Here’s the original English of an article I wrote for the Colombian analysis website Razón Pública, which they published on September 19. They had asked me to explain why Colombia faces persistently high levels of violence and insecurity, despite maintaining some of the region’s largest security forces and outspending their neighbors on security.
The answer, I argue, lies mainly in Colombia’s unbalanced approach: if you envision an entire “security sector,” Colombia has really only developed a part of it: the part that carries guns and wears uniforms.
Here’s the text:
Colombia invests robustly in its military, police, and intelligence forces. But it doesn’t invest enough in the security of its citizens. The distinction is important, because the results are tragically evident.
Colombia’s 2023 budget will include about 48 trillion pesos for its Defense Ministry. That’s about 12 percent of the General Budget of the Republic, and just a bit less than 4 percent of Colombia’s gross domestic product.
That is a lot of money. This World Bank page sorts 165 countries in the world for which data exists by percentage of GDP spent on “gasto militar,” from most to least. Scroll down from the top, and Colombia (3.38 percent in 2020) is the first country in the Americas to appear on the list. After the United States, Colombia has the largest Army and the second-largest armed forces in the Western Hemisphere.
Despite that, Colombia is no more secure than its neighbors. According to the annual “round-up” of homicide rates compiled by InsightCrime, Colombia had the Americas’ sixth-highest rate in 2021 (26.8 per 100,000 inhabitants; 27.7 according to the Defense Ministry), similar to that of Mexico, significantly higher than Brazil, El Salvador, and Guatemala, and far higher than Chile or Peru. If Colombia were a major city in the United States—a country with its own violent crime crisis—the entire country would be approximately in tenth place, well ahead of Chicago or Washington.
The government of Iván Duque left security trends moving in the wrong direction. It put most of its energy into taking down “high value targets” or cabecillas of armed groups, and killed or captured many. But between 2017 and 2021, homicides increased 15 percent, massacres and massacre victims more than doubled, and victims of mass internal displacements increased 322 percent. Colombia remains the world’s most dangerous country in which to be a human rights or environmental defender. The first six weeks of Gustavo Petro’s government has been similarly dire, with 18 massacres and the senseless killing of 8 police officers in San Luis, Huila.
What explains this mismatch between robust security expenditure and rampant insecurity? The answer lies in the lopsided and unbalanced nature of Colombia’s security investments. This expresses itself in two broad ways.
First, too much remains undone in addressing the Colombian state’s remarkable weakness in much of national territory, from the agricultural frontier to poor urban neighborhoods. The problem of state absence and territorial abandonment is historic, chronic, and covered well elsewhere. But efforts to address it remain slow and underfunded.
Six years ago, the FARC-government peace accord included an ambitious plan to address the state’s historic absence and begin providing public goods where almost none exist. Chapter 1 of this document (“comprehensive rural reform”) sought to increase state presence in neglected rural areas through Territorially Focused Development Programs (PDETs), sectoral investment plans, a multipurpose cadaster, a Lands Fund, and other initiatives.
Frustratingly, implementation of this chapter is running badly behind. The July report by a group of legislators monitoring accord implementation found that the Duque government met just 1.2 percent of what should be done each year to meet commitments for land distribution through the Lands Fund, 13.1 percent of yearly targets for land formalization, 51.7 percent of targets for the cadaster, and—most troublingly—only 37.3 percent of resources needed to implement the PDETs and stabilize state presence in territory.
The Petro government’s pledges to revive peace accord implementation are encouraging, and the ongoing regional dialogues are a step in the right direction. But much remains to be done to build state presence in ungoverned areas, as the situation has improved little in the six years since the FARC left the scene.
Second, Colombia has focused heavily on strengthening its security forces, but insufficiently on strengthening its security sector. If one regards “security” as just soldiers, police, and intelligence services, one will fail, ultimately, to enforce laws and protect citizens. What must be built up is a larger sector that requires resources, skilled personnel, independence, protection, and political backing.
Think of this “security sector” as a Parthenon-like building with many pillars, or perhaps as a shape made up of concentric layers.
The innermost layer is what most people think about when they envision “security”: highly trained people who are the only individuals in society authorized to use force or—with judicial authorization—to infringe civil liberties. They include soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, special operations forces, police, detectives, spies, and similar.
This is the part of its security sector on which Colombia has invested the most: the uniformed part of its Defense Ministry. Even here, though, there are serious unmet needs, like rural policing, rapid response capacity, de-escalatory crowd control, and other aspects of citizen protection. These get de-proritized in favor of forced coca eradication, “high-value targeting,” aerial bombardments, and other actions emblematic of the previous government’s focus on what it called “símbolos del mal.”
The next layer out consists of civilians charged with day-to-day management of these institutions. These are officials in the defense and public security ministries, ideally a solid core of people who understand threat analysis, planning, defense budget management, rules of evidence and police procedure, human rights, and similar. These institutions also include independent inspectors-general, who handle internal affairs and charges of misconduct, and who alert and accompany judicial authorities when personnel violate laws, engage in corruption, or abuse human rights.
Colombia has had civilian defense ministers for more than 30 years, and mayors share command over police, though in a sometimes confusing fashion. Still, it is hard to argue that Colombia has installed strong capacity and expertise within the civilian part of the state to manage defense issues, which remain largely left up to men (specifically, men) in uniform. Inspectors-general have faced intense institutional pressure during the times when they have truly sought to fulfill their offices’ mission.
The next layer out is another branch of government: judicial authorities, who are there to hold the security forces criminally accountable when necessary, but are especially central to investigating and punishing all criminal activity that threatens’ citizens’ safety. They include prosecutors, judges, investigators and detectives, and the prison system (or, where appropriate, those administering non-carceral alternatives).
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.
Migration of Venezuelan citizens, which broke monthly records at the border in August, continues at very high levels this month, as evidenced by reports from Panama’s Darién Gap, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, and the border. New York is planning to build giant tents to provide short-term shelter to migrants, bused by Republican border-state governors, who have nowhere else to go.
Advocates have now documented hundreds of cases of CBP and ICE personnel entering false addresses on asylum-seekers’ paperwork, usually those of random charities in U.S. cities far from the border which are finding perplexed migrants arriving unexpectedly at their facilities.
The White House hosted a meeting with representatives of many Western Hemisphere countries to follow up on migration management and protection commitments made at the June Summit of the Americas.
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.
CBP’s migrant encounters hit 2 million during the first 11 months of the 2022 fiscal year. While this is a record, it includes an unusually high number of repeat crossers and migrants expelled under Title 42. August was the 9th busiest month at the border, of the Biden administration’s 19 full months. Led by a sharp increase in overland migration from Venezuela, migration from countries other than Mexico and Central America’s “northern triangle” for the first time exceeded migration from those countries.
New details about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s operation to send 48 mostly Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard—some of them in the text of a class-action lawsuit—point to the Governor’s operatives deliberately lying to the migrants about what was being done to them.
A letter from a Senate Intelligence Committee member and an article about artificial intelligence-enabled sensor towers raised concerns about privacy and civil liberties at the border.
Two million migrant encounters in eleven months
With a September 19 release of data covering August, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported that, for the first time in a single fiscal year (October-September), its personnel had taken migrants into custody 2 million times at the U.S.-Mexico border.
CBP encountered migrants 203,597 times during August: 22,437 at land border ports of entry, and 181,160 in the areas between the ports of entry where CBP’s Border Patrol component operates. The Border Patrol apprehensions number was the smallest since February 2022, ranking 9th of the 19 full months since Joe Biden took office.
Title 42 exceptions at the ports of entry
The port-of-entry number was the second-largest monthly total in the nearly 11 years of records that WOLA has available (since October 2011), exceeded only by April 2022 when the ports processed over 20,000 people fleeing Ukraine. It indicates that CBP’s Office of Field Operations was allowing an increased number of exemptions to the Title 42 pandemic policy, for asylum-seeking migrants deemed most vulnerable.
In August, CBP admitted and processed 15,906 asylum seekers at ports of entry under this system of Title 42 exemptions, a 37 percent increase over July. These have been happening at six ports: Hidalgo (Rio Grande Valley, Texas, 5,446 in August); San Ysidro (San Diego, California, 4,403); Laredo (Laredo, Texas, 2,847); Eagle Pass (Del Rio, Texas, 1,646); Paso del Norte (El Paso, Texas, 1,218); and Nogales (Tucson, Arizona, 346).
