Adam Isacson

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

April 2021

Weekly border update: April 30, 2021

With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. Since what’s happening at the border is one of the principal events in this week’s U.S. news, this update is a “double issue,” longer than normal. See past weekly updates here.

Aid is forthcoming for Central America

Vice President Kamala Harris met virtually on April 26 with the president of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei, to discuss cooperation to address the causes of large-scale migration from his country. It was their second such meeting, following a conversation on March 30. “We want to work with you to address both the acute causes as well as the root causes in a way that will bring hope to the people of Guatemala that there will be an opportunity for them if they stay at home,” the vice president said in joint remarks before the meeting.

This distinction between “acute causes” and “root causes” is at the center of the Biden administration’s current thinking about how to assist Central America. The first category includes the effects of recent hurricanes, droughts, and the pandemic. The second includes poverty, climate change, corruption and poor governance, and “violence against women, Indigenous people, LGBTQ people, and Afro-descendants.”

Harris said she plans to visit Guatemala in June. “But from here to June,” Giammattei replied, “I believe that we should build a roadmap between government and government so that we can reach agreements so that we can then work on.”

Complicated partners

The vice president held a meeting April 27 with Guatemalan non-governmental leaders, and plans to have a call next week with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Harris has not spoken with, or announced plans to speak with, the presidents of El Salvador and Honduras.

The first, Nayib Bukele, has raised concerns about recent authoritarian behavior, and refused to meet with U.S. Special Envoy Ricardo Zúñiga during his April 7 visit to San Salvador. (Bukele had failed to get meetings with the brand-new Biden administration when he flew, with little advance notice, to pandemic-shuttered Washington at the beginning of February.) The second, Juan Orlando Hernández, was re-elected in a 2017 vote that was likely fraudulent, and is named as a co-conspirator in U.S. judicial actions against Honduran  drug traffickers, including his brother who was sentenced to life in U.S. prison in March.

There are strong concerns about official corruption in Guatemala, too. A years-long backlash against anti-corruption reformers swept out a UN-backed international prosecutorial body (the CICIG) in 2019, and is now undermining the highest courts’ ability to hold accountable those who engage in graft or collude with organized crime. This month, the legislature’s leadership refused to swear in Gloria Porras, an anti-corruption judge, to Guatemala’s Constitutional Court. She fled to the United States, while Giammattei’s chief of staff was swiftly sworn in to another seat on the court. The day of the Harris-Giammattei meeting, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on two well-connected current and former Guatemalan congressional representatives.

Biden administration officials see a connection between corruption and the poverty and insecurity that drive migration. “[A]ddressing corruption is at the center of what the Biden administration has focused on in seeking to create those enabling conditions for broad-based improvement in Central America,” Zúñiga told reporters on April 22. Regional governments’ track record on corruption, then, will complicate working with them on root causes. “The governments are going to be part of that but, quite frankly, they’re probably going to be unwilling partners,” Dan Restrepo, the National Security Council’s Western Hemisphere director during Barack Obama’s first term, told Bloomberg.

This may mean carefully working around some elected leaders and executive-branch agencies. Zúñiga reiterated that an administration priority will be “supporting those within the countries—and that’s civil society as well as public servants—who are involved in efforts to promote transparency and combat corruption and impunity.” He added that the administration may coordinate this work with “an anti-corruption task force that is going to involve the Department of Justice and other U.S. agencies, with the support of the Department of State.”

An April 28 edition of WOLA’s podcast discusses the complexities of working with Central America’s leaders on migration’s underlying causes.

Aid packages

To confront “acute causes” of migration, the White House announced April 27 that the U.S. government is reprogramming $310 million in current-year assistance to meet immediate humanitarian needs for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

  • About $104 million will come from the Department of State “to meet the immediate safety and protection needs of refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons, and other vulnerable populations,” a fact sheet reads; this probably means it will come through the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.
  • $26 million will come from the Department of Defense “to increase its partnership activities in the region to provide essential health, education, and disaster relief services.”
  • $125 million will be USAID funding, mainly emergency food and agricultural assistance: $55 million for Honduras, $54 million for Guatemala, and $16 million for El Salvador.
  • The Department of Agriculture will provide an additional $55 million in food security assistance.

While details of the longer-term “root causes” aid package have yet to emerge, Zúñiga previewed that the 2022 budget request to Congress—which is likely to be submitted next week—will include $861 million for Central America. “It’s an initial payment on the $4 billion over four years that President Biden announced before coming into office,” he said. The administration envisions the money going to three areas: good governance and anti-corruption; economic development; and security and justice.

Another Guatemalan border task force

On April 26 Vice President Harris and President Giammattei agreed on another, less “root cause”-focused aid activity: U.S. support for a Guatemalan border security task force. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will send 16 trainers to Guatemala “to train local officials in strengthening border infrastructure,” Reuters reported. “The effort will be spearheaded on the Guatemalan side by the Division of Border Ports and Airports,” according to the Associated Press. This likely dovetails with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s April 12 disclosure that “Guatemala surged 1,500 police and military personnel to its southern border with Honduras and agreed to set up 12 checkpoints along the migratory route.” It’s less clear how—if at all—this “border task force” effort overlaps with the Obama administration’s past assistance to Guatemalan military-police-prosecutor border-zone “Inter-Agency Task Forces” created in 2013, a program that appears to have been abandoned.

Harris and Giammattei also reportedly agreed that the United States would help Guatemala build shelters for deported or expelled migrants, along with some assistance to assist deportees’ transition.

“Operation Sentinel”

Finally, on April 27 DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced a stepped-up effort to target the smugglers who make possible most migrants’ journey through Mexico to the U.S. border. “We will identify the smugglers and their associates and employ a series of targeted actions and sanctions against them. We will have a broad approach and a strong one. It will include every authority in our arsenal,” Mayorkas told CNN and other reporters. Tools may include revoking visas and travel documents, and freezing assets and the ability to use U.S. financial institutions. “Operation Sentinel” will involve Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations division (ICE-HSI), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the State Department, and, within the Justice Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

No other details about Operation Sentinel are yet available, so it’s not clear how the effort will be assured of targeting the infrastructure on which smuggling networks depend. Migrant smuggling is a very decentralized activity. While smugglers have to pay Mexico cartels to pass through their territory, they are not cartels themselves; they tend to be small and regional. “A Mexico based official” with ICE-HSI explained to the Los Angeles Times that “cartels make millions merely charging tolls, whereas low-level human smugglers work in ‘very disjointed cells.’”

These localized operations depend heavily on official corruption, for instance in order to pass easily through checkpoints on Mexican highways. It remains to be seen whether Operation Sentinel will make a dent in this corruption, or whether it will simply rack up actions against small-time smugglers. The Salvadoran investigative journalism website El Faro reported this week on an outcome that Operation Sentinel would do well to avoid: Salvadoran prosecutors have locked up a single mother who ran a small pupusa restaurant, a man who works as a private guard, and a farmer, charging them with smuggling because they discussed plans to join a migrant caravan on WhatsApp.

Big drop in unaccompanied children in CBP custody

In late March, amid rapidly increasing arrivals of unaccompanied children, U.S. border and migration agencies were estimating that, by the end of May, the government would need 34,100 to 35,500 beds to accommodate them. While things could always change, that projection now appears far too pessimistic.

Against nearly everyone’s expectations, unaccompanied child numbers stopped increasing in April. The month has seen a slow, modest, but real decline in Border Patrols encounters with unaccompanied kids, from an average of 489 per day during the last week of March to an average of 431 per day during April 25-28, according to CBP’s daily reports on unaccompanied child encounters and processing.

As new arrivals have eased, the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has opened up many emergency facilities to house children while seeking to place them with relatives or sponsors in the United States, with whom they will live while their asylum or protection cases are adjudicated.

As a result, there has been a spectacular drop in the number of children spending many days crowded in Border Patrol’s inadequate, prison-line holding facilities as they await ORR placement. On March 28, 5,767 children were in Border Patrol custody. On April 28, that number had fallen 83 percent to 954, and the average time in custody had dropped to 28 hours, from 133 hours on March 28.

As grim images of children sleeping on floors fade away, the next challenge is to reduce the population in ORR’s shelters, which is still growing but much more slowly than it was during the first half of the month. This means quickly identifying and vetting the relatives or sponsors with whom children will live. During the last week of March, ORR was only discharging 245 children per day. By April 25-28 it had increased that rate to 403 per day.

This is important progress, but even at reduced numbers, as noted above, CBP is still encountering 431 kids per day, so the overall number of children in U.S. government custody—in the low 20,000s for the past two weeks—continues to edge slightly upward.

