Adam Isacson

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



Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: September 1, 2023

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

Due to a holiday followed by an especially heavy event schedule next week, there will be no Border Update on September 8, 2023.


The military component of the Texas state government’s controversial border security operation came under heavier scrutiny this week, after an August 26 cross-border shooting incident in El Paso and an August 29 investigation into improper spying on civilian migrants. This component of Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) “Operation Lone Star” is a very rare domestic use of military force on U.S. soil with both a long timeframe and rules of engagement permitting use of force against civilians.

Panama is reporting over 70,000 migrants passing through the treacherous Darién Gap region so far in August, a record by far. Data releases from Honduras and Mexico also point to record levels of people in transit. Costa Rica, whose president met with President Biden this week, declared a state of emergency along its border with Panama. Migrants come from dozens of countries, but Venezuela is the predominant nationality.

Alarms went off in parts of the Biden administration earlier this year, CNN reported, after a smuggler who had facilitated some Uzbek asylum seekers’ arrival at the U.S.-Mexico border was alleged to have “links” to ISIS, a group on the U.S. government’s list of terrorist organizations. The migrants themselves, who were released into the United States pending immigration court hearings, are not believed to have terrorist ties.


Shooting, spying incidents deepen controversy about Texas National Guard border deployment

The military component of the Texas state government’s controversial border security operation came under heavier scrutiny this week, after an August 26 shooting incident at the border in El Paso and an August 29 investigation revealing improper spying.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), a border and migration hardliner and critic of the Biden administration, expects to spend over $9.5 billion between 2021 and 2025 on a set of border security initiatives he calls “Operation Lone Star” (OLS). These include building segments of border wall with state funds, deploying thousands of police and Texas National Guardsmen to arrest and jail migrants—including asylum seekers—on state charges of “trespassing,” and laying down miles of razor-sharp concertina wire along the Rio Grande, as well as a 1,000-foot wall of buoys in the middle of the river in Eagle Pass.

Since 2021 Abbott has used state funds to send several thousand National Guardsmen to the U.S.-Mexico border, in an unusually large and long mission for a state military force. That deployment has faced past controversies, including poor initial planning that left Texas troops in miserable living conditions and the deaths, in some cases by suicide, of eight assigned guardsmen.

While details about what happened at about 8:50 PM on August 26 remain under wraps, we know that a Texas National Guardsman stationed near the El Paso side of the Paso del Norte bridge fired a shot into Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, wounding  the leg of a Mexican man on the opposite riverbank.

Mexican authorities identified the victim as Darwin José García, 37, of Veracruz, Mexico. He was treated in a Ciudad Juárez hospital and released. The Juárez newspaper El Diario reported that police said García told them he was planning to cross the river to the United States; the victim told reporters he was “practicing a sport” on the Mexican side.

The circumstances leading the unnamed Texas guardsman to fire their weapon into Mexico remain unclear. The Washington Post, citing a CBP official who had been briefed about the incident, reported that “the Texas Guard member opened fire after three men on the Mexican side of the border started attacking a group of migrants with a knife as the migrants attempted to cross the river.”

The official added that “details are hazy.” If that is what happened—and it is possible, as Mexican criminal groups do use violence to keep migrants from crossing without paying fees—then the guardsman could argue that the action was within the limits of CBP’s use of force policy. That policy permits lethal force if personnel have “a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the LEO [law enforcement officer] or to another person.”

The incident is being investigated by the state government’s Texas Rangers and by Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) division. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is serving as a liaison between Texas and Mexican authorities. At an August 30 meeting with Texas authorities, Mexico’s consul-general in El Paso “reiterated that the Texas National Guard member’s action was inadmissible,” according to a statement.

This is the second time this year that a Texas National Guardsman has fired a weapon at a civilian. On January 13 near McAllen, Spc. Angel Gallegos shot migrant Ricardo Rodríguez Nieto in the shoulder with his pistol, wounding him. The guardsman claimed that the shooting happened during a scuffle, which Rodríguez Nieto and other migrants dispute; Hidalgo County prosecutors nonetheless declined to seek an indictment. In January 2022, a guardsman also fired his rifle in Laredo to disable a vehicle whose driver had reportedly attempted to run over another guardsman.

In the United States, which since the 1870s has placed strict limits on using military personnel for internal law enforcement, it is exceedingly rare for U.S. military personnel to use lethal force against civilians on U.S. soil. (See WOLA’s 2010 report contrasting the U.S. civil-military model at home with the model its aid programs promote in Latin America.)

All U.S. state governors command National Guard units, soldiers who receive training with the regular U.S. military and serve on a part-time basis unless called up for an emergency. National Guardsmen can also be called up for federal government duty, at which point they are no longer at the governor’s command. Many served lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and presidents since George W. Bush have deployed National Guard and active military personnel to the border.

Those 21st-century federal border missions have restricted guardsmen to duties (“support for CBP”) and rules of engagement that seek to minimize potential contact with civilians. The Biden administration has sent 2,500 National Guard personnel border-wide in a federal support role, but they are rarely in view. (Biden augmented this force with an additional deployment of 1,500 regular military personnel in May, in preparation for the end of the Title 42 pandemic border policy; that force is to be drawn down by the end of August.)

The Operation Lone Star National Guard mission is different because it was ordered by Gov. Abbott, and is funded entirely with Texas’s state budget. That places the guardsmen under the governor’s command, authorized by a different section of the U.S. Code. Abbott has taken the unusual step of authorizing them to detain civilians, and otherwise to be in situations that may involve use of force against them.

Texas National Guardsmen wear uniforms, use weapons, and receive training—including combat training—identical to what the regular U.S. armed forces wear, use, and receive. For a military force to carry out a domestic mission this long in duration, and with such a high probability of hostile interactions with civilians, is highly unusual in the modern United States.

The civil-military risks were underscored on August 29, when two reporters who have covered Operation Lone Star’s military component since 2021, Davis Winkie of Military Times and James Barragán of the Texas Tribune, revealed that members of a Texas National Guard intelligence unit had “secretly infiltrated invite-only WhatsApp group chats filled with migrants and smugglers.”

This activity violated rules against domestic U.S. military spying on civilians, and against state governments running their own espionage operations. Those rules have been in place for decades for a reason, Winkie and Barragán explained: “Defense Department personnel ran massive domestic intelligence operations during the Vietnam War that targeted Americans based solely on how they legally exercised their First Amendment rights.”

The allegations, deeply detailed in the journalists’ report, assert that First Lieutenant Emmanuel Pierre, a guardsman of Haitian descent, infiltrated private WhatsApp groups used by Haitian migrants starting in 2021, when large numbers of Haitian asylum seekers began arriving at the Texas border.

Pierre’s digital spying was overseen by Maj. Dezi Rios, Operation Lone Star’s deputy intelligence director at the time who, when named to the position in October 2021, “had resigned from the San Antonio Police Department that same month after his involvement in a third road rage incident in four years led to misdemeanor criminal charges.” Rios claimed that he voiced concerns about the WhatsApp operation to superiors, but was rebuffed.

At least four Texas National Guard intelligence officers “have faced interim administrative discipline” for the WhatsApp operation and for improperly sharing classified FBI intelligence with colleagues.

The report claims that Operation Lone Star commanders “demanded military-style intelligence from their intelligence personnel.” One service member put it: “Everyone [in charge] wanted to pretend it was like Iraq in 2003… They wanted to do Army stuff, even though this is [legally] not Army stuff.”

“Such intelligence work is essentially unheard of for National Guard members on state active duty,” the Military Times and Texas Tribune report explained, noting that it sets a troubling precedent. “You give intel soldiers enough tools—we’re violating many constitutional rights very quickly,” an unnamed service member told the reporters. “If they’re willing to compromise their integrity over something like that,” one National Guard source said, “who knows where they’ll stop?

In other Operation Lone Star news from the past week:

  • Oklahoma, one of about 15 Republican-led states to send National Guardsmen to Texas to support Operation Lone Star, ended up paying $825,000, or $550 per person per day, for a 30-day deployment of 50 personnel, according to the Oklahoman.
  • A Border Report dispatch from Eagle Pass, Texas recalled that the controversial buoys and concertina wire that Operation Lone Star has placed along the town’s riverfront have done nothing to deter migrants seeking to turn themselves in and request asylum.
  • A petition circulated by Faithful America, a Christian social justice group, accused Gov. Abbott, who is Catholic, of taking “neither Catholic social teaching nor the Gospels’ instructions to welcome the stranger seriously” with his management of OLS. The document has over 10,000 signatures, Newsweek reported.

From the Darién Gap to Mexico, migration levels break records

As August draws to a close, reports from countries south of the U.S.-Mexico border point to migration reaching unprecedented levels.

(On the evening of August 31, as this Update neared publication, the Washington Post published preliminary estimates pointing to 177,000 Border Patrol migrant apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border in August, including a record 91,000 family unit members. Measured in migrant encounters, that would make August about 77 percent busier than June, and the 16th busiest month of the Biden administration.)

Panama’s Public Security Ministry tweeted that as of August 28, 68,340 people had migrated in August through the Darién Gap, a roadless region of treacherous primary jungle straddling Panama’s border with Colombia. That number of migrants—which has since grown beyond 72,000 in August—vastly exceeds Panama’s earlier single-month record of 59,773 (October 2022).

The Darién Gap was considered an impenetrable barrier between North and South America until migration increased in the mid-2010s and vastly expanded in 2021. Scores of migrants die each year there of drownings, disease, wild animals, and criminal attacks, and many more are injured, robbed, or sexually assaulted.

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At GitHub, a tool for viewing official U.S.-Mexico border migration data

Over at GitHub, I’ve added source files for a little tool that generates tables of Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) U.S.-Mexico border migration data since 2020. (CBP updates its dataset every month; as of now, that’s a CSV file with 61,567 rows.)

Here’s what this looks like. First, you see a form asking you to choose what you want to see. In this example, the selected checkboxes ask for, by year, how many Venezuelan family-unit members and unaccompanied children came to ports of entry, or arrived between ports of entry, in Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector and CBP’s El Paso Field Office.

