Adam Isacson

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


December 2023

Daily Border Links: December 11, 2023


In talks that resumed on December 7, Senate negotiators appear to have made little progress toward a deal that could win Republican support for the Biden administration’s request for $110.5 million for Ukraine, Israel, and other priorities. As the price for their votes, Republicans are demanding changes to U.S. law that would reduce access to asylum, humanitarian parole, and similar migrant protections.

“First thing’s first is asylum,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), the chief Republican negotiator on a possible deal, told Face the Nation. “Right now, people come in and say, I want to request asylum. There’s so many people, and the cartels know it, and the smugglers know, that they can throw thousands of people a day. There’s no way to process that.”

“Three sources with knowledge of the talks” told NBC News that, with White House involvement, negotiators are near agreement on raising the standard of “credible fear” that asylum seekers must meet in initial screening interviews at the border. This proposal outrages migrant rights defenders because of the risk that many asylum seekers may be sent back to danger. On Meet the Press, the Democrats’ chief negotiator, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), said, “We are willing to talk about tightening some of the rules, so that you don’t have 10,000 people arriving a day. Our resources are not equipped to be able to handle that number of people. So, let’s reduce the number of people who are coming here, but let’s not shut down the border completely to legitimate claims.”

“Three sources with knowledge of the talks” tell NBC News that Republicans are also calling to restrict use of the presidential “humanitarian parole” authority, which dates back to the 1950s, except for Cuban migrants. Other possible Republican demands, CNN reported, may include more electronic monitoring of asylum seekers, including children, released into the United States, and sending more asylum seekers to “safe third countries.”

CBP’s port of entry in remote Lukeville, Arizona remains closed, as the border crossing’s personnel have been pulled away to help process daily arrivals of asylum seekers and other migrants in Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, where agents apprehended 18,900 people during the week ending December 7 (2,700 per day). “Because Lukeville is so remote, Border Patrol staffing is light, so traffickers in the region controlled by Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel steer people there,” the Associated Press noted.

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs (D) visited the Lukeville area and called for the border crossing’s reopening and pledging to deploy the state’s National Guard if the situation continues. Hobbs sent President Joe Biden a letter calling for “$512,529,333 in reimbursements for ongoing border operations resulting from the federal government’s failure to secure the Arizona border.”

The five-day average of migrant arrivals (3,407) is even higher in Border Patrol’s Del Rio, Texas sector where—despite a massive array of border security measures laid out by the state government’s “Operation Lone Star”—Border Patrol apprehended 17,034 people in five days.

Near Jacumba Hot Springs, California, just over an hour’s drive east of San Diego, “a total daily average of 800 people are in three camps,” Agence France-Presse reported.

A CBS News poll finds 20 percent of U.S. respondents naming “immigration and the Border” to be the “most important problem facing the United States.” Only “inflation” (27 percent) scored higher.

Although Mexico’s migration agency (INM) is reportedly out of money for deportations and travel for what remains of 2023, the agency returned 47 unaccompanied Guatemalan minors back to Guatemala over the December 9-10 weekend. Still, news of Mexico’s suspension of deportations may be encouraging migrants, like some interviewed by the daily Milenio, to speed their progress across the country.

San Diego U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw approved a court settlement, in litigation brought by the ACLU, that would prohibit any revival of a “family separation” policy at the U.S.-Mexico border for the next eight years.

Analyses and Feature Stories

CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility released an annual report, covering 2022, about internal investigations and employee accountability. The report found no increase in disciplinary actions taken against agency personnel compared to 2021. The National Use of Force Review Board looked at five serious use-of-force incidents and recommended no discipline.

The Ciudad Juárez-based La Verdad reported from several parts of Mexico about the severe toll that migrating across Mexico takes on women.

A Washington Post editorial called for more processing of migrants and more assistance to countries along the U.S.-bound migration route that could be giving in-transit migrants greater opportunity to settle there.

On the Right

Latin America-Related Events in Washington and Online This Week

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

Monday, December 11

  • 5:00-6:30 at Columbia University Zoom: Guatemala: Democracy in the Crosshairs (RSVP required).

Tuesday, December 12

  • 1:00-2:00 at Refugees International Zoom: A Better Approach Toward Reception of People Seeking Asylum (RSVP required).

Wednesday, December 13

  • 10:00-11:15 at Should Argentina Dollarize? (RSVP required).
  • 12:00-2:00 at House of Sweden: The Global State of Democracy: Presentation of International IDEA’s 2023 Report (RSVP required).

Young Fathers Live on KEXP

I was enjoying Young Fathers’ latest album. Then last night, I watched this and immediately got on my phone and bought tickets for when they come through Washington in April.


