Adam Isacson

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


February 2024

Daily Border Links: February 29, 2024

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President Joe Biden will be in Brownsville, Texas today for the second U.S.-Mexico border visit of his presidency. About 300 miles upriver along the Rio Grande, Donald Trump will be in Eagle Pass.

We can expect Trump to attack Biden’s border policies, and immigration in general, which is one of his campaign’s principal themes and, according to polls, an electoral vulnerability for the President. We can expect Biden to blame Trump and Republicans for blocking reforms, including a “border deal” that died in the Senate earlier this month even though it conceded significant parts of the Republican agenda by curbing migrants’ right to seek asylum.

We do not expect Biden to announce any new executive actions to implement new curbs on asylum, a step that the White House continues to consider.

The dual visits highlight the deadlock in Washington on any decisions regarding the border and migration: no change—whether a reform or a crackdown, or even a new budget—has passed the 118th Congress, which began in January 2023.

Budget shortfalls have limited the Biden administration’s effort to subject more asylum seekers to rapid screening interviews shortly after apprehension, in a process called “expedited removal,” the Associated Press reported. Asylum officers carrying out the credible-fear interviews “are too understaffed to have much impact,” able to interview a number of migrants equal to about 15 percent of those who were instead released with “notices to appear” in immigration court.

Colombia’s navy last week seized two of the many boats that take migrants—with the permission of local organized crime—across the Gulf of Urabá from the town of Necoclí to Acandí, where the treacherous Darién Gap route into Panama begins. As a result, the New York Times reported, all boat transportation has halted and Necoclí, a small beach resort, is filling up with hundreds of migrants arriving each day, who are now stranded there.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, accompanied by Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, met in Washington to discuss migration approaches with the foreign ministers of Mexico and Guatemala. They discussed addressing migration’s root causes and expanding legal pathways, and agreed to form a trilateral “operational cell” to share information and coordinate strategies.

The three governments agreed to launch a new “dashboard” of migration flows data, “which will enhance data-driven decision-making and coordination.”

U.S. officials praised Mexico’s recent increase in operations to control U.S.-bound migration flows, crediting them for some of the recent drop in migrant arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border, though some of the cause is seasonal.

Guatemala will host the next ministerial-level meeting of the 22 signatory nations of the 2022 Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection. There is no date yet for that meeting.

A tweet from Border Patrol’s chief indicates that the agency apprehended about 136,000 migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border during the first 27 days of February. At that pace, the month-long apprehensions number will be about 146,000: 22,000 more than January, but the 7th-fewest of the Biden administration’s 37 full months in office.

Republican politicians, and a dramatic spike in Fox News stories, are promoting the idea of “migrant crime” as a Venezuelan man who arrived at the border in 2022 stands accused of murdering a nursing student in Georgia last week.

Analyses continue to point out that “migrant crime” is a myth, as migrants proportionally commit less violent crime than do U.S. citizens. The alleged perpetrator of the Georgia murder, meanwhile, arrived at the border during the height of the Title 42 expulsions policy, showing the irrelevance or futility of harsh curbs on asylum.

A 29-year-old Mexican man died after falling from a 30-foot-tall Trump-era segment of border wall east of San Diego on February 27. Mexico’s consulate, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, recorded 29 deaths and 120 injuries at the San Diego-area border in 2023 alone, down slightly from 42 and 124 in 2022 (not all were wall-related).

In 2009, Canada imposed visa requirements on arriving Mexican citizens, amid an increase in asylum applications. In 2016, Canada lifted those requirements. Yesterday, Canada reimposed those visa requirements; more than 25,000 Mexican citizens sought asylum there last year.

Analyses and Feature Stories

Bloomberg mapped out where asylum seekers are settling after they reach the United States, finding a remarkable dispersal to both urban and rural areas. On a per capita basis, states experiencing the largest numbers of migrant arrivals in 2023 were probably New York, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, Colorado, and Illinois.

The Washington Post published a series of maps detailing Texas’s security buildup along the Rio Grande in the Eagle Pass area.

At the New York Times, Jack Healy visited the border near Sásabe, Arizona, where asylum seekers continue to turn themselves in to Border Patrol in large numbers, though they are fewer than they were in the record-setting month of December.

Diego Piña Lopez, the director of Tucson’s Casa Alitas network of migrant shelters, worried that federal funding is running out for non-profit facilities receiving migrants released from Border Patrol custody, which means street releases may come to Tucson next month. “It’s not going to be a trickle. You broke the faucet completely off.”

El Toque counted the deaths or disappearances of more than 800 Cuban migrants over the past 10 years at the U.S.-Mexico border, at sea, in Mexico and Central America, and in the Bahamas and Cayman Islands.

On the Right

Deterring Asylum Seekers: an Increasingly Bipartisan Idea that Won’t Work

tl;dr: This piece doesn’t make a human rights argument about asylum access, though it does acknowledge cruelty and human cost. Instead, the argument here is cold, analytical, and practical: the past 10 years’ numbers and experience show that trying to deter protection-seeking migrants just doesn’t work. All it does is push their numbers down temporarily.

As President Biden and candidate Trump head to the Texas-Mexico border, immigration opponents are blaming the President’s border policies for the horrific, tragic February 22 murder of a nursing student in Georgia. But the case of the alleged killer, a 26-year-old Venezuelan man named José Ibarra, shows the futility of trying to put asylum out of reach at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Title 42 was a “nuclear option” for denying asylum—yet it didn’t deter people from coming

Since 1980, U.S. law has clearly stated that any non-citizens on U.S. soil have the right to apply for asylum, regardless of how they arrived, if they fear for their lives or freedom upon return to their country for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Once here, they are entitled to due process, and even Donald Trump’s administration had to honor that, hundreds of thousands of times (though they constantly sought to cut corners).

That is presumably what José Ibarra sought to do when he arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso in September 2022. But in fact, Ibarra came to the U.S.-Mexico border at a time when the U.S. government was going to extreme lengths to make asylum unavailable.

Between March 2020 and May 2023, the “Title 42” pandemic policy—begun by Donald Trump and continued by Joe Biden—used public health as a pretext for carrying out the toughest restriction on asylum seekers since 1980. Title 42 empowered U.S. border officials to expel—not even to properly process—all undocumented migrants they encountered.

If they said “I fear for my life if you expel me,” in most cases migrants still didn’t get hearings: they were expelled from the United States as quickly as possible. If they were Salvadoran, Guatemalan, or Honduran—and later Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, or Venezuelan—Mexico agreed to take many of them back across the land border.

In September 2022, when Ibarra turned himself in to Border Patrol, Title 42 was in full effect. But “expelled as quickly as possible” was often complicated.

In September 2022 alone, 33,804 Venezuelans—fleeing authoritarianism, corrupt misrule, violence, social collapse, and cratering living standards—arrived at the border.

Data table

That month was an especially busy time for Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector (one of the agency’s nine U.S.-Mexico border sectors, comprised of far west Texas and New Mexico). Agents there encountered 49,030 migrants over those 30 days, 20,169 of them from Venezuela, including José Ibarra.

(Let’s recall, too, that the vast majority of those people were seeking to step on U.S. soil and turn themselves in to Border Patrol. They weren’t trying to get away. The presence of a border wall near the riverbank is irrelevant: they just want to set foot on the riverbank.)

Of those 20,169 Venezuelan migrants in El Paso that month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) used Title 42 to expel… 2.

Why so few? Because U.S. authorities had nowhere to “put” expelled citizens of Venezuela and many other countries. At the time, Mexico was accepting Title 42 expulsions of three non-Mexican nationalities, but not Venezuelans. (That came later, in October 2023, bringing a temporary drop in Venezuelan migration. But despite the threat of expulsion, by the last full month of Title 42—April 2023—the number of Venezuelan migrants had recovered to 34,633, at the time a record.)

In 2022—and again, now—Venezuela’s government, which has no diplomatic relations with the United States, was refusing deportations or expulsions by air. Those flights are very expensive anyway for a country thousands of miles away.

At that pandemic moment, but still today, the sheer number of arrivals at the border—often more than 200,000 per month, at a moment of more worldwide migration than at any time since World War II—often makes detaining asylum seekers impossible, for lack of space and budget. So then, and still now, U.S. authorities release many into the U.S. interior with a date to appear before ICE or immigration courts in their destination cities. (The vast majority show up for those appointments.)

This was the reality even during the draconian Title 42 period, when U.S. authorities did expel people—many of them asylum seekers—2,912,294 times. But even as Mexico took back land-border expulsions of many Mexican and Central American people with urgent protection needs, U.S. officials, unable to expel, released José Ibarra and many others into the United States.

