Adam Isacson

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

July 2022

A towering reading list from just the past two weeks

A lot of my work centers on Colombia, security, human rights, and borders. So for me, the past two weeks have just been a nonstop storm of new knowledge, a driving downpour of amazing things to read. Important new work and must-read documents have been coming nearly every day.

(This in addition to a wealth of live events and volumes of coverage of Colombia’s remarkable election outcome.)

Here are some links. Don’t even ask me to summarize these yet. I’m reading as fast as I can.




Latin America Security-Related News: July 7-11, 2022

July 11, 2022


El contexto muestra un avance de la vicepresidenta no sólo en el Ejecutivo de Alberto Fernández, sino también, significativamente en un momento en que recrudece la crisis política y económica, en las Fuerzas Armadas


Una de las oportunidades que tiene Colombia con el cambio de gobierno es la construcción de una nueva narrativa y política de drogas

En el nuevo Ejecutivo, será un actor clave para facilitar una mesa de diálogo con la guerrilla


Colombia, Venezuela

En un video difundido a medios de comunicación, disidentes de las Farc dieron a conocer que alias Iván Márquez sobrevivió al “atentado criminal dirigido desde los cuarteles del Ejército”, el pasado 30 de junio

Un comunicado del grupo disidente asegura que el líder guerrillero sobrevivió al atentado en su contra y sigue con vida


The Cuban government committed systematic human rights violations in response to massive anti-government protests in July 2021 with the apparent goal of punishing protesters and deterring future demonstrations

A year after mass demonstrations, the island continues to crack down on its most vulnerable communities

“I didn’t leave because I wanted to. I was exiled,” says a Cuban entrepreneur-turned-activist as residents have left the country at record levels


Todos los Gobiernos han manejado, en mayor o menor medida, la misma lógica de respuestas para extinguir el ‘fuego’ de las protestas con al menos tres acciones

El Salvador, Guatemala

The Guatemalan National Civil Police (PNC) and Army detained and deported more than 120 Salvadoran gang members under the Integral Tactical Operational Plan 13-2022

El Salvador

By promising to reduce homicides, politicians are forced to make deals with the gangs so they’ll turn murders into “disappearances”

Read More

WOLA Podcast: “What happens with the Petro government could become a model for engaging with the region”

My WOLA colleague Gimena Sánchez was in Colombia for the June 19 election that brought a left candidate to power there for the first time in nearly anyone’s lifetime. We recorded a podcast about it on Friday, and here it is. Here’s the blurb from WOLA’s podcast site.

Colombia’s June 19 presidential election had a historic result: the first left-of-center government in the country’s modern history. Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla who demobilized over 30 years ago, will be sworn in to the presidency on August 7. His running mate, Afro-Colombian social movement leader and environmental defender Francia Márquez, will be Colombia’s next vice president.

WOLA’s director for the Andes, Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, was in Colombia on election day, and has a lot to share about what she saw and heard. She and host Adam Isacson talk about what made Petro’s victory possible—including high levels of popular discontent. They discuss the political transition so far, the immediate challenges of governability and tax revenue, implications for implementing Colombia’s 2016 peace accord, and hope for greater participation of women, Afro-descendant, Indigenous, and LGBTI Colombians.

The discussion covers areas of potential disagreement with a U.S. government that has long made Colombia its largest aid recipient, including drug policy, trade, and Venezuela policy. Sánchez and Isacson also discuss new areas of potential U.S.-Colombian cooperation, including judicial strengthening and implementation of peace accord commitments that could stabilize long-ungoverned territories.

Links to recent WOLA analysis of Colombia’s elections:

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

Latin America-related events in Washington or online this week

Monday, July 11

  • 11:00-12:00 at AMLO’s Visit to Washington: Key Issues on the Bilateral Agenda (RSVP required).
  • 1:00-3:00 at Verso Books EventBrite: Book Launch for Humanitarian Borders and Nobody is Protected (RSVP required).

Tuesday, July 12

  • 12:00 at Twitter Spaces: Real Solutions for the Border.
  • 1:00-5:00 at Florida International University and Zoom: Commemorating the Peace Accords in Guatemala and El Salvador: Promises & Lessons in Central America (RSVP required).
  • 2:00 at Race and Equality Zoom: Afro-Latin and Afro-Caribbean Women in Democracy (RSVP required).

