Adam Isacson

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

October 2020

ICE’s Removals of Cubans and Venezuelans Have Spiked Under Trump

This week DHS released its latest Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, offering data through 2019. It includes a table (Table 41, use the Excel version to get all years) of how many citizens ICE sent back to each country.

Look what happened to removals of Cubans and Venezuelans since Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant administration took office in 2017. Note that this doesn’t count Venezuelans whom the administration, we’ve now learned, has been stealthily sending back to Caracas via third countries.

Recall that despite this, fuzzy initial data show Trump beating Joe Biden among Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American early voters in Miami-Dade, Florida, where much of this community lives.

Why? Because in a dirty social-media-heavy campaign reminiscent of Colombia’s 2016 peace plebiscite, the Trump campaign and its surrogates have successfully implanted the idea that Joe Biden is a communist who would support the regimes that they fled. It’s amazing that they’ve gotten away with this while spiking deportations back to those same regimes.

Your chances of getting asylum vary by an absurdly wide margin across immigration courts

Syracuse University’s TRAC Immigration project, which obtains and presents official data, just posted information about asylum decisions in U.S. immigration courts in 2020. They found that the courts granted asylum or other relief in only 28.4 percent of cases during the 2020 fiscal year, down from 45.4 percent in 2016, the last year of the Obama administration.

Also remarkable, when you dig into their database, is the disparity among immigration courts. Though judges are following the same laws and guidelines, they’re many, many times more willing to grant asylum in New York or San Francisco than they are in Houston or Atlanta. Nobody has a great explanation for why that is.

Find this chart, and a few dozen other border and migration data visualizations, at, a continually updated PDF document.

WOLA Podcast—“It’s all about the families”: Eddie Canales on preventing deaths and identifying missing migrants in Texas borderlands

Here’s a conversation with someone whom I admire a lot. Eddie Canales was concerned about rising numbers of migrants dying of dehydration and exposure while trying to circumvent Border Patrol highway checkpoints, so he founded and runs the South Texas Human Rights Center in the town of Falfurrias, about 80 miles north of the border. The Center puts out aid stations and assists forensic experts who try to identify remains and notify their loved ones.

Here’s the .mp3 file. Or subscribe to the WOLA Podcast at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or wherever you listen—the feed is here.

Here’s the descriptive text, on WOLA’s website, for this episode with Eddie Canales:

A discussion with Eduardo “Eddie” Canales, founder and director of the South Texas Human Rights Center in Falfurrias, Texas.

Falfurrias is in Brooks County, an area of ranchland 80 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. It is also one of the deadliest places for migrants. Dozens each year get lost while trying to walk around checkpoints that Border Patrol has placed on highways, and end up dying of dehydration and exposure in the south Texas heat. The South Texas Human Rights Center works to prevent this, putting out dozens of water and aid stations. This involves negotiations and relationship-building with ranchers in an area where most land is private property. It also involves cooperating with efforts to identify the remains and alert relatives in the deceased migrants’ home countries.

Many times a year Eddie, and the technicians with whom he cooperates, help give some closure to parents, spouses, and children who don’t know what happened to a loved one who disappeared after emigrating to the United States. Doing that is expensive—it involves DNA sampling, forensic expertise, and maintenance of databases—and funds are insufficient.

Too often, resource-poor counties like Brooks have had to bear much of the cost. The remains of at least 7,500 people have been found near the border, on U.S. soil, since 2000.

And the crisis may be getting worse. The pandemic economy is leading more single adults to try to cross into the United States. Most of them are seeking to avoid being apprehended. Trying not to be apprehended means going through places like Brooks County, or deserts elsewhere along the border. Just this week, media in Arizona are reporting the largest number of migrant remains since 2013. And the year isn’t over.

The work of humanitarian workers and advocates like Eddie Canales is more important than ever. Join the Beyond the Wall campaign now to learn more.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

John Kurc photo at High Country News. Caption: “Guadalupe Canyon is a remote, rugged area in the Southwest where the Trump administration is currently racing to complete construction of a border wall.”

