

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

Monday, February 26, 2024

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Friday, March 1, 2024

Colombia’s Peace Process: Some Links from the Past Month

Colombia’s government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group completed a sixth round of peace talks in Cuba on February 6. They agreed to renew a six-month-old ceasefire for another six months, through August 4.

The ceasefire is to include a halt in guerrilla kidnappings. As of February 7, according to lead government negotiator Vera Grabe, the ELN had released 23 of 26 people it had been holding. On February 18 the group released a dentist whom it had kidnapped in Magdalena.

Negotiators also agreed to create an international multi-color fund to support peace activities. The next round of talks is to take place in Venezuela.

Despite the ceasefire, ELN units in the southern region of the northwestern department of Chocó declared an “armed strike,” prohibiting people from transiting on roads and rivers for about a week in mid-February. It was the ELN’s third armed strike in this area in seven months. The ELN and the Gulf Clan have been fighting in southern Chocó for years, and the humanitarian crisis—especially forced displacements and confinements—is worsening for communities along the San Juan and Baudó rivers, which are busy smuggling corridors.

The ceasefire, which is limited to stopping fighting between the ELN and the government, is “incomplete” and does not specifically prohibit confinements of populations, said negotiating team member Sen. Iván Cepeda.

ELN negotiators announced on February 20 that they are putting the dialogues on hold. They were reportedly unhappy with the government’s approval of separate dialogues between a single ELN structure and the government of the southwestern department of Nariño (which shares a party affiliation with President Gustavo Petro). The ELN is contesting territory in Nariño with the Central General Staff (EMC) ex-FARC dissident network.

The ELN’s Comuneros del Sur front appears to be more disposed to a faster-paced dialogue; conversations began informally in September 2023. While the Petro government supports the idea of “regional dialogues,” ELN’s national leadership prefers that it negotiate with the group as a whole.

The government has a strong incentive to seek talks with individual ELN units, as the guerrilla group has a loose central command structure with very autonomous units. “The Eastern and Western War fronts, due to their operability and lethality, represent more or less 70 percent of the ELN and these structures are not at the table,” Carlos Velandia, a former ELN leader who is now a frequently cited analyst, told El Tiempo.

The EMC staged a 27-day “armed strike” in parts of southern Caquetá department.

Following recent ELN and EMC armed actions against civilians in Antioquia, Cauca, Chocó, Nariño, Valle del Cauca, and elsewhere, High Commissioner for Peace Otty Patiño warned that “The ceasefire is not a permit to commit crimes.” Analysts viewed this as a hardening of the Petro government’s tone toward armed groups participating in negotiations, and a break with the approach of former High Commissioner Danilo Rueda.

Peace talks officially launched between the government and the Segunda Marquetalia ex-FARC dissident network. Nominally headed by Iván Márquez, the FARC’s chief negotiator for the 2016 peace accord who rearmed in 2019, the Segunda Marquetalia is mainly active in Putumayo and Nariño departments in southwest Colombia.

This is the only negotiation with a group led by people who had already agreed to an earlier peace accord. Along with the ELN and EMC, the Petro government is now in active peace talks with three national groups.

Representatives of the 15 UN Security Council member states visited Colombia on February 7-11. The Council is considering expanding the scope of the UN Verification Mission’s mandate to include the Petro government’s new peace negotiations with additional armed groups; the U.S. government has been reluctant to approve a quick mandate expansion. In a press conference with Council members, President Petro acknowledged that aspects of the 2016 peace accord’s implementation, like land distribution, are running behind.

During their visit, UN diplomats traveled to Buenaventura and Cartagena, and to the former FARC demobilization and reincorporation site in La Montañita, Caquetá, which is now a fair-sized rural town.

Twenty-four of these reincorporation sites, in thirteen departments, continue to exist. As of October 31, the government recognized 11,269 people as ex-FARC, down from 13,394 in 2020, according to El Espectador.

Colombia’s Human Rights Ombudsman’s office noted that the Petro government has increased budgets and resources for implementing the 2016 peace accord, especially its provisions on land and rural reform. In a new monitoring report, though, the Office voiced strong concern about how these resources are being allocated, and about armed groups’ continuing power to undermine people’s access to land, especially when landholders are women.