Why cracking down on asylum doesn’t work

Let’s repeat: this is what was happening when it was U.S. government policy to expel as many asylum seekers as it could, as quickly as it could. Washington tried a massive crackdown on asylum, and it failed to deter people. This is what happened to Border Patrol’s migrant encounters during the Title 42 period:

Data table

Right now, though, curbing the ability to ask for asylum at the border is in vogue again. Language in a “border deal” negotiated by Senate Republicans and Democrats—defeated in early February because Republicans didn’t think it went far enough—would have switched on a Title 42-like expulsion authority whenever daily migrant encounters averaged more than 4,000 or 5,000 per day.

Read More

Daily Border Links: February 28, 2024

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President Biden will visit Brownsville, Texas tomorrow, the second U.S.-Mexico border visit of his administration. Republican candidate Donald Trump will be several hours’ drive west, at the border in Eagle Pass.

The President will not announce any new executive actions tomorrow, like new limits on asylum seekers’ ability to seek protection at the border, said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. Media reports last week indicated that the White House is considering such a step, despite a lack of firm legal footing for curbing asylum access.

Border visits, the New York Times noted, have “become a compulsory bit of political theater for leaders who want to show they care about immigration.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas are meeting today with counterparts from Guatemala and Mexico to discuss “actions to strengthen humane migration management, joint collaboration to address the root causes of irregular migration and displacement, and ways to expand lawful pathways in the Western Hemisphere.”

For the first time since 2019, a Gallup Poll found that immigration is what Americans regard to be “the most important issue facing the country.” 28 percent of respondents cited immigration, up from 20 percent a month ago.

PBS NewsHour analyzed the February 22 murder of a Georgia nursing student, allegedly committed by a Venezuelan man whom Border Patrol released from custody in September 2022, when the Title 42 policy was still in place. Charis Kubrin, a professor of criminology, law and society at U.C. Irvine, recalled: “across all this research, by and large, we find that immigrants do not engage in more crime than native-born counterparts, and immigration actually can cause crime to go down, rather than up.”

CalMatters covered the resumption of “street releases” of asylum seekers released from CBP custody in San Diego, where elevated numbers of migrant arrivals exhausted resources for a county-funded “welcome center,” which closed its doors last week. Confused migrants are now being left at a trolley station, as volunteers struggle to orient them. Advocates allege that the county’s money was not spent sustainably.

San Diego County supervisors voted down a motion asking the federal government to shut down the border temporarily at moments of large-scale arrivals of asylum seekers. (“Shutting down” the border would make little difference, as asylum seekers have already crossed the border onto U.S. soil where they have a legal right to petition for protection.)

Analyses and Feature Stories

A harrowing, in-depth report from Quinto Elemento Lab described criminal organizations’ trafficking of Honduran women in the dangerous southern Mexican border town of Frontera Comalapa, Chiapas, and the complicity of Mexican and Honduran government officials.

A judicial settlement for victims of the Trump administration’s family separations allows them to apply for temporary legal status, work authorization, and some services in the United States, but does not guarantee them legal representation for their applications, reported Isabela Dias at Mother Jones.

At the Guardian, Luke Taylor covered studies from the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the UN Refugee Agency indicating that in South America, integrating Venezuelan migrants and refugees will contribute 0.1 to 0.25 percentage points to host countries’ economic growth every year between 2017 and 2030.

Daily Border Links: February 27, 2024

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On Thursday the 29th, President Joe Biden plans to visit Brownsville, Texas. It will be the second visit to the U.S.-Mexico border of Biden’s presidency. Former president and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump plans to be elsewhere at the Texas border, in Eagle Pass, on the same day. “We welcome that split screen,” a senior administration official told NBC News.

Biden plans to meet with Border Patrol agents and other law enforcement, and to call on Congress to pass border and migration legislation and funding. He is not expected to announce executive actions imposing new limits on asylum seekers’ ability to seek protection at the border, a step that the White House is considering and might announce ahead of the March 7 State of the Union presidential address.

“Immigration was by far the most dominant topic of discussion” during a February 23 White House meeting with state governors, NBC News reported.

Senate Democrats appear likely to dismiss the Republican-majority House’s impeachment of DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas without holding an actual trial, a move that would require just a simple majority vote.

Republicans, including Trump, are blaming Biden for the February 22 murder, allegedly committed by a Venezuelan man, of a 22-year-old nursing student in Georgia.

Border Patrol had released José Ibarra from custody in El Paso in September 2022, at a time when the El Paso sector was the second-busiest of the agency’s nine U.S.-Mexico border sectors. It is not clear whether Ibarra applied for asylum. ICE claims that he was arrested in New York City in August 2023 but released without a transfer to ICE custody; New York officials say they have no record of an arrest.

Progressive Democratic Reps. Adriano Espaillat (D-New York) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) introduced legislation that would provide Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to over 300,000 Ecuadorians in the United States fleeing “unspeakable violence.”

A Monmouth University poll found a majority of U.S. respondents (53 percent), for the first time, favoring border wall construction.

Analyses and Feature Stories

Curbed visited St. Brigid, a former Catholic school in New York City, which has become a “reticketing center” for migrants seeking new shelter. Many endured harrowing journeys and are now struggling with the city’s shelter system and often ending up living on the streets; some voice a desire to return home.

Of more than 100 ancient saguaro cacti that construction crews dug up and transplanted while building Trump-era border wall in Arizona, “dozens” have died.

On the Right

Daily Border Links: February 26, 2024

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In a February 23 White House meeting with state governors, President Joe Biden confirmed that he is considering executive actions to make asylum harder to obtain at the U.S.-Mexico border, but added that existing laws and budgets leave him with few options.

Migrant rights defense groups and progressive legislators continue to voice outrage about the possible executive actions, which came to light in news reporting on February 21.

As of February 25, year-to-date migration through the Darién Gap totaled over 68,400 people, about 22,700 more than the same period in 2023, EFE reported.

So far this year, the U.S. government has returned 12,144 Guatemalan citizens to their country on deportation flights.

The Texas Newsroom obtained invoices for four flights that Texas’s state government chartered to fly asylum-seeking migrants to New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. The total price tag of $845,000 was well over $1,000 per passenger.

A poll of Venezuelan citizens living in the United States found that more than 65 percent would return to Venezuela if the political opposition were to win this year’s presidential elections, a dim possibility amid rising political repression.

Analyses and Feature Stories

Analyses at the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times examined why migrant apprehensions are up (though leveling off) at the Arizona and California borders and declining in Texas. “Stepped-up enforcement efforts by the governments of Mexico, Panama and Colombia, and heightened violence by cartels on the Mexican side of the Texas border have likely slowed expected migration into that state,” wrote Andrea Castillo at the LA Times.

Asylum-seeker arrivals, and resulting Border Patrol releases, into San Diego have increased so rapidly that they have exhausted a county budget for a short-term migrant welcome center. As a result, CBP is leaving migrants outside a bus station.

The New Yorker, profiling El Paso’s Annunciation House, and the Arizona Daily Star, profiling Casa Alitas, pointed to the key role that migrant shelters play in receiving asylum seekers released from CBP custody. Shelters are facing a rising wave of rhetorical and legal attacks from right-wing politicians.

The Center for Public Integrity revealed that the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which receives and finds sponsors for migrant children who arrive unaccompanied, handled 2,724 reports of missing migrant children in the United States in 2022, many more than in previous years. Federal efforts to locate the missing children are insufficient.

In Eagle Pass, Texas, first responders are “overwhelmed and increasingly traumatized” by the frequency with which they rescue migrants—or recover their bodies—from the Rio Grande, NBC News reported. “On some shifts, firefighters with the Eagle Pass Fire Department can spend three to five hours in the water.”

A Rolling Stone feature looked at the impact that the Texas state government’s border security and migration crackdown is having on daily life in Eagle Pass.

In Arizona, younger Democratic voters are voicing frustration at the Biden administration’s rightward turn on border and migration policy, the Washington Post reported.

Congressional Republicans often urge President Biden to revive the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy despite its human rights impact, even though “it’s not clear Mexico’s government would play along,” Joseph Zeballos-Roig wrote at Semafor.

Voice of America and Mexico’s Milenio both published articles about Haitian migrants who have decided to settle in Mexico instead of pushing on to the United States.

On the Right

Email 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 has a Weekly Border Update; a new mini-report plus a podcast about security in Ecuador; and a breakdown with links explaining the past month in Colombia’s peace process. Also, links to some good readings, and to an incredible 46 Latin America-related events that I know of in Washington or online this week (counting Inter-American Human Rights Commission hearings). It’s going to be a busy week.

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.