During the week of September 12, though, CBP abruptly suspended Title 42 exemptions at several ports of entry, including Hidalgo, the busiest. “The decision came after reports of Haitian asylum-seekers protesting at shelters in Reynosa, Mexico, and growing repeatedly angry after their names were not called for admittance,” according to Border Report. The migrant population currently waiting for a chance to seek asylum in Reynosa, across from Hidalgo and McAllen, Texas, is 85 percent Haitian, totaling about 7,000 Haitian citizens, according to Sr. Norma Pimentel of Rio Grande Valley Catholic Charities. As of September 19, Title 42 exemptions were resuming at Hidalgo but remained suspended in Laredo, according to Border Report.
Under Title 42, a policy prolonged by federal court order in May, CBP seeks to expel migrants from the United States, in the name of public health, very quickly and without affording them a chance to ask for asylum. Even as the pandemic shows strong signs of easing, CBP expelled 36 percent of migrants it encountered in August, including 48 percent of single adults and 12 percent of families. The number of migrants encountered by Border Patrol and actually processed under regular U.S. immigration law was 1,020,233, a number that Border Patrol has in fact exceeded in 19 previous fiscal years, though not since 2006.
Including both expelled and processed migrants, the August numbers pushed overall CBP encounters to 2,150,639 for the 11 months between October 2021 and August 2022: 1,997,769 taken into custody by Border Patrol and 152,870 at ports of entry. All three numbers set full-fiscal-year records.
Adding expulsions to those deported under regular immigration law, CBP reported removing people encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border 1,300,467 times in 2022. That would leave about 850,000 of 2022’s migrants still in the United States facing immigration proceedings: some in custody and most released into the U.S. interior. Since Joe Biden’s January 2021 inauguration, the New York Timesreported that “more than one million undocumented immigrants have been allowed into the United States temporarily after crossing the border.”
“Encounters” versus “individual people”
Title 42’s rapid expulsions tend to facilitate repeated attempts to cross the border, and 22 percent of CBP’s August encounters were with migrants who had already been taken into custody at least once in the previous 12 months. The agency actually encountered 157,921 individual people in August, of whom about 135,000 were encountered by Border Patrol. That was Border Patrol’s smallest “individuals” number since April.
CBP’s encounters with unaccompanied children fell to 11,365 in August, the fewest since January and 17th of the Biden administration’s 19 full months in office. The agency had a daily average of 422 unaccompanied kids in custody in August, down from 562 in July.
Migrants’ nationalities, especially Venezuela
The most notable aspect of August’s border migrant encounters was the migrants’ countries of origin. The number from Mexico and Central America’s “northern triangle” (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) was smaller (49 percent) than the number of migrants from the rest of the world. This was assuredly the first time this has ever happened: migrants from these four countries consistently comprised over 90 percent of the total as recently as 2019 (and 89 percent in 2020). Now, the lines on this chart have crossed for the first time:
Mexico and the Northern Triangle are the four countries whose citizens Mexico allows CBP to expel across the land border under Title 42, and they make up over 99 percent of Title 42 expulsions. August’s encounters with citizens of those countries were the fewest since January, ranking 17th of the Biden administration’s 19 full months, and one-third fewer than August 2021.
Because of Title 42’s rapid expulsions and ease of re-entry, CBP often encounters citizens of these four nationalities more than once. The agency took into custody 56,979 individual Mexicans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans in August, just 36 percent of that month’s “unique individuals” total and 43 percent fewer than a year before.
Of countries whose citizens were encountered over 5,000 times at the US-Mexico border in August, those that saw the most robust increases were Venezuela (up 92 percent from June to August), Haiti (up 61 percent, nearly all of them arriving at ports of entry as Title 42 exemptions), and Brazil (up 43 percent).
Citizens of Venezuela (August’s number-two country), Cuba (number three), and Nicaragua (number seven) made up 35 percent of CBP’s “unique individuals” last month, up 175 percent over August 2021.
As discussed in WOLA’s September 16 Border Update, arrivals from Venezuela have been increasing since March, as migrants from that country began arriving over long land routes from South America. (This was after Mexico’s January decision, at strong U.S. suggestion, to begin requiring visas of visiting Venezuelans.)
CBP’s September 19 release blamed “failing communist regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba” for “driving a new wave of migration across the Western Hemisphere,” including the increase at the border. While these regimes repress their populations amid plummeting living standards, another factor underlying the migration increase is the impossibility of expelling or deporting migrants to Caracas, Havana, or Managua after they reach U.S. soil.
The overland journey
Venezuelans’ overland journey requires passage through the roadless, dangerous Darién Gap jungle of northwest Colombia and eastern Panama. Over 31,000 migrants—1,000 per day—passed through this ungoverned region in August; 22,500 were Venezuelan. Of the 102,000 migrants who came through the Darién during 2022’s first 8 months (68,000 of them Venezuelan), 24 percent were female, and 14,571 were children.
“There is much corruption and evil things” in the Darién, Venezuelan migrant Reina Gil toldBorder Report in El Paso. “We saw dead people. A river nearly drowned us. We were robbed. We heard of rapes and many ugly things. I am telling you this so that people will know it is not easy to get here.” A migrant named Gerardo added, “When you come out, people cry, they embrace each other. You have mixed feelings because you accomplish something that not everyone can. You see people dehydrate, starving, unable to walk because their feet get swollen. People just leave them there.” The migrants also told Border Report of “having to constantly pay off ‘transportation people’ (smugglers)” to get across Mexico, and having to dismount repeatedly from vehicles and walk around Mexican authorities’ road checkpoints.
The rapidly growing Venezuelan migrant population had been arriving principally in Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector, in mid-Texas. There, many migrants have died by drowning in the swollen Rio Grande. In response, smugglers have begun routing migrants far upstream to El Paso, Texas, where the river is far shallower.
As WOLA’s September 16 update noted, that has strained CBP’s processing capacity in the sector, as well as the capacity of El Paso’s community of short-term shelters for asylum-seeking migrants released from custody. Border Patrol has managed to “de-compress” its El Paso facilities, avoiding chaos and backlogs in migrant processing by employing “processing buses” and transferring some migrants to other sectors. Shelters, though, are struggling to keep up, and local media report that migrants are still sleeping outside downtown El Paso’s Greyhound bus station. The city prohibits camping on sidewalks, Border Reportexplained: “the migrants, instead, are sleeping on flattened tents.”
September migrant arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border appear to be increasing over August as temperatures cool. “Over the past few days, there have been about 8,700 crossings a day, which is historically high,” according to the New York Times. NBC News notes that “White House officials have previously set 9,000 per day as an internal trigger to begin what they refer to as ‘interior processing,’ where migrants are flown or bused from the border to interior cities where shelters can take care of them” as they await immigration proceedings and find places to live, often with relatives or other U.S.-based contacts.
Troubling aspects of the Florida governor’s Martha’s Vineyard stunt
While the federal government has not yet begun transporting asylum seekers to the U.S. interior, Republican governors have been using their states’ funds to send migrants, on an apparently voluntary basis, to U.S. jurisdictions governed by Democrats. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has attracted much attention in conservative media by sending busloads of asylum-seeking migrants to Washington and New York after their release in Texas. Two such buses arrived outside the official residence of Vice President Kamala Harris in the pre-dawn hours of September 15.
The migrant-removal stunt that has received the strongest blitz of media attention is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) contracting of planes that took 48 mostly Venezuelan asylum seekers from San Antonio, Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, a Massachusetts resort island, on September 14. The planes arrived without any prior notice to local authorities, abandoning the confused migrants at the airport (along with a videographer who provided footage to Fox News and other outlets).
Serious questions surround the legality of DeSantis’s stunt, as testimonies point to the migrants being deceived and misinformed about where they were going, casting doubt on whether their participation was truly voluntary. The sheriff of Bexar County, Texas, which includes San Antonio, launched a criminal investigation on September 20, contending that the migrants had been “lured” away from a service provider in the city “under false pretenses.” Sheriff Javier Salazar said he is prepared to work with federal authorities should they launch their own investigation, as California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and other Democrats have called on the Justice Department to do.