Of the Territorially Focused Development Programs (PDET), a big peace accord commitment to bring state services to long-abandoned areas, less than 50 percent have even been launched, 7 years after accord implementation began.

Former FARC leaders sent an angry letter to President Petro complaining that the post-conflict transitional justice tribunal currently trying their war crimes cases is “moving away from the spirit and letter of the peace accord.” They are upset that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), in their view, is resolving cases separately instead of all together, moving slow on amnesties for political crimes, and focusing too much on mid-level ex-commanders. The JEP appeared to resolve the amnesty issue on February 21.

68 bills before Colombia’s Congress whose passage is necessary to comply with 2016 peace accord commitments are in danger of failing because they must be approved in the legislative session that ends on June 20, according to the Bogotá-based Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP).

A FIP report found that Colombia’s armed groups increased their strength and reach in 2023, even as some negotiated with the government and some humanitarian indicators improved. “Disputes between the groups for territorial control increased 54% in 2023. Total armed actions by the groups also increased 11%. Disputed zones between groups increased from five to nine,” said FIP Director María Victoria Llorente.

FIP cited data from Colombia’s security forces pointing to an increase in the combined membership of the ELN, ex-FARC dissidents, and the Gulf Clan in 2023: from about 15,000 to about 16,700.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: February 23, 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.

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.


Media reports indicate that the White House is considering executive orders that would restrict asylum access. Possibilities include a new expulsion authority and a higher bar in credible fear screening interviews, though those could run counter to existing law or duplicate current policies. Meanwhile, a group of 10 moderate Republicans and centrist Democrats is sponsoring a bill that would mandate expulsions and “Remain in Mexico” along with Ukraine and Israel aid.

On March 5, depending on what a federal judge decides, Texas will begin enforcing a law making it a state crime, punishable by imprisonment, to cross the border without inspection. Texas is also accusing a respected El Paso migrant shelter of “harboring” and “smuggling” migrants and threatening to shut it down. The state’s governor is building a giant National Guard base near Eagle Pass.

The week of February 9-16 saw nine known examples of alleged human rights abuse, misconduct, or other reasons for concern about the organizational culture at U.S. border law enforcement agencies. Two senior Border Patrol officials were suspended, emails revealed widespread use of a slur to describe migrants, a new report detailed seizures of migrants’ belongings, and a whistleblower complaint revealed a bizarre incident involving “fentanyl lollipops.”


Read More

Daily Border Links: February 23, 2024

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Yesterday saw few new developments after Wednesday’s multiple media reports indicating that the Biden administration is considering drastic limits, via executive order, on the right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. (See yesterday’s Daily Border Links.) According to some reporting, these limits could include expulsions of asylum seekers when daily migrant encounters reach a certain level.

Progressive Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) voiced firm opposition to the proposal: “Doing Trump impressions isn’t how we beat Trump,” tweeted Ocasio-Cortez.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) wrote that a Biden executive order or similar actions would be “election year gimmicks.”

The El Paso Times covered the Texas government’s legal attack on the city’s Annunciation House migrant shelter. “Annunciation House isn’t a place, per se. It’s a community of like-minded people, driven by their faith to help the most vulnerable regardless of circumstance,” wrote reporter Lauren Villagrán.

“We are now witnessing an escalating campaign of intimidation, fear and dehumanization in the state of Texas,” Bishop Mark Seitz of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso wrote in a statement. Further support for the shelter came from a group of Catholic and El Paso and Ciudad Juárez-based humanitarian and human rights groups.

A U.S. deportation flight brought 51 Cuban citizens to Havana yesterday. This is the 11th removal flight to Cuba since they resumed last April: 1 each month.

The Wall Street Journal confirmed that deportation flights to Venezuela stopped in late January. Between October and then, 15 planes had sent 1,800 Venezuelan migrants back to Caracas.

