Adam Isacson

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


January 2023

Meant to bring order to asylum-seeking, an app threatens chaos for Haitian migrants

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has spent the month rolling out an app to allow asylum-seekers in Mexico apply for appointments at official border crossings: a limited number of “Title 42 exemptions” available each day.

The “CBPOne” app has problems, the Associated Press is reporting. This may be the most serious:

Some migrants, particularly with darker skin, say the app is rejecting required photos, blocking or delaying applications. CBP says it is aware of some technical issues, especially when new appointments are made available, but that users’ phones may also contribute. It says a live photo is required for each login as a security measure.

The issue has hit Haitians hardest, said Felicia Rangel-Samponaro, director of The Sidewalk School, which assists migrants in Reynosa and Matamoros, across from Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. Previously, about 80% of migrants admitted to seek asylum in the area were Haitian, Rangel-Samponaro said. On Friday, she counted 10 Black people among 270 admitted in Matamoros.

This adds to existing concerns about racial bias in facial recognition, artificial intelligence, and other technologies that national security agencies are rapidly adopting.

It also could reverse a program that was making progress: Haitian asylum seekers’ access to exemptions, for migrants deemed “most vulnerable,” to the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy.

You may recall the chaotic, abusive scene in Del Rio. Texas in September 2021, when thousands of Haitians crossed the Rio Grande all at once, hoping to turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents and ask for asylum.

That is not the current reality for Haitian migrants. Right now, Haitians hardly ever cross the border in an unauthorized way to seek asylum. They’ve taken full advantage of a Title 42 exemptions process that gradually began expanding during the second half of 2022. They show up, by appointment, at ports of entry (official border crossings).

Since June, 37,408 Haitian migrants have been processed at ports of entry. And the number of Haitians whom Border Patrol has encountered between the ports of entry plummeted 99.6 percent from May (7,762) to December (31).

The cruel airlift of Haitians being expelled back to the Port-au-Prince airport has sharply receded: one plane during the last three months of 2022, compared to 36 in May.

That progress is in jeopardy now, though, as the CBPOne app appears to be making it much harder for Haitian asylum seekers to access the exemptions.

If this continues, Haitians will not stop coming to seek protection in the United States. In fact, Panamanian authorities report that Haitians are the number-one nationality arriving through the treacherous Darién Gap jungles right now.

Unless the CBPOne app improves its facial recognition and other performance quickly, this new technology’s introduction could undo a lot of hard-won progress for Haitian migrants, and worsen order at the border.

Latin America-related events online and in Washington this week

Monday, January 30, 2023

  • 4:00-5:00 at Georgetown University and YouTube: Latin America and the Caribbean in 2023: What to Expect? (RSVP required).

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Thursday, February 2, 2023

  • 12:00 at Johns Hopkins Zoom: Peru’s Crisis in the Latin American Context (RSVP required).

“It would be better for the government to respond, quickly”: interview in Colombia’s El Espectador

On Wednesday, appearing before reporters in Washington after meeting with U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, Colombia’s chief prosecutor Francisco Barbosa strongly criticized President Gustavo Petro’s intention to lift arrest warrants for organized crime leaders entering into demobilization negotiations. Barbosa, who heads a separate branch of government and is close to Petro’s conservative predecessor Iván Duque, said that Petro’s planned talks with criminal groups were tantamount to declaring a ceasefire with Pablo Escobar.

At the Colombian daily El Espectador, journalist Cecilia Orozco asked me several questions about the episode. The interview text appears in today’s edition.

Image of El Espectador page with my interview, at

Here is an English translation.

“Prosecutor Barbosa’s statement was bombastic and political”: Adam Isacson

The Director for Defense Oversight of the influential organization WOLA (Washington Office on Latin America) analyzes the impact and “political” direction of Francisco Barbosa’s strong statements against Petro’s “total peace” strategy, during his recent visit to U.S. government officials. He believes that they caused serious damage and that the attorney general “did not think about the consequences of his position.”

Cecilia Orozco Tascón

Q: The statements made by prosecutor Francisco Barbosa in the United States evidence his drastic change of behavior: from being criticized for his closeness to the Duque government, whose president nominated him for the position, to being confrontational, in a high volume, with the Petro government. How do you analyze this situation, which confronts the president of the Republic with the head of the investigative body?

A: One thing I admire about the Colombian political system is that it made the attorney general a separate branch of the government. That is usually a good thing. In the United States, the prosecutor is part of the executive branch and answers to the President. Donald Trump seems to have broken the law on many occasions, but he had very little to fear of his hand-picked prosecutors, Jeff Sessions—whom he fired—and William Barr, investigating. The only thing that prevents a U.S. president from using prosecutors as instruments to attack his political adversaries, in reality, are norms and customs, not the Constitution.

Q: In the Colombian case, the method of electing the prosecutor (by the Supreme Court, but from a shortlist chosen by the president) vitiates his independence, as has been demonstrated when their terms coincide. Not as in the current case, when the nominating president leaves and a different one arrives….

A: As I said, having an attorney general truly independent of the president is good, because it is a check on presidential power. But it can be bad for governance: the more power is divided, the greater the likelihood of gridlock and paralysis. That seems to be happening in an issue central to the security of Colombians: the government’s peace negotiations. When Juan Manuel Santos started the talks with the FARC, he had already appointed a prosecutor, Eduardo Montealegre, favorable to the Peace Agreement. It seems that Gustavo Petro will not have, for the time being, one that supports him in this crucial matter.

Q: Upon exiting his visits to the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney, Barbosa told the media one of the most aggressive phrases ever made by a prosecutor with respect to the incumbent government: “Never before has a bilateral ceasefire been made with drug trafficking organizations. It is like making a bilateral ceasefire with Pablo Escobar or the Cali cartel”. What do you think of this statement?

A: Barbosa’s statement is concerning, because it is the clearest indication we have seen that he intends to use the Attorney General’s Office to oppose the government’s peace strategy. It seems to leave no room for negotiation. He also seems to have said it for media purposes, perhaps without thinking about the consequences of his position. I do not know if President Petro and the prosecutor have talked about the legal aspects of the peace policy. My perception is that they have not had a substantive discussion. So I also don’t know, for sure, whether Barbosa is expressing frustration after difficult talks or shooting arrows in public before those talks get underway.

Q: The two are supposed to meet tomorrow, Monday; but it is not unlikely that the overtly unfriendly tone and content of the prosecutor’s statement may prevent the appointment from taking place.

A: In addition to that consequence (should it happen), Barbosa’s statement is inaccurate: Cesar Gaviria’s government made a deal with Pablo Escobar that gave him a luxurious “house arrest”, in the so-called Catedral one-man prison. There, he was “guarded” by his own people and lived under his own rules. That really looked like a form of bilateral ceasefire.

Q: Do the Attorney General’s inflammatory statements impact the Colombian Government’s relations with the U.S. Government?

A: Absolutely. They have a big impact on U.S.-Colombia relations. The Biden administration generally supports the idea of negotiating peace with armed groups, but that support is not unconditional. One of the most skeptical agencies in Washington is the Justice Department, where prosecutors fear losing the ability to extradite major criminals. With his public statement, Barbosa has just fueled that skepticism in a big way.

Q: I suppose the impact will be greater because his statements were made in the framework of an official visit to Prosecutor Garland and the Justice Department. Is that so?

A: Yes. Barbosa and Merrick Garland have already met several times and have developed a cooperative relationship. The Colombian prosecutor may be taking advantage of that relationship to scare the Biden administration about a Petro government policy that is still in formation. While it is true that the Prosecutor’s Office is an autonomous entity, this does not mean that it can carry out a separate foreign policy. Barbosa can certainly express his concerns to his counterparts, particularly on how to advance a line of cooperation if some extraditions are put on hold. But airing differences over some aspects of domestic foreign policy, using vague and deliberately provocative words, suggests that Colombia has two contradictory foreign policies.

Q: Should the Colombian government counter the damage done by Barbosa now or wait for the waters to calm down before sending its Minister of Justice, Minister of Foreign Affairs or activating its ambassador to give its own version?

A: It would be better for the government to respond, quickly, by sending its own messages and officials to Washington to counter the prosecutor’s narrative before it grows stronger.

Q: On the other hand, since Barbosa’s statements were delivered immediately after his appointment with Garland, could it be inferred that the Colombian official is repeating the opinion of the U.S. Attorney and the Justice Department regarding Petro’s total peace policy?

A: It is likely that Barbosa has heard Justice Department officials, including perhaps Garland, express strong objections to the suspension of extraditions of organized crime members. But I doubt very much that Merrick Garland, who is known for his restraint and moderation, would encourage Barbosa to express those concerns using the provocative language he did.

Q: Barbosa also stated that the decrees issued after the approval of the total peace law should be reviewed, but he says this after Congress approved, two months ago, a law authorizing the president to “carry out all acts tending to engage in rapprochement with organized armed criminal structures.” However, when the law was debated, the prosecutor was not present. It seems an inconsistency.

A: I do not know why the attorney general did not play a more active role at the time the law was being discussed. In this case, however, he can probably defend himself by saying that he and Petro disagree in their interpretations of that law and the powers that it grants to the president.

Q: The strongest controversy arises over the government’s request to suspend, temporarily, arrest warrants for members of criminal gangs. It makes sense, but the Congress also approved a paragraph which reads that “once a dialogue process is initiated (…) the corresponding judicial authorities will suspend the arrest warrants (…) against the members (…) of the armed structures that show willingness.” According to your experience, is this legislative decision unacceptable abroad?

A: A temporary suspension of arrest warrants is not synonymous with impunity. It is a practical and logistical measure to allow negotiations to take place. It is clear that these negotiations must not lead to an agreement that grants impunity for war crimes or crimes against humanity, or that dishonors these individuals’ countless victims. They have an obligation to confess their role in fostering criminality through drug trafficking, the undermining of institutions and the rule of law, the damage they have done to the environment, and their violation of the rights of Indigenous communities, women, and other historically marginalized groups. But, I repeat, a temporary suspension of detentions should not be interpreted as an impunity agreement. And extradition to the United States, which only punishes their drug trafficking activity, delays accountability to their victims in Colombia.

Q: Precisely, and referring to the extradition issue, some of those who have been announced as spokesmen for the criminal groups are requested for extradition. Does the simultaneous request for suspension of arrest and extradition disturb the U.S. government?

A: This is a transcendental issue for the U.S. government. Its prosecutors and diplomats place great importance on the extradition agreement with Colombia. Alvaro Uribe and former prosecutor Mario Iguarán received many messages of serious concern from their counterparts in the United States during the Justice and Peace negotiations with paramilitary groups. And Uribe ended up extraditing many of the AUC leaders. Juan Manuel Santos was also made aware of U.S. concerns when negotiating with the FARC, as demonstrated by the 2018 Jesús Santrich episode. Concern about suspending extradition is probably the biggest obstacle to the U.S. government’s more decisive support for peace negotiations. Moreover, if prosecutors, military and police representing the security sector in Colombia do not agree with full peace, they themselves will communicate their displeasure to their counterparts in the United States. That will raise red flags in Washington. But this phenomenon is not new.

Q: In your analysis of the Colombian situation, were the prosecutor’s statements made in a legal sense or, rather, in a political context, taking into account that his term ends this year and that he is a close friend of Duque, a pro-Uribe enemy of both the Santos Peace Accord and this government?

