Here (en español) is an episode of DemocraciaAbierta’s #Unboxing program, in which host Sandra Borda (of Colombia’s Universidad de los Andes) and I discuss the Biden administration’s post-Title 42 changes to immigration policy. We recorded this in late May, so it’s not razor-sharp current, but we do go into some detail that you don’t often get in a video interview.
After an inexcusably long time, I’ve produced a “weekly” e-mail about stuff I’ve been working on, for those who’ve signed up to receive them. Resuming these was delayed by the collapse of the service I was using to send them, but that’s no excuse: it’s been on my to-do list since January (yes, I’ve been clicking “postpone 7 days” every week since January, which is pathetic).
This one has links or excerpts from the Border Update, some charts reflecting new data about migration, a couple of brief analyses about Colombia, some news links, a list of upcoming events, and just a few funny posts from others.
If you visit this site a lot, you probably don’t need an e-mail, too. But if you’d like to get more-or-less regular e-mail updates, scroll to the bottom of this page or click here.
(Events that I know of, anyway. All times are U.S. Eastern.)
Monday, September 25
- 3:00-4:00 at wilsoncenter.org, thedialogue.org, or atlanticcouncil.org: A Conversation with President of Ecuador Guillermo Lasso (RSVP required).
Tuesday, September 26
- 10:30 at atlanticcouncil.org: Pulling off an energy transition: A road map for the Caribbean (RSVP required).
- 2:00-4:00 on Microsoft Teams: USMCA: Past, Present, Future (RSVP required).
- 4:00 at CODHES YouTube: Migración en la Agenda de las elecciones 2023 en Colombia.
Wednesday, September 27
- 9:00-10:30 at CSIS: The Future of Latin America’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem (RSVP required).
- 10:00-11:30 at the Wilson Center: Challenging Autocracy From the Front Lines (RSVP required).
- 1:00 at startwithdignity.org: Start With Dignity Campaign Virtual Press Conference (RSVP required for Zoom, but not to view on Facebook).
- 3:00 at Jesuit Refugee Service Zoom: Accompaniment at the U.S.-Mexico Border (RSVP required).
Thursday, September 28
- 2:00 in House Visitors’ Center Room HVC-210 and online: Hearing of the House Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere about Communism on Our Doorstep: The Threat of China’s Malign Influence in Latin America.
- 4:00-5:30 at AEI and online: Streamlining the Immigration Bureaucracy: A Conversation with Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-TX) (RSVP required).
Friday, September 29
- 11:00-12:00 at the Wilson Center and online: Catastrophes, Confrontations, and Constraints (Book Launch) (RSVP required).
The tables in the graphic below show the nationalities of migrants who ended up in Border Patrol custody, after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border between ports of entry, between June and August 2023. As the tiny numbers on the right edge show, several nationalities experienced triple-digit percentage increases from June to August (that is, they more than doubled).
The tables in the next graphic show the nationalities of migrants who were able to present themselves at U.S.-Mexico border ports of entry between June and August 2023. Most of them—87 percent in June—made appointments using the “CBP One” smartphone app.
Notable here: Haiti is third in August, as 8,687 of its citizens came to ports of entry, but Haiti does not even appear on the Border Patrol graphic above because zero Haitian citizens crossed between the ports of entry in August.
Finally, this graphic combines the above two tables. Here is all nationalities at the border from June through August, regardless of how CBP encountered them.
With U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) releasing new data last night, we now know what migration at the U.S.-Mexico border looked like through August.
The most notable thing about these charts is the rapid increase in migrant arrivals from June to August, in the areas between ports of entry (official border crossings) where Border Patrol operates. We know that the increase is continuing in September.
June was the first full month after May 11, 2023, when the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy ended. At that moment, many migrants and smugglers refrained from crossing between ports of entry because it wasn’t clear what would happen next, and migration plummeted to levels not seen since February 2021.