(Even more here)

October 30, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

Han abierto un espacio a los militares que gozan de mayor confianza de presidentes con vocación caudillista

Since January 2017, at least four dozen people have died while being held in detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement


In the last year, Bolivia’s democracy suffered as partisan clashes filled its streets and mistrust in government grew. And yet it pulled off a calm, uncontested election


Urabá, el Caso 04, es probablemente el más complejo de esos tres. La JEP espera que el alto oficial (r) pueda aportar en la construcción de verdad de este episodio de la guerra

Reintegration process leaders who oppose such recruitment efforts by the ex-FARC become targets

Perea era lideresa comunitaria de la zona y dirigía un hotel ecoturistico en Termales, corregimiento de Nuqui

La aparición en video esta semana de la organización criminal llamándose a sí misma grupo de autodefensa no es gratuita

The Trump campaign is using disinformation and red-baiting tactics exported from Colombia to sway Florida’s Latinx vote

Tanto la Cancillería como el embajador Santos han explicado que era una actividad no partidista y es parte de su actividad diplomática. Sin embargo, sería conveniente saber si el embajador ha asistido a eventos similares con políticos demócratas

Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela

Biden – like Trump – would like to see big changes in Cuba. The difference between the two candidates lies in their choice of strategies


Cuando ocurrieron los hechos, el gobierno de México defendió la actuación de la Guardia Nacional para impedir el paso de la caravana, descartó algún incidente

Within days of the takeover, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador accused the women of being “conservatives” – a common accusation that the centre-left president levels against social movements that he suggests are motivated primarily by undermining his government

Mexico is descending even further into carnage and dysfunction. So why are we so focused on the Middle East?

A dizzying range of armed groups — perhaps more than 200 — have diversified into a broadening array of activities

U.S.-Mexico Border

In a mountain range too steep to cross, DHS is spending millions of dollars on five miles of border wall

Our sacred sites and burial grounds — which hold the deepest significance to our people — have been run over and blown up with a seemingly proud indifference by federal contractors as they rush to build President Donald Trump’s border wall

The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General report focused on the agency’s practice of regulating how many immigrants border agents could allow to enter the US to seek asylum

The expulsions, which appear to number more than 200 over the past eight months, reflect the haphazard nature with which many of the administration’s most aggressive immigration policies have been introduced

Children described being held in frigid rooms, sleeping on concrete floors, being fed frozen food, with little or no access to medical care. Too often, they were subjected to emotional, verbal, and physical abuse by CBP officers

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) family detention center in Karnes City, Texas, is being used exclusively to hold migrant parents and children processed under an emergency pandemic-era policy


Would anything change if Biden wins? Probably not very much, at least during the first year

Several Caribbean island nations and the United States have come under fire from humanitarian groups and U.S. politicians for deporting Venezuelan migrants and refugees home amid the coronavirus pandemic

The day ahead: October 30, 2020

I’ll be most reachable in the morning and mid-day. (How to contact me)

I’ve got two border/migration coalition meetings in the afternoon, as well as a conversation with a colleague in Colombia. Before that, I’m finishing a quick bit of writing this morning, then catching up on correspondence and a list of smaller tasks.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from Criterio (Honduras).

(Even more here)

October 29, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

The outcome for asylum seekers continued to depend on the identity of the im­mi­gration judge assigned to hear the case


Among those charged is Miguel Etchecolatz, 91, who headed police investigations in Buenos Aires


Amata’s pullout in April casts doubt on Brazil’s ability or willingness to find sustainable ways to exploit the Amazon without irreparable damage


Según los representantes de víctimas, los miembros de la Fuerza Pública no han cumplido con sus aportes extraordinarios de verdad

Though highly visible, Vanegas Londoño served more as a local leader than a national one

A través de redes sociales, el senador por el partido MAIS Feliciano Valencia reportó que fue víctima de un atentado en una vía de Toribío

Al departamento lo está golpeando la disputa territorial entre las bandas, y la crisis de gobernabilidad por las acusaciones contra su gobernador y de uno de sus dos congresistas

