U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released two notices this week about fatal incidents involving Border Patrol. Anadith Tanay Reyes Álvarez died on May 17, her 9th day in Border Patrol custody in Texas. Her mother said her appeals for medical assistance did not get a timely response. On the evening of the 18th, agents shot a 58-year-old member of the Tohono O’odham nation multiple times in southern Arizona. The shooting was captured on agents’ body-worn cameras.
Even as post-Title 42 migrant arrivals slow at the U.S.-Mexico border, the picture inside Mexico is confusing. Mexican authorities have temporarily closed some migrant detention centers while moving migrants from its northern and southern border zones to the nation’s interior. In Mexico City, the closure of a municipal shelter has left hundreds of migrants occupying a park near the offices of the government’s refugee agency.
April 2023 was the third-heaviest month ever for migrants transiting the Darién Gap, a treacherous jungle region straddling Colombia and Panama. 63 percent were from Venezuela. As the U.S., Colombian, and Panamanian governments carry out a “60-day surge campaign” launched April 20, senior Biden administration officials are considering sending U.S. military personnel.
Documents obtained by CBS News show more than 1.5 million people in the United States have signed up to sponsor migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, for a new humanitarian parole program that accepts 30,000 people per month. The largest number of applications are for Haitians.
The Full Update
CBP reports two fatal incidents involving Border Patrol
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released two notices this week about fatal incidents involving Border Patrol: one in the agency’s custody, and one in a use of force incident.
On May 21, CBP offered some information about the May 17 death of an eight-year-old Honduran girl in a Border Patrol facility in Harlingen, Texas. Anadith Tanay Reyes Álvarez died—possibly of influenza, though medical examiners have not yet issued a finding—on her family’s ninth day in custody. Her parents had provided documents to Border Patrol showing she suffered from a heart condition and sickle cell anemia.
The family had turned themselves in to Border Patrol in Texas on May 9, two days before the Title 42 pandemic expulsion policy came to an end, a time when Border Patrol was apprehending more than 10,000 people per day. This may have prolonged the family’s time in custody, although the Associated Press reported that by May 14, the average time in custody border-wide had fallen to 77 hours while the rate of new apprehensions dropped rapidly. Under normal circumstances, migrants are meant to spend no more than 72 hours in Border Patrol’s austere holding facilities.
The days after May 11, when the Title 42 policy came to an end, saw migration at the border reduce by more than half from a week earlier. Migrants and smugglers, unclear about the implications of new Biden administration limits on asylum, appear to be in “wait and see” mode, while Mexico and other countries have increased their security-force presence along the migration route. Some indicators point to the lull being temporary.
CBP reported a 10 percent increase in the number of migrants encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border from March to April. Much of the increase was due to citizens of Venezuela, who appeared to face a lower probability of Title 42 expulsion into Mexico than in prior months. CBP gave asylum seekers an average of 743 “CBP One” appointments per day at ports of entry.
Despite a lack of government reporting, a reading of CBP port-of-entry arrival data seems to indicate that Haiti is the nationality that has most frequently gained humanitarian parole into the United States, under a recently launched Biden administration program for four countries, in March and April. Haitian parolees are followed by citizens of Cuba, Venezuela (whose numbers are declining), and Nicaragua.
San Diego-area advocates filed a strongly worded, vividly illustrated complaint with DHS about Border Patrol’s recent practice of leaving asylum seekers to wait for days—with minimal food, water, shelter, or medical attention—between the border wall’s two layers.
Migration declines in the days after Title 42’s end
In the four days leading up to May 11, the final day of the Title 42 pandemic expulsion authority, the number of migrants whom U.S. authorities encountered at the border averaged 10,100 per day. After May 11, amid uncertainty about how the Biden administration would carry out its new restrictions on access to asylum, unauthorized entries at the border dropped 56 percent, to 4,400 per day.
The numbers come from Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Border and Immigration Policy Blas Nuñez Neto, who told reporters on May 17 that they include a 98% drop in the number of Venezuelan migrants ending up in Border Patrol custody. (As noted below, Venezuelan migrant encounters between ports of entry had leapt upward in April.)
“At Gate 42 of the border wall with El Paso, the number of migrants arriving has dwindled since Friday,” the New York Timesreported. The Washington Postreported that 21,000 migrants were in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody on May 15, “down about 30 percent from last week’s peak.” This is despite a Florida federal judge’s temporary restraining order prohibiting CBP from releasing migrants without notices to appear, a faster process used during times of overcrowding.