Wednesday, July 13

  • 11:00 at DPLF Zoom: Muzzled Justice: The capture of #ElSalvador’s Justice System (RSVP required).
  • 12:00-2:00 at Fordham U Zoom: The State of Asylum Processing & U.S. Immigration Policy: The Impact of Families (RSVP required).
  • 2:00-3:00 at Going local: City collaboration following the Summit of the Americas (RSVP required).
  • 2:00-3:30 at International Aid in Haiti – Disappointing Outcomes (RSVP required).

Thursday, July 14

  • 11:00 at CEJIL Facebook and Zoom: Informe de la CIDH y Deterioro de la Justicia en Guatemala. (RSVP required).
  • 12:00-1:00 at Going Digital: The High Cost of Latin American Remittances and Cross-Border Payments (RSVP required).
  • 3:00-6:00 at Documenting Evidence of Femicide: Film Discussion of the “Caníbal, indignación total” Docuseries (RSVP required).

Friday, July 15

  • 11:00-12:30 at USIP and online: The Final Report of the Truth Commission from Colombia’s 2016 FARC Peace Accord (RSVP required).

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: July 7, 2022

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.

This week:

  • May was Mexico’s fourth-largest month on record for apprehensions of migrants, and nearly half were not from Central America’s “Northern Triangle.” Mexico is on track to receive its second-largest annual total of asylum applications. Migrants—including an increasing number from countries, like Venezuela, who can no longer visit Mexico without a visa—have been staging protests and obtaining temporary migratory status.
  • We learned more about the circumstances of, and the victims of, the June 27 tragedy in which 53 migrants died of heat-related causes while being smuggled in the back of a tractor-trailer in south Texas. Humanitarian and human rights groups warned against quickly deporting the survivors.
  • Outbreaks of organized crime-related violence in Sonora and Baja California drew further attention to the difficult security situation along Mexico’s side of the border.

Trends in migration through Mexico

In late June Mexico’s Interior Department (Secretaría de Gobernación), through its Migratory Statistics Unit, released data about migration through the country during May 2022. That month, Mexican authorities apprehended 32,948 migrants, their 4th-largest monthly total on record.

Of that total, only 54 percent came from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the countries of Central America’s so-called “Northern Triangle.” Until the middle of last year, these three countries very rarely made up less than 80 percent of Mexico’s migrant apprehensions.

The remainder—shown in green in the above chart—come from the rest of the world, mainly the Americas. The following 13 nationalities measured at least 100 apprehended migrants in Mexico in May:

  1. Honduras 7,512
  2. Guatemala 7,046
  3. Nicaragua 3,462
  4. El Salvador 3,285
  5. Cuba 3,141
  6. Colombia 3,016
  7. Peru 1,165
  8. Venezuela 1,640
  9. Ecuador 756
  10. Brazil 398
  11. Russia 271
  12. Haiti 246
  13. Dominican Republic 102

The number of apprehended migrants from Haiti (#12) has fallen sharply: fewer than those from Russia in May. Haitian migration through Mexico reached a peak in September 2021, the month of the infamous Border Patrol “whipping” or “flailing reins” incident in Del Rio, Texas. That month, Mexican migration and security forces apprehended 9,009 Haitian citizens.

In early July, Mexico’s refugee agency (COMAR) reported that 9,740 people requested asylum in Mexico in June. That is slightly fewer than in February, March, and April, but still puts COMAR on track for its second-busiest year ever, with 58,462 applications during the first half of the year.

In 2021, a large number of Haitian citizens, migrating north after spending years living mostly in Brazil and Chile, made Haiti the number-one country of origin for asylum seekers in Mexico. The Chileans who appear in the above chart in 2020 and 2021 (in orange) were almost entirely the Chilean-born children of Haitian migrants.