“It seems like there were clear elements of deception in this particular case. It seems like there was fraud in terms of their transport and what was represented to them,” Julie Dahlstrom, of Boston University Law School’s Immigrants’ Rights and Human Trafficking Program, told CBS News. She added, though, that whether the evidence points clearly to a violation of the law is a “difficult legal question.”
Also on September 20, advocacy groups Alianza Americas and Lawyers for Civil Rights filed a class-action lawsuit on the Venezuelan migrants’ behalf in Massachusetts federal court. “In or around September 2022, Defendants and their unidentified accomplices designed and executed a premeditated, fraudulent, and illegal scheme centered on exploiting [migrants’] vulnerability for the sole purpose of advancing their own personal, financial and political interests,” it reads. The suit seeks a minimum of $75,000 per migrant as compensation for having “suffered economic, emotional, and constitutional harms as a result of Defendants’ intentional, reckless, and negligent conduct.”
The suit, which draws from some of the 48 migrants’ accounts of what happened to them, offers troubling details about Gov. DeSantis’s stunt, as have other media reports filed in the days since the planes landed at Martha’s Vineyard.
Many accounts tell of the central role that a woman named “Perla” played in recruiting the migrants, “trolling streets outside of a migrant shelter in Texas and other similar locales.” Migrants described her as tall, blond, and driving a white SUV. She gave one a mobile phone number typical of the Del Rio area, less than three hours’ drive from San Antonio. Nobody answered this number after the migrants were dumped in Martha’s Vineyard.
“Emmanuel,” a 27-year-old Venezuelan migrant, toldSan Antonio Report that “Perla” gave him “$200 in cash to recruit people from outside San Antonio’s migrant resource center” for the Martha’s Vineyard flight. He said she “told him she wanted to send migrants to ‘sanctuary states’ where the government has more resources to help them.”
“Perla” and possibly others told the migrants that if they “were willing to board airplanes to other states, they would receive employment, housing, educational opportunities, and other like assistance upon their arrival,” reads the lawsuit. They told the migrants they would be going to Boston.
Iván Espinoza-Madrigal of Lawyers for Civil Rights told the New York Times that, according to “dozens” of the migrants, “they only had been informed midair” that their true destination was Martha’s Vineyard, a ferry ride and two-plus-hour drive away from Boston.
“Perla,” and perhaps other recruiters, enticed the migrants to talk to them in San Antonio by giving them $10 McDonald’s gift certificates, the lawsuit narrates.
The recruiters paid to host the migrants in San Antonio hotel rooms “while they gathered enough of them to fill two planes and carry out their scheme,” according to the lawsuit. Their recruitment efforts “took days of work.” The hotel stays allowed the recruiters to “sequester” the migrants so that “any true Good Samaritans” would not earn of their plan, the suit reads, and so that they would be unlikely to change their minds.
The lawsuit relates that before the planes landed, Gov. DeSantis’s operatives “provided the individual Plaintiffs each with a shiny, red folder that included other official-looking materials,” among them a custom-made brochure entitled “Massachusetts Refugee Benefits,” The document provided to the migrants made several false claims, including that “During the first 90 days after a refugee’s arrival in Massachusetts, resettlement agencies provide basic needs support including…assistance with housing…furnishings, food, and other basic necessities…clothing, and transportation to job interviews and job training…assistance in applying for Social Security cards…registering children for school” and “up to 8 months of cash assistance for income-eligible refugees without dependent children, who reside in Massachusetts.”
After abandoning the migrants at the Martha’s Vineyard airport, the lawsuit reads, DeSantis’s operatives “disappeared and did not answer alarmed calls from the class members to get information about what had gone wrong after they landed. But nothing had ‘gone wrong.’ Instead, the scheme worked exactly as the Defendants intended.”
Gov. DeSantis’s office has sought to deflect accusations that the migrants were deceived, pointing to consent forms that each voluntarily signed. According to testimonies, “Perla” provided the migrants with a McDonald’s gift card only if they agreed to sign the forms. “She did not explain what the document stated, and it was not completely translated to Spanish: an entire paragraph about liability and transport was not translated at all, and language specifying that the journey would take place from Texas to Massachusetts was not translated at all either,” reads the lawsuit.
“DeSantis’s staff apparently supplied exclusive video of these heroics to Fox: It shows the migrants, some children, disembarking from planes, and then walking along a street, all in quiet, orderly fashion,” wrote Greg Sargent at the Washington Post.
Florida’s state government paid $615,000 ($12,300 per passenger) for the use of two private chartered planes, the lawsuit and media reports allege. The contractor, Vertol Systems, is a generous donor to Florida Republicans, the Interceptreported.
Observers detected a flight plan filed for a September 20 charter from San Antonio to a small airport near Joe Biden’s summer home in coastal Delaware. That flight never happened. The Miami Heraldreported that migrants had been recruited, perhaps by “Perla,” for this flight as well. After that trip’s abrupt cancellation, some of those migrants were left stranded at the hotel where DeSantis’s operatives had put them up, about 10 miles from San Antonio’s migrant resource center.
Border technology and civil liberties concerns
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a September 15 letter to CBP voicing serious concerns about the electronic privacy of travelers who pass through U.S. ports of entry, including land border crossings and airports. Sen. Wyden accused CBP of “pressuring travelers to unlock their electronic devices without adequately informing them of their rights” and “downloading the contents of Americans’ phones into a central database, where this data is saved and searchable for 15 years by thousands of Department of Homeland Security employees, with minimal protections against abuse.”
The Washington Post and Gizmodo reported on the letter, and on CBP’s apparent power to carry out “advanced searches” of travelers’ phones—including those of U.S. citizens—if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that the individual is breaking the law or poses a “national security concern.”
Even without such suspicion, CBP claims the power to access travelers’ electronic devices, looking at “anything that ‘would ordinarily be visible by scrolling through the phone manually,’ including contact lists, calendar entries, messages, photos and videos,” the Washington Post explained citing a 2018 CBP filing. With the “reasonable suspicion” standard, CBP can copy the entire contents of the phone or device. “That data is then stored in the Automated Targeting System database, which CBP officials can search at any time.”
CBP is collecting data from as many as 10,000 border-crossers’ devices each year. The agency then retains the copied data for 15 years. Sources told the Washington Post that about 2,700 or 3,000 CBP personnel have access to this collected data, all without a warrant.
Other civil liberties concerns emerged in a September 16 Guardian article about 189 sensor towers being built along the border on a CBP contract with Anduril, a technology company founded by Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey. Anduril is backed by Peter Thiel, a PayPal co-founder who has funded Donald Trump and far-right U.S. political candidates like Senate hopefuls Blake Masters in Arizona and J.D. Vance in Ohio. Anduril’s towers use an artificial intelligence system, “Lattice,” that identifies and tracks people and vehicles autonomously.
Mexico’s increasing reliance on its military to control migration, including a new law placing its National Guard police under permanent military command, “increases the risks of human rights violations, in many cases serious, to which migrants are subjected throughout the entire migration process,” migration expert Álvaro Botero, one of a panel of speakers, said at a September 20 event sponsored by WOLA and partner organizations.
Of asylum seekers interviewed after being forced to await proceedings in Mexican border cities during 2022’s court-ordered renewal of the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” program (now being terminated), 1,109 reported suffering violent attacks while in Mexico, including 401 kidnappings. In 399 cases of violent attacks, respondents implicated Mexican officials. These results are documented in a new report from Human Rights First.
“The Biden administration has deployed more than 1,300 law enforcement agents and officers to Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras in an effort to counter the smuggling operations,” the New York Timesreported. “One of the administration officials speaking on background on Monday said officials believed this had stopped 57,000 immigrants a month from getting to the southwestern border. Mr. Biden announced the counter-smuggling campaign in June.”
The U.S. embassy in Cuba will resume processing immigrant visas for the first time since the Trump administration suspended the service in 2017, forcing Cubans to travel to Guyana for their interviews. The resumption of visa processing may mean Cuba will once again allow more U.S. deportation flights to land in Havana.
The Washington DC City Council voted September 20 to create an Office of Migrant Services, with a $10 million budget, to provide temporary assistance, mainly to migrants sent to the capital by Republican governors.
“The Biden administration’s unwillingness to apply more pressure on increasingly autocratic governments is in part driven by a desire to preserve support for its migration and security policies in Central America,” reads a lengthy New York Timesanalysis citing “former U.S. officials and civil society leaders.”
