Adam Isacson

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

Archives

July 2023

Latin America-related events in Washington and online this week

Monday, July 31, 2023

  • 11:00-12:00 at the Heritage Foundation and online: Catch, Release, and Then What? (RSVP required).

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

  • 12:30-1:30 at wilsoncenter.org: Argentina Elige: A Conversation with Luciano Laspina, Argentine Congressman and Senior Economic Adviser to Presidential Candidate Patricia Bullrich (RSVP required).
  • 6:00-7:00 at thedialogue.org: Elections Series – The Role of the Judiciary in Electoral Contexts: A View from Latin America (RSVP required).

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

  • 12:00-1:30 at wilsoncenter.org: Presentación del reporte del “Foro nacional sobre feminicidio: Visiones y soluciones” y del reporte sobre “Los avances legislativos y propuestas que se encuentran pendientes de aprobar en materia de feminicidio en México” (RSVP required).
  • 2:00-3:00 at wola.org: Abuses at the U.S.- Mexico Border: How To Address Failures and Protect Rights (RSVP required).

Friday, August 4, 2023

  • 10:00-10:45 at csis.org: Looking South: A Conversation with GEN Laura Richardson on Security Challenges in Latin America (RSVP required).
  • 1:15-2:30 at the Inter-American Dialogue and online: A Conversation on Central America (RSVP required).

Event and Report Launch Wednesday… been working on this one for a while

Next Wednesday, WOLA is publishing a report that I’ve been working on for months, with colleagues at the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales.

It’s an in-depth look at

  • CBP’s and Border Patrol’s serious, pervasive human rights problem
  • Why DHS’s accountability efforts constantly fail
  • What we can do about it

Our launch webinar is at 2PM Eastern next Wednesday, August 2.

There’s a lot of ground to cover! Join us if you can – here’s the RSVP link.

Here’s the text of the event announcement from WOLA’s website.

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and Kino Border Initiative (KBI) cordially invite you to the following webinar:

Abuses at the U.S.- Mexican Border: How To Address Failures and Protect Rights

A U.S.-Mexico border that is well governed can go hand in hand with a border where migrants and asylum seekers receive humane treatment. For this to happen, U.S. government personnel who abuse human rights or violate professional standards must be held to account and victims must receive justice.

Right now, at the U.S.-Mexico border, this rarely happens. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the federal government’s largest civilian law enforcement agency, has a persistent problem of human rights abuse without accountability. 

Many, if not most, CBP officers, and agents in CBP’s Border Patrol agency, are professionals who seek to follow best practices. However, the frequency and severity of abuse allegations suggests that agents who do, have little reason to be concerned about consequences from an accountability system that yields few results.

Join us to discuss the launch of our new report, Abuses at the U.S.-Mexican Border: How To Address Failures and Protect Rights. While documenting the problem at the border and showing “failure points” to accountability, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) offer more than 40 recommendations for more effective complaints, investigations, discipline, oversight, and cultural change. 

The report is a product of years of work documenting human rights violations committed by U.S. federal law enforcement forces at the U.S.-Mexico border. WOLA, based in Washington D.C, maintains a database of over 400 cases—many of them severe—compiled since 2020. KBI has documented thousands of cases of abuse narrated by migrants who have sheltered at its facilities in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. KBI has generated hundreds of formal complaints since 2015 in an effort to improve accountability. 

Of complaints since 2020, 95 percent resulted in no accountability outcome at all. Changing an abusive culture, and increasing the probability of accountability, can take many years and will face political headwinds. But as the many, often shocking, abuses documented by both organizations make strikingly clear, there is no other choice: this is a matter of democratic rule of law, both at the border and beyond it. The United States must bring its border law enforcement agencies’ day-to-day behavior back into alignment with its professed values, especially at a time of historic migration.

With:

Adam Isacson

  • Director for Defense Oversight, Washington Office on Latin America, WOLA

Zoe Martens

  • Advocacy Coordinator, Kino Border Initiative, KBI

Joanna Williams

  • Executive Director, Kino Border Initiative, KBI

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

14:00 – 15:00 ET / 11:00 – 12:00 MST

Register to join the webinar here.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: July 28, 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 IN BRIEF:

A federal judge has vacated the Biden administration’s two-month-old rule restricting access to asylum for many migrants at the border. The rule, which puts asylum out of reach for migrants who don’t make an appointment or first seek it in another country en route, went into effect after the Title 42 policy’s termination. The ruling, in response to a lawsuit brought by several organizations, found that the so-called “transit ban” rule is contrary to existing law. Judge Jon Tigar stayed his own decision for 14 days, and the administration will appeal it.

Mexican authorities apprehended 58,097 migrants during June 2023. This breaks Mexico’s previous migrant apprehensions record by more than 11 percent. Venezuela was the number-one nationality of migrants encountered, but several other nationalities doubled from May to June. Along with data from Honduras and Panama, Mexico’s numbers point to a sharp increase in migration following Title 42’s termination, even as authorities on the U.S. side of the border encounter fewer migrants.