Screenshot of form showing selections: "Year," "At Ports of Entry or Between Them," "El Paso Sector," "El Paso Field Office," "Venezuela," "Family Unit Members," "Unaccompanied Children"

And here’s the resulting table.

This is super-useful for my work, and I’m happy to share it. But generating the tables is pretty server-intensive. A search for monthly data, with a column for every month since October 2019, takes at least several seconds to generate as the MySQL server processes separate queries for each table cell.

So while I’ve got a working version of this on the web somewhere, I can’t make it public because if dozens of people use it each day, I’ll get some stern notes from my web hosting service.

But all the source files are on GitHub: it’s just 3 PHP files and an SQL version of CBP’s dataset. This will take you a couple of minutes to set up if you’re familiar with using free software (like MAMP for Mac, WAMP for Windows, or LAMP for Linux) to run a web server, unconnected to the internet, on your computer.

Here’s screenshots of a form showing a search for, by month and nationality, how many migrants were encountered in Border Patrol’s Yuma Sector, and the very large resulting table.

Screenshot of form showing selections: "Month," "Nationality," and "Yuma Sector"

Screenshot of resulting table

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: August 25, 2023

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


Border Patrol’s apprehensions of migrants between ports of entry increased 33 percent from June to July. While still far fewer than in July 2022, the numbers signal that a post-Title 42 lull in migration has come to an end. Nearly all of the increase was arrivals of children and families, with Ecuador, Guatemala, and Honduras the nationalities whose numbers grew the most. Though large numbers of Venezuelan migrants are en route to the border, the number of Venezuelan migrant encounters actually declined. More than 50,000 people were processed at ports of entry, a record.

The Justice Department’s lawsuit against the state of Texas, seeking to compel Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to remove a “wall” of buoys in the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, went before a federal judge in Austin. Texas’s attorneys were not permitted to use their “invasion defense” argument to justify the barrier’s placement. This is one of several recent controversies surrounding Gov. Abbott’s “Operation Lone Star” security buildup.

Mexico’s immigration agency and Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley opened a facility, on the grounds of an unused hospital, in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, across the river from Brownsville, Texas. The site intends to provide an alternative to a sprawling tent encampment that has formed along the Rio Grande in Matamoros, as asylum seekers there struggle to secure appointments using the CBP One smartphone app.



CBP releases July migration details

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released data on August 18 revealing a 33 percent increase in July, compared to June, in the number of migrants whom U.S. Border Patrol apprehended between the U.S.-Mexico border’s ports of entry (99,539 to 132,652).

Data table

This was still 27 percent fewer migrants than a year ago, in July 2022 (181,834), when the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy was in full effect. In July 2023, 9 percent of migrants had been encountered at least once before in the previous 12 months; that was way down from 22 percent in July 2022. This “recidivism” number was much higher during the Title 42 period, when quick expulsions eased repeat crossings.

Data table

The sharp increase over June indicates an end to the sharp drop in migration that followed Title 42’s May 11, 2023 termination. July’s partially recovered migration flow differs from the pre-May 11 period, though, in its demographic makeup, in the part of the border where migrants are arriving, in migrants’ ability to use ports of entry, and to some extent by migrants’ nationalities.

Demographic makeup

Nearly all of the July increase was child and family migrants, whose numbers grew 85 percent from June to July (38,002 to 70,206, combining family-unit members and unaccompanied children). The 60,161 family-unit members apprehended in July 2023 were the most in a single month since December 2022, and before that since September 2021.

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At the Border Chronicle – Impunity in the Borderlands: A Conversation with WOLA’s Adam Isacson

A real honor to be invited to do a Q&A with one of my top can’t-miss-an-article websites about what’s happening at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Border Chronicle, and its co-founder Todd Miller, author of some essential books about border security and human rights.

We talk in depth about WOLA’s recent report, with the Kino Border Initiative, on CBP and Border Patrol abuse and accountability at the U.S.-Mexico border. Why we did the report, what it found, what we recommend, and what happens next. Read it at the Border Chronicle.

At Crisis and Opportunity: Unraveling Colombia’s Collapsing Coca Markets

Here’s an analysis I’ve been working on, bit by bit, for the past several weeks.

The market in Colombia for coca, the plant whose leaves can be used to produce cocaine, is in a state of historic collapse, bringing with it an acute humanitarian crisis in already impoverished rural territories. The unusually sharp and prolonged drop in coca prices has several causes. WOLA has identified 12 possible explanations, some more compelling than others.

Regardless of the reason, the crisis is sure to be temporary as world cocaine demand remains robust. The Colombian government, and partner and donor governments including the United States, should take maximum advantage of this window of opportunity before it closes. The humanitarian crisis offers a chance for Colombia to fill vacuums of civilian government presence in territories where insecurity, armed groups, and now hunger are all too common.

Read on—in English or Spanish, HTML or PDF—at WOLA’s website.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: August 18, 2023

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


A little girl, placed on a bus to Chicago by Texas authorities in Brownsville, died of still-unclear causes as the bus traveled through southern Illinois. This new tragedy, plus a survey finding that most of Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) Rio Grande “buoy wall” lies on Mexico’s side of the river, added new layers of controversy this week to the Texas state government’s “Operation Lone Star,” a $9.5 billion series of politicized border security measures.

New data from Panama showed that 55,387 people, 69 percent of them Venezuelan, migrated through the treacherous Darién Gap region in July 2023. It was the second-largest monthly total ever measured in the Darién, and it pushed Panama’s count of migrants for 2023’s first seven months ahead of its total for all twelve months of 2022.

The Biden administration is asking Congress for $40.1 billion in additional emergency spending for what remains of 2023, including about $4 billion for border and migration-related priorities. These include nearly $1 billion for “responding to migration surges,” nearly $800 million to help Latin American countries accommodate migrants, more than $400 million to counter fentanyl, and authorization for a new program of “community based residential” facilities for asylum-seeking families placed in expedited removal proceedings.


Death of three-year-old Venezuelan girl draws fresh attention to Texas state government crackdown

A three-year-old Venezuelan girl died on August 10 aboard one of the buses that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has contracted to take asylum-seeking migrants from his state’s border areas to cities run by Democratic mayors.

The bus, full of asylum seekers who had been released from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody into Brownsville, Texas, had traveled 1,200 miles into southern Illinois. The girl, who was with her parents, showed symptoms of illness—fever and diarrhea—then lost consciousness. The coroner of Marion County, Illinois told the Dallas Morning News that “preliminary autopsy results were inconclusive, but additional tests are being done that could establish what happened.” Those tests could take “a couple of weeks.”

Jismary Alejandra Barboza González, born in Colombia to Venezuelan parents in August 2019, traveled with her parents through the Darién Gap and across Central America and Mexico. The state of Illinois is covering the funeral costs for her family, who planned to live in Indiana while pursuing their asylum claim. A GoFundMe page exists to help her parents with “medical and psychological expenses.” She would have turned four on August 25.

The Texas state government’s Division of Emergency Management stated that every bus passenger had been processed by CBP before their release, and that Texas authorities checked all for fevers or medical conditions before boarding them onto the bus.

The death aboard the Texas bus is the latest in a string of controversies involving “Operation Lone Star” (OLS), a set of strategies that Gov. Abbott—a hardliner on border and migration policy—launched in 2021, with a price tag expected to reach $9.5 billion by 2025. They include:

  • Busing more than 30,000 migrants to Washington, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Denver, and Los Angeles, at a cost of more than $2,000 per passenger, without coordinating with or notifying those cities’ governments.
  • Deploying several thousand Texas National Guardsmen to the border, at first on very little notice and under miserable conditions (see WOLA’s December 10, 2021 Border Update). Eight guardsmen assigned to the mission have died: one while performing risky duties, some by suicide.
  • Sending police and guardsmen to arrest migrants on state charges of trespassing, often by encouraging asylum seekers to turn themselves in on what turns out to be state land. Migrants— mostly men—are jailed; when they get to court, judges usually release them with “time served” as their penalty. Most then go on to pursue asylum claims.
  • Arresting and jailing fathers, on at least 26 occasions this summer, separating them from the rest of their families who end up in CBP custody (see WOLA’s August 4 Border Update). An August 15 letter from 28 members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus called on the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to “immediately launch an investigation” into Texas’s family separations.
  • Facing questioning, after scrutiny from outlets like ProPublica, about the veracity of Operation Lone Star’s statistics claiming inflated results against drugs and criminality.
  • Laying down 60 miles of razor-sharp concertina wire along, and within, the Rio Grande around Eagle Pass, Texas, where in July the Texas state government installed a 1,000-foot “wall” of buoys, with jagged circles of sharp metal between the individual spheres. The razor wire has injured migrants, while a Texas state police whistleblower revealed that police and guardsmen are encouraging asylum seekers on U.S. soil to get back into the river, denying them water and medical care despite record heat (see WOLA’s July 21 Border Update, among other Updates from July and August 2023).

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the Venezuelan child’s death in Illinois “devastating and heartbreaking… horrific news and horrific to hear that,” expressing condolences to the family. She criticized Gov. Abbott for taking “dangerous” and “unlawful actions,” adding, “it doesn’t just put, sadly, young migrants at risk or migrants at risk, but it also puts at risk the Border Patrol who are trying to do their job. And he gets in the way of that every day.”

Asked whether CBP, a federal agency, would halt cooperation with OLS while a Justice Department lawsuit against Gov. Abbott’s “buoy wall” proceeds, Jean-Pierre responded, “I don’t have a response to that.”

That lawsuit, filed on July 24, seeks to force Abbott to take down the buoys in the middle of the river in Eagle Pass, asserting that they violate laws, and treaties with Mexico, governing management of the Rio Grande. “In Eagle Pass, sediment falling into the river from the installation of fences and buoys is already altering the water’s flow, according to environmentalists,” Reuters reported. U.S. District Court Judge David Alan Ezra will hear arguments in San Antonio on August 22.

About 80 percent of the “buoy wall” is in fact on Mexico’s side of the borderline, which runs down the center of the river, according to an August 15 Justice Department filing in the case. The filing includes the results of a July 27-28 survey carried out by the International Boundary and Water Commission, a binational body governing use of the river. The results uphold a claim that Mexico’s government has been making since the buoys were installed in July.