The director of Mexico‘s migration agency (National Migration Institute, INM) in Baja California called for the provision of bulletproof vests for agents in the face of attacks from smugglers. INM agents don’t carry lethal weapons, “but that could change,” though not soon, David Tejada Padilla told Border Report.

13,101 pounds of methamphetamine aboard a tractor trailer at Laredo’s Camino Real bridge on February 18 were CBP’s largest-ever meth seizure at a port of entry.

Analyses and Feature Stories

“I went through dozens of reports, scores of articles, on the discussion of this migration bill, and the reporters talked to zero migrants and zero migrant rights groups. At all. None. Zero,” media analyst Adam Johnson told Todd Miller at the Border Chronicle.

At the Washington Post, Philip Bump tried to envision Trump advisor Stephen Miller’s plan to use “red-state” National Guard soldiers to round up undocumented immigrants in Democratic-majority states. Bump’s conclusion: “It’s cosplay.”

By busing migrants to Democratic-governed cities, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has “played into the idea of pitting immigrants against the American people in general and against immigrants who have been here for years,” a Democratic political strategist told CNN, noting that “it’s working” politically.

On the Right

Daily Border Links: February 22, 2024

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Several media outlets reported that the Biden administration is considering an executive order to adopt asylum restrictions at the border. Some of those restrictions may resemble measures agreed by Senate negotiators in a deal that fell to Republican opposition earlier this month.

Actions could include expelling asylum seekers when migrant encounters reach a certain daily threshold, or increasing standards of credible fear that asylum seekers would have to meet when subjected to initial screening interviews.

However, existing law does not allow expulsions of asylum seekers for reasons of volume, and Mexico’s reception of expelled people is not guaranteed. Meanwhile, the administration’s May 2023 asylum “transit ban” rule has already raised the credible fear standard for most asylum seekers apprehended between ports of entry.

The measures could invoke Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which empowers the President to refuse entry to broad classes of migrants. Courts have ruled, however, that this statute does not allow blocking asylum to people already on U.S. soil and requesting it.

In their opposition to the Senate “border deal,” some congressional Republicans had argued that the changes were unnecessary because President Biden already has the authority to “shut the border.” While President Biden would appear to be upholding the Republicans’ argument if he used executive authority, a very likely outcome is that courts would again strike down any blanket refusal of asylum.

The State Department broadened a policy of canceling or refusing U.S. visas to owners and senior managers of companies “providing transportation services designed for use primarily by persons intending to migrate irregularly to the United States.” State first announced this policy in November for charter flight operators taking migrants to Nicaragua, which does not require visas of most nationalities and has become an important route for U.S.-bound migrants. Officials are considering extending the visa ban to social media influencers who encourage migrants to pursue irregular travel.

The Mexican magazine Proceso revealed that the country’s migration authority, the National Migration Institute (INM), awarded irregular contracts to private detention center operators with few employees and little track record.

A 24-year-old man from Jamaica died of hypothermia just south of the border in Tecate, Baja California. “He died within an eighth of a mile of jackets and blankets and mittens and water left out by Border Kindness as part of their humanitarian aid mission,” tweeted journalist Wendy Fry.

CBP reported that a tractor-trailer driver detained at a Laredo, Texas checkpoint died in his holding cell on February 17. While the agency’s account points to a possible suicide, “the video recording system at the Border Patrol checkpoint was not fully functioning at the time of the incident”—a chronic problem noted in CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility reports.

Texas nonprofits and political leaders are rallying around Annunciation House, a longtime Catholic migrant shelter network in El Paso that Texas’s state government is accusing of “alien harboring, human smuggling and operating a stash house.” For many years Annunciation House has received busloads of released asylum seekers from CBP and Border Patrol, cooperating closely with the agencies.

Guatemala’s congress may increase the budget and activities of its national commission for migrants (Conamigua), which assists Guatemalan migrants abroad and deportees. The agency does not have history of spending out even its small annual budgets.

Analyses and Feature Stories

The National Immigrant Justice Center published a list of 10 actions that the Biden administration could take now, through executive action, to “reclaim the narrative” on immigration. They include a White House role in coordinating processing, adjudication, and work authorizations; a steep reduction in migrant detention; and dismantling Texas’s “Operation Lone Star.”