Fallout continues from a whistleblower’s revelation that police and National Guardsmen deployed to the border by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) are being instructed to mistreat asylum-seeking migrants: telling them to swim across the river back to Mexico, denying them water amid extreme heat, and laying down concertina wire that is wounding many. Meanwhile the Department of Justice has filed suit to compel Texas to remove a “wall of buoys” in the middle of the river in Eagle Pass; Mexico has filed diplomatic protests; and Abbott’s deployed forces are arresting female migrants and employing mobile phone surveillance software.

THE FULL UPDATE:

District court strikes down Biden administration asylum rule

A federal court in California struck down the Biden administration’s two-month-old rule restricting access to asylum for many migrants. If courts take no further action to stay Oakland District Court Judge Jon Tigar’s ruling, the administration’s “Circumvention of Lawful Pathways” rule will be lifted by August 9.

The rule (a subject covered in numerous WOLA Border Updates, especially in March, April, and May) went into force on May 11, 2023, the day that the “Title 42” pandemic expulsions policy ended. It blocks access to asylum, with some exceptions, to all non-Mexican migrants who (a) come to the border between ports of entry (land border crossings), instead of making an appointment using Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) “CBP One” smartphone app; and (b) did not try and fail to seek asylum in at least one other country along their route. People subjected to the rule are deported—and deported into Mexico if they are citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, or Venezuela—and banned from entry into the United States for five years.

Judge Tigar’s decision to strike down the rule resulted from a lawsuit ( East Bay Sanctuary Covenant v. Biden) brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Northern California, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, and National Immigrant Justice Center, on behalf of East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, American Gateways, Central American Resource Center, Immigrant Defenders Law Center, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Tahirih Justice Center. Tigar had promised to issue a decision shortly after hearing arguments on July 19 (see WOLA’s July 21 Border Update).

In 2019, Judge Tigar had struck down a similar “transit ban” rule, when the Trump administration sought to ban asylum for migrants who failed to seek it elsewhere along the way. Though the Biden administration added more exceptions and sought to accompany its rule with alternative legal pathways, Tigar decided that the 2023 rule contravened existing law (especially Section 208 of the Immigration and Nationality Act) in similar ways.

According to the ruling:

  • The Biden administration’s rule is contrary to existing law, which specifically states that the right to asylum exists without regard to how a migrant arrived on U.S. soil. The “clear intent” of the law, Tigar’s decision adds, is that migrants are only expected to seek asylum in another country when it “actually presents a safe option.” Though the law allows the government to impose additional rules on asylum, those must be “consistent” with the law.
  • The rule is “arbitrary and capricious” because it relies on other legal pathways for migration to the United States, like “CBP One” appointments or humanitarian parole for four countries’ citizens, which are unavailable to many asylum seekers.
  • The rule is procedurally invalid because the administration gave the public only 30 days to submit comments. This, in Judge Tigar’s view, did not comply with the Administrative Procedure Act, which lays out the rulemaking process.

The July 25 decision echoes some of the arguments made in tens of thousands of comments that individuals and organizations, from human rights defenders to members of Congress to the UN Refugee Agency, submitted during the 30-day period, which ended on March 27 (WOLA linked to 167 comments, including its own, in its March 31 Border Update).

Some of what many commenters warned about was already coming to pass.

Read More

In Colombia, attacks on human rights defenders, social leaders, and ex-combatants are gradually declining

Two sources point to a welcome, though still woefully insufficient, decline in the number of human rights defenders and social leaders being killed in Colombia.

During the first half of 2023:

  • According to Colombia’s Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo), 92 social leaders and human rights defenders were killed between January and June 2023. That is down 19 percent from the 114 killings that the Defensoría counted between January and June 2022.
  • According to the count kept by the independent journalism site La Silla Vacía, 77 social leaders were murdered in the first six months of 2023. That is down 25 percent from the first half of 2022.

The United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, which produces quarterly reports on implementation of aspects of the 2016 peace accord, also found a downward trend in murders of demobilized former members of the FARC guerrilla group. In its latest report, the Mission counts 18 ex-combatants killed between January 1 and June 26, 2023, roughly 30 percent behind the pace of 2022, and the trend has been declining since 2020.

From UN document: Since the signing of the Peace Agreement, the Mission has verified:

375 KILLINGS
11 Women
54 Afro-Colombians
35 Indigenous

129 ATTEMPTED HOMICIDES (10 Women)

32 DISAPPEARANCES (All Men)

Twelve former combatants (all men) were killed during this period in Caquetá, Cauca, Chocó, Guaviare, Huila, Meta, Putumayo and Valle del Cauca.

2017: 33
2018: 65
2019: 78
2020: 75
2021: 55
2022: 50
2023: 18

This is all good news, though Colombia is still far from zero.

Why is it happening? Some credit may go to the nearly year-old government of Gustavo Petro, which has extended many of the country’s armed groups an opportunity to negotiate peace or demobilization, which gives them an incentive to improve their behavior toward non-combatants.

In the case of attacks on former FARC combatants, the demobilization process happened six years ago now, so “people just getting on with their lives” is something of a factor. Still, the UN warns that “persisting violence continues to jeopardize the process.” Indeed, imminent threats from FARC “dissidents” is forcing the relocation of sites for demobilized guerrillas in Vistahermosa and Mesetas, Meta, a few hours’ drive south of Bogotá.