Latin America-Related Events in Washington and Online This Week

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

Monday, February 26, 2024

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Friday, March 1, 2024

Colombia’s Peace Process: Some Links from the Past Month

Colombia’s government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group completed a sixth round of peace talks in Cuba on February 6. They agreed to renew a six-month-old ceasefire for another six months, through August 4.

The ceasefire is to include a halt in guerrilla kidnappings. As of February 7, according to lead government negotiator Vera Grabe, the ELN had released 23 of 26 people it had been holding. On February 18 the group released a dentist whom it had kidnapped in Magdalena.

Negotiators also agreed to create an international multi-color fund to support peace activities. The next round of talks is to take place in Venezuela.

Despite the ceasefire, ELN units in the southern region of the northwestern department of Chocó declared an “armed strike,” prohibiting people from transiting on roads and rivers for about a week in mid-February. It was the ELN’s third armed strike in this area in seven months. The ELN and the Gulf Clan have been fighting in southern Chocó for years, and the humanitarian crisis—especially forced displacements and confinements—is worsening for communities along the San Juan and Baudó rivers, which are busy smuggling corridors.

The ceasefire, which is limited to stopping fighting between the ELN and the government, is “incomplete” and does not specifically prohibit confinements of populations, said negotiating team member Sen. Iván Cepeda.

ELN negotiators announced on February 20 that they are putting the dialogues on hold. They were reportedly unhappy with the government’s approval of separate dialogues between a single ELN structure and the government of the southwestern department of Nariño (which shares a party affiliation with President Gustavo Petro). The ELN is contesting territory in Nariño with the Central General Staff (EMC) ex-FARC dissident network.

The ELN’s Comuneros del Sur front appears to be more disposed to a faster-paced dialogue; conversations began informally in September 2023. While the Petro government supports the idea of “regional dialogues,” ELN’s national leadership prefers that it negotiate with the group as a whole.

The government has a strong incentive to seek talks with individual ELN units, as the guerrilla group has a loose central command structure with very autonomous units. “The Eastern and Western War fronts, due to their operability and lethality, represent more or less 70 percent of the ELN and these structures are not at the table,” Carlos Velandia, a former ELN leader who is now a frequently cited analyst, told El Tiempo.

The EMC staged a 27-day “armed strike” in parts of southern Caquetá department.

Following recent ELN and EMC armed actions against civilians in Antioquia, Cauca, Chocó, Nariño, Valle del Cauca, and elsewhere, High Commissioner for Peace Otty Patiño warned that “The ceasefire is not a permit to commit crimes.” Analysts viewed this as a hardening of the Petro government’s tone toward armed groups participating in negotiations, and a break with the approach of former High Commissioner Danilo Rueda.

Peace talks officially launched between the government and the Segunda Marquetalia ex-FARC dissident network. Nominally headed by Iván Márquez, the FARC’s chief negotiator for the 2016 peace accord who rearmed in 2019, the Segunda Marquetalia is mainly active in Putumayo and Nariño departments in southwest Colombia.

This is the only negotiation with a group led by people who had already agreed to an earlier peace accord. Along with the ELN and EMC, the Petro government is now in active peace talks with three national groups.

Representatives of the 15 UN Security Council member states visited Colombia on February 7-11. The Council is considering expanding the scope of the UN Verification Mission’s mandate to include the Petro government’s new peace negotiations with additional armed groups; the U.S. government has been reluctant to approve a quick mandate expansion. In a press conference with Council members, President Petro acknowledged that aspects of the 2016 peace accord’s implementation, like land distribution, are running behind.

During their visit, UN diplomats traveled to Buenaventura and Cartagena, and to the former FARC demobilization and reincorporation site in La Montañita, Caquetá, which is now a fair-sized rural town.

Twenty-four of these reincorporation sites, in thirteen departments, continue to exist. As of October 31, the government recognized 11,269 people as ex-FARC, down from 13,394 in 2020, according to El Espectador.

Colombia’s Human Rights Ombudsman’s office noted that the Petro government has increased budgets and resources for implementing the 2016 peace accord, especially its provisions on land and rural reform. In a new monitoring report, though, the Office voiced strong concern about how these resources are being allocated, and about armed groups’ continuing power to undermine people’s access to land, especially when landholders are women.

Of the Territorially Focused Development Programs (PDET), a big peace accord commitment to bring state services to long-abandoned areas, less than 50 percent have even been launched, 7 years after accord implementation began.

Former FARC leaders sent an angry letter to President Petro complaining that the post-conflict transitional justice tribunal currently trying their war crimes cases is “moving away from the spirit and letter of the peace accord.” They are upset that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), in their view, is resolving cases separately instead of all together, moving slow on amnesties for political crimes, and focusing too much on mid-level ex-commanders. The JEP appeared to resolve the amnesty issue on February 21.

68 bills before Colombia’s Congress whose passage is necessary to comply with 2016 peace accord commitments are in danger of failing because they must be approved in the legislative session that ends on June 20, according to the Bogotá-based Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP).

A FIP report found that Colombia’s armed groups increased their strength and reach in 2023, even as some negotiated with the government and some humanitarian indicators improved. “Disputes between the groups for territorial control increased 54% in 2023. Total armed actions by the groups also increased 11%. Disputed zones between groups increased from five to nine,” said FIP Director María Victoria Llorente.

FIP cited data from Colombia’s security forces pointing to an increase in the combined membership of the ELN, ex-FARC dissidents, and the Gulf Clan in 2023: from about 15,000 to about 16,700.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: February 23, 2024

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.

Support ad-free, paywall-free Weekly Border Updates. Your donation to WOLA is crucial to sustain this effort. Please contribute now and support our work.


Media reports indicate that the White House is considering executive orders that would restrict asylum access. Possibilities include a new expulsion authority and a higher bar in credible fear screening interviews, though those could run counter to existing law or duplicate current policies. Meanwhile, a group of 10 moderate Republicans and centrist Democrats is sponsoring a bill that would mandate expulsions and “Remain in Mexico” along with Ukraine and Israel aid.

On March 5, depending on what a federal judge decides, Texas will begin enforcing a law making it a state crime, punishable by imprisonment, to cross the border without inspection. Texas is also accusing a respected El Paso migrant shelter of “harboring” and “smuggling” migrants and threatening to shut it down. The state’s governor is building a giant National Guard base near Eagle Pass.

The week of February 9-16 saw nine known examples of alleged human rights abuse, misconduct, or other reasons for concern about the organizational culture at U.S. border law enforcement agencies. Two senior Border Patrol officials were suspended, emails revealed widespread use of a slur to describe migrants, a new report detailed seizures of migrants’ belongings, and a whistleblower complaint revealed a bizarre incident involving “fentanyl lollipops.”


Read More

Daily Border Links: February 23, 2024

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Yesterday saw few new developments after Wednesday’s multiple media reports indicating that the Biden administration is considering drastic limits, via executive order, on the right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. (See yesterday’s Daily Border Links.) According to some reporting, these limits could include expulsions of asylum seekers when daily migrant encounters reach a certain level.

Progressive Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) voiced firm opposition to the proposal: “Doing Trump impressions isn’t how we beat Trump,” tweeted Ocasio-Cortez.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) wrote that a Biden executive order or similar actions would be “election year gimmicks.”

The El Paso Times covered the Texas government’s legal attack on the city’s Annunciation House migrant shelter. “Annunciation House isn’t a place, per se. It’s a community of like-minded people, driven by their faith to help the most vulnerable regardless of circumstance,” wrote reporter Lauren Villagrán.

“We are now witnessing an escalating campaign of intimidation, fear and dehumanization in the state of Texas,” Bishop Mark Seitz of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso wrote in a statement. Further support for the shelter came from a group of Catholic and El Paso and Ciudad Juárez-based humanitarian and human rights groups.

A U.S. deportation flight brought 51 Cuban citizens to Havana yesterday. This is the 11th removal flight to Cuba since they resumed last April: 1 each month.

The Wall Street Journal confirmed that deportation flights to Venezuela stopped in late January. Between October and then, 15 planes had sent 1,800 Venezuelan migrants back to Caracas.

The director of Mexico‘s migration agency (National Migration Institute, INM) in Baja California called for the provision of bulletproof vests for agents in the face of attacks from smugglers. INM agents don’t carry lethal weapons, “but that could change,” though not soon, David Tejada Padilla told Border Report.

13,101 pounds of methamphetamine aboard a tractor trailer at Laredo’s Camino Real bridge on February 18 were CBP’s largest-ever meth seizure at a port of entry.

Analyses and Feature Stories

“I went through dozens of reports, scores of articles, on the discussion of this migration bill, and the reporters talked to zero migrants and zero migrant rights groups. At all. None. Zero,” media analyst Adam Johnson told Todd Miller at the Border Chronicle.