As ORR placement capacity increases, we expect this “total in U.S. custody” number to decline—unless, for some reason, unaccompanied child arrivals at the border start increasing again in May. It is impossible to predict whether that will happen, or whether April’s gradual declines will continue.

After children are placed with families, of course, the U.S. government’s woefully inadequate asylum system presents another bottleneck: what is usually a years-long wait for hearing dates and decisions from badly backlogged, overwhelmed immigration courts.

Reactions to the “Bipartisan Border Solutions Act”

Four border-state legislators from both parties and both houses of Congress introduced a bill on April 22 seeking, in their words, “to respond to the surge in migrants coming across our southern border.” The “Bipartisan Border Solutions Act” (S. 1358) is sponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona), and by Representatives Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) and Tony Gonzales (R-Texas).

Among its provisions are:

  • Creating at least four processing centers to receive newly apprehended, mostly asylum-seeking, migrants.

Processing capacity is urgently needed so that asylum seekers may approach ports of entry, and request protection, without having to spend weeks or months on waiting lists in Mexican border towns. However, critics of the legislation point out that the “processing” the bill proposes would include “credible fear screening interviews and potentially full asylum interviews…conducted within 72 hours—an absurd time frame for life-and-death adjudications,” as Human Rights First describes it. “While this bill includes some positive provisions,” an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) response warns, “any proposal that further increases reliance on Customs and Border Protection in the asylum and detention process is a step in the wrong direction, given the agency’s record of abuse.”

  • Authorizing DHS to carry out pilot programs to speed up asylum screening (credible fear determinations) and adjudication.
  • During “irregular migration influx events,” allowing immigration courts to move recently apprehended asylum seekers’ cases to the top of their dockets.

Critics of the legislation warn that past “pilot programs” and “rocket docket” efforts badly weakened due process guarantees for asylum seekers. During the Trump administration, CBP implemented two pilot programs, Prompt Asylum Claim Review (PACR) and Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (HARP), that turned around quick asylum decisions—nearly all of them rejections—in a matter of days while families remained in CBP custody with no meaningful access to counsel. Past docket-adjusting initiatives “lead to massive due process violations with few, if any, gains in efficiency,” warned the Arizona-based Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project.

  • Raising vetting standards for family members or sponsors before placing unaccompanied children with them.

A concern about this provision is that it could backlog ORR’s already struggling efforts to place children with families, forcing them to spend even more time in the agency’s shelter system—including in ORR’s thrown-together emergency facilities currently in heavy use.

  • Improving legal orientation and access to counsel (though not paying for counsel).
  • Improving transportation of asylum-seeking migrants and coordination with NGOs and receiving communities.
  • Hiring 150 more immigration judge teams (there are currently about 520), 250 Border Patrol processing coordinators (non-law enforcement personnel who specialize in processing of asylum seekers), and 300 asylum officers at USCIS, among other personnel.
  • Improving congressional oversight with new reporting requirements.

The legislation’s critics are generally supportive of these points, with some caveats.

S. 1358’s endorsers are largely business groups: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Business Immigration Coalition, Texas Association of Business, New American Economy, Americans for Prosperity, and The LIBRE Initiative. The National Immigration Forum, too, calls it “a positive step that bodes well for the chances for immigration reforms this year.”

Groups that quickly lined up in opposition to the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act include the ACLU, Human Rights First, the Women’s Refugee Commission, Church World Service, the Florence Project, and the National Immigrant Justice Center.


  • Mexico’s Interior Department released data showing that migration forces detained 14,254 undocumented people in March 2021, the most since August 2019. 51 percent were from Honduras, 36 percent from Guatemala, 7 percent from El Salvador, and 6 percent from other countries. Along migrant routes in southern Mexico, shelters are full, turning people away amid COVID-19 capacity restrictions. Meanwhile, a government human rights body reported that at least 2,000 migrants were reported as disappeared in Mexican territory in 2020.
  • Guatemalan President Giammattei is to travel to Mexico on May 3 and meet with Mexican President López Obrador the following day. López Obrador indicated that the discussion “is related to the next call he will have with [U.S. Vice President] Harris” next week.
  • An investigation by the Los Angeles Times’s Molly O’Toole documents how the “Title 42” pandemic policy, which expels Central American migrants back into Mexico, has been an enormous boon to kidnappers and other organized crime bands that prey on them in Mexican border communities. At the Dallas Morning News, Dianne Solís and Alfredo Corchado report on the previously unthinkable, but now widespread, practice of expelling Central American families with children into high-crime Mexican border towns in the middle of the night.
  • The Washington Post’s Kevin Sieff reports on migrants who were kidnapped after the Trump administration sent them to Mexican border towns to await their U.S. asylum hearings under the “Remain in Mexico” program. As their captivity forced them to miss their U.S. hearing dates, they are now absurdly blocked from applying for asylum. Syracuse University’s TRAC public records project meanwhile reports that people enrolled in Remain in Mexico speak 40 different languages.
  • The sheriff of Harris County, Texas, Ed González, is the Biden administration’s nominee to direct Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). González, whose county includes Houston, has criticized aggressive ICE tactics that target migrants with no criminal records.
  • The New York Times posted a video along with data analysis finding that “ICE detention facilities had an average infection rate five times that of prisons and 20 times that of the general population.” The Times elsewhere reported that CBP is releasing asylum-seeking migrant families into U.S. border communities without testing them for the virus, leaving that up to private charities.
  • 10,000 migrants, mainly from Haiti, Cuba, and several African countries, are in northern Colombia awaiting a chance to migrate northward through Panama, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.
  • At Texas Monthly, Aaron Nelsen reports on migrant smugglers’ widespread use of simple ladders to defeat the border wall. Meanwhile local news in Arizona reports that construction equipment is “collecting dust” as the Biden administration’s wall-building pause continues.
  • Arizona Public Media published a video short about members of the Hia C-ed O’odham nation who resisted border wall construction on their lands in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, including the ecologically fragile Quitobaquito Springs, in 2020.
  • 92 academics from the United States and Mexico signed a letter proposing six practical recommendations for next steps that both countries should take to restore asylum and improve logistics.
  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is launching an internal review to weed out white supremacy and extremism among its workforce.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Lucas Dumphreys photo at Associated Press. Caption: “An activist from the NGO ‘Rio de Paz’ digs a mock grave in the sand by symbolic body bags on Copacabana beach.”

(Even more here)

April 30, 2021

Central America Regional

Research on foreign aid and migration provides no evidence that foreign aid will significantly reduce migration from the Northern Triangle. In fact, it might even increase it

Central America Regional, U.S.-Mexico Border

Pollster Civiqs found that 85 percent of survey respondents agreed that the United States needs to engage with other countries to address migration patterns


“Esto se generó como consecuencia de una manifestación que se tornó violenta y que requirió del uso de la fuerza por parte de la Policía Nacional, siendo un evidente acto del servicio que por supuesto deberá ser investigado pero por la Justicia Castrense”, se lee

An additional 2,500 members of security forces will be deployed in Cali

Según el ministro de Defensa, Diego Molano, el uniformado fue secuestrado por disidencias de las Farc

The strike, known as the Paro Nacional, was a reaction to proposed tax hikes by the administration of embattled Colombian President Iván Duque, but the marches soon became a backlash to tensions and economic turmoil caused by the pandemic

El Paro Nacional 28A, convocado contra la reforma tributaria del gobierno Duque, dejó un saldo de centenares de heridos entre miembros manifestantes, gestores de convivencia y uniformados

Así lo manifestaron hoy los excombatientes Carlos Antonio Lozada y Pastor Alape, a través de una rueda de prensa virtual, quienes aseguraron que sí hubo una política de secuestro en su organización

Colombia, Venezuela

Autoridades colombianas indicaron que la cifra de 5.888 personas que estaban en Arauquita, ha comenzado a disminuir de forma paulatina

Haiti, Honduras

La diáspora haitiana que cruza por Centroamérica se ha vuelto difícil de medir por sus condiciones de precariedad absoluta, el tráfico de personas y el cruce por puntos ciegos


El General Gallardo Rodríguez, amigo entrañable de SinEmbargo, murió a causa de complicaciones del coronavirus. Fue conocido por denunciar desde el interior de las Fuerzas Armadas las arbitrariedades cometidas por el Ejército

Yunes Linares fue Gobernador de Veracruz de 2016 a 2018. En ese bienio, se asegura, permitió que el cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación se asentara

As things stand now, the lucrative trade shows no signs of slowing, and use of the drug in Mexico is likely to continue

No es admisible distorsionar la realidad sumando peras y manzanas o pensando en abstracciones con más valor propagandístico que utilidad analítica


Victim testimonies, confidential interviews and reconstructions of official reports collected by a Central American think tank in an independent investigation prepared at the request of a US agency revealed that the Nicaraguan Army was never neutral

South America Regional

Last week, Latin America accounted for 35 percent of all coronavirus deaths in the world, despite having just 8 percent of the global population

U.S.-Mexico Border

Despite the considerations, Department of Homeland Security officials are expected to still turn around the vast majority of immigrants at the border

The average time that kids are in CBP custody is now 28 hours, compared to 133 hours on March 28, the official said, a nearly 80% reduction in time spent in Border Patrol detention

Biden said his administration inherited “one god-awful mess at the border” from former President Donald Trump. He said it’s the result of “the failure to have a real transition — cooperation from the last administration, like every other administration has done.”