Tijuana’s Juventud 2000 migrant shelter—which appears often in news outlets’ stock photos because of its use of tents to house migrants in its indoor space—is so full that it may begin housing migrants’ tents outdoors near its location, in northern Tijuana near the port of entry to San Diego.
Activists, joined by former U.S. envoy to Haiti Dan Foote, held a demonstration outside the White House to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the mass arrival of Haitian migrants, and hostile Border Patrol response, that made worldwide news for days in Del Rio, Texas.
Following a shootout between Mexican criminal groups near the border in eastern Tijuana, Border Patrol encountered three men with bullet wounds on the U.S. side, in the Otay Mesa area southeast of San Diego.
Border and migration issues may be giving Republican candidates a few percentage points of momentum in polls for some U.S. Senate races, and for the Texas gubernatorial race, ahead of November 8 elections, report ABC News and the Dallas Morning News.
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.
Even as it opposes a court order to keep implementing the Title 42 expulsions policy, the Biden administration is reportedly asking Mexico to accept expelled migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.
El Paso is experiencing a sudden increase in asylum-seeking migration from Venezuela, which has exceeded short-term shelter capacity and led to over 900 releases of migrants onto the city’s streets.
Reports from Panama’s treacherous Darién region, from Ecuador’s northern border, and from Costa Rica all point to further increases in U.S.-bound migration of Venezuelan asylum seekers.
Biden administration may be seeking to expand Title 42 expulsions into Mexico
Reuters reported on September 14 that the Biden administration is “quietly pressing” Mexico to allow U.S. border authorities to expel more asylum-seeking migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela under the Title 42 pandemic authority.
When the Trump administration developed this policy in March 2020—which denies the right to request asylum in the name of public health—Mexico’s government agreed to take back expulsions of its own citizens, and those of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Since then, U.S. authorities have expelled citizens of those four countries across the land border into Mexico more than 2 million times.
Citizens of most other countries, whose expulsions would happen by air at some cost, usually avoid Title 42 expulsion and, as a result, may request asylum, which often involves release into the United States pending immigration hearings.
With the pandemic easing, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had set May 23, 2022 as Title 42’s final date, with a return to normal immigration processing and a restoration of the right to ask for asylum. Litigation by Republican state attorneys-general led to a Louisiana federal district court overturning the CDC decision in mid-May, forcing the Biden administration to continue implementing Title 42. The administration continues to oppose that judge’s order in the federal courts, seeking to win back the right to end the pandemic authority.
In early May 2022, when Title 42’s end appeared imminent, administration officials convinced Mexico to take back a limited number of Cuban and Nicaraguan asylum seekers. Expulsions of those countries’ citizens jumped from 639 in April to 4,172 in May. Mexico, though, had only agreed to accept these expulsions until May 23, and the number of expulsions declined to 605 in June.
Arrivals of migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela have more than quadrupled since 2021, from 94,000 during the first 10 months of fiscal year 2021 (October 2020-July 2021) to 438,000 during the same period this fiscal year. U.S. authorities have used Title 42 to expel 2 percent of them.
Encounters with migrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are near their highest level in over 15 years, but have declined from 2021 (154,000 in July 2021, 104,000 in July 2022). U.S. authorities have used Title 42 to expel 78 percent of them.
Now, even as it opposes the court order preventing it from ending Title 42, the Biden administration is asking Mexico to expand it, this time allowing expulsions of Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans, according to “seven U.S. and three Mexican officials” whom Reuters cited.
“Behind closed doors, some Biden officials still view expanding expulsions as a way to deter crossers, one of the U.S. officials said, even if it contradicts the Democratic Party’s more welcoming message toward migrants,” Reuters noted. The article offered a previously unreported detail: that the White House is asking Panama to accept some expelled Venezuelans who passed through the country en route to the United States.
El Paso sees a sudden increase in Venezuelan migration
Of the 128,556 migrants from Venezuela whom U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) encountered between October and July, 59 percent crossed into the United States in Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector, a rural region of mid-Texas whose largest border cities are Del Rio and Eagle Pass. Now, Venezuelan migration—which has been increasing since March—appears to be shifting westward.
“For weeks, El Paso has been teetering with a rising number of migrants, as smugglers shift from Eagle Pass and Del Rio to West Texas,” Alfredo Corchado reported in the September 9 Dallas Morning News. It is possible (though unconfirmable) that migrant smuggling routes may have shifted upstream from the Del Rio sector because of a large number of recent drownings in the Rio Grande in that region, including a mass tragedy in Eagle Pass on September 1.
Before September began, Border Patrol agents in the El Paso sector—which includes Texas’s two westernmost counties and all of New Mexico—were encountering about 900 migrants per day. Of Border Patrol’s nine U.S.-Mexico border sectors, El Paso has been in fourth place for migrant encounters so far in fiscal 2022, but had edged up into third place more recently.
Since about the week of September 4, Border Patrol’s daily average in El Paso hasrisen to 1,300 or 1,400 per day. “Among those migrants arriving over the past five days are an average of 660 Venezuelans per day,” a Border Patrol spokesperson told the El Paso Times on September 14.
Asylum seekers have been arriving in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, the city that shares the border with El Paso, and wading across a Rio Grande that, at current low water levels, is roughly ten yards wide. They have been arriving in groups of as many as 300 at a time. There is a border fence on the U.S. side of the river, perhaps 100 yards from the ever-shifting riverbank.
“Faced with the massive arrival of migrants at the border, elements of [Mexico’s] National Guard and INM [Mexico’s immigration agency, the National Migration Institute] went this Monday, September 12, to the section of the Rio Grande where the migrants were entering the United States, but they were only observing the process,” reportedEl Paso Matters and the Ciudad Juárez daily La Verdad at the Venezuelan outlet Tal Cual.
Asylum seekers wait in the space between the river and the fence to turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents, who take them to El Paso’s Border Patrol processing center. If the migrants are from countries to which Title 42 expulsion is difficult—like Venezuela, whose current government the Biden administration does not recognize—then most are given notices to appear before asylum officers or immigration judges and released into El Paso.
Releases of asylum seekers are nothing new for El Paso. City officials say that less than 1 percent of migrants released in El Paso intend to stay there. As the rest have destinations elsewhere in the United States while they await their court dates, the city’s most pressing need is short-term shelter for the released migrants. Its network of short-term shelters, principally Annunciation House which has 14 facilities in the area, can assist about 800 migrants each day.
That is significantly less than the 1,300-1,400 currently arriving (not all of whom get released into El Paso: some adults are detained, and other nationalities may be expelled or deported). The Border Patrol processing center, where migrants should not be held for more than 72 hours except during emergencies, is currently holding about 3,500 people—more than 3 times its capacity.
When shelters are full and Border Patrol still needs to “de-compress” its processing center, the agency releases migrants onto the city’s streets, usually in the vicinity of the Greyhound bus station. As of the morning of September 14, that had happened to about 900 migrants over the prior week, the El Paso Timesreported.
The city has paid for some hotel rooms, but other migrants are sleeping in tents near the bus station. (“When you’ve waded through jungles and mountains, walked in waist-deep mud and crossed rivers that nearly drowned you, this is nothing,” Miguel Ángel, a 24-year-old Venezuelan man, toldEl Paso Matters outside his tent.) El Paso expects to bill the federal government for reimbursement for lodging and transportation costs.
Unlike most prior populations of asylum seekers, a large portion of the arriving Venezuelans do not have relatives, contacts, or support networks in the United States. They lack a plan and a particular destination in the U.S. interior. Normally, a shelter like Annunciation House puts migrants in touch with U.S.-based contacts who help them pay for transportation to their destination within the United States. Many Venezuelans, though, lack these contacts, destinations, and money for bus or plane fare.
“A very high percentage of them don’t have a sponsor and they have no place to go, and so that backs everything up,” Annunciation House Director Rubén García told the Dallas Morning News. “They did not have a network set up in America like the other migrants do. That’s what threw this into a tailspin,” El Paso City Manager Tommy Gonzalez toldBorder Report.
Many Venezuelans point to New York as a destination. Since August 23, El Paso’s city government has so far paid for about 25 charter buses to send more than 1,135 recently arrived migrants to New York. The city plans to spend about $2 million on bus transportation over the next 16 months.