Read More

Latin America Security-Related News: July 6, 2022

(Even more here)

July 6, 2022


La dirigencia de la Csutcb presentó los documentos en donde el general Ponce recibió agradecimientos de la entonces presidenta, Jeanine Áñez y el coronel Russo tramitó la orden de captura internacional en contra de Evo Morales


It’s a charter propelled by left-leaning millennials and built for a modern nation led by one. Polls show the voters are poised to reject it


Aunque los correspondientes a 2021 solo los presentará a finales de mes, muestran un aumento de más del 10 por ciento en las hectáreas cultivadas, el final de la disminución que venía desde 2018

Nunca imaginamos que enviarían a una bandola de piratas legislativos a saquear los dineros de los 170 municipios priorizados por el Acuerdo de Paz

El próximo 8 de julio de 2022, Emilio Archila, exconsejero presidencial del gobierno de Iván Duque, deberá declarar ante la Fiscalía General sobre el caso de corrupción que rodea los recursos de los Órganos Colegiados de Administración y Decisión

Incluso se utilizaron recursos del denominado Fondo Paz para dotaciones de la Fuerza Pública

“Tampoco habrá glifosato, trabajaremos en la sustitución de cultivos ilícitos a través de la reforma agraria donde se busca cumplirle al campesinado con una economía forestal sin generar esos conflictos que tenemos hoy”

En entrevista en La W Radio, el presidente electo explicó que la Policía saldría del Ministerio de la Defensa con el fin de que tenga un carácter civil y no militar

En las comunidades del Catatumbo, región colombiana con débil presen- cia estatal y escenario de disputas armadas, existe una relación cercana entre el conflicto armado, el deterio- ro ambiental y sus impactos

La vicepresidenta electa, Francia Márquez, se reunió este martes con Francisco L. Palmieri, embajador encargado de Estados Unidos en Colombia

Luego de que reconocieran que asesinaron a inocentes para hacerlos pasar por bajas en combate, los militares implicados en falsos positivos en el Catatumbo le plantearon a la JEP sus propuestas de sanciones. Sin embargo, las víctimas no están muy de acuerdo con ellas

Colombia, Venezuela

El presidente electo de Colombia, Gustavo Petro, afirmó este martes que no le parece prudente que el mandatario venezolano, Nicolás Maduro, asista a su investidura, que tendrá lugar el próximo 7 de agosto

El Salvador

—Have you secured alternatives to detention in any of your cases? —I ask.— You, or anyone on your team? —Not a single one. We haven’t been able to free one person

It brought El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, the adulation of the tech community, but reduced scarce funds and moved the nation closer to default


“Kidnapping is more frequent than before. People are suffering. They are being shot at in their neighborhoods. They are leaving the country and dying at sea”


El Gobierno federal desplegó a 300 agentes de la Guardia Nacional (GN) en esta capital, que desde hace semanas enfrenta una ola de asesinatos, secuestros, asaltos y quema de automóviles y unidades de transporte público

Los uniformados que resistieron el ataque en Sonora recibirían la medalla al Mérito en la Campaña Contra el Narcotráfico

Activistas denunciaron también el hostigamiento de la Policía, lo que inhibe la búsqueda de trabajo por temor a que les quiten su dinero

Administration officials fear that the U.S. ambassador’s cozy relationship with the Mexican president has backfired, and may be setting back American interests in the region

Mexico, Panama, Venezuela

The number of Venezuelans crossing the Darien Gap into the North American continent has skyrocketed over the past year as countries imposed visa restrictions making it more difficult for Venezuelans to travel by plane to Mexico and Central America

U.S.-Mexico Border

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas has approved plans to construct two 30-foot walls across the face of Friendship Park, the binational meeting place at the western-most end of the US-Mexico border just south of San Diego

More than 476,000 migrants eluded apprehension by the Border Patrol this fiscal year, according to a source within Customs and Border Protection

Over the last 12 months, all under President Biden, there have been a likely 7,758 ICE Air flight legs as compared to 4,845 in 2020, a startling, unexpected, and disappointing increase of 2,913 (60%) over 2020

The bill and amendments still face review by the full House. But Republican opposition to rolling back Title 42 remains strong and may have some Democratic support

Migration data from Mexico

Sometime at the very end of June, Mexico’s Interior Department released data about migration through the country in the month of May. It turns out that May was the fourth-busiest ever month that Mexico has experienced, with authorities apprehending 32,948 migrants from other countries.