At the Washington Post, Philip Bump tried to envision Trump advisor Stephen Miller’s plan to use “red-state” National Guard soldiers to round up undocumented immigrants in Democratic-majority states. Bump’s conclusion: “It’s cosplay.”

By busing migrants to Democratic-governed cities, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has “played into the idea of pitting immigrants against the American people in general and against immigrants who have been here for years,” a Democratic political strategist told CNN, noting that “it’s working” politically.

On the Right

Daily Border Links: February 22, 2024

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Several media outlets reported that the Biden administration is considering an executive order to adopt asylum restrictions at the border. Some of those restrictions may resemble measures agreed by Senate negotiators in a deal that fell to Republican opposition earlier this month.

Actions could include expelling asylum seekers when migrant encounters reach a certain daily threshold, or increasing standards of credible fear that asylum seekers would have to meet when subjected to initial screening interviews.

However, existing law does not allow expulsions of asylum seekers for reasons of volume, and Mexico’s reception of expelled people is not guaranteed. Meanwhile, the administration’s May 2023 asylum “transit ban” rule has already raised the credible fear standard for most asylum seekers apprehended between ports of entry.

The measures could invoke Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which empowers the President to refuse entry to broad classes of migrants. Courts have ruled, however, that this statute does not allow blocking asylum to people already on U.S. soil and requesting it.

In their opposition to the Senate “border deal,” some congressional Republicans had argued that the changes were unnecessary because President Biden already has the authority to “shut the border.” While President Biden would appear to be upholding the Republicans’ argument if he used executive authority, a very likely outcome is that courts would again strike down any blanket refusal of asylum.

The State Department broadened a policy of canceling or refusing U.S. visas to owners and senior managers of companies “providing transportation services designed for use primarily by persons intending to migrate irregularly to the United States.” State first announced this policy in November for charter flight operators taking migrants to Nicaragua, which does not require visas of most nationalities and has become an important route for U.S.-bound migrants. Officials are considering extending the visa ban to social media influencers who encourage migrants to pursue irregular travel.

The Mexican magazine Proceso revealed that the country’s migration authority, the National Migration Institute (INM), awarded irregular contracts to private detention center operators with few employees and little track record.

A 24-year-old man from Jamaica died of hypothermia just south of the border in Tecate, Baja California. “He died within an eighth of a mile of jackets and blankets and mittens and water left out by Border Kindness as part of their humanitarian aid mission,” tweeted journalist Wendy Fry.

CBP reported that a tractor-trailer driver detained at a Laredo, Texas checkpoint died in his holding cell on February 17. While the agency’s account points to a possible suicide, “the video recording system at the Border Patrol checkpoint was not fully functioning at the time of the incident”—a chronic problem noted in CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility reports.

Texas nonprofits and political leaders are rallying around Annunciation House, a longtime Catholic migrant shelter network in El Paso that Texas’s state government is accusing of “alien harboring, human smuggling and operating a stash house.” For many years Annunciation House has received busloads of released asylum seekers from CBP and Border Patrol, cooperating closely with the agencies.

Guatemala’s congress may increase the budget and activities of its national commission for migrants (Conamigua), which assists Guatemalan migrants abroad and deportees. The agency does not have history of spending out even its small annual budgets.

Analyses and Feature Stories

The National Immigrant Justice Center published a list of 10 actions that the Biden administration could take now, through executive action, to “reclaim the narrative” on immigration. They include a White House role in coordinating processing, adjudication, and work authorizations; a steep reduction in migrant detention; and dismantling Texas’s “Operation Lone Star.”

On the Right

Daily Border Links: February 21, 2024

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In a new escalation against humanitarian workers, Texas’s attorney-general, Ken Paxton (R), is seeking to revoke the license of a 47-year-old Catholic non-profit migrant shelter in El Paso. Annunciation House works with CBP and El Paso’s city government to receive asylum seekers released from federal custody, helping migrants to avoid being left on the city’s streets and to connect to destinations in the U.S. interior. Paxton accuses the shelter of facilitating human smuggling, and demanded that it hand over a large trove of client records with no advance notice.

Annunciation House will hold a press conference on Friday.

Texas has spent over $148 million to bus 102,000 migrants to Democratic Party-governed cities elsewhere in the United States. That is $1,451 per bus ride. The figure comes from public records obtained by The Texas Newsroom, a public radio journalism outlet.

“Let him put as many as he wants,” said Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in response to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) plan to install a state military base near Eagle Pass. “Supposedly this is how he is going to detain the migrants. Pure politicking! It is not serious.”

Mexico’s army killed two people from Venezuela, and captured three others, in a confrontation in rural Michoacán. Those killed and arrested were reportedly migrants recruited by organized crime.

NBC News identified the reason why Border Patrol’s acting deputy chief, Joel Martinez, was suspended from his post: an investigation into multiple claims of sexual misconduct and harassment on the job. The Washington Post had broken the Martinez story last week without identifying the reason for his suspension. The case recalls late 2022 allegations against Tony Barker, then Border Patrol’s number-three official.

Analyses and Feature Stories

The Washington Post detailed the Trump campaign’s unprecedented plan for large-scale migrant deportations if the former president is re-elected. Proposals include challenging birthright citizenship, using the military to remove people, and building mass pre-deportation camps.

“We documented a handful of cases where people ended up in the emergency room” because Border Patrol confiscated asylum seekers’ prescription medications and did not return them, Noah Schramm of ACLU Arizona, a principal author of a mid-February report on confiscation of belongings, told the Border Chronicle.

The National Immigration Forum published an overview of the “Defending Borders, Defending Democracies Act” (H.R. 7372), legislation sponsored by moderate Republicans and centrist Democrats that would allow some U.S. aid to Ukraine and Israel while enabling expulsions, a renewed “Remain in Mexico” program, and other limits on the right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Recent poll data do not show any improvement in the Biden administration’s approval rating on border and migration issues after Republicans scuttled the Senate “border deal,” according to the Washington Post.

A fact-check from the Colombian outlet La Silla Vacía pointed out that while broad-based U.S. sanctions exacerbated Venezuela’s economic crisis, large-scale migration from the country had already begun, for other reasons, before the Trump administration imposed them.

On the Right

Finding a Way Out of Ecuador’s Crisis: A New Commentary and Podcast at

We just launched two resources about Ecuador that have been in the works all month: a mini-report and a podcast.

First, the report: Why Ecuador Should Not Replicate the ‘Bukele Model’.

Among several reasons:

  • Ecuador is 13 times larger than El Salvador.
  • If Ecuador were to imprison as much of its population as Bukele has, it’d be like locking up the entire city of Manta.
  • Thanks to drug prohibition and so much cocaine passing through the country, Ecuador’s criminal groups are much wealthier.

“Here are some numbers that explain why Ecuador should not replicate El Salvador’s model of mass incarceration. If Noboa were to emulate what El Salvador has done over the past two years, the human and financial costs would be enormous, and the results in terms of public safety would be middling at best.”

Read the whole thing here.

Second, the podcast: From Under the Radar to State of Exception: Getting Beyond Stopgap Solutions to Ecuador’s Violence

From WOLA’s podcast landing page:

While this isn’t the first time Ecuador’s government has declared a state of exception, the prominence of organized crime and the consequential rise in insecurity is a new reality for the country. Ecuador has seen a six-fold homicide rate increase in three years; it is now South America’s worst, and Ecuadorians are the second nationality, behind Venezuelans, fleeing through the Darién Gap.

How did this happen? How can Ecuador’s government, civil society, and the international community address it?

This episode features International Crisis Group Fellow and author of the recent report Ecuador’s Descent Into Chaos, Glaeldys Gonzalez Calanche, and John Walsh, WOLA’s director for drug policy and the Andes. The discussion covers how Ecuador suddenly reached such high levels of insecurity, the implications of President Daniel Noboa’s state of emergency and “state of internal armed conflict” declarations, an evaluation of international drug markets and state responses, and a look at U.S. policy.

Gonzalez attributes the lead-up to Ecuador’s violent new reality to three factors:

  • Ecuador’s gradual transition into a position of high importance in the international drug trade.
  • The prison system crisis and the government’s incapacity to address it.
  • The fragmentation of Ecuadorian criminal groups after the demobilization of Colombia’s FARC and the decline of Los Choneros, a criminal group with former hegemonic control.

Gonzalez describes the state of emergency as “a band-aid solution to control the situation now, but not looking really to tackle these structural problems.”