In an effort to send a political message to Democratic-run cities, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has been sending busloads of asylum-seeking migrants to Washington D.C., New York, and now Chicago since April. Those buses mostly depart from Del Rio, not El Paso. A September 8 Houston Chronicle investigationfound that Abbott’s busing scheme has been costing Texas taxpayers $1,700 per migrant. This is part of a larger set of hardline border-security activities for which Abbott has now spent over $4 billion, cobbling together the funds with some creative accounting, including the use of federal COVID-19 relief funds, the September 13 Dallas Morning Newsreported.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) has joined Texas in sending busloads of migrants to northeastern cities. On the afternoon of September 14, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) added a new stunt, paying to fly 50 Venezuelan and Colombian asylum seekers to Martha’s Vineyard, a resort island in Massachusetts, apparently under false pretenses.
Venezuelans along the migration route
More than 6.1 million of Venezuela’s roughly 30 million people have left the country since the mid-2010s. Most migrated to other Latin American countries: as recently as February 2021, U.S. border authorities had not encountered more than 1,000 Venezuelan citizens per month. Venezuelan arrivals at the border began increasing in mid-2021, reaching nearly 25,000 in December.
Until January 2022, most Venezuelan migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border flew to Mexico, which had not required visas of visiting Venezuelans. Under strong U.S. urging, Mexico (along with Costa Rica and Belize) began requiring visas of Venezuelans on January 22 of this year.
Encounters with Venezuelan migrants dropped to 3,073 in February 2022, but quickly recovered (to 17,650 in July) as a growing number of Venezuelan citizens opted to migrate by land.
This 3,000-mile journey requires passage through the Darién Gap, a jungle region along the Colombia-Panama border where the Pan-American Highway was never built. Migrants walk about 60 miles through dense jungle with venomous animals, treacherous rivers, and almost no state presence, often falling prey to bandits, rapists, drug traffickers, and unscrupulous migrant smugglers. At its aid post near the end of the Darién route, Doctors Without Borders reported attending to 100 sexual violence victims in just the first five months of 2022.
In the first four months of 2021, Panama’s migration authorities registered just 15 Venezuelan citizens passing through the Darién Gap. By January 2022, that number had increased to just over 1,100. Since then, with the visa-free air route to Mexico closed off, the number of Venezuelans making the Darién journey has exploded, reaching 23,632 in August. During the first 8 months of 2022, 68,575 Venezuelans have passed through the Darién Gap.
Panama’s border police (Servicio Nacional de Fronteras de Panamá, Senafront) revealed this week that it had found the remains of 18 migrants in the Darién during the first 8 months of 2022. Five drowned, and the other thirteen died of unknown causes. The actual death toll is doubtlessly higher, given migrants’ frequent accounts of seeing bodies on the journey, and given Panamanian authorities’ scarce presence along the full length of the route.
“You step on bodies, even children’s bodies. That jungle smells like death from the moment you enter until you leave,” two Venezuelan migrants in San José, Costa Rica told a reporter from Venezuela’s Efecto Cocuyo, which has been reporting extensively along the migrant trail.
In another story, Efecto Cocuyo describes “the grandfather’s camp” (“el campamento del abuelo”), a gathering of tents a few days’ journey along the Darién trail. (“Who is the grandfather? Nobody knows, nobody has seen him.”)
For the Monterrey family [Venezuelan migrants who passed through the Darién], this camp was one of the worst places in the jungle. The site is improvised, with wooden poles everywhere and some spaces covered with zinc or tarpaulin. “That place is terrible, you see animals mixed with garbage and even decomposing humans,” said Juan Monterrey.
In still another story, an Efecto Cocuyo reporter tells of his own migration through the Darién Gap in 2019:
In the days I was there I was threatened with death and harassed by human traffickers and armed groups that dominate specific parts of the route. I was kidnapped for 19 hours during which I felt that my life no longer belonged to me. I saw the corpse of a stranger in the jungle and also sick, lost and disoriented people who had been abandoned to their fate. By the time I finished the tour, I had been stripped of practically all my belongings.
The inhospitable jungle, located on the border between Colombia and Panama, is like a sort of Tower of Babel where people from more than 50 countries and different languages converge.
(See also Canadian journalist Nadja Drost’s April 2020 account of the Darién journey in California Sunday, which won her a Pulitzer Prize.)
Many of the Venezuelan migrants along this route have only recently left their country. Many others, though, abandoned Venezuela months or years ago and have had little success elsewhere in South America where employment is scarce, visa regimes are tightening, and discrimination is common.
The Ecuadorian daily El Universoreported on September 13 from Tulcán, Ecuador’s border city where the Pan-American Highway crosses into Colombia. There, its reporters note, the past three months have seen an increase in northward migration of Venezuelans leaving Argentina, Chile, Peru, and elsewhere in South America. “But in recent weeks, the presence of Venezuelans at the border terminals of Huaquillas and Tulcán has tripled to between 500 and 700 travelers per day.” The Tulcán bus terminal’s administrator estimated that perhaps 60 percent of the Venezuelans, especially the younger ones, intend to migrate to the United States, while the rest may be giving up and returning to Venezuela.
Efecto Cocuyo meanwhile reported from an area near the bus terminal in San José, Costa Rica, where Venezuelan migrants congregate, some sleeping in tents, just days after emerging from the Darién. What keeps many from moving immediately on to Nicaragua and further north is knowledge that Nicaraguan authorities charge $150 per migrant for “safe conduct” to pass through the country’s territory. “For many, the Darién took everything from them, so they have to stay in Costa Rica to collect the money or look for alternatives.” Lacking relatives or contacts in the United States who might wire money, many of the Venezuelan migrants are selling items like candy on the streets in order to earn enough to pay the Nicaraguan authorities.
These reports from along the migrant route indicate that the flow of Venezuelan migrants now being experienced in El Paso and elsewhere along the U.S.-Mexico border is not ebbing. It is likely to intensify further in the coming weeks.
In recent months, CBP has allowed a few hundred Haitian migrants each week to approach some ports of entry and seek asylum or humanitarian parole, as exceptions to Title 42. This led to a sharp drop in the number of Haitian migrants who cross between ports of entry and end up in Border Patrol custody. Still, the number allowed to access the ports each day is small, and Haitians waiting in Mexican border cities like Reynosa, Tamaulipas have begun to “protest” and voice anger at shelter directors when their names are not called, Sister Norma Pimentel of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley toldBorder Report. Currently, she said, 85 percent of all migrants in Reynosa, one of Mexico’s most violent border cities, are from Haiti.
That situation appears likely to worsen as CBP has suddenly suspended Title 42 exemptions at the Reynosa/Hidalgo port of entry.
At the Guardian, Valerie González reported from Reynosa, where shelter capacity is overwhelmed and migrants are camped outdoors in miserable conditions.
“We told him that we are not going to remain silent if migrants are mistreated, much less if Mexicans are mistreated, and I spoke about the issue of the wall, that President Biden has said that he is not going to build a wall, and that he is keeping his promise,” said Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador about his September 12 meeting in Mexico City with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Alongside that meeting, a “High-Level Economic Dialogue,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Chris Magnus met with Mexican National Migration Institute (INM) director Francisco Garduño for what is at least the third time since June.
Three migrant women were hospitalized after falling from the border wall south of San Diego on September 11. In the San Diego area, “Just from January 1 to July 31, Mercy [Scripps Mercy trauma service] reported treating 141 patients and UCSD [University of California at San Diego] reported 159, putting them on track to beat prior years’ wall-fall counts,” reported the Medpage Today website.
Construction projects in Arizona continue as the Biden administration closes gaps between sections of border wall built by the Trump administration. Dora Rodríguez of the humanitarian group Salvavision Rescue Arizona toldFronteras Desk that “she worries closing them will just send people into deeper wilderness areas, especially as border policies like Title 42 severely restrict the ability to ask for asylum at a port of entry.” Construction of “levee walls” in south Texas continued last year despite the incoming Biden administration’s call to halt wall-building, note documents obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Joint Task Force Alpha,” an anti-smuggling initiative begun last year in the Biden administration’s Justice Department, handed down eight indictments of members of what it called “a prolific human smuggling operation in Texas and across the Southern United States.”
“Before crossing into the United States, César Ávalos sensed that something was not right, stopped his car and opened the trunk to find two men inside,” begins an article in the Mexican daily Milenio about an increase in cases of Mexican smuggling organizations using documented border-crossers as unwitting “blind mules.”