Nuñez Neto attributed the drop to “the consequences that we have strengthened and put in place for unlawful entry.” These include the Biden administration’s new rule mostly banning asylum for non-Mexicans who fail to make an appointment or be rejected for asylum in at least one other country, as well as expanded use of “expedited removal” procedures forcing asylum seekers to defend their cases within days. Among reasons for the decline in migration, Nuñez Neto also cited new legal pathways for some migrants, like humanitarian parole and the CBP One smartphone app, as well as “the actions of our foreign partners”—especially increased deployments of security forces in Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, and Colombia.
Nuñez Neto said on May 15 that the U.S. government had already deported 2,400 people under the new “transit ban” rule, most of them Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans—but also some Mexicans—back across the border into Mexico. Mexico, in turn, has begun transporting these deportees to its southernmost states, away from the U.S. border. A tweet from CBP praised a Mexican government flight that transported Venezuelan migrants from Reynosa, across from Texas, to “interior parts of Mexico.”
Mexico also deployed 690 more members of its armed forces and National Guard—for a total of 26,535—to its northern and southern borders. State police forces in border states like Chihuahua also increased their presence.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official warned that “it is still too early to draw any definitive conclusions” about migration patterns. A key cause of the post-May 11 drop is a temporary condition: migrants’ confusion about the administration’s new policies.
As WOLA explained in a column published by MSNBC, the drop owes in large part to migrants, and smugglers, adopting a “wait and see” stance as the administration rolls out its new measures. “It’s not surprising that migrants who’ve reached Mexico are pausing before taking a leap into the unknown,” we wrote, noting that past “wait and see” moments brought sharp reductions in migration in 2014, 2017, and 2020, only to be followed soon after by increases. Something similar is likely to happen in the coming months.
Social media—which often includes a heavy dose of misinformation—plays a greater role than ever in migrants’ “wait and see” calculations. They “have increasingly turned to TikTok, Facebook, YouTube and other social media sites not just for the comfort of family contact but also for updates on the policy change and how it might affect them,” Marisa Gerber reported at the Los Angeles Times. “The hashtag #titulo42 was viewed more than 109 million times on TikTok by Friday afternoon,” the Washington Postreported.
In Mexico’s border cities, shelters appear to be emptier: at about 40 percent capacity, perhaps, in Ciudad Juárez. Evidence that the drop in migration may be fleeting, however, comes from areas further south in Mexico and elsewhere along the northbound route, where numbers remain high. UNHCR Mexico tweeted its concern on May 17 about migrant shelters in the country’s south, which are reaching capacity. “In addition to the people arriving from the south, some shelters have already received Venezuelans deported from the United States, who have no information about their process, and face a lack of reception capacity in Mexico and uncertainty about their legal (or migratory) status.”
A consular official cited in Mexico’s La Jornada reported “a lot of people entering through the border between Guatemala and Honduras” on May 12. “There we saw the International Red Cross, UNHCR and IOM, with camps. There is a lot of movement of people. The city of Esquipulas [Guatemala]… was full of people going north.”
Migration increased slightly in April, Title 42’s last full month
CBP reported on May 17 that the agency encountered 211,401 migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in April, the last full month of the Title 42 policy. That is the 9th-largest monthly total of the Biden administration’s 27 months, and a 10 percent increase over March (191,956).
Some of that increase is seasonal. The milder spring months are often the busiest of the year for migration at the border. Two thirds of April’s encounters were with single adults, whose numbers increased 5 percent over March. People arriving as family units increased 28 percent, while unaccompanied children decreased 7 percent.
The new border rules are strict and complicated. How much harder it will be to apply for asylum and what happens to people after they’re rejected remain very unclear. It’s not surprising that migrants who’ve reached Mexico are pausing before taking a leap into the unknown.
What a week last week was. I was just back from Honduras, I had an all-day staff planning retreat Wednesday, and I drove from Washington to Massachusetts and back on Thursday and Friday, as my daughter finished her first year of college.
And, oh yes, Title 42 ended on May 11th.
Things were so busy that, while I managed to write this commentary for WOLA’s site as fast as I could type it, I never actually posted a link to it here, at my personal site.
A week later, this piece has almost exactly 40,000 “unique pageviews” and about twice that many “pageviews,” according to WOLA’s Google Analytics account. That definitely breaks my career record, at least for writings where I’ve seen the stats.
May 11 is the final day for the Trump and Biden administrations’ “Title 42” policy, which undid the basic right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border for 38 months.
Now, 2.8 million migrant expulsions later, the U.S. government is reverting to immigration law as it existed before the world went into lockdown. But as it does so, the Biden administration is adding a new limitation on asylum that, with Mexico’s cooperation, promises to continue the pandemic-era practice of sending asylum seekers away from the United States, placing many in danger.
Media coverage is anticipating a wave of migration at the border, with headlines proclaiming that officials are “bracing for an influx.” Legislators are seeking new ways to block asylum seekers, citing “chaos.” Such concerns are misplaced.
