Adam Isacson

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


June 2023

U.S.-Mexico Border Update: June 30, 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.


Official reports and video released and divulged over the past week shed more light on two troubling mid-May fatalities involving Border Patrol: the May 17 death in custody of 8-year-old Panamanian migrant Anadith Danay Reyes Álvarez, and the May 18 shooting death of 58-year-old U.S. citizen and Indigenous community member Raymond Mattia.

Regional migrant processing centers, an initiative of the State and Homeland Security departments working with UN agencies, began accepting online applications in Colombia, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. So far, the Centers’ scope appears to be more modest than the departments’ original announcements had indicated, with only a small number of nationalities able to access them, and capacity limits quickly saturated.

For Mexico’s authorities, May 2023—which included the final 11 days of the Title 42 policy—was the 10th-busiest month this century, with 40,020 migrant apprehensions from 99 countries. A large plurality of migrants, 43 percent, were Venezuelan. Haiti leads the nationalities of Mexico’s 63,463 asylum applicants so far this year, with 41 percent of the total.


More information emerges about May Border Patrol-involved deaths

Official reports and video released and divulged over the past week shed more light on two troubling mid-May fatalities involving Border Patrol: the May 17 death in custody of 8-year-old Panamanian migrant Anadith Danay Reyes Álvarez, and the May 18 shooting death of 58-year-old U.S. citizen and Indigenous community member Raymond Mattia.

On June 22, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP, Border Patrol’s parent agency) released edited body-worn camera footage depicting Raymond Mattia’s death. (The video contains heavy profanity and graphic violence.) At about that time, the Pima County, Arizona Medical Examiner’s autopsy report also became public.

The evidence confirms that three agents, shooting rapid volleys of bullets, hit Mattia nine times on the evening of the 18th, as he stood outside his home on the lands of the Tohono O’odham nation in southern Arizona. The video shows:

  • A call from Tohono O’odham police informs Border Patrol of a report of shots fired in a general area, and the two forces respond jointly. The call does not name any person or address. As NBC News coverage noted, “It is unclear how agents determined the shots came from Mattia,” if shots in fact were fired.
  • As they move through the desert toward Mattia’s home, agents sound highly agitated; one in particular, as Reason’s analysis put it, was “clearly already in a nervous, aggressive, hunter mindset.” The footage, NBC remarked, indicated that the agents “knew Mattia and had pinpointed him as the person responsible for firing shots.” As they search for him, one agent refers to Mattia as “this motherf——.”
  • As 10 Border Patrol agents and Tohono O’odham police converge on his house, Mattia comes outside. Tribal police tell him to put down his weapon. Mattia complies, tossing toward the police a sheathed machete or hunting knife, which according to a family member he had recently used while chasing off some migrants who had entered his home.
  • Border Patrol agents, shouting profanity-filled commands, order Mattia to take his “hands out of his f—ing pocket.” Mattia, complying, abruptly removes his hand, holding an object down and to the right. Three agents, apparently believing the object to be a weapon, immediately open fire multiple times, and Mattia falls to the ground. The object in Mattia’s hand was a mobile phone.

Mattia’s relatives say they know nothing about “shots fired” in the area that evening, and that Mattia “thought the agents were there to respond to his previous call about migrants on his property,” NBC reported. Family members told the Intercept that they are perplexed about why agents decided to zero in on Mattia’s home. “The dispatcher states that they couldn’t pinpoint where the shooting was coming from, but yet, when they are there at the rec center, they’re coming straight to my uncle Ray’s house, with their guns drawn,” said Mattia’s niece, Yvonne Nevarez.

Mattia appears to have had a complicated past relationship with Border Patrol. The Intercept noted that Mattia, a member of his village’s community council, “had been outspoken against the corruption he saw on the border, including corruption involving border law enforcement.” Amy Juan, a leader of the Tohono O’odham Nation in southern Arizona and northern Sonora, told the Border Chronicle podcast that Mattia had “been vocal, not just now, but in the past and recently, about the activity happening that he’s seen in his community, namely, involving Border Patrol. Corruption, and being involved in illegal activities there.” On an episode of the Border Patrol union-affiliated podcast, meanwhile, National Border Patrol Council Vice President Art del Cueto was quick to point out that Mattia had a prior arrest record.