Saturday afternoon, holiday market in downtown Washington DC.

Countries’ Options for Migrants Passing Through

I like this Washington Post editorial (not only because I’m mentioned) because it wrestles with one of the thorniest questions facing Latin America.

When large numbers of migrants are passing through your territory, how do you manage it in a way that’s not so “zero tolerance” that it strands thousands and creates a bonanza for organized crime, but that’s not so tolerant that the U.S. government comes down hard on you for “green-lighting” migrants passing through?

I struggled with those options a bit in a post here a couple of months ago, and it makes up much of the “recommendations” section of a report I’m writing right now about my recent research trip to Colombia (first draft complete this weekend even if it kills me). I appreciate the way the Post editorial lays out these lousy choices and what countries can do (integration of migrants, coordination with each other) to “make the U.S. government OK with it” if they legalize and manage in-transit migration instead of pushing it into the shadows.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: December 8, 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.


Legislators have hit an impasse over the Biden administration’s request for $110.5 billion in additional funding for Ukraine, Israel, the border, and other priorities. In exchange for their support, Republicans are demanding tougher border and migration measures, including some that could put asylum and humanitarian parole out of reach for many. Talks between a small group of senators have broken down, a “test vote” in the full Senate failed, and the tone is acrimonious.

Border Patrol apprehended more than 10,000 migrants on December 5, one of the highest daily counts ever. A September-to-October dip in migrant arrivals has reversed. Large groups are waiting, at times for days in poor humanitarian conditions, in Border Patrol’s sectors in Tucson, Arizona; Del Rio, Texas; and San Diego, California.

U.S. authorities encountered over 28,000 citizens of China at the U.S.-Mexico border over the 12 months ending in October, a more than tenfold increase over the previous 12 months, with more than 8,000 arriving in September and October. Most are coming to San Diego. People who flee China tend to be middle class or lower middle class. They are escaping persecution but also cite fears of falling into poverty as the world’s second-largest economy falters.


Read More

Daily Border Links: December 8, 2023


The Senate has adjourned for the weekend, but negotiations appear to be re-starting between a small group of senators as Republicans demand restrictions to asylum, and other tough border and migration measures, in exchange for passage of a bill to fund Ukraine and Israel aid, border priorities, and other items. This group is expected to meet through the weekend, and the White House now appears to be more directly or openly involved.

The Biden administration is signaling that it is willing to raise the “credible fear” standard that asylum seekers must meet when they are placed in expedited removal proceedings and screened by asylum officers, which would cause more asylum seekers to be rejected if unable to defend their claims while in custody within days of arriving. Republicans will probably want more concessions than that, including a return to family detention and limits to the nearly 70-year-old presidential humanitarian parole authority.

The Senate has one week left on its schedule for the 2023 session, though it could add the week of December 18. Lead Senate Republican negotiator James Lankford (Oklahoma) struck a flexible tone, saying he hoped that a bill can pass by the end of the year and that Republicans’ position isn’t “take it or leave it.”

Combining Border Patrol apprehensions and people who came to ports of entry, CBP encountered 9,990 people on Wednesday (December 6). That is down from over 12,000 on Tuesday.

In order to free up officers to help with migrant processing, CBP has closed its PedWest pedestrian border crossing at the San Ysidro port of entry south of San Diego. The port of entry in Lukeville, Arizona and one of two bridges into Eagle Pass, Texas remain closed. South of Lukeville, authorities in Sonora, Mexico plan to install “checkpoints and ‘migration filters.’”

At a camp in Jacumba Hot Springs, California, where asylum seekers wait for days for Border Patrol agents to process them, ABC News reported, “The lucky ones have tents; however, most sleep on the gravel and use their clothes to shield them from the elements and their backpacks as pillows.”

Analyses and Feature Stories

Deaths of women migrants increased sharply during a record year for migrant deaths in Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector (far west Texas and all of New Mexico). Normally, men are the vast majority of recovered remains, but in New Mexico in 2023, of 78 bodies whose gender could be determined, 40 were female, the El Paso Times found.

On the Right

Daily Border Links: December 7, 2023


As expected, a Senate “test vote” failed, 49-51, on a $110.5 billion bill to fulfill the Biden administration’s request for additional 2024 money for Ukraine, Israel, the border, and other priorities. All 49 Republican senators voted “no,” along with Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), who opposes military aid to Israel without conditions, and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), who had to vote “no” for procedural reasons.

Schumer scheduled the vote partly to reinvigorate negotiations, which stalled last week, between a small group of senators. Republicans are demanding that the bill come with language clamping down on the right to seek asylum at the border, limiting the 1950s-era presidential authority to offer humanitarian parole to migrants, and other restrictions on immigration.