Lo que deja el actual presidente, según activistas y académicos consultados por la Oficina de Washington para América Latina (WOLA), es un vínculo lleno de desconfianza por parte de algunos gobiernos latinoamericanos

Experts believe a Biden administration would put more pressure on Duque to protect rights defenders

The otherwise normal deployment sparked political backlash in Colombia, and in the months since, the Army has been less vocal about the new unit’s whereabouts

Colombia, Mexico

La relación del Cártel de Sinaloa y el Clan del Golfo tiene como principal objetivo, la financiación y articulación


Several Cuban nationals detained at the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia say they are being held behind bars longer than they have to be

El Salvador

Both the survivors and the defendants are dying, and more delay raises the risk that “biological impunity” will prevail

El Gobierno Bukele no ha desclasificado información nueva sobre la masacre de El Mozote. Por el contrario, los cartapacios que “desclasificó” el 24 de septiembre en cadena nacional contienen, en su mayoría, copias de informes que el gobierno de Sánchez Cerén remitió


Led more than 40 of their Democratic Senate and House colleagues in demanding that the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) take immediate action

Guatemalan data obtained by The Arizona Republic shows that the U.S. deported nearly 6,000 people during a six-month period from March to September, including 331 who tested positive for COVD-19 after arriving

The move is seen by victims as a retreat by the government on promises it made as part of peace accords that ended the civil war


El presidente Andrés Manuel López Obrador defendió la labor del ejército y señaló que en caso de que resultara culpable el general Cienfuegos, es un hecho aislado y “tenemos que cuidar la institución”

Por tratarse de integrantes de la Sedena comisionados a la Guardia Nacional, los seis inculpados por la muerte de una mujer en Chihuahua fueron trasladados a una cárcel militar en Mazatlán

Mexico’s government has expressed “profound discontent” to U.S. officials for not informing their Mexican counterparts of plans to arrest former defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos

U.S.-Mexico Border

“People right now are having to choose between their health and their homes”

“2020 UBC (undocumented border crosser) recoveries are projected to top 200 by the end of the year, placing 2020 within the top three highest years over the 21 years we have been tracking this death category”

The suspension of asylum combined with the introduction of “express deportations,” as migrants call them, accelerated a shift in who is crossing the border illegally

Without doing anything to address the tracking systems employed by federal agencies, the Administration chose to expand the policy nationwide in May 2018

“This is an enormous number of children who are being summarily sent back without any due process, potentially to serious or fatal danger”

The complaint argues that the program is designed to ensure that as many asylum seekers as possible are deported rather than protected

Wolf was asked to respond to a recent status report by the Justice Department and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that said 545 parents remained “unreachable”

A new paper, published on the website of the medical journal “Pediatrics” on Tuesday, calls the federal government’s handling of migrant children at the border “consistent with torture”

In a December 2017 email cited by the report, then-Acting CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told an HHS official who had asked about the surge, “You should have seen a change in the past 10 days or so”


Al menos redoblar el número de escaños provenientes de las filas militares aspira el Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) al postular para los próximos comicios legislativos a 16 personas vinculadas a las Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana

Maduro gave few details of the alleged attack Tuesday that he said toppled a large tower at the Amuay Refinery on Venezuela’s northern Caribbean coast

Opposition activist Roland Carreno had been arrested, hours after opposition leader Juan Guaido denounced what he called the “forced disappearance” of the Popular Will party’s coordinator

U.S. policymakers need to rethink U.S. sanctions, and to limit their impact on Venezuela’s worsening humanitarian emergency

3,590 Venezuelans had completed their training at the institute until then. Two of them currently hold senior positions in the Government of Nicolás Maduro. And their names consistently appear in the recent report by the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission

Rocío San Miguel, directora de la organización Control Ciudadano, destacó que estas declaraciones están ligadas más al tema propagandístico que a una opción real de compra de material bélico en Venezuela

400 Miles of Harm: There is Nothing to Celebrate about Border Wall Construction

I was aware that DHS was getting close to completing 400 miles of Trump’s border wall, and was racing to complete that much before the election. So I’d anticipated that there’d be some huge obnoxious campaign event that we’d have to respond to.