Though data point to an alarming increase in border-wide migrant deaths on the U.S. side of the border this year (as detailed in our September 9 and July 29 border updates), Cronkite Newsreports a reduction in Arizona. Though the state’s deserts are often one of the deadliest parts of the border, the Medical Examiner of Pima County, which includes Tucson, reports recovering 136 remains during the first 8 months of 2022, compared to 163 during the first 8 months of 2022.
Between the reasons they fled and abuse suffered during the journey, “7 out of 10 migrant women” who pass through the shelter in Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico “are currently in need of psychological or even psychiatric assistance,” estimated the shelter’s director, Alberto Xicotencatl Carrasco.
A data analysis from the Syracuse University-based TRAC Immigration project concludes that, contrary to much official and NGO reporting (including WOLA’s), Title 42 expulsions have not led to an increase in repeat border crossings.
CBP will shut down its “@CBPWestTexas” Twitter account after an unidentified employee used it to share former Trump advisor Stephen Miller’s view that “Biden’s eradication of our border means we are no longer a Republic,” and to issue “likes” to homophobic tweets.
“It’s not migrants bringing [fentanyl] across in backpacks, it’s mostly U.S. citizens and truckers smuggling it into the country through legal ports of entry,” reads an analysis of the lack of overlap between drug smuggling and migration, by Aaron Reichlin-Melnick of the American Immigration Council.
La Corte Constitucional determinó que será la justicia ordinaria la que continúe procesando dos oficiales del Ejército y la Policía que habrían participado en el asesinato de siete campesinos en Tumaco, Nariño
Las principales entidades y agencias encargadas de la puesta en marcha de lo pactado en La Habana siguen sin dirección. Política de drogas, reincorporación y Centro Nacional de Memoria, entre otras, siguen acéfalas
Las secretarías de la Defensa Nacional y Marina, así como la Guardia Nacional, han desdoblado en conjunto a 192 mil 831 militares a lo largo del país, mientras que en las 32 corporaciones estatales se desempeñan 193 mil 890 agentes
In March, after a violent weekend likely caused by a secret truce’s breakdown, El Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele declared all-out war on the country’s MS-13 gang.
This isn’t the first time a Salvadoran president has announced a “mano dura” (iron fist) policy against MS-13, Barrio 18 and other gangs that have made daily life in El Salvador dangerous for a generation. But Bukele’s campaign is the broadest and most indiscriminate.
As of late August, over 51,800 people had been arrested and jailed since March 26 when, in a 3:00 AM meeting with security officials, Bukele gave an order for sweeping arrests. Every day, families surround one of the country’s main prisons, awaiting news about loved ones seized off the streets or even from their homes, as Jonathan Blitzer detailed in a September 5 New Yorkerprofile of Bukele.
A September 12 investigation by the Salvadoran daily La Prensa Gráfica includes new information about the draconian policy’s origins. “They told us to go that very day and capture all the MS gang members that were identified. They told us: you have to bring in the heads of the gang; you have to touch the gang’s finances. The order was to surround them, to surround their family members, their acquaintances,” an official present at the March 26 meeting said.
The police chiefs were told that they would not have to “worry about the Attorney General’s Office.” According to the sources, the instruction, which was later passed on to all active police officers in the country, was that “the Attorney General’s Office is going to receive the MS gang members that we send them. Without much proof.”
“There was no officer or anyone in that room who did not know that they were asking us to go against the law, but that was the order: to bring this to an end,” said one of the sources.
This is not entirely a police operation. El Salvador’s military, a significant recipient of U.S. military aid, plays a robust role as well. The initial 3:00AM meeting “was not attended by Armed Forces commanders,” La Prensa Gráfica reported, but “military and police officials consulted said that they received orders at another meeting called by Minister Merino Monroy,” referring to the country’s defense minister, René Francis Merino Monroy, an active-duty vice-admiral.
A veteran police agent told La Prensa Gráfica:
This state of emergency has been the first time that he has seen, for example, soldiers patrolling on their own, soldiers detaining civilians, with the freedom to act as if they knew anything about public security tasks. The Minister of Defense has assured that some 18,000 military operatives are carrying out tasks that the Salvadoran Constitution entrusts to the PNC [Civilian National Police].
The newspaper’s investigation continues:
To date, human rights organizations in El Salvador have counted more than 3,000 complaints of human rights violations for the same number of detainees under the state of emergency. The cases analyzed for this investigation confirm a common denominator: the Attorney General’s Office, more than 150 days later, is still unable to prove the gang membership of hundreds of detainees, and in dozens of cases the link between the detainees and these structures is based on informants, the “public voice,” or supposed police records of the detainees, about whom the same arrest records indicate that they had no criminal record or records in databases.
Today, “In El Salvador, having tattoos, being drunk, acting nervous or just looking suspicious are enough reason for police to arrest people.”
Folha de S.Paulo reported that military technicians made arrangements to visit 385 voting sites and take photos of the final readout from the ballot boxes, which would be sent to a cyber warfare unit in Brasilia to verify the results in real time
Una nueva solicitud de prórroga del Estado de Excepción Constitucional de Emergencia que rige en la Macrozona Sur del país y que permite el despliegue de las Fuerzas Armadas (FF.AA.) en la zona fue votado este lunes
Ha incrementado su reconocimiento entre los habitantes de Guanajuato al pasar de 79.3 por ciento en 2021 a 81.6 por ciento en 2022, mientras que el ejército, la policía de tránsito, la policía municipal y la estatal se ubican en los primeros 5 lugares detrás de la GN
El Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones (OVP) y el Observatorio Latinoamericano y del Caribe de Prisiones (Olacp) solicitaron este lunes 12, durante la presentación de un informe, que la Fiscalía de la Corte Penal Internacional (CPI) reanude la investigación sobre presuntos crímenes de lesa humanidad
El lago Titicaca está camino a convertirse en una zona roja del contrabando y narcotráfico. Las mafias despliegan métodos novedosos y a la vista de todos para pasar mercadería y droga desde Perú a Bolivia
Riots and looting were reported Sunday in Santiago during demonstrations marking another anniversary of the coup d’état that in 1973 toppled then-President Salvador Allende and started the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet which lasted until 1990
Según fuentes de CAMBIO, los involucrados en la vendetta son dos grupos: el Tren de Aragua, originario de Venezuela, que delinque en Kennedy, Bosa, Ciudad Bolívar y Los Mártires; y los Paisas –también llamados El Mesa, por haber tenido su origen en el barrio López de Mesa, en Bello, Antioquia–, que delinquen en Suba y Engativá
The percent of Border Patrol (BP) apprehensions that comprise repeat border crossers did not significantly increase when, under Title 42, illegal border crossers were not penalized or sanctioned before they were expelled
The unprecedented nature of the operation means politicians, immigration experts, advocates, and migrants themselves are figuring it out as they go, with the travelers often left to make split-second decisions about their futures
23,000 Venezuelan migrants arriving in a month at the US-Mexico border would be big news: it only happened once before, last December.
But in August, 23,632 migrants from Venezuela (green on the below chart) walked through Panama’s dangerous, ungoverned Darién Gap jungle.
8 months into 2022, Panama has exceeded 100,000 migrants through the Darién Gap, and seems certain to break its annual record. That number (133,726) seemed unimaginable last year when tens of thousands of Haitian people (blue on the below chart) came up from South America.
Brazil’s first-round presidential election is just over three weeks away (October 2). A consensus view is that right-populist President Jair Bolsonaro, who trails former president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva in every poll, will reject the result if he doesn’t win, setting up Brazil for a sort of January 6 scenario.
If that happens, what will Brazil’s military do? The country’s powerful armed forces ceded power and allowed civilian rule less than 40 years ago, in 1985, and many officers are believed to be admirers of Bolsonaro, a former army captain. A 2021 decree allowed active-duty officers to hold public office. Bolsonaro pushed to give the armed forces a role in detecting possible electoral fraud vulnerabilities, and the officers on a special “election transparency commission” reported finding some.
Few foresee a military coup. But it’s not clear whether the high command will go along with other undemocratic behavior.
Here are a few things that journalists and analysts have said this week in English-language media, as Bolsonaro headed some very politicized Independence Day celebrations on September 7.