“I am willing to make significant compromises on the border,” President Joe Biden told reporters. “We need to fix the broken border system. It is broken.”

Changes that Democrats appear inclined to adopt include expanding the number of asylum seekers placed in expedited removal proceedings after being encountered at the border, and requiring them to meet a higher standard of “credible fear” in initial interviews with asylum officers, usually while in custody days after crossing the border.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), the party’s main negotiator on a potential deal with Republicans, told National Public Radio “right now there are far too many people crossing the border and being released into the country, many of them don’t have a legitimate claim of asylum,” but “I don’t think it’s in the best traditions of this country to deny people with legitimate claims of asylum access to the United States.”

Border Patrol reported “8,000+ apprehensions” of migrants border-wide on December 5. Reporters for CNN, CBS News, and Fox reported the actual number as one of the highest daily migrant apprehension totals ever: “10,300,” “10,200+,” “more than 10,000,” and “more than 12,000” when including port-of-entry encounters.

Panama has now counted 500,000 migrants passing through the Darién Gap in 2023, EFE reported. The previous full-year record for migration through this dangerous jungle region, set last year, was less than half that (248,284).

Analyses and Feature Stories

“‘There is a fundamental shift in the Democratic Party on immigration’ over the past six months,” Muzaffar Chishti of the Migration Policy Institute told the Associated Press. Democrats have stopped avoiding discussions of adjusting border policy: “Their backs don’t go up when they see someone saying we want to make some changes in the policies at the border.”

Of nearly 500 mostly Haitian unaccompanied migrant children whom the U.S. Coast Guard apprehended at sea, in the Caribbean or Florida Straits, between July 2021 and September 2023, all but 12 were sent back to their countries of origin. “It’s often unclear where they go once they return,” reported a ProPublica / New York Times investigation by Seth Freed Wessler.

On the Right

Daily Border Links: December 6, 2023

December 6, 2023


In exchange for supporting Ukraine aid, Republican legislators continue to demand reduced access to asylum and parole, among other border-hardening measures.

A classified Senate briefing about the need for Ukraine and other aid in the Biden administration’s $106 billion supplemental funding request reportedly got ugly: Republican senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) walked out early, after some screamed profanities in the presence of the secretaries of defense and state and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Senate’s Democratic majority introduced a funding bill, which may come up for consideration today, reflecting the Biden administration’s request and including no tightening of immigration laws. The 49-seat Republican minority needs just 41 votes to filibuster the bill—to prevent cloture of debate and a final vote—so the bill is likely to fail a cloture vote.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) sent a letter to the White House demanding “transformative change to our nation’s border security laws,” starting with H.R. 2, a bill that the House passed in May, without a single Democratic vote. As WOLA explained in November, H.R. 2 would almost completely curtail access to the U.S. asylum system at the U.S.-Mexico border. A chorus of Democratic Senate voices vehemently rejected including H.R. 2.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say H.R. 2 or nothing. And I’ve always smiled and said, House Republicans didn’t get a single Democrat on H.R. 2, and they’re asking us to get 20 on our side.OK, well, that’s not realistic,” acknowledged the lead Republican negotiator in Senate talks, Sen. James Lankford (Oklahoma). But Lankford’s side is seeking more concessions than higher standards for asylum-seekers’ initial credible fear interviews, something that some Democrats have said they are open to. According to the Wall Street Journal, Lankford mentioned “other options, including increasing detention bed space or adding a requirement that would allow the government to permanently send asylum seekers to third countries it deems safe for them.”

Arrivals of migrants in Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector (far west Texas and all of New Mexico) have fallen since Title 42’s end, dropping sharply in October. Border Report reported, however, that arrivals have started to pick up again.

Colombia arrested 24 people, including 5 active Navy personnel, for allegedly participating in a migrant-smuggling ring facilitating U.S.-bound transit.

Asked by Sean Hannity whether he would “be a dictator” if re-elected, ex-President Donald Trump replied, “No, no, no—other than Day 1. We’re closing the border. And we’re drilling, drilling, drilling. After that, I’m not a dictator.”

Analyses and Feature Stories

Tom Cartwright’s latest monthly ICE deportation flights monitoring report for Witness at the Border counted 140 removal flights in November, up 39 percent over November 2022, the 3rd-highest monthly total of the past 12 months. Top removal flight destinations last month were Guatemala (57 flights), Honduras (40), El Salvador (14), Colombia (5), and Ecuador (4). Three went to Venezuela and one to Cuba.