When I got wind on Tuesday that a 400-mile commemoration ceremony was planned for today, that seemed to be it. I made the cursor move left-to-right as fast as I could and cranked out these 1,800 words on how much of the wall is actually “new,” what it’s costing us, and how it has harmed the environment, indigenous communities, property rights, foreign relations, checks and balances, and corruption protections.

And then… a nothingburger. This morning, DHS’s “Acting Chad” Wolf and Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Commissioner of CBP Mark Morgan held a lonely event with a few assembled reporters, in the shadow of the wall on an unseasonably cold day in south Texas. It might pick up some minor media attention, but it served more to highlight how little Donald Trump is bothering to talk about the border and migration during his increasingly bizarre re-election campaign.

My “rapid response” may have been a bit too amped up here. But I’m glad I produced this piece, which is a good “cheat sheet” for all that is wrong with Trump’s border wall.

So tired of this guy

At least Stephen Miller avoids the spotlight. The unconfirmed DHS secretary, “Acting Chad” Wolf, prefers to play the role of a monster in public, telling blatant lies about family separation, then following it up with a vroom-vroom joyride on an ATV.

Please vote if you haven’t yet.

A stark contrast with the other candidate

Joe Biden was first elected to the Senate when I was two years old, and he was never known as a stirring speaker. He still plods through some of this October 27 speech, but it’s the best I’ve seen him.

Given at Warm Springs, Georgia, where FDR died, it’s got much of his usual stump speech in it, but with some reflections—about unity, the reason why people pursue public life, and “who we want to be as a nation”—that are important to hear today.

A week before Election Day, only a candidate with a comfortable lead makes a final sales pitch like this. There are a few passages where he bothers to mention and attack Donald Trump. But much of it is reflective and talking about bigger questions, and those parts are quite strong.

I wouldn’t have even known about this speech had the Trump campaign not put out an excerpt of a few seconds of Biden saying “Why am I doing this? Why? What is my real aim?” He was actually quoting Pope Francis, in one of the strongest parts of his remarks.

He says for those who seek to lead, we would do well to ask ourselves, why am I doing this? Why? What is my real aim? Pope Francis asked the question that anyone who seeks to lead this nation should be able to answer. My answer is this. I run to unite this nation and to heal this nation. I have said that from the beginning as badly necessary. The Bible tells us there is a time to break down and a time to build up. A time to heal. This is that time.

Not as entertaining, perhaps, as the unmasked 100-car pileup that is every Trump rally. But what a contrast.

The day ahead: October 29, 2020

I’ll be intermittently available and occupied all day. (How to contact me)

Today I’ll be taking part in interviews for WOLA’s next Mexico director. When not in those, I’ll be doing many smaller items that have been pending on my to-do list and should be reachable. Expect a memo sometime today about the border wall.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Verónica G. Cárdenas photo at The Texas Tribune/ProPublica. Caption: “A section of the border wall under construction on June 19 in Mission, Texas.”

(Even more here)

October 28, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

“He would not pull any punches when it comes to challenging Bolsonaro on issues related to environmental degradation, issues related to corruption and other challenges that the president of Brazil is facing”

Some political strategists say the campaign’s different emphasis also is a response to the 2018 midterms, when Democrats won control of the House of Representatives

“La administración Biden-Harris protegerá nuestra frontera, mientras que asegura la dignidad de los migrantes y defiende su derecho legal a buscar asilo, incluido el fin del programa Quédate en México”

The total number of women known to have been seen by the doctor since 2018 who say they underwent or were pressured to undergo unnecessary treatments has risen to 57


La comisión especial que investiga la intervención policial y militar en Sacaba y Senkata recomendó ayer, en su informe final, iniciar dos juicios de responsabilidades a la presidenta Jeanine Áñez y su gabinete

El exmandatario reaccionó en redes sociales, luego que el lunes cientos de manifestantes marcharan hasta el cuartel de la Octava División de Ejército en la ciudad oriental de Santa Cruz, pidiendo a gritos “auxilio militar”

Brazil, Ecuador, Western Hemisphere Regional

The two presidents drove out 10,000 Cuban doctors and nurses. They defunded the region’s leading health agency. They wrongly pushed hydroxychloroquine as a cure


  • Joshua Frens-String, Burying Pinochet (University of Texas at Austin, NACLA, October 28, 2020).