Latin America-Related Events in Washington and Online This Week

Tuesday, July 25

  • 2:00 at Americans for Immigrant Justice Zoom: What is the Family Expedited Removal Management (FERM) process? (RSVP required).

Wednesday, July 26

Thursday, July 27

Colombia in the 2024 Foreign Aid Bill

As of yesterday, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have completed work on the 2024 State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill—more colloquially, the “foreign aid bill.” The Republican-majority House appropriators approved their bill on July 12, and Senate appropriators approved theirs on July 20.

Here’s a very top-level overview of Colombia provisions in the 2023 foreign aid budget, what the Biden administration requested of Congress in March, and the House and Senate bills as they’ve emerged from committee.

U.S. Assistance to Colombia in the State/Foreign Operations Appropriation

2023 lawBiden Administration RequestHouse Appropriations Committee (bill / report)Senate Appropriations Committee (bill / report)
Total amount
(Omits Venezuela migrant aid, Defense Department aid, some smaller accounts)
$496 million$444.025 million“Deferred”$487.375 million
USAID Economic Support Funds$153 million$122 million Unspecified, except $25 million for “Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Communities” and $15 million for “Human rights”
USAID Development Assistance$95 million$103 million Unspecified, except $15 million for “Colombia biodiversity”
International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement$175 million$160 million  
Nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining, and Related Programs$21 million$10 million  
Foreign Military Financing$38.5 million$38 million $28.025 million
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights$3 million  $3 million
Human rights conditions on military and some police aid20% of FMF; 5% of INCLE for Colombia’s National PoliceNoneNone20% of FMF; 5% of INCLE for Colombia’s National Police

The next steps after this:

  • Both houses must approve their bills (changes to Colombia provisions are unlikely).
  • A “conference committee” must resolve differences.
  • Once that revised and combined bill is approved, it gets sent to the President for signature, often combined with several other budget bills into a single “omnibus” bill.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: July 21, 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 IN BRIEF:

An internal email from a Texas state policeman shed alarming light on the state-funded border security crackdown in Eagle Pass. Migrants are being injured by spools of concertina wire, and local authorities appear to be under orders to refuse humanitarian aid and make them swim back to Mexico in a notoriously dangerous segment of the Rio Grande.

In June, the first full month after the Title 42 pandemic policy ended, U.S. border authorities’ encounters with migrants dropped significantly. The number processed at ports of entry, however, increased to a record level, amid a jump in appointments granted using the “CBP One” smartphone app.

A court in Oakland, California, heard arguments about the Biden administration’s controversial rule limiting access to asylum, which went into effect upon Title 42’s termination. The rule denies asylum to most non-Mexican migrants who fail to make appointments at ports of entry and don’t first seek protection elsewhere along the way. Litigants and migrants’ rights defenders contend that the rule violates U.S. law and endangers migrants waiting in Mexican border cities.

THE FULL UPDATE:

Whistleblower report: Texas border deployment is actively harming asylum seekers

The Houston Chronicle and Hearst Newspapers shared an internal e-mail from Texas State Trooper Nicholas Wingate, a medic assigned to Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s (R) state-funded border security crackdown in Eagle Pass, along the Rio Grande a few hours from San Antonio. It contains troubling revelations—now being confirmed by additional sources—of harm done to migrants by state personnel, apparently on the orders of superiors.

In that part of the border, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) police and state-funded National Guardsmen have strung miles of razor-sharp coils of concertina wire along the riverbank and shallows. As covered in WOLA’s July 14 Border Update, they are also building a 1,000-foot floating “wall” of buoys in the middle of the river in front of downtown Eagle Pass.

Among recent results of these state operations, from Wingate’s e-mail (with excerpts in quotes):

  • On June 25, 120 people were waiting to turn themselves in on the riverbank, “exhausted hungry and tired” during a record heat wave. The Texas DPS shift officers in command twice gave orders “to push the people back into the water to go to Mexico” despite the drowning risk.
  • On June 30, Texas National Guardsmen, acting on orders, “pressed back” a 4-year-old girl “who attempted to cross the wire.” The girl soon passed out in the 100-plus-degree heat and needed medical attention.
  • That day, troopers found a man with “a significant laceration in his left leg” from the concertina wire. “We asked him what happened and he stated that he had a child who was stuck on a trap in the water. He said that there was a barrel that had casualty wire all over it and his child was stuck on it.”
  • Also that day, a 15-year-old boy broke his leg after a roll of concertina wire forced him to re-enter the river in an area of dangerous currents.
  • That evening, troopers came across a 19-year-old woman “who was in obvious pain stuck in the casualty wire who was doubled over.” She was pregnant and having a miscarriage.

“Due to the extreme heat, the order to not give people water needs to be immediately reversed,” Wingate wrote, adding: “I believe we have stepped over a line into the inhumane.”

The Houston Chronicle had already reported on the federal U.S. Border Patrol’s concern that the concertina wire would complicate rescues. On June 30, Fox News footage showed Border Patrol agents having to use shears to cut through the wire to reach migrants in the river.