A: Being so vague, bombastic and based on the interpretation of a strategy that is still under discussion, Barbosa’s statement was a political act. It was not a technical legal analysis, but a statement of opposition to the Petro government’s negotiation framework and an alignment with its political opponents. Incidentally, Barbosa, Duque and other conservative Colombians have an advantage over the Petro government in Washington: many of them studied or worked in the United States and maintain old relationships with local elites. They maintain much easier and more fluid communication with U.S. leaders. When they want to make a political statement here, they will be heard, as just happened with Barbosa.

Q: So it would be pragmatic for the Petro government to move by sending more officials well connected to the Biden administration. Or is it not strategic to do so at this time in light of the blow that Barbosa dealt him?

A: Given the impact that the United States can have on the development of the overall peace policy, it would be important for the Petro administration to be present in Washington and engage in early dialogue with U.S. officials who have an impact on Colombia policy. At the moment there is, in my opinion, an asymmetry of information in the United States between the messages of Petro’s opponents and those of his government.

Q: In another part of his statements, Barbosa pointed out that “there is a concern about the cessation of hostilities with drug traffickers because it is an unprecedented figure”. President Lopez Obrador desisted from pursuing the shadowy Sinaloa cartel for not facing dangers for the civilian population of the city of Culiacán, he said. Did the U.S. veto Mexico for that?

A: U.S. officials did communicate their displeasure, forcefully and privately, to the Mexican government. But, with respect to the point you make, there is a better parallel in the informal contacts that U.S. agents have with organized crime figures about the terms of their eventual surrender: it is not uncommon for offers of reduced sentences to be made in exchange for providing useful information. Plea bargaining can begin before an arrest is made. The difference is that it is less formal and without suspension of arrest warrants.

Q: You have been a student of the Colombian conflict for several years. So, how do you analyze the situation of political tension felt in the country since the left-wing opposition won the elections and became the incumbent government?

A: It is not new to see a Latin American democracy, in a historically unequal country, elect a leftist political movement after generations of control by conservative elites, and then see other conservative state powers seeking to block that leftist leader. Sometimes (as happened with Salvador Allende) the conservatives win the contest with tragic results. Sometimes (Hugo Chavez’s case) the leftist movement succeeds in eliminating all checks on its power, which also brings bad results. But at other times (Lula, Bachelet, Mujica), the leftist movement manages to govern in spite of its conservative opponents while strengthening democratic institutions. Colombia is in the first months of a similar dynamic. Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez seem to realize that they have to act quickly to make a noticeable change in people’s lives, otherwise Colombian voters will go back to supporting right-wing candidates in 2026.

Q: True: people are impatient and critics are very insistent…

A: The government often seems overwhelmed by all the items on its agenda. Some policies, such as “total peace,” seem improvised: there is not enough communication about the content of the plan, too much seems to be done through tweets, and official agencies are still hiring key personnel.

Q: From your point of view as a foreign analyst, what is the greatest success and the greatest failure of the “total peace” project?

A: We still don’t really know, as I said, what total peace is; at least not in detail. I can only speculate about its successes and failures: the greatest success, so far, is to have created the hope that Colombia’s historic cycles of violence can be broken without needing to do so on the battlefield. If the Petro government manages to demobilize most of the country’s armed groups without firing a shot, through persuasion, compromise, and negotiation, it would be transformative. The biggest failure, for the moment, is the lack of clarity about what would happen afterwards, if total peace were to succeed. If the vacuum of state presence in the territories continues as it did with Santos, the effort will not be worth it. Why eliminate a group of armed group leaders from the scene so that new ones can replace them because the state did not arrive?

[Sidebar:] Legal opinion of former Justice Minister Yesid Reyes on arrest warrants:

“In my opinion, Prosecutor Barbosa is wrong when he says that there is no legal framework that allows lifting the arrest warrants that exist against members of organized armed structures of high impact crime. Law 2272 of 2022 expressly establishes that possibility, on a temporary basis, referring only to the authorized spokespersons of such organizations and only to bring them to justice. On the other hand, I find legitimate his concern about the decrees that ordered the cessation of hostilities against these criminal structures to install, with them, dialogue tables aimed at seeking their submission: this cessation of hostilities prohibits offensive military operations and police operations against these groups, which means that their members can only be captured if the authorities encounter them by chance. In practice, this leads to a de facto suspension of the arrest warrants against all their members, not just their authorized spokespersons, and not only for the 15 days requested by the Government, but until June 30, 2023. And with the vague purpose of setting up dialogue tables”.

Q: Do you think it is possible that the current right-wing opposition in Colombia, which has been quite active and rude, will try to move from legitimate criticism of the Petro government, to conspiracies and revolts as happened in Peru?

A: There will always be a desire to limit Petro’s ability to govern, if not to remove him. When he was mayor of Bogota, one remembers what the Internal Affairs Chief Alejandro Ordonez intended to do. But, for now, I don’t think it is likely that they will try to topple the President. Petro has been more strategic than Pedro Castillo, who was hapless, unpopular, and disorganized. Setting aside the corruption allegations against him, Castillo was chaotic, passing through dozens of ministers; and he seemed unable to communicate a vision while the opposition dominated Congress. In contrast, Petro began by building a working majority in Congress and reached out to opponents, including Alvaro Uribe. He is also a much better communicator—despite some unfortunate uses of Twitter—and his approval rating remains close to 50 percent. As long as these trends continue, Petro need not worry about conspiracies.

Otoniel’s signature

The last page of this week’s guilty plea in U.S. federal court of Dairo Úsuga, alias “Otoniel.” Until recently, Úsuga was the maximum commander of the Gulf Clan, Colombia’s most powerful neo-paramilitary organization, and one of the country’s top narcotraffickers.

The 51-year-old boss accumulated immense power, controlling territory and penetrating his influence deep within Colombia’s state. But this page does not show the handwriting of a man who had to write very often in his life.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: January 27, 2023

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

This week:

  • Using a now-familiar tactic, 20 Republican state governments filed suit in a Texas federal court to block the Biden administration’s use of humanitarian parole to admit up to 30,000 Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan migrants per month. This policy, combined with an expansion of Title 42 expulsions into Mexico, has dramatically reduced the number of migrants at the border in January, while contributing to greater hardship for asylum seekers blocked in Mexico.
  • CBP released data about migration at the U.S.-Mexico border in December, a record month for migrant encounters. Over two-thirds of those encounters were with migrants from countries other than Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. Because those other countries’ citizens were harder to expel using Title 42 (until this month), a record-low 20 percent of migrants were expelled from the border in December. CBP continues gradual increases in the number of asylum seekers permitted to present themselves at ports of entry under a system of Title 42 exemptions.
  • House Republicans have had to abandon plans to fast-track a bill that would block access to asylum at the border unless virtually impossible border security standards are met. Republican immigration-policy moderates expressed discomfort with the hardline bill. As it lacks the votes for quick floor passage, the “Border Safety and Security Act of 2023” must now pass through committee consideration, like most bills.

GOP-led states sue to stop Biden administration’s “Humanitarian Parole” program

In a scenario that has become common, 20 Republican state governments filed a lawsuit in Texas federal court seeking to block a Biden administration immigration policy. This time, the legal action targets the “humanitarian parole” program that the administration announced on January 5 (see WOLA’s January 6 Border Update).

Since that date, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has managed a process allowing up to 30,000 citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela per month to apply remotely—without coming to the U.S. border—for a status allowing them to remain in the United States, with work authorization, for up to two years.

To qualify for parole, migrants must have a sponsor in the United States and possess a passport, two requirements that exclude many would-be applicants for asylum in the United States. (In Haiti, passport requests have more than tripled, to 4,200 per day, overwhelming the government’s passport authority. Reports point to long lines forming at passport offices in Cuba.) As of January 25, about 1,700 migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Haiti had entered the United States legally under the program, administration officials told reporters.

The Biden administration had established a similar sponsor-based parole program in April 2022 for Ukrainian migrants fleeing Russia’s invasion. The states’ lawsuit does not target that similar program.

Under the new parole program, citizens of these countries who fail to apply and instead show up at the U.S. border are now quickly expelled back into Mexico regardless of their asylum needs, with the Mexican government’s agreement, under the nearly three-year-old “Title 42” pandemic authority.

The near impossibility of seeking asylum at the border has caused migration from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela to plummet by 97 percent between December and January, a month of record-high migration levels (see this update’s next section). “Encounters with individuals from these countries dropped from a 7-day average of 3,367 per day on December 11, to a seven-day average of just 115 on January 24,” reads a January 25 DHS release. January is now “on track to see the lowest levels of monthly border encounters since February 2021.” A DHS official told CNN that the overall number of migrants, from all countries, is down “by more than half in January compared to last month.”

During the first three weeks of January, over 14,000 migrants had passed through Panama’s Darién Gap jungles, Panamanian authorities told EFE. That is on track to match or exceed Darién Gap migration in November (16,632) and December (20,297), but to end up well below the nearly 60,000 migrants who passed through this treacherous region in October. January’s Darién Gap migrants come mostly from Haiti (6,459), Ecuador (3,031), and Brazil (562).

Read More

Latin America Security-Related News: January 25, 2023

(Even more here)

January 25, 2023

Western Hemisphere Regional

A blow-by-blow account of controversies at the CELAC summit in Argentina. The body will next be presided by St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Bolivia, Colombia

As Colombia’s government moves away from forced coca eradication, Bolivia’s experience carries some “replicatable” lessons

Bolivia, Colombia, Peru

Peru sends Colombia a protest note after Gustavo Petro condemns the security forces’ raid on a Lima university


“Well armed gold miners” have kept food and medical care from reaching the Yanomami reservation in Brazil’s Amazon. An official calls for military intervention


“The shift away from crop eradication means that the success of Petro’s anti-narcotic efforts now hinges on other measures, of which there are few details.” Cites WOLA

Gustavo Petro and Chris Dodd meet at the CELAC summit. Drug policy and extradition of armed-group leaders engaged in negotiations appear to be on the agenda

The Petro government extends the UN Human Rights office’s mandate for nine more years


This year’s elections process will determine whether Guatemala can still be called a democracy


The killing of a young man in Cortés highlights the need for police reform in Honduras


The military’s internal security role is supposed to “support” police. But now they don’t even have to notify the police about arrests

Read More

Latin America Security-Related News: January 24, 2023

(Even more here)

January 24, 2023

Argentina, Brazil, Western Hemisphere Regional

Moderate left and far-left governments are unlikely to find much unity at the CELAC summit


It’s often hard for a leftist elected leader to coexist with its military, where officers are usually very conservative. In Brazil post-Bolsonaro and post-January 8, it’s even harder


The columnist, who lost her father in the 1985 Palace of Justice operation, calls out the “cynicism” of the general who led that operation, who recently testified in Colombia’s post-conflict transitional justice tribunal

“Territorial Consultative Spaces” would enable dialogue on drug policy between government and coca cultivating communities

A delegation of government and ELN representatives to southern Chocó and northern Valle del Cauca hears calls for immediate humanitarian relief


“According to analysts, the president has not had the political intelligence to capitalize on the electorate that voted for Castillo, and instead made a drastic shift to the right that supports her decision to repress”

U.S.-Mexico Border

Deceased migrants in rural mid-Texas are being thrown into mass graves without attempting to identify them. Students have done some exhumations. Cites WOLA

Not all House Republicans, it turns out, want to do away with asylum

Latin America Security-Related News: January 23, 2023

(Even more here)

January 23, 2023


A lengthy, sympathetic profile of a president who “seemed a little overwhelmed by the prospects he faced in his mission to save Brazil”


Analysis of the Petro government’s plan to invest heavily in “tertiary” farm-to-market roads

A decree shifting around the Petro government’s peace-related org chart appears to demote the unit in charge of implementing the 2016 peace accord

“Successful result” of an originally unprogrammed round of talks in Caracas, say government and ELN negotiators

The Human RIghts Ombudsman counts 215 human rights defenders killed in Colombia in 2022

A detailed report-back from government and ELN representatives’ five-day visit to southern Chocó and northern Valle del Cauca


It “may prove to be one of the more remarkable intelligence failures of the drug war”

“Many of the migrants expelled by the United States through Ciudad Juárez wander the streets in search of help to survive, staying at the border in the hope of crossing the border”

13 Mexican journalists were killed last year, and the impunity rate for journalist killings is around 89 percent


Peru’s security forces failed to de-escalate protests, and they’re escalating. “We can no longer reach a dialogue, because many people have died”

Read More

Latin America-related events online and in Washington this week

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

  • 10:00-11:00 at Mining, Climate Risks, and the Western Hemisphere (RSVP required).
  • 12:30-1:30 at Venezuela in 2023 and Beyond: Charting a New Course (RSVP required).
  • 3:00 at ABA Zoom: Electronic Monitoring of Migrants: Alternative to Detention or Just Another Form of Punitive Custody? (RSVP required).
  • 4:00-5:00 at Georgetown University Intercultural Center: Paraguay’s Future in a Turbulent Continent (RSVP required).