On the Right

Daily Border Links: February 21, 2024

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In a new escalation against humanitarian workers, Texas’s attorney-general, Ken Paxton (R), is seeking to revoke the license of a 47-year-old Catholic non-profit migrant shelter in El Paso. Annunciation House works with CBP and El Paso’s city government to receive asylum seekers released from federal custody, helping migrants to avoid being left on the city’s streets and to connect to destinations in the U.S. interior. Paxton accuses the shelter of facilitating human smuggling, and demanded that it hand over a large trove of client records with no advance notice.

Annunciation House will hold a press conference on Friday.

Texas has spent over $148 million to bus 102,000 migrants to Democratic Party-governed cities elsewhere in the United States. That is $1,451 per bus ride. The figure comes from public records obtained by The Texas Newsroom, a public radio journalism outlet.

“Let him put as many as he wants,” said Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in response to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) plan to install a state military base near Eagle Pass. “Supposedly this is how he is going to detain the migrants. Pure politicking! It is not serious.”

Mexico’s army killed two people from Venezuela, and captured three others, in a confrontation in rural Michoacán. Those killed and arrested were reportedly migrants recruited by organized crime.

NBC News identified the reason why Border Patrol’s acting deputy chief, Joel Martinez, was suspended from his post: an investigation into multiple claims of sexual misconduct and harassment on the job. The Washington Post had broken the Martinez story last week without identifying the reason for his suspension. The case recalls late 2022 allegations against Tony Barker, then Border Patrol’s number-three official.

Analyses and Feature Stories

The Washington Post detailed the Trump campaign’s unprecedented plan for large-scale migrant deportations if the former president is re-elected. Proposals include challenging birthright citizenship, using the military to remove people, and building mass pre-deportation camps.

“We documented a handful of cases where people ended up in the emergency room” because Border Patrol confiscated asylum seekers’ prescription medications and did not return them, Noah Schramm of ACLU Arizona, a principal author of a mid-February report on confiscation of belongings, told the Border Chronicle.

The National Immigration Forum published an overview of the “Defending Borders, Defending Democracies Act” (H.R. 7372), legislation sponsored by moderate Republicans and centrist Democrats that would allow some U.S. aid to Ukraine and Israel while enabling expulsions, a renewed “Remain in Mexico” program, and other limits on the right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Recent poll data do not show any improvement in the Biden administration’s approval rating on border and migration issues after Republicans scuttled the Senate “border deal,” according to the Washington Post.

A fact-check from the Colombian outlet La Silla Vacía pointed out that while broad-based U.S. sanctions exacerbated Venezuela’s economic crisis, large-scale migration from the country had already begun, for other reasons, before the Trump administration imposed them.

On the Right

Finding a Way Out of Ecuador’s Crisis: A New Commentary and Podcast at

We just launched two resources about Ecuador that have been in the works all month: a mini-report and a podcast.

First, the report: Why Ecuador Should Not Replicate the ‘Bukele Model’.

Among several reasons:

  • Ecuador is 13 times larger than El Salvador.
  • If Ecuador were to imprison as much of its population as Bukele has, it’d be like locking up the entire city of Manta.
  • Thanks to drug prohibition and so much cocaine passing through the country, Ecuador’s criminal groups are much wealthier.

“Here are some numbers that explain why Ecuador should not replicate El Salvador’s model of mass incarceration. If Noboa were to emulate what El Salvador has done over the past two years, the human and financial costs would be enormous, and the results in terms of public safety would be middling at best.”

Read the whole thing here.

Second, the podcast: From Under the Radar to State of Exception: Getting Beyond Stopgap Solutions to Ecuador’s Violence

From WOLA’s podcast landing page:

While this isn’t the first time Ecuador’s government has declared a state of exception, the prominence of organized crime and the consequential rise in insecurity is a new reality for the country. Ecuador has seen a six-fold homicide rate increase in three years; it is now South America’s worst, and Ecuadorians are the second nationality, behind Venezuelans, fleeing through the Darién Gap.