Since 2021, Eagle Pass has been a prime crossing point for people seeking to turn themselves in to U.S. authorities and ask for asylum in the United States. It is also a treacherous section of the Rio Grande. In the roughly 75 miles of riverfront of Texas’s Maverick County—which includes Eagle Pass—the sheriff’s office has counted 103 drownings since 2022, according to the New York Times. That includes the July 1 death near Eagle Pass of a Guatemalan woman, her infant daughter, and another child whose body was never recovered.

The Texas state government issued a denial, stating that “no orders or directions have been given under Operation Lone Star that would compromise the lives of those attempting to cross the border illegally.” Texas DPS told The Hill, “There is not a directive or policy that instructs Troopers to withhold water from migrants or push them back into the river.”

Emerging evidence, however, points to the issuance of orders compelling behavior that endangered migrants. According to the New York Times, three other officers have corroborated that “there were explicit orders to deny water to migrants and to tell them to go back to Mexico. Three said they had been told by supervisors that troopers were not to inform the Border Patrol when migrants were in the water or at the Texas riverbank.”

A Texas DPS text message addressed to sergeants, obtained by the Times, read: “Can you please push out a message to your troopers. They are NOT to call BP when they see a group approaching or already on the bank.” The text, the Times added, “directed officers to tell migrants to ‘go back to Mexico’ and to cross the border at one of the international bridges.” To go “back to Mexico” would mean swimming back across a dangerous stretch of river.

A migrant interviewed by the Times showed wounds on his foot from stepping on concertina wire that Texas personnel had submerged in the river’s shallows, causing blood to gush through his tennis shoe. Another witnessed a woman caused “to hit her face on a spike, leaving a gash on her forehead” after a Texas agent roughly pulled a blanket off of a coil of wire at the riverbank, as people were climbing over it.

Further evidence indicates that officials were aware that endangerment of migrants was occurring, and worsening. Texas DPS director Steve McCraw sent an internal e-mail over the July 15-16 weekend, with photos of wounds, noting “that the razor wire had led to an increase in injuries for migrants.” In a July 17 report, USA Today found that, at an Eagle Pass migrant respite center, “the migrants who do stagger in often have slashes from the razor wire.”

Read More

At MSNBC: Texas’ plan to make crossing the Rio Grande more dangerous is inhumane

A big thank-you to the great (and fast-moving) editors at msnbc.com for inviting me to write about the recent allegations of harm inflicted on asylum-seeking migrants by Texas state police at the border.

In this opinion piece, I contend that cruelty has long been a part of efforts, at all levels of government, to deter people from migrating. The incidents in Eagle Pass are egregious, and we owe a debt to the whistleblower who revealed them. But they’re nothing new.

Read it here.

June at the border saw a big move toward the ports of entry

June migration data from the U.S.-Mexico border, posted yesterday by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), show a 42 percent drop, from May, in the number of migrants who crossed the border in the areas between the ports of entry (official border crossings), ending up in Border Patrol custody. There is a lot of red (reductions) in this chart of tables:

**All Border Patrol Migrant Encounters at the U.S.-Mexico Border**

Includes only those encountered between ports of entry.
Shaded countries’ citizens may be expelled to Mexico under Title 42, or deported there under the 2023 asylum rule.

**April 2023**
Mexico 59,666
Venezuela 29,731
Colombia 17,513
Guatemala 14,309
Other 13,777
Honduras 12,113
Peru 8,378
India 8,012
Ecuador 6,197
El Salvador 4,391
China 3,182
Brazil 2,898
Turkey 2,292
Nicaragua 372
Cuba 323
Russia 321
Haiti 235
Romania 197

**May 2023**
Mexico 43,614
Venezuela 28,055
Honduras 17,813
Colombia 17,625
Other 16,273
Guatemala 14,150
Peru 8,156
Ecuador 6,267
India 4,701
El Salvador 4,575
Brazil 3,467
China 2,769
Turkey 1,840
Cuba 941
Nicaragua 463
Haiti 387
Russia 162
Romania 122

**June 2023**
Mexico 33,967 
Venezuela 12,549 
Other 11,485 
Honduras 10,657 
Guatemala 9,547 
Ecuador 4,704 
Colombia 3,915 
India 2,513 
Peru 2,478 
Brazil 2,225 
China 2,122 
El Salvador 2,042 
Turkey 493 
Cuba 351 
Russia 186 
Nicaragua 180 
Romania 93 
Haiti 29

At the same time, it shows a 27 percent increase in the number of migrants who were able to approach the land-border ports of entry. The 45,026 people processed at ports of entry in June 2023 was a record. There is a lot of green (increases) in this chart of tables:

**All Port of Entry Migrant Encounters at the U.S.-Mexico Border**

Includes only those encountered at ports of entry.
Shaded countries’ citizens may be expelled to Mexico under Title 42, or deported there under the 2023 asylum rule.