At America’s Voice, Gabe Ortiz reported on House Republican backlash against new CBP guidance for LGBT migrants in custody, which instructs agents “to avoid using specific pronouns until they have more information about the individual, as well as to refrain from using derogatory speech, including stereotypes and offensive language.”

The Cato Institute’s David Bier compiled data indicating that Border Patrol’s estimated “got-aways”—migrants believed to have avoided apprehension at the border—fell by half after the end of the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy.

Mexico’s Milenio posits a link between a Sinaloa Cartel faction’s order to cease fentanyl trafficking and a modest recent drop in fentanyl seizures at the border.

On the Right

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 a day or so late because last week’s House hearing pushed all of my work into the future and I’m still catching up. It has a link to the Border Update, links to my hearing testimonies, some new infographics about migration and the security forces in Mexico, and links to recommended readings.

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.

Daily Border Links: December 5, 2023


Talks continue, haltingly, in the U.S. Senate as Republicans demand legal changes tightening asylum and other migration pathways, in exchange for supporting a $106 billion emergency funding request for Ukraine, Israel, the border and other priorities. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said that negotiations between a small group of senators were “on ice.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who is not one of the negotiators, implied that the talks were more like blackmail terms than a search for a compromise: “This is not a traditional negotiation, where we expect to come up with a bipartisan compromise on the border. This is a price that has to be paid in order to get the supplemental.” The Democrats’ lead negotiator, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connectictut) replied, “Apparently I’ve wasted the last 3 weeks of my life since this was never a negotiation – just a take it or leave it demand. 🙃”

Semafor reported that Republicans triggered the current impasse in negotiations with a demand “to provide the president new authority to shut down the asylum system at will,” an authority similar to the pandemic-era Title 42 expulsions policy.

Some reports indicated that House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) would demand that the funding bill include all of H.R. 2: a draconian bill, passed by the House on a party-line vote in May, that would all but shut down asylum. Republican negotiator Sen. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) denied this: Johnson will “get what we send him.”

Sen. Schumer intends to put the appropriation bill up for a “test vote” on Wednesday; it is very likey to fail amid opposition from the chamber’s 49 Republicans, who only need 41 votes to filibuster the bill, keeping it from coming to a final vote.

Mexico’s migration agency (National Migration Institute, INM) is running out of money for the year, and has suspended migrant deportations and other activities involving transport of personnel, the Associated Press reported. Mexican authorities encountered a record 588,626 migrants during the first 10 months of 2023.

While it considers the case, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has prohibited Border Patrol from reaching asylum seekers on U.S. soil by cutting through concertina wire that Texas police and National Guardsmen have laid along the Rio Grande. This temporarily reverses a November 29 district court decision allowing federal agents to cut the razor-sharp wire. Texas’s state government had filed suit in late October seeking to stop Border Patrol from cutting the wire.

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs (D) voiced concern that large numbers of arriving asylum seekers could cause CBP to close other ports of entry in order to free up personnel to process migrants, as happened last week at the temporarily shuttered crossing in remote Lukeville. Hobbs did not rule out sending the state’s National Guard to the border, but is holding off for now.

Analyses and Feature Stories

The El Paso Times’ Lauren Villagrán visited Sololá, in Guatemala’s highlands, the home region of many of the 40 migrants who died in a horrific March 2023 fire in a Ciudad Juárez migrant detention facility.

“The average wait time for non-Mexicans is two months after making an account and requesting an appointment” with the CBP One app, a senior CBP official told Bloomberg. “For Mexicans, the wait time is currently a little over 3 months,” the official added, noting that Mexican citizens have daily limits to prevent them from crowding out other nationalities. This is curious, since the result is that Mexican asylum seekers are forced to wait in the same country where they face threats.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: December 4, 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’s update is late because, as we approached our regular publication deadline, staff were testifying in the House of Representatives. The next update will resume, as normal, on Friday (December 8).


A group of six or seven senators is negotiating Republican demands for tighter border and migration measures in exchange for aid to Ukraine, Israel and more in a Biden administration request for additional 2024 funds. The senators may be close to requiring asylum seekers to meet a much higher standard of fear in initial interviews at the border, a possibility that has progressive members of Congress and migrants’ rights advocates, including WOLA, on edge. Republicans are also demanding Democratic concessions on “safe third country” agreements and the presidential humanitarian parole authority.

Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector, which includes far west Texas and New Mexico, experienced a very sharp increase in the number of migrant remains recovered during fiscal 2023. The agency reported that 15 people died by drowning in the Rio Grande in its Del Rio, Texas Sector between October 1 and November 20. Medical providers in San Diego report a sharp increase in deaths and serious injuries from falls off of the border wall. On the Mexican side of the border, a mass kidnapping in Tamaulipas and cartel battles in Sonora underscored the dangers migrants face in the border zone.

