Adam Isacson

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


February 2023

Dominican Republic deportations of Haiti citizens

Dominican Republic deportations of Haiti citizens:

  • 2019: 67,400
  • 2020 (pandemic): 23,600
  • 2021: 85,000
  • 2022: 171,000

That’s 238 per day.

Source is Dominican President’s state of the union address, which lauds plans to build 54km of fence along the Haitian border.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said in February:

In my visit to the Ouanaminthe in the northeast of the country [Haiti], I heard terrible stories of the humiliating treatment to which many migrants are subjected to, including pregnant women and unaccompanied or separated children.

Sunday morning in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico

Army personnel are police in everything but name in today’s Mexico. Policing is just not a mission that they’re properly trained to carry out. An episode on Sunday morning (February 26), in the organized crime-dominated border city of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, seems especially serious.

From the Mexican online media outlet Elefante Blanco:

According to the Nuevo Laredo Human Rights Committee, in the early morning hours of Sunday, February 26, a military convoy shot at a white Chevrolet pickup truck on Huasteca Street between Jiménez and Méndez.

The people inside the vehicle tried to protect themselves, but only one survived. Upon hearing the gunshots, the neighbors went out between 4:30 and 5:00 AM to see the scene as the sun came up. At 10 AM, the Sedena [Defense Department, or Army] intervened at the scene of the killing, moving the truck.

…What really inflamed the residents was when the soldiers attempted to tow the white Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck, at that point the main evidence in the case, to take it away.

There the confrontation escalated. Residents blocked the way by standing in front of the tow truck, threw stones, and released the truck. One soldier fell and was beaten by several civilians, another was run over by a military vehicle.

Dozens of residents and reporters recorded what was happening on Huasteca Street. The soldiers took cover in the chaos and snatched cell phones, which provoked the population even more. The president of the Committee, Raymundo Ramos, was pushed, his cell phone fell and a pickup truck rammed him.

Seizing, and apparently smashing, a witness’s mobile phone. Credit: Luis Valtierra

Asylum requests in Mexico through January

Mexico’s refugee agency (COMAR) received nearly 13,000 requests for asylum in January, a pace that, if sustained for the entire year, would bring a record 154,000 asylum applications in Mexico’s system in 2023.

The number-one nationality of asylum applicants in January was Haiti, the nation that was also number one in 2021. Honduras was COMAR’s number-one asylum-seeking nationality in 2022 and prior years.

Here’s the table with this chart’s underlying data. Note that Afghanistan, for the first time, made the “top ten” in January with 430 asylum requests. Afghanistan was the number-nine nationality of migrants passing through Panama’s Darién Gap region in January (291 migrants reported by Panamanian authorities).

Republican members of Congress know…

It’s so important to wear tactical pants when visiting the U.S.-Mexico border. You can fit lots of chewy granola bars in the extra pockets.

Screenshot of tweet photo from Congressman Josh Brecheen @RepBrecheen, showing several Republican members of Congress posing by the wall wearing said article of clothing.

Latin America-related events in Washington and online this week

Monday, February 27, 2023

  • 1:00-1:45 at Climate-proofing the Caribbean: A partnership for the future (RSVP required).
  • 2:00 at Provea Zoom: Los laberintos de la Verdad (RSVP required).
  • 4:00-5:00 at Georgetown University: Democracies Need Robust Evidence: The Mexican Evaluation System (RSVP required).

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Thursday, March 2, 2023

  • 9:00-10:45 at the Inter-American Dialogue and at Central America Forward: A Conversation with Emily Mendrala (RSVP required).

Friday, March 3, 2023

  • 1:45-3:00 at Strengthening U.S. Cooperation on Marine Protection in Latin America (RSVP required).

Record emigration from Colombia

547,000 citizens of Colombia left their country last year, more than 1% of the population, and more than during the worst years of the armed conflict.

Bar chart from the cited article, showing a big jump in 2022. I don't know the underlying numbers, but the source cited is Colombia's migration agency Migración Colombia.

The economic impact of COVID appears to be the main reason, migration expert William Mejía Ochoa told La Silla Vacía.

More than the current inflation, I would attribute to the pandemic an important role in this phenomenon that we are seeing. During the pandemic, postponed migration plans accumulated because many people could not move during those years and now, finally, they are doing so.

Add to that the fact that the pandemic came with an economic crisis and the bankruptcy of many companies and jobs [outside Colombia], so that led to a consequent reduction in emigration. The fact that today more people are leaving the country is a sign that the economic situation has been improving.

Regarding the expectations of a change of government, what can be said is very speculative and certainly not everything can be explained by a panic of the new government [a leftist, Gustavo Petro, was elected last June]. Surely there are many cases that left for that reason, but that would correspond to an emigration from the middle class upwards, because a poor person does not emigrate because Petro came to power, because he cannot afford that luxury.