**April 2023**
Mexico 7,421 
Haiti 7,041 
Venezuela 4,905 
Russia 2,319 
Other 2,083 
Cuba 1,286 
Honduras 1,109 
Brazil 571 
Colombia 330 
El Salvador 288 
Guatemala 273 
Ecuador 199 
Nicaragua 134 
Peru 68 
China 23 
Ukraine 13 
Romania 9 
Canada 6 

**May 2023**
Mexico 11,793 
Haiti 4,788 
Venezuela 4,679 
Honduras 3,226 
Other 3,204 
Russia 2,811 
Cuba 1,864 
El Salvador 775 
Guatemala 667 
Colombia 506 
Brazil 349 
Nicaragua 255 
Ecuador 205 
Peru 109 
China 24 
Ukraine 21 
Turkey 19 
Romania 10 

**June 2023**
Mexico 15,309 
Venezuela 7,906 
Haiti 7,332 
Honduras 4,434 
Cuba 2,330 
Other 2,144 
Russia 1,242 
El Salvador 1,143 
Guatemala 814 
Colombia 790 
Brazil 736 
Ecuador 399 
Nicaragua 238 
Peru 145 
China 25 
Ukraine 15 
India 9 
Turkey 8

The number of nationalities whose citizens go to the ports of entry more than 20 percent of the time increased from 4 in April to 9 in June.

**Percentage of Migrants Encountered at Ports of Entry at U.S.-Mexico Border**

Shaded countries’ citizens may be expelled to Mexico under Title 42, or deported there under the 2023 asylum rule.

**April 2023**
Haiti 97%
Russia 88%
Cuba 80%
Nicaragua 26%
Brazil 16%
Venezuela 14%
Other 13%
Mexico 11%
Honduras 8%
El Salvador 6%
Romania 4%
Ecuador 3%
Guatemala 2%
Colombia 2%
Peru 1%
China 1%
India 0%
Turkey 0%


**May 2023**
Russia 95%
Haiti 93%
Cuba 66%
Nicaragua 36%
Mexico 21%
Other 16%
Honduras 15%
El Salvador 14%
Venezuela 14%
Brazil 9%
Romania 8%
Guatemala 5%
Ecuador 3%
Colombia 3%
Peru 1%
Turkey 1%
China 1%
India 0%


**June 2023**
Haiti 100%
Russia 87%
Cuba 87%
Nicaragua 57%
Venezuela 39%
El Salvador 36%
Mexico 31%
Honduras 29%
Brazil 25%
Colombia 17%
Other 16%
Guatemala 8%
Ecuador 8%
Peru 6%
Romania 2%
Turkey 2%
China 1%
India 0%

This is positive. The “CBP One” app that migrants must now use to secure asylum appointments at ports of entry continues to have flaws, but with 1,450 appointments per day now available, wait times in Mexican border cities—while still too long—have decreased.

It is much more humane to process asylum seekers and other migrants at the ports of entry, instead of requiring them to cross rivers or climb walls to stand on U.S. soil and turn themselves in to Border Patrol. I encourage CBP to continue increasing appointments until protection-seeking migrants no longer have an incentive to take the great risk of crossing the border on riverbanks and deserts.

As that happens, Border Patrol can mostly be cut out of the asylum processing picture, a very welcome outcome.

And even if the Biden administration’s new rule banning asylum for many migrants who cross “improperly” survives court challenges, greater access to the ports of entry will make such crossings less attractive to protection-seeking migrants anyway.

The shifts in June are a step toward that.

Finally, here is a combination of the first two tables, combining migrants who arrived at, and between, the ports of entry in April, May, and June. Overall, migration declined 30 percent from May to June.

**All CBP Migrant Encounters at the U.S.-Mexico Border**

Includes those encountered at, and between, ports of entry.
Shaded countries’ citizens may be expelled to Mexico under Title 42, or deported there under the 2023 asylum rule

**April 2023**
Mexico 67,087
Venezuela 34,636
Colombia 17,843
Other 15,860
Guatemala 14,582
Honduras 13,222
Peru 8,446
India 8,013
Haiti 7,276
Ecuador 6,396
El Salvador 4,679
Brazil 3,469
China 3,205
Russia 2,640
Turkey 2,292
Cuba 1,609
Nicaragua 506
Romania 206

**May 2023**
Mexico 55,407
Venezuela 32,734
Honduras 21,039
Other 19,477
Colombia 18,131
Guatemala 14,817
Peru 8,265
Ecuador 6,472
El Salvador 5,350
Haiti 5,175
India 4,705
Brazil 3,816
Russia 2,973
Cuba 2,805
China 2,793
Turkey 1,859
Nicaragua 718
Romania 132


**June 2023**
Mexico 49,276
Venezuela 20,455
Honduras 15,091
Other 13,629
Guatemala 10,361
Haiti 7,361
Ecuador 5,103
Colombia 4,705
El Salvador 3,185
Brazil 2,961
Cuba 2,681
Peru 2,623
India 2,522
China 2,147
Russia 1,428
Turkey 501
Nicaragua 418
Romania 95

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: July 14, 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 IN BRIEF:

Border Patrol found the remains of 10 migrants over the July 8-9 weekend amid a prolonged heat wave in Texas and Arizona. Preliminary data point to another 70 deceased migrants recovered along the border in June. Shifts intensified by climate change are making the border deadlier during the summer’s hottest months.

In Eagle Pass, Texas, a site of frequent migrant drownings, Texas’s hardline state government is experimenting with a “wall” of floating buoys in the middle of the river to block would-be migrants. This and other state government measures have drawn criticism from environmental defenders, a local business, and those—including Border Patrol, in a leaked internal memo—who worry about danger to migrants and the difficulty of rescues.