This next chart used to be almost entirely blue, brown, and yellow, representing the three countries of Central America’s “Northern Triangle,” who made up nearly all migrants coming through Mexico. Now, though, those countries make up only 54 percent of the total.

The rest—shown in green—come from the rest of the world, mainly the Americas. Here’s all nationalities with at least 100 apprehended migrants in Mexico in May:

  1. Honduras 7,512
  2. Guatemala 7,046
  3. Nicaragua 3,462
  4. El Salvador 3,285
  5. Cuba 3,141
  6. Colombia 3,016
  7. Peru 1,165
  8. Venezuela 1,640
  9. Ecuador 756
  10. Brazil 398
  11. Russia 271
  12. Haiti 246
  13. Dominican Republic 102

The number of apprehended migrants from Haiti (#12) has fallen sharply: fewer than those from Russia in May. Haitian migration through Mexico reached a peak last September, the month of the “whipping” or “flailing reins” incident in Del Rio, Texas. That month, Mexican forces apprehended 9,009 Haitian citizens.

Here is the latest data about deportations of Mexicans into Mexico. This statistic has reached higher levels than during the last two years of the Trump administration, in part due to a larger number of Mexican citizens attempting to migrate into the United States. Notable is the recent growth of this chart’s yellow segment: deportations into Tamaulipas, the only Mexican border state considered so violent and dangerous that the U.S. State Department has given it a Level 4 “Do Not Travel” warning.

The data underlying these charts is from the Mexican Interior Department’s Migratory Statistics Unit. I used Table 3.1.1 and Table 5.1.

Latin America Security-Related News: July 4-5, 2022

(Even more here)

July 5, 2022

Bolivia, Chile, Venezuela

En Bolivia, las investigaciones siguen para verificar la presencia del Tren de Aragua en algunas localidades de la frontera y si hay emisarios en las ciudades capitales


Si gana el “rechazo”, la Constitución de 1980 seguirá vigente, en contraste con la abrumadora mayoría (casi 80%) que votó por su reemplazo


“Durán” era uno de los rostros más visibles de la Mesa Autónoma de Reincorporación, creada por excombatientes inconformes con el Partido Comunes

A weakened Second Marquetalia means it could be taken over by another group. In its heartland of Norte de Santander and Apure, the ELN is in a position to do so


He said the assailants offered soldiers $500,000 to free one of the detained suspects, and when soldiers refused, a gunfight broke out and one soldier was killed


Los operativos de erradicación de cultivos de hoja de coca están provocando una escalada de “narcoviolencia” en la selva central de Perú, donde incrementaron el acoso, las amenazas e intimidaciones de los narcotraficantes hacia líderes indígenas, denunció el pueblo nativo Kakataibo


Los deberes y obligaciones que se desprenden del ejercicio de funciones militares, especialmente para generales y almirantes en el ejercicio de sus competencias, pueden generar responsabilidad del Estado

July 4, 2022


El presidente está empeñado en mostrar los resultados de su plan de Gobierno, pero la “humillación” que sufrió la Policía hace más de 10 días por sicarios ligados al tráfico de drogas activó respuestas contradictorias y tensiones políticas

Read More

Social leaders in Colombia: the crisis is not abating

The UN verification mission in Colombia counted 56 killings of human rights defenders and social leaders in just 3 months, from March 26 to June 27. (All but seven remain to be verified.)

That’s three homicides every five days. In the nearly five years and four months before this latest quarterly reporting period, the UN Mission counted about one homicide very four days.

For people who want to participate non-violently in local politics, the pace of death is not slowing.

The image is from the infographic report accompanying the UN Mission’s latest quarterly report on the peace process. The press release summarizing that report is here.

Latin America-related online events this week

Tuesday, July 5

  • 8:00am at Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs Zoom: Webinar for Civil Society: The World Drug Report 2022 (RSVP required).

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

  • 10:00-11:30 at Preparations and Challenges Ahead of Brazil’s 2022 Presidential Election (RSVP required).
  • 12:00 at UCSD US-Mex Zoom: Vida y violencia en la Sierra Tarahumara (RSVP required).

