Adam Isacson

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

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November 2023

Migration at the U.S.-Mexico Border Dropped 11 Percent from September to October

All CBP (Border Patrol Plus Port of Entry) Migrant Encounters
by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

October 2023: Mexico 26%, Venezuela 17%, Guatemala 10%, Honduras 9%, Colombia 6%, Cuba 5.2%, Ecuador 5.0%, El Salvador 3%, All Others <2%

Since October 2020: Mexico 33%, Honduras 11.2%, Guatemala 11.1%, Venezuela 8%, Cuba 6%, Nicaragua 5%, Colombia 4.5%, All Others <4%

	Mexico	Honduras	Guatemala	Venezuela	Cuba	Nicaragua	Colombia	El Salvador	Ecuador	Other Countries
20-Oct	46786	7370	9292	143	1679	256	26	3014	2220	1143
20-Nov	44164	8199	10323	184	1590	387	69	3650	2765	782
20-Dec	39370	10358	12454	206	2067	640	73	3921	3676	1229
21-Jan	40793	11232	13137	295	1899	534	69	3580	3598	3277
21-Feb	44257	20180	19154	913	3848	706	76	5599	3440	2926
21-Mar	62504	42116	34060	2566	5700	1930	179	9475	5579	9168
21-Apr	65597	38205	30053	6048	3288	3074	260	11043	8079	13148
21-May	70874	32131	26452	7499	2664	4414	408	10462	11691	14002
21-Jun	64908	35033	30246	7583	3072	7435	481	11582	12803	15891
21-Jul	59959	45297	36468	6126	3559	13456	751	12719	17335	17923
21-Aug	56397	42125	37108	6301	4496	9979	1562	12692	17611	21569
21-Sep	59985	27078	24288	10814	4812	7298	2248	10953	7353	37172
21-Oct	66049	21861	19374	13416	5896	9255	3015	9801	748	15422
21-Nov	63846	20105	20469	20388	6605	13627	3368	9664	556	16217
21-Dec	51475	18141	21009	24801	7986	15297	4094	8874	673	26903
22-Jan	60341	12011	13856	22779	9721	11564	3911	5810	602	14279
22-Feb	71850	14075	18215	3073	16557	13296	9608	7146	683	11507
22-Mar	88132	16213	21392	4053	32153	16017	15373	8403	877	19961
22-Apr	82568	15734	19910	4107	34839	12565	13128	8355	1636	42943
22-May	77453	19730	21468	5088	25643	19034	19320	8980	3046	41374
22-Jun	66730	24177	24648	13199	16172	11200	12597	9123	3231	26757
22-Jul	55692	20340	20212	17647	20098	12073	13454	7952	2948	29746
22-Aug	60772	16219	15681	25361	19060	11749	13497	6675	3681	31392
22-Sep	63431	14417	15331	33804	26178	18199	13807	6247	5379	30754
22-Oct	66277	14100	14843	22060	28851	20923	17362	6069	7030	34014
22-Nov	59348	13143	14510	8013	34710	34249	15846	5532	11999	37823
22-Dec	48390	13276	14885	8187	42654	35381	17731	4860	16206	50745
23-Jan	62265	11030	11970	9102	6462	3382	9471	3779	9416	30481
23-Feb	65271	10935	14220	5565	753	636	12851	4719	7372	34308
23-Mar	81307	13355	15293	8320	1316	482	17055	5765	7143	43213
23-Apr	67091	13218	14584	34633	1608	506	17843	4677	6396	51436
23-May	55405	21035	14817	32733	2804	718	18130	5349	6474	49225
23-Jun	49262	15093	10362	20453	2681	417	4705	3182	5105	33296
23-Jul	53928	26023	22127	18958	3668	445	5951	3953	9912	38514
23-Aug	55493	35168	37937	31463	6179	736	8948	6080	13631	37328
23-Sep	53296	27310	34537	66584	10666	1621	13643	7550	15545	38983
23-Oct	63003	21819	23845	40863	12495	3306	13773	7250	12154	42480

Data table

New CBP data for the U.S.-Mexico border is out through October. Combining migrants who came to ports of entry with migrants whom Border Patrol apprehended between the ports of entry, migration fell from 269,735 people in September to 240,988 in October (-11 percent).