Walsh describes Ecuador’s case as a “wake up call” to the consequences of the drug war prohibitionist approach: “This isn’t just a drug policy question. This is a question about democracies delivering on the basic needs of their citizens, which is security. And I think prohibition in the drug war doesn’t support security. It tends to undermine it.” John calls on the international community to recognize this as a humanitarian issue as well, indicating that “people are basically held hostage. Not in their house, but in their whole community.

Download the podcast .mp3 file here. Listen to WOLA’s Latin America Today podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. The main feed is here.

Daily Border Links: February 20, 2024

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Axios reported that as President Joe Biden prepares for his March 7 State of the Union address, “one bold move” he has considered “is an executive order that would dramatically stanch the record flow of migrants into the Southwest. This could even happen in the two weeks before the address.” The article offered no further details about what such an executive order might contain, nor is it clear what Biden could do within existing law to “stanch” arrivals of asylum seekers.

54,547 people have crossed the Darién Gap into Panama so far this year, according to a statement from the country’s security ministry. Minister Juan Manuel Pino predicts that migration through the Darién in 2024 will exceed the 520,000 who passed through the treacherous region last year.

Pino estimated that criminal organizations in the Darién made about $820 million from smuggling migrants last year.

Panama has extended through July its so-called “Shield” campaign, the statement reads, “with a greater number of land, naval and air troops to create a greater blockade on the border with Colombia.”

A February 18 tweet from the Ministry records a larger Darién Gap figure: 59,521 migrants year-to-date. Of that total, 38,108 are citizens of Venezuela; 4,777 are from China, 4,532 are from Ecuador, and 4,033 are citizens of Haiti.

The first six weeks of 2024 saw “an important increase in the number of people irregularly entering Honduras,” most with the goal of reaching the United States, reported the UN Refugee Agency. Between January 1 and February 11, 57,202 people had entered Honduras’s southeastern border, more than double the number during the same period in 2023.

The death toll is now three from a February 15 armed attack on two vehicles carrying migrants in rural Sonora, Mexico, near the Arizona border. The victims are a child from Ecuador and two adult women, likely from Peru and Honduras.

A University of Texas at Austin poll found that 59 percent of Texas voters, including 48 percent of those identifying as Democrats, “favor making it harder for migrants to seek asylum in the United States.” Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) approval rating was 53 percent, up from 48 percent in December.

Analyses and Feature Stories

BBC Mundo told the story of a family of Venezuelan asylum seekers who flew to the organized crime-controlled border city of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico for a CBP One appointment at the Laredo port of entry. They missed their appointment because they ended up among thousands whom organized crime groups have kidnapped for ransom in Mexico’s violent border state of Tamaulipas. Now free, they haven’t been able to secure a new appointment using the app.

“There’s a lot of people in this community that are upset with how the governor is using our community as a political staging area to have this narrative that we’re being invaded,” Jessie Fuentes, who runs a Rio Grande kayak tour business in Eagle Pass, Texas, told the Border Chronicle in an audio interview.

Email 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 has a weekly Border Update, links to recent coverage of arms transfers in the region, new data about migration at the U.S.-Mexico border, and an old video of a Venezuelan colleague about whom I’m extremely worried right now. Also, links to events this week and readings from last week.

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.

Arms Transfers in the Americas: Some Links from the Past Month

Ecuador has been in a diplomatic dispute with Russia over a reported deal to send used Russian-made military equipment to the United States, in exchange for a U.S. government transfer of U.S. equipment worth $200 million. U.S. State Department official Kevin Sullivan told an Ecuadorian television interviewer that the used Russian equipment was to be transferred to Ukraine. The government of President Daniel Noboa may be backing down from the deal after Russia suspended five Ecuadorian banana exporting companies.

Beyond the possible Russian equipment exchange, U.S. aid to Ecuador announced in the past month includes:

  • construction of a new Ecuadorian Coast Guard Academy,
  • renovation of a canine veterinary clinic,
  • a renovated office for the corruption prosecution unit,
  • eight mobile border units to support an elite border task force
  • a joint National Police-Coast Guard operational unit in Guayaquil
  • digital forensics support to identify, map, and target criminal networks
  • a team to train 175 Ecuador migration officers on the use of biometrics collection
  • training of 35 members from the Ecuadorian Presidential and Vice-Presidential protective details
  • an increase in FBI advisors in-country
  • a C-130H military plane to be delivered by the end of March
  • more than 20,000 bullet proof vests
  • more than $1 million worth of critical security and emergency response equipment
  • $13 million in equipment to protect the Ecuadorian Ministry of Defense computer networks
  • $2.4 million in additional vehicles and security equipment for Ecuador’s police
  • 6 Navistar Defense 7000-MV trucks

Peru is completing an approximately US$50 million overhaul of eight Russian-built helicopters used by its army and air force and first acquired in the 1990s.

Peru‘s $27 million purchase of 10,000 Israeli Arad 7 rifles has come under scrutiny from the government’s comptroller because “a guarantee of only two years has been given, when the technical requirements demand 12 years,” La República reported.

In the waning days of Alejandro Giammattei’s administration in Guatemala, on December 12, 2023, the country’s air force received a Bell 429 GlobalRanger helicopter purchased from the U.S. government. Guatemala and the United States are discussing the purchase of two Bell 407 helicopters.

The U.S. government is donating 14 Osprea Mamba MK7 vehicles to Uruguay, which is also purchasing some additional vehicles. The announcement follows a visit to the country from U.S. Southern Command Commander Gen. Laura Richardson.

U.S. officials said that transfers to Guyana, which faces a territorial claim from Venezuela, will include aircraft, helicopters, a fleet of drones, and radar technology.

Latin America-Related Events in Washington and Online This Week

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

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

  • 12:00-1:30 at Georgetown University: Higher Education and Social Mobility in Latin America: Challenges and Opportunities (RSVP required).
  • 1:00 at Telling the Truth about the Border: A Humane Vision for Border Management (RSVP required).
  • 1:30-2:30 at the Inter-American Dialogue and online: Bernardo Arévalo’s First Month in Office and the Path Ahead for Guatemala (RSVP required).
  • 1:30-3:00 at Zoom: Presentación del cortometraje COLATERAL (México, 2024) (RSVP required).

Thursday, February 22, 2024

  • 4:00-5:00 at Georgetown University and Georgetown Americas Institute YouTube: Mexico’s 2024 Elections: What’s at Stake, What’s Next? (RSVP required).

Friday, February 23, 2024

  • 11:00-12:00 at A Brazilian Perspective on the G20: Debriefing the First Ministerial Meeting (RSVP required).

Daily Border Links: February 19, 2024

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Salon obtained CBP’s still-unreleased report on unidentified migrant remains found in fiscal year 2022. It reports a record 895 known migrant deaths that year. Humanitarian workers say that this is a significant undercount.

Heavily armed men attacked vehicles carrying migrants late last Thursday night in Sonora, Mexico, near the Arizona border. They killed a 4-year-old Ecuadorian boy and injured 10 others.

Heavy rainfall has turned outdoor migrant tent shelters in Reynosa and Matamoros, across from McAllen and Brownsville, Texas, into seas of mud, reported Border Report.

A Government Accountability Project whistleblower complaint alleges that CBP’s chief medical officer, Dr. Alexander Eastman, pressured his staff to order “fentanyl lollipops” to bring along on a September trip to the United Nations, and secured narcotics for a friend who is a pilot in CBP’s Air and Marine Operations division. The Chief Medical Officers office and its contractor, Loyal Source Services, have been under fire for alleged negligence leading to the May 2023 death of a Honduran-Panamanian girl at a south Texas Border Patrol station.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced the construction of an 80-acre state National Guard forward operating base near Eagle Pass. It will be able to house between 1,800 and 2,300 soldiers.

Now that Mexican national guardsmen have set up a camp near a break in the border wall where asylum seekers frequently crossed near Jacumba Springs, California, they “are now crossing the border at another spot four miles east,” CBS News reported.

The San Diego and Tijuana-based legal group Al Otro Lado filed a lawsuit against CBP for records surrounding the January 2023 in-custody death of Cuban migrant Idania Osorio Dominguez. Ms. Osorio’s daughter “first learned of her mother’s death through a press release on CBP’s website after weeks of attempting to get answers from the agency regarding her mother’s whereabouts.”

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas discussed migration with Guatemala’s new president, Bernardo Arévalo, at the Munich Security Conference.

Analyses and Feature Stories

In Tijuana, several shelters have faced direct attacks and threats from criminal groups, forcing closures and increased security measures, according to Global Sisters Report.

The New Yorker’s Jonathan Blitzer published an 8,000-word profile and interview with DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who was impeached last week by House of Representatives Republicans who disapprove of his, and the Biden administration’s, approach to border security and migration.

