Adam Isacson

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

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November 2021

Big new report—A Long Way to Go: Implementing Colombia’s peace accord after five years

I’ve sort of neglected this website for the past two weeks. It was for a good reason, I think.

I’d been resolving for a while to write a big report evaluating, with as much hard data as possible, how Colombia’s peace accord is going. Like a lot of people who supported the peace accord, I had a strong and urgent feeling that things are going badly: that the government was falling ever further behind on its commitments. But a lot of the current information to support that feeling was either dispersed, or not available to English-speaking audiences.

I’d been working on the report in a piecemeal way for a while, but by early November I realized I had to dive in completely in order to have it ready by the peace accord’s fifth anniversary, which was today (November 24). So my website updates here largely stopped and I went into a sort of research and writing fugue state. I logged 83 hours last week, making the cursor go from left to right as fast as I could.

I’ve emerged from all of that now, and I’m very happy with the result. The report that we dropped late yesterday, A Long Way to Go,” is 28,000 words divided into 19 sections (counting the intro), with twentysomething graphics and like 320 footnotes. It’s a beast—almost certainly the heaviest thing I’ve written since I joined WOLA. But it’s my beast and I’m proud of it because it has a lot of information that you won’t find all in one place, especially not in English, about the urgent state of Colombia’s peace process. I’m glad it’s out there.

Read it here. Here’s a super-brief summary:

November 24 is the five-year anniversary of a landmark peace accord that ended a half a century of fighting in Colombia. While there are aspects worth celebrating, this is a far less happy anniversary than it promised to be.

The 2016 accord ended the most violent facet of a multi-front conflict that killed 260,000 people, left 80,000 more missing, and led to more than 9 million of Colombia’s 50 million people registering with the government as conflict victims. The months after November 2016 saw the disarmament and demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the largest guerrilla group, though smaller armed groups remain.

For a time after the FARC left the scene, battered rural areas notorious for violence and illicit drug production experienced a moment of calm. A historic window of opportunity opened for Colombia to break its recurrent cycles of violence.

Five years later, the window is closing. Implementing the peace accord has gone more poorly than anticipated. A new report from the Washington Office on Latin America, “A Long Way to Go,” examines the experience of the past five years, presenting a wealth of data about each of the 2016 accord’s six chapters. While there are some positive developments, WOLA finds, Colombia is well behind where it should be.

It was up to Colombia’s government to preserve the peace, by fully implementing the commitments it made in the ambitious 300-page accord. That document promised not just to end the FARC, but to undo the causes underlying more than a century of rural strife in Latin America’s third-largest country: unequal land tenure, crushing poverty, an absent government, and impunity for the powerful.

That hasn’t happened. Parts of Colombia’s government acted, but what they did wasn’t enough. Opponents of the accord came to power in August 2018 and allowed many commitments to languish, keeping investments well below the necessary tempo and encouraging skepticism through messaging that regularly disparages the agreement.

10 notable facts from “A Long Way to Go: Implementing Colombia’s peace accord after five years”
1. As of March 2021, Colombia was 29 percent of the way into the peace accord’s implementation timetable, but had spent just 15 percent of what implementation is expected to cost.
2. One third of the way into the implementation process, the PDETs—the vital plans to bring the government into historically conflictive areas—are only one-seventh funded, and that’s according to the most optimistic estimate.
3. A nationwide mapping of landholdings, expected to be complete by 2023, was only 15 percent done as of March 2021.
4. 2021 is on pace to be Colombia’s worst year for homicides since 2013, and worst year for massacres since 2011.
5. Analysts’ estimates coincide in finding significantly less than 10 percent of demobilized ex-FARC members taking up arms again. “Dissident” groups’ membership is mostly new recruits.
6. Estimates of the number of social leaders murdered in 2020 range from 133 to 310. But the justice system only managed 20 convictions of social leaders’ killers that year, while the Interior Minister argued that “more people die here from cell phone thefts than for being human rights defenders.”
7. Of coca-growing families who signed up for a “two-year” package of crop substitution assistance three or more years ago, just 1 percent had received a complete package of payments by the end of 2020.
8. If the transitional justice tribunal is correct, half of the Colombian military’s claimed combat killings between 2002 and 2008 may have been civilians whom soldiers executed and then falsely claimed were members of armed groups.
9. 20 of the transitional justice tribunal’s 38 magistrates are women. 4 of 11 Truth Commissioners are women.
10. Since accord implementation began in fiscal 2017, U.S. assistance to Colombia has totaled about US$3.1 billion, roughly half of it for the military and police.

Read the report

In historically conflictive territories all around the country, violence is on the rise again. New armed groups are quickly filling the vacuums of authority that the government would not or could not fill on its own. As massacres, displacements, and confrontations increase again, in too many regions—including many Afro-descendant and Indigenous communities—it no longer makes sense to speak of a “post-conflict.”

The “Long Way to Go” report walks through many of the most important commitments Colombia’s government made, evaluating the extent to which each is truly being implemented after five years. The discussion passes through 17 sections.

  • The first looks at the overall budget and use of resources, finding that Colombia is well behind where it should be after five years.
  • The next four cover commitments to Colombia’s countryside, like addressing land tenure, making rural economies viable, and improving security and governance. These commitments, too, are falling alarmingly behind: state presence has not been increasing, land tenure programs are struggling, and violence indicators are worsening.
  • The sixth, seventh, and tenth sections explore commitments to expand political participation and protect social leaders. Despite some important steps forward, the continued pace of attacks and killings and occasional government displays of indifference show how much remains to be done.
  • The eighth and ninth evaluate assistance and security for demobilized ex-combatants. Assistance efforts have been worthy, but security lags amid a low probability of killers being brought to justice
  • The remaining seven sections look at separate sets of commitments: crop substitution, transitional justice, inclusion of ethnic communities, the accords’ gender focus, laws that remain to be passed, verification mechanisms, and the U.S. government’s role. There are positive notes here, like the transitional justice system’s performance, useful external verification, and a more supportive tone from the Biden administration. For the most part, though, these seven sections sound alarms as ground continues to be lost.

Finally, WOLA’s new report explains why, despite the many setbacks documented here, this is absolutely not the time to give up on the peace accord and its promise. Instead, WOLA expects this five-year evaluation to motivate and inform the government that will take power after Colombia’s May 2022 elections, which will need to redouble implementation together with international partners.

Although many findings in “A Long Way to Go” are grim, the report also upholds the bright spots of the past five years. More than nine in ten demobilized guerrillas remain committed to the peace process. The special post-conflict justice system is functioning, earning recent praise from the International Criminal Court. Though beleaguered by threats and attacks, Colombia’s civil society and free press remain vibrant, and the country is headed into 2022 elections with a broad spectrum of candidates.

The window has not closed all the way. All is not lost yet. By taking the temperature of implementation at the five year mark in the most clear-eyed possible manner, WOLA hopes to contribute to Colombians’ effort to resume and rethink their fight to curb the conflict’s historic causes.

The United States’ Influence on Latin America’s New Militarism

At WOLA’s website, find the English version of an article I wrote for Spain’s Fundación Carolina, which published it on November 16, 2021 as Análisis Carolina no. 28: “Estados Unidos y su influencia en el nuevo militarismo latinoamericano” (https://doi.org/10.33960/AC_28.2021).

Summary: U.S. military assistance has long encouraged armed forces to take on internal roles, complicating civil-military relations. This kind of aid declined, however, during the post-cold war period, as the U.S. “wars” on drugs, terror, and organized crime brought reduced, more focused aid and some reluctance to expand military roles. The U.S. pullback from encouraging militarization may be reversing in the 2020s, though, as Washington’s defense strategy shifts to great-power competition. We can expect more U.S. military support for governments that work with the United States and deny access to China and others. This may happen even if recipient governments are authoritarian-trending and use their militaries internally to confront “hybrid threats” within the population. Avoiding this outcome will require the United States to do more to protect and support the region’s increasingly vibrant, but often misunderstood, civil society.

Read the whole thing at WOLA’s website. O lea el español en el sitio de la Fundación Carolina.

WOLA Podcast: Colombia’s peace accord at five years

Today is the fifth anniversary of Colombia’s peace accord with the FARC. Gimena Sanchez, WOLA’s director for the Andes, and I recorded this conversation last Thursday about where things stand. Here’s the language from WOLA’s podcast landing page:

Colombia’s government and largest guerrilla group signed a historic peace accord on November 24, 2016. The government took on many commitments which, if implemented, could guide Colombia away from cycles of violence that its people have suffered, especially in the countryside, for over a century.

Five years later, is the peace accord being implemented? The picture is complicated: the FARC remain demobilized and a transitional justice system is making real progress. But the countryside remains violent and ungoverned, and crucial peace accord commitments are going unmet. WOLA Director for the Andes Gimena Sánchez joins host Adam Isacson for a walk through which aspects of accord implementation are going well, and which are urgently not.