Nearly all of the net reduction is citizens of Venezuela, whose numbers fell -39 percent (66,584 in September to 40,863 in October). The Biden administration’s October 5 announcement of resumed deportation flights to Venezuela probably explains the reduction. News of the resumption may have led some would-be migrants to pause their plans.

This drop will probably be short-lived, unless the Biden administration pursues a massive, costly, cruel, and politically absurd blitz of frequent aerial deportation flights to Caracas. (We see no signs of that happening yet.) As I wrote a couple of days ago, it is reasonable to expect Venezuelan migration to recover, as conditions in the country remain dire and as Venezuelans considering migration realize that the probability of aerial deportation is slim.

E-mail Update Is Out

Here’s a new “weekly” e-mail about stuff I’ve been working on, for those who’ve signed up to receive them.

This one is full of stuff. A link to the Border Update, and to a photo collection. Updates about what’s happening in Congress. Some new infographics about migration. An event video. Links to recommended reading and to upcoming events.

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.

Video: “Migrant Justice in Times of Militarized Borders”

This was a great panel on November 7, with speakers in four countries (the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, and Colombia). We talked about challenges for dignified migration at a time of hardening borders and more military and police involvement in migration control throughout the region.

Many thanks to Hispanics in Philanthropy and Open Society Foundations for organizing it and inviting me to participate.

Latin America-Related Events in Washington and Online This Week

(Events that I know of, anyway. All times are U.S. Eastern.)

Monday, November 13

  • 10:00-11:30 at the Wilson Center and online: US–EU Cooperation: Strengthening Democracy in Latin America (RSVP required).

Tuesday, November 14

Wednesday, November 15

  • 8:00-10:00 at atlanticcouncil.org: The Caribbean gender empowerment forum (RSVP required).
  • 9:00-12:00 at homeland.house.gov: Hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee on Worldwide Threats to the Homeland.
  • 11:00-12:30 at Georgetown University: CLAS Ambassador Series: A Conversation with H.E. Catalina Crespo Sancho of Costa Rica (RSVP required).
  • 2:00-3:00 at wilsoncenter.org: Examining the Impact of Elections in Argentina with Former President Macri (RSVP required).
  • 6:00-8:00 at WOLA and at wola.org: Racism in the Americas: A Path Forward (RSVP required).

Annual Border Patrol Migrant Encounters by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

I made this chart, and underlying data table, by combining CBP’s migrant encounter data from 2020-2023 with data scraped from this big ugly CBP PDF covering 2007-2020.

Annual Border Patrol Migrant Encounters by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

2023: Mexico 31%, Guatemala 11.2%, Venezuela 10.6%, Mexico 20%, Honduras 10%, Colombia 8%, Cuba 6.1%, Ecuador 6.0%, All Others <6%

Since 2007: Mexico 51%, Guatemala 13%, Honduras 11%, El Salvador 6%, Venezuela 4%, Cuba 3.2%, All Others <3%

	Mexico	Guatemala	Honduras	El Salvador	Venezuela	Cuba	Nicaragua	Colombia	Ecuador	Other Countries
2007	800634	16307	21703	13602	60	131	1484	302	769	3647
2008	653035	15143	18110	12133	48	132	1327	215	1384	3478
2009	495582	14125	13344	11181	32	105	841	233	1169	4253
2010	396819	16831	12231	13123	35	84	760	307	1571	5970
2011	280580	17582	11270	10368	28	66	520	217	1064	5882
2012	262341	34453	30349	21903	28	40	876	185	2226	4472
2013	265409	54143	46448	36957	34	73	1389	365	3958	5621
2014	226771	80473	90968	66419	15	98	1809	233	4748	7837
2015	186017	56691	33445	43392	23	106	1015	282	2556	7806
2016	190760	74601	52952	71848	40	78	1298	302	2713	14278
2017	127938	65871	47260	49760	73	147	1057	196	1429	10185
2018	152257	115722	76513	31369	62	74	3282	192	1495	15613
2019	166458	264168	253795	89811	2202	11645	13309	401	13131	36588
2020	253118	47243	40091	16484	1227	9822	2123	295	11861	18387
2021	608037	279033	308931	95930	47752	38139	49841	5838	95692	114247
2022	738780	228220	199186	93196	187286	220321	163552	124540	23944	177672
2023	579146	213266	180659	53348	200668	116498	97757	154077	113813	188135