Preliminary data point to a 39 percent drop in Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants from May to June. This owes to a strict Biden administration rule, imposed after the Title 42 policy ended, that limits access to asylum, as well as a crackdown in Mexico. It also owes to a sharp increase in the availability of daily appointments for asylum seekers to approach land-border ports of entry. June data from Panama point to a 24 percent decrease, from May, in migration through the treacherous Darién Gap region. Data from Honduras, however, show a sharp increase in migration during the first nine days of July.

THE FULL UPDATE:

Extreme heat brings even more migrant fatalities

Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens shared in a July 10 tweet that, just during the July 8-9 weekend, his agents found the remains of 10 people who had died in the U.S.-Mexico border zone “due to the dangerous heat and conditions.” As noted in WOLA’s July 7 Border Update, a July 5 tweet from Owens had alerted about the recovery of 13 deceased migrants in the previous week.

These are the hottest months of the year in the border zone, and “heat dome” phenomena—a result of climate change-related changes to the jet stream and a very strong 2023 El Niño ocean current shift—have brought many consecutive days of triple-digit temperatures to Texas, northern Mexico, and now Arizona. In South Texas, wet bulb temperatures in the low 90s and heat indices near 120 are perilously close to levels ( 95 for wet bulb, 125 for heat index) considered fatal after several hours of exposure, as they overwhelm the human body’s ability to keep cool.

The historic heat in the borderlands is taking a heavy toll on residents with insufficient access to air conditioning and, of course, on the migrant population: both those seeking to cross into the United States undetected, and those waiting in northern Mexico for asylum appointments using the “CBP One” smartphone app.

  • “Preliminary” data passed to the conservative Center Square news website from Border Patrol personnel point to agents having found the remains of 70 deceased migrants near the U.S.-Mexico border in June. Border Patrol’s Del Rio Sector, in mid-Texas, was the most lethal of the agency’s nine southern border sectors, with 22 migrant remains recovered last month. (In regions where they operate, local humanitarian organizations tend to find more remains than Border Patrol reports.)
  • “This year in Brooks County,” in South Texas where many migrants perish while trying to walk around a Border Patrol checkpoint, “there has been 22 confirmed deaths, in terms of recoveries of human remains and bodies,” Eddie Canales of the South Texas Human Rights Center told Democracy Now.
  • In Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector, which includes New Mexico, Sector Chief Anthony “Scott” Good tweeted on July 7 that agents have “recorded over 70 migrant deaths in the remote desert of New Mexico” since October 2022.

“Crossings have historically dipped during the peak summer months when temperatures along the border soar past 100 degrees,” the Washington Post noted on July 12. The Biden administration’s tough post-Title 42 asylum rule, however, may be causing more migrants who cannot access asylum to try to evade capture, and doing so in “more remote areas with greater risk. They may be U.S. deportees, or have criminal records, making them ineligible for CBP One.”

Dehydration and heat stroke are not the only causes of migrant death. A column at The Hill by University of California San Diego neurological surgery resident Alexander Tenorio recalls that the Trump administration’s construction of 30-foot border wall segments south of San Diego caused hospital admissions from migrants falling from the wall to multiply sevenfold since 2019. “Spinal injuries after border falls have cost an additional $26 million.”

Drownings in the Rio Grande and in irrigation canals remain too-common causes of death. On July 1, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel and Texas state police retrieved from the river the bodies of a mother and infant daughter from Guatemala near Eagle Pass. It was near that city, in the Del Rio Sector, where 13 migrants drowned to death in a single September 1, 2022 tragedy (see WOLA’s September 9, 2022 Border Update); about 2 months before that, authorities recovered the bodies of 12 people from the river in a single day.

Texas state government installs a 1,000-foot “wall of buoys”

On July 10, the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass was in the news again, this time as the site of the latest attention-grabbing attempt to seal the border by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), a vociferous critic of the Biden administration’s border and migration policies.

Trucks delivered, and workers began installing, a 1,000-foot “wall” of large spherical buoys, floating in the middle of the river along the actual aquatic borderline between Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. The line of buoys is anchored to the riverbed and equipped with underwater netting to prevent migrants from swimming under them.

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Latin America-Related Events in Washington and Online This Week

Tuesday, July 11

  • 12:00 on Zoom: “Cómo informar al público latino/centroamericano en Estados Unidos sobre los temas que ocurren en la región (RSVP required).

Wednesday, July 12

Thursday, July 13

  • 9:00-10:00 at the Atlantic Council and online: Guatemala’s choice: What’s at stake ahead of the runoff election? (RSVP required).

Friday, July 14

  • 1:30 on AILA Zoom: High-Stakes Asylum: How Long an Asylum Case Takes and How We Can Do Better (RSVP required).

Deadly heat in the south Texas borderlands

From Kim Stanley Robinson’s great book The Ministry for the Future:

“a wet-bulb temperature of 35 [95 degrees Fahrenheit] will kill humans, even if unclothed and sitting in the shade; the combination of heat and humidity prevents sweating from dissipating heat, and death by hyperthermia soon results.”

The south Texas borderlands will once again be perilously close to a wet bulb temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit tomorrow afternoon. It’ll be 92 in Laredo and McAllen. This will take a severe toll on the area’s migrant population.