Download the episode (.mp3)

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

Weekly Border Update: November 24, 2021

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

We will not post an update on Friday, November 26. The next update will be posted on December 3, 2021.

Migration declined in October for the third straight month

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported on November 15 that its personnel encountered 117,260 individual undocumented migrants on 164,303 occasions during the month of October. That was an 18 percent reduction in people, and a 14 percent reduction in “encounters,” from September. Encounters have dropped 22 percent in two months, from 209,840 in August, and 23 percent from July’s years-long high of 213,593.

The overwhelming majority of those encounters (158,575) took place between official border land ports of entry, where CBP’s Border Patrol component took the migrants into custody. CBP encountered 5,728 at the ports of entry, the fewest since April.

The giant difference between “individuals” and “encounters” owes to a large number of repeat crossings. “29 percent involved individuals who had at least one prior encounter in the previous 12 months, compared to an average one-year re-encounter rate of 14 percent for FY2014-2019,” CPB reported. The “Title 42” pandemic expulsions policy begun by the Trump administration and continued by the Biden administration, which rapidly sends Mexicans and most Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans back into Mexico, involves little time in CBP custody and appears to have facilitated repeat attempts to cross.

In McAllen, Texas, in the Border Patrol’s busiest sector (Rio Grande Valley), the reduced pace of arrivals is palpable. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is releasing fewer than 300 asylum-seeking migrants a day to the city’s respite center, run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. In July, according to Border Report, U.S. authorities were turning over “upwards of 2,000 migrants” per day to the respite center.


Despite the reduction, October’s monthly “encounters” figure is historically high: 164,303 is the 12th-largest monthly total this century.

Unlike most of this century, though, Title 42 is in place, and most of the  encountered migrants aren’t being processed. CBP expelled 57 percent of migrants it encountered in October, the largest monthly proportion since May. Of single adults encountered in October, 74 percent got expelled. 31 percent of family members were expelled, the largest monthly proportion since April. The Biden administration does not expel non-Mexican children who arrive unaccompanied.

70,627 undocumented migrants were not expelled, and instead processed in the United States, many of them asylum seekers. That is the lowest monthly number of non-expelled migrants since May. Non-expelled migrants have declined by 20 percent since September and 38 percent since August. The number of migrants whom CBP actually processed in October was fewer than it was during six different months of the Trump administration (February-July 2019). Of those who weren’t expelled in October, 60 percent were children and family members. Children and family members were 14 percent of the expelled population.

CBP’s 42,913 encounters with undocumented family members in October was the least since February 2021, and represented a 51 percent drop in just two months, from August’s high of 87,054. (These numbers include a small number of “accompanied children” encountered at ports of entry traveling with relatives other than a parent.)

Arrivals of unaccompanied children (12,807) dropped to their lowest level since February as well, and have declined 32 percent since August. In October, the American Immigration Council notes, “the average number of unaccompanied children in CBP custody was 595 per day, compared with an average of 772 per day in September.” The drop calls into question whether migrants are being deterred by application of Title 42: unaccompanied children are fewer even though the policy isn’t being applied to them. The Council’s Aaron Reichlin-Melnick warns, though, that “daily border apprehensions of unaccompanied children have been slowly rising in recent weeks.”

Encounters with single adults—who are most likely to attempt repeat crossings—haven’t declined as sharply. In October they totaled 108,583, down 4 percent from September, up 4 percent from August, and down 11 percent from their high point in May.

It is unexpected to see migration to have declined in October, during the cooler fall months when it usually increases, after reaching its highest point of the year during summer. Reasons may include:

  • Mexico has been cracking down harder; as we’ve noted in recent updates, Mexico broke its records for monthly migrant apprehensions in August and September (it has not yet released October data). Reporter Manu Ureste at Mexico’s Animal Político points out that Mexico’s apprehensions jumped 120 percent after U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’s June 8 visit to Mexico City, which included a meeting with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
  • Though the numbers dropped slightly from September to October, the Biden administration had increased its month-on-month expulsions of family members every month between July and September, which may have affected asylum seekers’ calculations.
  • It’s possible that the population of would-be migrants who were “bottled up” during many months of border closures at the height of the pandemic have now all had a chance to migrate, and we’re seeing a leveling off.
  • U.S.-led crackdowns caused dramatic September-October declines in migration from Haiti and Ecuador. The Biden administration has expelled about 8,800 Haitians back to their country on 84 flights since September 19, and encouraged Mexico to begin demanding visas of Ecuadorians arriving in the country, which it did on August 20. Border encounters with undocumented Haitian migrants fell 95 percent in a month, from 17,638 to 902. Ecuadorian migrant encounters fell 90 percent, from 7,353 to 744.

In September, CBP encountered migrants from seven countries more than 10,000 times each. In October, CBP encountered migrants from four countries more than 10,000 times each.

Beyond Haiti and Ecuador, migration from the so-called “Northern Triangle” countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) has been declining since July. 50,937 encountered migrants came from those countries in October, down 45 percent in two months, since August.

Migration from Brazil, too, hit its lowest point since June, as Mexico has demanded visas of at least some Brazilians arriving at its airports. In Tijuana, “Brazilian migration has been going on for months, there was even a time when 20, 30, 50 were arriving daily six or seven months ago, arriving with their tourist visas,” José María García Lara of Tijuana’s Movimiento Juventud 2000 shelter told the local daily El Imparcial.

In addition to small increases in Colombians and Russians, the countries whose citizens registered the largest September-to-October migration increase are Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba. In October, these countries respectively occupied 4th, 6th, and 8th place on CBP’s list of most-encountered nationalities. The U.S. government has been pressing Mexico to impose visa requirements on Venezuelans arriving at its airports, Reuters reports, though one U.S. official “said Washington was not leaning hard on Mexico.” A Mexican government source said “Mexico was reviewing its options, and holding discussions with Venezuela to explore alternatives to imposing visa requirements.”

After declining during the summer, migration from Mexico has increased for two straight months. Of 65,276 encountered Mexican migrants in October, all but 4,628 were single adults.

Remain in Mexico may restart in “weeks”

The Biden administration’s latest monthly filing on efforts to restart the controversial “Remain in Mexico” program, submitted November 15 on the orders of the judge who ordered its revival, is much shorter than previous filings: just one page of information. (Here are September’s and October’s filings.) This one reports that the administration has “initiated the relevant contracts and largely finished its internal planning,” and that “reimplementation will begin within the coming weeks.”

Between January 2019 and Joe Biden’s January 2021 inauguration, this Trump-era program, officially known as “Migrant Protection Protocols,” sent 71,071 non-Mexican asylum seekers back into Mexico after their apprehension in the United states. There, they had to wait for many months or more, usually in high-crime Mexican border towns, for hearing dates in the United States. Human Rights First documented more than 1,500 assaults, kidnappings, rapes, and other crimes committed against migrants after U.S. officials sent them back. While the Biden administration sought to terminate Remain in Mexico, a district court judge in Amarillo, Texas forced its restart and demanded monthly filings about “good faith efforts” to do so. (This background is amply covered in past weekly updates.)

Restarting the program means negotiating with a Mexican government that has not yet agreed to resume receiving potentially thousands of non-Mexican asylum seekers. The negotiators, the filing reports, “are close to finalizing these discussions,” with “one set of outstanding issues that must be resolved.” The filing does not name that set of issues, but it may have to do with migrants’ access to counsel for their cases. Border-zone immigration attorneys have voiced strenuous opposition to being made once again to risk their safety trying to represent clients who, while forced to live in danger, faced extremely low asylum grant rates in the program. “We refuse to be complicit in a program that facilitates the rape, torture, death, and family separations of people seeking protection by committing to provide legal services,” reads an October 19 letter from the principal pro bono attorneys’ organizations.

An administration official said that Presidents Biden and López Obrador did not mention the Remain in Mexico restart during a November 18 White House summit of North American leaders.

Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), which compiles large amounts of immigration data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, received documents indicating that 18 asylum seekers were placed in “Remain in Mexico” in October. This seems unlikely because Mexico has not yet approved the program. Austin Kocher of TRAC told Border Report that his organization hasn’t yet cleared up this data point: “18 is not a fluke. Still, the number is small enough (and things are more confusing now policy-wise) that it’s hard to say exactly what’s up.”

The border is a subject of two Senate hearings

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas appeared in an often contentious hearing before a polarized Senate Judiciary Committee on November 16. A day later, two DHS officials and a third from the General Services Administration participated in a more sober hearing before the Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee on Government Operations and Border Management. Here are a few highlights of both.