The agents who fired their weapons are currently on leave with pay, as is standard in such use-of-force incidents. CBP’s most recent statement notes that the incident “is being investigated by the Tohono O’odham Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and is being reviewed by CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).” Once these investigations conclude, CBP’s National Use of Force Review Board will review the incident and make disciplinary recommendations, if any.

In fiscal year 2021, the last year for which data are available, this Review Board and local review boards declined to issue sanctions in 96 percent of the 684 cases they reviewed. Of the other 24 cases, 11 ended up with counseling for the agents involved, and the other 13 remained under investigation or pending action as of April 2022.

“There’ll be an investigation, an assessment of the force used, and we are going to look at tensions in the community,” Gary Restaino, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, said on June 23. Frank Figliuzzi, a former civil rights supervisor for the FBI in San Francisco, shared with NBC News his belief that the agents may not be disciplined “given that officers were responding to a ‘shots fired call,’ the way Mattia pulled out his phone, and the darkness of the environment, among other factors.”

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times reported on internal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) documents finding fault with CBP’s care for medically fragile migrants in the agency’s custody, following the May 17th passing of Anadith Reyes. That day, her family’s ninth in Border Patrol custody and the day after measuring a 104.9 degree fever, Reyes—who had a documented history of heart problems and sickle-cell anemia—died of influenza in Border Patrol’s Harlingen, Texas station holding facility.

Reyes’s parents—most recently in an interview with ABC’s GMA3 program, have said that they asked agents and contract medical personnel many times to give Anadith more urgent care. Her mother reiterated that personnel were not interested in reviewing the medical documents that she had brought with her. “She says she felt like medical personnel thought she was lying about how sick her child was feeling,” according to ABC. “She says Anadith told the staff ‘I can’t breathe from my mouth or my nose.’” CBP’s initial review of what happened upholds the family’s account of refusals of multiple requests for more urgent assistance.

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Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: June 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.


CBP released data covering migration at the U.S.-Mexico border in May, which was an important transitional month because the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy came to an end on May 11. The agency encountered 61 percent fewer migrants after May 11 than it did during the month’s first 11 days. CBP expanded appointments for asylum seekers using the “CBP One” app, but other asylum seekers subject to the Biden administration’s new “transit ban” rule faced high barriers to protection.

The House of Representatives Appropriations Committee passed, on a party-line vote, its 2024 budget bill for the Department of Homeland Security. It reflects the priorities of the House’s Republican majority and directly confronts Biden administration priorities at the border. The bill, which stands little chance of passage in anything resembling its current form, would restart border wall building, hire 1,800 Border Patrol agents, expand migrant detention, and slash funding for processing, humanitarian assistance, alternatives to detention, and detention oversight.

The family of 8-year-old Anadith Danay Reyes Alvarez laid her to rest at a June 16 funeral service in New York. “We want justice for her so that no one else has to go through this,” read a statement. Reyes died of influenza on May 17, after nine days in Border Patrol custody in Harlingen, Texas, where Border Patrol personnel and medical contractors failed to heed the family’s pleas for urgent aid.



May migration data reflect post-Title 42 decline

On June 20 U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released data about its encounters with migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in May 2023. This was an important transitional month, because the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy came to an end on May 11.

The monthly numbers show a mixed picture, as they combine the period before May 11, when CBP’s daily migrant encounters at times exceeded 10,000, with the period after Title 42’s end, when migration dropped sharply amid uncertainty over how the Biden administration would apply a new rule restricting access to asylum.