There’s a lot we don’t know about how that might come about. But it’s clear that if a contingent of supporters, armed and determined to keep Mr. Bolsonaro in power, burst into Brasília, the capital, it would create chaos. In many major cities, it’s not impossible to imagine an insurrection led by police forces — while truck drivers, overwhelmingly pro-Bolsonaro, could block the roads as they did in 2018, creating havoc. Evangelical pastors, whose congregants by large margins support the president, could bless those efforts as part of the fight for good against evil. Out of such anarchy, Mr. Bolsonaro could forge dictatorial order.
Who will stop him? Probably not the army. Mr. Bolsonaro, after all, has many supporters in the military and over 6,000 military personnel working in his government, filling civilian roles. For its part, the army seems to be relatively relaxed about a possible takeover and has — to put it mildly — no special attachment to democracy. There is no sign, as far as can be seen, that the armed forces could be protagonists of a coup. But neither is there a sign that they would resist an attempt at revolution.
[Guilherme Casarões, professor of political science at Getulio Vargas University and coordinator of Brazil’s Far Right Observatory] told CNN that that he foresees a “real risk” of a Jan. 6-type event in Brazil if Bolsonaro’s leftwing rival, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, eventually claims victory at the polls.
“I don’t think we’re going to have a coup in the classic sense with the military on the street, like what happened in 1964,” he said, referring to the historic overthrow that led to two decades of military dictatorship in Brazil.
“What I think is more likely to happen is an attempted coup, some kind of subversion of democracy … or any attempt to delay the electoral process by introducing doubts about the legitimacy of the process.”
“There’s not the slightest chance (the military) will play any role outside the one established in the constitution,” said reserve general Maynard Santa Rosa, former secretary for strategic affairs under Bolsonaro.
Even though Bolsonaro enjoys close ties with top military figures, such as Defense Minister Paulo Sergio Nogueira, and has picked former defense minister Walter Braga Netto as his running mate, Fico, the military history expert [Carlos Fico, a military history expert at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro], said those two “have no troops under their command.”
“There is no generalized movement by active duty service members worried about verifying the electronic voting system,” he said.
Fico added that any election-related unrest from the security forces was more likely to come from the police, a group “very influenced by ‘Bolsonaro-ism.'”
Bolsonaro has not clearly stated whether he would leave office peacefully if he loses. If Bolsonaro is defeated by Lula, then tries to cling to power, analysts say he would lean on the military for support. And some of his supporters are OK with that.
…Fears that the armed forces will intervene in the event of a Lula victory have also been fueled by Bolsonaro’s close ties to the armed forces. He’s a former army captain. His running mate is a retired general, while his government is filled with ex-military officers. Meanwhile, Bolsonaro has spent the past year bad-mouthing Brazil’s electronic voting system and claiming that the military should help oversee the vote count. What’s more, authorities recently raided the homes of several Brazilian businessmen who, in text messages, appeared to back a military coup to keep Bolsonaro in power. But some Bolsonaro supporters on the beach, like Patricia Monerat, claim that would never happen.
SOUTHCOM Commander Gen. Laura Richardson was honored to meet with Colombian President Gustavo Petro today in Bogotá to discuss security cooperation. Colombia is a trusted partner & key contributor to regional security
Entre su propio presupuesto y el de la Guardia Nacional, los militares tendrían en sus manos más de 146 mil millones de pesos. La Secretaría de Seguridad, en cambio, perdería la tercera parte de sus recursos
El gobierno planea destinar en 2023 un gasto de 252 mil 818 millones de pesos a las secretarías de la Defensa Nacional, la Marina y la de Seguridad y Protección Ciudadana (que tiene a su cargo la Guardia Nacional), lo que representaría un incremento de 7.4 por ciento
El dictamen establece que la Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional tendrá el control operativo y administrativo de la corporación y que el general secretario de la Defensa estará a la cabeza en la jerarquía de su estructura de mando
La crisis mexicana es una crisis de impunidad. Por ello, necesitamos un modelo de seguridad que incluya una política criminal de acción contundente de cara a los delitos que han deteriorado profundamente la confianza del pueblo en las instituciones
The introduction comes on the Independence Day of Brazil and amid efforts by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to preemptively reject Brazil’s national election results and sow mistrust and spread misinformation
Las autoridades locales y departamentales serán las responsables de las decisiones que se adopten en materia de orden público. Los puestos contarán con la participación de delegados de diferentes ministerios y entidades
El CNDyS es, por definición una instancia POLÍTICA cuyos integrantes se dedican a DELIBERAR. Y “las Fuerzas Armadas de Honduras son una institución nacional de carácter permanente, esencialmente profesional, APOLÍTICA, obediente y NO DELIBERANTE”
Solicitan que se golpee las finanzas del Ejército, específicamente del Instituto de Previsión Social Militar, para ejercer más presión, ya que esto “los obligaría a repensar su alianza con la dictadura”
El periodista Humberto Coronel, quien solía reportar sobre corrupción y crimen organizado en la ciudad paraguaya de Pedro Juan Caballero, fue asesinado este martes a balazos por un motorista al salir de la emisora de radio para la que trabajaba
Nearly 750 migrants have died at the southern border this fiscal year, a record that surpasses last year’s total by more than 200 people, according to Department of Homeland Security figures shared with CNN
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.
As many as 13 migrants drowned trying to cross a swollen Rio Grande between Piedras Negras, Coahuila and Eagle Pass, Texas on September 1. It is the latest tragedy in what is already a record year for migrant deaths at the border.
Mexico’s migration authorities apprehended their fourth largest-ever monthly total of undocumented migrants in July. For the first time, fully half of them were not from El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. Eight months in, 2022 is already Mexico’s second-largest year for asylum requests. Mexico’s armed forces are playing an ever-larger role in interdicting migrants.
Guatemala blocked more than 500 migrants in a northbound “caravan” attempting to enter from Honduras. Smaller “caravans” are forming several times per week in Mexico near the Guatemala border, as migrants seek to obtain documents allowing them to transit Mexican territory.
Tragedy in Eagle Pass
On September 1, about a mile downstream of the border bridges between Piedras Negras, Coahuila and Eagle Pass, Texas, a large group of migrants attempted to cross a Rio Grande swollen by recent rains. CBP reported as of September 3 that nine members of this group died by drowning in the river. A September 3 tweet from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Chris Magnus referred to “13 lives lost yesterday while they attempted to cross the Rio Grande River at Eagle Pass.”
The nationalities of the deceased have not been reported. U.S. personnel reported rescuing 37 members of the group from the river, while Mexican authorities apprehended 39 on the Coahuila side. The Washington Postreported that the tragedy “appeared to be the deadliest mass drowning along the border in years.” The Eagle Pass fire chief told the New York Times that U.S. and Mexican authorities recovered 12 bodies from the river in a single day (in separate events) about 2 months ago, adding that drownings are an everyday event there.
Eagle Pass is one of two major (over 30,000 population) towns in Border Patrol’s Del Rio Sector, in a rural area of mid-Texas. (Border Patrol divides the U.S.-Mexico land border into nine sectors.) Once a quiet part of the border, Del Rio was the border’s number-one sector for CBP migrant encounters in January, June, and July of this year.
More than half of migrants encountered in Del Rio (70 percent of them in July) come from countries other than Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. Two thirds in July came from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Colombia. Citizens of those countries are led to cross in Del Rio (and in Yuma, Arizona) by word of mouth—but also by smuggling organizations. “What we know with absolute certainty is that the smuggling organizations control the flow,” the chief of Border Patrol’s Tucson, Arizona Sector told the Associated Press in a story reported this week from Yuma.
2022 is already the worst year on record for deaths of migrants on the U.S. side of the Mexico border, punctuated by tragedies like the June asphyxiation death of 53 people in a cargo container, and several hundred fatal cases of dehydration and exposure in deserts, dozens if not hundreds of drownings in rivers and canals, and numerous falls from the border wall. A 5-year-old Guatemalan girl drowned near El Paso, Texas on August 22. That week, Border Patrol encountered two unaccompanied Guatemalan girls, aged four and one years old, near Ajo, Arizona. The remains of 28 Guatemalan migrants, found at different locations this year, are currently in the morgue of McAllen, Texas, awaiting final certification of their identities.
Mexico’s migrant apprehensions remain high, and military role increases
Mexico’s migration authorities apprehended their fourth largest-ever monthly total of undocumented migrants in July—33,848 people—according to data posted in late August.