Alicia Bárcena, Mexico’s foreign minister, raised the issue in a joint August 10 appearance with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Bárcena added that Mexico will not take unilateral action to remove the buoys until the Justice Department’s lawsuit plays out. Blinken, contending that “we’re a country and a government that proceeds by rule of law,” said that the Biden administration would not remove the buoys until the courts rule on their legality.

The Texas state government’s response to the Justice Department lawsuit argues that the state “has a federal constitutional right to defend itself against invasion from even non-state actors.”

Elsewhere in Texas, amid a historic heat wave in the southernmost part of the state where people frequently find the remains of migrants who died of dehydration and heatstroke, someone has been stealing barrels of water left out on ranch lands by the South Texas Human Rights Center, a humanitarian group. The Associated Press reported that the cause could be road crews moving obstacles, wildfires, or something more nefarious.

In El Paso, the city “is again seeing small groups of migrants sleeping on the streets of Downtown and South El Paso as area shelters are at capacity and migrants are ‘timing out’ of their allowed stay,” El Paso Matters reported, as Border Patrol has been transferring and processing migrants from other parts of the border that are once again seeing elevated migration.

Darién Gap saw second-largest ever monthly total of migrants in July

On August 10 the government of Panama posted July statistics documenting migration through the Darién Gap, a highly treacherous region straddling the country’s eastern border with Colombia. Until a few years ago, this region, requiring a 60-mile walk through inhospitable jungle, fast-flowing rivers, and criminals operating unimpeded, was considered an impassable barrier to most transit.

The Darién jungle “is not a migratory route,” Samira Gozaine, director of Panama’s National Migration Service (SNM), told the U.S. Southern Command’s Diálogo website earlier this month. Panama’s numbers, though, show otherwise.

  • Panama counted 251,758 migrants passing through the Darién Gap during the first 7 months of 2023. That already exceeds the 248,284 migrants counted in all of 2022, which at the time was a shockingly large number. The 2010-2020 average was 10,717 migrants per year.

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More asylum appointments desperately needed at the Arizona border

Here’s another foray into brief video, as I continue practicing use of some very complicated software.

This one is about the border with Arizona. During a very hot summer, the busiest part of the U.S.-Mexico border has made only 100 appointments per day available to asylum seekers.

Instead of reporting to a point of entry, thousands are crossing in dangerous desert during record heat. The number of CBP One appointments needs to increase in Nogales.

Video: August 11, 2023 Border Update

I’m trying something new here. If I don’t manage to keep it up after a few weeks, I’ll never mention it again.

It’s a quick overview of this week’s WOLA Border Update, for use in social media.

I’m trying out both my brand-new office space (WOLA just completed a renovation), and my low-on-the-learning-curve Adobe Premiere skills.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: August 11, 2023

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


In July, Arizona’s hottest month on record, Border Patrol apprehended more migrants in its Tucson Sector—which comprises most of the state’s border miles—than in any month since April 2008. Large groups of migrants are arriving in very remote desert areas west of Nogales, straining U.S. agencies’ capacity to process them. Preliminary data point to many migrants perishing in the intense heat.

False rumors spread on social media, pointing to some sort of change in CBP policy at ports of entry, caused hundreds of migrants to gather at border bridges in Ciudad Juárez and Matamoros on August 7 and 8. U.S. personnel employed tear gas and pepper balls in El Paso, and closed a main Brownsville-Matamoros bridge for about nine hours.

A visiting delegation of Democratic members of Congress highlighted the integration of serrated, saw-like metal discs in the design of buoys that Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ordered installed in the middle of the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas. Media revealed that federal agencies have repeatedly been communicating to Texas that its border-hardening measures along the river are illegal. A hearing in the Justice Department’s lawsuit seeking to take down the Eagle Pass buoys is scheduled for August 22.


Despite intense summer heat, Arizona is migration’s new geographic epicenter

Much of the U.S.-Mexico border is experiencing its hottest summer on record, and the heat has been especially intense in Arizona. Temperatures in Phoenix reached or exceeded 110 degrees Fahrenheit every day between June 30 and July 30; closer to the border in Tucson, residents experienced a record 45 straight days of temperatures of 100 degrees or more.

Surprisingly, the record-breaking hot month of July 2023 appears also to have been the heaviest month for migrant arrivals in Arizona since April 2008.

Border Patrol may have apprehended 40,664 migrants last month in its Tucson Sector, which includes most of Arizona, according to preliminary agency data leaked to the Center Square, a conservative website. (A month ago, this website published leaked data for June, which ultimately proved to be about 3 percent greater than Border Patrol’s final total.) That would make Tucson, one of nine Border Patrol sectors along the U.S.-Mexico border, the destination for nearly one in three migrants border-wide last month. Another 7,127 may have been apprehended in Border Patrol’s Yuma Sector, which includes slivers of western Arizona and eastern California.

If accurate (similar, though less exact, preliminary July numbers have been reported by the Washington Post and NBC News), that would mean Border Patrol apprehended over 1,300 people per day in the Tucson Sector in July. That appears to have risen to 1,900 per day “in recent days,” CBS News reported on August 7. That would be “an increase of 134% from an average of 812 in June.”

Border Patrol has been reporting several apprehensions of large groups of migrants, often including children and parents, in very remote desert areas west of Nogales. The Border Patrol station in the desert community of Ajo, west of the Tohono O’odham Nation Reservation and north of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, has vastly exceeded the capacity of its austere holding cells.

In late July, The Intercept found “roughly 50 migrants confined in a chain-link pen” outside the Ajo station, in heat above 110 degrees Fahrenheit, “gathered under a carport-like structure, crowding themselves into a single, narrow strip of shade to escape the desert sun.” Border Patrol told CNN and CBS that it has transferred personnel to Ajo and nearby Lukeville and is endeavoring to move migrants as quickly as possible to facilities elsewhere with more food, water, and medical services. “Currently, the average time in custody at the Ajo station is 15 hours, with some migrants spending a portion of those hours outside waiting to be transported,” CNN reported.

The dangerously high heat continues to kill many who attempt to migrate. The data from the Center Square point to Border Patrol recovering the remains of 64 people border-wide in July, down from 70 in June. Of those recoveries, 21 were in the Tucson sector in July, up sharply from 8 in June. These numbers are far from final, and Arizona-based humanitarian groups like No More Deaths and Humane Borders routinely find a much larger number of remains in the state’s borderland deserts.

An August 4 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) release recounted Border Patrol’s rescue of a severely heat-exhausted Colombian woman near Three Points, Arizona in the late afternoon of July 11; she died of cardiac arrest in a Tucson hospital early the next morning.

Rumors mislead migrants into gathering at border bridges

A false rumor, which spread quickly over social media, alleged that U.S. authorities would be suspending the Biden administration’s restrictive asylum rule on August 8. On that day, messages indicated, CBP would allow people to turn themselves in at land-border ports of entry without first making appointments using the CBP One smartphone app.

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A 15-year regional high in migration… during the hottest month ever in Arizona

July was the hottest month on record for the state of Arizona (a very hot state), by nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In the U.S. Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, which takes up most of the state’s border miles, the agency apprehended more migrants (about 40,000) than in any single month since April 2008.

That is incredibly dangerous. Migrants face an elevated risk of death by dehydration or heat stroke in the region that, of all nine Border Patrol U.S.-Mexico border sectors, has been the deadliest for migrants over the past 25 years (blue in this chart).

The move to Arizona is recent. It appears to be a shift in response to the Biden administration’s post-Title 42 policies limiting access to asylum: word appears to have gotten out—correctly or not—that turning oneself in to Border Patrol in remote parts of Arizona increases chances of entering the U.S. asylum system without being deported, detained, or forced to wait weeks or months in a Mexican border city.

Saw blades. In a river. In the 21st century.

This part of the Texas border story needs more amplification:

“There are serrated metal plates that look like circular saw blades between each buoy.”

Photo caption in linked article:

"Swimming under the barrier is not an option. It’s anchored to the shallow water with thick cables and concrete bases. And there are serrated metal plates that look like circular saw blades between each buoy to deter anyone from climbing over it."

Who puts SAW BLADES in the middle of a fast-flowing river navigated by civilians, in an area where many people, including children and families, attempt to cross and often drown?

From Texas Public Radio.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: August 4, 2023

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


Preliminary data revealed by the Washington Post point to Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants increasing from just under 100,000 to about 130,000 from June to July. The lull in migration that followed the end of the Title 42 policy has ended. This erodes the narrative that the Biden administration’s tough new asylum rule—recently struck down by a federal court but still in place for now—has deterred migration. Rights groups filed a new legal challenge to CBP’s use of its “CBP One” app to limit asylum seekers’ access to ports of entry. Meanwhile, data from Panama, Honduras, and elsewhere point to continued increases in migration.

The past week’s developments in Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) “Operation Lone Star” include revelations that Texas police are arresting migrant fathers for “trespassing” and separating them from their families; the discovery of two deceased people’s remains in or near the “buoy wall” that Abbott ordered built in the Rio Grande at Eagle Pass in July; the Eagle Pass City Council’s revocation of a legal document that Operation Lone Star has used to carry out its activities there; and the Biden administration’s imminent drawdown of active-duty troops deployed border-wide in May.

As of July 27, the appropriations committees of the Democratic-majority Senate and the Republican-majority House of Representatives have both approved draft legislation funding the Department of Homeland Security in 2024. The bills, which Congress must reconcile into a single budget, differ widely in overall amounts, and in border-relevant items like funding for wall construction, Border Patrol hiring, shelter funds, and ICE detention beds.


Border Patrol apprehensions increased 30% in July

Citing preliminary data from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Washington Post reported that Border Patrol’s apprehensions of migrants between the U.S.-Mexico border’s ports of entry jumped by more than 30 percent from June to July. “U.S. agents made more than 130,000 arrests along the Mexico border last month, preliminary figures show, up from 99,545 in June,” reporters Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti revealed.