Thursday, January 26, 2023

  • 11:00-12:30 at The Future of Women in STEM – Challenges and Opportunities in LAC (RSVP required).
  • 6:00-8:00 at Busboys and Poets 14th and V NW: “After Ayotzinapa”: The Case of the 43 Disappeared Students in Mexico (RSVP required).

Friday, January 27, 2023

  • 6:00-7:30 at American University Spring Valley Building: A Look Inside Venezuela: An Expert Conversation With Author William Neuman (RSVP required).

CBP Migrant Encounters at the U.S.-Mexico Border, by Country of Origin, October-December

In December, Cuba nearly surpassed Mexico as the number-one country of origin of migrants encountered at the US-Mexico border.

The largest increases in encountered migrants from October-December:

  • Ecuador 130%
  • China 120%
  • Russia (now 9th) 104%
  • “Other” 102%
  • Nicaragua 69%

The largest decreases:

  • Venezuela -63%
  • Mexico -27%
  • Haiti -24%

Here is the underlying data table going back to October 2019, using CBP’s dataset.

Latin America Security-Related News: January 20, 2023

(Even more here)

January 20, 2023

Western Hemisphere Regional

Southcom commander suggests that Latin American nations donate to Ukraine weaponry they’ve purchased from Russia


Francia Marquez calls for reparations as “a set of transformational policies that will lift up these communities that have lived through a history of violence”

How will a ceasefire between the government and one ex-FARC dissident network affect ongoing disputes between that network and other armed groups?


Diplomats discussed “human trafficking, narcotics, and other criminal cases”


Peru’s protests move to Lima, which sees outbreaks of violence

U.S.-Mexico Border

Very rare to see a U.S. soldier fire at a civilian on U.S. soil

“Last year was the most profitable on record for border contractors, and by all indications there will be more to reap in 2023”

A look at recent history shows the deliberate damage wrought by “prevention through deterrence” at the border

An explanation of “humanitarian parole,” the legal status that the Biden administration is increasingly employing to accommodate migrants instead of asylum

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: January 20, 2023

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

This week:

  • Arrivals of migrants in El Paso, the busiest part of the border near the end of 2022, have declined sharply. A key reason is the impossibility of seeking asylum for people of additional nationalities amid the Biden administration’s recent expansion of the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy.
  • As Mexican border cities absorb more expelled migrants, they are receiving more new arrivals, who are apparently not deterred by the Title 42 expansion.
  • CBP’s new app-based process allowing especially vulnerable asylum seekers to access Title 42 exemptions was quickly overwhelmed by demand.
  • New York Mayor Eric Adams, whose city is receiving over 3,000 weekly arrivals of asylum seekers, traveled to El Paso. He called on the federal government to provide more support, and criticized governors who have been sending migrants to his city without coordination.
  • CBP rolled out a new vehicle pursuit policy that intends to clarify when Border Patrol agents may engage in high-speed chases, which have led to an increasing number of fatalities on public roads in the border region.

Migration declines in El Paso

Across the U.S.-Mexico border, U.S. border agents are apprehending about 4,000 migrants per day in mid-January, an unnamed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official told CBS News. That is down from an average of 7,000 per day in November.

In mid-December, as WOLA’s Border Updates discussed at the time, El Paso, Texas was experiencing a sharp increase in migrant arrivals, reaching a daily average of 2,254 in the middle of December, according to data shared on a city “dashboard” page. Of that number, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was releasing an average of 1,478 migrants per day—virtually all of them with asylum claims—into El Paso shelters or, when those filled, onto the city’s streets.

Since then, migration has rapidly plummeted in El Paso. The daily average of migrant arrivals for the past week has fallen more than 60 percent from its mid-December peak, to 850. The daily average of migrant releases has dropped 89 percent, to 166.

El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser told Border Report that CBP has not released migrants onto the city’s streets because of exhausted shelter capacity “for weeks now.” El Paso’s convention center is no longer being used as a shelter, and the area around its bus station, where hundreds of homeless migrants were gathered in December, is now empty, the New York Times reported. The city’s government will allow a 30-day disaster declaration, issued on December 23, to lapse.

A key reason for the drop in migration to El Paso is a January 5 policy change that now makes asylum all but impossible to obtain for migrants from Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. That is the list of countries whose citizens Mexico has agreed to accept as land-border expulsions under the Title 42 public health authority, which the Supreme Court prolonged on December 27.

CBP does not afford migrants subject to these expulsions the right to ask for protection in the United States, normally guaranteed under Section 208 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. With asylum impossible to obtain (with a few exceptions for the most vulnerable, discussed below), the number of asylum seekers from those countries has plummeted, at least in El Paso, where the local government reports numbers almost in real time.

With the Mexican government’s assent, the Biden administration expanded the list of countries subject to Title 42 land-border expulsion in October to include Venezuela, and in early January to include Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua. For all four countries, the administration paired this with a new “humanitarian parole” program allowing a combined total of up to 30,000 citizens pero month to apply online for a two-year documented status in the United States. (Applicants must hold passports and have sponsors in the United States—likely barriers to many threatened migrants—and must pass background checks.)

The first 10 migrants to be granted parole under this new system arrived by air in the United States on January 10, CBS News reported, citing “unpublished government data.” More than 600 other migrants from these four countries had already been approved for parole as of January 13. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had received “thousands” more applications.

At the Washington Examiner, analysts at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation viewed the Biden administration’s Title 42 expansion as a likely cause for El Paso’s drop in migrant arrivals, but gave more credit to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) mid-December deployment of 700 National Guardsmen to the borderline. Troops set up armored vehicles and concertina wire along the Rio Grande between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, blocking or discouraging would-be asylum seekers.

One Texas Public Policy Foundation analyst is Rodney Scott, Border Patrol’s chief during the Trump administration and the first months of the Biden administration. Scott shared with the Examiner his view that increased fighting between organized crime groups in Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, is the main factor: “My sources within [the Department of Homeland Security] believe that the primary reason that illegal cross-border traffic has slowed in El Paso is because of the cartel wars that have ramped up recently.” (Ciudad Juárez saw a violent beginning to the new year: a prison break that freed 30 inmates, including a leader of the Sinaloa Cartel-tied “Mexicles” gang, and a related shootout that killed 17 people.)

Large numbers of migrants continue arriving in Mexican border cities

Whatever the reason for the drop in migration to El Paso, the trend appears to be uneven border-wide.

Del Rio continues to be busy. They are still getting large groups daily,” a Border Patrol official wrote to the Washington Examiner’s Anna Giaritelli, referring to the rural mid-Texas Border Patrol sector hundreds of miles east of El Paso that has been a top migrant destination since 2021. The official added that “The Rio Grande Valley along Texas’s Gulf Coast and Yuma in western Arizona have also remained top regions for arrests.”

In Yuma, Amanda Aguirre of the Regional Center for Border Health, the NGO that receives and transports migrants released from CBP custody, told the Arizona Daily Star that “the numbers of people they are helping has been enormous—up to 500 a day.” With the Center’s capacity overwhelmed, CBP began releasing migrants directly into Yuma on December 20, the city’s mayor, Douglas Nicholls, told El Paso Matters. Yuma is “just beginning to see… what we saw a year ago, and that is people walking through the community without going through Border Patrol,” he added.

In cities on Mexico’s side of the border, there is scant evidence that the Biden administration’s Title 42 expansion is deterring migrants.

In those cities, estimates of the number of asylum-seeking migrants awaiting an opportunity to cross to the United States range from 18,000 (Doctors Without Borders, cited this week), to at least 35,200 (according to “a Dec. 31 CBP internal report obtained by Yahoo News”), to 44,700 (“individuals on waitlists in ten Mexican border cities” in November, according to the University of Texas Strauss Center).

In Ciudad Juárez, across from a less-busy El Paso, shelters are 85 percent full and the Chihuahua state government Population Center (COESPO) “has been seeing between 200 and 400 migrants per day—a higher number than in the days prior to the end of Title 42 expulsions in late December,” according to Border Report.

The United States is expelling about 50 migrants per day into Ciudad Juárez, fewer than originally expected when the Biden administration expanded Title 42’s application, according to Alejandra Corona of Jesuit Refugee Services. Mexican immigration authorities are giving expelled families documents allowing them to remain in the country for 60 days; single adults may remain for just 15 days. Most of those expelled to Ciudad Juárez, Corona said, are not interested in applying for asylum in Mexico.

But migrants keep arriving in the city from the south, including thousands of Venezuelans led by “a lack of information about the new requirements, combined with the hope President Biden ‘will change his mind,’” COESPO official Enrique Valenzuela told Border Report. “Also, many Venezuelans who were waiting for the end of Title 42 in December haven’t left, and those expelled from the U.S. since then aren’t going anywhere, either.”

Further east in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, across from Eagle Pass, Texas, U.S. authorities have expelled about 3,000 Cuban migrants in just over a week, the Mexican daily Milenio reported.

In Matamoros, Tamaulipas, across from Brownsville, Texas, “more than 4,000 migrants are living on the street,” Doctors Without Borders humanitarian official Anayeli Flores told Mexico’s La Jornada. That includes at least 2,000 mostly Venezuelan migrants living in an encampment along the river, which received mention in a January 11 CBP Office of Intelligence report seen by Yahoo News. So far, Flores said, U.S. expulsions of Cubans, Haitians, or Nicaraguans “have not been detected” in Matamoros.

In Baja California and Sonora, Mexico, officials have “voiced concern about managing daily returns of approximately 200 migrants” expelled from the United States, the same CBP report notes.

In Sonora, the Arizona Daily Star reported, the Title 42 expansion “created immediate confusion among migrants who were already at the border and for many of the shelters and centers in Sonora that serve them.” A CBP document cited by Yahoo News claims that “Only 11 agents from Mexico’s immigration agency… are deployed along the entire border with Arizona.” Sonora’s state government buses the first 100 people expelled from Arizona each day to the state capital, Hermosillo. There, state official Bernardeth Ruiz Romero said that the government shelter accommodated 221 Cuban migrants in the days after the Biden administration’s Title 42 expansion.