Thursday, July 7

Friday, July 8

  • 12:00 at UCSD US-Mex Zoom: Prohibición al aborto en Estados Unidos: Impacto en comunidad migrante y México (RSVP required).

Latest data from Mexico’s asylum system

9,740 people requested asylum in Mexico in June. That’s slightly fewer than in February, March, and April, but still puts Mexico’s refugee agency, COMAR, on track for its second-largest year ever.

Last year, a large number of Haitian citizens, migrating north after spending years living mostly in Brazil and Chile, made Haiti the number-one country of origin for asylum seekers. (The Chileans who appear here in 2020 and 2021 were almost entirely the Chilean-born children of Haitian migrants.)

This year, Honduras has returned to the number-one position that it has held during recent years. Arrivals from Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua all appear likely to break past records.

Recent writing…

You may be wondering what’s the point of maintaining a personal website, if you don’t even use it to post links to things you’ve created at the moment they go public. You’d have a good point.

My only defense is something along the lines of “deadlines meetings too much happening in the news when do I sleep.” That’s a poor defense, though, because it only takes a couple of minutes to post things here, I enjoy maintaining this space, and I want it to be a useful resource.

So here’s what’s come out lately:

The Tragedy in Texas Was Avoidable, Just Like Hundreds of Other Migrant Deaths on U.S. Soil This Year: (posted June 28) As we absorbed the horror of the mass death of migrants in a cargo container in Texas, we published this commentary explaining the larger context: 2022 was already on its way to being a record year for grisly and preventable deaths of migrants on U.S. soil along the border. It’s a result of policies put in place by people in our federal government who have—I don’t know how else to put it—a really cavalier attitude about the deaths of people who’ve committed no crimes.

From rebel to president: Colombia’s new leftist leader: An hourlong English unpacking of Colombia’s election result on BBC’s “Real Story” program, with journalist Catalina Lobo-Guerrero and Oscar Guardiola-Rivera of Birkbeck, University of London.

Migration and the Summit of the Americas: (posted June 23) a podcast I hosted with three WOLA colleagues. Between myself, VP for Programs Maureen Meyer, Mexico and Migrant Rights Program Director Stephanie Brewer, and Program Assistant Lesly Tejada, since March we’ve done field research in four of the nine sectors into which the U.S. Border Patrol divides the U.S.-Mexico border, we’ve been to the Mexico-Guatemala border, and we’ve attended the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, where migration was a big topic. Here, we talk about all of that.

A fresh start for Colombia … and for US policy? (posted to the Quincy Institute Responsible Statecraft site June 22) In the wake of Gustavo Petro’s presidential election victory in Colombia, a preview of areas where the U.S. government could work with him (peace implementation, environment, ethnic and women’s rights, anticorruption) and where there may be a collision course (drugs, Venezuela, trade, the military “special relationship”).

Colombia’s politics are changing dramatically. U.S. policy must change too. (posted June 16) Posted in the runup to Colombia’s momentous presidential election, a look at what the implications might be for U.S. policy toward a country President Biden views as a “keystone.”

OK, in the end, this post actually took me a while to write, especially on a Saturday afternoon when there’s a lot going on around the house. Still, I resolve to do a better job of sharing recent work when it comes out.

Have a good weekend

Here’s Bartees Strange performing Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love.”

Latin America Security-Related News: June 30-July 1, 2022

(Even more here)

July 1, 2022

Argentina, Venezuela

HRW Chief Tamara Taraciuk wondered on social media whether Fernández’s approach to the Venezuelan question stemmed from “Ignorance or selectivity?”

Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela

El presidente de Paraguay, Mario Abdo Benítez, ratificó que «gran parte» de la tripulación del avión venezolano-iraní en Argentina tiene nexos con el terrorismo


Una reforma constitucional que permitiría al Presidente de la República, Gabriel Boric, destinar -en forma inmediata y sin demasiados trámites- a las FF.AA. para cuidar espacios públicos o lugares estratégicos


Eduardo Zapateiro had publicly criticized the leftist leader, who has vowed to crack down on corruption in the armed forces

Una investigación de Blu Radio develaría que altos funcionarios del DNP, la Contraloría, contratistas y congresistas conservadores se habrían apropiado del dinero para desarrollar el Acuerdo de Paz en los municipios más golpeados por la guerra

Desde que se posesionó Iván Duque y hasta el 30 de abril de este año fueron asesinados por lo menos 545 líderes campesinos, indígenas, ambientales, sociales y comunales

Quedan muchas inquietudes sobre la insistencia del Gobierno saliente en reanudar, a como dé lugar, las aspersiones aéreas con glifosato

Paramilitary drug lord, alias “Memo Fantasma” or “Will the Ghost,” may soon walk out of prison in Colombia, after the prosecutor fumbled two hearings designed to keep the accused in pre-trial detention. Underworld sources suspect foul play

“Es un fenómeno que sigue vigente y que, alimentado por una multitud de factores, se constituye en uno de los obstáculos centrales para avanzar hacia un proyecto nacional de paz”

La relación entre ciudadanía y policía se rompió porque torturó, fue cómplice del paramilitarismo, el narcotráfico y grupos ilegales


The deal, which includes a decrease in the price of fuel and other concessions, was signed by Government Minister Francisco Jiménez, Indigenous leader Leonidas Iza and the head of the Episcopal Conference, Monsignor Luis Cabrera


La exfiscal de derechos humanos de Guatemala, Hilda Pineda, quien en el pasado llevó a juicio al exdictador José Efraín Ríos Montt por delitos de genocidio, fue destituida de la institución meses después de dejar el cargo como fiscal de derechos humanos


Honduras’ new government should enact reforms to better protect basic rights and the rule of law after years of setbacks since the 2009 coup, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing a letter to President Xiomara Castro

El Comando Sur de Estados Unidos se comprometió en apoyar el mantenimiento de la flota de aviones F5 y puso a disposición los helicópteros de la Fuerza de Tarea Conjunta Bravo en caso de desastres naturales


Este es el balance

El presidente Andrés Manuel López Obrador dijo que se requiere de otra reforma a la Constitución para que la Guardia Nacional ya no sea administrada por la Secretaría de Seguridad

Se busca preservar valores institucionales y la cultura de transparencia, destaca Sandoval

U.S.-Mexico Border

Experts say human smugglers are increasingly using 18-wheeler trucks to move large numbers of migrants, and court records reviewed by Reuters offer a detailed look at how the process plays out

In a 5-4 opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the high court rejected arguments by Republican-led states seeking to force officials to keep the policy

Truck driver was high on meth, officials say

The uncertainty post-decision echoed through San Diego immigration courtrooms hours later

The Supreme Court ruled in the Biden administration’s favor and will allow it to end the Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as Remain in Mexico

51% of the 1,018 U.S. Latino adults surveyed said they strongly supported or somewhat supported keeping Title 42 in place, compared to 44% who said they opposed it


US Special President Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens was able to meet with wrongfully detained Americans while in the capital city of Caracas

June 30, 2022


En abierta vulneración al sigilo profesional y a la reserva de la fuente, la Fiscalía General de la Nación ordenó inspección judicial contra Cambio

El Salvador

En trece años, siete defensores ambientales han sido asesinados en El Salvador, un país que no los reconoce, sino que los acosa y criminaliza


Utilizaba sus redes sociales para hacer críticas a los políticos locales y al gobierno estatal

La corporación que comenzó a funcionar en 2019 no ha logrado contener la violencia y está lejos de consolidarse como una instancia civil

El arresto del general Salvador Cienfuegos “enfureció al gobierno mexicano y generó una cooperación limitada en materia de seguridad”

U.S.-Mexico Border

Border Patrol officials say truck traffic is too voluminous to check every vehicle at the dozens of immigration checkpoints on roadways near the border


La embajada de EEUU pidió a los interesados en comunicarse con ellos que lo hagan a través de las redes sociales y canal de WhatsApp

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: July 1, 2022

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.