The federal judiciary’s Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered Texas to remove the “buoy wall” that Gov. Greg Abbott (R) had ordered built in the middle of the Rio Grande in June near Eagle Pass. Abbott said he would appeal to the Supreme Court. A Fifth Circuit district court also blocked a Texas state government suit seeking to prohibit Border Patrol agents from cutting through the razor-sharp concertina wire that Texas authorities have strung along the river’s banks, in an effort to block asylum seekers.


Read More

Daily Border Links: December 4, 2023


The Washington politics website Punchbowl News reported that talks have broken down among a small group of senators discussing tightened asylum standards and other possible migration restrictions in exchange for Republican support for a big funding bill for Ukraine, Israel, and the border. The small group was to keep discussing a possible compromise over the December 2-3 weekend, but has not met since Thursday. The Senate’s Democratic majority may introduce the supplemental funding bill as early as December 7 without any of the migration curbs that Republicans are demanding; Republicans may filibuster it.

One of the Republican negotiators, Sen. James Lankford (Oklahoma), voiced optimism on December 3 that “we can get this done by the end of the year.”

The federal judiciary’s Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Texas on December 1 to remove the “buoy wall” that Gov. Greg Abbott (R) had ordered built in the middle of the Rio Grande in June near Eagle Pass. Abbott said he would appeal to the Supreme Court.

Border Patrol’s Tucson, Arizona Sector reported apprehending 17,500 migrants in the week ending December 1. If sustained over a month, that rate would hit a monthly threshold—70,000 apprehensions in a single sector—that has only been reached twice after 2000. CBPannounced that it will temporarily close its port of entry in remote Lukeville, Arizona so that officers stationed there may help Border Patrol to process the large numbers of asylum seekers turning themselves in nearby.

A group of 18 migrants from Mexico and Guatemala, including children, was kidnapped after flying from Tijuana to Matamoros for their “CBP One” appointments at the U.S. port of entry there. As of December 3, as many as 17 of the 18 victims may have been released after making ransom payments. The incident highlights the risks to migrants in Tamaulipas, the only Mexican border state to have a Level Four travel warning from the U.S. State Department.

Analyses and Feature Stories

For the second time in ten days, the New York Times published an analysis of Chinese citizens’ increased migration to the U.S.-Mexico border. “Every immigrant I interviewed this year who passed through the Darién Gap,” reporter Li Yuan wrote, “came from a lower middle-class background. They said that they feared falling into poverty if the Chinese economy worsened, and that they could no longer see a future for themselves or their children in their home country.”

Honduras’s ContraCorriente reported on the harrowing experience of Honduran women migrating in an attempt to flee domestic or gender-based violence.

WOLA’s Adam Isacson testified in a November 30 hearing of the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee about “the U.S. Border Crisis and the American Solution to an International Problem.” WOLA has posted a page with video excerpts and the text of the written and oral testimonies delivered.

On the Right:

Latin America-Related Events in Washington and Online This Week

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

Monday, December 4

  • 8:30-10:00 at Prospects and Pitfalls for Security Assistance in Haiti (RSVP required).

Tuesday, December 5

Wednesday, December 6

  • 9:00-10:30 at the Inter-American Dialogue: La agenda ambiental y climática en Colombia: autoridades locales hablan (RSVP required).
  • 9:30-11:00 at the Brookings Institution and online: Tackling global corruption to strengthen democracy and security (RSVP required).
  • 10:00 at Race and Equality: Challenges And Lessons Of The Brazilian Trans Movement (RSVP required).
  • 11:30-12:45 at the Inter-American Dialogue: Mobilizing Youth for Democracy and Human Rights (RSVP required).
  • 2:00-3:00 at Pivotal States: Is the United States Overlooking Mexico’s Potential? (RSVP required).
  • 2:00-5:30 at CSIS and online: Progress and Possibility: Reflecting on 75 Years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (RSVP required).
  • 3:00-5:00 at the Atlantic Council and online: Elections everywhere all at once (RSVP required).
  • 6:30 at How Can We Solve The Border Crisis? (RSVP required).

Hearing Testimonies from Yesterday

Here are links to the testimonies I submitted for yesterday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing about the U.S.-Mexico border and migration.

WOLA has created a page with video excerpts and links.

I’m now catching up on work that has fallen behind, including this week’s delayed Border Update. Testifying in the full committee was a great experience, but it did poke a 20-hour hole in the week.

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