Adam Isacson

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


November 2022

Mexico, in October, set a new record for most migrants apprehended in a month

The Mexican Interior Department just updated its migration statistics for October 2022. It took them longer than usual, and the reason could be that October 2022 shattered Mexico’s record for migrants apprehended in a month.

Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) took 52,262 people into custody over those 31 days. INM’s average since 2013 is 14,895 migrant apprehensions per month.

42 percent of migrants apprehended in Mexico last month were citizens of Venezuela. Of 2022’s top eight countries, plus “all others,” the rates of increase from January to October were:

  • Ecuador 1478%
  • Venezuela 808%
  • Colombia 335%
  • Nicaragua 156%
  • Other countries 119%
  • Cuba 47%
  • El Salvador 37%
  • Honduras -6%
  • Guatemala -26%

Latin America-related events online and in Washington this week

Monday, November 28

  • 10:00-11:15 at Feeding the World: A Conversation with Latin American & Caribbean Agriculture Ministers (RSVP required).

Tuesday, November 29

  • 9:00-10:00 at atlanticcouncil:org: Mapping president-elect Lula’s first 100 days (RSVP required).

Thursday, December 1

  • 1:00-2:30 at Grading the Pacific Alliance—What Progress on Cross-Pacific Economic Connectivity? (RSVP required).

The number of unaccompanied migrant children is ticking upward again

When unaccompanied migrant children are encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processes them and hands them off to the Health and Human Services Department’s (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement, which manages a network of shelters around the country. HHS tries to get the children out of these shelters, and placed with U.S.-based relatives (often parents) or other sponsors, as quickly as its procedures allow.

In a sign that migration is ticking up despite the approach of winter, the number of unaccompanied kids in HHS shelters exceeded 10,000 on November 22 (Tuesday), for the first time since August 4.

The data are downloadable from HHS as a comma-separated values (CSV) file.

Latin America Security-Related News: November 25, 2022

(Even more here)

November 25, 2022


Se recomiendan ocho años de sanciones para todos los miembros del antiguo secretariado, menos para Rodrigo Granda, para quien sugiere cinco

De acuerdo con el último informe de la Procuraduría el cumplimiento de la meta de acceso a tierra llegó al 16% y la de formalización al 37%

“La idea no es controlar la protesta, hay que encauzarla, y no es precisamente con policía, sino con una labor educativa”

Los delegados del Gobierno en la mesa de diálogo con la guerrilla del ELN dicen estar casi seguros de llegar rápidamente a un acuerdo en los tres primeros puntos del diálogo de paz

Colombia, Venezuela

San Miguel considera que el diálogo del gobierno de Gustavo Petro con el ELN “es de enorme trascendencia y constituye un proceso de negociación que tendrá un gran impacto sobre Venezuela”

Dominican Republic, Haiti

The Dominican Republic denied the claim, which came Tuesday amid the government’s intensifying crackdown on migration in response to a cholera outbreak and ongoing gang violence in Haiti

El Salvador

The president of El Salvador announced Wednesday he will seal off sections of cities to search for street gang members


El presupuesto pasará de L 9,336,149,156.00, en 2022, a los L 10,662,758,329.00, hacia 2023, con un incremento de L 1,326,609,236.00 y una variación del 14%

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An entire life in the ELN, now an “advisor.”

Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista alias “Gabino” joined Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group at its founding, in 1964, when he was 14 years old. By 1998, when longtime ELN leader Manuel Pérez, a Spanish priest, passed away (Colombian guerrillas often die of old age), Rodríguez replaced him.

He went on to be the guerrilla group’s nominal leader until 2021, though he has been living in Cuba since 2018. He moved to Havana, suffering ill health, to join negotiators in a peace process that collapsed in early 2019, when the ELN detonated a truck bomb at the police cadets’ school in Bogotá.

Now, “Gabino” is serving as an advisor to the ELN negotiators in a peace negotiation that formally launched in Venezuela this week. It’s not clear that he will be helpful, as the Colombian daily El Espectador observes:

Despite attempts at dialogue, experts describe Gabino as not open to dialogue, stubborn, and elusive. He has been tried in absentia for his participation in multiple crimes, including the Machuca massacre in 1998, in which the Eln bombed an oil pipeline in Antioquia and left 84 people dead, and the mass kidnapping at the La Maria church in Cali in 1999, considered the largest ever committed in the country.