As they grew frustrated with clogged “legal pathways” like the CBP One smartphone app, and as they got better information about the likelihood of being able to pursue asylum claims within the United States despite the Biden administration’s harsh new asylum rule, more have been crossing between the official ports of entry and turning themselves in to Border Patrol agents.
This chart shows, by country, who has been ending up in Border Patrol custody after crossing between ports of entry.
This chart shows, by country, who was able to present themselves at a U.S.-Mexico border port of entry. Of the 51,913 people shown here in August, 87 percent (45,400) had made appointments using CBP One, according to CBP.
The following charts combine people at and between ports of entry (CBP plus Border Patrol). Here are migrants arriving as members of family units (parents plus children). Border Patrol encountered more migrants arriving as families in August 2023 (93,108) than in any month in history. The second-place month (84,486) was May 2019, when Donald Trump was president.
This chart, combining people at and between ports of entry, shows the countries of origin of migrants arriving as unaccompanied minors. August was the number-12 month ever for Border Patrol apprehensions of unaccompanied migrant children: 13,549 last month.
And here are single adult migrants. It was an unremarkable month for single adults (28th place for Border Patrol apprehensions, 74,402, since October 2011, which is the first month for which I have Border Patrol breakdowns by demographic group.)
Finally, this chart combines all migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border: those at and between ports of entry, single adults, families, and children.
Chile President Gabriel Boric right now in Washington’s Sheridan Circle, at today’s memorial of the 1976 state terrorist attack here that killed Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt.
Late on September 22, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released data about migration at the U.S.-Mexico border during August 2023.
August was the number-one month ever for Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants traveling as members of families. “Family Unit” apprehensions totaled 93,108 last month.
August was the number-12 month ever for Border Patrol apprehensions of unaccompanied migrant children: 13,549 last month.
Add those numbers, and Border Patrol apprehended 106,657 child and family migrants in August 2023, a record.
August was the number-28 month since October 2011 for Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants traveling as single adults: 74,402 last month. Single adult numbers have been dropping since the end of the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy, which ironically made repeat crossings easier because of less time in custody.
The New York Times reported Wednesday:
The mayor of Eagle Pass said 2,500 migrants arrived in one day, part of a recent surge in crossings along the border that has taxed local, state and federal resources.
The border city of Eagle Pass, Texas is where Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has deployed a world-famous “wall of buoys” in the Rio Grande, about 90 miles of rolls of razor-sharp concertina wire that injured 133 people statewide in July and August, and a huge contingent of state police and National Guard.
Who could possibly have foreseen that so much security theater wouldn’t deter people who are desperate enough to leave their homes, uproot their lives, travel across a continent, and turn themselves in to uniformed U.S. border agents?
The answer, of course is “everyone who’s paying attention.” We all could have guessed that this would happen, and will keep happening. Deterrence at the border is cruel—but it also doesn’t work.
- Migrant Apprehensions Rise, Shelters Fill
- Panama Shares Darién Gap Migration Data After a Record Month
- House Republicans Demand Border Crackdown to Avoid Government Shutdown
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:
Arrivals of migrants, mostly asylum seekers, at the U.S.-Mexico border rose to about 8,000 per day this week, a level last seen in April 2023 before the termination of the Title 42 policy. As shelters fill and Border Patrol begins releasing processed migrants on border cities’ streets, it is apparent that migrants’ post-Title 42 “wait and see” period is over. Asylum seekers are again opting to turn themselves in to Border Patrol despite the Biden administration’s “carrot and stick” approach of legal pathways and harsh limits on asylum access. Shelters and migrant routes are similarly full throughout Mexico.
Nearly 82,000 people migrated in August through the treacherous Darién Gap jungle region straddling Colombia and Panama. During the first eight months of 2023, over 330,000 people have taken this once-impenetrable route. So far this year, 60 percent have been citizens of Venezuela and 21 percent have been children, despite the dangers of the journey. In this region of dense forest and difficult terrain, governments have limited short-term options to control territory or channel the flow of people.