November 16: Oversight of the Department of Homeland Security

  • Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) opened with remarks contending that “The chaos during the previous administration hobbled DHS and put our nation’s security at risk.” Durbin gave specific mention to the Trump administration’s “emergency” transfer of Defense budget money to build miles of border wall. “The Trump administration endangered our national security by literally transferring billions of dollars and Department of Defense funds to build the President’s so called border wall. American taxpayers, not Mexican taxpayers, as President Trump had promised so many times have paid dearly for this costly endeavor.”
  • Ranking Republican member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) colorfully went after the Biden administration: “When you terminate physical barrier constructions, when you severely restrict the ability of ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to deport illegal immigrants, when you terminate the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy, when you roll back asylum cooperative [‘Safe Third Country’] agreements, when you gut Title 42, when you openly support sanctuary cities policies, then you should not be surprised when there’s a surge at the southern border. When you allow the ACLU and open border immigration activists rather than career law enforcement professionals to dictate the terms of your immigration and border policies, then you shouldn’t be surprised when record-shattering numbers of people start showing up at the borders to take advantage of that situation. When you run DHS like it’s an ‘Abolish ICE fan club,’ you shouldn’t be surprised when you have an immigration crisis on your hands.”
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) asked how many of the 1.7 million migrants encountered during fiscal 2021 are still in the United States. Mayorkas estimated “approximately 375,000 are still here.”
  • Of asylum seekers who were released and not detained, Mayorkas told Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), “Between January 1 and October 31 of 2021, my data indicates that 210,465 non citizens were issued notices to appear. And 94,581 were issued notices to report [which don’t include specific court dates]. We’ve discontinued the practice of issuing notices to report.”
  • Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said, “We know basically, based on Border Patrol projections, that this figure 1.7 million doesn’t include 385,000 or so people who simply evade detection by Border Patrol. We know that there are about 350,000 people who are subject to a notice to appear in court or a notice to report, by my count that’s 735,000 people who have successfully made their way into the United States.”
  • Sen. Cornyn alleged that 10,000 relatives or sponsors of unaccompanied children placed in the United States have not responded to follow-up telephone check-in calls.
  • On the September incident involving horse-mounted Border Patrol agents charging at Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), asked, “What about the issue with your Border Patrol agents recently being accused by some folks in the media of whipping illegal immigrants, when in fact they were not? Why on earth? Did you not defend them?… Your response and your failure to defend them then and now is nothing short of morale crushing.”
  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Mayorkas should go to prison for not reinstating Remain in Mexico quickly enough. “Customs and Border Patrol [sic] agent leadership have told me that your agency is slow-walking and refusing to comply with the order from the federal court to return to the Remain in Mexico policy. What would you say to the judge? If the judge was asking why you should not be held in contempt and incarcerated for defying a federal court order?”
  • Sen. John Kennedy (R-Louisiana) asked, “Your department has released thousands of people illegally into this country who are drug dealers, haven’t you?” Mayorkas responded, “I’m not familiar with what you’ve just articulated.” Kennedy followed up, “Your department has released into our country thousands of people who have probably gone on welfare. Isn’t that the case?” Mayorkas replied, “I don’t believe that.”
  • Sen. Alex Padilla (D-California) raised the issue of Border Patrol’s use of “Critical Incident Teams” to find exculpatory evidence in use-of-force cases, a secretive practice recently revealed by the Southern Border Communities Coalition. Mayorkas responded by praising Border Patrol.

November 17: Federal Government Perspective: Improving Security, Trade, and Travel Flows at the Southwest Border Ports of Entry

  • Ranking Subcommittee member Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) lamented the court-ordered end of “metering” of asylum seekers at ports of entry. “Career staff who served in the Obama and Trump administrations have stated the metering policy was useful as CBP navigated increasing flows of migrants. Rescinding the metering tool, I fear, will open up our ports to increased risk by leaving cartels to be able to surge migrants at the ports and overwhelm them to distract CBP, while they move funneling hard narcotics across the border as our country reopens to travel.”
  • Witness Stuart Burns of the General Services Administration, which manages government buildings like ports of entry, noted that the average land port of entry “was designed and constructed more than 40 years ago. As a result, many of these facilities are functionally obsolete for the 21st century.”
  • Witness Joe Jeronimo of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) said his agency devotes about 20 percent of its work hours to CBP port of entry drug seizures. “And every time there is an interdiction by CBP, HSI spends at a minimum 95 hours to handle that interdiction, from cradle to grave, 95 hours, that’s 12 business days. So again, that’s significant in nature. And that’s a huge commitment.”
  • Jeronimo praised the agency’s monitoring of travelers throughout the hemisphere. “Our second effort is our biometric collection system. Bitmap is a partnership with DOD, CBP, as well as FBI, we have Bitmap locations in 18 countries. And what that does is it gives us an opportunity to enroll individuals as they come into the Western Hemisphere, and make their way up through South America into Latin America and into Mexico, from Sao Paolo to McAllen, is 5000 miles. And when somebody enters into the Western Hemisphere, I can pretty much tell you with certainty where that when that individual arrives, and where they’re going to travel through before they reach the southwest border. And what that does is it gives us an opportunity to know in advance who we’re dealing with, especially individuals that we consider KSTs, or individuals of interest to the United States, before they reach the southwest border. That Bitmap program last year enrolled 35,000 individuals and about 80 percent of those do make it to the southwest border.
  • “In the last two years,” Jeronimo added, “we have initiated over 5000 cases and nearly 8000 arrests, specifically to human smuggling organizations.”
  • Sen. Lankford asked, “What’s the current going rate for coyotes in moving a person or a family?” Jeronimo replied, “Depends on location, if you’re coming from Asia it could be anywhere from $50 to $75,000, if you’re coming from Brazil could be 10 to 15,000. If you come from Latin America, Mexico, anywhere from 5 to 10,000.”

Two migrant caravans now moving, entirely on foot, through southern Mexico

Two caravans of migrants, both multinational but mostly Central American citizens, are now walking on roads in southern Mexico. Both departed the city of Tapachula, Chiapas, near Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, where tens of thousands of migrants have applied for asylum. Mexico requires asylum seekers to remain in the state where they applied while their cases are being decided, but Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state, offers few economic opportunities. So migrants are organizing and seeking to leave en masse, relying on “safety in numbers.”

The first group departed Tapachula a month ago, on October 23. Its members have walked the entire length of Chiapas, then turned northward in Oaxaca and crossed the Isthmus of Tehuántepec, Mexico’s narrowest point. They are now in the vicinity of Acayucan, a crossroads town in the state of Veracruz, not far from the Gulf of Mexico. The second group left Tapachula on November 18 and is only part of the way through Chiapas.

The group in Veracruz has between 800 and 1,500 members. With a significant number of children and families, they have traveled 300 miles on foot over 30 days. Mexican authorities—mainly the Interior Department’s National Migration Institute (INM) and the National Guard—have been preventing caravan participants from boarding vehicles, such as trucks, “for their own safety.” Migrants confronted National Guardsmen on this prohibition in Oaxaca, but the soldiers insisted that they walk. “I have no intention” of stopping them, a Guardsman told Agénce France Presse. “The only requirement is that they advance on foot.”

The group is still many hundreds of miles from its destination, and its numbers are dwindling due to exhaustion, and due to the INM’s repeated offers of documents allowing migrants to stay in other states—none near the U.S. border—while they await asylum decisions, if they abandon the caravan. INM reports that it has offered humanitarian and permanent resident cards for the central and southern Mexican states of Puebla, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Morelos, Hidalgo, Guerrero, Chiapas, Querétaro, Nayarit, Guanajuato, Mexico state, Jalisco, Michoacán, Colima, and Aguascalientes. 1,574 such cards had been issued as of November 16.

Caravan organizer Irineo Mujica of the group Pueblos Sin Fronteras has been urging the migrants not to accept the documents, alleging that they may be detained or deported. The INM issued a statement denouncing Mujica’s “lies and actions,” calling out his “attitude, more akin to that of human traffickers.”

The Veracruz caravan’s destination is not clear. Some may wish to proceed to Mexico City and petition the national office of Mexico’s asylum and refugee agency, COMAR, to consider their asylum petitions there. Others may seek to walk all the way to the U.S. border; Agénce France Presse mentions that some have recommended the border state of Sonora as a destination. According to Milenio, Mujica has proposed boarding the “La Bestia” cargo train.

The caravan group in Chiapas is currently on the state’s coastal highway between Escuintla and Mapastepec, where the earlier group passed at the very end of October. It appears to have started out with about 3,000 members, closely accompanied by INM agents and National Guard and Army personnel. Many are Haitian and as many as 20 to 30 percent may be Venezuelan; most migrants of both nationalities already have tough experience with long walks, having passed through Panama’s highly treacherous Darién Gap jungles.