Voters took an important first step toward burying, once and for all, the most significant political relic of the country’s brutal 1973-1990 military dictatorship


En un informe que la Fiscalía le entregó a la JEP, el organismo llamó la atención sobre decisiones que pusieron punto final a denuncias de violaciones y abusos con revictimizaciones inaceptables

At least three senior Colombian lawmakers have been accused of acting as surrogates for Donald Trump in Florida


Western Union, which handles the lion’s share of the money sent to the island from the United States, said it continues looking for alternatives to maintain the service

El Salvador

El ejército de El Salvador entregó información seleccionada de la masacre de El Mozote, que dejó casi 1.000 muertos durante la guerra civil (1980-1992), al juez responsable de la investigación


All pending CICIG investigations were shifted to the FECI. But the FECI too has come under attacks by conservative forces in Guatemala

Desde el 22 de septiembre guarda prisión en la cárcel para mujeres de Quetzaltenango, acusada de los delitos de sedición, atentado con agravaciones específicas, incendio y robo agravado

Guatemala, Honduras

Citó la posibilidad de que un nuevo grupo de hondureños intente emprender la ruta migratoria el próximo 30 de octubre


“Ellos mandan desde México grandes cantidades de dólares para la siembra de arbustos de coca y las instalaciones de los narcolaboratorios para la producción”, afirmó una fuente de Inteligencia


La Sedena tomó por asalto la Guardia Nacional y violentó la Constitución federal, denunció en tribuna el diputado Mario Rafael González Sánchez, presidente de la Comisión de Seguridad Pública

En erradicación de cultivos ilícitos, en aseguramientos de mariguana, cocaína, goma de opio, heroína, vehículos, aeronaves, armas o personas detenidas, las cuentas que rinde Enrique Peña están por debajo de los números con que concluyó el sexenio de Felipe Calderón

I recall a visit to the Northern Command in the years after the establishment of cooperation. The US personnel I interviewed were almost giddy about the collaboration


Ortega prepara un tridente legislativo por el que también penará con cadena perpetua los delitos de odio y bloqueará la financiación internacional de ONG y organizaciones civiles críticas con su Administración


El domingo, el premier sostuvo que las Fuerzas Armadas no permitirían una ruptura del Estado de Derecho a pocos meses de las elecciones generales del 2021

U.S.-Mexico Border

Within a year of the initial award, the value of the two contracts had more than tripled, to over $3 billion, even though the length of the fence the companies were building had only grown by 62%, to 135 miles

The shelter was not being used as part of a child separation policy, and U.S. border agents did not separate those children from their parents

The goal of deterring people from migrating to the U.S. — which has motivated Trump’s complex web of border policies — has seduced some Democrats, too

Critics at the time said the Obama-Biden strategy put too much emphasis on security over development. Whether it would have worked remains unknown because of Trump’s abrupt shift in policy

A refugee camp on the U.S.-Mexico border hasn’t had a single COVID-19 death


“Ya son más de 12 horas que están desaparecidos el periodista Roland Carreño junto a Yeferson Sarcos y Elías Rodríguez”, escribió este martes en Twitter

El aterrizaje de la aeronave tipo 747 con matrícula EP-FAB, propiedad de la iraní Qeshm Fars Air, se registra cuando son más estrechas las relaciones comerciales

The day ahead: October 28, 2020

I’ll be reachable in the afternoon. (How to contact me)

It’s mostly border-related work today. This morning I’m cranking out a statement about the border, recording a podcast about the border, have an internal meeting about the border, and talking to a colleague who works at the border. By mid-afternoon, I’ll be more reachable as I do website updates and research—mostly about Colombia.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