As the U.S. government heads for a September 30 budget deadline and an increasingly likely shutdown, the U.S. House of Representatives’ narrow, fractious Republican majority may be proposing a bill that would keep the government open through October 31 in exchange for some radical changes to border and migration policy that the Democratic-majority Senate and the Biden White House would be certain to oppose.
THE FULL UPDATE:Read More
During his marathon morning press conference today, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador shared Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) preliminary U.S.-Mexico Border migration statistics for the first 17 days of September. He showed this slide about 2 hours and 11 minutes into a video embedded on the Presidency’s page.
The graphic shows a total of 142,000 migrant encounters over those 17 days. It combines migrants who have entered Border Patrol custody plus those who came to official land-border ports of entry, but doesn’t distinguish between them.
In all of July, the last full month that CBP has reported, this number was 183,503.
If September’s pace continues for all 30 days, by the end of the month CBP would report 250,654 migrant encounters. Only December 2022 (252,325) has exceeded that number.
The most Venezuelan migrants in a single month was 33,804 in September 2022. September 2023, with 25,577 people in 17 days, may exceed that.
Before it collapsed into authoritarianism, poverty, and criminality, Venezuela had 30 million people.
7.71 million have left since the mid-2010s: more than a quarter of the original population.
And now, as of yesterday, more than 2% of them (714,700 people) qualify for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the United States, as they absolutely should. From DHS:
There are currently approximately 242,700 TPS beneficiaries under Venezuela’s existing TPS designation. There are an additional approximately 472,000 nationals of Venezuela who may be eligible under the redesignation of Venezuela.
Under U.S. asylum law, as amended in 1996, applicants for asylum in the United States cannot obtain a work authorization until their application is six months old. Asylum seekers want to work, and TPS is a way to get around this unhelpful 27-year-old law to enable that.
Panama just posted updated data, detailed by country, gender, and age, about migration through the Darién Gap in August.
It broke all records: 81,946 people passed through this treacherous jungle region in 31 days. The previous monthly record, set in October 2022, was 59,773.
In the first eight months of this year, 333,704 people have migrated through the Darién. Ten years ago, in 2013, the full-year total was 3,051 migrants. In 2011, it was just 281.
60 percent of this year’s migrants through the Darién Gap have been citizens of Venezuela: 201,288 people. In August, the migrant population was 77 percent Venezuelan: 62,700 people.
Jaw-dropping numbers from a region that was viewed as all but impenetrable until perhaps 2021. And there’s little reason why they won’t continue to increase. Any plan to “block” migrants on this route would require a staggeringly large and complex operation that would create additional challenges, like what to do with tens of thousands of stranded migrants.
The Migration Policy Institute just published a mini-report on migration through the Darién Gap, the dangerous jungle region straddling Colombia and Panama through which almost 82,000 people migrated in August. It’s written by MPI’s Caitlyn Yates, who has spent months doing research there, and Juan Pappier of Human Rights Watch, who has visited at least a couple of times.
The report concludes that trying to block migrants is a fool’s game in this region of primary forest and difficult topography.
the odds seem stacked against efforts to entirely halt trans-Darien movement. Even if it were not, research shows that blocking established pathways does not end migration, but rather pushes people towards new, more dangerous routes. If the more established land passages became inaccessible, it is likely that the maritime routes would be used more frequently, as would other scarcely traveled interior routes deeper in the jungle. The journey through the Darien would also likely become more expensive, as more migrants would be pushed to pay for guides to navigate the jungle’s geography and around authorities.
Migration in and through the Darien Gap is unlikely to end, at least in the near future. The pathway is already one of last resort. Attempting to dissuade asylum seekers and other migrants from crossing or closing off the most established routes is unlikely to deter the thousands already in line for the journey and unknown numbers of future crossers.