Elsewhere in Mexico, a group of 40 migrants, including people from Ghana, Togo, Guatemala, Nicaragua, appeared traveling together in León, in Mexico’s central state of Guanajuato. They are probably unrelated to the other two caravans, and most likely traveled in vehicles for much of their route. Authorities meanwhile reported apprehending 600 migrants—455 men and 145 women—inside two tractor-trailer containers in Veracruz on November 20. They came from 12 countries: Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Cuba, El Salvador, Venezuela, Ecuador, Ghana, India, Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, and Cameroon.

Statements from Mexico’s Human Rights Ombudsman (CNDH) and a group of senators called on the INM and National Guard to respect the human rights, and right to seek protection, of migrants in the country, including caravan participants. “Caravans don’t help migrants, they don’t help the authorities, they don’t help the United Nations, they don’t help anybody,” Giovanni Lepri, the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) representative in Mexico, told reporters during a visit to Mexico’s southern border zone. “In order for the caravans to stop happening, there must be a more agile, quicker, and more diversified response from the authorities, so that people don’t feel rushed into believing that the caravans will help them solve their needs.”

Links

  • 79 percent of Border Patrol agents met a November 22 deadline to be vaccinated against COVID-19. About 16 percent more “had submitted a reasonable accommodation request.” The Rio Grande Valley, Texas Monitor reports that 5 percent of agents “were out of compliance with the deadline—3% were not fully vaccinated and had not filed a reasonable accommodation request, the other 2% were unresponsive to the agency.”
  • Border Patrol agents in the agency’s El Paso sector found a sharply increased number of deceased migrants, mostly from dehydration, exposure, and falls from the border wall. The number of dead rose from 10 in 2020 to 39 in fiscal 2021, El Paso Matters reports. CNN reported recently that Border Patrol found at least 557 bodies border-wide in 2021, which is by far a record.
  • Rep. Henry Cuellar (R-Texas) said that DHS is asking the Defense Department to increase the deployment of U.S. military personnel—probably National Guardsmen—at the border from about 3,000 to 4,500. The extra 1,500 would be “in part to operate observation blimps previously used by forces in Afghanistan,” Stars and Stripes reports.
  • Nicaragua has lifted visa requirements for visitors from Cuba, a decision that could increase the number of Cubans migrating across the rest of Central America and Mexico and into the United States.
  • The government of Haiti opened a consulate in the city of Tapachula, Chiapas, near Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, where thousands of Haitian asylum seekers have been living for months, confined there while they await decisions in their cases.
  • “One of the things we proposed [at a November 18 summit of North American presidents] is the idea of, with a view to the Summit of the Americas next summer, working with all the leaders of the region towards a new and bolder framework for managing migration,” an unnamed U.S. official told EFE. At that summit, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called on Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau to “put aside myths and prejudices, stop rejecting migrants, when in order to grow we need a labor force that in reality is not sufficiently available either in the United States or in Canada. Why not study the demand for labor and open up the migratory flow in an orderly fashion?”
  • CBP continues to investigate the mid-September incidents in Del Rio, Texas, in which horse-mounted Border Patrol agents were caught on video charging at Haitian migrants on the banks of the Rio Grande. Though Homeland Security leadership had promised a swift investigation, CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility has not completed its work, and any discipline will be “subject to certain timelines established” in CBP’s labor agreement with the Border Patrol’s union.
  • “Between Oct. 28 and Nov. 9, agents encountered five groups, mostly from Brazil and Venezuela,” in Border Patrol’s California-based San Diego Sector, a CBP release reads. “The groups all entered the United States illegally and consisted of men, women, and children and were 43, 49, 73, 84 and 93 people in size.”
  • “There is little doubt that the administration has used the [Title 42] policy as a stopgap measure to quickly remove migrants who are gathering at the southern border in large numbers,” the New York Times Editorial Board wrote on November 13.
  • Anne Schuchat, an official at the CDC during the Trump years, confirmed that view in comments before a congressional select committee revealed on November 12. “The bulk of the evidence at that time did not support this policy proposal” and “the facts on the ground didn’t call for this from a public health reason,” she said.
  • The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, visited Mexico on November 22. He and Mexican officials signed an agreement to strengthen the capacities of Mexico’s overwhelmed refugee and asylum agency, COMAR.
  • CBP officers at San Diego’s Otay Mesa port of entry caught a trucker trying to smuggle 17,584 pounds of methamphetamine and 389 pounds of fentanyl in a single cargo load labeled as “auto body parts.”
  • The federal trial of Hia C-ed O’odham activist Amber Ortega continues in Tucson, Arizona. Ortega was arrested in September 2020 for interfering with border wall construction, carrying out civil disobedience near the ecologically fragile Quitobaquito Spring along the Arizona-Sonora border. While the Biden Justice Department continues pursuing her prosecution, the case’s district court judge has decided that Ortega may not use a “religious freedom” defense.
  • On October 29, the Tijuana municipal government counted 769 migrants, 40 percent of them children and many of them expelled or blocked from the United States under Title 42, living in a miserable encampment outside the Chaparral port of entry into San Diego. The mayor, who recently installed fencing around the site, expects numbers to decline with upcoming seasonal rains.
  • A Dallas Morning News – University of Texas at Tyler poll found 49 percent of Texans, and 38 percent of Texan independents, supporting Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) very hardline border policies. 50 percent of those polled, including 46 percent of independents, agreed that “a wall along the Texas-Mexico border is necessary for a safe border.”

Weekly Border Update: November 12, 2021

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

U.S. border reopens—but not to asylum seekers

On November 8, after nearly 20 months of closure to all “non-essential” foreign nationals, the United States opened its official land border crossings to documented, vaccinated travelers. Many ports of entry at first saw long lines as Mexicans with U.S. visas or border-crossing cards sought to reunite with relatives, resume doing business, or just shop on the U.S. side. Traffic flows quickly returned to normal nearly everywhere.

Ports of entry remain closed, though, to asylum seekers—migrants who lack U.S. visas but claim fear of return to their home countries—regardless of their vaccination status. The Biden administration continues to implement the Trump administration’s “Title 42” policy of expelling or quickly turning back all undocumented migrants, even if they seek protection.

In El Paso and Nogales, advocates accompanied asylum-seeking families, vaccination cards in hand, as they sought to cross into the United States to seek asylum the “proper” way—that is, by arriving at an official port of entry instead of climbing a fence or crossing a river. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers stationed at the borderline blocked them from accessing U.S. soil. The continued application of Title 42 even to vaccinated asylum seekers places great stress on administration officials’ insistence that the Trump-era measure is a public-health policy and not an immigration deterrent.

While CBP sought to dispel rumors that the border re-opening applied to undocumented travelers, anecdotal reports pointed to an increase in migrants arriving in Mexican border towns in the lead-up to November 8. “They haven’t listened to us and they don’t want to wait,” José García, whose Movimiento Juventud 2000 is one of several shelters currently filling up in Tijuana, told Reuters regarding recently arrived migrants who’ve received “misinformation.” About 1,200 people remain in a makeshift encampment just outside Tijuana’s main pedestrian port of entry into San Diego, California. Last week, municipal authorities built a fence around the encampment and cut off the power that residents had drawn from electric lines.

Many new asylum-seeking arrivals in Mexican border towns are Mexican citizens, primarily from states like Michoacán and Guerrero that are racked by criminal violence. Carlos Spector, a well-known El Paso-based immigration attorney who specializes in Mexican asylum cases, told the Border Chronicle that he expects to see a big increase in such cases after November 8. Some will be threatened Mexicans who already have U.S. travel documents: “that’s generally going to be the lower middle class on up. I’ve had calls from women working with coalitions searching for the disappeared.” And some will be Mexican human rights defenders who can no longer withstand constant threats to their lives and to their families’ lives: “The biggest thing I’m seeing is that these are heavyweight human rights leaders, who before told me they weren’t going anywhere.” Over roughly the last three years, nearly 100 human rights defenders have been killed in Mexico, including multiple family members of the disappeared.