Migration will increase, just as it did before each of Title 42’s earlier, abortive expiration dates. But the post-May 11 increase is likely to be neither giant nor long-lasting. After all, Title 42 hardly deterred migration in the first place: it’s at or near record levels already, right now. And the Biden administration is working, with the Mexican government’s collaboration, to keep asylum out of reach to an extent that may resemble what we’ve already seen over the past 38 months.
Instead of a “migrant wave,” we should be concerned about:
A questionably legal “asylum transit ban” rule, about to go into effect, that could endanger many thousands of people who, though on U.S. soil, will be denied the legal right to seek protection. It’s not yet clear which nationalities, and which demographics, of migrants would be sent back into Mexico without that right. But if fully implemented, this rule would put asylum out of reach to an extent recalling what we saw during Title 42.
A worsening crisis of stranded migrants in Mexico’s border cities, resulting from the López Obrador government’s agreement to take back asylum seekers whom the U.S. government rejects, often without giving them a hearing.
A humanitarian crisis along the migration route, as new nationalities try to traverse treacherous regions like the Darién Gap.
The continued dysfunction of the U.S. asylum system, and the fragility of the tattered patchwork of alternative pathways to legal entry into the United States.
The situation at the border after May 11 may, for a time, appear disorderly. But it already has been, and it was before the pandemic began. If anything, Title 42’s lifting will make plain the need to reform our immigration system and align it with reality. And it will highlight the U.S. political system’s frustrating paralysis in the face of that challenge.
This talking point about a “95% drop in border migrant encounters from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela” is problematic.
Why? Let’s examine encounters along the migration route, from north to south.
Here’s where the 95% comes from.
US Border Patrol’s apprehensions of these 4 countries’ migrants really did drop steeply from December—after Mexico agreed to accept Title 42 expulsions of these nationalities, and once a “humanitarian parole” option opened up for some of them.
But there’s no 95% drop anywhere else along the migration route, where people fleeing those countries have become stranded.
Since December, Mexico’s encounters with these 4 countries’ migrants are only down 42%.
Since December, Honduras’s encounters with Cuban, Haitian, and Venezuelan migrants are up 10%.
(Nicaraguan citizens don’t need passports to be in Honduras, and thus don’t end up in Honduras’s count of “irregular” or “undocumented” migrants.)
Since December, in Panama’s Darién Gap, migration from Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela is up 250% (though down 57% from a high in October, before Mexico started accepting expulsions of Venezuelan migrants).
The upshot: migration from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela may be down sharply at the US-Mexico border, due to aggressive Title 42 expulsions.
But the expulsions have absolutely not deterred these nations’ citizens from migrating. They’re still fleeing—but they’re stranded.
This is a quick reaction—and discussion of solutions—with my colleagues Maureen Meyer, Joy Olson, and Ana Lucía Verduzco, who were with me over the past few days to witness a mounting humanitarian crisis.
This podcast was recorded in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where WOLA staff are on a field visit to research migration. Four current and former WOLA staff members—Adam Isacson, Maureen Meyer, Ana Lucia Verduzco, and Joy Olson—visited the Honduras-Nicaragua border region over the April 29-30 weekend.
While there, we saw—and spoke with—migrants who had just entered the country from the south, after a harrowing journey through Panama’s Darién Gap and a hostile reception in Nicaragua. We found:
Hundreds of people, from numerous countries, out in sweltering heat. Many were traveling as families, often with small children.
People waiting to obtain documents that would allow them to take an expensive day-long bus ride onward to Guatemala.
Aid workers—from the Honduran government, humanitarian organizations, and local civil society—doing their best to manage the situation and minimize harm. But struggling to do so with very limited resources.
A Honduran policy that refuses to detain or deport migrants in nearly all cases: a recognition of reality that has reduced the reach of organized crime.
Migrants regarding Honduras as one of the less arduous stretches of the U.S.-bound migrant route. Honduras is in a “sandwich” between harsher policies in Nicaragua and Guatemala.
A wide variety in migrants’ knowledge of what lies ahead, from the dangers of the journey, to the requirements for asylum, to the U.S. government’s confusing and ever-changing policies, pathways, and obstacles, like the “Title 42” expulsion policy that is expected to end on May 11, 2023.
Overall, we can’t help but conclude:
Nobody should have to go through this. What we saw is as severe as one would expect to see from people fleeing an armed conflict. People aren’t fleeing what would be defined as a “conflict”—they are fleeing a 21st century phenomenon of their countries becoming unlivable for a combination of reasons. What we witnessed is the result of governance failures in the region, antiquated migration policies in the United States, and a failure to cooperate and communicate all along the migration route.
Because of this, we’re not going to be able to deter our way out of this. Threatening ever harsher obstacles has failed in the past, it will fail now, and it will carry a terrible human toll.