If a drug-funded armed group on the U.S. government’s terrorist list forces thousands of family farmers off their land, can companies who bought that land just a few years later really claim to have done so “in good faith?”
Marta Ruiz, a journalist who served as a commissioner of Colombia’s Truth Commission, asked that question in a September 10 column at the Colombian news site La Silla Vacía. She was writing about the Montes de María, a region near the country’s Caribbean coast where small farmers struggled to win titles to their lands, only to be massively displaced by an early 2000s scorched-earth campaign, including a string of notoriously bloody massacres, by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). The AUC were a paramilitary network—on the State Department’s terrorist list between 2001 and 2013—that colluded with large landowners, narcotraffickers, and elements of Colombia’s armed forces.
In late August, Colombian President Gustavo Petro visited El Salado, a village in the Montes de María known for a grisly 2000 massacre. There, he called out Argos, a cement company that is one of Colombia’s largest corporations. (Argos USA’s website calls it “the most sustainable company in the industry.”) Marta Ruiz reported that Petro said:
“Argos took the land of the displaced, I am not going to accuse them of the massacre, but they benefited from the fruit of the massacre and the blood.” The company immediately responded by arguing its good faith in the purchase of 6,600 hectares in the municipalities of Carmen and Ovejas.
Ruiz’s column then recounts the recent history of this troubled region, which is less than two hours’ drive from Cartagena. First, the land-tenure struggles of the 1960s and 1970s, the subject of many histories and academic studies in Colombia.
Populated by mestizos, indigenous people and Afros, it was the scene of strong agrarian struggles against unproductive large estates throughout the 20th century. In fact, it was the site chosen by [1966-1970 president] Carlos Lleras Restrepo to launch the ANUC [government-sanctioned small-farmers’ organization] and his agrarian reform, with much more radical speeches than Petro’s against the rentier landowners and landlords. In those years, many peasant families obtained plots of land of a maximum of 12 hectares, and others after 1994 when, with Law 160, land adjudication resumed.
Then, the paramilitary onslaught of the late 1990s and early 2000s, which reversed so many farmers’ hard-won gains.
By the mid-1990s, the FARC-EP—which were already in the region—became very strong in the mountains, and from there they tried to dominate the entire region. The ranchers, tired of kidnapping and extortion, demanded that [top AUC leader] Carlos Castaño send his army of thugs to that part of the Caribbean. But since a war is expensive and they were not going to finance it, it was obvious that drug traffickers, who eventually became owners of immense lands in the region’s lowlands and coastal areas, would have to enter the war, thus consolidating their illicit trade routes.
…Then came the “expediting” of massacres. First was Pichilín, a small village high in the mountains between Colosó and Morroa. Everyone left there, except one old man who ended up talking to the trees. Then followed Macayepo, Chengue, El Salado, Las Brisas, Capaca, Los Guaimaros… I can go on until I fill the page with more than 50 names of villages that were razed to the ground. Between 2000 and 2005 at least one million peasants in the Caribbean region were displaced and lost their land. In Carmen de Bolivar alone, once a prosperous town, 80 percent of the rural inhabitants were exiled.
The AUC went through a sort of demobilization process in the mid-2000s. By then, for a time, the armed forces became the major human rights violators in the Montes de María.
After the demobilization of the AUC…there was a time of extrajudicial executions, disappearances, dispossessions and mass arrests. The latter were a nefarious practice of the public forces because they were based on biased intelligence, based on the stigmatization of entire towns such as Ovejas, where 130 people were arrested in a single day. Between paramilitaries, guerrillas and security forces, a century’s worth of campesino organization was almost wiped out.
In 2007 the final “battle” took place with a bombing where [top regional FARC leader] Martín Caballero died. Thus the guerrillas were annihilated in that region.
President Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010) oversaw military operations that weakened the FARC, and also oversaw a negotiation process that demobilized the paramilitaries in exchange for light jail sentences. Uribe had the full support of large landowners and business elites, who moved rapidly into the lands abandoned by the small farmers of the Montes de María.
Meanwhile, President Uribe and his closest circle encouraged his countrymen in Medellín and Envigado to buy land and invest in Montes de María.
…The consolidation of Democratic Security [Uribe’s signature security policy] would be done hand in hand with businessmen, and the military committed themselves to the construction of a road that would join the Magdalena River with the Caribbean Sea: the Montes de María transverse road. And they did it. Thus, the counterinsurgency strategy contained an anti-peasant bias which, aligned with a certain vision of development, assured that Colombia’s progress depended on businessmen’s money rather than on the regions’ human capital.
What happened next was a “reverse land reform” throughout the mid-2000s to the early 2010s.
The massive purchase of land was done at a surprising speed and with all kinds of trickery… The businessmen had access to these databases [of forcibly displaced farmers’ delinquent mortgages] and set themselves the task of looking for the displaced in the poverty belts of Sincelejo, Cartagena, and Barranquilla to ask them, through trickery, half-truths and deceit, for the transfer of their titles… The intermediaries took the land and in exchange left the campesinos with despair, fear, lack of protection and defeat. It was an express agrarian counter-reform.
It is a legend, but absolutely true, that in order to consummate this operation, notary offices worked 24 hours a day for several weeks. It was necessary to accelerate because another part of the state’s institutional framework, the one that was trying to return displaced people, announced the protection of the lands and the prohibition of their sale until the circumstances in which these transactions took place were verified.
Of the business organizations that bought up all of the land vacated after the paramilitary onslaught, Argos is the best known.
In the midst of such a panorama, Argos bought its first land in San Onofre, Sucre, a municipality where the feared [regional paramilitary leader] Rodrigo Cadena had his headquarters. The company was obliged to compensate for the environmental damage caused by its cement activity by planting forests. Thanks to a forestry incentive law, this compensation became a business: planting teak, a fine and very expensive wood, which has an assured international market… The land was cheap because in their exodus, people left the land. Argos decided not only to stay but to expand to other municipalities and that is when it set its eyes on El Carmen, Ovejas, etc.
Courts, Ruiz noted, have cast doubt on Argos’s claims to have been unaware of the violent dispossession that took place in the lands they purchased, just a few years earlier.
The courts have said that Argos did not comply with the due diligence expected of a multinational company that is listed on the world’s major stock exchanges; that is among the five most powerful groups in the country; and that to top it off is part of global pacts for good human rights practices. According to the judges, it is unlikely that a company of its size and capacity would be unaware of the context in which the land purchases and sales took place, let alone their implications.
Ruiz credits Argos for steps that it has since taken: “once the Victims Law was approved  and the massive purchases scandal became a reputational risk, the business group cancelled its project in those municipalities. It created the Fundación Crecer en Paz, which remains under its tutelage for the management of the 6,600 hectares already acquired.” Farmers have recovered some of the land.
That is more than can be said of other opportunistic investors who benefited, indirectly or directly, from paramilitary violence in the Montes de María. Still, “it is a pity that Argos maintains its anachronistic discourse about the ‘good faith’ that led it to these purchases, instead of gallantly recognizing that its actions were opportunistic and encouraged dispossession. It should ask for forgiveness.”
After all, “Montes de María was not a wasteland in need of corporate colonization as was said in certain circles in Medellín. It was home to many people who had fought fervently to be there.”
These are just a few highlights of a great column about a chapter of Colombia’s conflict that shows what a lot of the fighting was actually about: the strong taking advantage of a crisis to seize land and wealth from the weak.
The U.S. officials who adhered Washington so closely to the project of Álvaro Uribe and his allies—giving him effusive praise, billions in aid, and even the Medal of Freedom—can claim, too, that they were acting in good faith. But they enabled a good deal of harm.