Around 400 migrants expelled from the United States have camped out in a plaza in the dangerous Mexican border city of Reynosa, the aid group Doctors Without Borders said


A new report by the inspector general at the U.S. Agency for International Development raises doubts about whether the deployment of aid was driven more by the U.S. pursuit of regime change than by technical analysis of needs

The day ahead: April 30, 2021

I’m most reachable late morning and mid-to-late afternoon. (How to contact me)

I’m just now finishing up our latest weekly border update, and have some early afternoon coalition meetings and a meeting with a student group late in the day. Otherwise I should be reachable.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

A pesar de la lluvia, la Plaza de Bolívar fue el principal escenario de manifestación y confrontación. / Óscar Pérez
Óscar Pérez photo at El Espectador. Caption: “A pesar de la lluvia, la Plaza de Bolívar fue el principal escenario de manifestación y confrontación.”

(Even more here)

April 29, 2021


El coronel Jhonny Aguilera fue acusado de recibir sobornos de un narcotraficante cuando ejercía como jefe de la Felcc en Santa Cruz


At the heart of the issue, said Amparo, lies an ingrained impunity that has made it nearly impossible to hold police accountable for abuse

Central America Regional, Mexico

Whatever you think about the Sowing Life program specifically, though, the U.S.’ assertion that climate and immigration need to be dealt with separately is confounding


Fayber Camilo Cufiño, asesinado el 14 de abril; Jhon Sebastián Ávila, el 17 de abril; Yeison Ayala, el 18 de abril; Luis Fernando Córdoba, el 20; Adolfo Rodríguez, el 21; Mayiber Tapias, el 21; y Hernando Guerrero, asesinado el 25 de abril

Unions insisted Wednesday’s demonstrations would go ahead despite a court order to postpone it on coronavirus concerns

La falta de experiencia política de su gabinete y la crisis de seguridad que vive el distrito, comienzan a pasarle factura a Vidal

Cali será militarizada y también se decretó toque de queda a partir de la 1:00 p.m. En Bogotá ya hay denuncias por posibles abusos del ESMAD

Uribe hizo la solicitud en vísperas del anuncio, por parte del Comité de Paro, de la continuación de las protestas este jueves

Colombia, Venezuela

The ELN and FARC dissidents run similar illicit businesses, such as drug trafficking and illegal gold mining, and both work alongside local Venezuelan authorities and security forces, but each guerrilla faction manages its trafficking routes and contraband shipments separately

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

The usually younger, better trained, less corrupted and, yes, more idealistic folks proving their worth in government agencies, NGOs and private companies

Guatemala, Mexico

El presidente mexicano anticipó que la reunión con Giammattei está relacionada con la próxima llamada que tendrá con Harris


Ante el aumento en 2019 del control migratorio en todas las fronteras del país y a fin de evitar la detención policial, las mujeres centroamericanas que llegan al sur de México empezaron a cambiar sus estrategias migratorias y sus rutas

El candidato morenista dijo que si la DEA lo estaba buscando, no entendía cómo no lo había encontrado aún, tomando en cuenta que sus datos son públicos

The Mexican criminal organizations at the center of producing the drug — including in counterfeit pill form — have the infrastructure, the contacts and the personnel to mass-produce it

Estados Unidos tiene programada la liberación de Eduardo Arellano Félix, heredero del cártel de Tijuana, para el próximo 18 de agosto, tras cumplir 10 de los 15 años de condena


La abolición del Ejército no debe hacerse de forma apresurada sino como un proceso de transformación hacia una Fuerza de Seguridad Pública

“La segunda responsabilidad es del Ejército, aunque intenten evadirlo, porque son grupos (los irregulares) que están actuando en conjunto con la Policía, entonces (la misma) está deslegitimada y no tiene capacidad de desarmarlos y desarticularlos”

En entrevista con Expediente Público, Arturo Valenzuela, exsubsecretario de EE.UU. para América Latina hace un balance de los 100 días del gobierno de Joe Biden y asegura que el tema de las elecciones y el autoritarismo en Nicaragua, está en el radar


At the moment, Peru’s politics look like the result of putting a mad political scientist in a lab to think up nightmare scenarios for how a democracy might go off the rails

U.S.-Mexico Border

“The consequence of Title 42 is that this is essentially a gold rush for human smugglers”


El oficial no ha dado un saldo preciso sobre los efectivos fallecidos y heridos en los últimos días

El secretario de Estado de Estados Unidos, Anthony Blinken, afirmó el miércoles 28 de abril que su país está trabajando con el fin de poder aumentar la capacidad de los venezolanos para que estén informados, donde destacó que manejan varias iniciativas

The day ahead: April 29, 2021

I’m more available today, but not in early afternoon. (How to contact me)

I’m in a couple of border coalition meetings in the early afternoon, but had otherwise set aside two blocks of time today to write, including the next weekly border update.

WOLA Podcast: The Complexity of Engaging with Central America

The birds in my backyard and I recorded a podcast with two WOLA colleagues who are longtime experts on Central America, just as the Biden administration goes into overdrive on a big new policy push to address the reasons why so many people migrate from the region. Here’s the text from the podcast landing page.

Top Biden administration officials, including Vice President Harris, are developing a new approach to Central America. The theme is familiar: addressing migration’s “root causes.” Violence and corruption, as well as relatively new factors such as climate change, have caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes seeking a better life.

This week’s podcast focuses both on the factors displacing people as well as what the U.S. government’s plans to address the displacement. Our President, Geoff Thale, as well as our director for Citizen Security, Adriana Beltran, talk with Adam Isacson about the Biden administration’s short and long-term plans for the region, what can be done to implement an effective anti-corruption strategy, how to protect marginalized groups/human rights defenders, and the political considerations that come with legislating on an issue that will certainly last beyond Biden’s time in office.

Listen to WOLA’s Latin America Today podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotifyiHeartRadio, or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. The main feed is here.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Andrew Brown photo at Arizona Public Media.

(Even more here)

April 28, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

“I do not support #ICERaids that threaten to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom do not represent a threat to the U.S.,” Gonzalez said in a tweet in July 2019


Even if the armed forces aren’t there to help save Bolsonaro, the president’s decision to draw them deeper into politics could be a sign of backsliding from Brazil’s nearly 40 years of democratic advances

Central America Regional, Guatemala

Following the Harris-Giammattei meeting, Guatemalan Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo told a news conference that Guatemala and the United States agreed “to establish a new joint border protection task force”


Desde Washington Organización para la protección de los derechos humanos, alerta sobre la situación de los líderes sociales

Con todo y lo que implica vivir entre la pobreza, las balas y las amenazas, nada resulta peor que vivir en medio de las aspersiones

“Observamos con preocupación que, a través de dicha normativa, el Gobierno nacional pretende reanudar de forma inminente las fumigaciones aéreas con glifosato, en franco desconocimiento de los derechos a la participación y la consulta previa de las comunidades afectadas”

Como entidad civil armada que es, la Policía Nacional debe dejar de depender del ministro de Defensa

Aproximadamente 1.000 docentes de Antioquia y Córdoba, que ganaron concurso para trabajar en municipios PDET, tienen miedo de llegar a los territorios, pues están amenazados por grupos ilegales

Lowrey brought along foreign military sales experts from USASAC’s SOUTHCOM division

Colombia, Panama

Más de 10.000 personas migrantes y refugiadas esperan en la frontera colombiana para ingresar a Panamá a través de la peligrosa selva del Darién a que los Gobiernos de estos países definan acciones para ofrecerles un tránsito seguro

Colombia, Venezuela

Nuevos enfrentamientos en Apure (Venezuela), ejecuciones extrajudiciales y capturas arbitrarias son algunos hechos que podrían generar más desplazamientos en la frontera colombo-venezolana

Sus narraciones sobre el conflicto describen el uso de tanques, aviones, así como del arresto y tortura de campesinos de la zona


The formal end of the Castro era has elicited polarized reactions among Cubans, with Party loyalists expressing unquestioning faith in the system, and disbelievers signalling cynicism about the future

El Salvador

Basta que tenga pruebas de que los acusados, por ejemplo, escribieron un post en redes sociales promocionando la caravana migrante