In border areas between ports of entry, CBP’s Border Patrol component reported 169,244 “encounters” with migrants during May. That was 8 percent fewer than in April, and 25 percent fewer than in May 2022. A majority of those “encounters” (98,850) happened during the first 11 days of May. Border Patrol’s daily average dropped from 8,986 on May 1-11 to 3,520 on May 12-31. That is a reduction of 61 percent.

Regular posts to the Twitter account of outgoing Border Patrol Chief Raúl Ortiz indicate that encounter numbers remain lower in June, with daily averages staying flat, ranging between about 3,000 and 3,300.

In addition to Border Patrol’s encounters between ports of entry (official border crossings), CBP’s Office of Field Operations encountered 35,317 more migrants at the ports. This is a new single-month record, exceeding the number of migrants at ports of entry in April 2022, when CBP processed a large number of Ukrainians following the Russian invasion.

Of that 35,317, 4 out of 5 (28,696) were asylum seekers who had succeeded in making appointments to apply at ports of entry, using a feature on CBP’s smartphone app, “CBP One.” In mid-January, the app became—with very few exceptions—the only way to secure an asylum appointment at a port of entry. Between then and May 31, CBP reports that more than 106,000 people have used the app to make appointments.

After May 11, CBP increased the number of daily CBP One appointments it would accept. The daily average had been about 740-760 between December and April, but increased to 1,273 during the last 20 days of May. As of June 1, CBP is accepting 1,250 per day.

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Military extrajudicial executions in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico

Mexico’s investigative magazine Zeta calls the border city of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, “the capital of extrajudicial executions.” It lists a series of severe recent misuse of force incidents there, most involving the armed forces:

  • May 18, 2023: A video shows that, contrary to the Army’s version of events, soldiers shot and killed five men, following a confrontation and pursuit, after they had already been captured and disarmed.
  • February 26, 2023: Soldiers, shooting 80 times, killed five men following a pursuit.
  • August 31, 2022: Soldiers open fire on a vehicle and kill a four-year-old girl on board. A friend of Heidi Mariana’s mother was taking her to the hospital to treat a stomachache.
  • February 7, 2021: Soldiers in an Army truck blocked a private vehicle and opened fire, killing one aboard and wounding two.
  • July 3, 2020: Following a shootout, after soldiers overtook their assailants’ vehicles, they fired on the vehicles, killing all aboard—including kidnap victims whom the assailants were transporting.
  • March-May 2018: Mexican marines arbitrarily detained and disappeared 27 people in Nuevo Laredo. The bodies of 12 have been found, dumped.
  • September 5, 2009: An elite state police unit (Centro de Análisis, Inteligencia y Estudios de Tamaulipas) killed five men and three women. The police allegedly removed the victims from their homes, killed them, and posed the bodies in “northeast cartel” vests around a pickup truck with handmade armor to simulate combat.

Zeta published a table with 16 examples of extrajudicial executions going back to 1995. Seven took place in Nuevo Laredo.

Despite very heavy military involvement in public security, Nuevo Laredo continues to be one of the most dangerous and organized crime-dominated places in Mexico. (See my discussion of what we saw in Nuevo Laredo during a March 2022 WOLA border visit.) Things are so bad that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is not even granting appointments for asylum seekers using the “CBP One” smartphone app across the river in Laredo, Texas.

Latin America-related events in Washington and online this week

Tuesday, June 20

  • 11:00-12:30 at the Wilson Center: Voices Behind the News: Promoting Freedom of Expression & Strengthening Independent Media in Central America (RSVP required).
  • 12:30-2:00 at OSF and online: Peru: Democratic Crisis, Human Rights and Impunity (RSVP required).

Wednesday, June 21

Thursday, June 22

  • 3:00-4:30 at CSIS and online: Building the North American Semiconductor Corridor (RSVP required).
  • 5:30-6:30 in Washington and online: Democratic Decline and Authoritarian Drift in Guatemala: Presentation and Comments on the Inclusion of Guatemala in Chapter 4.B of the IACHR Annual Report 2022 (RSVP required).
  • 5:30-7:00 at 1301 Connecticut Ave NW Suite 600 and online: The Current Situation in Colombia: A Conversation with Marco Romero (RSVP required).