Family separation by app

We’re getting more and more reports from media and border-area NGOs that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is forcing asylum-seeking families to separate at the borderline when only some family members were able to secure appointments, via the “CBP One” smartphone app, at ports of entry.

Due to a very limited number of exemptions to the Title 42 expulsions policy, these appointments to apply for asylum are scarce, and difficult to obtain for larger groups, such as parents and children all together.

Within the past week or two, CBP officers on the borderline reportedly began more strictly enforcing appointments, refusing entry to family members who had not managed to secure spots with the app, even as they accompanied spouses or parents with appointments.

The Rio Grande Valley, Texas Monitor reported on the scene at the bridge between Reynosa, Tamaulipas and Hidalgo, Texas:

Over on the Hidalgo bridge connecting with Reynosa, Priscilla Orta, an attorney working with Lawyers for Good Government, was in line last Wednesday waiting to cross back into the U.S.

“Next thing I know, there it is, at the bridge, you’re seeing it — people are being forced to make the decisions, families are fighting, there’s crying, they’re screaming,” Orta said.

Families she spoke with also reported feeling jilted by the sudden enforcement that meant they’d have to make a quick decision.

Orta returned to frantic families in Reynosa the next day with questions that CBP is attempting to address.

“I think what’s happening now is that they are trying to correct the issue,” Orta said. “But it’s a pretty big issue, because there are no slots,” she said, referring to the appointment slots available. “They’re gone sometimes by 8:03 a.m. We have sometimes seen that the spots are gone by 8:01 a.m. And everyone knows it.”

On February 24, 2023, the Los Angeles Times cited a Venezuelan migrant who went through this experience in Matamoros, Tamaulipas:

The 25-year-old from Venezuela eventually secured appointments for himself and his wife, but the slots filled up so quickly that he couldn’t get two more for their children. They weren’t worried though — they had heard about families in similar situations being waved through by border officials.

Instead, he said, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent told them last week that because each member of the family did not have an appointment: “You two can enter, but not your children.”

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: February 23, 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:

  • The Biden administration released a draft rule that, if implemented, would deny asylum to many migrants who passed through other countries on their way to the U.S.-Mexico border, and did not first seek asylum in those countries. This is part of a controversial series of restrictions and alternative pathways that the administration expects to have in place after the Title 42 pandemic authority possibly expires on May 11.
  • One of those pathways includes use of the “CBP One” smartphone app to schedule asylum application appointments at land-border ports of entry. The app, functioning for over a month as a means to obtain Title 42 exemptions, continues to have problems, particularly a very small number of available appointments.
  • Application of Title 42 to Cuban migrants appears to have slowed their arrival at the U.S.-Mexico border, but it also appears to have caused a jump in maritime migration from Cuba to Florida.
  • The Supreme Court canceled oral arguments, scheduled for March 1, on Republican states’ effort to prevent Title 42 from terminating. The Court did not take down its order keeping the pandemic expulsion authority in place, though, so Title 42 remains active at least until May 11, 2023.

The asylum “transit ban” rule is out

On February 21 the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice took a step that the Biden administration had first previewed on January 5. The administration introduced a draft rule ( “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking”) that would deny the legal right to seek asylum to many migrants who passed through other countries on their way to the U.S.-Mexico border and did not first seek asylum in those countries.

The rule would partially shut down, to a historic and legally questionable extent, the right to seek asylum upon reaching U.S. soil, as laid out in Section 208 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

This “transit ban” is part of an edifice of asylum limitations and alternative pathways that the Biden administration is building ahead of the Title 42 authority’s possible end on May 11, 2023, when the U.S. government’s COVID-19 public health emergency is to end. A February 17 WOLA commentary explains these new components.

  • The new limitations on asylum include the transit ban, the placement of asylum seekers into expedited removal proceedings, and discussions  with Mexico’s government to take other countries’ citizens as deportees. To what extent Mexico might do that is unclear—the draft rule refers only to Mexico’s “willingness to accept the return of these nationals”—and appears to depend on the U.S. government offering other legal pathways.
  • The pathways include two years of “humanitarian parole” in the United States, with work authorization, for some nationalities’ citizens who hold passports and have U.S.-based sponsors, along with use of a smartphone app, “CBP One,” to schedule appointments to request asylum at ports of entry (official border crossings).

The 153-page draft rule refers to a “rebuttable presumption of asylum ineligibility.” It has exceptions for some asylum seekers. The transit ban does not apply to:

  • Migrants who make an appointment ahead of time to apply for asylum at a port of entry (official border crossing) using new features on Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) “CBP One” smartphone app.
  • Unaccompanied children.
  • Migrants who can prove that they face risk of a medical emergency, are a “victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons,” or face “an imminent and extreme threat to life or safety.”
  • Migrants who can demonstrate that the CBP One app’s appointment-scheduling function was “inaccessible or unusable.”
  • Migrants who, in an interview, can prove not just that they might qualify for asylum, but that they meet a higher standard of fear (“reasonable fear”).
  • Migrants who can prove that they tried and failed to receive asylum in Mexico and other countries through which they passed.