In Baja California, where the largest border city is Tijuana, children of migrant families expelled by the United States or unable to ask for asylum there are posing a challenge to local schools. “Migrant students in Tijuana face stigma and learning challenges at public schools, where teachers receive little guidance on how to address their unique needs,” reported the San Diego Union-Tribune, citing a very high figure of at least 46,000 foreign students of 70 nationalities enrolled last year in Baja California’s school system.

Further south in Mexico City, the coordinator of the Casa Tochan migrant shelter told La Jornada that expelled migrants have recently arrived there. “They mainly continue to be Venezuelan, but there are also Nicaraguans.”

In the city of Tapachula, Chiapas, near Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, Fredy Castillo of the Haitian Bridge Alliance told EFE that his humanitarian organization has “noticed an increase in people after the last U.S. decree [expanding Title 42]. There is a lot of misinformation from social networks (but that increase) is remarkable.” Some migrants in Tapachula “of diverse nationalities” told EFE “that they will seek to transit irregularly through the Latin American country [Mexico] until they reach the northern border in an attempt to challenge the new U.S. immigration program.”

The population of migrants stranded in Tapachula remains large. In the pre-dawn hours of January 16, a municipal police operation blocked migrants’ access to a public space in the city’s center where hundreds of them, mostly Haitians, had been gathering each day to earn small amounts of money by selling goods. The operation involved “no injuries,” according to La Jornada.

All along the migration route, “Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama are facing limitations on capacity at migrant shelters, with some countries having to shutter shelters due to lack of funding,” according to a non-public December 15 report, produced by the DHS “Intelligence Enterprise’s Migration Indicators and Warnings Cell Migrant Fusion Cell,” cited by Yahoo News.

That report finds Costa Rica’s government “overwhelmed by the migration surge as well as the related health, education, and security costs.” It adds that in late July 2022, Panama’s government “notified the U.S. that it will begin limiting long-term detention for known or suspected terrorists and other special interest migrants, citing lack of funding and overcrowding and ‘lack of specific justifications for prolonged detention.’” Detaining a migrant costs Panama “between $55 and $65 per day.”

Guatemala’s government meanwhile issued a January 13 “yellow alert,” deploying additional police and soldiers to its border with Honduras, citing “the possible mass arrival of migrants at its borders in the coming days.”

The “CBP One” app, now used for Title 42 exemptions, quickly hits capacity

As discussed in WOLA’s January 13 Border Update, the Biden administration on January 6 began using a CBP smartphone app to manage asylum-seeking migrants’ applications to access a small but growing program of Title 42 exemptions for those deemed “most vulnerable.” Appointments available through the CBP One app, which can book appointments within a two-week window, quickly filled up.

Those who apply must be in Mexico above the 19th parallel (roughly north of a point just south of Mexico City). Those who get appointments may approach a land-border port of entry to request asylum. CBP will use Title 42 to expel them, though, if officers determine that the migrant does not meet “vulnerability” criteria.

“Vulnerable” migrants are those who have a physical or mental illness, a disability, are pregnant, lack safe housing or shelter in Mexico, have been threatened or harmed while in Mexico, or are under 21 or over 70 (or family members of migrants who meet these criteria). The criteria do not include LGBTQ status as a vulnerability.

The app replaces a less formal, often confusing Title 42 exemption process that had relied on recommendations of the most vulnerable migrants shared with CBP by NGOs, immigration attorneys, and other service providers. CBP had been granting about 180 exemption appointments each day at its San Ysidro port of entry south of San Diego, the border’s busiest, and about 70 per day in El Paso, the Associated Press reported. In Nogales, appointments averaged 60 per day.

Critics of the CBP One app have voiced concern about CBP’s use of location and other data that the app gathers, and the possibility that it could exclude some of the most threatened, who may lack smartphones and internet access.

Appointments for Title 42 exemptions using the app filled up very quickly. By January 16, a screenshot of the app shared by the Cato Institute’s David Bier showed no appointments available until at least January 31, and no ability to make an appointment until January 19.

“In Matamoros on 01/18, the available spaces for a POE appointment in Brownsville, TX, lasted approximately 90 minutes, after which the asylum seekers had to choose other ports until there were no more available,” tweeted Estuardo Cifuentes of Lawyers For Good Government’s Project Corazon in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley. In Matamoros, Voice of America talked to perplexed migrants who were only able to secure appointments dozens or hundreds of miles away, requiring travel through Mexico’s dangerous state of Tamaulipas.

“It’s like Ticketmaster but for asylum seekers — and then if you don’t get it, you don’t get it,” Erika Pinheiro of San Diego/Tijuana-based Al Otro Lado, a legal services non-profit, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “There’s no queue of people who tried to get an appointment and didn’t get it.” Cato’s Bier tweeted, “The whole premise of the app was that people would not cross illegally if they knew that they could enter legally, but now they don’t know that they can. It defeats the purpose.”

New York’s mayor visits El Paso

New York City Mayor Eric Adams paid a January 14-15 visit to El Paso. There, he appealed to the federal government to provide funds and take other steps to help New York and other large cities accommodating a large number of arrivals of asylum-seeking migrants.

Adams’s city has been averaging about 400 daily arrivals of migrants who first come to the U.S.-Mexico border, including 875 on January 12, according to the New York Times. (If sustained over a year, 400 people per day would increase New York City’s population by nearly 2 percent.) “Over 36,000 people have gone through New York’s system, and roughly 24,000 are still in the city, according to the latest figures from the mayor’s office,” the Times added; according to Border Report, Adams cited a figure of 40,000 asylum seekers “welcomed” by New York City since last spring, adding that the city had received 3,100 people in each of the two previous weeks.

“We still have over 26,000 people still in our care,” including many in homeless shelters, the New York mayor said. The cost to the city of sheltering, feeding, schooling, and providing other services for newly arrived migrants could be “anywhere from $1.5 billion to $2 billion,” Adams told a New York radio station on January 13.

“In New York and Houston and Los Angeles and Washington, our cities are being undermined and we don’t deserve this,” Adams said in a press appearance with El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser. “Migrants don’t deserve this and the people who live in the cities don’t deserve this.”

Many of the migrants arriving in New York and elsewhere—though probably not a majority—have arrived on buses funded by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican who has made a point of ensuring that cities and states run by Democrats feel the impact of the current increase in asylum-seeking migration. Mayor Adams voiced strong criticism of Abbott’s “disrespectful” and “wrong” busing effort, which the Texas state government carries out with no coordination with receiving cities’ local governments or NGOs. (Adams extended his rebuke to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, who had briefly begun busing migrants to New York and Chicago until those mayors asked him to stop.)

On January 15, the Guardian published the story of a Colombian migrant mother whom Texas placed on a bus to Philadelphia, far from her intended destination, with a sick child. “Food was in short supply and there was no medical attention available.”

Mayor Adams toured a migrant processing center, visited the border wall, and spoke with migrants outside Sacred Heart Church in El Paso’s Segundo Barrio neighborhood, where many migrants receive humanitarian assistance. Outside the church, Adams struck a different tone than his “undermining” message, telling a cheering group of migrants, “We are fighting for you for an opportunity to work and experience the American dream.”

The Mayor called on the federal government for help. He asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide more assistance to New York and other cities, and to coordinate more closely with local governments. He called on Congress to change the law to allow asylum seekers to obtain work authorizations earlier in the asylum process, so that they might be less dependent on public assistance to survive.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on January 15 that she “wholeheartedly” agreed with Adams’s call for more federal support, CBS News reported. In Miami, meanwhile, the city school district’s rolls increased by 14,723 foreign-born students during the current academic year, 9,935 of them from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, the Miami Herald reported.

CBP updates its vehicle pursuits directive

After years of increasing fatalities associated with Border Patrol’s chasing down suspected smuggling vehicles on border-area roads, CBP on January 12 made public a new directive on “Emergency Driving and Vehicular Pursuits.” It expands on a January 2021 directive—the first one that CBP ever made public, in November 2021—by spelling out more clearly when Border Patrol agents should engage in risky vehicle pursuits, when it makes sense to terminate a pursuit, and how the agency must report incidents afterward.

Border Patrol agents frequently pursue vehicles that agents suspect of transporting undocumented migrants or contraband, or otherwise violating the law. When suspect vehicles “fail to yield,” these pursuits on public roads, usually at high speeds, become hazardous. “As many modern police agencies move away from high-speed chases, placing tight restrictions on when their officers can pursue suspects, the Border Patrol allows its agents wide latitude to use them to catch people trying to enter the country illegally, a practice that often ends in gruesome injuries and, sometimes, death,” a 2019 ProPublica and Los Angeles Times investigation reported.

That investigation looked at over 500 reported vehicle pursuits along the U.S.-Mexico border between 2015 and 2019, finding that 1 out of every 3 ended in a crash, with at least 250 people injured and 22 killed. The ACLU of Texas and New Mexico documented 22 people killed as a result of Border Patrol vehicle pursuits in 2021, up from 14 in 2020 and 2 in 2019.

ACLU lawyers argued that CBP’s existing vehicle pursuit policy “gives agents too much discretion in determining the risk to public safety,” the New York Times reported in January 2022. Under the existing policy, “What we see in practice is that agents will engage in pursuits really on the basis of zero information and under any circumstances,” Shaw Drake, then an attorney with ACLU of Texas, told the Associated Press. In May, CBP’s commissioner at the time, Chris Magnus, announced that the agency would be revising this policy following an extensive review process, which would include learning other law enforcement agencies’ best practices.

“Critically, this policy does not prohibit pursuits. CBP’s unique border security mission requires that it retain the ability to pursue vehicles,” reads the agency’s January 12 release. It does, however, clarify the “reasonableness” standard that agents must consider before engaging in, and while persisting in, a high-risk vehicle pursuit. The new policy defines “Objectively Reasonable” as follows:

When the Governmental Interest in apprehending a subject at the moment outweighs the Foreseeability of Risk to the public, other law enforcement, and vehicle occupants. It is the constant responsibility of all officers/agents involved in a Vehicular Pursuit to continue weighing Pursuit Risk Factors if a Subject Vehicle continuously Fails to Yield to an Authorized Officer/Agent’s authority. If after weighing these factors, a Pursuit is no longer Objectively Reasonable, the Pursuit must be Terminated consistent with the requirements of this directive. Objective Reasonableness is based on the totality of the circumstances known by the officer/agent at the time of the event rather than the advantages/benefits of post-incident hindsight.

The new directive will become effective in May 2023.

The announcement came just days after a January 8 Border Patrol vehicle pursuit in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, west of El Paso, that ended in a crash that killed two and injured eight aboard the fleeing vehicle. Three days earlier, near Hachita, New Mexico, a vehicle rolled over, injuring two aboard, in a pursuit incident that followed the rare shooting of a Border Patrol agent, who was wearing body armor and emerged unharmed.