Data table

Looking at this, three things jump out at you:

  1. Until about 10 years ago, the migrant population at the U.S.-Mexico border was almost completely Mexican citizens (blue). More than 90 percent Mexican until 2009. More than 80 percent Mexican until 2012. Just 31 percent Mexican in 2023.
  2. Until the pandemic hit, the migrant population was almost completely Mexican, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, or Honduran (blue, darker green, brown, yellow). More than 90 percent came from those four countries until 2019; their share dropped to 89 percent in 2020. But just 54 percent came from those four countries in 2023.
  3. Since the pandemic, the diversity of nationalities apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border has multiplied. The arrival of more migrants from Cuba, Haiti, and South America reflects increasing insecurity and economic desperation, but also the emergence of new routes further south, like the “opening” of the Darién Gap and aerial arrivals in Nicaragua.

Haiti Led Nationalities of In-Transit Migration Through Honduras in October

Honduras’s “Irregular” Migrant Encounters (Since August 2022)

October 2023: Haiti 35%, Venezuela 34%, Cuba 17%, Ecuador 4%, Guinea 2.3%, Colombia 2.0%, All Others <2%

Since August 2022: Venezuela 41%, Cuba 17%, Haiti 15%, Ecuador 11%, Colombia 2.1%, All Others <2% 

	Venezuela	Cuba	Haiti	Ecuador	Colombia	China	Senegal	Guinea	Mauritania	Other Countries
22-Aug	10769	6899	836	1583	314	42	118	19	18	2278
22-Sep	11325	5144	863	1685	379	45	135	23	14	2220
22-Oct	14027	5290	1856	5793	723	99	185	30	18	3037
22-Nov	3756	9219	2858	5130	400	186	158	34	38	3857
22-Dec	1923	7225	2518	6557	231	405	87	22	63	4034
23-Jan	1866	2079	5365	4562	296	415	202	72	31	4054
23-Feb	4462	629	4092	5010	449	688	159	97	71	4449
23-Mar	9112	776	2991	2493	624	719	191	90	88	4576
23-Apr	10883	1301	2392	1692	682	985	472	87	87	4350
23-May	11809	2397	1629	2147	654	801	831	277	427	4398
23-Jun	12698	3254	1305	2817	488	1045	390	118	1801	2870
23-Jul	25050	6721	1558	6116	954	980	1398	389	2036	3769
23-Aug	35669	11343	4051	5789	1330	654	1629	1005	1036	3020
23-Sep	42550	19288	14898	4830	2174	570	1066	1762	48	3453
23-Oct	34547	17513	35529	3581	2021	1006	1235	2304	75	4198

Data table

We’ve grown accustomed to Venezuela (blue in this chart) being the number-one nationality of migrants transiting Central America and Mexico to come to the United States. Venezuela has been the number-one country of citizenship of people transiting Honduras during every month since March, and U.S. authorities encountered more migrants from Venezuela than from any other country—including Mexico—at the U.S.-Mexico border in September.

Data from Honduras in October, however, show at least a temporary pause in that trend. Last month, Honduras registered more migrants from Haiti transiting its territory (brown in this chart) than from Venezuela. (A new “Mixed Movements Protection Monitoring” report from UNCHR also notes this trend.)

It was a record month for Honduras’s registries of in-transit migrants from around the world: 102,009 people with “irregular” migratory status registered with the government, a necessary step for a short-term legal status making it possible to board buses to get across the country. Of that number, 35,529 were Haitian and 34,547 were Venezuelan. (271 were recorded as Brazilian and 489 as Chilean; many—probably most—of them were children born to Haitian citizen parents who had been living in those countries.)

Transit of Venezuelan migrants through Honduras fell 19 percent from September to October, from 42,550 to 34,547 people.