Despite these exceptions, this rule could potentially turn away thousands of asylum-seeking migrants during its first months of operation. At the American Immigration Council’s Immigration Impact site, Dara Lind walked through the Kafkaesque “12 Not-at-All-Easy Steps” through which asylum seekers would have to pass once the transit ban rule goes into effect.

Immigration reform and advocacy groups quickly raised objections. Thirty groups (including WOLA) added statements to a #WelcomeWithDignity campaign warning that “Biden’s Asylum Ban Will Return Refugees to Danger and Death.” The American Immigration Council called it “one of the most restrictive border control measures to date under any president.”

ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt, who has litigated several Trump and Biden administration efforts to curtail asylum, said, “We will sue if this administration goes through with a transit ban, just as we successfully sued over the Trump transit ban.” (A 2019 Trump-era ban, with even fewer exceptions and alternate pathways, was struck down in federal court in 2020.)

Congressional Democrats voiced quick opposition. Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington, ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration) wrote, “The ability to seek asylum is a bedrock principle protected by federal law and should never be violated. We should not be restricting legal pathways to enter the United States, we should be expanding them.” Sens. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Ben Ray Luján (D-New Mexico), and Alex Padilla (D-California) wrote, “We have an obligation to protect vulnerable migrants under domestic and international law and should not leave vulnerable migrants stranded in countries unable to protect them.”

The proposed rule was published in the Federal Register on February 23. Members of the public have until March 27 to submit comments, to which the administration must respond before implementing it. The rule would go into effect the moment that the Title 42 authority expires, and last for two years, a period that could be extended.

CBP One issues persist

“When U.S. Customs and Border Protection introduced the CBP One mobile application two years ago,” the Washington Post’s Nick Miroff wrote on February 20, “it was largely geared toward commercial trucking companies trying to schedule cargo inspections.” Now, features on the app are essential to accessing the Biden administration’s humanitarian parole program for five nationalities, and to making appointments to request asylum at ports of entry, under a limited number of Title 42 exemptions.

Read More

Cuban migration: brutal cause and effect

This seems like a big deal.

  • In early January, the Biden administration expanded Title 42 so that Cuban migrants could be expelled back across the land border into Mexico. The number of Cuban citizens at the U.S.-Mexico border plunged 85 percent.

  • Meanwhile in the Miami area in January, the number of Cuban migrants, apprehended after taking boats and rafts across the Florida Straits, jumped 260%.

An app is separating families at the border

Every morning, a few spots become available on the new “CBP One” app for a few asylum seekers to approach a port of entry (official border crossing) at the U.S.-Mexico border. The spots fill up fast.

Priscilla Orta, an attorney working with Lawyers for Good Government, told reporter Valerie González at the Rio Grande Valley, Texas Monitor, “There are no slots. … They’re gone sometimes by 8:03 a.m. We have sometimes seen that the spots are gone by 8:01 a.m. And everyone knows it.”

It’s easier for a single person to get one of the scarce, coveted spots than it is for an entire family to get a few of them. González spoke to migrant parents who have been able to secure spots for themselves using the app, but not for their spouses or dependent children.

In the weeks after its mid-January rollout of the CBP One app for Title 42 asylum exemptions, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was being lenient about parents wanting to bring family members to their single-person appointments. That leniency has stopped, González reports.

“What happened last week was that they decided to enforce it,” said Felicia Rangel-Samponaro of the Sidewalk School, a service provider that assists migrants across from south Texas.

For some families who witnessed families crossing intact one day and then learning of the new enforcement the next, the change was felt immediately. “So, people had to make decisions on that bridge,” Rangel-Samponaro said.

The way that CBP is enforcing CBP One appointments is causing families to separate. Parents are sending their minor children across the border separately, because the Biden administration isn’t using Title 42 to expel unaccompanied minors. The parents then have to hope somehow to be reunited with their children if CBP gives them entry into the United States and access to the U.S. asylum system.

The practice of sending kids without their parents is not uncommon, Orta said.

On Monday, Orta said about a dozen people crossed, but all of them had already sent their kids as unaccompanied minors without them by that point. They hoped they would be reunited, but “they didn’t understand that their children wouldn’t be waiting for them 24 hours,” Orta said.

A CBP representative told the Monitor that a May 2022 court order preserving Title 42 is preventing the agency from making more appointments available.

A CBP spokesperson who spoke to The Monitor to provide background information said CBP is limited in the number of appointments it can offer due to a court order from Louisiana.

Sad to say, this would be a break with the past

“One of the principles” of the Bogotá-Washington relationship, Colombia’s ambassador to the United States says, “is to attack drug trafficking head-on ‘but not the communities that need greater opportunities.’

Sadly, that principle has hardly been observed in the past, as the U.S. government contributed a rough average of half a billion dollars per year into Colombia’s drug war so far this century. It’s been observed partially at best.