For the first time, fully half of those apprehended were not from Central America’s so-called “Northern Triangle” countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras). As recently as 2018, 87% of Mexico’s apprehended migrants came from those countries. The countries whose migrants Mexico apprehended over 1,000 times in July were, from most to least: Honduras, Guatemala, Venezuela, El Salvador, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Colombia.
For the month of August, Mexico’s refugee agency (Mexican Refugee Aid Commission, COMAR) reported receiving its largest number of asylum applications since March. 10,763 people applied for asylum in Mexico last month, boosting COMAR’s annual total to 77,786—already its second-largest asylum total ever. (COMAR received nearly 130,000 applications last year.)
The countries whose migrants have sought asylum in Mexico over 3,000 times in 2022 so far are, from most to least: Honduras, Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Applications from Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, and “other countries” already exceed their 2021 full-year totals.
Mexico, meanwhile, is increasingly using its military to interdict migrants. This is part of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s overall drive to increase the military’s role in Mexican life. That drive includes a bill nearing passage in Mexico’s Congress that would place the National Guard, a militarized police force established in 2019, firmly within the military chain of command. A September 2 WOLA commentary warns that this step will give the armed forces “more and more power vis-à-vis civilian authorities.”
The Mexican Presidency’s latest annual “report on activities” offers statistics about the armed forces’ migration role, summarized by journalist Manu Ureste at Animal Político. The Army, Marines, and National Guard reported collaborating in the apprehension of 345,584 migrants between September 2021 and June 2022. Three-quarters were apprehended by the Army. Ureste notes that—for unclear reasons—this is more than the 309,430 migrants that Mexico’s civilian migration agency (National Migration Institute, INM) reported apprehending during those months.
46,916 military and National Guard personnel are currently deployed on counter-migration missions in Mexico right now, a 46 percent increase over 2021. Of those, 23,458 are marines (a 46 percent increase over 2021); 14,013 are army soldiers (a 2.5 percent increase); and 9,445 are guardsmen (a 296 percent increase).
Although the National Guard can check immigration status, formally, military personnel are not supposed to be detaining migrants: that is the task of the INM, a force that does not carry lethal weapons. Soldiers are meant to provide perimeter security for INM operations and to man checkpoints. However, as Ureste points out, human rights organizations have been pointing out since 2015 that military and police personnel are playing active roles in arresting migrants.
“In administrative terms, it is the INM who makes the detention,” Alberto Xicoténcatl of the Saltillo, Coahuila migrant shelter told Animal Político. “But in practical terms, those who carry out the operations to detain migrants, those who chase them and put them in the detention vans, are directly the National Guard or the Army.” Adds Yuriria Salvador of the Tapachula, Chiapas-based Fray Matías Migrant Rights Center, “It is very visible that the National Guard has become the armed wing of the INM and the executor of a migration policy based on containing and detaining migrants and asylum seekers, and on militarizing the Institute.”
From January to August, Jeff Abbott reported at Foreign Policy, Mexico had deported 26,557 Guatemalans by land. (The official statistic for all Mexican deportations of Guatemalans, including flights, is 28,826 during the first 7 months of 2022.) Abbott notes that almost no services are available to returned Guatemalans: “The extent of the attention they receive essentially ends once they leave the reception center.” The difficulty of crossing Mexico has increased smugglers’ fees to an average of US$15,500 “for a package that includes multiple attempts to cross the Mexico-U.S. border.”
Guatemala blocks “caravan” from Honduras, while short-term “caravans” form almost daily in Chiapas
Amid news of a “caravan” of several hundred migrants leaving Honduras and bound for the United States via Guatemala’s southern border, Guatemala’s migration authority (Guatemalan Migration Institute, IGM) declared itself on “orange alert.” Migration agents, in coordination with security forces, carried out an operation that, as of September 5, had removed 548 migrants back across the border into Honduras. (Guatemala has expelled about 11,000 migrants into Honduras so far in 2022.)
The IGM reported that 361 of the removed migrants were Venezuelan, 60 were Honduran, and 56 were Cuban. Other nationalities mentioned include Haiti, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Cameroon. One woman from Angola was detained while walking barefoot, her feet bleeding.
Under a longstanding migratory agreement, citizens of Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador can enter Guatemalan territory without a visa or passport, just showing their national identity cards. The IGM noted that it expelled the Honduran members of this most recent group, though, because they did not cross in an official manner.
On the other side of Guatemala’s border with Mexico, in Chiapas, migrants stranded in the border-zone city of Tapachula have organized about 12 so-called “caravans,” each approximately 200 to 500 people, in the space of just over two weeks. Their destination appears to be Tapanatepec, in Oaxaca state, the first crossroads town one hits after leaving Chiapas along the Pacific coastal highway from Tapachula, 180 miles away.
Word of mouth has spread that in that town, over the past month and a half, an INM facility has been handing out Multiple Migratory Forms (FMMs, basically tourist cards) allowing undocumented migrants to be in Mexico for 30 days.
With an FMM, migrants have a documented status allowing them to board buses and travel through Mexico, including to the U.S. border zone. Migrants told the online journalism outlet Desinformémonos that word of mouth tells them to go to areas in Mexico’s northern-border zone where Mexican authorities are less likely to take migrants’ FMMs and “rip them up in your faces.”
The latest quarterly “Metering Update” from the University of Texas Strauss Center estimates 55,445 migrants currently on asylum waitlists in 11 Mexican border cities. The number includes those who’ve added their names to Title 42 exception waitlists. Most are in Tijuana.
“The U.S. government has returned 225 Cuban citizens in the last hours in four operations carried out through the port of Orozco, in the western province of Artemisa,” Cuba’s Interior Ministry announced on September 6. They were among the more than 5,154 Cuban citizens interdicted at sea since fiscal year 2022 began last October. Mexico, meanwhile, has carried out 13 deportation flights to Cuba this calendar year, returning 1,697 people.
Mexican authorities’ seizures of fentanyl in Tijuana increased 333 percent during the first 8 months of 2022 over the same period in 2021, EFE reported. Most seizures have taken place in Tijuana’s Zona Norte, a tourist-heavy area not far from the main (San Ysidro) port of entry.
A tweet from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico indicates that the State Department’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement bureau (INL) plans to fund the training of 200 agents from Mexico’s migration agency (Instituto Nacional de Migración, INM) in 2022 and 2023.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said that “border infrastructure” will be on the agenda when he meets U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken for a high-level economic dialogue next week in Monterrey.
“Absolutely,” Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke said when asked whether, if elected, he would keep National Guard troops and Texas state police stationed along the state’s border with Mexico. “But with all things, there has to be a balance,” narrowing their mission, he added before a crowd in the border city of Del Rio. O’Rourke is challenging current Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who has spent over $4 billion in state funds on military and police border deployments that the Democrat calls “stunts.”
Medium-term shelter is among the most acute needs for the nearly 10,000 migrants whom Gov. Abbott has bused to Washington, DC since March, the Washington Post reported in a story citing many migrants and aid workers. Of those bused to Washington, many of them Venezuelan, an unusually large number have no contacts, support networks, or places to stay in the United States. “The military said: ‘If you don’t have family to receive you, go to Washington. The trip is free,’” a Nicaraguan migrant said that a Texas National Guardsman told him.
“No one solves a problem they cannot see,” wrote Joy Olson at Mexico Today about Mexican migrant kidnappers’ extortion of their victims’ U.S.-based relatives—a crime that goes vastly unreported because so many of the relatives are undocumented and unwilling to alert U.S. authorities. “To see this problem, we need to develop clear channels for reporting.”
The latest monthly report from Witness at the Border, covering August, counted 140 migrant removal flights to 14 different countries, down from 142 flights in July. Colombia (19 to 23) and Brazil (3 to 10) saw the largest increases in flights; Guatemala (46 to 29) saw the largest decrease.
“The Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector has a new challenge coin that features concertina wire around the Border Patrol’s badge,” wrote Pedro Rios of the American Friends Service Committee’s U.S.-Mexico Border Program at the San Diego Union-Tribune. “In its description on its website, it says the concertina wire symbolizes ‘a new way of thinking about border security in San Diego.’”
Costa Rica’s asylum system is so strained by an ongoing wave of Nicaraguan migration that applicants are being given appointments for the year 2030, the AP reported.