This week saw several other notable developments in border and asylum policy:

  • A report from Syracuse University’s TRAC Immigration project revealed that a larger proportion of asylum seekers won their cases in fiscal year 2021 than in fiscal year 2020. TRAC, which compiles large amounts of data obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, found that 37 percent of cases were successful in 2021 compared to 29 percent in 2020. Due to COVID-19 closing immigration courts for much of the year, however, 2021 saw only 23,827 asylum cases decided overall, compared with 60,079 decisions in 2020; only 8,349 people were granted asylum during this period, with another 402 granted some other form of relief. TRAC’s monthly plotting of the data shows that asylum approvals steadily increased after President Joe Biden was sworn in last January. “By September 2021, the asylum denial rate had dropped to 53 percent. That means that success rates had climbed to 47 percent.”
  • The Biden administration’s court-ordered restart of the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” program, which forces non-Mexican asylum seekers to await their hearings inside Mexico, is proceeding apace, even as Mexico’s government has not yet assented to hosting those foreign nationals again. The Rio Grande Valley, Texas Monitor showed construction of tent courtrooms to hold teleconference hearings underway in Brownsville; they are also being built in Laredo. Two top House of Representatives appropriators, Barbara Lee (D-California) and Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairwoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-California), sent a strong letter to the Departments of State and Homeland Security (DHS) rejecting the program’s restart and laying out some strict conditions that a new Remain in Mexico would have to meet in order to receive funding from Congress. On November 15 (Monday), the Biden administration must submit to Texas District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk its latest monthly report documenting its “good faith efforts” to restart the program. (The last two reports are here and here.)
  • Witness at the Border’s latest monthly report on U.S. deportation and expulsion flights finds that DHS ran 80 expulsion flights to Haiti between September 19 and November 7, “expelling an estimated 8,500 people, almost half of which were women and children.” October also saw 37 direct expulsion flights to Guatemala and 35 expulsion flights of Central American citizens to southern Mexico. Since the southern Mexico flights began in August, Witness at the Border estimates that the Biden administration has sent over 11,000 Central Americans to Tapachula and Villahermosa, Mexico.
  • CBS News reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will be sending court documents to about 78,000 asylum-seeking migrants who were released at the border without a court date, due to overloaded CBP processing capacity at the time. These individuals were issued “Notices to Report” at an ICE facility in their place of destination to begin their cases, rather than “Notices to Appear,” with specific hearing dates, which take longer to produce. While the majority of those who received “Notices to Report” indeed reported at ICE facilities, what the agency calls “Operation Horizon” is seeking to notify the rest by mail.
  • The Associated Press covers immigration judges deciding asylum cases on the so-called “rocket docket”: the Biden administration’s effort to reduce the amount of time it takes to decide the claims of the most recently arrived migrants. Asylum cases routinely take three or four years or more to decide. By placing at the head of some courts’ lines the migrants who arrived at the border most recently, officials assume that the quick resulting decisions, usually within 300 days, might deter others with “weaker” asylum claims from attempting the journey to the United States. More than 16,000 cases are now on this “last in, first out” docket; critics worry that the policy weakens due process, as “it rushes the complex work of building asylum cases, making it nearly impossible for migrants to have a fair shot.”

A diminished migrant caravan reaches the Isthmus of Tehuántepec

The migrant “caravan” that departed Mexico’s southern border-zone city of Tapachula on October 23 exited Mexico’s southernmost state, Chiapas, on November 7. By November 11, approximately 1,000 (or by one count, up to 2,500) mostly Central American migrants were beginning their day in the town of Zanatepec, in the state of Oaxaca, not far from Mexico’s narrowest point, the Isthmus of Tehuántepec. (The caravan’s past progress is covered in our last two weekly updates.)

The group is moving slowly, as Mexican forces—including the National Guard contingent closely accompanying the marchers—are preventing vehicles from transporting the migrants. Entirely on foot, they have covered about 200 miles in about 20 days.

Their numbers are dwindling. Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) said that it now numbers fewer than 1,000 people, down from as many as 4,000 during its first days in Chiapas. It is hard to count them for sure, as not all are traveling in a tight formation: a group of 60, for instance, appears to be far ahead of the rest, already crossing from Oaxaca into the state of Veracruz.

Exhausted and frequently ill, many caravan participants, especially parents with children, have been turning themselves in to Mexican migration authorities. The INM announced on November 10 that it has delivered humanitarian visas to 800 “vulnerable” caravan participants—children, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and their relatives—who will be allowed to await their asylum decisions in the southern and central Mexican states of Puebla, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Morelos, Hidalgo, and Guerrero.

The two activists accompanying or leading the caravan have indicated to the press that they no longer plan to walk to Mexico City. The original intention was to go to the capital and petition for better living conditions, particularly the right to live in states other than impoverished Chiapas, while Mexico’s overwhelmed refugee agency, COMAR, decides on their asylum applications.

Now, though, Irineo Mujica and Luis García Villagrán say that the group intends to go straight to Mexico’s northern border with the United States. They blame Mexican forces’ aggression for the route change. In an October 31 incident that earned criticism from Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, National Guardsmen fired on a truck driving through a roadblock, killing a Cuban migrant and wounding several others. On November 4, though, a group of migrants confronted National Guardsmen with stones and sticks on the highway near the town of Pijijiapán, Chiapas. While no migrants were reported wounded in the incident, five guardsmen were wounded badly enough to go to the local hospital; all were discharged by November 6.

The caravan’s new route would avoid the capital, crossing the Isthmus of Tehuántepec on foot from Oaxaca into the Gulf of Mexico state of Veracruz. Caravan leaders say that they could be in the Gulf Coast city of Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz within 10 days. There, they might meet up with another caravan reportedly set to depart Tapachula on November 17 or 18, then head several hundred miles into the northern border state of Tamaulipas.

“It’s a painful road, when the migrants enter the corridor,” U.S. Ambassador Ken Salazar told a press conference on November 9. “But the majority of them come to the corridor because they’ve been deceived by the traffickers, criminals and those organizations are the ones that are enriching themselves by millions of dollars.” In an apparent reference to Mujica and García Villagrán, the Ambassador blamed the caravan’s formation on people “doing it for the money, they’re not doing it for the benefit of the migrants… The organizers portray themselves as if they’re doing something for human rights, when in reality what they’re doing is filling their pockets with money that comes from the traffickers and criminals.”

 The Ambassador provided no evidence to clarify this accusation, however. Those who participate in caravans usually do so in an effort to avoid having to pay a smuggler, seeking to get across Mexico instead through “safety in numbers.”

Indicators point to migration decline in October

According to preliminary CBP numbers reported in the Washington Post, migration at the US-Mexico border may have dropped by 25 percent in the three months between July and October. “About 160,000 border crossers were taken into CBP custody during the month, preliminary figures show, down from 192,000 in September,” the Post’s Nick Miroff reports. “It was the third consecutive month that border arrests have declined, after peaking at 213,593 in July.”

The sharpest decline, Miroff adds, is in arrivals of migrants from Haiti. CBP and its Border Patrol component apprehended about 1,000 Haitians in October, way down from 17,638 in September. That month, a sudden arrival of nearly 15,000 Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas, made national news.

The decline in Haitian migration owes to the uniqueness of the Del Rio event, a finite, one-time flow. (However, several thousand Haitians, most of whom lived in Brazil and Chile, remain in Tapachula, and along migration routes in South America, Panama’s treacherous Darién Gap, and Central America). It also owes to the Biden administration’s harsh response to that event: since September 19, DHS has expelled about 8,700 migrants back to Haiti on 82 flights. As a result, the number of Haitians seeking asylum in Mexico has increased: Haitians in October overtook Hondurans as the number-one nationality of migrants seeking asylum before Mexico’s refugee agency, COMAR, so far in 2021.

As we await CBP’s official release of October data, another indicator of a significant decline last month is a chart of immigrant arrivals in the very busy McAllen, Texas area, maintained by Valerie González of the Rio Grande Valley Monitor. Her chart, included in a larger article about how Border Patrol scrambled to deal with a sharp increase in child and family migration in July and August, appears to show McAllen’s migrant arrivals dropping to near their lowest levels since Joe Biden took office.

(Image from the Rio Grande Valley Monitor)

Arrivals of unaccompanied children, too, are down. While in July and August CBP was routinely apprehending more than 500 children per day, daily official reports of unaccompanied child apprehensions (collected here by Twitter user @juliekayswift) show the agency rarely encountering more than 400 per day anymore, and often fewer than 300. As of November 9, 12,418 unaccompanied children were in U.S. government custody (11,742 with the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, 676 in short-term CBP custody); that is still a very large number, but it is down from over 20,000 in April and May.