Amazing thing I read this morning

Do you ever wake up too early to get up, but too late to go back to sleep, and end up reading Wikipedia? That happened to me today, and I found this.

Screenshot of linked article excerpt:

"NASA announced in 2017 that it plans to send a spacecraft to Alpha Centauri in 2069, scheduled to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the first manned lunar landing in 1969, Apollo 11. Even at speed 10% of the speed of light (67 million mph), which NASA experts say may be possible, it would take a spacecraft 44 years to reach the constellation, by the year 2113, and will take another 4 years for a signal, by the year 2117 to reach Earth.[138]"
From Wikipedia’s “Alpha Centauri” entry.

Maybe my grandchildren, if they exist and live that long, will see up-close images of another solar system.

The Biden administration’s proposed “transit ban” on asylum seekers

The Departments of Homeland and Security and Justice have posted the draft text of a new rule that will make it much harder for migrants to request asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The rule would place a “rebuttable presumption of ineligibility” on any asylum seeker who passes through another country en route to the border. In order to avoid being automatically ineligible for asylum, regardless of the threats they may have faced, non-Mexican asylum seekers would have to:

  • Apply, using CBP’s “CBP One” smartphone app, for one of a limited number of appointments available at land-border ports of entry. This is very difficult to do, as we noted in a February 17 report and in our February 2 Border Update. Right now, the daily allotment of appointments usually fills up in about two minutes. If all migrants from third countries must use the app, and if the number of appointments doesn’t grow dramatically, then the new rule will create a sort of “super-metering on steroids” process in which only a trickle of protection-seeking migrants is permitted to seek asylum.
  • It’s not at all clear that Mexico’s government has agreed to take back an expanded number of rejected asylum-seeking migrants from third countries. The draft rule just refers to Mexico’s “willingness” to take migrants back across the border as long the U.S. government offers other legal pathways to some protection-seeking migrants, like the “humanitarian parole” program the Biden administration is currently offering to the limited number of Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans who hold passports and have U.S.-based sponsors.

The rule would go into effect once the Title 42 policy terminates, and remain in effect for two years, though it could be prolonged.

Here’s WOLA President Carolina Jiménez’s contribution to a multiple-organization response at the website of the #WelcomeWithDignity campaign.

“It’s impossible to imagine how the Biden administration’s revival of this cruel Trump-era policy could be legal,” said Carolina Jiménez Sandoval, president of the Washington Office on Latin America. “A federal court struck down a similar measure in 2020. U.S. law clearly provides only two circumstances in which asylum seekers can be excluded by a transit ban: if a ‘safe third country agreement’ exists, or if the migrant was ‘firmly settled’ in another country. These conditions almost never apply. People fleeing violence and persecution have the human right to seek protection regardless of how they arrived. Curtailing access to asylum also sets a dangerous precedent that other countries in the region might model.”

Asylum “transit ban” incoming

We’re hearing word from Los Angeles Times and Reuters reporters that the Biden administration plans to announce today its new rule curtailing asylum for migrants who passed through third countries on their way to the U.S.-Mexico border. (That is, anyone who is not Mexican.)

This could not only trigger a humanitarian crisis, it is almost certainly illegal and would depend on Mexico’s government taking back thousands—perhaps tens of thousands—of vulnerable people.

WOLA explained this in a report, written principally by me, published last Friday.

Venezuelans stuck in Guatemala: “We all know that this is corruption”

Here’s a good podcast transcript, from Guatemala’s Agencia Ocote, about Venezuelan migrants stranded in Guatemala after passing through the dangers of Panama’s Darién Gap. They’re stranded, usually, because Guatemalan police shook them down and took all their money.

Osmary López: I was carrying 500 dollars too, and on the way here it’s crazy, because these police make everything a bargain. If you don’t have any, then they want to throw you out… Apart from the fact that they put you in the truck, they put you in the truck, they leave you there, you pay them… They take your money and you just walk away and that’s it.

Gabriel Ferrer: They know how to do things, because we came riding the bus. There were ten Venezuelans, 15 Venezuelans. First they ask for the Venezuelan ID card, they leave us on the bus. Then they take the Guatemalan people off the bus so they can’t see what they are doing to us. And after they take everything from us, they put the Guatemalan people back on the bus, and we all know that this is corruption.

Darío Rodríguez: You come with more or less enough money to get to the route or to the destination where you want to go, but when the police catch you and take the money they charge you and all that, then it’s hard for you to get to the destination.

The undead Remain in Mexico program

Why did the Biden administration, last month, once again ask Mexico for permission to restart the Remain in Mexico program? Writing at Just Security, former DHS deputy counsel Tom Jawetz has 3 guesses:

  • The administration wanted Mexico to issue a public statement of opposition, which it did.
  • Some in the administration actually want to restart Remain in Mexico.
  • The administration actually believes that a Texas court’s December decision compelled them to reopen talks with Mexico—which, if true, would put a single judge in Amarillo, Texas in charge of foreign policy.