Friday, June 23

  • 9:30-11:00 at 1301 Connecticut Ave NW Suite 600 and online: ‘Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading’: Cristosal Reports on One Year Under El Salvador’s State of Exception (RSVP required).
  • 12:00-2:00 at Migrant and Refugee Children in the Americas (RSVP required).
  • 1:30-3:30 at USIP: Commemorating Jimmy Carter’s Legacy in the Americas (RSVP required).

“When we think about dealing with Border Patrol, it’s also psychological, mental trauma of living in a militarized community”

It’s a reminder of what’s possible, and the danger that anyone can be in, you know, whether they live on the border or not. If there’s Border Patrol around and there’s an incident, and you’re murdered or killed, there’s no oversight. There’s no accountability process.

And I think that’s, you know, an interesting tactic. Because when things happen like this, it’s like, well, where does it go? You know, people make reports. But as far as pressing charges, as far as someone who’s on it, you know, to make sure that there’s some type of justice, it really comes down to community members and the families. And that’s been the experience that we’ve seen throughout the years.

Amy Juan, a leader of the Tohono O’odham Nation in southern Arizona and northern Sonora, interviewed at the Border Chronicle podcast. In a May 18 incident that remains to be clarified, Border Patrol agents killed a 58-year-old O’odham man, Raymond Mattia, shooting him multiple times in the front yard of his house.

Juan added thoughts about how alone O’odham communities near the U.S.-Mexico border are, living alongside a Border Patrol presence that is very hard to hold accountable, and may even be engaging in corruption—an issue that Mr. Mattia, the victim, may have raised.

Mr. Mattia has also been vocal, not just now, but in the past and recently, about the activity happening that he’s seen in his community, namely, involving Border Patrol. Corruption, and—you know—being involved in illegal activities there. And like I said, there’s no oversight. There’s no one there to really monitor the activity that happens there. And so from what I understand, what I’ve heard, from community members—and also reporters that have reached out to me—they say that they had been talking to Raymond about these issues for a while. And so I’m not assuming anything, I’m just I’m sharing that, you know, this is an instance, you know, where the community has been, you know, “keeping eyes.”

I’m Out.

Auto-reply message:

I'm on vacation between Monday, June 5 and Monday, June 19, which may delay my reply. I will be many time zones away and may not reply quickly even to urgent messages.

Estaré de vacaciones entre el lunes 5 y el lunes 19 de junio, lo que puede retrasar mi respuesta bastante. Estaré a muchas zonas de tiempo de distancia, y puede que no responda rápidamente incluso a los mensajes urgentes.

That does it for me until mid-June. I’m off for our big yearly vacation.

If I don’t reply to your message, it’s not you, it’s me… on the other side of the planet. See you in a couple of weeks. 😌✈️

Honduras trip report is out

Four weeks ago, I was flying back from our 10-day trip to Honduras. Today, we’ve managed to write and lay out a graphical report about what we learned.

The full, 7,000-word, photo-filled, English version is here.

The PDF version of the same is here.

Una traducción del resumen ejecutivo está aquí.

Here’s the summary in English. The much more interesting full report, again, is here.