Nicolás Rodríguez Batista is an ideologue, a spotlight-shunning leader who believed in using violence to achieve political ends. He failed, and now spends his twilight moments in another country. One wonders whether he believes it was worth it—though ultimately, he never knew any other reality.

Migration, country by country, at the U.S.-Mexico border

(Cross-posted from

The COVID pandemic, and related U.S. efforts to curtail access to asylum, have caused patterns of migration at the U.S.-Mexico border to fluctuate in often sharp and unpredictable ways. The two graphics below indicate the top countries of citizenship of migrants encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal years 2020-2022 and in the past three full months (August-October).

Scroll below the graphics for a brief narrative about migration from each country.

1. Mexico: Mexico is nearly always the number-one country of origin for migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Until 2012, over 85 percent of migrants whom Border Patrol apprehended were citizens of Mexico. By 2019, that had fallen to 20 percent; Mexican migrants made up 33 percent in fiscal year 2022 (October 2021-September 2022), and 28 percent in October 2022. In 2022, U.S. authorities used the Title 42 pandemic authority—struck down by a federal judge on November 15—to expel Mexican migrants 86 percent of the time. In October 2022, 85 percent of Mexican migrants encountered were single adults, much higher than the proportion for citizens of all countries (69 percent).

  • 2021-2022 change: +23%
  • Expelled under Title 42 in 2022: 86%
  • Single adults 2022: 91%
  • Family unit members 2022: 5%
  • Unaccompanied children 2022: 3%
  • Encountered at ports of entry 2022: 9%
  • Sectors most frequently encountered 2022: Tucson, Arizona; San Diego, California; El Paso, Texas/New Mexico

2. Cuba: Migration to the border from Cuba, already pushed by state repression and a historic economic crisis, jumped after Nicaragua’s regime, in November 2021, eliminated visa requirements for visiting Cubans, facilitating their travel to the North American mainland. More than 220,000 Cuban citizens—2 percent of Cuba’s population—were encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year 2022.

Mexico does not allow U.S. authorities to expel Cubans across the land border under Title 42, and Cuba has not permitted U.S. expulsion flights; 98 percent of Cubans apprehended at the border in 2022 were processed in the United States under normal immigration law. Under the Cuban Adjustment Act, most will be able to apply for permanent resident status after a year in the United States. Cuba agreed in November 2022 to start accepting U.S. deportation flights.

  • 2021-2022 change: +471%
  • Expelled under Title 42 in 2022: 2%
  • Single adults 2022: 76%
  • Family unit members 2022: 23%
  • Unaccompanied children 2022: 0%
  • Encountered at ports of entry 2022: 0%
  • Sectors most frequently encountered 2022: Del Rio, Texas; Yuma, Arizona/California; Rio Grande Valley, Texas

3. Venezuela: Migrants from Venezuela began arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in significant numbers for the first time in 2021. Most were flying into Mexico, which did not require visas of visiting Venezuelan citizens at the time. In January 2022, at strong U.S. suggestion, Mexico imposed a visa requirement on Venezuelans. Migration from Venezuela dropped, then steadily recovered as tens of thousands of migrants per month braved Panama’s dangerous Darién Gap jungles, traveling overland all the way to the U.S. border.

During fiscal year 2022, 1 percent of Venezuelan migrants were expelled under Title 42, nearly all of them people who had some migratory status in Mexico. On October 12, 2022, the U.S. and Mexican governments announced Mexico’s agreement to take back Venezuelan citizens expelled across the land border under Title 42; the impact is seen in the one-third reduction in Venezuelan migration from September to October.

  • 2021-2022 change: +286%
  • Expelled under Title 42 in 2022: 1%
  • Single adults 2022: 64%
  • Family unit members 2022: 35%
  • Unaccompanied children 2022: 1%
  • Encountered at ports of entry 2022: 0%
  • Sectors most frequently encountered 2022: Del Rio, Texas; Yuma, Arizona/California; El Paso, Texas/New Mexico

4. Nicaragua: Citizens of Nicaragua continue to flee the Ortega regime’s repression, and economic turmoil, in great numbers. The U.S. government has consistently run two removal flights to Nicaragua per month; 97 percent of Nicaraguan migrants encountered at the border were processed in the United States under normal immigration law.