The omission until this week of the role of Hazelwood in public accounts of the massacre owes to a “sophisticated cover-up” orchestrated by the Reagan administration and the civil-military junta which ruled El Salvador at the time


El Estado mexicano ha reconocido este martes su responsabilidad parcial en el caso de la muerte violenta de Digna Ochoa y Plácido, una defensora de derechos humanos cuyo cuerpo fue hallado sin vida en su oficina de Ciudad de México en 2001

Lawmakers from López Obrador’s party have triggered outrage by voting to add two years to the four-year term of the Supreme Court chief justice, Arturo Zaldívar. Zaldívar is generally regarded as sympathetic to the president

Los datos lo confirman: de tener una población superior a 16 mil habitantes, hoy apenas rebasan las 8 mil personas

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

Yesterday, Vice President Harris announced that the United States is providing $310 million in increased assistance to the Northern Triangle, including $255 million in assistance to meet immediate and urgent humanitarian needs


EL Congreso ha aprobado un proyecto de ley de la bancada fujimorista que intenta subordinar las rondas campesinas a las Fuerzas Armadas y a la Policía Nacional, a través de la conversión de éstas en comités de autodefensa

U.S.-Mexico Border

The homeland security review calls for a team of senior officials to determine whether extremist ideology is prevalent in its various agencies, including the Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Secret Service and the Coast Guard

Environmental and cultural groups say they want a permanent end to the project, and are pushing to remove segments in sensitive areas, like Quitobaquito, altogether


The government says it has insufficient time and space to test migrants upon their arrival. So while migrants get a basic health screening, testing is being postponed until their release to local community groups, cities and counties

While powerful drug cartels and other sophisticated groups often profit from migration by charging fees to smugglers passing through their territory, it can be challenging for authorities to demonstrate their direct role

What’s strangest of all is that the Biden administration has continued the policy, despite its grave consequences

The day ahead: April 28, 2021

My schedule is jammed until mid-afternoon. (How to contact me)

I’m meeting with a colleague who works on the Colombia peace process, another starting out in a partner organization, recording a podcast, and have an internal meeting. At 8PM Eastern tonight, I’ll be participating in my first-ever panel discussion at Clubhouse, about the border. If it’s urgent to reach me, the best window of time is between mid-afternoon and the end of the workday.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Nicolo Filippo Rosso photo at Bloomberg. Caption: “Migrants climb over a border wall in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on April 1.”

(Even more here)

April 27, 2021


The health authority, Anvisa, said that questions remained about the vaccine’s development, safety and manufacturing. All five of its directors voted against the vaccine


En 38 meses de gobierno del presidente Iván Duque, la Comisión Nacional de Garantías de Seguridad, órgano creado por el Acuerdo de Paz para desmantelar los grupos herederos del paramilitarismo y que debería sesionar una vez al mes, solo se ha reunido en seis ocasiones

Comando de Frontera tiene relaciones con la empresa petrolera, dicho por los los propios armados son los que han expresado eso en las reuniones a las que han citado a las comunidades

Monseñor Luis José Rueda, quien es arzobispo de Bogotá y primado de Colombia, hizo duras críticas sobre la aspersión aérea con glifosato contra los cultivos ilícitos

Es la primera vez que una convocatoria del Comité del Paro coincide con un pico de contagio. Y en esta ocasión, coincide con el peor

A través de una carta 33 congresistas de la República y Angelo Cardona de la Oficina Internacional de Paz, le pidieron al presidente Iván Duque que transfiera un billón de pesos del sector Defensa al sector Salud para hacer frente a la crisis

“A los niños los están masacrando en sus casas. Y tenemos que decirlo así: es una violencia invisible, porque ocurre en el interior de los hogares”

Mientras los grupos armados consolidaban su control, las fallas en la implementación del Acuerdo de Paz se multiplicaron

Colombia, Venezuela

Fundaredes y del exparlamentario Walter Márquez, aseguraron la noche del sábado 24 de abril que durante los enfrentamientos en el sector La Capilla resultaron fallecidos efectivos de la FAN

En las últimas 72 horas se vienen desarrollando “cruentos combates con los grupos irregulares armados colombianos”

El Salvador

On Monday April 26, Professor Terry Karl will testify about the command responsibility of Salvadoran military leaders now on trial for their role in the 1981 El Mozote massacre, in which over a thousand men, women, and children were murdered by Salvadoran troops

Un informe del Congreso estadounidense publicado en 1993 señaló que funcionarios de Estados Unidos, de todos los niveles, mintieron e ignoraron las flagrantes violaciones a los derechos humanos cometidas por el Gobierno de El Salvador

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

The president of Honduras is accused by U.S. prosecutors of being part of a cocaine trafficking conspiracy, the president of El Salvador refused to see a U.S. envoy and the Guatemalan congress wouldn’t swear in a corruption-fighting judge


The U.S. will send 16 employees of the Department of Homeland Security to aid in the effort. The United States will also help Guatemala to build shelters for returned migrants and help the migrants transition back to life

This action targets Gustavo Adolfo Alejos Cambara, the former Chief of Staff for the Alvaro Colom presidential administration, and Felipe Alejos Lorenzana, an elected delegate to the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala


Haiti’s epidemic of kidnappings is the latest crisis to befall this Caribbean island nation of around 11 million people, roiled by deepening political unrest and economic misery


La sentencia que fue favorable para MUCD señala el plazo de cinco años para labores de seguridad es excesivo y que no cumple con el criterio de delimitación geográfica, porque ordena la participación de los militares en todo el país

Les niegan el acceso con los argumentos de que no hay espacio o de que no reciben familias por la pandemia de Covid-19

En el último Censo de población identificaron que, un millón 212 mil 252 personas nacidas en otro país residen en México

Las autoridades de Tamaulipas y de la Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional se negaron a proporcionar información sobre el caso, pero habitantes de la región denunciaron los incidentes a través de las redes sociales

Los padres anunciaron la movilización a pesar del covid-19 por la falta de avance en las investigaciones de gobierno


-¡Somos Daniel, constructores de la paz! En este 2021, a 42 años, seguiremos defendiendo nuestro derecho a la revolución con el comandante Daniel y la compañera Rosario Murillo– gritan todos

U.S.-Mexico Border, Western Hemisphere Regional

Of the Biden presidency’s 94 executive actions on immigration so far, 52 have set the stage for undoing Trump administration measures

U.S.-Mexico Border

We propose the followingrecommendations and suggestions as a framework for action that will helpavoid a humanitariancrisis related tomigrants passing throughthe border region


In the past two weeks, Maduro conceded to longstanding U.S. demands that the World Food Program be allowed to establish a foothold in the country at a time of growing hunger. His allies also vowed to work with the U.S.-backed opposition to vaccinate Venezuelans

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from Tal Cual (Venezuela).

(Even more here)

April 26, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

The Times found a pattern of neglect and secrecy that helped fuel outbreaks both inside and outside ICE detention facilities


El presidente de Brasil, Jair Bolsonaro, amenazó con sacar a la calle a las Fuerzas Armadas para garantizar el orden en caso de que las restricciones establecidas por los gobernadores para frenar el COVID-19 promuevan lo que el mandatario calificó como “caos”


Bienvenida la retractación del mensaje de la canciller en el Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU. Pero el Gobierno y su partido deben abandonar los discursos paralelos y contradictorios sobre la paz con las Farc

El homicidio de Rodríguez fue uno de los cometidos en esta, la peor semana en términos de asesinatos de excombatientes de las Farc

Naciones Unidas ve con especial preocupación la problemática que atraviesa el departamento del Cauca, donde se evidencia el deterioro de la situación de derechos humanos y seguridad

El asesinato de la gobernadora indígena Sandra Liliana Peña del resguardo La Laguna Siberia, en Caldono (Cauca), fue el detonante para que las autoridades tradicionales reunidas en el Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca (CRIC) reafirmaran que debían hacer una limpieza de sus territorios ancestrales

¿Y el Estado? ¿Dónde estaba? “La Fuerza Pública cumple el simple papel de notarios del conflicto”

La versión que entregó el detenido, sin embargo, sugiere que la verdadera trama detrás de la masacre apenas empieza a develarse

Colombia, Venezuela

Venezuela’s economic collapse has so thoroughly gutted the country that insurgents have embedded themselves across large stretches of its territory, seizing upon the nation’s undoing to establish mini-states

En la tarde y la noche del viernes 23 de abril se reportaron nuevos enfrentamientos y sobrevuelos

Venezuelan security forces have committed egregious abuses against local residents during a weeks-long operation against armed groups on the border with Colombia

El Salvador

During the 14th edition of the U.S.-El Salvador Staff Talks in 2019, both commanders signed memorandums of understanding outlining agreed-to actions (ATAs), in which both armies would train together to strengthen the knowledge to combat transnational threats


The program’s estimated cost is $256 million, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency said on its website


Under AMLO “a very quick evolution” has taken place, and the armed forces now have an unprecedented level of involvement in national affairs

“La gravedad de las violaciones a derechos humanos en contra de la población migrante es contundente”, advirtió la FMOPDH, formada por la Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDH)


Es inaceptable que se pretenda cambiar la historia y menos aún que se les acuse irresponsablemente de la muerte de 30,000 peruanos

U.S.-Mexico Border

The bill would improve both the Department of Homeland Security’s and the Department of Justice’s capacity to manage migration influxes and adjudicate asylum claims in a timely manner

Republican Rep. Yvette Herrell and Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez represent districts facing surge in crossings from Mexico

Tens of thousands of asylum seekers were unable to attend their hearings under the Trump administration’s remain in Mexico policy. Their cases have been closed, and they’re stuck

The day ahead: April 26, 2021

I’m all booked up today. (How to contact me)

I have about seven hours of meetings on the calendar today, with scattered interstitial time in between. Three internal meetings, an interview with a researcher, and a Colombia coalition meeting. As a result, my replies to any effort to contact me are likely to be delayed today.