This week:

  • The Supreme Court upheld the Biden administration’s cancellation of the “Remain in Mexico” program. By a 5-4 vote, judges determined that lower courts could not compel the administration to re-start the Trump-era program, as it had by sending about 5,000 asylum seekers back to Mexican border cities since December.
  • A horrific tragedy in San Antonio, Texas—the death of 53 migrants smuggled in a stifling hot tractor-trailer—drew attention to the dangers faced by those unable to access legal asylum and migration channels, during a year that appears likely to see record-breaking numbers of deaths near the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • The House Appropriations Committee drafted its 2023 Homeland Security budget bill. It includes a Republican amendment that, if made law, would preserve the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy, potentially for years.

Supreme Court allows Biden administration to terminate “Remain in Mexico”

With a 5-4 decision on June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the Biden administration did not violate immigration law when it ended the controversial Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) or “Remain in Mexico” program. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may now proceed with its plan to stop sending asylum seekers to await their U.S. hearings in Mexico.

The Trump administration, which began implementing Remain in Mexico in January 2019, sent 71,076 asylum-seeking migrants back into Mexico until their next immigration court dates. At least 1,544 of them suffered “murder, rape, torture, kidnapping, and other violent assaults” in Mexico , Human Rights First has reported.

Fulfilling a campaign promise, the Biden administration began shutting down the program with a February 2021 executive order and a June 2021 memorandum, bringing many of the asylum seekers into the United States. That process was halted in August 2021 when Amarillo, Texas federal judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled—in a suit brought by the Republican attorneys-general of Texas and Missouri—that the Biden administration had not properly terminated Remain in Mexico. Kacsmaryk ordered the program to restart, and the Biden administration appealed, issuing a new termination memorandum in October 2021. In December, the 5th Circuit blocked the administration’s attempt to end the program. The Supreme Court heard arguments in April.

Since its court-ordered restart of the program got underway in December, the Biden administration sent more than 4,300 (or 5,114, or at least 5,600) asylum seekers, primarily from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, back to Mexico to await hearings.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the court’s three liberal members in agreeing that the renewed “Remain in Mexico 2.0” may now come to an end. “The Government’s rescission of MPP did not violate section 1225 of the INA [Immigration and Nationality Act], and the October 29 Memoranda constituted final agency action,” the court’s decision reads.

While the Republican state attorneys-general may persist with their litigation before Judge Kacsmaryk, it appears that he and other lower-court judges are now unable to force DHS to revive the program while litigation proceeds through lower courts.

Should a challenge to Remain in Mexico’s termination make its way back up to the Supreme Court, the justices’ decision indicates that they might strike it down. The majority found that Remain in Mexico was a discretionary program: something that the Biden administration “may” continue carrying out, but was not required to. The court noted that the law also allows DHS other options, including detention (which Congress doesn’t fund fully enough to detain all asylum seekers) or parole into the U.S. interior, which is increasingly being used.

The Court also found that Remain in Mexico carries too many “foreign affairs consequences” for it to be mandatory. Forcing the administration to negotiate with Mexico to accept other countries’ asylum-seeking migrants “imposes a significant burden upon the Executive’s ability to conduct diplomatic relations with Mexico, one that Congress likely did not intend section 1225(b)(2)(C) to impose,” the decision reads.

The count obtained by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) project (which is higher than DHS’s publicly reported count) shows that as of May 31, the court-ordered revival of Remain in Mexico had sent 5,114 asylum seekers to Mexican border cities. 1,109 of whom have had their cases decided or closed, with the rest still pending. It is not yet clear whether the remaining 4,000 will now have an opportunity to re-enter the United States to continue pursuing their cases.

Meanwhile, the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy, prolonged by a Louisiana judge in May under other litigation from Republican state attorneys-general, remains in effect. While DHS returned 1,460 migrants to Mexico under the Remain in Mexico program in May, DHS expelled migrants 100,699 times under Title 42 that same month, usually into Mexico and always without a U.S. hearing date.

Tragedy in San Antonio highlights alarming increase in border deaths

In the late afternoon on June 27, a very hot day in San Antonio, Texas, a worker encountered a horrible scene along a road on the city’s outskirts. A refrigerated tractor trailer with no air conditioning unit had been left with its doors partially open. People inside were crying for help, but too weak to leave. Inside, as PBS reported it, were “people piled on top of each other. Bodies were also found strewn along the road near the scene.”

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