  • 2021-2022 change: +227%
  • Expelled under Title 42 in 2022: 3%
  • Single adults 2022: 80%
  • Family unit members 2022: 18%
  • Unaccompanied children 2022: 2%
  • Encountered at ports of entry 2022: 0%
  • Sectors most frequently encountered 2022: Rio Grande Valley, Texas; Del Rio, Texas; El Paso, Texas/New Mexico

5. Colombia: Citizens of Colombia fleeing violence and economic turmoil are usually able to fly to Mexico, which does not require visas of visiting Colombians, although there has been a noteworthy uptick in Colombians not being admitted to Mexico upon arriving at airports, or being subject to extortion by Mexican officials. (Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and Peru have a visa-free travel arrangement under the “Pacific Alliance” structure.) The U.S. government has been running about 20 monthly expulsion or removal flights to Colombia since April. Migration from Colombia increased about twenty-fold from 2021 to 2022.

  • 2021-2022 change: +1,918%
  • Expelled under Title 42 in 2022: 9%
  • Single adults 2022: 52%
  • Family unit members 2022: 48%
  • Unaccompanied children 2022: 1%
  • Encountered at ports of entry 2022: 1%
  • Sectors most frequently encountered 2022: Yuma, Arizona/California; Del Rio, Texas; San Diego, California

6. Guatemala: Mexico accepts Title 42 expulsions of Guatemalan citizens across the land border, and U.S. authorities expelled 67 percent of Guatemalans encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year 2022. As Title 42 made requesting asylum virtually impossible for citizens of Guatemala, migration from Guatemala declined 18 percent from fiscal year 2021 to fiscal year 2022. 26 percent of Guatemalan migrants encountered in 2022 were unaccompanied children; all were processed under normal immigration law within the United States, as the Biden administration is not applying Title 42 to children arriving without parents.

  • 2021-2022 change: -18%
  • Expelled under Title 42 in 2022: 67%
  • Single adults 2022: 58%
  • Family unit members 2022: 16%
  • Unaccompanied children 2022: 26%
  • Encountered at ports of entry 2022: 1%
  • Sectors most frequently encountered 2022: Rio Grande Valley, Texas; El Paso, Texas/New Mexico; Tucson, Arizona

7. Honduras: Mexico accepts Title 42 expulsions of Honduran citizens across the land border, and U.S. authorities expelled 63 percent of Hondurans encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year 2022. As Title 42 made requesting asylum virtually impossible for citizens of Honduras, migration from Honduras declined 33 percent from fiscal year 2021 to fiscal year 2022. 18 percent of Honduran migrants encountered in 2022 were unaccompanied children. Just over half of Honduran migrants were encountered in Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector, in south Texas, in 2022.

  • 2021-2022 change: -33%
  • Expelled under Title 42 in 2022: 63%
  • Single adults 2022: 47%
  • Family unit members 2022: 35%
  • Unaccompanied children 2022: 18%
  • Encountered at ports of entry 2022: 6%
  • Sectors most frequently encountered 2022: Rio Grande Valley, Texas; Del Rio, Texas; El Paso, Texas/New Mexico
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Latin America Security-Related News: November 21-23, 2022

(Even more here)

November 23, 2022

Western Hemisphere Regional

 James D. Nealon, John Feeley, Diplomats Frustrated by the Dea’s Dark Side (Univision*, November 23, 2022).

Following a series of scandals the DEA needs to be made more accountable in the foreign policy hierarchy. Ambassadors should have more say


* Brad Haynes, Gabriel Stargardter, U.S. Aims to Sanction Brazil Deforesters, Adding Bite to Climate Fight (Reuters, *Reuters*, November 23, 2022).

The plan represents a major shift in Washington’s strategy to combat global warming, adding the bite of direct sanctions to its toolkit of tax incentives, diplomatic nudges and complex, slow-moving multilateral accords


 Ibis Leon, De Que Depende el Exito del Dialogo de Paz Con el Eln (Efecto Cocuyo (Venezuela)*, November 23, 2022).