Latin America-Related Events Online and in Washington this Week

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

  • 10:00-11:00 at the Wilson Center and Putting Peru Back Together (RSVP required).
  • 2:00-4:10 at Forum on the Arms Trade Annual Conference (RSVP required).
  • 3:00-4:30 at INCAE Zoom: Experiencias exitosas en gobierno digital y auditoría social (RSVP required).
  • 6:00-7:30 at Turning up the Heat on Geothermal Energy in Latin America (RSVP required).

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

  • 9:00-10:30 at Greening BRI Governance in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Beyond (RSVP required).
  • 9:30-11:30 at Promise and Peril: Migration Management Technologies in West Africa and Central America (RSVP required).
  • 11:00-12:30 at FIU Washington DC and Zoom: A Look Inside Venezuela with Julio Borges and Paola de Alemán (RSVP required).
  • 12:30-2:00 at Reckoning with Indigenous and Afro Descendant Truth: the Ethnic Chapter of Colombia’s Truth Commission Report Webinar (RSVP required).
  • 6:00-7:30 at George Washington University: Assessing the U.S. – Mexico Security Cooperation (RSVP required).

Thursday, February 23, 2023

  • 12:00 at Gobernanza punitiva y derechos humanos en Centroamérica (RSVP required).
  • 4:00-5:00 at Georgetown University: Peaceful Borders and Illicit Transnational Flows: The Case of the Americas (RSVP required).
  • 5:00-7:00 at George Washington University: A Conversation with Ambassador Juan Jose Gomez Camacho (RSVP required).

Saturday, February 25, 2023

  • 5:00-7:00 at Busboys and Poets 14th Street: Indigenous Cinematic Resistance in the Amazon (RSVP required).

At “How the Biden Administration May Keep Asylum out of Reach After Title 42”

Title 42 could finally end, along with the U.S. government’s COVID-19 public health emergency, on May 11. This new commentary lays out what may happen next.

According to what’s taking shape, migrants seeking protection in the United States may still face a hard time. The Biden administration may reject asylum seekers using a “transit ban” and expedited removal procedures, if Mexico takes deportees. The blow would be softened by two programs, humanitarian parole and use of the “CBP One” app, but both are deeply flawed right now and need a lot of fixes.

Read the whole thing here. También está disponible en español.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: February 17, 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:

  • As January’s expansion of Title 42’s scope closed channels for asylum-seeking migration, the number of migrants encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border plummeted by 40 percent from December, according to newly released CBP data.
  • Migration through Panama’s Darién Gap increased in January for the third straight month, while at least 39 migrants aboard a bus taking them away from the Darién region perished in a gruesome accident. A report from UN-affiliated experts documented serious allegations of abuse committed against migrants in Panama’s Darién region encampments. U.S., Colombian, and Panamanian officials visited the region and pledged more security-force presence.
  • The Biden administration’s new “humanitarian parole” program admitted over 11,000 citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela in January. The need to obtain a passport and a sponsor has overwhelmed nations’ passport authorities and opened opportunities for fraud.
  • Texas is considering a $4.6 billion, two-year outlay for its “Operation Lone Star” border crackdown, including the continued deployment of over 4,500 National Guard troops. Border Patrol, meanwhile, has asked Texas’s legislature for more power to enforce Texas state laws.

Migration to the U.S.-Mexico border declined 40 percent from December to January

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) published data on February 10 revealing a sharp drop in the number of migrants whom the agency encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border in January. The 40 percent decline in migrant encounters, to 156,274 in January from 251,978 in December, owes to the Biden administration’s January 5 expansion, from five to eight, of the number of countries whose citizens can be expelled immediately to Mexico under the “Title 42” pandemic authority. (Several recent WOLA Border Updates detail this expansion.)

This was the smallest number of CBP U.S.-Mexico border migrant encounters since February 2021, the first full month of the Biden administration. The agency “encountered” 115,226 individual people 156,274 times in January. Of those “unique individuals,” 27,864 arrived at land-border ports of entry, which would leave a remainder of about 87,362 individuals taken into Border Patrol custody between the ports of entry.

41 percent of encounters ended with Title 42 expulsions, the largest percentage since June 2022. Nationalities most frequently expelled were:

  • Guatemala (63% of the 11,937 migrants encountered were expelled, up from 57% in December)
  • Mexico (62% of 61,904; 54% in December)
  • Nicaragua (59% of 3,377; 0.3% in December)
  • Honduras (58% of 10,995; 50% in December)
  • El Salvador (54% of 3,748; 49% in December)
  • Cuba (41% of 6,433; 0.1% in December)
  • Ecuador (26% of 9,012; 8% in December)
  • Venezuela (23% of 9,097; 63% in December)
  • Colombia (9% of 9,310; 6% in December)
  • Peru (4% of 3,931; 0.4% in December)
  • Brazil (1% of 1,093; 0.2% in December)
  • Haiti (1% of 3,175; 0.0% in December)
  • Other countries (1% of 12,712; 1% in December)
  • China (0.4% of 1,084; 1% in December)
  • Russia (0.2% of 4,509; 0.3% in December)
  • India (0.0% of 2,657; 0.0% in December)
  • Turkey (0.0% of 1,300; 0.0% in December)