Other News

  • A letter from three Senate Democrats, reported in The Hill, raised alarms about federal inaction against armed private militia groups operating along the U.S.-Mexico border. “Absent federal action cracking down on their unauthorized behavior, vigilante groups will continue to operate and weaken the government’s ability to maintain migrant safety, protect human rights, and defend the rule of law at the border,” reads the communication from Sens. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), and Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
  • A document from the National Immigrant Justice Center lays out a set of principles for a more humane system to receive migrants at the border, based on coordination with local government and civil society, “non-custodial, humanitarian reception centers at the border,” and large investments in asylum processing and humanitarian needs.
  • A Human Rights First fact sheet condemns the Biden administration’s proposal to issue a “transit ban” rule making it very difficult for asylum seekers to apply for protection in the United States if they did not first apply in a country through which they passed en route to the U.S. border. Almost 300 organizations, including WOLA, sent a letter to Biden expressing “alarm and condemnation” of  this proposed rule.
  • A Cuban migrant woman died in Border Patrol custody on January 2 in Eagle Pass, Texas, CBP reported. The cause of death, perhaps, was heart failure.
  • Since November, Ecuadorians have been the number-one nationality of migrants passing through Panama’s Darién Gap jungles; in April 2022, Mexico suspended its visa exemptions for Ecuadorians, making the air route complicated for those not qualifying for tourist visas. “According to Ecuadorians who have already arrived in the United States or are awaiting passage in Mexico,” reported Spain’s El País, “migrants are sold the Darién route as a complete package that leaves Quito, passes the Rumichaca bridge on Colombia’s southern border, and arrives in the jungle. However, some do not appreciate the harshness of the journey.” (For now at least, Ecuador is not among the countries whose citizens Mexico accepts as land-border Title 42 expulsions.)
  • A 2022 Gallup poll found that about 30 percent of Latin Americans—which would be roughly 140 million people—“would like to move to another country permanently if they could.” Of those, about a third, perhaps 46 million, would move to the United States.
  • In Mexico’s violent border state of Tamaulipas, the state police’s “elite” U.S.-trained unit, the Special Operations Group or GOPES, is getting a name change and losing about a quarter of its members, according to Elefante Blanco. Now to be called the Special Forces of the State Guard, the unit is under a cloud of human rights and corruption allegations, including members’ role in a January 2021 massacre of migrants.
  • “It’s unclear how much the federal government will have to spend to remediate the damage in the Coronado National Forest. Or whether it will remediate” following the Arizona state government’s takedown of a “shipping container wall” built between gaps in the border fence on federal land, reported Melissa del Bosque at the Border Chronicle.
  • After consulting with “stakeholders,” CBP is releasing a new plan for border wall replacement south of San Diego, near the Pacific Ocean. This apparently includes a plan to reopen “Friendship Park,” a 1970s-era space where U.S. and Mexican citizens were once able to interact. Now, as in the recent past, interactions will have to occur between fence bollards.
  • Mexican immigration agents found three Salvadoran unaccompanied children, sisters aged nine, six, and one year old, stranded on an islet in the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, Texas and Piedras Negras, Coahuila.
  • “President Biden has let cartels run rampant on the border,” wrote Rep. Mark Green (R-Tennessee), the new chairman of the House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Committee. Rep. Green is among 50 Republican sponsors of the “Border Safety and Security Act,” one of the first pieces of legislation to be introduced by the new House Republican majority. That bill would expel most undocumented migrants—including asylum seekers—encountered at the border, and suspend the right to seek asylum until DHS achieves “operational control” of the border. A letter to Congress signed by 250 U.S. organizations, including WOLA, calls this bill part of “an alarming uptick in hateful rhetoric and violence targeting asylum seekers and immigrants in the United States.”

Latin America Security-Related News: January 19, 2023

(Even more here)

January 19, 2023


“Authorities now say the Army was complacent or even complicit in the attacks, turning a blind eye as rioters plotted in camps outside military headquarters”


Early on in talks with armed groups, Petro government representatives have asked them to “disincentivize” coca cultivation

Overview of the nine-page ceasefire agreement, with a verification mechanism, between the government and the largest ex-FARC dissident network

Colombia, Guatemala

“”Most of the Republicans who are giving a free pass to Guatemala,’ added the staffer, ‘never knew Iván Velásquez'”

The acting U.S. ambassador voices support for Colombia’s defense minister in the face of a corrupt Guatemalan prosecutorial investigation

Cuba, Haiti

A very large number of rafters returned to Cuba and Haiti


Honduras’s wave of femicides is worsening as the new year begins


We may learn a lot about the drug war from the García Luna trial. Cites WOLA

Mexico, Venezuela

About 2,060 Venezuelan migrants blocked by Title 42 expansion have given up and gone home. But in Mexico, most have no intention of doing that


“UNHCR considers that the situation prevailing in Nicaragua may be characterized as a massive violation of human rights”

U.S.-Mexico Border

“Border militia and vigilante groups have a long history of targeting migrants in the U.S. But Facebook is giving them an unprecedented platform to coordinate their activities—and amplify misinformation and conspiracy theories about migrants”

Includes a link to a letter to DHS Secretary Mayorkas asking for lots of information

The first border hearing in the Republican House will take place the week of February 6

“Eight Marvelous & Melancholy Things I’ve Learned About Creativity”

From Mathew Inman, creater of the webcomic The Oatmeal, a wonderful set of illustrated reflections about what’s worked for him over 10 years of creative work.

The advice here is equally applicable to those of us whose work may be less “creative” but still involves a rapid tempo of trying to explain and illustrate things to people, and a lot of online communication. (Work like, for instance, trying to make people care about Title 42, aerial herbicide fumigation, or military aid to authoritarian-trending governments.)

Highly recommended, and as funny as Inman’s snarky comic.

Latin America Security-Related News: January 18, 2023

(Even more here)

January 18, 2023

Western Hemisphere Regional

“Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama are facing limitations on capacity at migrant shelters, with some countries having to shutter shelters due to lack of funding,” states a non-public CBP report


Representatives of the ELN peace negotiations will participate in a 100-person delegation setting the stage for a possible humanitarian accord in parts of Colombia’s violent Pacific coast region

2022 was the worst year for murders of social leaders since the 2016 peace accord was signed

Colombia, Guatemala

The Guatemalan prosecutor’s investigation of Colombia’s defense minister looks like a political vendetta


Amid a lack of state presence, organized crime and related violence are worsening in Honduras’s eastern department of Olancho


The Tamaulipas state police’s “elite,” U.S.-trained unit, under a cloud of human rights and corruption allegations, gets a name change and loses about a quarter of its members

The Garcia Luna trial could tell us a lot about how the U.S. government has carried out the drug war, including its blind spots about “allies”


It’s really not clear how Peru’s democracy will recover from this crisis and the social divisions it has aggravated

U.S.-Mexico Border

CBP’s plan to restore fencing near the Pacific Ocean apparently includes a plan to reopen “Friendship Park”

Migrant encounters in El Paso have dropped by two-thirds since December. Title 42 expansion could be a reason, though a former Border Patrol chief blames infighting between organized crime groups across the border in Ciudad Juarez

A HRF report condemns the Biden administration’s proposed asylum “transit ban”

Latin America Security-Related News: January 16-17, 2023

(Even more here)

January 17, 2023


– Choque de Fiscalia y Gobierno por Capturas de Clan del Golfo: ¿Quien Tiene Razon? (El Espectador (Colombia), January 17, 2023).

The government wants to suspend arrest orders against Gulf Clan leaders while talks proceed. The prosecutor’s office, an independent branch of the state, disagrees

– Delegados del Gobierno y Eln Van al Pacifico y se Reunen en Venezuela (El Espectador (Colombia), January 17, 2023).

Government and ELN representatives will hold quick talks in Venezuela and then travel to Chocó and Valle del Cauca to discuss a humanitarian accord


– Carlos Alvarez Acevedo, Ong’s Advierten Mas Militarizacion por Nombramiento de Generales en Subsecretaria y en Gn (Revista Zeta (Tijuana Mexico), January 17, 2023).

The ex-general in charge of Mexico’s National Guard is now in charge of public security


– Maria Elena Castillo, Ayacucho: Si Hubo un Patron, Les Dispararon a Matar (La Republica (Peru), January 17, 2023).

Autopsies of protesters killed in December protests in Ayacucho make plain that Peruvian authorities were shooting to kill, aiming at vital organs. Illustrates the danger of using the military for crowd control

U.S.-Mexico Border

– Danyelle Khmara, Impacts of New Migration Policy on Arizona’s Border With Mexico (, January 17, 2023).

Interviews in Sonora, Mexico, with migrants stranded there by the Biden administration’s recent expansion of Title 42 expulsions to new nationalities

January 16, 2023


– Anthony Faiola, Marina Dias, Samantha Schmidt, Brazil’s Military Blocked Arrests of Bolsonaro Rioters, Officials Say (The Washington Post, January 16, 2023).

“‘You are not going to arrest people here,’ Brazil’s senior army commander, Gen. Júlio César de Arruda, told new Justice Minister Flávio Dino”


– Yamid Amat, ‘No Habra Persecucion a Campesinos Cocaleros, Si a Capitalistas de la Cocaina’ (El Tiempo (Colombia), January 16, 2023).

Felipe Tascon, who is running Colombia’s crop substitution efforts, proposes taking a softer line toward small-scale coca cultivators

– Olga Sanmartin, Buenaventura: Un Laboratorio de Paz en Medio de la Inmensa Miseria (Revista Cambio (Colombia), January 16, 2023).

Principal article in a series taking the temperature of ongoing peace talks between the two main criminal groups in Buenaventura, the impoverished city that is Colombia’s busiest port

Read More

Latin America-related events online and in Washington this week

Tuesday, January 17

  • 9:45-4:00 at Seminario “Desmilitarizar a México: ¿dónde estamos y hacia dónde vamos?” (RSVP required).

Wednesday, January 18

Thursday, January 19

  • 11:00-3:15 at Seminario “Desmilitarizar a México: ¿dónde estamos y hacia dónde vamos?” (RSVP required).
  • 12:30-1:30 at A conversation with General Laura J. Richardson on security across the Americas (RSVP required).

Off today

It’s a national holiday here in the United States, and we have a family visit today. I’ll be away from the keyboard for much of the day and unable to respond to messages until, probably, late afternoon.

Have a good weekend

Seattle’s KEXP just posted this video of The Smile—Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead with drummer Tom Skinner from Sons of Kemet—playing 3 songs from last year’s album.

Latin America Security-Related News: January 13, 2023

(Even more here)

January 13, 2023


– Fernando Fuentes, “se Queda, Confio en el”: Lula Confirma a su Ministro de Defensa en Medio de Tension Con ff.aa. Por Ataque en Brasilia (La Tercera (Chile), January 13, 2023).

Brazil’s Defense Minister’s job is safe in the wake of the January 8 riot

Central America Regional

– Bajan Homicidios Violentos en Centroamerica Durante 2022 (Agence France Presse, Milenio (Mexico), January 13, 2023).

Homicides declined in El Salvador and Panama, but increased in Costa Rica and Guatemala. Nicaragua has no verifiable data

El Salvador, Guatemala

– Raul Barreno Castillo, En Guatemala Detienen a Lider de Banda Salvadorena los Quijada, Que Controlaba Parte del Narcotrafico Hacia Mexico (Prensa Libre (Guatemala), January 13, 2023).

An arrest offers a rare look at Salvadoran and Guatemalan narcotrafficking groups (not gangs)


– Estado de Excepcion en Honduras Todavia No Reduce la Extorsion (Expediente Publico (Honduras), January 13, 2023).

After more than a month, Honduras’s anti-crime state of emergency doesn’t appear to be reducing crime


– Maria Verza, Mark Stevenson, National Guard Sent to Mexico City Subway on Sabotage Worry (Associated Press, Associated Press, January 13, 2023).