How did this happen? How can Ecuador’s government, civil society, and the international community address it?

This episode features International Crisis Group Fellow and author of the recent report Ecuador’s Descent Into Chaos, Glaeldys Gonzalez Calanche, and John Walsh, WOLA’s director for drug policy and the Andes. The discussion covers how Ecuador suddenly reached such high levels of insecurity, the implications of President Daniel Noboa’s state of emergency and “state of internal armed conflict” declarations, an evaluation of international drug markets and state responses, and a look at U.S. policy.

Gonzalez attributes the lead-up to Ecuador’s violent new reality to three factors:

  • Ecuador’s gradual transition into a position of high importance in the international drug trade.
  • The prison system crisis and the government’s incapacity to address it.
  • The fragmentation of Ecuadorian criminal groups after the demobilization of Colombia’s FARC and the decline of Los Choneros, a criminal group with former hegemonic control.

Gonzalez describes the state of emergency as “a band-aid solution to control the situation now, but not looking really to tackle these structural problems.”

Walsh describes Ecuador’s case as a “wake up call” to the consequences of the drug war prohibitionist approach: “This isn’t just a drug policy question. This is a question about democracies delivering on the basic needs of their citizens, which is security. And I think prohibition in the drug war doesn’t support security. It tends to undermine it.” John calls on the international community to recognize this as a humanitarian issue as well, indicating that “people are basically held hostage. Not in their house, but in their whole community.

Download the podcast .mp3 file here. Listen to WOLA’s Latin America Today podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. The main feed is here.

Daily Border Links: February 20, 2024

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Axios reported that as President Joe Biden prepares for his March 7 State of the Union address, “one bold move” he has considered “is an executive order that would dramatically stanch the record flow of migrants into the Southwest. This could even happen in the two weeks before the address.” The article offered no further details about what such an executive order might contain, nor is it clear what Biden could do within existing law to “stanch” arrivals of asylum seekers.

54,547 people have crossed the Darién Gap into Panama so far this year, according to a statement from the country’s security ministry. Minister Juan Manuel Pino predicts that migration through the Darién in 2024 will exceed the 520,000 who passed through the treacherous region last year.

Pino estimated that criminal organizations in the Darién made about $820 million from smuggling migrants last year.

Panama has extended through July its so-called “Shield” campaign, the statement reads, “with a greater number of land, naval and air troops to create a greater blockade on the border with Colombia.”

A February 18 tweet from the Ministry records a larger Darién Gap figure: 59,521 migrants year-to-date. Of that total, 38,108 are citizens of Venezuela; 4,777 are from China, 4,532 are from Ecuador, and 4,033 are citizens of Haiti.

The first six weeks of 2024 saw “an important increase in the number of people irregularly entering Honduras,” most with the goal of reaching the United States, reported the UN Refugee Agency. Between January 1 and February 11, 57,202 people had entered Honduras’s southeastern border, more than double the number during the same period in 2023.

The death toll is now three from a February 15 armed attack on two vehicles carrying migrants in rural Sonora, Mexico, near the Arizona border. The victims are a child from Ecuador and two adult women, likely from Peru and Honduras.

A University of Texas at Austin poll found that 59 percent of Texas voters, including 48 percent of those identifying as Democrats, “favor making it harder for migrants to seek asylum in the United States.” Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) approval rating was 53 percent, up from 48 percent in December.

Analyses and Feature Stories

BBC Mundo told the story of a family of Venezuelan asylum seekers who flew to the organized crime-controlled border city of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico for a CBP One appointment at the Laredo port of entry. They missed their appointment because they ended up among thousands whom organized crime groups have kidnapped for ransom in Mexico’s violent border state of Tamaulipas. Now free, they haven’t been able to secure a new appointment using the app.

“There’s a lot of people in this community that are upset with how the governor is using our community as a political staging area to have this narrative that we’re being invaded,” Jessie Fuentes, who runs a Rio Grande kayak tour business in Eagle Pass, Texas, told the Border Chronicle in an audio interview.

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