Links

  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) began a crackdown on undocumented border-area migration this year, known as “Operation Lone Star,” that has led to the arrest of more than 1,500 people since July—including some asylum seekers—on state charges of trespassing, a misdemeanor. The Wall Street Journal revealed that only 3 percent of those 1,500 have been convicted so far. “Most of the rest are waiting weeks or months in jail for their cases to be processed.” Of 1,006 in jail as of November 1, 53 percent had spent more than 30 days confined—for a misdemeanor offense—due to small rural courts’ overwhelm. Meanwhile, “of 170 Operation Lone Star cases resolved as of Nov. 1, about 70% were dismissed, declined or otherwise dropped, in some instances for lack of evidence.” After release, many migrants are not expelled under Title 42: “some migrants who likely would have been deported had they been immediately caught by the Border Patrol are waiting in the U.S. after being released by state authorities.”
  • “You’re preaching to the choir, and we appreciate you coming, and we appreciate you being here, and we’ll take your help,” the judge (top local authority) of Kinney County, Texas told leadership of the “Patriots for America.” This armed citizen militia group had arrived in the rural border county to respond to what it called “an invasion of this county” by migrants. Kinney County is one of the most active participants in Gov. Abbott’s “Operation Lone Star,” with over 1,000 arrests in two months. Concerns about this county-militia relationship are raised in a November 10 public information request by ACLU of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project.
  • Reversing an initial statement that “it’s not going to happen,” President Biden said on November 6 that the Justice Department might settle lawsuits and pay significant sums to “compensate” many of over 5,600 migrant families who suffered harm when the Trump administration separated children and parents at the border. Dozens of Republican senators have sponsored an amendment to the 2022 defense authorization bill, currently under consideration, that would ban any such payments.
  • Some non-citizens who served in the U.S. military but were later deported after committing criminal offenses are being allowed back into the United States after many years, under a new Biden administration policy.
  • At least 45 Haitian migrants detained at the border are being denied access to counsel while held at Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Torrance County Detention Facility in New Mexico, according to several migrants’ rights groups. One pregnant woman was denied medical care at Torrance and had a miscarriage, according to a civil rights complaint that groups filed.
  • Reporting from Haiti for Public Radio International, Monica Campbell talks to migrants who were expelled from the United States in recent months. Many are already planning to migrate again.
  • Florida’s government reported spending $570,988 to deploy dozens of state law enforcement personnel and equipment to Texas’s border with Mexico, in response to a request from Gov. Abbott. “While in Texas, state law enforcement officers made contact with 9,171 undocumented immigrants,” the Miami Herald reported. “Just over 3% of those contacts resulted in a criminal arrest.”
  • Nearly two months after being shown on widely shared video clips charging on horseback at Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas, at least six Border Patrol agents involved “were slated to sit down with DHS investigators to offer their own accounts of what happened in interviews on Tuesday and Wednesday,” CBS News reports.
  • Manuel Orozco, a longtime Central America expert at Creative Associates, told an interviewer that he expects an increase in migration from Nicaragua after Daniel Ortega’s re-election in an illegitimate vote on November 7.
  • “In historical perspective, the percent of criminal individuals apprehended by Border Patrol is low at about 1 percent in 2021,” writes Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute. “The rate of criminal individuals apprehended in 2021 is near the historical low point of zero to 1 percent during the late 1940s through the mid-1950s. Far from living during a period of high criminal apprehensions along the border, we are likely living during a period of relatively low border criminality.”
  • The mayor of Laredo, Texas called on Mexican authorities to do more to police the highways leading up to his border city from Mexico’s interior. Laredo is the starting point for Interstate 35, a transcontinental U.S. highway that criminal groups use as a corridor for transshipment of illicit drugs to U.S. markets.
  • The data visualization experts at the Pew Research Center shared a new post, “What’s Happening at the U.S.-Mexico Border in 7 Charts.”

5 links: November 11, 2021

(Even more here)

Brazil

Business interests could be decisive in the looming election between Jair Bolsonaro, Lula da Silva, and a possible “third way” candidate

Colombia

EL TIEMPO reconstruye historias de exguerrilleros que asesinaron después de firmar el acuerdo de paz

Honduras

El 16 de septiembre recién pasado, en la comunidad de Ibans, desde un helicóptero militar se realizaron una serie de ráfagas de artillería contra la tripulación de una lancha, que según los militares transportaba droga

Mexico

Mexican authorities say group of mainly Central American migrants attempting to walk across southern Mexico has dwindled to less than a thousand

U.S.-Mexico Border

However, with the continuing partial court shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a sustained drop in the number of asylum decisions

5 links: November 10, 2021

(Even more here)

Chile

Fabiola Campillai was shot in the face by a teargas canister as she walked to work amid protests in 2019. Now she is running for office as an independent

Colombia

El titular de Defensa genera su enésima controversia al señalar a Irán como “enemigo” del país en un viaje a Israel

El Salvador

A reporter teams up with the American journalist who first broke the story of the El Mozote massacre, tracking El Salvador’s faltering efforts to hold the perpetrators accountable, in a new documentary from Retro Report and FRONTLINE

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

WOLA and our counterparts in the region provide additional data on progress and trends in key areas related to the rule of law and security in the Northern Triangle countries

Nicaragua, Western Hemisphere Regional

President Daniel Ortega’s victory is the latest evidence that democracy in the region is unraveling amid waning U.S. influence, political analysts say

5 links: November 9, 2021

(Even more here)

Colombia

La Policía y la Gobernación de Cundinamarca descartan la presencia de grupos ilegales en ese municipio, pero la Fiscalía confirma al menos dos acciones armadas que habrían sido ejecutadas por una disidencia del Frente Décimo de las Farc

El Salvador

Cuatro influyentes cabecillas de la Mara Salvatrucha esperan la decisión de la CSJ sobre el pedido de extradición de Estados Unidos, por terrorismo. EUA ya dijo que no les dará cadena perpetua ni pena de muerte

Honduras

La intención del clán Hernández Alvarado era controlar una ruta que desde La Mosquitia y Colón, pasando por Omoa, Choloma, Puerto Cortés, para garantizar una conexión más directa con Copán, en la zona fronteriza con Guatemala

Mexico

The Mexican army has largely stopped fighting drug cartels here, instead ordering soldiers to guard the dividing lines between gang territories so they won’t invade each other’s turf — and turn a blind eye to the cartels’ illegal activities

U.S.-Mexico Border

Of 1,500 trespassing arrests under Operation Lone Star, 3% have led to convictions, while hundreds wait weeks or months in jail

5 Links: November 8, 2021

(Even more here)

Colombia

La desconfianza en el Estado, avivada por las falencias históricas en la atención social, la falta de empleo, educación e infraestructura que permita desarrollar economías diversas, ha facilitado la presencia de los grupos armados ilegales

Honduras

The paramilitaries are targeting campesinos who are battling a corporate palm oil giant. But the armed groups, residents say, don’t act alone

For decades, the U.S. has accommodated corruption in Central America. Now it is contending with the results

Nicaragua

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega sought a fourth consecutive term in elections Sunday against a field of little-known candidates while those who could have given him a real challenge sat in jail

Tras casi 12 años al frente de la institución, Aminta Granera sale en silencio del cargo en medio de una masacre perpetrada por policías y paramilitares contra el pueblo al que juraron defender

5 links: November 5, 2021

(Even more here)

Colombia

Colombia’s vast forest is fast receding, partly because guerrillas and criminals are clearing land for farming, ranching and other pursuits. These unregulated activities are causing both dire environmental harm and deadly conflict. Bogotá should take urgent steps to halt the damage

Tres tutelas buscan que ese tipo de erradicación sea una medida excepcional y que se respeten los acuerdos colectivos e individuales sobre la sustitución

Mexico

Las víctimas permanecen encerradas en el DIF de Pijijiapan. “Nos tratan como a presos”, denuncian. La FGR investiga el caso pero todavía no hay ningún agente acusado

A commando of drug gang gunmen on Thursday stormed ashore at a beach on Mexico’s resort-studded Caribbean coast in front of luxury hotels and executed two drug dealers from a rival gang

Nicaragua

The potential opposition candidates are still jailed or under house arrest, their parties banned, as Ortega faces off against a handful of little-known candidates from small parties friendly to his own Sandinista Front

Weekly Border Update: November 5, 2021

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

Migrant caravan continues grueling journey through coastal Chiapas

A “caravan” of at least 1,000 and perhaps up to 3,000 mostly Central American migrants, many of them families with children, continues a journey begun nearly two weeks ago, on October 23. They are still following a highway leading up the Pacific coast of Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state. In about twelve days, they have progressed, entirely on foot, as far as a car could drive in about three hours (about 200 kilometers or 125 miles).

Since 2019, Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) and National Guard have blocked or dispersed several attempts to form caravans. Some migrants have sought to employ this collaborative tactic to cross Mexico without having to pay smugglers, opting instead for “safety in numbers.” While all departed from the Mexico-Guatemala border zone city of Tapachula, none since late 2018 has made it as far into Chiapas as the current caravan.

This group is larger than most of the previous unsuccessful caravans, and many of its members claim that they do not seek to cross into the United States. Instead, their stated goal is to come to Mexico City and negotiate the government’s requirement that they remain in Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state, as they await long-delayed decisions on their asylum applications.

Between January and October, Mexico’s refugee agency COMAR received 108,195 asylum requests, leaving far behind 2019’s full-year record of 70,406 requests. October saw a new monthly record with 18,034 new asylum applications. 69 percent of 2021’s requests have been filed in Tapachula, where this caravan’s participants have been compelled to remain while awaiting the overburdened agency’s decisions on their cases.