The fastest growth was in Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, which comprises most of Arizona, despite a long string of days there with temperatures exceeding 110 degrees. The 40,000 apprehensions in July were the most that the Tucson sector has measured since April 2008. As recently as December 2022, Tucson was in 5th place for migrant apprehensions among Border Patrol’s 9 U.S.-Mexico border sectors. Unnamed CBP officials told the Post that migrant smugglers have shifted to desert areas west of Nogales “because they know U.S. authorities have limited detention space and migrants who cross into Arizona are more likely to be quickly released.”

NBC News, also citing preliminary data, reported that Border Patrol’s daily average apprehensions of family-unit members (parents traveling with children) tripled from early June to late July, from 790 to 2,230 per day. An unnamed CBP official told the Washington Post that “parents with children comprise about half of the migrants currently held in CBP custody.”

Based on current trends, NBC predicted that August’s Border Patrol migrant apprehensions could increase to 160,000. If that happens, migration will have recovered to the high levels last seen in May (171,387), the last month before the Biden administration replaced the Title 42 pandemic policy with a restrictive new asylum rule. Migration dropped sharply in the weeks after Title 42’s termination, but as WOLA’s recent Border Updates have noted, that lull is now ending.

The asylum rule, facing revocation

As covered in many recent updates, the Biden administration had replaced Title 42 with an administrative rule that blocks access to asylum, with some exceptions, to all non-Mexican migrants who (a) come to the border between ports of entry (land border crossings), instead of making an appointment using Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) “CBP One” smartphone app; and (b) did not try and fail to seek asylum in at least one other country along their route. People subjected to the rule are deported—and deported into Mexico if they are citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, or Venezuela—and banned from entry into the United States for five years.

In a July 27 exchange with Spanish-language journalists, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) assistant secretary for border and immigration policy, Blas Núñez-Neto, revealed that since the rule went into effect on May 11, his Department has deported more than 85,000 people to 115 countries (not all of them asylum seekers). Of that total, 4,000 of the deportees were citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela returned back into Mexico, as the Mexican government agreed when Title 42 ended. The rest are Mexican citizens sent back to Mexico, or other countries’ citizens placed aboard deportation flights, which total about 120 per month.

The emerging July apprehension totals indicate that this asylum rule is not deterring desperate migrants. “Each crackdown is followed by a short-term drop in apprehensions, as migrants adopt a “wait and see” approach,” Dara Lind observed in a July 28 analysis for the American Immigration Council’s Immigration Impact site. “But as it becomes clear that at least some people are successfully getting into the U.S. – and as situations in migrants’ home countries, or the countries they’re waiting in, may become harder to bear – border apprehensions start to increase again.”

As noted in WOLA’s July 28 Border Update, the asylum ban is in legal peril anyway. A U.S. district judge struck it down on July 25, agreeing with migrant rights defenders who argued that it is contrary to existing law guaranteeing the right to seek asylum. The Biden administration is appealing this decision, and on August 3 the  federal judiciary’s Ninth Circuit kept the asylum rule in place while deliberations continue. Should the Ninth Circuit’s eventual decision concur with the district court and strike the rule down, the administration may go to the Supreme Court.

203 civil, human rights, and immigrant rights organizations (including WOLA) signed an August 2 letter to President Joe Biden asking him to desist from appealing the district judge’s July 25 decision and “redouble your focus on effective, humane, and legal solutions.” A letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland from 13 U.S. senators and 53 representatives, all Democrats, called for an end to application of “expedited removal” to asylum seekers, a process requiring people to defend their cases within days of apprehension while still in CBP’s austere custody conditions, usually with no access to counsel.

CBP One, an insufficient “carrot”

Along with its tough asylum rule, the Biden administration has sought to keep post-Title 42 Border Patrol apprehensions low by steering asylum seekers to the ports of entry (official border crossings), creating a system of appointments accessible from northern Mexico using CBP One, a smartphone app. CBP One appointments now total 1,450 per day, leading in recent months to record numbers of migrants able to access the ports of entry instead of crossing rivers, climbing border fencing, or otherwise ending up in Border Patrol custody.

That number of appointments still means migrants must wait, usually unemployed and insecure, for weeks or months in Mexican border cities before they get a chance to approach the ports of entry. In Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas, that has spurred the formation of a massive encampment of migrants along a mile-long stretch of the Rio Grande, despite a recent reported increase—from 350 to 600 per day—in CBP One appointments at the Brownsville port of entry.

In the midst of a deadly, historic heat wave in much of the border zone, this has been intolerable for many migrants, Sister Norma Pimentel, who runs Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and its migrant shelter services in south Texas, told NBC News. “She said many of the families who come to her shelter are there because they can no longer wait in the ‘merciless heat’ and live under the threat of violence in Mexico.”

Read More

Record-breaking month for migration through Honduras

Honduras recorded an unprecedented number of migrants transiting the country in July 2023: 46,779 people.

Screenshot of linked page showing graph with 46,779 “migrantes irregulares” coming through Honduras in July 2023; the next highest month on the graph, which goes back to 2014, is 30,775 in October 2022.

Through July 30, the month saw 52% more migration than second-place October 2022, and represented a 75% increase over June 2023.

Countries with over 1,000 migrants through July 30 were Venezuela (51% of the total), Cuba, Ecuador, Mauritania, Haiti, Senegal, and Egypt.

96 percent of registered migrants did so in the Nicaragua border-zone towns of Danlí and Trojes, in El Paraíso department. We visited that zone at the very end of April, and posted photos and a report, when the flow of migrants was less than half what it was at the end of July.

It’s not the agents, it’s the circumstances

Some people who don’t read our new report about CBP/Border Patrol human rights violations might view it as an attack on U.S. agents as people.

Wrong. The problem is the circumstances in which agents work, and the incentives that come with them. That’s where we have a lot of work to do.

New report: “Abuses at the U.S.- Mexico Border: How To Address Failures and Protect Rights”

I’m pleased and relieved to publish a report that I’ve been working on for months with colleagues at the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales. It’s a good one. It’s long—but that’s because we’ve packed it with vivid examples and a ton of policy recommendations.

My work in the past few years has documented a ton of human rights violations carried out by U.S. federal border law enforcement agencies. It’s a problem. But I’m reluctant to blame most Border Patrol agents and CBP officers themselves. They work in an environment in which complaints and allegations of bad behavior usually go nowhere. The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) accountability system is so dysfunctional that there’s little probability of consequences for human rights abuse.

Today’s report, “Abuses at the U.S.- Mexico Border: How To Address Failures and Protect Rights,” documents the extent of the problem, explains how DHS’s accountability system is supposed to work, explains why and when it usually fails, and then offers more than 40 recommendations.

Please give it a look. The whole 20,000-word beast is out in web and PDF formats, plus briefer, heavily abridged versions as PDFs in English and Spanish.

Here’s the executive summary, from the report’s main page:

A U.S.-Mexico border that is well governed and that also treats migrants and asylum seekers humanely can go hand in hand and should not be seen as an unattainable aspiration. For this to happen, U.S. government personnel who abuse human rights or violate professional standards, must be held to account within a reasonable amount of time and victims must receive justice.

Right now, at the U.S.-Mexico border, this rarely happens.

  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the federal government’s largest civilian law enforcement agency, has a persistent problem of human rights abuse without accountability. Many, if not most, CBP officers, and agents in CBP’s Border Patrol agency are professionals who seek to follow best practices. However, the frequency and severity of abuse allegations indicate that a substantial number of officers and agents don’t meet that standard. Further, the record suggests that existing investigations are flawed and incomplete, while disciplinary procedures are not credible enough to change their behavior.
  • This report gives numerous examples of alleged abuse, as well as insubordinate or politicized behavior since 2020. Some of the cases are severe, involving misuse of force or even loss of life. Many other examples of cruelty and victimization take place on a daily basis, such as  unprovoked violence during arrests, abusive language, denial of food or medical attention, family separations, non-return of documents and valuables, dangerous deportations, racial profiling, and falsifying migration paperwork. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) keeps a regularly updated database documenting these abuses.
  • The investigations of many of these allegations would not take place without the work of outside actors like human rights defenders, journalists, whistleblowers and the victims themselves. Investigations can begin in two ways. Some—often, the most serious cases—start at U.S. government investigators’ own initiative, especially if the site of the abuse is a crime scene. Many others require outside actors to take the first step. Without their initiative, most such cases would never be investigated at all—and, as this report shows, many still don’t get investigated.
  • For a victim or advocate seeking to make a complaint and achieve redress, the accountability process is bewildering, opaque, and slow-moving. Right now, outside efforts to gain accountability for abuse must go through a convoluted system that has been cobbled together in the 20 years since the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) founding. Four agencies with overlapping responsibilities handle complaints and pass cases between each other. All suffer from personnel and other capacity shortfalls, and some have insufficient power to make their recommendations stick.
  • There are several frequent “failure points” where cases commonly lead nowhere, ” leaving victims without justice and harming the credibility of the DHS accountability process. In its accompaniment of migrant victims who come from CBP custody to its shelter in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) often sees complaints go nowhere. Cases get entered into a database without further action. They get closed because of ongoing litigation, even about general topics, or because “policy was not violated.” Cases get forwarded to other agencies, then nothing happens. Sometimes, there is no response at all. This report’s second section documents painful examples of abuses suffered and what this inability to get past “failure points” looks like, including to victims—some of whom are deported without ever speaking to an investigator.
  • The status quo is unsustainable. Strengthening accountability will require action from many quarters. The way ahead involves improving the complaints process, investigations, discipline, congressional oversight, and cultural change. WOLA and KBI researchers drew on our experience, on many conversations with advocates and officials, and on extensive reading of existing literature to pull together more than 40 recommendations. Among them:
    • The complaints process: it is urgent to improve personnel capacity to reduce caseloads, to ease intakes, to offer real-time feedback to complainants about the status of their cases, to inform about resulting recommendations, and to explain why investigations were terminated.
    • Investigations: it is crucial to relieve complainants of the burden of knowing which of four agencies to complain to, to stop the DHS Inspector General (OIG) from freezing investigations by holding on to cases without acting, to improve agencies’ ability to handle complaints with multiple allegations, to build up staffing, to deploy and use more body-worn cameras, to ensure that victims are interviewed, and to make top-level management changes at the OIG.
    • Discipline: it is vital to strengthen CBP’s use of force standard to “necessary and proportionate,” to make it more difficult to overrule investigators’ disciplinary recommendations in human rights cases, to get officials in the chain of command out of discipline decisions, and to empower the National Use of Force Review Board to issue quicker, tougher decisions.
    • Congressional oversight: legislators and their staff need to carry out more hearings, issue more written inquiries, and add more reporting requirements about accountability, while passing legislation to clarify oversight agencies’ jurisdictions and increase their funding.
    • Cultural change: key steps include getting the Border Patrol Union out of human rights and other misconduct cases involving members of the public, taking stronger measures on sexual harassment and bolstering the recruitment of women, protecting whistleblowers, closing the current loophole allowing racial profiling, and taking Border Patrol agents out of asylum processing.