But until we see fundamental change to U.S. migration policy, and to the conditions forcing people to leave, our communities and the migrants alike will be stuck with a patchwork of partial pathways to legal migration: from asylum to humanitarian parole to partial, inconsistent temporary worker and refugee programs.
Considering the magnitude of the crisis we witnessed at the Honduras-Nicaragua border, today’s measures are all woefully partial, and no substitute for real reform.
Hello from Tegucigalpa. We’re just back from a couple of days in the Honduras-Nicaragua border zone, in the department of El Paraíso. An extraordinary number of migrants are passing through this zone right now, most of them after passing through the Darién Gap and Nicaragua.
Biden administration officials might view this chart as evidence of “policy success.”
Combining Title 42 expulsions, “CBP One” appointments, and humanitarian parole brought a 95% decrease in Border Patrol’s encounters with Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan migrants since December, and a 50% increase in the much smaller number of those able to come to ports of entry.
But a lot of the people who were in those tall green columns—many of whom may have valid asylum claims—remain in Mexican border cities. Stranded. More are coming, but since they’re not crossing the border from Mexico, this chart doesn’t show them.
Forty of these stranded people died in a fire a month ago in Ciudad Juárez. Now, in the past couple of days, 2,000 living in miserable tents in Matamoros have come under attack. The Associated Press reports:
About two dozen makeshift tents were set ablaze and destroyed at a migrant camp across the border from Texas this week, witnesses said Friday, a sign of the extreme risk that comes with being stuck in Mexico as the Biden administration increasingly relies on that country to host people fleeing poverty and violence.
The fires were set Wednesday and Thursday at the sprawling camp of about 2,000 people, most of them from Venezuela, Haiti and Mexico, in Matamoros, a city near Brownsville, Texas. An advocate for migrants said they had been doused with gasoline.
The entire Western Hemisphere is in a moment of mass migration, as the Migration Policy Institute reminded us in a feature published last week. “The number of migrants living in the region nearly doubled from 8.3 million in 2010 to 16.3 million in 2022… Notably, much of the migration has been between countries within the region,” not to the United States.
A region-wide crisis demands that the Biden administration further expand its ability to process and fairly adjudicate this increased number of protection claims. At a time of historically low unemployment, it also requires creating more legal pathways to migration.
Right now, that can mean adjusting policies that are already in place.
The number of “CBP One” appointments for asylum applicants at U.S.-Mexico border ports of entry, which reached 764 per day in March, needs to increase substantially to keep up with the demand in Mexican border cities, where each day’s allotment of appointments runs out in minutes.
The administration’s “humanitarian parole” program must loosen its passport and U.S.-based sponsor requirements, which exclude people lacking connections, who are often the most vulnerable.
Without changes like these, Mexican border cities are going to continue filling up. We’ll see more tragedies, more attacks, more bridge closures as large groups of people gather after being misled by misinformation.
The people in this chart’s tall green columns aren’t going anywhere. Most have nowhere else to go. The pressure is going to keep building.
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.
Due to upcoming staff field research travel, WOLA will not produce Border Updates on April 28 and May 5. Updates will resume on May 12.
March data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) found that migration at the U.S.-Mexico border increased by 23 percent over February. Some of the principal increases came from nationalities in South America and beyond the Western Hemisphere.
With the Title 42 order approaching a possible May 11 end, Mexican border cities are seeing increasing migrant arrivals and the Biden administration is preparing to roll out new restrictions on access to asylum at the border.
Details have yet to emerge about a two-month plan, agreed by the governments of the United States, Colombia, and Panama, to curtail migrant smuggling through the treacherous Darién Gap region.
The U.S. Congress held six committee hearings relevant to border issues this week, while Republican legislators conveyed plans to impeach Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over the situation at the border. The House Judiciary Committee passed a hard-line border and migration bill that may not even have enough Republican votes to pass the House, much less the Democratic-majority Senate.
Migrant encounters rise 23 percent from February to March
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released data on April 17 about its “encounters” (regular apprehensions and Title 42 expulsions) with undocumented migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border during March 2023. It revealed that CBP and its Border Patrol component encountered migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border 23 percent more often in March than in February.
Combining migrants taken into Border Patrol custody between land ports of entry (POEs, or border crossings), with migrants who came to the POEs, CBP counted 191,900 encounters with migrants in March, up from 156,138 in February. “Of these,” CBP reported, “single adult encounters increased by 19 percent compared to February, unaccompanied children increased 14 percent, and family unit individuals increased by 38 percent.”
Migrants whom Border Patrol itself encountered, between the POEs, totaled 162,317, up 25 percent from 130,024 in February. CBP pointed out that, though this is an increase, the March total was 23 percent smaller than in March 2022 (211,181) and 4 percent smaller than March 2021 (169,216).