AFP photo at Semana (Colombia). Caption: “EE. UU. insiste en reanudación de fumigación”

(Even more here)

October 27, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

Opportunities abound for curbing the worst abuses of the Trump presidency. The work begins today

Bolivia, Western Hemisphere Regional

He has distanced himself from Mr. Morales, saying the former president’s bid for a fourth term was an “error.” He vowed that Mr. Morales would not have a role in his government


Evo Morales sostuvo que se instalará en la región de Cochambamba, para retomar el activismo sindical en el que se inició en los años 1980, y que se dedicará también a la piscicultura


Jair Bolsonaro would sign a decree by next week to extend the deployment to protect the world’s largest rainforest


“Carabineros de Chile depende del Ministerio del Interior. El vínculo no se suspende en el estado de excepción”, insistió el ministro

Tres comunas que concentran buena parte del PBI y del poder político, viven en una burbuja

It’s a dramatic step, but one thousands of Chileans have demanded for years, and especially in recent months


El Consejero Presidencial para la Estabilización y la Consolidación, Emilio Archila, dijo que la mayoría de los ataques han sido responsabilidad de las disidencias

Denuncian desfinanciación y estigmatización por parte de la Gobernación del Meta

Se cuenta con 7 aviones Air Tractor – AT802, adaptados recientemente con sofisticadas boquillas para que el líquido caiga directamente sobre los cultivos ilegales

El Gobierno quiere reiniciar las fumigaciones con glifosato, pero necesitará el visto bueno del ministro de Salud, Fernando Ruiz, que en el pasado se opuso rotundamente. ¿Qué hará este?

Los más duros críticos de la Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz acudieron a la Corte Penal Internacional para denunciar falta de garantías. Pero, al mismo tiempo, aspiran a defender las víctimas ante el sistema que descalifican

Ariel Ávila, subdirector de Pares Colombia, aseguró que “durante operativo, en el que, al parecer, murió alias Uriel del Eln, había una niña de 10 años y un niño de 6 años que, al parecer, visitaban a familiar dentro del grupo”

Dos capturas y una orden de detención bastaron para que el Fiscal General considerara esclarecido el caso. Pero detrás de este crimen existe una telaraña de crimen organizado que sigue sin despejarse

Vehículos de guerra utilizados por el Ejército estarían recibiendo un mantenimiento con repuestos viejos que pondrían en riesgo las tropas

The tweet came after Republican congressional candidate Maria Elvira Salazar posted a video on Sunday of her on a video call accepting the endorsement of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe

Este pronunciamiento se suma a la dura columna de opinión publicada este sábado por ‘CNN’, de dos congresistas demócratas que le piden a los políticos colombianos dejar de intervenir en las elecciones presidenciales

Colombia, Ecuador, Peru

The white sacks of calcium chloride seized on the ranch carried markings the cops had seen many times before—the blue logo of Tetra Technologies Inc., a chemical company based outside Houston


Recent Cuban émigrés, a group that Democrats once thought might help Joe Biden win Florida, have shifted dramatically toward President Donald Trump

Guatemala, Western Hemisphere Regional

The former vice president has spent decades working in the region—and he has a chance to rebuild America’s image there


El excomisionado Nacional de Seguridad, Renato Sales Heredia, calificó como una violación a la soberanía nacional y una falta de respeto a los mexicanos la detención del general Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda

In the streets, few can name Democratic candidate Joe Biden, but there’s a general sense that Mexicans are ready to take their chances with someone other than Trump

“He’s bet his presidency on the army and that has been shaken. He has also bet his presidency on not antagonising the US and now the US has delivered a slap in the face”

The day ahead: October 27, 2020

I’ll be hard to contact today, though there’s a bit of time in the morning. (How to contact me)

The schedule is pretty full today. I’m delivering a lecture, in person but socially distant, at the Inter-American Defense College, this afternoon. After that, I’ve scheduled a couple of interviews. This morning I’ll be “attending” an event put on by WOLA’s Colombia program.

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