The New York Times’s Eli Saslow visited Arizona borderland ranchers Jim and Sue Chilton, whose remote desert land, long traversed by smugglers and migrants seeking to avoid detection, has now become a destination for asylum seekers, many of them families, from numerous countries.

At the Progressive, Jeff Abbott reported on Guatemala’s decision to dissolve its national police force’s border unit, DIPAFRONT, amid widespread accusations that its members extort migrants to allow them to keep going north. Abbott noted that DIPAFRONT members have received training funded by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement.

“Washington’s failure to oversee where migrants go after entering the U.S. is causing particular pain to New York—and not just because the city has received the largest number of migrants from Texas buses,” wrote Jerusalem Demsas at the Atlantic, but “for political reasons, the Biden administration has abdicated its responsibility to coordinate where asylees from the southwestern border end up.”

PolitiFact published an explainer about migrant encounters at the border and the asylum process.

On the Right

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: February 16, 2024

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.

Support ad-free, paywall-free Weekly Border Updates. Your donation to WOLA is crucial to sustain this effort. Please contribute now and support our work.


After migration at the U.S.-Mexico border reached a record high in December, new CBP data showed January to be the third-quietest month at the U.S.-Mexico border of the Biden administration’s 36 full months. Border Patrol apprehensions dropped 50 percent in a single month, the sharpest single-month drop in over 24 years of data. Reasons appear to include rumors circulating among migrants, seasonal patterns, and a crackdown by Mexican government forces. An increasing share of migrants are coming to Arizona and California.

After the February 7 failure of negotiated bill language restricting migrants’ access to asylum, the Senate approved a Ukraine, Israel, and other foreign aid funding bill without that language, or any other border and migration-related content. That bill now goes to the Republican-majority House, whose leadership opposes bringing it to debate because it does not harden the border or restrict migration. Democrats are seeking to take advantage of the “border deal’s” failure to shore up their position on border and migration issues as the 2024 campaign gets underway, even though doing so risks normalizing the idea of blocking most asylum seekers’ right to seek protection.

After failing to win enough votes to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last week, House Republican leaders’ second try succeeded by a single vote on February 13. The impeachment, arguing that Mayorkas’s handling of the border and migration constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors,” now goes to the Democratic-majority Senate, where a conviction is all but impossible and even a full-blown trial is very unlikely.


Read More

Daily Border Links: February 16, 2024

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The House of Representatives is out of session until February 28, but while members are away we can expect discussion of a group of centrist Republicans’ and Democrats’ proposal that includes new restrictions on the right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) and leadership of the House’s slim Republican majority are refusing to consider a package of Ukraine, Israel, and other aid that the Senate passed on February 12, because it does not include the hard-line border restrictions they have been demanding. Instead, ten members of the House, five from each party, are proposing an alternative bill (text/summary from Punchbowl News).

The bill restores foreign aid similar to what is in the Senate bill, but includes some controversial border provisions:

  • A one-year DHS authority to shut the border to all undocumented migrants without regard to asylum needs, presumably requiring expulsion to Mexico;
  • A one-year authority to expel, into Mexico or alternative countries, all migrants deemed to be “inadmissible” who do not specifically ask for protection;
  • A higher standard of fear that asylum seekers would have to meet in screening interviews;
  • A prohibition on transporting migrants for any purpose other than adjudicating their status; and
  • A one-year restart of the “Remain in Mexico” policy.

Next steps for this bill, which has yet to be formally introduced, are not clear.

Joel Martínez, the acting deputy chief of Border Patrol, was suspended from his duties as he faces allegations of misconduct. Reports do not specify the nature of the misconduct, though Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials specified that Martínez is not under arrest.

In Austin, federal District Court Judge David Ezra heard arguments in the Biden administration’s challenge to S.B. 4, a new Texas state law, set to go into effect on March 5, making unauthorized border crossings a state crime punishable by prison. If his questioning and comments were any guide, Judge Ezra, a Reagan appointee, seemed skeptical about Texas’s defense of the law.

A report from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector-General faulted the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement for inadequately vetting sponsors or carrying out safety checks after releasing migrant children who arrived unaccompanied. Many migrant teenagers have ended up being made to work in conditions that violate child labor and worker safety standards.

Analyses and Feature Stories

According to a new Pew Research Center poll, 45 percent of U.S. respondents view the large number of migrants arriving at the border to be a “crisis.” Another 32 percent regard it to be a “major problem.” 80 percent believed that the federal government is doing a “bad job” of dealing with the migration increase. 57 percent believe that more migration increases crime, though data do not back that up at all.

Humanitarian volunteers in Arizona “reported that Border Patrol agents in Sasabe detained and threatened them, and took pictures of their driver’s licenses” after they transported migrants from freezing conditions along the border wall to the local Border Patrol station over the weekend, Todd Miller reported at the Border Chronicle.

Texas state authorities have fenced off Shelby Park, the sprawling riverfront park along the border in Eagle Pass, stationing National Guard soldiers and usually preventing Border Patrol agents from entering. But the park’s public golf course remains open, the New York Times’s J. David Goodman reported.

On the Right

Daily Border Links: February 15, 2024

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Numerous news analyses yesterday, and a memo to colleagues from Senate Democratic “border deal” negotiator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), argue that a Democratic House candidate’s victory in a February 13 New York special election offers a “roadmap,” “playbook,” or “blueprint” for the Democratic Party to address border security and migration during the 2024 campaign cycle.

Candidate Tom Suozzi, they argue, neutralized Republican attacks and won by leaning into some of the asylum and migration restrictions and increased border policing foreseen in budget legislation that fell to Republican opposition on February 7. At the same time, Suozzi called for more legal migration pathways.

“Roses are red, violets are blue, the border deal was crushed because of you,” read an official White House tweet in the design of a Valentine’s Day message.

Advocates for human rights and immigration reform worry that the Democrats’ strategic shift may normalize the “border deal” text’s provisions denying people a chance to ask for protection on U.S. soil, as laid out in U.S. law and the Refugee Convention, and expelling them into Mexico instead.

On February 12, after the “border deal’s” failure, the Senate passed a measure to fund Ukraine, Israel, and other foreign priorities with no border or migration content included. In the House, the thin Republican majority’s leadership is refusing to bring the measure up for consideration because it now has no border language in it. Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) has called for a meeting with President Biden to discuss adding border and migration measures to the bill. The White House flatly refused.

The Huffington Post revealed internal Border Patrol emails and text messages showing agents’ continued widespread use of the slur “tonk” to refer to migrants. The agency’s management failed to curb agents’ use of a word that reportedly refers to the sound that their heavy utility flashlights make when hitting a migrant’s head.

In Mexico’s organized crime-heavy border state of Tamaulipas, Doctors Without Borders documented a 70 percent increase, from October to January, in consultations for sexual assault among the migrants the organization has treated in Matamoros and Reynosa.

At least four people died along the Caribbean coast of Panama’s Darién Gap region after a boat carrying about 25 migrants shipwrecked in rough seas.

A federal court in Austin will hear arguments today in the Biden administration’s lawsuit against Texas’s state law empowering local law enforcement to arrest and imprison migrants for improperly crossing the border. S.B. 4 will go into effect on March 5. The district judge in the case is David Ezra, a Reagan appointee who ruled months ago that Texas’s “buoy wall” in the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass was not legal.

As House Republicans’ impeachment of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas heads to the Senate, the New York Times reported that the Democratic-majority chamber, which is certain to acquit Mayorkas, will pursue a fast, truncated, low-profile process. At Just Security four legal scholars offered a roadmap for how the Senate could quickly dismiss the Mayoras case.

Rep. Mark Green (R-Tennessee), who as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee managed the Mayorkas impeachment, announced that he will not seek re-election this year.

The migration authority director of Guatemala, which inaugurated a new government last month, is paying a visit to the United States. The Guatemalan Migration Institute’s (IGM) Stuard Rodríguez met with Assistant Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner for International Affairs James Collins and will visit a CBP detention facility and operations center in Tucson, Arizona.

Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas), whose district encompasses hundreds of miles of rural west Texas border, alleged in Newsweek that migration declined in January because “the cartels are trying to carry the Biden administration” and Mexico’s government for “a couple rounds” as elections approach in both countries.

Daily Border Links: February 14, 2024

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Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released data about its encounters with migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in January. The numbers showed a 50 percent drop in Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants from December, which had set a record for the most migration in a single month. (50 percent is the steepest one-month drop in apprehensions that we’ve seen in more than 24 years of monthly data going back to October 1999.)

In particular, Border Patrol’s apprehensions of Venezuelan citizens between the ports of entry dropped 91 percent. Venezuela fell from the number-two nationality of apprehended migrants in December to number seven in January.