This was the first month-to-month increase in migration since December. In January, the Biden administration and Mexico’s government expanded the number of nationalities whose citizens could be expelled into Mexico under the Title 42 pandemic authority; this caused a sharp drop in migration that month, which is now reversing.
U.S. border authorities used the Title 42 authority 87,661 times in March to expel migrants, usually into Mexico. That was the largest expulsion total, and the second-largest expulsion percentage (46 percent), since June 2022.
Much of the monthly increase owed to seasonal patterns, as March is usually a busier month at the border due to milder weather. The number of migrants increased for most nationalities from February to March, with Mexico, Colombia, India, Venezuela, and Peru all measuring increases of 2,500 or more.
For the first time, Colombia was the number two nationality of migrants encountered at the border. Citizens of Peru, who like Colombians are not subject to Title 42 expulsion into Mexico, rose to fifth place.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released data this evening about its “encounters” (regular apprehensions and Title 42 expulsions) with undocumented migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border during March. Here are a few graphics illustrating key trends.
With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. See past weekly updateshere.
Due to staff travel, we are publishing this week’s Border Update in an abbreviated format.
Biden administration to begin rolling out express asylum screenings
The Biden administration is rolling out, on a pilot basis, a promised program to make asylum-seeking migrants defend their cases within days of their apprehension, while still in CBP’s or Border Patrol’s austere custody conditions, in “credible fear” screening interviews conducted over telephones with asylum officers.
Critics (like the American Immigration Council’s Dara Lind, whose analysis called it “phone booth asylum”) point out that this “expedited removal” process resembles two programs—Prompt Asylum Claim Review (PACR) and Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (HARP)—that the Trump administration had employed. About 75 percent of migrants subject to these programs failed credible fear interviews; under normal conditions, about 75 percent pass. President Biden had terminated PACR and HARP upon assuming the presidency in January 2021.
Asylum officers, who would carry out these credible fear interviews, voiced dismay to CNN. “At this point, I can’t tell the difference between Biden immigration policy and Trump immigration policy,” one said.
The administration is meanwhile pausing its slow rollout of a mid-2022 rule designed to speed the asylum process, the Los Angeles Timesrevealed. Officials said “the pause is a temporary measure designed to ensure that the country’s immigration agencies are prepared for a potential increase in border crossings after the end of Title 42,” the pandemic expulsion authority slated to terminate on May 11. It is possible that many asylum officers assigned to this 2022 process are about to be instead carrying out “expedited removal” credible fear interviews.
Darién Gap migration increases 55 percent from February to March; majority of migrants are Venezuelan
New data from Panama’s government show that in March, 55 percent of migrants toiling through Panama’s notoriously dangerous Darién Gap region—671 people per day—were citizens of Venezuela. This is despite the Biden administration’s use, since October 2022, of the Title 42 expulsion authority to send Venezuelan migrants back to Mexico.
Overall migration through the Darién Gap increased by 55 percent, from 24,657 people (881 per day)in February to 38,099 people (1,229 per day) in March.
The top 10 nationalities of migrants in the Darién Gap in March 2023 were:
Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile, mostly children of Haitians) 8,335
The top 10 nationalities of migrants in the Darién Gap since January 2022 were:
Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 55,498
Dominican Republic 2,729
Top U.S., Colombian, and Panamanian officials pledge a strategy in the Darién region
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. Southern Command Commander Gen. Laura Richardson, and USAID Administrator Samantha Power paid an April 11 visit to Panama, to meet with Colombian and Panamanian counterparts. The situation in the Darién Gap was the central subject.
The three countries agreed “to carry out a two-month coordinated campaign to address the serious humanitarian situation in the Darién.” One of this campaign’s goals is to “end the illicit movement of people and goods through the Darién by both land and maritime corridors.” The governments’ statement does not specify the measures they will take to achieve this strikingly ambitious goal.
Mexico’s migration agency leadership under criminal investigation for Ciudad Juárez detention facility tragedy
Mexico’s National Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) has announced charges and arrests of leaders of Mexico’s migration agency (Instituto Nacional de Migración, INM) for their responsibility for the deaths of 40 migrants locked inside an INM provisional detention center, in Ciudad Juárez on March 27. (See WOLA’s March 30 and April 6 Border Updates.) Those who will face charges include the INM’s director, Francisco Garduño. Garduño meets frequently with U.S. counterparts, and the INM receives significant amounts of U.S. training and other assistance.
Before this week, Mexican prosecutors had been seeking charges only against three low-level INM employees in Ciudad Juárez, along with a private security guard and a migrant accused of igniting the fire.