This agenda of recommended reforms is ambitious, and many sectors have roles to play: DHS officials, legislators, NGOs, journalists, philanthropists, and—first and foremost—agents and officers themselves. But as the many examples of injustice documented here make clear, there is no choice: this is a matter of democratic rule of law, both at the border and beyond it.

This report was made possible, and tremendously improved, by editing, design, research, communications, and content contributions from Kathy Gille, Joanna Williams, Ana Lucía Verduzco, Zaida Márquez, Sergio Ortiz Borbolla, Milli Legrain, and Felipe Puerta Cuartas. We could not do this work without the generosity of our supporters; please become one of them.

Event and Report Launch Wednesday… been working on this one for a while

Next Wednesday, WOLA is publishing a report that I’ve been working on for months, with colleagues at the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales.

It’s an in-depth look at

  • CBP’s and Border Patrol’s serious, pervasive human rights problem
  • Why DHS’s accountability efforts constantly fail
  • What we can do about it

Our launch webinar is at 2PM Eastern next Wednesday, August 2.

There’s a lot of ground to cover! Join us if you can – here’s the RSVP link.

Here’s the text of the event announcement from WOLA’s website.

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and Kino Border Initiative (KBI) cordially invite you to the following webinar:

Abuses at the U.S.- Mexican Border: How To Address Failures and Protect Rights

A U.S.-Mexico border that is well governed can go hand in hand with a border where migrants and asylum seekers receive humane treatment. For this to happen, U.S. government personnel who abuse human rights or violate professional standards must be held to account and victims must receive justice.

Right now, at the U.S.-Mexico border, this rarely happens. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the federal government’s largest civilian law enforcement agency, has a persistent problem of human rights abuse without accountability. 

Many, if not most, CBP officers, and agents in CBP’s Border Patrol agency, are professionals who seek to follow best practices. However, the frequency and severity of abuse allegations suggests that agents who do, have little reason to be concerned about consequences from an accountability system that yields few results.

Join us to discuss the launch of our new report, Abuses at the U.S.-Mexican Border: How To Address Failures and Protect Rights. While documenting the problem at the border and showing “failure points” to accountability, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) offer more than 40 recommendations for more effective complaints, investigations, discipline, oversight, and cultural change. 

The report is a product of years of work documenting human rights violations committed by U.S. federal law enforcement forces at the U.S.-Mexico border. WOLA, based in Washington D.C, maintains a database of over 400 cases—many of them severe—compiled since 2020. KBI has documented thousands of cases of abuse narrated by migrants who have sheltered at its facilities in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. KBI has generated hundreds of formal complaints since 2015 in an effort to improve accountability. 

Of complaints since 2020, 95 percent resulted in no accountability outcome at all. Changing an abusive culture, and increasing the probability of accountability, can take many years and will face political headwinds. But as the many, often shocking, abuses documented by both organizations make strikingly clear, there is no other choice: this is a matter of democratic rule of law, both at the border and beyond it. The United States must bring its border law enforcement agencies’ day-to-day behavior back into alignment with its professed values, especially at a time of historic migration.


Adam Isacson

  • Director for Defense Oversight, Washington Office on Latin America, WOLA

Zoe Martens

  • Advocacy Coordinator, Kino Border Initiative, KBI

Joanna Williams

  • Executive Director, Kino Border Initiative, KBI

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

14:00 – 15:00 ET / 11:00 – 12:00 MST

Register to join the webinar here.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: July 28, 2023

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


A federal judge has vacated the Biden administration’s two-month-old rule restricting access to asylum for many migrants at the border. The rule, which puts asylum out of reach for migrants who don’t make an appointment or first seek it in another country en route, went into effect after the Title 42 policy’s termination. The ruling, in response to a lawsuit brought by several organizations, found that the so-called “transit ban” rule is contrary to existing law. Judge Jon Tigar stayed his own decision for 14 days, and the administration will appeal it.

Mexican authorities apprehended 58,097 migrants during June 2023. This breaks Mexico’s previous migrant apprehensions record by more than 11 percent. Venezuela was the number-one nationality of migrants encountered, but several other nationalities doubled from May to June. Along with data from Honduras and Panama, Mexico’s numbers point to a sharp increase in migration following Title 42’s termination, even as authorities on the U.S. side of the border encounter fewer migrants.

Fallout continues from a whistleblower’s revelation that police and National Guardsmen deployed to the border by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) are being instructed to mistreat asylum-seeking migrants: telling them to swim across the river back to Mexico, denying them water amid extreme heat, and laying down concertina wire that is wounding many. Meanwhile the Department of Justice has filed suit to compel Texas to remove a “wall of buoys” in the middle of the river in Eagle Pass; Mexico has filed diplomatic protests; and Abbott’s deployed forces are arresting female migrants and employing mobile phone surveillance software.


District court strikes down Biden administration asylum rule

A federal court in California struck down the Biden administration’s two-month-old rule restricting access to asylum for many migrants. If courts take no further action to stay Oakland District Court Judge Jon Tigar’s ruling, the administration’s “Circumvention of Lawful Pathways” rule will be lifted by August 9.

The rule (a subject covered in numerous WOLA Border Updates, especially in March, April, and May) went into force on May 11, 2023, the day that the “Title 42” pandemic expulsions policy ended. It blocks access to asylum, with some exceptions, to all non-Mexican migrants who (a) come to the border between ports of entry (land border crossings), instead of making an appointment using Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) “CBP One” smartphone app; and (b) did not try and fail to seek asylum in at least one other country along their route. People subjected to the rule are deported—and deported into Mexico if they are citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, or Venezuela—and banned from entry into the United States for five years.

Judge Tigar’s decision to strike down the rule resulted from a lawsuit ( East Bay Sanctuary Covenant v. Biden) brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Northern California, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, and National Immigrant Justice Center, on behalf of East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, American Gateways, Central American Resource Center, Immigrant Defenders Law Center, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Tahirih Justice Center. Tigar had promised to issue a decision shortly after hearing arguments on July 19 (see WOLA’s July 21 Border Update).

In 2019, Judge Tigar had struck down a similar “transit ban” rule, when the Trump administration sought to ban asylum for migrants who failed to seek it elsewhere along the way. Though the Biden administration added more exceptions and sought to accompany its rule with alternative legal pathways, Tigar decided that the 2023 rule contravened existing law (especially Section 208 of the Immigration and Nationality Act) in similar ways.

According to the ruling:

  • The Biden administration’s rule is contrary to existing law, which specifically states that the right to asylum exists without regard to how a migrant arrived on U.S. soil. The “clear intent” of the law, Tigar’s decision adds, is that migrants are only expected to seek asylum in another country when it “actually presents a safe option.” Though the law allows the government to impose additional rules on asylum, those must be “consistent” with the law.
  • The rule is “arbitrary and capricious” because it relies on other legal pathways for migration to the United States, like “CBP One” appointments or humanitarian parole for four countries’ citizens, which are unavailable to many asylum seekers.
  • The rule is procedurally invalid because the administration gave the public only 30 days to submit comments. This, in Judge Tigar’s view, did not comply with the Administrative Procedure Act, which lays out the rulemaking process.

The July 25 decision echoes some of the arguments made in tens of thousands of comments that individuals and organizations, from human rights defenders to members of Congress to the UN Refugee Agency, submitted during the 30-day period, which ended on March 27 (WOLA linked to 167 comments, including its own, in its March 31 Border Update).

Some of what many commenters warned about was already coming to pass.

Read More

In Colombia, attacks on human rights defenders, social leaders, and ex-combatants are gradually declining

Two sources point to a welcome, though still woefully insufficient, decline in the number of human rights defenders and social leaders being killed in Colombia.

During the first half of 2023:

  • According to Colombia’s Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo), 92 social leaders and human rights defenders were killed between January and June 2023. That is down 19 percent from the 114 killings that the Defensoría counted between January and June 2022.
  • According to the count kept by the independent journalism site La Silla Vacía, 77 social leaders were murdered in the first six months of 2023. That is down 25 percent from the first half of 2022.

The United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, which produces quarterly reports on implementation of aspects of the 2016 peace accord, also found a downward trend in murders of demobilized former members of the FARC guerrilla group. In its latest report, the Mission counts 18 ex-combatants killed between January 1 and June 26, 2023, roughly 30 percent behind the pace of 2022, and the trend has been declining since 2020.

From UN document: Since the signing of the Peace Agreement, the Mission has verified:

11 Women
54 Afro-Colombians
35 Indigenous



Twelve former combatants (all men) were killed during this period in Caquetá, Cauca, Chocó, Guaviare, Huila, Meta, Putumayo and Valle del Cauca.

2017: 33
2018: 65
2019: 78
2020: 75
2021: 55
2022: 50
2023: 18

This is all good news, though Colombia is still far from zero.

Why is it happening? Some credit may go to the nearly year-old government of Gustavo Petro, which has extended many of the country’s armed groups an opportunity to negotiate peace or demobilization, which gives them an incentive to improve their behavior toward non-combatants.