Possible reasons for the decline include false rumors urging people to cross in December before the border “closed” at the end of the year; seasonal patterns; and the Mexican government’s stepped-up migration enforcement.

NewsNation visited an example of Mexico’s new efforts to block northbound migrants, a military and National Guard “command center” across from Jacumba Hot Springs, California, where large numbers of asylum seekers have been crossing to turn themselves in to Border Patrol.

After failing by one vote last Wednesday, the House of Representatives’ Republican majority succeeded, again by one vote, in impeaching Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

While the Democratic-majority Senate is certain not to convict and may not even hold something resembling a “trial,” this is the second-ever impeachment of a cabinet official in U.S. history and the first since 1876. All but three Republicans agreed that Mayorkas’s management of the border constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors”; all Democrats voted “no.”

The vote outcome changed because Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) returned after receiving cancer treatments, and Rep. Judy Chu (D-California) contracted COVID and could not be present to vote.

Border security and immigration were the number-one issue of contention in a special congressional election in New York to replace expelled Rep. George Santos (R). Constant attacks seeking to tie him to President Joe Biden’s border and migration policies failed to prevent Tom Suozzi from winning by at least seven percentage points. The House now has 219 Republicans and 213 Democrats.

The “borderless” foreign aid bill that passed the Senate on Monday left out Senators’ failed “border deal,” and also cut out $20 billion in border and migration money that the Biden administration had requested. Without that money the Washington Post reported, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is facing a $700 million budget deficit and may have to release thousands of detained people.

Now that the “borderless” bill has passed the Senate, House Republican leadership is vowing not to bring it to a vote because it lacks border provisions. However, Punchbowl News reported, “There’s already discussion in the House Republican Conference about attaching some border provisions to the bill,” including elements of H.R.2, the draconian bill that passed the House without a single Democratic vote last May.

The House and Senate will both be out of session next week.

Guatemala is dissolving its police force’s border unit (Dipafront), which has been tarred with widespread corruption allegations.

Guatemala also reported expelling 1,642 people into Honduras so far this year: 76 percent from Venezuela, and the rest from Haiti, Ecuador, Honduras, and Colombia.

Mexico has quietly reduced its own deportations of migrants, according to an analysis by Tonatiuh Guillén, who headed the country’s migration authority (INM) during the first months of Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s presidency.

Analyses and Feature Stories

A report from ACLU of Arizona and partner organizations detailed Border Patrol’s, and other U.S. immigration agencies’, confiscation of asylum seekers’ belongings on “hundreds” of documented occasions. Confiscated and trashed items include medications and medical devices, identification documents, religious garb and items, money, cellphones, and irreplaceable family heirlooms.

A Human Rights First fact sheet explained that Black asylum seekers, including many stranded in Mexico awaiting appointments at ports of entry, “face significant discrimination and barriers within the U.S. asylum system and encounter targeted violence and mistreatment.”

“West Texas oil billionaires continue to bankroll the chaos and xenophobic rhetoric” employed by prominent Texas Republican politicians, wrote Melissa del Bosque at the Border Chronicle.

CBP Reports that January Border Migration Dropped Sharply

Late this afternoon—right around the time House Republicans were impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas—CBP released data showing that Border Patrol’s apprehensions of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border dropped by 50 percent from December to January.

I’ve got monthly Border Patrol data going back to October 1999, and 50 percent is the steepest one-month drop of all of those 24+ years. Steeper than the first full month of the pandemic (April 2020). Steeper than the first full month after Title 42 ended (June 2023).

It’s peculiar that migration dropped so much over two months during which no policy changes were announced. I’ll repeat the most probable reasons, as laid out in WOLA’s January 26 Border Update.

  • According to a few accounts, numerous people sought to cross the U.S. border before the end of 2023 because they were misled by rumors indicating that the border would “close,” or that the CBP One app would no longer work, by year’s end.
  • Seasonal patterns are a factor: migrant apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border have fallen from December to January every year since 2014 (except for a 6 percent increase in January 2021). Rainy conditions in the Darién Gap corridor straddling Colombia and Panama, and a tendency not to migrate during Christmas, may also explain some of the reduction.
  • U.S. officials are crediting Mexico with reducing migrant arrivals by stepping up patrols, checkpoints, transfers, and deportations.

Also, while there were no policy changes, there was one under heavy discussion: the Senate “border deal” that died a quick death on February 7. The spread of vague, confusing news about impending asylum restrictions could have cooled migration more than usual last month.

Anyway, here are two charts.

Here is all migration at the border, combining people apprehended by Border Patrol and people who, mainly with appointments, showed up at land ports of entry. This is what it looks like when the heaviest month for migration on record at the U.S.-Mexico border is followed by the third-lightest month of the Biden administration’s 36 months.

Data table since FY2020

And here is just Border Patrol’s apprehensions of migrants between ports of entry. Look at Venezuela: apprehensions of Venezuelan citizens fell by 91 percent from December to January. This does seem to point to everyone feeling like they needed to cross to the United States before 2023 ended, leaving few on the Mexican side after the new year.

Data table

Daily Border Links: February 13, 2024

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The U.S. Senate passed a supplemental appropriation with foreign aid for Ukraine and Israel. This is the bill that once had Senate negotiators’ “border deal” attached to it, with new limits on the right to seek asylum at the border. The bill that cleared the Senate last night has no border content, neither new funds nor new migration limits.

The bill now goes to the Republican-majority House of Representatives, where Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) stated that he does not intend to bring it up for debate because it lacks any new border or migration restrictions.

In a colorful tweet, the Democrats’ chief Senate negotiator, Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) voiced exasperation about a new demand for border language after Senate Republicans’ “no” votes defeated the negotiators’ earlier language, for which Democrats had conceded some deep restrictions on migrant protections.

Analysts note that Ukraine aid supporters in both parties might force the bill’s consideration in the House, over the Speaker’s objections, if more than half of representatives sponsor a “discharge petition.” If it happens, an eventual House debate might involve amendments limiting asylum and other migration pathways.

The removal of border funding from the supplemental appropriations bill could leave the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with insufficient funds to manage a moment of historically high migration at the border, NBC News reported. Grants to cities receiving asylum seekers could dry up.

More Americans blame Joe Biden (49 percent) than Donald Trump (39 percent) for last week’s “border deal” failure in the Senate, according to an ABC News-Ipsos survey. Biden supported the deal while Trump actively worked to sink it.

CBS News revealed that the CBP One app has been used 64.3 million times by people inside Mexico seeking to secure one of 1,450 daily appointments at U.S.-Mexico border ports of entry. CBP launched the app’s appointment-making feature in January 2023. This obviously does not mean that 64.3 million people have sought to migrate: it reflects numerous repeat attempts.

With Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) back from receiving cancer treatments, the House of Representatives may vote again today to impeach DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. House Republicans seek to make the case that Mayorkas is mismanaging the border and that this constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors.” A vote to impeach last Wednesday failed by a 214-216 margin. If the House impeaches Mayorkas, there is no chance that the Democratic-majority Senate would muster the two-thirds vote necessary to convict him.

During winter-weather conditions near Sásabe, Arizona, humanitarian volunteers evacuated some of a group of about 400 migrants waiting to turn themselves in to Border Patrol near the border wall, bringing them to the nearby Border Patrol station for processing. Some reported that agents threatened them with arrest for smuggling undocumented people.

At the Kino Border Initiative’s shelter in Nogales, most migrants—many of them families with small children—are now from southern Mexico, especially the embattled state of Guerrero. 83 percent now say they are fleeing violence, a much larger share than before, reported Arizona Public Media.

The government of Honduras registered 38,495 migrants transiting its territory in January. Most were from Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti, Ecuador, and Guinea. Of migrants transiting Honduras surveyed by UNHCR, at least 30 percent “reported having international protection needs because they had to flee their country of origin due to violence or persecution.” 38 percent reported suffering “some form of mistreatment or abuse during their journey,” though infrequently in Honduras.

Analyses and Feature Stories

Axios published a gossip-heavy account of Biden administration infighting, name-calling, and a “winding” and “irritable” President, as officials responded ineffectively to increased migration at the border. “The idea that no one wanted to ‘own it’ came up repeatedly in interviews about the border crisis.”

“It appears that in most cases, it takes about $5,000 to travel to the U.S. border” for Chinese migrants arriving in Jacumba Springs, California, reported Japan-based Nikkei Asia. “Affluent Chinese would not choose to take such a difficult journey” via the Darién Gap, it noted. “Ordinary people are the ones who take on this danger.”

Talking to residents of El Paso, USA Today’s Lauren Villagrán found that a pledge to “shut down the border” means “something different to those who live on the border than to politicians nearly 2,000 miles away in Washington, D.C.”