VICEreported on April 6 that the Ciudad Juárez detention facility had operated as a sort of “extortion center” where INM personnel held migrants until they paid $200 bribes.
Alejandro Solalinde, a priest who has long run a migrant shelter in Oaxaca, met with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Solalinde, a vocal López Obrador supporter, has been dropping hints about the INM’s possible replacement with a new “National Commission for Migratory and Foreigners’ Affairs.”
Garduño, the current INM director, would not be a part of this new body, which is still pending López Obrador’s approval. López Obrazor has defended Garduño and said he will remain in his post for now.
Mexico’s government began repatriatingremains of the tragedy’s victims to Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. WOLA has not seen reporting mentioning repatriation of victims to Venezuela.
Misinformation and inability to secure “CBP One” appointments lead migrants to gather, again, at Juárez-El Paso border crossing
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) closed the Paso del Norte bridge between Ciudad Juárez and El Paso for nearly three hours on April 10, after a few hundred migrants unable to secure asylum appointments with the “CBP One” app gathered near the Mexican side of the bridge.
CBS Newsreported that migrants have used the app to secure over 60,000 asylum appointments since its mid-January launch. Border Report, citing Tijuana migration official Enrique Lucero, found that Russians are by far the nationality that has had the most success in obtaining CBP One appointments at San Diego’s port of entry. “6,645 Russians have landed” CBP One asylum appointments, Lucero stated, along with “2,700 Haitians, 1,864 Mexicans and 1,844 Venezuelans.” The official said Russians have been more successful because they tend to “have better phones and can connect faster to the internet.”
The El Paso Timesvisited an abandoned building in Ciudad Juárez that “has become an anteroom for dozens of migrants trying daily—most without success—to use the CBP One digital application to seek asylum at the Southwest border.”
Border-wide, those stranded in Mexico and attempting to use CBP One include potentially “thousands” of citizens of Afghanistan, the Guardianreported. (Note above Afghanistan’s position among the top ten nationalities of migrants passing through the Darién Gap.)
“I didn’t see a protest at the bridge,” tweeted longtime Dallas Morning News reporter Alfredo Corchado, who was in Ciudad Juárez. “I saw hundreds of migrants congregating, looking at their cell phones, confused, misinformed.” Corchado said that migrants with whom he spoke were “lured by false social media posts, including one by Breitbart news, that [the] US is processing migrants.”
A Venezuelan migrant told Ciudad Juárez’s La Verdad, “The news was that supposedly starting April 10 they were going to do like a pilot plan in which they were going to let people in and they were going to do like a quick asylum for them.” (This may be a distorted version of the “expedited removal” pilot program discussed above, which some migrants are reportedly misconstruing as “expedited asylum.”)
Some migrants who spoke to Corchado cited an April 7 Breitbartarticle, authored by retired 32-year Border Patrol agent Randy Clark. The article claimed that Mexico was refusing Title 42 expulsions of Venezuelan citizens from Border Patrol’s sectors in El Paso and Del Rio, Texas, and that as a result, “Venezuelan nationals… will now be allowed to apply for asylum instead of being swiftly returned.” In a Twitter exchange with WOLA staff, Clark said that Border Patrol may be moving Venezuelan migrants to other sectors, where Mexico continues to accept expulsions.
The El Paso city government’s migration dashboard, which includes CBP data, shows no appreciable increase in CBP migrant encounters or releases of migrants into the city. It does, however, show sharp recent growth in the number of migrants in the custody of Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector. The cause of this increase is unclear; an inability to expel some migrants to Mexico could be an explanation.
CBP released body-worn camera footage of a March 14 incident in Arizona, a notable step for transparency. It shows a Border Patrol agent shooting and killing the apparently unarmed driver of a car, at point blank range. (Existing policy allows use of lethal force if agents or others face “an imminent threat of death or bodily injury.”)
Border Patrol agents shot and killed a man who had struck one agent with a “wooden club” on April 2 in rural New Mexico, CBP reported, citing a review of body-worn camera footage.
Volunteers leaving water, canned food, and first aid materials to prevent migrant deaths in a wilderness area east of San Diego allege that Border Patrol agents may have destroyed some of the supplies.
Among the thousands of children separated from their migrant parents by the Trump administration are “hundreds, and possibly as many as 1,000,” kids who are U.S. citizens, born in the United States, the New York Timesreported.
“Seven out of ten Central American migrants who crossed the U.S. border undocumented resorted to a guide or coyote, for an average payment of at least $4,500,” according to data from the Mexican government’s Migration Policy Unit reported by La Jornada.
Mexico sent a delegation of cabinet-level officials to Washington on April 13 to discuss measures to combat northbound fentanyl trafficking and southbound weapons trafficking. Mexican media noted a mismatch in the level of seniority of the two countries’ delegations; the only U.S. cabinet official to meet them was Attorney-General Merrick Garland.