Regardless of their susceptibility to expulsion, all nationalities’ migrant encounters declined from December to January except those from Mexico (+28%), China (+14%), and Venezuela (+12%); citizens of Mexico and Venezuela are subject to Title 42 expulsion, but for the first time, a majority of Venezuelan migrants were encountered at land-border ports of entry (official border crossings), instead of “in the field” between the ports, where Border Patrol operates.

This indicates that a significant number of Venezuelans were able to secure a limited number of Title 42 exemptions, many through use of a smartphone app (“CBP One”) that CBP began using in January to book appointments at ports of entry. CBP reported processing 21,661 Title 42 exemptions at ports of entry in January, including 9,902 who made appointments via CBP One between January 18 and 31.

Read More

Latin America-related events online and in Washington this week

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

  • 10:00-11:00 at Georgetown University Zoom: A Conversation with Robert W. Thomas, Chargé d’Affaires of the United States Embassy in Santo Domingo (RSVP required).
  • 3:00-4:00 at the Wilson Center: Reflections on President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s Visit to Washington (RSVP required).

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Thursday, February 16, 2023

  • 1:00-2:00 at the Wilson Center: A Conversation with Inter-American Development Bank President Ilan Goldfajn (RSVP required).
  • 5:00-6:15 at Witness at the Border Journey for Justice: Reporting Back (RSVP required).

Friday, February 17, 2023

  • 12:00-1:30 at George Washington University: Making Sense of Immigration Data: A Conversation With TRAC (RSVP required).

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: February 10, 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:

  • The U.S. government’s COVID-19 public health emergency is set to end on May 11, 2023—and with it the Title 42 order that has expelled over 2.5 million migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border. Should Title 42 indeed end on May 11, the Biden administration is rolling out plans that would continue to restrict many migrants’ access to asylum, including a “transit ban” and ultra-rapid adjudication of asylum cases under conditions of expedited removal. Mexico may be convinced to accept U.S. deportees while a “humanitarian parole” program remains in place.
  • A House Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing, with two Border Patrol sector chiefs as witnesses, highlighted sharp disagreements between Republican and Democratic members. Legislators appeared unable to agree even whether, as data indicates, fentanyl is primarily transshipped in vehicles at border ports of entry, rather than by migrants between the ports of entry.
  • CBP released a long-awaited report detailing deaths of migrants at the border between 2017 and 2021, categorizing remains by nationality, gender, cause of death, age, and the border sector where they were encountered.

As Title 42 faces a new end date, the Biden administration’s new plans to limit asylum access come into focus

In a February 6 brief filed before the Supreme Court, the Biden administration reiterated its intent to terminate the U.S. government’s COVID-19 “public health emergency” on May 11, 2023. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) August 2021 order prolonging the Title 42 pandemic policy, which mandated that migrants be expelled from the U.S.-Mexico border regardless of asylum needs, states that Title 42 ends when the public health emergency ends.

This will be the third declared end date of the Title 42 policy, which the Trump administration instituted in March 2020 and both administrations have since used to expel migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border 2.5 million times. Mexico has agreed to accept expulsions of its own citizens and, in a list that has expanded since October 2022, those of seven other countries (Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Venezuela).

The CDC declared in April 2022 that the COVID pandemic was no longer so severe as to justify Title 42, and had set an end date of May 23, 2022. Several Republican-governed states filed suit in a Louisiana federal court to block the policy’s termination, and the Supreme Court kept the policy in place while arguments proceeded. In a separate case, a Washington, DC federal judge struck down the Title 42 policy in November 2022, calling it “arbitrary and capricious” and  setting a termination date of December 21, 2022. That decision, too, came under challenge from Republican states, which convinced the Supreme Court to order that Title 42 remain in place while the justices considered their appeal.

The Biden administration’s latest filing argues that the Republican states’ challenge is moot, because ending the government’s COVID-19 state of emergency undermines any basis for keeping Title 42 in place. (“Title 42” refers to the part of the U.S. Code dealing with “Public Health and Welfare.” It is hard to justify expelling migrants under a public health provision after the public health emergency ends.)

The CDC’s order had spelled out two ways of ending the Title 42 policy: either CDC determining it was no longer necessary, or the larger public health emergency coming to an end. The Republican states’ challenge blocked the first path. The administration’s new brief spells out the second path.

While Title 42 is likely to end on May 11, nothing is guaranteed. Republican state governments have had success challenging this and other Biden administration policies in the federal judiciary’s Fifth Circuit, known for its judges’ conservative tendency. While these states have no interest in maintaining the COVID emergency—they have long chafed under pandemic restrictions—they may seek to convince a Fifth Circuit judge to concoct a means to exclude protection-seeking migrants, at a time of very high numbers of migrant encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border.