National Weather Service map of the entire U.S.-Mexico border showing wet bulb temperatures at 4PM Eastern time tomorrow, July 10.

Areas shown as "extreme" include

Yuma, AZ (wet bulb 89), and nearly everything from Eagle Pass to Brownsville (at least 90, hitting 92 in Laredo and McAllen, and 93 just north of Laredo along I-35).

This map comes from the National Weather Service.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: July 7, 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 IN BRIEF:

Anecdotal information points to an increase in migrant deaths in the U.S.-Mexico border zone, amid skyrocketing early summer temperatures in the southern United States and Mexico. Border Patrol reported recovering 13 human remains in the past week. A child died of apparent heat exposure in Arizona, and an infant was among the remains of four people recovered from the Rio Grande in a 48-hour period in Texas.

The number of migrants apprehended by Border Patrol remains much lower than before the end of Title 42, while CBP has steadily increased the number of asylum-seeking migrants who may obtain daily appointments at ports of entry. Further south, northern Mexico border cities appear to have a somewhat smaller migrant population, but numbers may be increasing in southern Mexico. Migration through Honduras increased in June, but decreased in Panama’s Darién Gap.

So far in fiscal year 2023, U.S. border authorities have seized about one-quarter less heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana than they did during the same period a year earlier. Cocaine seizures are up slightly, though, and fentanyl seizures are up 169 percent. Supplies of the potent opioid appear to be glutted, and the U.S. government stepped up interdiction with a “surge” operation between March and May.

THE FULL UPDATE:

More reports of migrants dying in near-record heat

Jet-stream fluctuations left much of the southern United States and northern Mexico trapped in an early summer “heat dome” for about two weeks in June. Reports are pointing to severe consequences for U.S.-bound migrants, both those who attempt to walk through deserts to avoid detection, and those waiting in northern Mexico, often in squalid conditions, for appointments to present themselves to U.S. authorities to seek asylum.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported receiving a distress call on June 15 from a woman who was attempting to migrate through southern Arizona’s deserts with her two children. Somewhere outside Tubac, a town about halfway between Nogales and Tucson, her 9-year-old son began experiencing seizures. “The female migrant stated her son did not have prior existing medical issues and believed the heat contributed to his medical complications during their walk.” Despite being aerially evacuated, the boy died on June 16.

It used to be unusual to see families attempting to migrate through the desert, seeking to avoid apprehension. Further west, in Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Laurie Cantillo, a board member and volunteer for the Arizona-based organization Humane Borders, told NBC News that she came across “a mother with an infant strapped to her back, neither wearing sun protection” walking in 115-degree heat (46 degrees Celsius).

Just west of El Paso lies Sunland Park, New Mexico, a border municipality in the Chihuahuan Desert. In all of 2022, the Albuquerque Journal reported, the remains of 16 people attempting to cross the border were found in Sunland Park, a figure that combines deaths from heat exposure with deaths by falls from the border wall. In May and June 2023 alone, the number of recorded deaths in Sunland Park is 13, including 5 remains in a 4-day period during the June heat wave.

On the border’s eastern edge, in the Mexican city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas across from Brownsville, Texas, humanitarian workers worry about conditions in a makeshift tent camp. As many as 2,000 asylum seekers are waiting there in the blistering heat for a chance to seek asylum at a port of entry using the “CBP One” smartphone app. On July 5, Reuters published a detailed article and photo essay about conditions at the Matamoros camp, which now extends for a mile along the riverfront. Sister Norma Pimentel of the Texas-based Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley told NBC that many migrants in the camp “are fed up waiting to book appointments.” Efforts to replace the encampment with a more adequate facility are “so disorganized right now,” Pimentel lamented.

“Last week alone,” Border Patrol’s new chief, Jason Owens, tweeted on July 5, the agency “recovered 13 dead migrants” with heat “the leading cause,” and reported 226 heat-related rescues.

Though not necessarily heat-related, Texas’s state Department of Public Safety meanwhile reported recovering the bodies of four people from the Rio Grande in the vicinity of Eagle Pass: two on July 1, one on July 2, and another on July 3. The victims included an infant found with “an unresponsive woman.” None of them possessed identifying documents, so their identities and nationalities are unknown. Two other migrants were pulled from the river alive during those days.

It is not yet clear whether border-zone deaths of migrants in 2023 are on track to exceed the record-breaking levels of 2021 and 2022. “In an emailed statement,” NBC reported, CBP “said it has recorded recent deaths but did not provide a number.” We still await CBP’s count of remains recovered in fiscal year 2022 (October 2021-September 2022), which the agency was required by law to report by December 31, 2022. The unofficial number in the below chart, “more than 890,” comes from the February 2023 text of the Biden administration’s rule limiting access to asylum for people who didn’t first seek it in other countries.

Local humanitarian organizations routinely report higher totals of deaths than CBP does in the regions they cover. For its part, the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Missing Migrant Project counted 666 instances of missing migrants along its “U.S.-Mexico border crossing” migration category in the 2022 calendar year, and 222 so far in 2023.

Current U.S.-bound migrant population appears reduced in northern Mexico and Panama, increased in southern Mexico and Honduras

A July 3 New York Times analysis noted that the number of migrants apprehended by authorities on the U.S. side of the border remains roughly half of what it was before May 11, when the Biden administration replaced the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy with a new rule limiting many migrants’ access to asylum.