USA Todayreported on a bill moving through the Texas state legislature that would pursue migrants using “roving police units consisting, in part, of ‘law-abiding citizens’—raising the specter of armed vigilantes confronting asylum-seekers at the border.”
During the first two months of 2023, migration continued to increase throughout the Americas, “in most borders except the United States,” which saw some decline, according to the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) April 1 Migration Trends in the Americas report.
IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, which has monitored migrant deaths worldwide since 2014, recorded 1,433 deaths of migrants in the Americas in 2022, the largest annual amount since its program began.
With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. See past weekly updateshere.
Due to staff travel, we will publish next week’s Border Update in an abbreviated format.
The death toll now stands at 40 from a March 27 fire in a Ciudad Juárez migrant detention center. Three low-ranking employees, a security guard, and a migrant have been indicted for homicide and intentional injury. The event has multiplied calls for accountability for abusive conditions in Mexico’s migrant detention system.
Mexico’s asylum system received more applications during the first quarter of 2023 than it has in the first quarter of any year. The most frequent nationality of applicants is Haiti. In January and February, citizens most frequently apprehended by Mexican migration authorities were from Ecuador and Venezuela.
About 1,200 people per day migrated through Panama’s Darién Gap region in March. Of those making the hazardous 60-mile trip, 20 percent so far this year have been children. An average of five children per day have transited through the Darién Gap unaccompanied.
Fallout from Ciudad Juárez detention center fire
WOLA’s March 31 Border Update reported a death toll of “39 or more people” from a March 27 fire in a Mexican government provisional migrant detention center in Ciudad Juárez, just over the border from El Paso, Texas. On April 3, Mexico’s public security department increased the count to 40 deaths: one of the men injured in the fire died while being flown to a hospital in Mexico City.
Not including this 40th individual, whose nationality was not reported, the fatal victims include 18 Guatemalan migrants (most from the country’s Indigenous-majority highlands), 7 Venezuelans, 6 Hondurans, 6 Salvadorans, 1 Colombian, and 1 Ecuadorian.
As of March 30, 24 migrants were hospitalized in serious or critical condition: 10 Guatemalans, 7 Hondurans, 4 Salvadorans, and 3 Venezuelans. Mexico turned down a U.S. government offer to provide medical treatment to some of the injured in the United States, arguing that they were “too ill to be moved,” the Associated Press reported. Still, Mexico has since sought to fly some to specialized treatment in Mexico City.
Troubling details about the tragedy continue to emerge. “Multiple testimonies” indicate that the facility had no emergency exits or fire extinguishers in its detention area, the daily Milenioreported. Some of the detainees had been there for several days, or even since February, though the legal maximum is 36 hours. In the United States, relatives of the victims are complaining that the Mexican government is not responding to inquiries or helping with the complicated repatriation of remains.
Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, paid a visit to Ciudad Juárez on March 31, where he said that the tragedy “hurt me a lot, it damaged me.” As the President’s white van, with him in the passenger seat, drove through Ciudad Juárez’s central square, it was detained for several minutes as mostly Venezuelan migrants surrounded the vehicle. López Obrador “opened the window and took the hand of a woman who pleaded with him as others pushed letters into his hand and cried for justicia, or justice, for the migrants,” the El Paso Timesreported. One migrant reportedly said to him, “Don’t do what the United States does,” to which he replied, “we are not the same, my love, don’t confuse us.”
A Mexican federal judge ordered the indictment, for homicide and intentional injury, of five people accused of involvement in the tragedy: three employees of Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM), one private security guard, and a Venezuelan migrant, Jeison Daniel Catarí Rivas, accused of setting fire to mattresses in protest, after guards allegedly said that the men in custody would be deported. “None of the public servants, nor the private security guards, took any action to open the door for the migrants who were inside where the fire was,” said a federal human rights prosecutor cited by the New York Times.
The INM has come under fire for the tragedy, especially after security camera footage showed personnel leaving the facility without opening the doors of a detention area filling with flames and smoke. While no source appears to have a current count, Pie de Páginareported that in 2019, INM was managing 30 detention centers throughout Mexico, plus an unknown number of provisional facilities like the one in Ciudad Juárez.
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.
A horrific tragedy at a Ciudad Juárez migrant detention center, in which 39 (so far) perished in a fire while locked inside, drew attention to the treatment that migrants in Mexican border cities are receiving as they remain stranded by new blocks on access to asylum.
Organizations and individuals submitted over 50,000 public comments on the Biden administration’s draft rule banning asylum for most non-Mexican migrants who do not seek it in other countries along the way, or who do not opt for other narrow pathways. Below are links to dozens of organizational comments.