A possible reason could be a reaction to the Biden administration’s early October agreement with Venezuela to resume deportation flights to Caracas, news of which may have led some would-be migrants to pause their plans. Aerial deportations are expensive, however, and a charter flight to Venezuela only holds about 100-150 people. It is reasonable to expect Venezuelan migration to recover, as conditions in the country remain dire and as Venezuelans considering migration realize that the probability of aerial deportation is slim.

The sharp increase in Haitian migration appears to owe to a new air route from Haiti to Nicaragua, which does not require that visiting citizens of Haiti obtain a visa in advance (though it charges them a steep fee upon arrival). For more on that, see this good November 6 analysis from the Honduras-based journalism website ContraCorriente.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: November 10, 2023

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

THIS WEEK IN BRIEF:

The U.S. Congress is considering the 2024 federal budget and a supplemental budget request for Ukraine, Israel, Gaza, and the U.S.-Mexico border. In exchange for approval—especially for the supplemental request—Republican legislators are demanding changes to border and migration policy, including a series of measures that would severely curtail the right to seek asylum in the United States. Democrats are opposed, but signal that they are willing to discuss some concessions on asylum, possibly including a higher standard that asylum seekers must meet in initial “credible fear” interviews.

The International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch issued in-depth research reports about migration in the treacherous Darién Gap jungle region straddling Colombia and Panama, through which about half a million people have migrated so far this year. Both find stark gaps in government presence and a powerful role for organized crime, along with frequent and severe abuses of migrants passing through the zone. Recommendations recognize the complexity of the situation, and focus largely on efforts in source and transit countries to address the causes of migration, improved integration of migrants especially from Venezuela and Haiti, and better cooperation and coordination between states.

Brief updates look at Costa Rica’s and Panama’s policy of busing northbound migrants through their territory; at Nicaragua’s increasing use as an initial arrival point for migrants from Cuba, Haiti, and elsewhere; and at the situation of thousands of migrants stranded in Chiapas and Oaxaca in southern Mexico.

THE FULL UPDATE:

Read More

One Out of Four Is a Lot

This can’t be the point Sen. Graham wanted to make, but:

Immigration judges, after rigorous procedures, are finding that 1 out of 4 people coming to the U.S.-Mexico border would be likely to die or be imprisoned if deported.

That’s a high likelihood of sending people back to severe harm if we deny them due process. It’s a strong argument for giving asylum seekers in the United States a fair hearing and to invest heavily in our asylum system.

Hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee, November 8, 2023
(https://bit.ly/3FTZvC8)

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina): You're the head of DHS and you can't tell me how many asylum claims are approved versus denied.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: Generally, generally speaking across the board on a macro basis, it's approximately 75% [denied asylum].

Graham: Okay.

On the Table Now: a Fatal Blow to the Right to Seek Protection in the United States

A Senate Republican “working group” has outlined a border and migration proposal as a likely condition of keeping the U.S. government open past the next “shutdown” date (November 17).

I’m still struggling to express graphically how severe this proposal’s consequences would be for tens of thousands of people facing real danger. Here is another attempt.

Infographic: Imagine that Senate Republicans' November 2023 border and migration proposal became law. Now imagine that you have fled to the U.S. border to seek asylum.

A series of arrows pointing downward, getting ever narrower as they reach the bottom.

Did you seek asylum, and get turned down, in every single country you passed through, no matter how impoverished, dangerous, and unable to protect you those countries are?

Did CBP officers doing “metering” at the borderline permit you to approach an official land border crossing (port of entry) to ask for asylum?

Was DHS somehow unable to ship you off to a (likely impoverished or dangerous) third country to go seek asylum there?

In your rapid screening interview, did you meet a new, very high “credible fear” standard?

Was DHS somehow unable to make you “Remain in Mexico”while you await your immigration court hearings?

Was ICE somehow unable to hold you (and your kids) in detention?

Did you make it this far? Almost certainly not. But if you did, then the United States might consider protecting you from likely harm, without jailing you in a detention center. This is a remarkably cruel proposal, undoing generations of basic protections. It must not become law.

View the actual proposal at https://bit.ly/2311_senate_gop

This Border Proposal Could Send Us Back to the 1930s—and Some of it Might Pass

As the U.S. government scrambles to agree on a 2024 budget to avoid another “shutdown” on November 17, Republican leaders of the U.S. Senate have laid down a set of border and migration demands as their top condition for agreeing to any new spending deal. If the Biden administration wants aid to Ukraine, for example, these are the GOP demands. Republicans in the House have similar—or perhaps harsher—demands.