This year’s top seven countries, COMAR director Andrés Ramírez tweeted, are Haiti (37,849 asylum requests), Honduras (33,578), Cuba (7,915), El Salvador (5,433), Chile (5,294, nearly all of them children of Haitians), Venezuela (5,113), and Guatemala (3,799). COMAR approves about 40 percent of Haitians’ applications, far fewer than those of Venezuelans (97 percent) or Hondurans (87 percent).

While the INM and National Guard have not acted to block or disperse this caravan, they are accompanying it closely, and strictly preventing its members from boarding buses or other vehicles. As the shortest route from Tapachula to Mexico City is about 1,200 kilometers, it would take the caravan participants 10 more weeks to reach the capital at their current walking pace. Luis García Villagrán of the non-governmental Centro de Dignificación Humana, who is closely accompanying the group, said that the migrants may take a route from Chiapas into Veracruz, avoiding Oaxaca where authorities, in his words, have set up a “bunker” to await them.

Migrants are falling ill in the heat of Chiapas’s coastal Soconusco region. The INM reported on November 1 that six caravan participants, five of them children, had contracted dengue fever, a severe mosquito-borne illness. Irineo Mujica of the organization Pueblo Sin Fronteras, who along with Villagrán is accompanying the group and frequently serving as a spokesman, insisted that the children were only suffering from dehydration and that “the INM is lying.”

On November 4, a contingent of National Guard carrying riot shields sought to block a group of migrants described as “rezagados de la caravana” (stragglers of the caravan), just outside the town of Pijijiapán. Videos showed the group of migrants, who appeared to be adult men or teenage boys, hurling stones and branches at the guardsmen, and beating one of them unconscious.

Authorities, who were caught on video treating caravan participants very roughly in August and September, appeared to be showing restraint during the November 4 incident. This was just days, though, after National Guardsmen discharged lethal firearms at a vehicle carrying migrants, killing at least one.

The incident happened after midnight on October 31 on a dirt road south of the coastal highway, a few miles from Pijijiapán. A statement from the National Guard, a force created in 2019 whose members are mostly soldiers or marines “on loan,” claims that a pickup truck carrying 14 migrants ignored guardsmen’s order to stop at a checkpoint, and tried to ram into them. At least one guardsman opened fire on the vehicle, killing a Cuban migrant and wounding four more people aboard.

The Chiapas state prosecutor’s office at first claimed that a rifle was found in the truck, but the National Guard made no mention of that in its statement. “Images that circulated later showed a weapon right under the body of the migrant who was shot to death,” Animal Político reported, adding “it is unusual for migrants to carry weapons.” Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on November 3, however, that “they did not shoot, they did not attack and the Guard fired.”

On November 3 word emerged that a second migrant had died of wounds resulting from the incident. President López Obrador told his morning press conference, “Two migrants lost their lives, they were shot at.” Later that day, the INM and Chiapas health authorities reported that they only knew of one death, the Cuban man.

López Obrador had some strong words for the guardsmen involved. “I already gave instructions to make these elements of the National Guard available to prosecutors… This should not happen, there are other ways to detain those who are violating the laws, this took place on a rural road in Pijijiapan, Chiapas. They could have stopped them further ahead, closed the way, without shooting at them.”

While the president’s expression of concern is welcome, prosecutions of security-force personnel for human rights violations are rare. This rapidly escalated use of lethal force, too, is a predictable outcome of placing combat-trained military personnel in roles, like migration checkpoints, that involve frequent contact with the civilian population.

Two press accounts point to deep disagreements within the Biden administration

Two reports from border-zone reporters this week point to deep disagreements within the Biden administration over how quickly, and to what extent, to dismantle the hardline border and migration policies inherited from the Trump administration. Unnamed sources revealed some of the turmoil to CBS News’ Camilo Montoya-Galvez and to a collaboration between the Associated Press’s Elliot Spagat and AIM Media Texas’s Valerie Gonzalez. An edition of the new Border Chronicle podcast interviewing Stephanie Leutert, who left a State Department post in July, offered additional perspective.

The inter-agency division appears to run between “those who are more progressive and those who are more enforcement-minded,” as a source tells CBS; “immigration advocates” versus “Biden’s inner circle,” as AP/AIM characterize it; or “more progressive members and then more political members,” as Leutert puts it.

“These battles have led to paralysis, which has allowed things to get worse in several ways,” the first source tells Montoya-Galvez. “We’re not making any progress,” says another, “citing ‘so much division’ among Mr. Biden’s appointees.”

Divisions emerged early on, the AP/AIM reports, when “Immigration advocates on the transition team shot down a detailed memo circulated among top aides that called for turning back some migrants who cross illegally by making them seek protection in other countries.” According to this narrative, the immigration advocates pushed back against predictions that migrant flows would increase without this “turnback” policy. Migrant flows did increase, despite the Biden administration using Trump’s “Title 42” pandemic border closure policy to swiftly expel hundreds of thousands, including asylum seekers.

In early July, CBS found, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was ready to lift Title 42; officials had “a comprehensive nine-page plan” to step up asylum seekers’ processing and alternatives to detention. Senior officials at DHS and the White House—Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice is often named—spiked the plan, as migration levels increased and COVID-19’s Delta variant spread. “Other Biden appointees,” though, “believe the continued implementation of Title 42 is largely based on optics” more than public health imperatives, CBS reports. They see the expulsions policy persisting “because of concerns that ending it will fuel perceptions of a chaotic border.”

Now, a Biden appointee told CBS, “We are in this very weird place where we’re implementing Title 42 more strongly than the Trump administration did.”

AP/AIM noted “‘great frustration and irritation’ at the administration’s highest levels” when the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas began refusing to accept Title 42 expulsions of Central American families with small children. South Texas, across from Tamaulipas, has since had a much smaller percentage of expelled families than other parts of the border.

Officials have disagreed sharply on the September decision to expel Haitian migrants back to their troubled country through a massive airlift of about 80 expulsion flights since September 19. “Some Biden appointees were horrified,” CBS reports, but they were overruled by senior officials like Rice and White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, who believed the expulsions “would deter other Haitians from coming.”

CBS reveals that Biden appointees at DHS and the National Security Council had proposed reviving the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico policy—which Biden halted on Inauguration Day—last spring, months before a Texas district court judge’s August order for it to restart. Aides presented the revival of the program—which forced non-Mexican asylum seekers to await their U.S. hearings in dangerous Mexican border towns—“as a deterrence tool.” (DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told a forum on November 4 that talks with Mexico to enable Remain in Mexico’s court-ordered restart will conclude “in the coming days.”) 

According to CBS, members of the administration also floated—unsuccessfully, so far—get-tough measures like expelling unaccompanied teenagers under Title 42, or trying to convince Mexico to sign a “safe third country” agreement forcing non-Mexican asylum seekers to apply there instead. (The Trump administration signed such agreements with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, but could not compel Mexico. The Biden administration canceled the Central American agreements.)

“By midsummer, the pendulum swung to enforcement as patience wore thin in Biden’s inner circle,” AP/AIM put it. A few officials interviewed by CBS vented anger at “progressives” and non-governmental advocates who oppose harsh, Trump-like measures, insisting on reform to the asylum system even amid high current migration levels.

  • A Biden appointee: “Some administration officials ‘don’t want to see folks ever removed. That’s not where President Biden is. That’s not where the mainstream Democratic Party is.’”
  • An unnamed official: “The advocacy groups have not made things easy on the administration. The only policies they support are those in which every person who crosses the border is released into the country with cases that will take years to get to, if the government can get to them at all. That is not functional, or sustainable.”
  • Cecilia Muñoz, a former Obama White House domestic policy advisor who served on the transition team: “Some advocates have not grappled with the difference, if any, between their position and an open-borders position. And an open-borders position is anathema in the country. It’s like pushing the administration right off a cliff.”

Persistent divisions have brought a lack of clarity about the Biden administration’s long-term plan for handling large-scale flows of protection-seeking migrants. Particularly muddy is the administration’s vision for what asylum processing and adjudication—among other border and migration mechanisms—might look like after Title 42’s inevitable, eventual lifting. “The administration has yet to release detailed plans of the ‘humane’ asylum system that Biden promised during his campaign,” AP and AIM Texas observe.

“I think there are probably a couple ideas being floated around,” Leutert told the Border Chronicle’s Melissa del Bosque.

But I think publicly, no, and really a concrete vision of what the next two three years will look like, I don’t think that’s been clearly articulated. …If you don’t have that that kind of end point of, we’re building toward X, we’re building toward the border looking like this articulated vision, if you don’t have that, and not everyone’s rowing their oars in the same direction, you do get swept away by the day to day events.

There are so many thoughtful, talented people in the administration and in the interagency. And they are working really round the clock, because there’s so much happening on a day to day basis. And the challenge there is that when you’re working all the time, when you’re working long hours, you’re responding to whatever fire is burning that particular day. It’s hard to think long term. There’s so much on a day-to-day basis, the numbers are creeping up, the President is getting just pummeled about immigration on the border on Fox News and in conservative media.