Tragic fire in Ciudad Juárez detention facility
As of mid-day on March 30, the death toll from a fire at a Ciudad Juárez, Mexico migrant detention facility stands at 39 or more people, with about 29 more injured.
The fire started at about 10:00 PM on March 27 at the Mexican federal government’s National Migration Institute (INM) provisional detention center, which sits along the U.S.-Mexico border at the foot of the Stanton Street bridge between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.
Mexico’s National Prosecutor’s Office reported on March 28 that the dead and injured included 28 people from Guatemala, 13 from Honduras, 12 from Venezuela, 12 from El Salvador, and 1 each from Colombia and Ecuador. Citizens of all of these countries, except for Colombia and Ecuador, are currently subject to rapid expulsion into Mexico, under the still-in-force Title 42 pandemic authority, if U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or Border Patrol encounter them in the United States.
At a March 28 news conference, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that the detained migrants themselves started the fire, in protest after being told of their probable deportation back to their home countries. “At the door of the shelter, they put mattresses and set them on fire, and they did not imagine that this was going to cause a terrible misfortune,” the President said.
Later on the 28th, very troubling security camerafootage from the detention center began circulating on social media. It depicts flames and smoke engulfing an area behind bars and doors, while guards exit the facility without unlocking or opening the doors. Mexican authorities confirmed the video’s authenticity.
The Associated Press reported that Jorge Vázquez Campbell, an attorney representing some of the victims, filed a complaint with Mexican federal investigators making an explosive allegation: that the INM’s delegate for the state of Chihuahua ordered subordinates to prohibit the detainees from leaving. The delegate, Salvador González Guerrero, is a retired Mexican Navy rear admiral.
The AP account further cited the attorney:
Campbell said his clients told him that one of the detained migrants asked a guard for a cigarette and a lighter and then five migrants who had been detained that day began to protest.
“The officials made fun of them, they got irritated, and two of them (migrants) set a mattress on fire,” Campbell said.
That was the moment, Campbell said, that immigration agents at the facility notified González of the fire and he “told them not to do anything and under no circumstances should they let them leave.”
The INM facility was already overcrowded. “A Mexican federal official with knowledge of the case who spoke on condition of anonymity” told the Los Angeles Times that “68 men were packed into a cell meant for no more than 50 people — with no access to drinking water.”
Mexican authorities had detained most or all of the migrants earlier on the 27th, on the streets of Ciudad Juárez. After a March 12 incident when hundreds of migrants massed at one of the border bridges between the city and El Paso (see WOLA’s March 17 Border Update), security and migration forces began taking a more aggressive stance toward the growing population of migrants stranded in the city by Title 42 and other policies.
After that incident, Ciudad Juárez Mayor Cruz Pérez Cuéllar said, “the truth is that our level of patience is running out. We’re going to have a stronger posture.” Operations intensified against migrants—many of them Venezuelan—who have become a greater presence on the city’s streets, often begging or trying to earn cash selling food or washing windshields.
Even before that, on March 9, more than 30 local migrant shelters and advocacy organizations had written an open letter accusing authorities of “criminalizing” migrants and asylum seekers, using excessive force and carrying out sweeps to detain migrants off of the streets.
After the tragedy, Mayor Pérez Cuéllardenied that migrants had been rounded up. But migrants’ testimonies signaled otherwise.
“I was at a stoplight with a piece of cardboard asking for what I needed for my children, and people were helping me with food” on the 27th, a woman migrant told the Associated Press, when “suddenly agents came and detained everyone.”
Another, who told the El Paso Times that her family had legal permission to be in Mexico, said, “They didn’t ask if we were legal, if we had papers. They just said, ‘Are you Venezuelan? Let’s go.’”
A Venezuelan man told AFP that agents tricked him into accompanying them to the facility with a false promise of a work permit.
Several dozen were brought to the INM detention facility, but women and children were later released. All of the fire’s victims were men.
In a statement, Mexico’s INM pledged to cooperate with official investigations and support the victims and their families. On March 30, a federal prosecutor issued arrest warrants for three INM officials, two private security guards contracted by INM, and the person accused of starting the fire.
International responses came from many quarters. UN Secretary General António Guterres stated that he was “deeply saddened” and called for a “thorough investigation.” Pope Francis called on people to pray for the victims. “The extensive use of immigration detention leads to tragedies like this,” said Felipe Gonzalez Morales, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.
“Civil society organizations have repeatedly called for an end to the institutional harassment that the population in mobility contexts is suffering in Ciudad Juárez,” a statement from more than 200 Mexican organizations read, recalling that a September 2022 visit to the detention facility where the tragedy occurred found miserable conditions for those held within. The groups called for the resignation of INM Commissioner Francisco Garduño, who has a career in politics, including in Mexico’s prison system.