“The Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez human rights center said the announcement ‘is concerning, because it is obvious that this agency reproduces the military’s problems with a lack of transparency and excessive use of force.'”

– Rafael Lopez Mendez, Camara de Representantes de Eu Sera Antimexicana en 2023: Ebrard (Milenio (Mexico), January 13, 2023).

Mexico’s foreign minister foresees a lot of Mexico-bashing coming from the new GOP House majority

U.S.-Mexico Border

– Elliot Spagat, Us Launches Online System to Seek Asylum on Mexican Border (Associated Press, Associated Press, January 13, 2023).

The “CBP One” app is now the main channel for asylum seekers to obtain Title 42 exemptions

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: January 13, 2023

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

This week:

  • President Joe Biden announced an expansion of the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy, recently prolonged by the U.S. Supreme Court, to encompass citizens of Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua, earning strong criticism from migrant rights’ advocates. The announcement came with a new “humanitarian parole” policy for those countries’ citizens, and plans to expand use of a CBP app to process protection-seeking migrants’ requests. Biden then paid a brief visit to El Paso en route to a meeting of North American leaders in Mexico City.
  • Mexican border cities are bracing for the first arrivals from these expanded Title 42 expulsions.
  • U.S. border cities received visits over the past few days from 11 U.S. senators: a bipartisan delegation that went to El Paso and Yuma, and an all-Republican delegation that visited Del Rio.

Migration a central issue as Biden visits El Paso and Mexico City

U.S. border and migration policy started 2023 with an eventful week. To recap:

  • In a January 5 policy speech, President Joe Biden announced an expansion of the Title 42 pandemic policy to encompass new nationalities’ land-border expulsions into Mexico, along with a new humanitarian parole program for citizens of those nationalities. (WOLA’s January 6 Border Update discussed this new policy at length.)
  • On January 8, President Biden paid a visit to El Paso, Texas.
  • On January 9 and 10, President Biden was in Mexico City for a summit of North American leaders, at which migration was a principal issue.
  • On January 12, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) began employing its “CBP One” smartphone app to manage applications for Title 42 exemptions, granted to asylum seekers deemed most vulnerable.

Policy changes

Biden gave his January 5 White House speech nine days after the Supreme Court ruled that the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy must remain in place for months pending later decisions. As discussed in WOLA’s January 6 update, up to 30,000 citizens per month from Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua are now subject to rapid Title 42 expulsion into Mexico if they are apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border, regardless of their stated need for asylum or other forms of protection in the United States. Mexico now accepts land-border Title 42 expulsions of eight countries’ citizens, including its own.

The same monthly number of those countries’ citizens may access a two-year humanitarian parole status in the United States i, which requires them to have a sponsor in the United States, a valid or recently expired passport, and passage of a background check. The first two hurdles, in particular, stand in many would-be parole applicants’ way.

Part of the parole application process involves registration via the CBP One smartphone app, which the agency has been rolling out “as a single portal to a variety of CBP services.” The Biden administration announced that the app will now also play a major role in asylum processing. As of January 12, asylum seekers must use the app to access a system of exemptions to Title 42, applying from outside the United States for appointments to present themselves at certain land ports of entry.

Over the past year, CBP has been granting a slowly expanding number of exemptions to Title 42, allowing asylum seekers who “meet specific vulnerability criteria” to approach land-border ports of entry on appointment. This initiative had relied on vulnerability recommendations made by humanitarian groups, immigration lawyers, and other service providers, with at times uncomfortable results. As of January 12, CBP intends for the CBP One app to become the main channel for seeking exemptions.

This use of the app is “an experiment,” an unnamed senior administration official told CNN. “Work is underway to build out the portal and is expected to come together in the next several months.” Critics of the process worry about CBP’s use of location and other data that the app gathers, and the possibility that it could exclude some of the most threatened. “Asking people fleeing for their lives to download an app and wait for months in their home country, where they are in mortal danger, is next-level cynicism,” wrote Melissa del Bosque at the Border Chronicle.

President Biden’s policy speech, further detailed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), included other proposals. For migrants who cannot be expelled easily under Title 42, DHS plans to increase use of “expedited removal”: migrants who do not specifically claim fear of persecution if returned, or who fail a credible fear interview with an asylum officer, will be repatriated quickly. It is not clear how broadly the expedited removal policy might expand, as DHS would incur significant cost removing migrants by air.

Migrant advocates are alarmed by a DHS and Department of Justice (DOJ) plan to issue a proposed rule that would deny asylum, with exceptions, to migrants who pass through other countries on their way to the U.S.-Mexico border. The so-called “transit ban” proposal resembles on the surface a policy that the Trump administration implemented in 2019, only to see it struck down by a federal court in 2020. Migrants who “circumvent available, established pathways to lawful migration, and also fail to seek protection in a country through which they traveled on their way to the United States, will be subject to a rebuttable presumption of asylum ineligibility in the United States unless they meet exceptions that will be specified,” a DHS document explained. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that further details about this proposed rule will be “available in the coming weeks.”

Four Democratic senators joined advocacy groups’ opposition to the proposed “transit ban,” warning in a statement that it “will disregard our obligations under international law by banning families from seeking asylum at the border, likely separating families and stranding migrants fleeing persecution and torture in countries unable to protect them.” Mexico’s chief diplomat for North America, Roberto Velasco, told the New York Times that any so-called “safe third country” attempt to send asylum seekers back to Mexico to apply for asylum there “is a red line for us… it would overwhelm the system.” Added Ana Lorena Delgadillo of Mexico’s non-governmental Foundation for Justice, “Mexicans are fleeing violence in their own communities. How are we going to protect others if we cannot protect our own?”

A White House document relating President Biden’s visit to Mexico City mentioned a few other small initiatives on migration cooperation.

  • The United States would help Mexico establish a migrant resource center in its southern-border city of Tapachula, from where people would be able to access information about how to apply to migrate to the U.S. and obtain assistance in Mexico. Confusingly, though, at the North American leaders’ joint January 10 press appearance in Mexico City, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said, “We are not thinking of building any center in the southeastern part of Mexico—any migration center. We’re not thinking of that. What we do is help with shelters, with healthcare services, with food services as well.”
  • The United States, Canada, and Mexico committed to “sharing best practices to increase promptness, efficiency, and fairness for the asylum processing systems.”
  • They agreed to counter “xenophobia and discrimination against migrants and refugees by promoting balanced public narratives on migrants and refugees to support their meaningful inclusion in the region.”
  • They committed to increase coordination on a strategy to crack down on northbound drug trafficking and southbound weapons trafficking. The presidential visit came just days after a bloody Mexican operation in Sinaloa state that captured the son of jailed drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, a reputed top figure in the Sinaloa Cartel organized-crime network.

As they reduce access to asylum and send a message of tightening at the border, the announced policy changes “were viewed as a win for presidential advisers with a background in national security over the more-liberal immigration policy advocates who are also part of Biden’s team,” the Washington Post reported.

Still, the measures, and Biden’s decision to visit the U.S.-Mexico border for the first time in his presidency, faced sharp criticism from the right. “This checks a box, but it doesn’t even begin to solve the problems we are facing there,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia), the ranking Republican member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, told the Washington Post. “Your visit to our southern border with Mexico today is $20 billion too little and two years too late,” read a letter that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) handed President Biden upon his arrival in El Paso. A letter from 14 Republican members of Texas’s House of Representatives delegation called on Biden to take even harder steps, like getting Mexico to agree to revive the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” program. America First Legal, the far-right NGO led by former Trump White House advisor Stephen Miller, promised to “pursue every available legal remedy” to block the Biden administration’s expansion of humanitarian parole, which it called a “colossal horror.”

Biden’s proposals faced strong criticism from backers of the right to seek asylum. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the Title 42 expansion “a disastrous and inhumane relic of the Trump administration’s racist immigration agenda.” Andrea Flores, who worked on immigration policy in the White House during the Biden administration’s first year and is now an advisor to Sen. Menendez, told the Washington Post that the new policy could send “bona fide asylum seekers” back to danger in Mexico, while allowing well-connected migrants facing less danger to access protection using an app. “Democrats must refuse to participate in Republicans’ games with people’s lives,” added a statement from the House Progressive Caucus.

“It’s enraging and sad to see a Democratic administration make it harder for vulnerable people to seek asylum all because they’re scared of angry MAGA voters on this issue,” a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) told CNN. Both CNN and CBS News reported on a blistering virtual meeting White House and DHS officials held with Democratic CHC members. The legislators said they felt “blindsided” by the announced policy changes, which had not been consulted with them. “The lawmakers were ‘pissed’… ‘It was pretty brutal,’” CBS reported that a participant in the meeting said.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which has stated several times its opposition to Title 42 because it blocks the internationally recognized right to seek asylum, repeated that position in a January 6 statement published to the United Nations’ main website. “What we are reiterating is that this is not in line with refugee law standards and that to establish a link between safe and legal pathways which have been announced and of course we welcome the expansion of those on one side that are accessible for some people with curtailment for the right to seek asylum for many more who are ineligible for these pathways,” said UNHCR spokesperson Boris Cheshirkov.

Asked about the policy changes’ critics, Biden replied, “both the extremes are wrong. It’s a basic middle proposition.” He repeated an administration talking point portraying the October 12, 2022 expansion of Title 42 expulsions to Venezuelans as a “success,” noting that the arrival of Venezuelan migrants at the border “has dropped off dramatically…from 1,100 persons trying to enter to—per day—to 250 a day.”

El Paso

The President was in El Paso, Texas for four hours on the afternoon of Sunday, January 8. CNN called it a “tightly controlled” (AP said “highly controlled”) tour of a stretch of border wall and a port of entry facility, followed by a meeting with community leaders at El Paso County’s recently established Migrant Services Center. Biden did not interact with any migrants. “Biden’s visit to the border got him a small bit of rhetorical breathing room and certainly brought him closer to the problem in a literal sense,” wrote Washington Post analyst Philip Bump. “It didn’t get him closer to a solution.”

Read More

Latin America Security-Related News: January 12, 2023

(Even more here)

January 12, 2023

Western Hemisphere Regional

– Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana), Cassidy, Salazar Release Draft Legislation to Counter China, Build Stronger Western Hemisphere (U.S. Senate, January 12, 2023).

Republican-led draft legislation would seek to build a hemispheric economic bloc to resist Chinese influence

– World Report 2023 (Human Rights Watch, January 12, 2023).

Human Rights Watch’s annual report has chapters on most Latin American countries

– Riesgo Politico America Latina 2023 (Centro de Estudios Internacionales UC, January 12, 2023).

From a Chilean think tank, a largely pessimistic political risk overview for 2023, which a few hopeful spots, mostly economic


– Ana Ionova, Andre Spigariol, Flavia Milhorance, Jack Nicas, The Moment the Brazil Rioters Broke Through: Exclusive Video (The New York Times, January 12, 2023).

Video shows security forces’ “relaxed,” insufficient response to the January 8 pro-Bolsonaro riots in Brasilia

– Meeks, Castro, Gallego, Garcia, Wild Lead 46 Members Calling on Biden to Revoke Bolsonaro’s U.S. Visa, Investigate U.S.-Based Instigators of Brazilian Insurrection (U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Democratic Office, January 12, 2023).

Strong letter from House Democrats calls for kicking Bolsonaro out of Florida and investigating anyone in the United States who backed the January 8 Brasilia riot


– ¿Como Cumplir Con los Protocolos del Cese al Fuego? (Revista Cambio (Colombia), January 12, 2023).