In the U.S. Senate, meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators led by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) reintroduced legislation that would keep Title 42 in place for two months after the end of the COVID state of emergency, while requiring the administration to submit “a plan to address the impacts of the post-Title 42 migrant influx.”

The administration’s plan is taking shape. Its Supreme Court brief makes clear that it does not intend to restore fully the right to seek asylum at the border after May 11. It expects to put in place two related measures:

1) “In the coming weeks,” the brief reads, the administration will issue a proposed rule (first announced on January 5) that would reject many asylum seekers who passed through third countries en route to the U.S.-Mexico border and did not request asylum in those countries. Such migrants “will be subject to a rebuttable presumption of asylum ineligibility in the United States unless they meet exceptions that will be specified.”

Migrants’ rights advocates call this “transit ban” or “asylum ban” a “death sentence” because it is likely to return to danger people with legitimate protection claims. Under this ban, the only nationality not subject to this ineligibility would be Mexicans, who pass through no other country on their way to the border.

The Trump administration put in place a similar ban in 2019, only to see it struck down in federal court. The Biden administration is seeking to avoid that outcome with still-undetermined modifications and exceptions, and by submitting the policy to the federal government’s deliberative “notice and comment” rulemaking process.

“The Biden administration will undoubtedly argue that because the proposed rule imposes only a rebuttable presumption instead of an outright prohibition, it is distinguishable from Trump’s legal ban and will pass legal muster,” wrote the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies’ Karen Musalo at Just Security. “But the facts on the ground do not support even a presumption of safety and access to a full and fair procedure.”

In a February 8 letter to President Biden, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee) and Alex Padilla (D-California, chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety) objected to the “transit ban.” They recalled that current U.S. law allows asylum seekers to be sent to another nation under only two narrow circumstances:  if the United States has a “safe third country” agreement with that nation (one only exists with Canada), or if the migrant was already “firmly settled” there. Very few asylum seekers’ cases meet either of these conditions. “We are deeply concerned,” the senators wrote, “ that establishing a higher standard for asylum based on passage through a third country would circumvent this statutory scheme and undermine the fundamental right to asylum, violating the letter and spirit of the law.”

2) Even if allowed to seek asylum, the administration plans to subject many migrants to expedited removal, requiring them to defend their cases within days of being apprehended, while still in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or Border Patrol custody at the agencies’ jail-like holding facilities, and with little or no access to counsel. Those who fail “credible fear interviews” with U.S. asylum officers, usually held by videoconference or over the phone, will be swiftly removed from the United States.

Read More

Latin America-related events online and in Washington this week

Monday, February 6, 2023

  • 10:30-11:15 at Press Briefing: Previewing President Biden’s Meeting with President Lula of Brazil (RSVP required).
  • 4:00-5:00 at Georgetown University: Spotlight on the Americas: World Economic Outlook 2023 (RSVP required).

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Friday, February 10, 2023

  • 4:15-6:00 at the Inter-American Dialogue and Between Radicalization and Prospects for Change in Nicaragua (RSVP required).

Colombia’s new coca policy: “the devil is in the details,” which aren’t clear yet

This translated fragment of a January 31 column in the Colombian daily El Espectador, from María Alejandra Vélez of the University of the Andes’ Center for Security and Drugs Studies (CESED), is a succinct, accurate 2-minute overview of where coca eradication policy stands in Colombia right now, six months into Gustavo Petro’s administration.

Consistent with his campaign discourse, his first announcements, which lack details, aim at not persecuting growers, which includes lowering the tempo of forced eradication and considering a territorial transformation program, which includes gradual substitution once other economies generate income that allows a dignified life for coca growers. He reserved eradication for 20,000 hectares of “industrial” growers, who, as in any market, have already vertically integrated into the market: they cultivate in large tracts, process and market. It remains to be seen if we can identify who they are and where they are.

To stop persecuting small coca growers, 52.7% of whose households live in multidimensional poverty, according to the baseline of households that enrolled in the PNIS, seems obvious to me. Waiting for voluntary eradication to happen when they are already producing and generating income in other economies, too.

Now, the devil is in the details and these are what we should be concerned to know. For example, is there enough funding to attend to the territorial transformation of 200,000 or more families? Will there be a census and registration of small growers according to the size and number of plots? What happens with growers who have several plots? Where will the interventions be focused? For what period of time will the households that stop growing coca be accompanied? How will they be protected from the violence to which armed groups and criminal organizations subject them? How are they going to regain the trust of leaders and their communities to become involved in the policy after decades of non-compliance? What are the plans to prevent the expansion of crops and, in particular, their expansion in environmentally important areas? What types of economies other than coca are viable in ethnic and environmentally strategic territories? How does this whole narrative tie in with Total Peace? Do we have the international leadership necessary to stop chasing coca and talk about a regulatory path for cocaine? How will we measure the success of the new drug policy? Will we be able to convince the Biden administration and other U.S. institutions of the need to focus on solving rural development problems instead of eradication?