Para el cese bilateral del fuego, considera clave que se resuelvan temas como el financiamiento de la guerrilla durante la tregua


 Pedro Dominguez, Grupo Elite de Sedena Auxilio a Estados en 102 Ataques del Crimen (Milenio (Mexico)*, November 23, 2022).

A menos de un año de su creación, la Fuerza de Tarea México, el nuevo grupo de reacción de las fuerzas armadas, se ha desplegado en 102 ocasiones en 16 estados para enfrentar olas de violencia criminal

U.S.-Mexico Border

 Camilo Montoya-Galvez, Nicole Sganga, Homeland Security Chief Could Face Impeachment in Gop-Led House if He Does Not Resign, Kevin Mccarthy Warns (CBS News*, November 23, 2022).

McCarthy also threatened to use “the power of the purse and the power of subpoena” to investigate and derail the Biden administration’s immigration and border policies

Letter to President Joe Biden (Numerous organizations, *National Immigration Law Center*, November 23, 2022).

We implore you to strongly reject any congressional efforts to extend or
codify Title 42 or otherwise dismantle our asylum system

 Miriam Jordan, 15 States Go to Court to Maintain Border Expulsions (The New York Times*, November 23, 2022).

Fifteen states have intervened to try to keep in place a pandemic-related policy that allows the government to swiftly expel migrants arriving from Mexico

 Raul Barreno Castillo, Cinco Mil Coyotes Arrestados en 2022 Mientras Ee. Uu. Se Alista para Enfrentar la Migracion Irregular Sin el Titulo 42 (Prensa Libre (Guatemala)*, November 23, 2022).

Blas Nuñez-Neto, subsecretario interino de Política Fronteriza e Inmigración en el Departamento de Seguridad Nacional, explicó este 22 de noviembre, durante una conferencia de prensa telefónica con medios latinoamericanos, que la medida sigue vigente por ahora

November 22, 2022


 Designados Observadores Militares para Negociaciones de Paz Con el Eln (Revista Cambio (Colombia)*, November 22, 2022).

En un comunicado de prensa, el Comando General de las Fuerzas Militares anunció los nombres del grupo especial de altos uniformados que viajaron esta mañana a Caracas, Venezuela, para participar en la reanudación de las negociaciones con el ELN

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At least 0.6% of Haiti’s current population was deported there this year

An Associated Press story reports that the Dominican Republic has deported 43,900 Haitian migrants back across the two countries’ land border between July and October. Another 6,492 of them were deported just last week, according to local media. Things are so extreme in the DR right now that the U.S. embassy issued a travel warning cautioning darker-skinned Americans from visiting, due to the risk of being caught up in a sweep.

In September, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that the United States, Cuba, the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, and other countries had deported 21,215 Haitian migrants back to Haiti since January. (That’s on top of 19,629 returns from those countries in 2021.)

Putting those numbers together—an incomplete picture—documents that at least 71,607 people have been returned—in nearly all cases, against their will—to Haiti, a nation currently on the verge of anarchy and collapse amid gang violence, hunger, and a menacing spike in cholera cases.

Haiti has perhaps 11.4 million people. So at least 1 in every 159 people in Haiti right now—0.6 percent of the population—has been forcibly returned there since 2022 began. Despite the miserable and dangerous conditions that Haitians are facing in their country.

Former U.S. ambassadors on agencies that “go rogue”

Two former U.S. ambassadors and career diplomats wrote a super-interesting piece at Univision about how poorly Justice Department and Homeland Security Department operators—notably, DEA agents—fit within U.S. embassies overseas. They have a pronounced tendency to go rogue and defy ambassadors and presidents.

there are agencies that are historically good at recognizing and adhering to Chief of Mission authority. The State Department, USAID, Agriculture, Commerce, and CIA, generally color between the lines. Their career officers are bureaucratically and culturally raised within a foreign affairs milieu.

Then there are the other guys.

… Often, ambassadors witness them freelance out of a surfeit of exuberance, like the mission-driven Department of Defense. DoD types, however, have strict discipline ingrained in their culture, and when counseled as to the realities of a foreign, diplomatic “battlespace” compared to being in garrison or at war, most adapt well.