Using the one-pager that Senate Republicans shared yesterday, here’s a graphic that shows how thoroughly their proposal would obliterate threatened people’s right to seek asylum in the United States.

This is a right that most of the world adopted after World War II. The congressional Republican proposal would send us back to the 1930s. And the Biden administration is already indicating to Democratic allies that they might have to adopt some of it.

If this ever became law, someone fleeing likely death or imprisonment would only be able to access the U.S. asylum system if:

  • They tried, and failed, to seek asylum in every country through which they passed on the way—no matter how impoverished, dangerous, or ill-governed the country.
  • They came to a port of entry (official border crossing), even though Customs and Border Protection, through a practice called “metering,” allows only a bare trickle of asylum seekers to access these facilities.
  • They could not be shipped off to a third country to seek asylum there (the Trump administration made agreements with Guatemala and Honduras to be “third countries” for asylum seekers).
  • They were able to meet a higher standard of “credible fear of persecution” in screening interviews performed shortly after arrival at the U.S. border.
  • They awaited their U.S. immigration court hearing dates while “remaining” in northern Mexico, or while sitting in ICE detention centers—even if they are families with children.

Thursday at 5:00 Eastern: Crowd-Control Weapons in the Americas: Evidence From the Ground and How to Stop Their Harm

A big group of non-governmental human rights organizations, from around Latin America, has a hearing on Thursday at the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission to discuss how security forces are misusing supposedly “non-lethal” crowd-control weapons to maim or kill participants in political protests. The United States, through arms sales, is a top source of those weapons.

Join me later on Thursday, at 5:00—at WOLA or online—when I have the honor of moderating a discussion with some of them.

Here’s the explanatory text from WOLA’s website:

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (INCLO) and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) warmly invite you to the hybrid event “Crowd-control weapons in the Americas: Evidence from the ground and how to stop their harm”. The event will be held in-person and on Zoom on Thursday 9 November from 5:00-6:30 PM EST.

The right to protest in the Americas is regularly undermined when crowd-control weapons (misleadingly called non-lethal or less-lethal) are used and misused in ways that are disproportionate, indiscriminate and illegal. They inflict life-changing injuries, long-term psychological harm and even death. Despite growing recognition of their dangers, the manufacture, marketing, trade and use of law enforcement equipment including less lethal weapons continues to rise.

Join us for a civil society discussion on how to tackle the negative impacts of crowd-control weapons used by law enforcement in protests across the Americas with experts from the US, Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador. 

The discussion will include a presentation of Lethal in Disguise 2: How Crowd-Control Weapons Impact Health and Human Rights, reflections on an IACHR hearing on the subject to be held earlier that day and growing call at the UN for a binding global Torture-Free Trade Treaty.

Speakers:

  • Adam Isaacson, Director for Defense Oversight at WOLA (moderator)
  • Erika Dailey, Director of Advocacy and Policy of PHR
  • Alicia Ruth Tapuy Santi, INREDH / Widow of Byron Guatatuca
  • Camilo Mendoza Zamudio, Researcher for the police violence observatory and platform GRITA of Temblores NGO
  • Juliana Miranda, Researcher for Citizen Security and Police Violence teams of CELS
  • Michael Perloff, staff attorney at ACLU

The event will be in Spanish and English with simultaneous interpretation available virtually. For those joining us in person and need interpretation, we ask that you bring a device and headphones to connect to the virtual meeting and access the simultaneous interpretation. Wifi will be available.

There will be ample time for Q&A, as well as a short reception following the discussion with beverages and snacks.

** Registration is required both for in person and virtual participation. Please RSVP through this link. 

The event will be livestreamed and accessible afterwards on WOLA’s Youtube Channel.

E-mail Update Is Out

Here’s a new “weekly” e-mail about stuff I’ve been working on, for those who’ve signed up to receive them.

I only just returned mid-day Saturday from two weeks in Colombia, so there’s no news links or analysis in this one. But it does have links to upcoming events and lots of photos from my trip.

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.

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