Weekly e-mail update is out

I just sent off another e-mail update to those who’ve subscribed. This edition is pretty bare-bones. I spent much of last week in meetings, reducing time available for writing or creating—and since there’s been a modest slowdown in attention to the situation at the border, I finally had the chance to spend many hours last week processing and answering 2,000 emails that had built up since early March when the child/family situation started to become all-consuming. As a result, this update reflects what I managed actually to produce last week:

  • Full text of this week’s U.S.-Mexico border update;
  • Full text of this week’s Colombia peace update;
  • Latin America-related online events for this week;
  • And a smaller number than usual of funny tweets.

Here’s the page with past editions and a blank to add your e-mail address if you want these more-or-less weekly missives in your inbox.

Latin America-related online events this week

Monday, April 26

  • 4:00-5:30 at Latin America & the Global Cold War (RSVP required).
  • 4:30-5:30 at A Conversation with Horacio Rodríguez Larreta (RSVP required).

Tuesday, April 27

  • 11:30-12:30 at IRI Eventbrite: What’s Next for Perú? Analysis of the April 11 Elections and Beyond (RSVP required).
  • 12:00-1:30 at The Biden administration’s drug policy strategy and lessons from Portugal (RSVP required).
  • 2:00 at Hearing of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation, & Operations: Unaccompanied Children at the Border: Stakeholder Perspectives on the way Forward.
  • 2:00-4:00 at How Do We Support Students and Their Teachers in the Reopening of Schools? The Role of Diagnostic Learning Evaluations (RSVP required).
  • 5:00-6:00 at Beyond the headlines: Central American migrant’s human journey (RSVP required).

Wednesday, April 28

Thursday, April 29

  • 10:00-11:30 at Energy Transition in Latin America – The Role of the Private Sector (RSVP required).
  • 2:00-3:30 at The future of immigration policy in the United States (RSVP required).
  • 3:00-5:00 at CEJIL Zoom: ¿Hacía dónde va la CIDH? (RSVP required).
  • 4:00-5:00 at Renewing U.S. Hemispheric Engagement in a Changing World, a Keynote Address by Governor Bill Richardson (RSVP required).

Friday, April 30

  • 11:30 at Florida International University Zoom: The Policy Challenges of Central American Migration: The Human Rights Perspective (RSVP required).

Colombia Peace Update: April 24, 2021

Cross-posted from WOLA’s site. During at least the first half of 2021, we’re producing weekly updates in English about peace accord implementation and related topics. Get these in your e-mail by signing up to this Google group.

Attacks on indigenous communities intensify in Cauca

It was another bitter week in the department of Cauca in southwestern Colombia, the most dangerous of Colombia’s 32 departments to be a social leader. Cauca is enticing to drug traffickers and armed groups because the Pan-American highway traverses it, it has an extensive Pacific coast, and the Colombian government is absent from most rural areas. Cauca has the largest indigenous population of all departments. The rural population—which is the majority of the department’s 1.5 million people, much of them Afro-descendant and indigenous—is both caught in the crossfire and more organized than counterparts in most regions of Colombia.

Many areas that had been under FARC influence before the 2016 peace accord are disputed between some of three or four FARC dissident groups, the ELN, and neo-paramilitary and organized crime bands. Violence has flared up in 2021. Just in the past week:

  • On April 17 the Army killed 14 members of the “Carlos Patiño Front” dissident group in the rural part of Argelia municipality, in southern Cauca. One soldier died. Army Commander Gen. Eduardo Zapateiro said that a column of troops was attacked. Fighting between this dissident group and the ELN has terrorized Argelia’s rural population all year, causing thousands to displace. The Carlos Patiño is aligned with the largest network of FARC dissidents, headed by alias “Gentil Duarte.” It inexplicably still has an active Facebook page.
  • On April 20, in the northern part of Cauca, assailants shot and killed Sandra Liliana Peña Chocue, the 34-year-old governor of the La Laguna Sibera indigenous reserve in Caldono municipality. Peña, a member of the Nasa nation who had led local efforts to eradicate coca plants, was killed as she rode her motorcycle in rural Caldono.
  • Indigenous communities in northern Cauca, mainly within the framework of the Cauca National Indigenous Council (CRIC), quickly mobilized to demand respect for their territory and organizations, joining in a coca eradication effort to carry on Sandra Liliana Peña’s work. This, too, was attacked on April 22, as several assailants opened fire on the eradicators and members of the Indigenous Guard, an unarmed but very disciplined security force, in rural Caldono. The attack injured about 31 Indigenous people. The Indigenous Guard captured seven of the attackers and one of their vehicles. According to the CRIC, the eradication effort continued after the attack.

While the attackers were almost certainly FARC dissidents, the CRIC’s statement evidenced the community’s intense distrust of the national government and its armed forces:

Today we were outraged to hear in a TV newscast, General Marco Mayorga Niño, commander of the III Army Division, assuring that “it has been agreed to coordinate with the authorities the eradication of coca found in the area,” and “to dialogue with the Indigenous Guard about coordinating security activities in the reserves’ territories.“ None of this corresponds to the truth.

On March 26, the nearby municipality of Corinto had been rocked by a car bomb that went off just outside the mayor’s office in the center of town. (An earlier update covers this incident.) Like this week’s attacks in Caldono, the car bombing was probably carried out by the Dagoberto Ramos Mobile Column, the most powerful FARC dissident group in this part of Cauca. Like the Carlos Patiño Front further south, the Dagoberto Ramos is linked to the Gentil Duarte network. A third dissident group, the Jaime Martínez (also active on Facebook), operates nearby and also appears to be part of the Gentil Duarte structure.

“After the peace agreement, there were several months of very significant calm, but after that it’s been changing and there has developed a much more complicated situation than before the accord,” Dionisio Rodriguez Paz of the Cococauca organization said during the presentation of a CINEP human rights report this week.

A report from several local human rights groups cited by El Espectador recalls that Cauca, with about 3 percent of Colombia’s population, concentrates 28 percent of its murders of social leaders, which increased by 40 percent in the department from 2019 to 2020. Of 271 leaders killed in Cauca since the peace accord’s 2016 signing, 50.9 percent were Indigenous leaders.

Foreign Minister’s comment at UN meeting generates outrage

Concerns about social leaders were a frequent topic of discussion among international diplomats at the UN Security Council’s quarterly meeting to review aspects of peace accord implementation, held virtually on April 21.

Ambassadors praised some aspects of implementation, like the enrollment of 50 percent of demobilized guerrillas in collective and individual productive projects, and several welcomed the government’s proposal to expand the mandate of the UN Verification Mission to include compliance with the post-conflict transitional justice system’s (JEP’s) sentences. But they echoed concerns about rising violence, especially in areas of former FARC influence. “It is urgent that the policies and measures taken by the State—including the recent Strategic Security Plan—translate into better results, especially in the 25 municipalities that concentrate most of this violence,” read the statement from the UN Verification Mission’s director, Carlos Ruiz Massieu.

A big point was the continued slaughter of demobilized FARC members. The JEP’s president, Eduardo Cifuentes, said on April 19 that at least 276 former guerrillas had been killed since the peace accord went into effect. The latest was Ever Castro, a former FARC medic shot to death in Meta department on April 18. Castro’s killing happened only four days after another former FARC member, Fayber Camilo Cufiño, was killed in the same zone. “Much of the country was committed to the peace process until they noticed that we’d surrendered our weapons; after we turned in our guns, they left us on our own,” lamented to El Espectador Alexa Rochi, a fellow ex-combatant and close friend of Castro.