Texas updates

Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R), who vocally opposes the Biden administration’s partial dismantling of the Trump administration’s border and migration policies, continues to carry out his own series of border enforcement measures using state resources. Abbott launched what he calls “Operation Lone Star” in March, and is devoting more than $2 billion in state funds to fence-building, National Guard and state police deployments, and efforts to arrest and jail migrants on state charges like trespassing.

On October 28 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested a Texas state policeman serving “Lone Star” duty. Pablo Talavera will face a charge of conspiracy to sell narcotics. A criminal complaint reported in the Rio Grande Valley Monitor discusses Talavera escorting “loads of money and methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine on behalf of his father and uncle’s drug trafficking organization, which allegedly operated in Tennessee” between May 26 and September 16.

At Texas Monthly, Aaron Nelsen reports from rural Kinney County (population less than 4,000), which has arrested and jailed more migrants under “Operation Lone Star” (1,300) than any of Texas’s 254 counties. “Though hundreds of those apprehended have been released on bond, 792 of the 914 immigrants currently in state prison were arrested in Kinney.” The caseload has overwhelmed “a county that hasn’t had a jury trial in seven years.”

About 70 percent of the state police and national guardsmen deployed on Gov. Abbott’s orders, Nelsen reports, are in Kinney and neighboring Val Verde counties. (Both are in Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector, which for the first time ever in 2021 was second in migrant encounters among the agency’s nine U.S.-Mexico border sectors.)

“Biden is diffusing all of these people in our country to change our culture,” Kinney County Judge Tully Shahan told Nelsen. “The left is on the way.” (In Texas, a county judge is an elected top leadership position whose power and responsibilities extend well beyond courts.) A county commissioner added, “These people are obviously bringing diseases. There’s leprosy, tuberculosis, measles, chicken pox, they’ve had some show polio, and COVID as well.”

Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas), whose district includes much of San Antonio, led a letter calling for a Justice Department investigation into “Operation Lone Star” for constitutional violations. The letter bears the signatures of 26 Democratic House members and is addressed to DHS Secretary Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland. It cites Gov. Abbott’s operation’s “likely violation of the Supremacy Clause [stating that the Constitution takes precedence over state laws] and its treatment of migrants, especially in regards to an individual’s constitutional right to due process.”

“One county in particular, Kinney County, has had to manage over 80 percent of the cases, and many of the migrants there had been without attorneys for weeks.,” the letter reads. “Over the past month, the [county] has passed multiple state statute deadlines to file charges, and jails must release defendants without those charges filed, which has also not occurred in all cases. As a result almost 1,000 migrants [have had] to sit in prison for weeks and sometimes over a month.”

With “Lone Star” and frequent criticism of the Biden administration, Gov. Abbott has made the border a central issue ahead of a 2022 re-election campaign. A Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation poll released this week had Abbott virtually tied (43 to 42 percent) with likely Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke.

Links

  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) found the remains of 557 migrants on U.S. soil during the 2021 fiscal year, according to data shared with CNN. This number, not yet final nor broken down by region, would vastly exceed CBP’s prior record of 492 remains found in 2006. Groups that seek to locate bodies in some regions of the border routinely find far more than CBP does. Most migrants who perish succumb to dehydration, exposure, drowning, or other preventable causes while traveling through treacherous wilderness in an attempt to avoid capture.
  • A woman died and 36 more migrants were detained late on October 29, as a group of about 70 sought to swim the Pacific Ocean from Tijuana to San Diego, around the border fence that runs about 100 yards into the sea.
  • The Latin America Working Group’s Daniella Burgi-Palomino visited a migrant shelter in Mexico City that is at capacity amid an increase in Haitians seeking asylum there.
  • Republican legislators voiced outrage at indications, first reported in the Wall Street Journal, that families separated by the Trump administration might receive big payouts as part of a litigation settlement. Asked about it, President Biden said payments of $450,000 per person are “not going to happen.” The ACLU replied that “President Biden may not have been fully briefed about the actions of his very own Justice Department.”
  • The Senate Finance Committee approved the nomination of Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus to be the next commissioner of CBP, by a 15-13 vote. The lone Republican vote came from Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana), who said the agency needs someone in charge amid the “mess at the border” and that he appreciated the “straight answers” Magnus gave at his October 19 hearing.
  • A November 1 memo from acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller officially rescinds Trump-era guidelines limiting the number of people allowed to approach land ports of entry to seek asylum (a practice known as “metering”). It calls on CBP officers to process asylum-seeking migrants as much as “operationally feasible,” including through use of CBP’s new “CBP One” mobile app. This changes little for the moment, though, since the “Title 42” pandemic expulsions policy prevents most everyone without documents from approaching ports of entry in the first place. The new guidelines comply with a federal district court judge’s September decision striking down “metering.”
  • A graphical report from Mijente, Just Futures Law, and the No Border Wall Coalition explains the extent, and the risks involved with, the installation of new border-security technologies. Among the capabilities the report covers are video surveillance systems, drones, biometric data collection, facial recognition, CBP’s new app, and telephone and internet communications intercepts.
  • Amber Ortega, a member of the Hia Ced O’odham tribe, is on trial in Tucson federal court for blocking border wall construction in southern Arizona’s ecologically fragile Quitobaquito springs in mid-2020. At that time, the Intercept reports, “For a low-level misdemeanor usually handled with a trespassing ticket, the two women [Ortega and fellow O’odham protester Nellie Jo David] were strip-searched, shackled, and driven to a for-profit jail 130 miles away, where they were held incommunicado, without access to a lawyer, for nearly 24 hours.”
  • Official border crossings, closed to “non-essential” travelers since the COVID-19 pandemic’s March 2020 onset, are to reopen to all documented people who are fully vaccinated with an approved vaccine brand, on November 8. The Dallas Morning News predicts that the reopening will ease labor shortages in Texas. El Paso Matters reports on south El Paso stores anxious to see the return of Mexican shoppers who make up most of their clientele. For 20 months, Ciudad Juárez residents who had U.S. visas or border crossing cards, and could afford airfare, could only come across the Rio Grande to visit El Paso by booking flights.

5 links: November 4, 2021

(Even more here)

Mexico

El presidente dijo que son dos migrantes los fallecidos por el ataque de la Guardia Nacional en Pijijiapan, Chiapas

Nicaragua

Many Nicaraguans, including the ruling couple’s estranged daughter, see unhappy parallels with the fight against Somoza half a century ago

Peru

La carencia de una adecuada motivación genera suspicacia, más aún en un contexto de protestas sociales contra el Gobierno, independientemente que estas nos parezcan o no justificadas

U.S.-Mexico Border

Almost immediately, the numbers exceeded expectations

Venezuela

The International Criminal Court is opening a formal investigation into allegations of torture and extrajudicial killings committed by Venezuelan security forces under President Nicolás Maduro’s rule

5 links: November 3, 2021

(Even more here)

Colombia

El Ministerio de Defensa no ha dado explicaciones reales sobre el tema. Se ha limitado a sacar un comunicado que francamente no responde las preguntas de fondo

Costa Rica, Nicaragua

Ante la salida masiva de nicaragüenses en Costa Rica por la persecución en su país usan el término ticaragüenses en el país de recepción

Nicaragua

La propuesta de ley Renacer fue aprobada a inicios de agosto por el Senado, pero estuvo trabada en la Cámara de Representantes

U.S.-Mexico Border

“We are in this very weird place where we’re implementing Title 42 more strongly than the Trump administration did,” a Biden appointee who requested anonymity to speak freely told CBS News

No county in Texas has arrested more migrants under the governor’s plan to crack down on the border, and it’s created a judicial crisis

5 links: November 1, 2021

(Even more here)

November 1, 2021

Colombia

Karim Khan anuncia en Bogotá el cierre del caso abierto hace 17 años por los crímenes cometidos durante la guerra contra las FARC

Guatemala

Prensa Comunitaria ha estado en el municipio lacustre de Izabal desde el 4 de octubre, cuando la resistencia Q’eqchi inició una protesta pacífica contra la operación ilegal del proyecto minero Fénix de la compañía suiza de capital ruso Solway

Nicaragua

Sadly, many of my old contacts are now dead, exiled, or imprisoned for imaginary crimes in Nicaragua

U.S.-Mexico Border

There were 557 Southwest border deaths during the fiscal year, which ended September 30

Venezuela

Los cambios de mando no eximen la responsabilidad de superiores de la Fuerza Armada Nacional (FAN) por crímenes que podría investigar la Corte Penal Internacional (CPI). El Código Orgánico de Justicia Militar no prevé la responsabilidad por omisión del superior

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