In the case of attacks on former FARC combatants, the demobilization process happened six years ago now, so “people just getting on with their lives” is something of a factor. Still, the UN warns that “persisting violence continues to jeopardize the process.” Indeed, imminent threats from FARC “dissidents” is forcing the relocation of sites for demobilized guerrillas in Vistahermosa and Mesetas, Meta, a few hours’ drive south of Bogotá.

Colombia in the 2024 Foreign Aid Bill

As of yesterday, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have completed work on the 2024 State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill—more colloquially, the “foreign aid bill.” The Republican-majority House appropriators approved their bill on July 12, and Senate appropriators approved theirs on July 20.

Here’s a very top-level overview of Colombia provisions in the 2023 foreign aid budget, what the Biden administration requested of Congress in March, and the House and Senate bills as they’ve emerged from committee.

U.S. Assistance to Colombia in the State/Foreign Operations Appropriation

2023 lawBiden Administration RequestHouse Appropriations Committee (bill / report)Senate Appropriations Committee (bill / report)
Total amount
(Omits Venezuela migrant aid, Defense Department aid, some smaller accounts)
$496 million$444.025 million“Deferred”$487.375 million
USAID Economic Support Funds$153 million$122 million Unspecified, except $25 million for “Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Communities” and $15 million for “Human rights”
USAID Development Assistance$95 million$103 million Unspecified, except $15 million for “Colombia biodiversity”
International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement$175 million$160 million  
Nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining, and Related Programs$21 million$10 million  
Foreign Military Financing$38.5 million$38 million $28.025 million
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights$3 million  $3 million
Human rights conditions on military and some police aid20% of FMF; 5% of INCLE for Colombia’s National PoliceNoneNone20% of FMF; 5% of INCLE for Colombia’s National Police

The next steps after this:

  • Both houses must approve their bills (changes to Colombia provisions are unlikely).
  • A “conference committee” must resolve differences.
  • Once that revised and combined bill is approved, it gets sent to the President for signature, often combined with several other budget bills into a single “omnibus” bill.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: July 21, 2023

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


An internal email from a Texas state policeman shed alarming light on the state-funded border security crackdown in Eagle Pass. Migrants are being injured by spools of concertina wire, and local authorities appear to be under orders to refuse humanitarian aid and make them swim back to Mexico in a notoriously dangerous segment of the Rio Grande.

In June, the first full month after the Title 42 pandemic policy ended, U.S. border authorities’ encounters with migrants dropped significantly. The number processed at ports of entry, however, increased to a record level, amid a jump in appointments granted using the “CBP One” smartphone app.

A court in Oakland, California, heard arguments about the Biden administration’s controversial rule limiting access to asylum, which went into effect upon Title 42’s termination. The rule denies asylum to most non-Mexican migrants who fail to make appointments at ports of entry and don’t first seek protection elsewhere along the way. Litigants and migrants’ rights defenders contend that the rule violates U.S. law and endangers migrants waiting in Mexican border cities.


Whistleblower report: Texas border deployment is actively harming asylum seekers

The Houston Chronicle and Hearst Newspapers shared an internal e-mail from Texas State Trooper Nicholas Wingate, a medic assigned to Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s (R) state-funded border security crackdown in Eagle Pass, along the Rio Grande a few hours from San Antonio. It contains troubling revelations—now being confirmed by additional sources—of harm done to migrants by state personnel, apparently on the orders of superiors.

In that part of the border, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) police and state-funded National Guardsmen have strung miles of razor-sharp coils of concertina wire along the riverbank and shallows. As covered in WOLA’s July 14 Border Update, they are also building a 1,000-foot floating “wall” of buoys in the middle of the river in front of downtown Eagle Pass.

Among recent results of these state operations, from Wingate’s e-mail (with excerpts in quotes):

  • On June 25, 120 people were waiting to turn themselves in on the riverbank, “exhausted hungry and tired” during a record heat wave. The Texas DPS shift officers in command twice gave orders “to push the people back into the water to go to Mexico” despite the drowning risk.
  • On June 30, Texas National Guardsmen, acting on orders, “pressed back” a 4-year-old girl “who attempted to cross the wire.” The girl soon passed out in the 100-plus-degree heat and needed medical attention.
  • That day, troopers found a man with “a significant laceration in his left leg” from the concertina wire. “We asked him what happened and he stated that he had a child who was stuck on a trap in the water. He said that there was a barrel that had casualty wire all over it and his child was stuck on it.”
  • Also that day, a 15-year-old boy broke his leg after a roll of concertina wire forced him to re-enter the river in an area of dangerous currents.
  • That evening, troopers came across a 19-year-old woman “who was in obvious pain stuck in the casualty wire who was doubled over.” She was pregnant and having a miscarriage.

“Due to the extreme heat, the order to not give people water needs to be immediately reversed,” Wingate wrote, adding: “I believe we have stepped over a line into the inhumane.”

The Houston Chronicle had already reported on the federal U.S. Border Patrol’s concern that the concertina wire would complicate rescues. On June 30, Fox News footage showed Border Patrol agents having to use shears to cut through the wire to reach migrants in the river.

Since 2021, Eagle Pass has been a prime crossing point for people seeking to turn themselves in to U.S. authorities and ask for asylum in the United States. It is also a treacherous section of the Rio Grande. In the roughly 75 miles of riverfront of Texas’s Maverick County—which includes Eagle Pass—the sheriff’s office has counted 103 drownings since 2022, according to the New York Times. That includes the July 1 death near Eagle Pass of a Guatemalan woman, her infant daughter, and another child whose body was never recovered.

The Texas state government issued a denial, stating that “no orders or directions have been given under Operation Lone Star that would compromise the lives of those attempting to cross the border illegally.” Texas DPS told The Hill, “There is not a directive or policy that instructs Troopers to withhold water from migrants or push them back into the river.”

Emerging evidence, however, points to the issuance of orders compelling behavior that endangered migrants. According to the New York Times, three other officers have corroborated that “there were explicit orders to deny water to migrants and to tell them to go back to Mexico. Three said they had been told by supervisors that troopers were not to inform the Border Patrol when migrants were in the water or at the Texas riverbank.”

A Texas DPS text message addressed to sergeants, obtained by the Times, read: “Can you please push out a message to your troopers. They are NOT to call BP when they see a group approaching or already on the bank.” The text, the Times added, “directed officers to tell migrants to ‘go back to Mexico’ and to cross the border at one of the international bridges.” To go “back to Mexico” would mean swimming back across a dangerous stretch of river.

A migrant interviewed by the Times showed wounds on his foot from stepping on concertina wire that Texas personnel had submerged in the river’s shallows, causing blood to gush through his tennis shoe. Another witnessed a woman caused “to hit her face on a spike, leaving a gash on her forehead” after a Texas agent roughly pulled a blanket off of a coil of wire at the riverbank, as people were climbing over it.

Further evidence indicates that officials were aware that endangerment of migrants was occurring, and worsening. Texas DPS director Steve McCraw sent an internal e-mail over the July 15-16 weekend, with photos of wounds, noting “that the razor wire had led to an increase in injuries for migrants.” In a July 17 report, USA Today found that, at an Eagle Pass migrant respite center, “the migrants who do stagger in often have slashes from the razor wire.”

Read More

At MSNBC: Texas’ plan to make crossing the Rio Grande more dangerous is inhumane

A big thank-you to the great (and fast-moving) editors at for inviting me to write about the recent allegations of harm inflicted on asylum-seeking migrants by Texas state police at the border.

In this opinion piece, I contend that cruelty has long been a part of efforts, at all levels of government, to deter people from migrating. The incidents in Eagle Pass are egregious, and we owe a debt to the whistleblower who revealed them. But they’re nothing new.

Read it here.

June at the border saw a big move toward the ports of entry

June migration data from the U.S.-Mexico border, posted yesterday by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), show a 42 percent drop, from May, in the number of migrants who crossed the border in the areas between the ports of entry (official border crossings), ending up in Border Patrol custody. There is a lot of red (reductions) in this chart of tables:

**All Border Patrol Migrant Encounters at the U.S.-Mexico Border**

Includes only those encountered between ports of entry.
Shaded countries’ citizens may be expelled to Mexico under Title 42, or deported there under the 2023 asylum rule.

**April 2023**
Mexico 59,666
Venezuela 29,731
Colombia 17,513
Guatemala 14,309
Other 13,777
Honduras 12,113
Peru 8,378
India 8,012
Ecuador 6,197
El Salvador 4,391
China 3,182
Brazil 2,898
Turkey 2,292
Nicaragua 372
Cuba 323
Russia 321
Haiti 235
Romania 197

**May 2023**
Mexico 43,614
Venezuela 28,055
Honduras 17,813
Colombia 17,625
Other 16,273
Guatemala 14,150
Peru 8,156
Ecuador 6,267
India 4,701
El Salvador 4,575
Brazil 3,467
China 2,769
Turkey 1,840
Cuba 941
Nicaragua 463
Haiti 387
Russia 162
Romania 122

**June 2023**
Mexico 33,967 
Venezuela 12,549 
Other 11,485 
Honduras 10,657 
Guatemala 9,547 
Ecuador 4,704 
Colombia 3,915 
India 2,513 
Peru 2,478 
Brazil 2,225 
China 2,122 
El Salvador 2,042 
Turkey 493 
Cuba 351 
Russia 186 
Nicaragua 180 
Romania 93 
Haiti 29

At the same time, it shows a 27 percent increase in the number of migrants who were able to approach the land-border ports of entry. The 45,026 people processed at ports of entry in June 2023 was a record. There is a lot of green (increases) in this chart of tables:

**All Port of Entry Migrant Encounters at the U.S.-Mexico Border**

Includes only those encountered at ports of entry.
Shaded countries’ citizens may be expelled to Mexico under Title 42, or deported there under the 2023 asylum rule.