The figure of 276 murders represents more than 1 out of every 50 of the 13,185 guerrillas who passed through the peace accords’ demobilization process. Colombia’s Constitutional Court is reportedly studying legal petitions (tutelas) seeking to declare that the government’s insufficient protection of ex-combatants has reached an “unconstitutional state of affairs,” a term in Colombian law that would require the executive branch to take emergency measures.

In this context, part of the Colombian government’s remarks before the Security Council, as read by Foreign Minister Claudia Blum, were especially disconcerting. “The existence of FARC dissident groups,” she told the UN body, “should be considered as an example of non-compliance, precisely, of the former guerrillas who are now converted into a political party.”

Dissident groups are led by ex-guerrillas who rejected the accord or who abandoned the demobilization process and rearmed—a common outcome in peace processes. Perhaps 10 percent of former FARC members have chosen this path. Many if not most of the new groups’ members are new recruits with no prior FARC membership.

That the former FARC political party is somehow coordinating with the dissidents, perhaps using them as a “Plan B,” is an occasional talking point on Colombia’s right. (A few years ago, WOLA staff were surprised to hear it from a Trump administration official.) Blum appeared to be reinforcing this unfounded theory, further endangering the large majority of ex-guerrillas who have given up arms—a population already facing serious threat.

The “Plan B” theory is especially bizarre when one recalls that the dissidents are among the most frequent killers of their former comrades who demobilized. Estimates ranging from about 44 to 49 percent of ex-FARC killings were carried out by dissident groups. How then, could the demobilized guerrillas be responsible—using the Foreign Minister’s logic—for the existence of the same groups that are killing them?

La Silla Vacía pointed out another serious misstatement in Blum’s comments before the UN. “So far in 2021,” she said, “the total number of victimizations has fallen 51 percent compared to the same period of last year.” The online investigative site recalled that killings dropped by only 10 percent, from 20 during the first 3 months of 2020 to 18 during the first 3 months of 2021.

Expressions of disagreement with Blum’s comments came quickly.

  • “For the United Nations it is very clear first to distinguish between the dissidents who have never been part of the process, those who were part of the process and unjustifiably left it, and the 90 percent who remain in the process and have been fulfilling their obligations,” said UN mission chief Ruiz Massieu. “For us this distinction is very clear.”
  • “I reject the statements made by Foreign Minister Blum,” tweeted the leader of the former FARC party (Comunes), Rodrigo Londoño. “Her speech is untrue and puts a target on the heads of the thousands of signatories of the Peace Accord who are committed to the fulfillment of what was agreed, despite the permanent non-compliance of this government.” Londoño went on to call for Blum’s resignation.
  • “That the government would say this makes those who are killing us feel authorized to attack us,” said ex-FARC senator Julián Gallo.
  • “I protest the statements made by the Foreign Minister,” tweeted Humberto de la Calle, who was the Colombian government’s chief negotiator during the 2012-16 FARC talks. “She puts at risk the lives of former combatants who laid down their arms. It is the negation of the accord. It is a provocation. I demand retraction.”

In an April 22 tweet, the Colombian Presidency official most in charge of peace accord implementation, Counselor for Stabilization Emilio Archila, raised eyebrows with a tweet thread that appeared to contradict the Foreign Minister’s UN comments. The dissidents “are the ones who have to answer individually, and this is not a responsibility that belongs to the Comunes party,” he wrote, tagging Londoño. Later that day, Archila’s office and the Foreign Ministry issued a joint statement that at least partially walked back Blum’s much-derided words at the UN:

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Counselor’s Office emphasize that Colombia’s [UN] statement emphatically recognizes and reiterates the National Government’s support for the reincorporation process of the former combatants committed to the process, in its multiple political, economic, and social dimensions, and its commitment to their security and protection, and those of the members of the political party that emerged from it.

Fumigation edges closer to approval

In August 2018, Iván Duque assumed Colombia’s presidency vowing to restart a U.S.-backed program to eradicate coca by spraying a controversial herbicide, glyphosate, from aircraft. Thirty-two months later, this “fumigation” program is very close to restarting. “It seems like the return of illicit crop fumigation using glyphosate is imminent,” noted Elizabeth Dickinson of the International Crisis Group at Razón Pública. “There is a high probability that in 2021 we will see the planes take off for the coca-growing areas,” wrote Juan Carlos Garzón and Ana María Rueda of the Ideas for Peace Foundation. As we noted in last week’s update, sources in Colombia’s presidency predicted to La Silla Vacía that aerial spraying could restart in June.

Following a World Health Organization study determining that glyphosate could be carcinogenic, Colombia suspended fumigation in 2015, after 21 years in which police and U.S. contractor-piloted planes sprayed 1.8 million hectares (4.4 million acres) in an effort to kill coca. In 2017, Colombia’s Constitutional Court laid out several criteria that would have to be met before any eventual restart of the spray program. (Those are laid out in last week’s update.) With a decree, an environmental finding, and a health study, Colombia’s government claims to have met these criteria.

The only step that remains is for the National Narcotics Council (CNE), a body made up of relevant ministers and heads of some other branches of government, to meet and ratify the program’s restart. As the Council’s current members are all considered close to the government, this step may happen with few obstacles. “The most likely scenario,” write Garzón and Rueda, “is that in 2021 spraying will begin in a dozen municipalities—in one of the six ‘nuclei’ for which the Anla [Colombia’s National Environmental Licensing Agency] has already given authorization.”

The main remaining potential obstacle to a renewed fumigation program is a Constitutional Court review of a legal complaint (tutela) filed by several Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities. The Court has indicated it will hand down a decision in about a month.

The communities argue that they were not given an opportunity to participate in prior informed consultation on one of the Court’s required steps, the determination of environmental risk. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government sought to hold these consultations virtually over the internet. But most of the affected ethnic communities are in remote areas without broadband signal, if any.

As it weighs the evidence, the Constitutional Court has sent lists of tough questions to the Anla and the National Police. If the Court decides that barely accessible virtual meetings fail to meet its criteria, then the fumigation program’s restart will be substantially delayed. If the Court gives the program a green light, the “June” timetable mentioned above is likely.

If that happens, Garzón and Rueda predict that protests will quickly follow (though a recent La Silla Vacía report contended that coca-growers’ organizations are much weakened):

The photo of the [first] plane spraying will cause tensions and mobilizations that have already been anticipated. Beyond the discussion of whether the communities’ resistance is organic, spontaneous, or pressured by armed groups, this will be a difficult situation for the government to handle in a context of high social discontent that has been accumulating throughout the pandemic. This could be the spark that triggers and coheres protests and blockades.

Opposition to fumigation, on public health, environmental, and “bad drug policy” grounds, continues to mount. 39 NGOs sent a letter to the Constitutional Court asking the justices to rule in favor of the Indigenous and Afro-descendant complainants and suspend the spray program. A petition on, meanwhile, is nearing 35,000 signatures.