Halfway to the U.S.: A Report from Honduras on Migration

by Adam Isacson and Ana Lucia Verduzco and Maureen Meyer

  • Four current and former WOLA staff members—Adam Isacson, Maureen Meyer, Ana Lucia Verduzco, and Joy Olson—visited Honduras from April 26th to May 5th, 2023.
  • Why we visited: WOLA has done extensive research on the U.S.-Mexico border, throughout Mexico and the Mexico-Guatemala border, and the Darién Gap has begun to draw attention. But the U.S – Mexico border is the end of a long journey, and much of what happens elsewhere along the U.S.-bound migration route is poorly understood. WOLA wants to tell the story of what’s happening at key stages of the migration route because needs are urgent and the region is experiencing unprecedented human mobility.
  • What we found: Honduras, like its neighbors, now experiences four kinds of migration:
    • Hondurans who are departing
    • Hondurans who are internally displaced
    • Hondurans deported back from other countries
    • International migrants transiting the country
  • As everywhere along the migration route, numbers of international migrants passing through the country are up, as the land route from South America has opened up since 2021. Many U.S.-bound migrants are from other continents. To reflect this new reality, humanitarian aid providers call on international and national funding to be more consistent and reliable.
  • For migrants transiting Honduras, the country is a “respiro—a place to catch one’s breath—or even a “sandwich” between arduous and unwelcoming journeys before (Darién Gap, Nicaragua) and after (Guatemala, Mexico).
  • This is largely because Honduras is neither deporting nor detaining most migrants, and it has waived a fine that it had been charging for travel documents required to board buses. That fine had left many migrants in Honduras stranded, while providing corrupt authorities with an opportunity for extortion. Upon entry, most migrants now register directly with the government without the need to pay a fee. This reduces opportunities for organized crime. It also makes transiting the country slightly more bearable and provides a more accurate registry of those who enter the country. This “amnesty” policy is a necessary alignment with reality. Honduras should make it permanent, and other countries along the route would do well to emulate aspects of it.
  • Migrants—both those transiting Honduras and Honduran migrants departing the country—are traveling with widely varying levels of information about what lies ahead. While some were aware of the “CBP One” app and the significance of May 11, 2023, the day that Title 42 ended, almost no migrants with whom WOLA interacted had clear knowledge of the complex U.S. asylum process. Some did not even know how many more countries remained to cross in the days ahead.
  • The United States and Mexico deport 1,500-2,000 Honduran migrants in a typical week. Attention to deported migrants as they arrive in Honduras is supported by the U.S. government, indirectly through international organizations and humanitarian groups. Conditions are relatively dignified and well resourced, despite some serious short-term needs. But assistance with reintegration largely stops at the doors of the reception centers. Security risks are high, but economic and psychosocial needs are the most urgent.
  • Upon arrival in Honduras, deported migrants share alarming testimonies about the treatment they receive while in the custody of, and being transported by, U.S. law enforcement agencies. These rarely end up with investigations or discipline because pathways to reporting are often unclear or inaccessible, especially when witnesses are deported.
  • International humanitarian officials and Honduran experts joined calls for more clarity and stability in U.S. immigration policy, and simpler access to reliable, current information about existing legal pathways to migration.
  • Key reasons Hondurans migrate overlap in complex ways. It is hard to extricate economic need from the security situation as gang extortion has shuttered businesses and depressed economies. Corruption—and impunity for corruption— in turn feed a national malaise and sense of rootlessness or hopelessness that spurs migration. Add to these: discrimination, domestic violence, the effects of climate change, and the need to provide remittances to loved ones.
  • WOLA’s time in Honduras was a reminder of the pressing need to find long-term alternatives to mass migration flows. These include community-based and institutional reforms that address the conditions forcing people to leave: poverty, violence, impunity, corruption, persecution, climate change, domestic violence, and a general sense of “rootlessness.”
  • Experts and service providers warned against being tempted by quick fixes that promise short-term results at great long-term cost, like the state of emergency and mass incarceration that President Nayib Bukele is carrying out in neighboring El Salvador.

The full report

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: June 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.

Border Updates will pause for the next two weeks as staff take vacation time. We will resume publication on June 23.


Very preliminary data indicate that, following a sharp fall in the days after the Title 42 policy’s end, numbers of U.S.-bound migrants have either flattened out or begun to increase again. Shelters are full in much of Mexico, meanwhile, where authorities continue to move large numbers of migrants toward the country’s southern border.