The military wrestles with how to honor a ceasefire with some armed groups, but not others

– Sebastian Forero Rueda, Reducir Erradicacion Forzada de Coca: Asi Aterriza la Politica de Drogas de Petro (El Espectador (Colombia), January 12, 2023).

The National Police announces a sharply reduced coca eradication goal, after years of record eradication yielding almost no cultivation reductions

– Mision de la Onu Aclara por Que No Ha Empezado a Verificar Ceses al Fuego (El Espectador (Colombia), January 12, 2023).

Though the Colombian government named the UN verification mission as an observer of a ceasefire with armed groups, it never received a government request to play this role

– Combates Entre Disidencias y Eln en Arauca: ¿Quienes Son y por Que se Enfrentan? (El Espectador (Colombia), January 12, 2023).

At least 10 dead in another wave of fighting between the ELN and ex-FARC dissidents in Arauca, Colombia


– Julieta Pelcastre, Narcotrafficking Increases Violence in Ecuador (Dialogo (U.S. Southern Command), January 12, 2023).

Contends that Ecuador’s sharp increase in violent crime owes to shifts in the cocaine trade toward Ecuadorian routes

Read More

Latin America Security-Related News: January 11, 2023

(Even more here)

January 11, 2023


– Luciana Magalhaes, Patricia Kowsmann, Samantha Pearson, Brazil’s Military Stopped Mob at Capital, Ignoring Calls to Stage a Coup (The Wall Street Journal, January 11, 2023).

A look at the role of Brazil’s military on January 8, when its leaders did the right thing for democracy


– Santiago Torrado, Francia Marquez Denuncia un Intento de Atentado Con Explosivos en su Contra (El Pais (Spain), January 11, 2023).

Bodyguards find a large improvised explosive device by a roadside along the Vice President’s route in her native Cauca

Colombia, Peru

– Bram Ebus, Ivan Brehaut, La Violencia de la Coca Cruza de Putumayo Hacia Peru (La Liga Contra el Silencio, Voragine (Colombia), January 11, 2023).

The alarming resurgence of coca, armed groups, and deforestation in Putumayo, Colombia and across the river in Peru

Colombia, Venezuela

– La Ofensiva Diplomatica de Gustavo Petro para Rescatar la Confianza del Eln (Revista Cambio (Colombia), January 11, 2023).

Sen. Ariel Avila says “the ELN’s ‘crisis’ communiqué can be interpreted as ‘a message from that guerrilla expressing its rejection of any pressure from the Maduro government to reach a bilateral ceasefire'”


– Julio Roman, Maria Andrea Dominguez, Migracion a Estados Unidos: Los Cinco Departamentos Que Mas Deportados Tuvieron Durante el 2022 (Prensa Libre (Guatemala), January 11, 2023).

Maps from Guatemala’s migration authority show that residents of the country’s rural highlands are leaving in greatest numbers

Guatemala, Mexico

– Liliana Villatoro, “No Hablan de Nosotras, las Mujeres Migrantes” (Agencia Ocote (Guatemala), January 11, 2023).

Interviews with Guatemalan women migrants show their often invisible struggle


– Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), Ahead of U.S.-Honduras Strategic Human Rights Dialogue, Merkley Issues Statement Denouncing Human Rights Abuses and Urging U.S. to Strengthen Anti-Corruption, Pro-Rights Agenda (U.S. Senate, January 11, 2023).

“Nothing will change in Honduras until the structures of criminality—which are deeply embedded in both the military and police—are investigated and the perpetrators of human rights abuses are held accountable”

– David C Adams, Jeff Ernst, Honduras Ex-President’s Drug Trafficking Trial Postponed Until September (Univision, January 11, 2023).

“The unprecedented trial was scheduled for April, but government and defense lawyers say they need more time to review sensitive and classified documents, including Hernandez’s cooperation with the CIA”


– Remarks by President Biden, Prime Minister Trudeau, and President Lopez Obrador in Joint Press Conference (The White House, January 11, 2023).

AMLO praises Biden for not building a single meter of border wall

– Anushka Patil, Michael D. Shear, Biden Defends His Immigration Policy as Summit in Mexico Wraps Up (The New York Times, January 11, 2023).

Migration was the dominant theme at the North American leaders’ summit, but the leaders had little new to announce


– Genevieve Glatsky, Julie Turkewitz, Mitra Taj, Death Toll in Peru Rises to 47 Amid Extraordinary Violence (The New York Times, January 11, 2023).

Peru’s security forces stand accused of indiscriminately using lethal force in Puno on January 9

Read More

Migration Through Panama’s Darién Gap

248,284 people migrated through Panama’s once-impenetrable Darién Gap jungle region in 2022.

Here’s 2022 by month, showing a steep drop in Venezuelan migration (blue) after the Biden administration, in October, started using Title 42 to expel Venezuelan asylum seekers into Mexico.

Ecuador (green) has since been 1st among the ~40 nationalities migrating through Darién.

These are visualizations of data from Panama’s migration agency (click on the links with “Irregulares en Tránsito Frontera Panamá – Colombia”).

Latin America Security-Related News: January 10, 2023

(Even more here)

January 10, 2023


– Anthony Faiola, Marina Dias, Brazilian Officials Knew of Protest, Thought They Could Contain It (The Washington Post, January 10, 2023).

Alleges that pro-Bolsonaro local politicians and police failed to take seriously the threat of the January 8 Brasilia rioting

– Isaac Stanley-Becker, Michael Kranish, Brazil’s Riot Puts Spotlight on Close Ties Between Bolsonaro and Trump (The Washington Post, January 10, 2023).

A look at how Trumpism got exported to Brazil, with disastrous results on January 8

– Julian Borger, Bolsonaro May Have to Leave Us Within Weeks, Amid Diplomatic Fallout From Brasilia Attack (The Guardian (Uk), January 10, 2023).

“Democrats are concerned that Florida, run by a hardline Republican governor and presidential contender, Ron DeSantis, is increasingly becoming a hotbed for far-right putschists”

Central America Regional

– Editorial: Will Democratic Voices Make a Comeback in 2023? (El Faro (El Salvador), January 10, 2023).

At a dark moment for democracy in Central America, a call for independent citizens to act and “take ownership over their public spaces”


– Gloria Castrillon Pulido, ¿Hay Crisis en la Mesa Con el Eln, Como Solucionarla? (El Espectador (Colombia), January 10, 2023).

It looks like the ELN peace talks need renewed contact between the parties much sooner than the January 23 date set for the next round of talks

– Imposiciones Unilaterales, Atentan Contra los Dialogos (ELN (Colombia), January 10, 2023).

Petro’s abrupt ceasefire announcement puts the talks in “crisis,” the ELN says


– Sara Solorzano, Los Controversiales Fallos Judiciales de la Jueza Dominguez (Prensa Libre (Guatemala), January 10, 2023).

Profile of a powerful Guatemalan judge whose decisions always benefit military personnel accused of human rights abuse, corrupt politicians, and similar


– Jacqueline Charles, With Not a Single Elected Leader Left, Haiti Is Becoming a Textbook Case of a ‘Failed State’ (The Miami Herald, January 10, 2023).

Terms are ending for Haiti’s last 10 elected senators, the last elected officials currently holding power


– Dan Collyns, Peru Protests: 17 Dead in Fresh Clashes as Calls Grow for President Boluarte to Resign (The Guardian (Uk), January 10, 2023).

Running clashes between protesters and government forces in Puno, a huge one-day death toll

– Liubomir Fernandez, Juliaca: 17 Muertos en Protestas Contra Dina Boluarte y por Cierre del Congreso (La Republica (Peru), January 10, 2023).

A very large single-day death toll from protests in Puno

U.S.-Mexico Border

– Katherine Hawkins, The Border Zone Next Door, and Its Out-of-Control Police Force (Project on Government Oversight, January 10, 2023).

Steps needed now to prevent a future president from making “full use of CBP’s authority to harm political opponents and quash dissent”

– Philip Bump, Biden’s Border Visit Brings Him No Closer to Fixing Immigration (The Washington Post, January 10, 2023).

A dive into the numbers to explain the true impact of Title 42 on migration


– William Neuman, A Chance for a Reset on Venezuela (The Atlantic, January 10, 2023).

Juan Guaidó and his political allies may have divided Venezuela’s opposition more than they united it

Back at work

Holiday break is over. Jury duty is over (they almost picked me for a week-long civil trial, but chickened out). I’m back at the job, full time.

Here’s a nice live version of New Zealand’s The Beths playing “Expert in a Dying Field”:

Latin America Security-Related News: January 9, 2023

(Even more here)

January 9, 2023


– Rafael R. Ioris, Democracy Under Attack in Brazil: 5 Questions About the Storming of Congress and the Role of the Military (University of Denver, The Conversation, January 9, 2023).

A smart instant take on the Brasilia “January 6” episode with Brazil expert Rafael R. Ioris of the University of Denver

– Partidarios de Bolsonaro Invaden las Sedes de los Tres Poderes en Manifestacion Contra Lula, Minuto a Minuto (Deutsche Welle, Revista Cambio (Colombia), January 9, 2023).

Moment-by-moment Spanish coverage of the Brasilia version of January 6


– Gabriel Silva Lujan, Aviones, Mentiras y Seguridad Nacional (Revista Cambio (Colombia), January 9, 2023).

“Incoherence, improvisation, and contradictions” in the Colombian government’s planned purchase of fighter jets

– Gloria Castrillon Pulido, Las Razones de Petro para Decretar Cese al Fuego Con el Eln (El Espectador (Colombia), January 9, 2023).

The military is already preparing the ground for an eventual ceasefire with the ELN

– Camilo Alzate Gonzalez, “Todas las Facciones de las Agc Estan Con el Cese al Fuego”: Padre Albeiro Parra (El Espectador (Colombia), January 9, 2023).

Chocó priest discusses the new “humanitarian relief” measures being implemented to diminish the conflict’s effects on the civilian population, within the framework of the Petro government’s new peace talks

– Report of the Secretary-General on the un Verification Mission in Colombia. S/2022/1004 (Mision de la ONU en Colombia, January 9, 2023).

Latest quarterly UN verification report strikes an optimistic tone on implementation of the accord’s rural chapter

Cuba, U.S.-Mexico Border

– Elliot Spagat, Cubans Crossing Into Us Stunned to Hear of New Asylum Limits (Associated Press, Associated Press, January 9, 2023).

Across from Yuma, AP talks to some of the first Cuban migrants to be stranded in Mexico by the Biden administration’s new Title 42 expansion


– Jennifer Ávila, Los Que No se Van se Toman la Tierra (Contra Corriente, January 9, 2023).

Update on Honduras’s land tenure struggles, especially in the violent Aguán region


– Christopher Sherman, Fabiola Sanchez , Mark Stevenson, Mexican Capo’s Arrest a Gesture to Us, Not Signal of Change (Associated Press, Associated Press, January 9, 2023).

Experts say Ovidio Guzmán’s arrest was just a bone thrown to the U.S. government, and not a course change for the Mexican government

– Kevin Sieff, Mary Beth Sheridan, Dozens Slain in Mexico’s Arrest of Alleged Fentanyl Trafficker Sought by U.S. (The Washington Post, January 9, 2023).

The death toll from mayhem following Ovidio Guzmán’s arrest has risen to 29

Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Border

– Edgar Sandoval, Michael D. Shear, Biden Visits Southern Border Amid Fresh Crackdown on Migrants (The New York Times, January 9, 2023).