That last question is critical for our work here in Washington. Will the Biden administration go along with a counter-drug strategy that relies far less on forced eradication of small farmers’ coca plants?

My sense is that yes, they might. But only if they can be reassured that the Petro government is following a detailed, funded, well-thought-out plan. One that can answer many of the questions in Vélez’s final paragraph here.

Unfortunately, as she notes, the Petro government’s plans so far “lack details.” And that could start complicating the bilateral relationship.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: February 2, 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:

  • The Biden administration is “poised” to roll out an “expedited removal” effort that could require many asylum seekers to defend their cases within days of apprehension, while in CBP custody. Seventy-seven U.S. legislators objected to another administration proposal, which would presumptively deny asylum to migrants who fail to apply for it in countries through which they passed en route to the U.S. border.
  • The early January expansion of Title 42 expulsions into Mexico, which now encompasses citizens of eight countries, appears to have contributed to a 40 percent reduction in border migrant encounters from December to January. Title 42 could end with the May 11 termination of the federal government’s COVID-19 health emergency. Over 7,500 Cuban, Haitian, and Nicaraguan migrants have been approved for humanitarian parole under a program being challenged by a lawsuit from Republican state governments.
  • All along the border, media reports are pointing to chronic, mostly fixable problems with the CBP One smartphone app, which the agency is using to allow asylum seekers to apply for Title 42 exemptions. One of the hardest-hit populations appears to be Haitian asylum seekers, whose near-universal use of the exemption program’s pre-app iteration had been a rare procedural success.

Biden administration moving toward rapid asylum adjudication similar to Trump-era programs

Five sources told Reuters that the Biden administration is “poised” to roll out a procedure to perform “fast track” screenings of asylum seekers, while they remain in CBP custody, within days of their apprehension at the U.S.-Mexico border.

If migrants seeking asylum don’t get expelled under the Title 42 pandemic authority, they normally either go to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention, where they face an immigration judge usually within months, or (in nearly all cases if the asylum seeker is a child or a parent with children) they are released into the United States with dates to appear in immigration court.

The administration’s emerging plan, first indicated in a January 5 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) document, would seek to limit these releases by applying a procedure known as “expedited removal” to more asylum seekers. Those subject to expedited removal may never see an immigration judge. They undergo a preliminary screening with an asylum officer, called a “credible fear interview” (CFI). Those who fail this screening are removed from the United States.

Under the administration’s plan, credible fear interviews would happen within days of asylum seekers entering Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or Border Patrol custody, while they remain in those agencies’ detention facilities. Interviews in most cases would be remote, with asylum officers based elsewhere.

Advocates worry that the rushed procedure could end up with many “false negatives.” Asylum seekers subjected to this process would be exhausted from their flight to the border, disoriented from days in CBP’s jail-like holding cells, and unable to narrate their stories clearly to an asylum officer over a web-conferencing service, without meaningful access to counsel. The result could be more cases of vulnerable people removed to places where they face high probability of persecution, a human rights violation known as “refoulement.”

A January 26 NIJC explainer laid out the risks of applying expedited removal to asylum seekers in CBP custody:

This screening, called a Credible Fear Interview (CFI), is meant to set a “low bar” and usher asylum seekers towards full processing.

In practice, this low bar has become an insurmountable hurdle for many reasons. First, CBP frequently fails to refer people for CFIs. Second, even where CBP properly refers people, the CFI process is often dizzying for asylum seekers, who are frequently detained, need guidance on U.S. asylum law, and lack the time and language access they need to prepare for this consequential interview. Third, people placed in expedited removal rarely can secure legal counsel, who would properly guide them through this process and help them articulate their story to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) asylum officer.

NIJC and other groups are calling the administration’s proposal a revival of Trump administration programs that President Biden had ended with a February 2, 2021 executive order. Starting in Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector in 2019, DHS implemented two parallel programs: Prompt Asylum Claim Review (PACR), applied to non-Mexicans, and the Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (HARP) for Mexicans. PACR and HARP led to the detention and rapid removal of over 5,000 asylum seekers, usually after a few days in CBP custody.

“PACR/HARP essentially flipped CFI pass rates on their head,” the NIJC explainer noted. “Instead of nearly 75% of asylum seekers passing their CFIs, passage rates plummeted to less than 25%.”

Transit ban

In addition to this rapid adjudication process, the Biden administration (as DHS announced on January 5) plans to use the federal government’s rule-making process to establish a very high barrier to future asylum seekers. Should this rule go into effect, asylum seekers who passed through third countries on their way to the U.S. border, and did not seek asylum there, “will be subject to a rebuttable presumption of asylum ineligibility in the United States unless they meet exceptions that will be specified.”

Read More
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.