But there are also those who scoff at the notion of Chief of Mission authority and pursue their own agendas because, well, they have their own agendas which don’t necessarily include the President’s foreign policy. That would include the DEA, the Department of Justice, and certain elements of the multi-headed hydra that is the Department of Homeland Security.

Are the non-compliers disloyal; are they actively trying to sabotage the President and by extension, the Ambassador? We suggest not. But their actions are no less disruptive for being carried out by loyal and hard-working public servants.

The root of the problem lies in diametrically opposed bureaucratic cultures and operating environments. Most DEA agents have been US street cops. Most DoJ officials sent overseas have served as Assistant U.S. Attorneys, or are career DoJ staff – folks for whom judicial independence, the sanctity of an investigation, and the sacrosanct pursuit of a conviction in a US court trump all other considerations. This makes for an extremely bad fit when joining a diplomatic organization, where relationships and policy goals are measured in shades of frustrating gray, and where the ambassador is, by presidential order, the boss.

It will often appear that DEA, CBP, or similar oversight-challenged agencies are acting in an undisciplined or corrupt way overseas, or carry out activities that even seem to contradict U.S. policy. What was the deal, for instance, with the 2018 DEA sting operation that tried to ensnare demobilized FARC leaders when Colombia’s peace accord was in its early implementation phases? And let’s not forget DEA’s naked defiance of the U.S. ambassador and congressional oversight during en elite team’s 2012 operations that led to the killing of civilians in Honduras.

The analysis from the ex-ambassadors (John Feeley, Panama; James Nealon, Honduras) confirms that this is indeed happening, and is a problem.

Migration in Mexico appears to be record-breaking

The Mexican government’s record for most migrants apprehended in a month, set in September 2021, is 46,370. That’s 1,546 migrants per day.

According to a November 21 release from Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM), Mexican authorities apprehended 16,096 migrants between November 17 and 20. That’s 4,024 migrants per day, from 46 countries.

Mexico hasn’t reported October 2022 migration data yet, but in September, the INM apprehended 41,915 migrants: 1,397 per day.

Mexico’s migrant apprehensions through September.

As nearly all of this migration is U.S.-bound, it’s reasonable to expect a further increase in migration at the U.S.-Mexico border for the month of November.

Coca is taking off in Guatemala

It has long been taken for granted that nearly all coca—the illicit bush whose leaves can be used to make cocaine—is grown in three Andean countries: Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. If coca bushes pop up elsewhere, local security forces tend to eradicate them quickly.

That may be becoming less true. If you search Twitter for “coca @Ejercito_GT,” you can find a surprising number of official tweets about Guatemalan security-force personnel eradicating coca bushes.

In the past two weeks alone, tweets from Guatemala’s army and government show soldiers and police eradicating coca bushes in four of the country’s twenty-two departments. In some cases, the plants are quite tall, indicating that they’ve been thriving for a while.

Alta Verapaz, November 16.
Izabal, November 12, although the photos are identical to the Alta Verapaz tweet immediately above.
Petén, November 21.
Zacapa, November 9.

This isn’t a consequence of coca becoming scarcer in the Andes and forcing new growing locations. U.S. government estimates indicate that the leaf has never been more plentiful in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. It may be a consequence of farmers in Guatemala’s neglected countryside searching for an income-generating crop during a COVID-battered economic moment. It may also be a result of traffickers seeking to do a bit of “nearshoring,” trying to produce cocaine closer to U.S. markets without having to ship it over oceans or through the Central American isthmus.

If it catches on, Guatemala could join the three Andean countries as one of the world’s main coca and cocaine producers, not just a transit country. The elements for coca to catch on are all in place. Proximity to a big market. Vast ungoverned rural spaces with smallholding farmers on the edge of hunger. Widespread, chronic state corruption being abetted by the current government and judicial system. A robust existing network of traffickers who are already doing great damage to fragile ecosystems.

Keep an eye on this.

Fentanyl seizures continue to increase at the U.S.-Mexico border

Heroin seizures at the U.S.-Mexico border plummeted 72% since 2018, but seizures of a more potent synthetic opioid, fentanyl, jumped by 641 percent during the same period. Like heroin, 90 percent of fentanyl is seized at official border crossings (ports of entry) or Border Patrol interior road checkpoints.

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