The U.S. Border Patrol Chief’s most recent “Week in Review” post to Twitter, covering an 8-day period ending June 29, reported an average of 3,542 migrant apprehensions per day. That was the largest average the Chief’s account had reported since May 19, but still less than half of the more than 7,000 per day reported during the first two weeks of May.

(As Border Patrol does not manage official ports of entry, the agency’s numbers do not include the 1,000-plus people per day, discussed below, who are now securing CBP One appointments at the border since Title 42 ended.)

The Times relayed U.S. border officials’ view that the lull in migration is probably temporary. “Officials believe that migrants have been in a wait-and-see mode since May 12,” as they see what happens to others who attempt to cross.

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Darién Gap migration dropped a bit in June

The Venezuelan publication Tal Cual, citing unreleased data from Panama’s government, states that 196,370 people migrated through eastern Panama’s once-impenetrable Darién Gap jungles during the first 6 months of 2023.

Fifty-one percent, or 100,514 of the travelers who transited through the Darien jungle between January and June 2023, were Venezuelans.

Venezuelans were followed by Haitians (33,074), Ecuadorians (25,105), citizens of 23 African countries (6,420), Chileans (4,964) and Colombians (3,579).

(The Chileans were almost entirely the children of Haitian migrants who were born in Chile.)

If the 196,370 figure is near final, it is almost exactly 30,000 more than the 166,649 people whom Panamanian authorities had measured through May.

Screenshot from Panama's Darién Gap statistics, updated through May, showing 166,649 migrants, about 30,000 less than the figure through June cited in TalCual .

March: 38,099
April: 40,297
May: 38,962

As this screenshot of Panama’s data shows, 30,000 migrants in a month—while still an unimaginably large number for such a remote and dangerous region—is about one-quarter fewer people than Panama measured in March (38,099), April (40,297), and May (38,962).

The decline is less steep than the 70 percent drop in daily migrant apprehensions that the U.S. Border Patrol chief’s regular tweets have been recording. That probably means that the population of migrants bottled up between Panama and the U.S. border—mostly in Mexico—is increasing.

Chart: Border Patrol apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border: 
reported per-day total, May-June 2023

Date	Border Patrol apprehensions reported per-day total
1-May	7407
6-May	7850
8-May	8794
12-May	9680
15-May	4917
19-May	4068
22-May	2917
26-May	3149
30-May	3396
5-Jun	3015
9-Jun	3163
12-Jun	3016
16-Jun	3254
21-Jun	3303
23-Jun	3518
26-Jun	3428
30-Jun	3542

The decline at the Darién is a result of uncertainty about how the Biden administration will apply its restrictive new post-Title 42 asylum access rule to migrants who turn themselves in to U.S. authorities.

It is also a result of the end (with the end of Title 42, on May 11) of a two-month period in which Mexico’s government, in the aftermath of a tragic March 27 migrant detention center fire that killed 40 people, was refusing U.S. Title 42 expulsions of Venezuelan citizens from at least a few border sectors. That eased Venezuelan asylum seekers’ releases into the U.S. interior, and word got out about that possibility in April and the first part of May, as U.S. authorities’ encounters with Venezuelan migrants increased sharply.

Chart: CBP Encounters with citizens of Venezuela

	Venezuela
19-Oct	728
19-Nov	588
19-Dec	693
20-Jan	243
20-Feb	206
20-Mar	166
20-Apr	9
20-May	10
20-Jun	13
20-Jul	36
20-Aug	49
20-Sep	46
20-Oct	143
20-Nov	184
20-Dec	206
21-Jan	295
21-Feb	913
21-Mar	2566
21-Apr	6048
21-May	7499
21-Jun	7583
21-Jul	6126
21-Aug	6301
21-Sep	10814
21-Oct	13416
21-Nov	20388
21-Dec	24801
22-Jan	22779
22-Feb	3073
22-Mar	4053
22-Apr	4107
22-May	5088
22-Jun	13199
22-Jul	17647
22-Aug	25361
22-Sep	33804
22-Oct	22060
22-Nov	8023
22-Dec	8190
23-Jan	9101
23-Feb	5565
23-Mar	8322
23-Apr	33850
23-May	30990

As noted above, Tal Cual reports that 100,514 Venezuelan migrants crossed the Darién Gap so far this year. That would mean about 18,500 Venezuelans crossed in June (there were 82,054 through May). That is a 30 percent drop in Venezuelan migration from May—8,000 fewer migrants, accounting for nearly all of the May-June worldwide reduction in migration through the Darién.

Since May 12, protection-seeking Venezuelan migrants must either:

  • apply for a two-year humanitarian parole status (which requires them both to hold a passport and to have a willing sponsor in the United States), or
  • make their way to northern Mexico and seek an appointment at a U.S. border port of entry using the CBP One smartphone app. CBP just increased the number of daily appointments to 1,450, about double what it was during Title 42.

While those pathways are important, they accommodate only a fraction of those seeking to migrate from Venezuela. Those reduced possibilities probably explain much of the June drop in migration through the Darién Gap, where more than half of this year’s migrants have been Venezuelan.

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