  • WOLA’s “Con Líderes Hay Paz” campaign hosted an event featuring stirring testimonies from prominent social leaders from Chocó, Buenaventura, Cali, and Córdoba.
  • Colombian Army Colonel Pedro Pérez has gone missing in Saravena, Arauca, a town along the Venezuelan border with a long history of ELN influence. He was last seen, off duty, leaving a Saravena hotel with a woman on April 17. In another strange story, Semana revealed that another member of the Army, Sergeant Antonio Misse, may have been taken by Venezuelan forces while off duty on the Colombian side of the border near Cúcuta in December, and remains in Venezuelan custody.
  • About 5,877 Venezuelans displaced by fighting between Venezuelan forces and a FARC dissident group remain in 58 “informal reception points” in Arauca as of April 15, UNHCR reports. Though fighting has died down, very few have felt safe to return. A La Silla Vacía analysis contends that the ELN, which has strong influence over this zone of Arauca and Apure, Venezuela but has stayed to the margins of the latest fighting, is emerging as “the big winner.”
  • The Jesuit think tank CINEP released a flurry of publications this week. The 62nd edition of Noche y Niebla, a publication synthesizing results of the group’s extensive conflict database, counts 846 victims of “social-political violence” in 2020, with 300 of them in Cauca. CINEP also published the latest edition of its long-running Cien Días political analysis magazine, and a fivepart series in El Espectador about the ELN, drawn from a recently published book.
  • Two police officers were shot and killed, probably by FARC dissidents, in the town center of Puerto Rico, Caquetá.
  • The Colombian Interior Ministry’s National Protection Unit (UNP), charged with providing security for prominent ex-guerrillas, is limiting their domestic travel. Comunes (ex-FARC) party Senator Julián Gallo had to go to court to get the UNP to provide security, as agreed in the peace accord, so he could carry out party business outside Bogotá. The judge who considered his case determined that the UNP had “placed in danger” the former FARC leader. On April 20 former FARC members of the Commission to Search for People Believed to be Disappeared, a body created by the peace accord, denounced that they are unable to do their work because the UNP is refusing to send bodyguards to accompany them on many of their missions.
  • A bill seeking to legalize and regulate production, processing, and distribution of coca leaf passed its first step, gaining approval of a Colombian Senate committee. Members of the governing Centro Democrático party boycotted the 12-0 vote. By an 8-5 vote, a different Senate committee rejected a bill that would have prohibited aerial fumigation of coca with glyphosate.
  • Journalist Jeremy McDermott of the investigative website InsightCrime is being sued for libel—a criminal charge in Colombia, potentially involving prison and steep fines—for a meticulously documented 2020 series showing that a Colombian businessman living in Spain is, in fact, a paramilitary-tied narcotrafficker. McDermott made a strong case that Guillermo Acevedo is a shadowy criminal warlord known as “Memo Fantasma”; Acevedo is pressing charges.
  • VICE has produced a seven-episode podcast about the case of Drummond Coal, an Alabama-based mining company with large investments in Colombia, whose managers in Cesar stand accused of working with paramilitary groups to put down a unionization effort 20 years ago.
  • Basing his 150-page analysis on 50 interviews with specialists and advocates, Mariano Aguirre unpacks the many causes of Colombia’s massive late-2019 social protests, and offers insight into how donor nations should shift their priorities. Lots of insight here into Colombia’s current challenges.
  • An investigation by La Silla Vacía takes down the Chief Prosecutor’s Office’s (Fiscalía’s) tendency to rely on the term “clarifications” (esclarecimientos) when reporting its results, especially results for its efforts to bring to justice the killers of social leaders and ex-combatants. The term, which indicates that prosecutors have at least identified suspects, “adds up so many categories of judicial events—including several that do not provide the truth about who committed the crimes—that, in the end, it clarifies little about the progress of justice.”

Weekly Border Update: April 23, 2021

With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border.Since what’s happening at the border is one of the principal events in this week’s U.S. news, this update is a “double issue,” longer than normal. See past weekly updates here.

Pressure grows to end Title 42

The Biden administration continues to apply “Title 42,” a public health order that the Trump administration put into place at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. As implemented, Title 42 allows Border Patrol to expel migrants it encounters back to their countries of origin—or, if they are Salvadoran, Guatemalan, or Honduran, back into Mexico. In most cases, expulsion occurs in as little as an hour or two. In nearly all cases, it occurs without migrants getting any chance to ask for asylum or other protection.

Over 85 percent of single adult migrants and about a third of migrants arriving as families with children are expelled. The Biden administration is not expelling children who arrive unaccompanied, unless they are from Mexico (and a court prohibited the Trump administration, too, from expelling children during its last two months). CBP is flying Central American families every day from south Texas—where Mexico has placed limits on expulsions—to El Paso and San Diego, then expelling them there.

“By sending asylum seekers back to danger without asylum assessments, the administration fails to protect refugees and blatantly violates U.S. refugee laws and treaties,” reads a report published on April 20 by Human Rights First, Al Otro Lado, and the Haitian Bridge Alliance. The product of a big team of researchers, the 33-page document offers an up-to-the-moment view of the suffering that the Biden administration’s application of Title 42 is causing. Failure to Protect is a very informative, but brutal, read.

Its most alarming topline finding: “Human Rights First has tracked at least 492 attacks and kidnappings suffered by asylum seekers turned away or stranded in Mexico since President Biden took office in January 2021.” The organizations count 17 countries, from Russia to Venezuela to Somalia, whose citizens have been expelled since Biden was sworn in. Since February 2021, 27 expulsion flights have sent 1,400 adults and children back to Haiti.

Among the report’s many alarming examples:

  • “In February 2021, a 37-year-old asylum seeker who fled Haiti after being kidnapped, beaten, and raped because of her involvement with a political opposition group was expelled to Haiti with her husband and baby, where they are now in hiding.”
  • “Nicaraguan authorities detained a Nicaraguan political activist, her husband, and seven-year-old child for 11 days, interrogated, and beat the couple after CBP expelled the family along with approximately 200 other Nicaraguans in June 2020.”
  • “Nine- and fourteen-year-old Honduran children were kidnapped with their asylum-seeking mother in Monterrey in March 2021 after CBP expelled them three times since December 2020.”
  • “In February 2021, a Guatemalan woman who had been expelled by CBP to Mexicali after attempting to seek asylum was raped in Tijuana.”
  • “CBP expelled a 15-year-old Guatemalan boy and his asylum-seeking mother to Ciudad Juárez where they had been kidnapped in February 2021. The woman told Human Rights First researchers that when she tried to explain the danger she faced, U.S. immigration officers told her that they didn’t care because ‘the president is not giving political asylum to anyone.’ CBP expelled the family to dangerous Ciudad Juárez at night during a snowstorm after they were held in CBP custody for days without food or water.”
  • “At least 20 LGBTQ Jamaican asylum seekers are stranded in Mexico facing violence and discrimination, but they are too terrified to approach the U.S.-Mexico border to request protection for fear they will be immediately expelled to Jamaica where they would face continued persecution.”

The report also includes numerous outrageous accounts of Border Patrol agents’ casual cruelty and aggressive behavior toward migrant parents and children—so many that they could form a separate report.

The organizations highlight the painful trend of expelled families deciding to separate inside Mexico, sending children back across the border unaccompanied, where they might end up in immigration proceedings inside the United States, perhaps living with relatives. Mounting evidence points to these Title 42-induced family separations happening more often than we had imagined. Citing secondary sources, the report reads:

16 percent of unaccompanied children screened by Immigrant Defenders Law Center between December 2020 and March 24, 2021 had traveled to the border with a parent or other family member who was blocked from seeking protection with the child due to the Title 42 expulsion policy. In April 2021, a Border Patrol official told CNN that more than 400 unaccompanied children taken into custody in South Texas had previously tried to enter the United States with their families.

More accounts of Title 42-related family separations surfaced this week in reporting by KPBS in Tijuana and the Guardian in Reynosa.

Litigation against Title 42 remains active in Washington, DC Circuit Court. On April 22 the ACLU agreed with the Biden administration on the latest of several extensions of a pause in its lawsuit against the expulsions policy. The court is set to resume on May 3.

Increases in migration appear to be flattening out

For migrant families who don’t get expelled, most U.S. border cities have a charity-run facility that provides a short-term place to sleep, food, clothing, and help with travel arrangements. “Respite centers” like Catholic Charities of Rio Grande Valley, Annunciation House in El Paso, Casa Alitas in Tucson, and the San Diego Rapid Response Network receive asylum-seeking migrants whom Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has released from custody, usually with a notice to appear in immigration court.

The expulsion of so many families to Mexico has left these respite centers below capacity, even at a time when U.S. authorities are encountering large numbers. Annunciation House is taking in 30 to 35 migrants per day, even as one or two planeloads of 100-plus migrants each arrives in El Paso each day: the rest are expelled into Ciudad Juárez. Sister Norma Pimentel of Catholic Charities told Axios that her shelters in the Rio Grande Valley, the sector where 67 percent of family migrants were apprehended in March, are receiving 400 to 800 migrants, mostly families. That sounds like a lot, but she noted, “I haven’t seen the numbers as high as 2019.” That number, roughly extrapolated border-wide, points to only a minor increase, if any, over the number of family migrants encountered at the border in March.

Indeed, the rate of growth of family and child arrivals seems to have hit a pause in April. Weekly CBP apprehension data seen by WOLA points to Border Patrol’s “encounters” of family and unaccompanied child migrants receding slightly during the first half of April, after more than doubling from February to March. The percentage of families who are expelled into Mexico appears to remain in the 30-40 percent range (this number includes a small number of Mexican families). Encounters with single adults, well over 80 percent of whom are expelled, continue to rise, but at a slower pace than in March.

Daily Border Patrol data shows slightly more unaccompanied children arriving at the border this week, mildly reversing a trend of steady declines since late March. There is some good news, though: on April 21, for the first time since the current jump in child migrant encounters began, the number of unaccompanied children in U.S. government custody actually declined. The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) discharged—placed with families or sponsors in the United States—more children (480) than Border Patrol newly apprehended at the border (419). On this chart, the green exceeded the blue for the first time:

A lull in April doesn’t necessarily mean that this spring’s increase in migration has flattened out for good. There is a pattern. Though spring is usually a time when migration jumps, Border Patrol migrant apprehension data for 2014, 2015, 2018, and 2019 show small April increases sandwiched between larger increases in March and May. The May increases, though, were never larger in percentage terms than March.