Mexico “bluntly” rejects any “safe-third country” arrangements for asylum seekers

U.S.-Mexico Border

– Mj Lee, Priscilla Alvarez, Biden Makes Tightly Controlled Visit to the Southern Border, His First as President (CNN, January 9, 2023).

The President visited a migrant respite center, but “coincidentally” there weren’t any migrants there at the time

Read More

Latin America Security-Related News: January 6, 2023

(I’ll post January 9 later: I’m just back from a family event that had me traveling over the weekend, and must report shortly for jury duty today.)

(Even more here)

January 6, 2023


– Santiago Torrado, El Gobierno Sometera a una Parte de las Disidencias de las Farc y Con Otra Negociara (El Pais (Spain), January 6, 2023).

The Petro government may negotiate a more political deal with the Gentil Duarte wing of the FARC dissidents, which rejected the 2016 peace accord before its signing, while it may limit talks with the Nueva Marquetalia, which signed then abandoned the accord, to conditions for demobilization

– Monitor del Cese el Fuego Unilateral del Eln Durante el Fin de Ano de 2022 (CERAC (Colombia), January 6, 2023).

No “violent actions” measured during the ELN’s holiday ceasefire


– Kate Linthicum, Cartel Lays Siege to Mexican City After Recapture of the Son of ‘el Chapo’ (The Los Angeles Times, January 6, 2023).

Argues that Ovidio Guzmán’s arrest, which proved impossible in 2019, shows that the Sinaloa cartel has weakened since then

– “el Raton” Esta Ya en Cdmx. Su Guardia Disparo a Fuerzas Federales y Le Respondieron (SinEmbargo (Mexico), January 6, 2023).

Moment-by-moment coverage of the capture of Ovidio Guzmán and related violence in Sinaloa

U.S.-Mexico Border

– J. David Goodman, They Built the Wall. Now Some in Texas Fear It May Fall Down. (The New York Times, January 6, 2023).

An in-depth look at the 3-mile privately-built border wall built on the bank of the Rio Grande in south Texas

– Remarks by President Biden on Border Security and Enforcement (The White House, January 6, 2023).

Rollout of the administration’s new humanitarian parole and Title 42-expansion policy, and of Biden’s upcoming Mexico visit

– Cleve R. Wootson Jr., Kevin Sieff, Maria Sacchetti, Nick Miroff, Biden Immigration Plan Would Restrict Illegal Border Crossings (The Washington Post, January 6, 2023).

The administration’s humanitarian parole, Title 42 expansion, and other border proposals “reflect a political shift to the center for Biden”

– Jonathan Clark, Feds Remove Controversial Border Patrol Surveillance Blimp From Nogales (Nogales International, January 6, 2023).

CBP has taken down the locally disliked “tethered aerostat” from Nogales

– Fact Sheet: Biden-?Harris Administration Announces New Border Enforcement Actions (The White House, January 6, 2023).

White House lays out its plan to “draw on the success of the Venezuela initiative”

– Eileen Sullivan, Michael D. Shear, Miriam Jordan, Biden Announces Major Crackdown on Illegal Border Crossings (The New York Times, January 6, 2023).

Coverage of the Biden administration’s Title 42 expansion. Unfortunate headline, as seeking asylum is not illegal

– Dhs Continues to Prepare for End of Title 42; Announces New Border Enforcement Measures and Additional Safe and Orderly Processes (Department of Homeland Security, January 6, 2023).

DHS memo laying out the Biden administration’s new humanitarian parole and Title 42 expansion process


– Tracy Wilkinson, U.S. Looks for Opportunity in Demise of Guaido, Whom It Recognized as ‘Interim President’ of Venezuela (The Los Angeles Times, January 6, 2023).

Pivoting away from a strategy that did not succeed

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: January 6, 2023

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

This week:

  • President Biden is to visit the U.S.-Mexico border before a January 9-10 North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico. In a January 5 border policy speech, he announced a new humanitarian parole program for citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. This comes with an expansion of Title 42 expulsions of these countries’ citizens back to Mexico if they do not, or can not, avail themselves of the new humanitarian program.
  • The Supreme Court ordered that the Title 42 pandemic authority remain in place while it considers whether Republican state governments can challenge its court-ordered termination, which had been scheduled for December 21, 2022. The abrupt shift increased confusion in cities on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, as squalid encampments have sprung up in Matamoros, Reynosa, Tapachula, and possibly elsewhere.
  • Protesters and a federal lawsuit compelled Arizona’s outgoing state government to remove thousands of shipping containers stacked to fill gaps in the border wall. Gov. Doug Ducey’s (R) container-wall project cost about $95 million to build and about $76 million to dismantle. His successor, Democrat Katie Hobbs, is dropping a lawsuit challenging federal jurisdiction over border-adjacent land.

Biden to visit border, announce Venezuela-style Title 42 expansion

While on a January 4 visit to Kentucky, President Joe Biden told reporters that he plans to visit the U.S.-Mexico border before a January 9-10 meeting in Mexico City with the leaders of Canada and Mexico. Asked what he would like to see when he visits, Biden responded, “Peace and security. No, I’m going to see what’s going on. I’m going to be making a speech tomorrow on border security, and you’ll hear more about it tomorrow.”

Biden will visit El Paso, Texas. Of the nine sectors into which the U.S. Border Patrol divides the U.S.-Mexico border, the El Paso sector led all others in migrant arrivals in October and November. (December data are not yet available.)

In a January 5 speech, Biden rolled out dramatic expansions of both a “humanitarian parole” procedure for citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, and of expulsions of those countries’ citizens from the border back into Mexico under the still-in-force Title 42 pandemic authority. These are explained in documents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the White House, and in Federal Register entries laying out the parole process for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans

The administration will model its program for asylum-seeking migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Haiti on a program applied to Venezuelan migrants since October. The Venezuela policy led to a sharp reduction in arrivals of Venezuelan asylum seekers at the border and afforded several thousand an opportunity to obtain a temporary documented status in the United States. But it has also left thousands more stranded and vulnerable inside Mexico and elsewhere along the migration route from South America.

On October 12, the administration offered a two-year humanitarian parole status in the United States, with a work permit, to up to 24,000 Venezuelan migrants who applied online, had valid or recently expired passports, and had someone inside the United States willing to sponsor them. Once approved for parole, Venezuelans are able to fly to the United States.

If encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border, however, Venezuelan migrants are subject to immediate expulsion back to Mexico—with Mexico’s full agreement—under the Title 42 pandemic authority, recently prolonged by the U.S. Supreme Court (see this update’s next section). The expulsions occur regardless of migrants’ expressed need to apply for asylum.

The October 12 decision made Venezuela the fifth nationality of migrants whose Title 42 expulsions Mexico accepted across the land border (in addition to those from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras). It led Title 42 expulsions of Venezuelans to jump from 87 in September 2022 to 6,411 in October and 5,298 in November. It contributed to a drop in encounters with Venezuelan migrants from 33,804 in September to 7,931 in November. And it caused migrant shelters and encampments in Mexican border cities to fill with thousands of Venezuelan migrants who suddenly had nowhere to go.

On January 5, President Biden announced that Mexico will accept land-border Title 42 expulsions of three more nationalities: Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Haitians, for a total of eight nationalities subject to land-border expulsion. Mexico will allow up to 30,000 expulsions per month of these three countries’ citizens and Venezuelans.

That will come with an expansion of the humanitarian parole program for up to 30,000 citizens per month from these countries and from Venezuela. (November 2022 migrant encounters from those four countries totaled 82,286.) Only citizens from those countries with U.S. sponsors and passports will qualify for these 30,000 monthly humanitarian parole spots.

As the expanded Title 42 expulsions represent a new block to the legal right to seek asylum in the United States, human rights advocates had responded with alarm to a December 28 revelation, in a story broken by Reuters, that it might happen. “The Biden-Harris administration seems intent on doubling down on President Trump’s xenophobia and cruelty,” read a December 29 statement from the #WelcomeWithDignity campaign. “This move would go far beyond what any court has required, dispelling any pretense that this administration is interested in turning the page,” said Melissa Crow of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies. That day, staff at the Nogales-based Kino Border Initiative reported the arrival of seven expelled Nicaraguans at its shelter on the Mexican side of the border.

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Latin America Security-Related News: January 5, 2023

(Even more here)

January 5, 2023


– Mauricio Quiroz Teran, Hay Senales de ‘Malestar’ en las Ffaa y Piden Ordenes Escritas para Salir a las Calles (El Deber (Bolivia), January 5, 2023).

Evidence that the military is uncomfortable with being put in a crowd-control role amid protests following the arrest of a conservative opposition leader


– Felipe Garcia Altamar, La Complejidad de los Ceses Bilaterales: ¿el Gobierno Quiso Cenar al Desayuno? (El Espectador (Colombia), January 5, 2023).

Analysis finds that the Colombian government moved in haste by declaring a premature ceasefire

– Gloria Castrillon Pulido, No Hay Cese al Fuego Bilateral Con el Eln; Se Discutira en la Mesa de Negociacion (El Espectador (Colombia), January 5, 2023).

The government’s push for a ceasefire now appears to be the main upcoming agenda item for talks with the ELN

– Camilo Alzate Gonzalez, Crisis Humanitaria en el Choco Revelaria Fisuras en el Eln (El Espectador (Colombia), January 5, 2023).

The ELN in southern Chocó appears to be ignoring calls from the negotiating table for a humanitarian pilot program in that part of the country

– El Ministerio de la Igualdad Ya Es una Realidad (Revista Cambio (Colombia), January 5, 2023).

A law creates a “Ministry of Equality,” with Vice President Francia Márquez the first minister


– Diana Lastiri, Reves a la Sedena: Juez Mantiene Suspension Indefinida a la Militarizacion de la Guardia Nacional (Proceso (Mexico), January 5, 2023).

A judge keeps on hold the AMLO government’s effort to make Mexico’s new National Guard a branch of the military

– Migrants Crowd Mexico’s Refugee Offices Amid Fears of Us Policy Change (Voice of America, January 5, 2023).

5,000 migrants showed up at COMAR’s Tapachula offices in 2 days

U.S.-Mexico Border

– Nick Miroff, Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Transcript: Cartel Rx: The Fentanyl Epidemic With Dhs Secretary Mayorkas (The Washington Post, January 5, 2023).

Amid many careful responses on the border/fentanyl issue, Secretary Mayorkas hints at turf issues between ICE/HSI and DEA

– Camilo Montoya-Galvez, Biden Expands Title 42 Expulsions While Opening Legal Path for Some Migrants (CBS News, January 5, 2023).

An overview of what CBS calls the Biden administration’s “carrots and sticks approach” to protection-seeking migration

– Cindy Ramirez, Tensions Rise, Hope Falls: Border Patrol Detains Migrants Near Sacred Heart (El Paso Matters, January 5, 2023).

Venezuelan migrants crossed into El Paso, either thinking that Title 42 was over or out of desperation because it isn’t. Now Border Patrol is rounding them up

– Dave Graham, Steve Holland, Ted Hesson, U.S. Would Accept Up to 30,000 Migrants a Month in Expanded Program -Sources (Reuters, Reuters, January 5, 2023).

“The United States plans to accept up to 30,000 migrants per month from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela under a program paired with expulsions of people from those countries caught at the U.S.-Mexico border, U.S. and Mexican officials said”

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