**April 2023**
Mexico 7,421 
Haiti 7,041 
Venezuela 4,905 
Russia 2,319 
Other 2,083 
Cuba 1,286 
Honduras 1,109 
Brazil 571 
Colombia 330 
El Salvador 288 
Guatemala 273 
Ecuador 199 
Nicaragua 134 
Peru 68 
China 23 
Ukraine 13 
Romania 9 
Canada 6 

**May 2023**
Mexico 11,793 
Haiti 4,788 
Venezuela 4,679 
Honduras 3,226 
Other 3,204 
Russia 2,811 
Cuba 1,864 
El Salvador 775 
Guatemala 667 
Colombia 506 
Brazil 349 
Nicaragua 255 
Ecuador 205 
Peru 109 
China 24 
Ukraine 21 
Turkey 19 
Romania 10 

**June 2023**
Mexico 15,309 
Venezuela 7,906 
Haiti 7,332 
Honduras 4,434 
Cuba 2,330 
Other 2,144 
Russia 1,242 
El Salvador 1,143 
Guatemala 814 
Colombia 790 
Brazil 736 
Ecuador 399 
Nicaragua 238 
Peru 145 
China 25 
Ukraine 15 
India 9 
Turkey 8

The number of nationalities whose citizens go to the ports of entry more than 20 percent of the time increased from 4 in April to 9 in June.

**Percentage of Migrants Encountered at Ports of Entry at U.S.-Mexico Border**

Shaded countries’ citizens may be expelled to Mexico under Title 42, or deported there under the 2023 asylum rule.

**April 2023**
Haiti 97%
Russia 88%
Cuba 80%
Nicaragua 26%
Brazil 16%
Venezuela 14%
Other 13%
Mexico 11%
Honduras 8%
El Salvador 6%
Romania 4%
Ecuador 3%
Guatemala 2%
Colombia 2%
Peru 1%
China 1%
India 0%
Turkey 0%

**May 2023**
Russia 95%
Haiti 93%
Cuba 66%
Nicaragua 36%
Mexico 21%
Other 16%
Honduras 15%
El Salvador 14%
Venezuela 14%
Brazil 9%
Romania 8%
Guatemala 5%
Ecuador 3%
Colombia 3%
Peru 1%
Turkey 1%
China 1%
India 0%

**June 2023**
Haiti 100%
Russia 87%
Cuba 87%
Nicaragua 57%
Venezuela 39%
El Salvador 36%
Mexico 31%
Honduras 29%
Brazil 25%
Colombia 17%
Other 16%
Guatemala 8%
Ecuador 8%
Peru 6%
Romania 2%
Turkey 2%
China 1%
India 0%

This is positive. The “CBP One” app that migrants must now use to secure asylum appointments at ports of entry continues to have flaws, but with 1,450 appointments per day now available, wait times in Mexican border cities—while still too long—have decreased.

It is much more humane to process asylum seekers and other migrants at the ports of entry, instead of requiring them to cross rivers or climb walls to stand on U.S. soil and turn themselves in to Border Patrol. I encourage CBP to continue increasing appointments until protection-seeking migrants no longer have an incentive to take the great risk of crossing the border on riverbanks and deserts.

As that happens, Border Patrol can mostly be cut out of the asylum processing picture, a very welcome outcome.

And even if the Biden administration’s new rule banning asylum for many migrants who cross “improperly” survives court challenges, greater access to the ports of entry will make such crossings less attractive to protection-seeking migrants anyway.

The shifts in June are a step toward that.

Finally, here is a combination of the first two tables, combining migrants who arrived at, and between, the ports of entry in April, May, and June. Overall, migration declined 30 percent from May to June.

**All CBP Migrant Encounters at the U.S.-Mexico Border**

Includes those encountered at, and between, ports of entry.
Shaded countries’ citizens may be expelled to Mexico under Title 42, or deported there under the 2023 asylum rule

**April 2023**
Mexico 67,087
Venezuela 34,636
Colombia 17,843
Other 15,860
Guatemala 14,582
Honduras 13,222
Peru 8,446
India 8,013
Haiti 7,276
Ecuador 6,396
El Salvador 4,679
Brazil 3,469
China 3,205
Russia 2,640
Turkey 2,292
Cuba 1,609
Nicaragua 506
Romania 206

**May 2023**
Mexico 55,407
Venezuela 32,734
Honduras 21,039
Other 19,477
Colombia 18,131
Guatemala 14,817
Peru 8,265
Ecuador 6,472
El Salvador 5,350
Haiti 5,175
India 4,705
Brazil 3,816
Russia 2,973
Cuba 2,805
China 2,793
Turkey 1,859
Nicaragua 718
Romania 132

**June 2023**
Mexico 49,276
Venezuela 20,455
Honduras 15,091
Other 13,629
Guatemala 10,361
Haiti 7,361
Ecuador 5,103
Colombia 4,705
El Salvador 3,185
Brazil 2,961
Cuba 2,681
Peru 2,623
India 2,522
China 2,147
Russia 1,428
Turkey 501
Nicaragua 418
Romania 95

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: July 14, 2023

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


Border Patrol found the remains of 10 migrants over the July 8-9 weekend amid a prolonged heat wave in Texas and Arizona. Preliminary data point to another 70 deceased migrants recovered along the border in June. Shifts intensified by climate change are making the border deadlier during the summer’s hottest months.

In Eagle Pass, Texas, a site of frequent migrant drownings, Texas’s hardline state government is experimenting with a “wall” of floating buoys in the middle of the river to block would-be migrants. This and other state government measures have drawn criticism from environmental defenders, a local business, and those—including Border Patrol, in a leaked internal memo—who worry about danger to migrants and the difficulty of rescues.

Preliminary data point to a 39 percent drop in Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants from May to June. This owes to a strict Biden administration rule, imposed after the Title 42 policy ended, that limits access to asylum, as well as a crackdown in Mexico. It also owes to a sharp increase in the availability of daily appointments for asylum seekers to approach land-border ports of entry. June data from Panama point to a 24 percent decrease, from May, in migration through the treacherous Darién Gap region. Data from Honduras, however, show a sharp increase in migration during the first nine days of July.


Extreme heat brings even more migrant fatalities

Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens shared in a July 10 tweet that, just during the July 8-9 weekend, his agents found the remains of 10 people who had died in the U.S.-Mexico border zone “due to the dangerous heat and conditions.” As noted in WOLA’s July 7 Border Update, a July 5 tweet from Owens had alerted about the recovery of 13 deceased migrants in the previous week.

These are the hottest months of the year in the border zone, and “heat dome” phenomena—a result of climate change-related changes to the jet stream and a very strong 2023 El Niño ocean current shift—have brought many consecutive days of triple-digit temperatures to Texas, northern Mexico, and now Arizona. In South Texas, wet bulb temperatures in the low 90s and heat indices near 120 are perilously close to levels ( 95 for wet bulb, 125 for heat index) considered fatal after several hours of exposure, as they overwhelm the human body’s ability to keep cool.

The historic heat in the borderlands is taking a heavy toll on residents with insufficient access to air conditioning and, of course, on the migrant population: both those seeking to cross into the United States undetected, and those waiting in northern Mexico for asylum appointments using the “CBP One” smartphone app.

  • “Preliminary” data passed to the conservative Center Square news website from Border Patrol personnel point to agents having found the remains of 70 deceased migrants near the U.S.-Mexico border in June. Border Patrol’s Del Rio Sector, in mid-Texas, was the most lethal of the agency’s nine southern border sectors, with 22 migrant remains recovered last month. (In regions where they operate, local humanitarian organizations tend to find more remains than Border Patrol reports.)
  • “This year in Brooks County,” in South Texas where many migrants perish while trying to walk around a Border Patrol checkpoint, “there has been 22 confirmed deaths, in terms of recoveries of human remains and bodies,” Eddie Canales of the South Texas Human Rights Center told Democracy Now.
  • In Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector, which includes New Mexico, Sector Chief Anthony “Scott” Good tweeted on July 7 that agents have “recorded over 70 migrant deaths in the remote desert of New Mexico” since October 2022.

“Crossings have historically dipped during the peak summer months when temperatures along the border soar past 100 degrees,” the Washington Post noted on July 12. The Biden administration’s tough post-Title 42 asylum rule, however, may be causing more migrants who cannot access asylum to try to evade capture, and doing so in “more remote areas with greater risk. They may be U.S. deportees, or have criminal records, making them ineligible for CBP One.”

Dehydration and heat stroke are not the only causes of migrant death. A column at The Hill by University of California San Diego neurological surgery resident Alexander Tenorio recalls that the Trump administration’s construction of 30-foot border wall segments south of San Diego caused hospital admissions from migrants falling from the wall to multiply sevenfold since 2019. “Spinal injuries after border falls have cost an additional $26 million.”

Drownings in the Rio Grande and in irrigation canals remain too-common causes of death. On July 1, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel and Texas state police retrieved from the river the bodies of a mother and infant daughter from Guatemala near Eagle Pass. It was near that city, in the Del Rio Sector, where 13 migrants drowned to death in a single September 1, 2022 tragedy (see WOLA’s September 9, 2022 Border Update); about 2 months before that, authorities recovered the bodies of 12 people from the river in a single day.

Texas state government installs a 1,000-foot “wall of buoys”

On July 10, the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass was in the news again, this time as the site of the latest attention-grabbing attempt to seal the border by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), a vociferous critic of the Biden administration’s border and migration policies.

Trucks delivered, and workers began installing, a 1,000-foot “wall” of large spherical buoys, floating in the middle of the river along the actual aquatic borderline between Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. The line of buoys is anchored to the riverbed and equipped with underwater netting to prevent migrants from swimming under them.

Read More

Deadly heat in the south Texas borderlands

From Kim Stanley Robinson’s great book The Ministry for the Future:

“a wet-bulb temperature of 35 [95 degrees Fahrenheit] will kill humans, even if unclothed and sitting in the shade; the combination of heat and humidity prevents sweating from dissipating heat, and death by hyperthermia soon results.”

The south Texas borderlands will once again be perilously close to a wet bulb temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit tomorrow afternoon. It’ll be 92 in Laredo and McAllen. This will take a severe toll on the area’s migrant population.

National Weather Service map of the entire U.S.-Mexico border showing wet bulb temperatures at 4PM Eastern time tomorrow, July 10.