As unaccompanied children don’t get expelled, the overall downward trend in child arrivals since late March can’t be ascribed to Title 42 serving as a “deterrent.” An increase in Mexico’s migrant interdiction operations could be contributing: Tonatiuh Guillen, a longtime Mexican migration expert who briefly headed the Interior Department’s National Migration Institute (INM), told the Wall Street Journal that “apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border are likely to go down this month in part as a result of Mexico’s actions.” That hypothesis is difficult to prove at the moment, though.

Mexico sends troops and talks trees

The Failure to Protect report calls out Mexico’s government for acceding to the Biden administration’s requests to cooperate with the Title 42 expulsions, noting that doing so “continues to facilitate U.S. violations of international protections for refugees.”

Mexico has also deployed larger numbers of its new National Guard and regular armed forces along its northern and southern borders to interdict migrants. Near Guatemala, the Wall Street Journal reports citing Mexican officials, Mexico has deployed about 9,000 soldiers and guardsmen along with 150 immigration officers from the INM. The immigration agency has installed “dozens of checkpoints” along roads in the southern border states of Chiapas and Tabasco, where agents, accompanied by security forces, are pulling many undocumented Central Americans off of buses, then detaining and deporting them.

At Mexico’s northern border, guardsmen have been stationed at some sites where large numbers of families had been crossing the Rio Grande and awaiting Border Patrol apprehension on the riverbank south of the border wall. (One must be standing on U.S. soil in order to request asylum in the United States.)

Alfredo Corchado of the Dallas Morning News talked to some of the National Guard troops at a frequent crossing point in downtown Ciudad Juárez, where the Rio Grande is barely 10-15 feet wide and shallow, and the border wall looms dozens of yards away. One member of the National Guard estimated that crossings in that area had fallen 70 to 80 percent since his unit was deployed there. He doubted, though, that this has deterred asylum-seeking families.

“We’ve pushed them outside to desolate areas, out in the desert,” he said, conceding their efforts only put the migrants and their children in a more dangerous situation. “The desert doesn’t serve as a deterrence. They, women and children, cross in spite of the rattlesnakes, giant spiders, the hot sun. That’s what poverty does to you. The American dream is so alluring that you risk it all.”

The Failure to Protect report, meanwhile, recalls the human rights dangers associated with increased security-force deployments, which WOLA has documented in much past reporting. “Mexican police, immigration officials and other government authorities are directly involved in kidnappings, extortion and other violent attacks against asylum seekers and migrants forcibly returned by DHS to Mexico,” it reads.

Mexico hasn’t yet reported its migrant apprehension and detention data from March. However, the Wall Street Journal obtained statistics pointing to a 32 percent jump in INM apprehensions of Central American migrants from February to March, to 15,800. U.S. apprehensions of migrants jumped 72 percent from February to March.

UNICEF said that the number of non-Mexican migrant children currently in Mexico grew from 380 in January to 3,500 at the end of March, with 275 minors entering the country every day—some coming from Central America, and some being expelled with parents from the United States. Children make up about 30 percent of the population in Mexico’s migrant shelters, the UN agency reported, and half of them traveled unaccompanied. “These children arrive after perilous journeys of up to two months, alone, exhausted and afraid,” said UNICEF director Henrietta Fore. According to the Mexican daily Milenio, “She explained that at every step they are at risk of violence and exploitation, gang recruitment and trafficking, which has tripled in the last 15 years.”

The INM reported that Mexico will be opening up 17 temporary shelters for child migrants in Chiapas and Tabasco, which will be run by the government’s child and family welfare agency (DIF).

Milenio found that an increasing number of families are migrating without making large payments to smugglers. Instead, more Central American parents with children are walking hundreds of miles and boarding cargo trains, an enormously risky journey. Migrants told the paper that Mexican authorities they encounter are less likely to detain them if they are traveling with children. “Hundreds of migrants believe that they have found in children a way to access certain benefits,” Milenio reports, but “the reality is that they expose them to bad weather, kidnapping, poor nutrition, disease, and the risk posed by La Bestia,” the notorious cargo trains.

This route is very dangerous. On April 20, two Honduran migrants were shot dead, and three more wounded, as they tried to flee a gang seeking to rob them along the railroad tracks, in broad daylight, in a rural zone of Tabasco state.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador recorded an April 18 video from Palenque, Chiapas, a town along one of the main train routes. There, he laid out a proposal for cooperation with the United States to address Central American migration. Central American and Mexican migrants seeking to emigrate, he said, should work for three years in Mexico planting trees and other crops in a reforestation program his government calls Sembrando Vida (“sowing life”). Upon completion of this obligation, the United States should grant these migrants a six-month temporary work visa, along with the right to apply for U.S. citizenship.

López Obrador said he would present this plan, which he billed as an environmental initiative, during the April 22 Leaders Summit on Climate virtually hosted by President Joe Biden. U.S. officials did not appear interested in discussing the idea at the summit, however. In response to a question from the Mexican daily Reforma, an unnamed senior U.S. official stated, “This is not a conversation about migration but a conversation about climate change. We are not focused on the interplay of issues.” The official added, “We just recently heard [President López Obrador’s proposal] and it doesn’t sound like it has had a chance to be part of extensive discussions in Mexico or between Mexico and the United States.”


  • Vice President Kamala Harris is to talk to Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on April 26, and take part in a virtual roundtable with Guatemalan “community-based organizations” on April 27, Axios reports. She may visit Central America in June.
  • The Washington Post and New York Times dig deep into President Biden’s awkward April 16 double about-face on the U.S. government’s annual refugee cap. Susan Gzesh of the University of Chicago points out at Just Security that “almost no Guatemalans, Hondurans, or Salvadorans have ever been welcomed to the United States through USRAP,” the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.
  • The Biden administration has ordered U.S. border and immigration agencies to stop using terms like “alien,” “illegal alien,” and “assimilation” in their communications.
  • A group of senators from both parties met on April 21 to discuss how immigration reform legislation might move forward. According to The Hill, “the starting points” are a Republican demand for a “streamlined” asylum process at the border that would reduce the number of unaccompanied children allowed into the United States, and a Democratic demand that so-called “Dreamers” be given a path to citizenship. Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) led the meeting of four Democrats and four Republicans. At an April 20 meeting with Congressional Hispanic Caucus members, meanwhile, President Biden indicated he might favor allowing immigration reform legislation to go forward under “reconciliation,” Senate rules allowing budget-related bills to pass on a simple majority without a filibuster.
  • The process of winding down the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” program, known as Migrant Protection Protocols or MPP, is proceeding slowly. As of the end of March, TRAC Immigration reports, 3,911 of 26,432 Remain in Mexico subjects with pending asylum cases had been allowed into the United States—or at least, had changed their venues away from MPP courts to normal immigration courts elsewhere in the country.
  • Republican border-state governors are actively opposing any alteration of the Trump administration’s border and migration policies. Arizona’s governor, Doug Ducey, announced a $25 million deployment of his state’s National Guard to the border, although his state’s border sectors account for only 18 percent of Border Patrol’s migrant encounters since October. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, working in tandem with a legal group that former Trump advisor Stephen Miller is billing as the opposite of the ACLU, is suing to force the Biden administration to expel unaccompanied children under Title 42.
  • At the Intercept, Ryan Deveraux files a lengthy, multi-source report from Arizona and Sonora. It finds that the Biden administration’s persistent application of Title 42 expulsions “is making one of the deadliest stretches of the U.S.-Mexico divide more dangerous, endangering the people the president purports to support and enriching the illicit networks he purports to oppose.” Many expulsions are happening in the middle of the night.
  • About 90 days after the White House launched a 60-day review of the future of Donald Trump’s border wall, “the wall’s future remains in limbo and the review continues” amid increasingly mixed messages, ABC News reports.
  • A Vice investigation details how U.S. money-transfer companies profit from ransom payments wired to those who kidnap migrants in Mexico from their relatives in the United States.
  • At Talking Points Memo, Tierney Sneed tells the story of how Donald Trump’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) got over its misgivings and embraced “We Build the Wall,” a private, donor-supported border wall-building project that, prosecutors allege, turned out to be riddled with fraud.
  • The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shut down an emergency shelter for unaccompanied migrant girls in Houston, after allegations of mistreatment, including telling the girls “to use plastic bags for toilets because there were not enough staff members to accompany them to restrooms.” The facility was run by a non-profit “with no prior experience housing unaccompanied migrant children,” ABC News reports.
  • Border Patrol reported encountering a female Honduran migrant “incoherent and in medical distress” in south Texas on the evening of April 15, while with her adult daughter and two young children. The woman died at the McAllen, Texas hospital early the next morning.
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