Asylum seekers who have been unable to secure “CBP One” appointments have begun lining up, for days at a time, at ports of entry in Nogales and Tijuana. The situation resembles CBP’s practice of “metering”—limiting asylum seekers’ access to ports of entry, and only allowing a small number per day to be processed—which a federal court declared to be illegal in 2020.

A few more details have emerged about the May 18 death of Raymond Mattia, a 58-year-old man shot multiple times by Border Patrol, while apparently unarmed, in the front yard of his house in the Tohono O’Odham Nation Reservation in Arizona. Family and friends have held protests and are pushing for accountability.

The Full Update

What we know about post-Title 42 migration

Three weeks have passed since the end of the pandemic-era Title 42 policy, which expelled migrants 2.8 million times from the U.S.-Mexico border over 38 months, regardless of asylum needs. Contrary to many predictions, the period following Title 42’s end saw a sharp drop in the number of migrants encountered at the border, from an early May high of over 10,000 per day to a mid-May low of less than 3,000 per day. (See WOLA’s May 19 Border Update.)

This drop is unlikely to persist for long, and early indications point to the number of migrant encounters already beginning to recover after touching their lowest level.

The quick drop after May 11, the last day of Title 42, likely owed to migrants adopting a “wait and see” stance amid uncertainty about the Biden administration’s new policies. On May 10, the departments of Homeland Security and Justice put in place a new administrative rule curtailing access to asylum, with a few exceptions, for all non-Mexican migrants (1) who were not first rejected for asylum in another country through which they passed, and (2) who did not make an appointment at a land port of entry (official border crossing) using CBP’s smartphone app, CBP One. Citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela who meet both of those conditions may be deported into Mexico.

Lacking clarity about how this rule will play out, migrants who intend to seek asylum are crossing in much smaller numbers, at least for now. But very partial data seem to point to overall migration numbers ticking up slightly during the final days of May.

Along the route that U.S.-bound migrants take, most countries’ migration authorities share monthly data within two or three weeks after a month ends. As we await this data, we have partial clues about what post-May 11 migratory flows have looked like. The few available indicators, though, mostly uphold the idea of a reduction in migration followed by a gradual increase.

In the United States, Border Patrol Chief Raúl Ortiz’s Twitter account shares periodic updates with some of the agency’s enforcement statistics from previous days. During May, these show Border Patrol’s migrant apprehensions rising during the first third of the month, falling during the second third, and leveling off or even recovering a bit during the final third.

Ortiz’s “past week” tweets show a continuous decline since May 11: a per-day average of 7,850 apprehensions on May 6, 9,680 on May 12, 4,068 on May 19, and 3,149 on May 26. However, a “past 96 hours” tweet posted May 30 showed a daily average higher than what it was in Ortiz’s two previous updates: 3,396 apprehensions per day. That is 16 percent more than what the Chief had reported in a “past 72 hours” tweet 8 days earlier, on May 22 (2,917).

We have close to real-time data from Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector, thanks to a “dashboard” that El Paso, Texas’s municipal government posts to its website. That resource does not show any increase in migration during the latter days of May. It shows 7-day averages of 1,522 Border Patrol migrant apprehensions per day during the week ending May 14, 734 per day the week ending May 21, and 672 per day the week ending May 28. As of May 31, the 7-day average in El Paso had dropped to 543.

The leveling-off, or slight increase, indicated by Chief Ortiz’s tweets does not appear to be happening in El Paso.

Honduras is the only country along the migration route that publicly shares data in something close to real time. Its early data do appear to point to some recent increase in migration transiting Honduras, after only a modest decline.

The number of migrants registering with Honduran authorities reached an average of 918 per day on May 1-10, the end of the Title 42 period. That fell to 805 per day the following week, and 690 the week after that. Interestingly, the drop from post-Title 42 week 1 to week 2 was entirely Venezuelan: the population of non-Venezuelan migrants actually increased.

Then, during the final four days that Honduras reports—May 25-28—the daily average increases once again, to 737 per day. Much of the increase is Venezuelan migration.

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