Areas shown as "extreme" include

Yuma, AZ (wet bulb 89), and nearly everything from Eagle Pass to Brownsville (at least 90, hitting 92 in Laredo and McAllen, and 93 just north of Laredo along I-35).

This map comes from the National Weather Service.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: July 7, 2023

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


Anecdotal information points to an increase in migrant deaths in the U.S.-Mexico border zone, amid skyrocketing early summer temperatures in the southern United States and Mexico. Border Patrol reported recovering 13 human remains in the past week. A child died of apparent heat exposure in Arizona, and an infant was among the remains of four people recovered from the Rio Grande in a 48-hour period in Texas.

The number of migrants apprehended by Border Patrol remains much lower than before the end of Title 42, while CBP has steadily increased the number of asylum-seeking migrants who may obtain daily appointments at ports of entry. Further south, northern Mexico border cities appear to have a somewhat smaller migrant population, but numbers may be increasing in southern Mexico. Migration through Honduras increased in June, but decreased in Panama’s Darién Gap.

So far in fiscal year 2023, U.S. border authorities have seized about one-quarter less heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana than they did during the same period a year earlier. Cocaine seizures are up slightly, though, and fentanyl seizures are up 169 percent. Supplies of the potent opioid appear to be glutted, and the U.S. government stepped up interdiction with a “surge” operation between March and May.


More reports of migrants dying in near-record heat

Jet-stream fluctuations left much of the southern United States and northern Mexico trapped in an early summer “heat dome” for about two weeks in June. Reports are pointing to severe consequences for U.S.-bound migrants, both those who attempt to walk through deserts to avoid detection, and those waiting in northern Mexico, often in squalid conditions, for appointments to present themselves to U.S. authorities to seek asylum.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported receiving a distress call on June 15 from a woman who was attempting to migrate through southern Arizona’s deserts with her two children. Somewhere outside Tubac, a town about halfway between Nogales and Tucson, her 9-year-old son began experiencing seizures. “The female migrant stated her son did not have prior existing medical issues and believed the heat contributed to his medical complications during their walk.” Despite being aerially evacuated, the boy died on June 16.

It used to be unusual to see families attempting to migrate through the desert, seeking to avoid apprehension. Further west, in Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Laurie Cantillo, a board member and volunteer for the Arizona-based organization Humane Borders, told NBC News that she came across “a mother with an infant strapped to her back, neither wearing sun protection” walking in 115-degree heat (46 degrees Celsius).

Just west of El Paso lies Sunland Park, New Mexico, a border municipality in the Chihuahuan Desert. In all of 2022, the Albuquerque Journal reported, the remains of 16 people attempting to cross the border were found in Sunland Park, a figure that combines deaths from heat exposure with deaths by falls from the border wall. In May and June 2023 alone, the number of recorded deaths in Sunland Park is 13, including 5 remains in a 4-day period during the June heat wave.

On the border’s eastern edge, in the Mexican city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas across from Brownsville, Texas, humanitarian workers worry about conditions in a makeshift tent camp. As many as 2,000 asylum seekers are waiting there in the blistering heat for a chance to seek asylum at a port of entry using the “CBP One” smartphone app. On July 5, Reuters published a detailed article and photo essay about conditions at the Matamoros camp, which now extends for a mile along the riverfront. Sister Norma Pimentel of the Texas-based Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley told NBC that many migrants in the camp “are fed up waiting to book appointments.” Efforts to replace the encampment with a more adequate facility are “so disorganized right now,” Pimentel lamented.

“Last week alone,” Border Patrol’s new chief, Jason Owens, tweeted on July 5, the agency “recovered 13 dead migrants” with heat “the leading cause,” and reported 226 heat-related rescues.

Though not necessarily heat-related, Texas’s state Department of Public Safety meanwhile reported recovering the bodies of four people from the Rio Grande in the vicinity of Eagle Pass: two on July 1, one on July 2, and another on July 3. The victims included an infant found with “an unresponsive woman.” None of them possessed identifying documents, so their identities and nationalities are unknown. Two other migrants were pulled from the river alive during those days.

It is not yet clear whether border-zone deaths of migrants in 2023 are on track to exceed the record-breaking levels of 2021 and 2022. “In an emailed statement,” NBC reported, CBP “said it has recorded recent deaths but did not provide a number.” We still await CBP’s count of remains recovered in fiscal year 2022 (October 2021-September 2022), which the agency was required by law to report by December 31, 2022. The unofficial number in the below chart, “more than 890,” comes from the February 2023 text of the Biden administration’s rule limiting access to asylum for people who didn’t first seek it in other countries.

Local humanitarian organizations routinely report higher totals of deaths than CBP does in the regions they cover. For its part, the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Missing Migrant Project counted 666 instances of missing migrants along its “U.S.-Mexico border crossing” migration category in the 2022 calendar year, and 222 so far in 2023.

Current U.S.-bound migrant population appears reduced in northern Mexico and Panama, increased in southern Mexico and Honduras

A July 3 New York Times analysis noted that the number of migrants apprehended by authorities on the U.S. side of the border remains roughly half of what it was before May 11, when the Biden administration replaced the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy with a new rule limiting many migrants’ access to asylum.

The U.S. Border Patrol Chief’s most recent “Week in Review” post to Twitter, covering an 8-day period ending June 29, reported an average of 3,542 migrant apprehensions per day. That was the largest average the Chief’s account had reported since May 19, but still less than half of the more than 7,000 per day reported during the first two weeks of May.

(As Border Patrol does not manage official ports of entry, the agency’s numbers do not include the 1,000-plus people per day, discussed below, who are now securing CBP One appointments at the border since Title 42 ended.)

The Times relayed U.S. border officials’ view that the lull in migration is probably temporary. “Officials believe that migrants have been in a wait-and-see mode since May 12,” as they see what happens to others who attempt to cross.

Read More

Darién Gap migration dropped a bit in June

The Venezuelan publication Tal Cual, citing unreleased data from Panama’s government, states that 196,370 people migrated through eastern Panama’s once-impenetrable Darién Gap jungles during the first 6 months of 2023.

Fifty-one percent, or 100,514 of the travelers who transited through the Darien jungle between January and June 2023, were Venezuelans.

Venezuelans were followed by Haitians (33,074), Ecuadorians (25,105), citizens of 23 African countries (6,420), Chileans (4,964) and Colombians (3,579).

(The Chileans were almost entirely the children of Haitian migrants who were born in Chile.)

If the 196,370 figure is near final, it is almost exactly 30,000 more than the 166,649 people whom Panamanian authorities had measured through May.

Screenshot from Panama's Darién Gap statistics, updated through May, showing 166,649 migrants, about 30,000 less than the figure through June cited in TalCual .

March: 38,099
April: 40,297
May: 38,962

As this screenshot of Panama’s data shows, 30,000 migrants in a month—while still an unimaginably large number for such a remote and dangerous region—is about one-quarter fewer people than Panama measured in March (38,099), April (40,297), and May (38,962).

The decline is less steep than the 70 percent drop in daily migrant apprehensions that the U.S. Border Patrol chief’s regular tweets have been recording. That probably means that the population of migrants bottled up between Panama and the U.S. border—mostly in Mexico—is increasing.

Chart: Border Patrol apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border: 
reported per-day total, May-June 2023

Date	Border Patrol apprehensions reported per-day total
1-May	7407
6-May	7850
8-May	8794
12-May	9680
15-May	4917
19-May	4068
22-May	2917
26-May	3149
30-May	3396
5-Jun	3015
9-Jun	3163
12-Jun	3016
16-Jun	3254
21-Jun	3303
23-Jun	3518
26-Jun	3428
30-Jun	3542

The decline at the Darién is a result of uncertainty about how the Biden administration will apply its restrictive new post-Title 42 asylum access rule to migrants who turn themselves in to U.S. authorities.

It is also a result of the end (with the end of Title 42, on May 11) of a two-month period in which Mexico’s government, in the aftermath of a tragic March 27 migrant detention center fire that killed 40 people, was refusing U.S. Title 42 expulsions of Venezuelan citizens from at least a few border sectors. That eased Venezuelan asylum seekers’ releases into the U.S. interior, and word got out about that possibility in April and the first part of May, as U.S. authorities’ encounters with Venezuelan migrants increased sharply.

Chart: CBP Encounters with citizens of Venezuela

19-Oct	728
19-Nov	588
19-Dec	693
20-Jan	243
20-Feb	206
20-Mar	166
20-Apr	9
20-May	10
20-Jun	13
20-Jul	36
20-Aug	49
20-Sep	46
20-Oct	143
20-Nov	184
20-Dec	206
21-Jan	295
21-Feb	913
21-Mar	2566
21-Apr	6048
21-May	7499
21-Jun	7583
21-Jul	6126
21-Aug	6301
21-Sep	10814
21-Oct	13416
21-Nov	20388
21-Dec	24801
22-Jan	22779
22-Feb	3073
22-Mar	4053
22-Apr	4107
22-May	5088
22-Jun	13199
22-Jul	17647
22-Aug	25361
22-Sep	33804
22-Oct	22060
22-Nov	8023
22-Dec	8190
23-Jan	9101
23-Feb	5565
23-Mar	8322
23-Apr	33850
23-May	30990

As noted above, Tal Cual reports that 100,514 Venezuelan migrants crossed the Darién Gap so far this year. That would mean about 18,500 Venezuelans crossed in June (there were 82,054 through May). That is a 30 percent drop in Venezuelan migration from May—8,000 fewer migrants, accounting for nearly all of the May-June worldwide reduction in migration through the Darién.

Since May 12, protection-seeking Venezuelan migrants must either:

  • apply for a two-year humanitarian parole status (which requires them both to hold a passport and to have a willing sponsor in the United States), or
  • make their way to northern Mexico and seek an appointment at a U.S. border port of entry using the CBP One smartphone app. CBP just increased the number of daily appointments to 1,450, about double what it was during Title 42.

While those pathways are important, they accommodate only a fraction of those seeking to migrate from Venezuela. Those reduced possibilities probably explain much of the June drop in migration through the Darién Gap, where more than half of this year’s migrants have been Venezuelan.

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