The Washington Examiner posited a connection between Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) crackdown on migration and a recent drop in the border-wide share of asylum seekers and other migrants crossing into Texas.

On the Right

Rocío San Miguel, now a political prisoner, discusses politicization of Venezuela’s military in 2010

I don’t get to work on Venezuela very often, but I did get to record a conversation in 2010 with activist and civil-military relations expert Rocío San Miguel. Here’s an excerpt where we discussed the military’s politicization.

Rocío was arrested last Friday in Caracas. Authorities are accusing her of terrorism and treason, which is as horrifying as it is absurd.

Email 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 has a weekly Border Update, new data from the Darién Gap, a podcast about Guatemala’s tenuous but hopeful political moment, an interview about the border, and some links from the past month about civil-military relations in the Americas. And of course, upcoming events and some 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.

Civil-Military Relations in the Americas: Some Links from the Past Month

As part of Ecuador’s crackdown on organized crime, the armed forces have intervened in 17 prisons, with troops still present in 10 of them.

Troops are also stationed along highways, at airports, and at 10 Pacific seaports.

In coming months, Ecuadorians will vote on this referendum question: “Do you agree with allowing the complementary support of the Armed Forces in the functions of the National Police to combat organized crime, partially reforming the Constitution?”

After his tumultuous January 14 swearing-in, Guatemala’s reformist president, Bernardo Arévalo, swore in a new high command and paid respectful visits to the country’s Army and Navy. Arévalo, who as an academic had published at least seven books about security and Guatemala’s army, said that the Army will continue in its role of supporting civilian security forces against organized crime.

The Arévalo government promoted four female army officers to command positions in non-combat units.

In Argentina, new president Javier Milei followed the December firing of 22 Army generals with the forced retirement of 16 Navy admirals—more than half of all officers of that rank.

Milei’s budget cuts include nonpayment of installments of a previously promised raise for military officers. Under current pay scales, Pagina12 reported, an army general earns about US$350 per month less than a police commissioner.

Security Minister Patricia Bullrich said that the Milei government is working on a plan to deepen the armed forces’ support for police in border security and fighting organized crime. Since its transition to democracy, Argentina has been reluctant to give the military new internal civilian security roles.

Mexico’s Supreme Court had ruled last year that, contrary to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s wishes, the country’s new National Guard must not remain under the command of its defense ministry (SEDENA). López Obrador called two of the justices “traitors.”

As of January 1, the Guard was to come under the security ministry (SSPC). A January 6, 2024 document circulated to guardsmen challenged the Court, stating that while the National Guard is under the SSPC’s “operational” command, it remains under SEDENA’s “administrative” command.

On February 5 President López Obrador submitted a series of proposed legal reforms, among them a constitutional amendment that would place the National Guard under SEDENA’s control.

A military court has now released from pre-trial detention 13 of 16 Mexican Army soldiers who allegedly carried out an extrajudicial execution of five civilians in May 2023 in Nuevo Laredo. The incident was caught on video.

Eight of thirteen Mexican military personnel allegedly linked to the 2014 forced disappearance of 43 students in Iguala, Guerrero will be released, as a federal judge lifted their pre-trial detention.

A hard-hitting report from the Guerrero-based NGO Tlachinollan documents how President López Obrador has sought to exonerate the military of the disappearance of 43 Ayotzinapa teacher’s college students, adopting and promoting the armed forces’ version of events.

Armed with sticks, stones, and machetes, residents of rural Chicomuselo, Chiapas, blocked Mexico’s military from entering their communities, demanding that the armed forces first evict organized crime from nearby areas that they already occupy. Communities in the region have been forcibly displacing to escape violent competition between Jalisco and Sinaloa cartel fighters.

In late January, the Venezuelan NGO Control Ciudadano called on the government to modify a 9-year-old decree authorizing the military to use deadly force to control demonstrations. The organization also called for due process after the late-January demotion and expulsion of 33 military personnel on allegations of “conspiracy.”

On February 9, authorities detained the organization’s director, Rocío San Miguel, in the Caracas airport. As of this writing, her whereabouts are unknown.

A judge in Colombia ruled that retired Army Col. Jorge Armando Pérez Amézquita is guilty of ordering the murder of a demobilized FARC guerrilla, Dímar Pérez, in the Catatumbo region, in a high-profile 2019 case.

Colombia’s Marines swore in their first 60 female members following three months of training.

The former commander of Chile’s armed forces, Gen. Ricardo Martínez, voiced gratitude to ex-president Sebastián Piñera for having listened to his advice and abstained from sending the military into the streets to confront protesters in 2019. “I will always be grateful to him for not having taken the Armed Forces out of it, because we were not in favor of it.” Piñera died in a helicopter crash on February 6.

Along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, federal Border Patrol agents have had their access to part of the border blocked by National Guardsmen—trained soldiers whose patches say “U.S. Army” on them, but currently at the command of Gov. Greg Abbott (R). Some are calling on President Joe Biden to “federalize” the Texas National Guard, taking them out of Abbott’s command. In an analysis, Joseph Nunn of the Brennan Center for Justice acknowledged that doing so “would certainly pass legal muster” but should be an absolute last resort.

Daily Border Links: February 12, 2024

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The Senate remains in session and continues to debate a supplemental appropriations bill that now has no border content in it. So far, procedural maneuvers and internal disputes among Republican senators have prevented the Senate from considering any border or migration-related amendments.

A Twitter thread from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) listed some of the border-hardening and migration-restriction amendments that Republican senators have proposed but been unable to get to the Senate floor. A thread from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) explained the convoluted parliamentary process that the chamber will be following over the next few days.

This process may yet provide opportunities for border amendments, though Republican proponents’ window is closing. “Feelings are running so high within the Republican conference, that Republicans have so far been unable to agree on any amendment, let alone a schedule of amendments that can accelerate the schedule,” Sen. Whitehouse noted.

The most likely outcome is that Democrats and a minority of Republicans will combine to pass a “borderless” supplemental appropriation. What happens when the bill then gets sent to the Republican-majority House of Representatives is unclear.

Panama’s authorities counted 36,001 people migrating through the treacherous Darién Gap region in January, an increase from December and much more than January 2023, but still the 4th-smallest monthly total of the last 12 months. At some point last month, the 500,000th Venezuelan migrant of the 2020s (in fact, the 500,000th just since January 2022) crossed the Darién Gap. That’s one out of every sixty Venezuelan citizens.

The University of California at San Diego’s health trauma center treated 455 patients last year who suffered serious injuries while trying to cross the border—441 of them the result of falls from the very high border wall that the Trump administration installed there. That is up from 311 wall-related injuries in 2022, 254 in 2021, 91 in 2020, and 42 in 2019.

False rumors about a year-end border closure or halt in CBP One appointments may be a key reason why migration at the U.S.-Mexico border reached record levels in December and then fell by half in January, the Washington Examiner reported.

In Ciudad Juárez, across from El Paso, a municipal human rights official told EFE that the city “is currently experiencing one of the periods with the lowest presence of migrants.” Santiago González called it “a suspicious calm” amid a possibility of migration policy changes coming from Washington.

Border Patrol processed a group of migrants who had to wait for many hours outside in a snowstorm near Sasabe, Arizona on the night of February 10.

Analyses and Feature Stories

Mexico-based Journalist Ioan Grillo published highlights of interviews with people in Piedras Negras, across from Eagle Pass, Texas. “They hunt them down and they get every peso they can from them,” the nun who runs the Casa del Migrante said of the Coahuila state police force. “It’s terrible.”

Eagle Pass, a town of 30,000, is so jammed with state security personnel that room rates at the Holiday Inn Express have risen to more than $250 per night, the Dallas Morning News reported.

The notion that migrants supply the United States with fentanyl is false, explained an Austin American-Statesman fact check. The story is “a classic example of what we call dangerous speech: language that inspires fear and violence by describing another group of people as an existential threat,” wrote Catherine Buerger and Susan Benesch at the Los Angeles Times.

An editorial in Guatemala’s Prensa Libre newspaper called on the country’s new government to carry out a purge of the national police force’s corruption-riven border unit (Dipafront), which regularly shakes down migrants for cash.

The Washington Post published a dozen charts illustrating migration trends at the border during the Trump and Biden administrations.

Many statistics about regional migration trends, causes, and migrant deaths are in the International Organization for Migration’s latest quarterly Tendencias Migratorias en las Américas report.

Much punditry covered expectations that the Democratic Party will take advantage of last week’s collapse of a Senate border deal to turn the border security and migration narrative against Republicans in the upcoming election campaign.

On the Right

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