Adam Isacson

Still trying to understand Latin America, my own country, and why so few consequences are intended. These views are not necessarily my employer’s.



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The March migration numbers

Yesterday U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released its statistics for March. They show that Border Patrol apprehended the largest monthly total of migrants since April 2007. But unlike back then, when nearly all migrants were single Mexican adult males, this time two thirds were children or parents. Most of them from Honduras and Guatemala, and nearly all of them asking for asylum.

The number of single adult migrants apprehended was the largest since the spring of 2014—but still way below what it was that year, or in previous years. This “traditional” migrant population—most of whom probably still want to avoid capture—is now just one in three apprehensions.

Meanwhile, at the ports of entry themselves, CBP officers posted on the borderline prevent most asylum-seekers from approaching. Children and parents continue to be “metered” at somewhere between 4,500 and 5,000 per month.

Another 60,000-plus turned themselves in by jumping over the fence or going across the Rio Grande, and asking their apprehending Border Patrol agents for asylum.

Good morning from the Tijuana port of entry

Here’s 3 1/2 minutes of me talking into my phone near a grim daily ritual: dozens of migrants queuing up for the weeks-long waitlist for their chance to cross to U.S. soil and request asylum.

The day ahead: April 10, 2019

I’m difficult to reach today. (How to contact me)

Good morning from Tijuana. I’ve got meetings with two migrant shelters and the U.S. consulate on the schedule today. This evening, I’ve signed up for “airport duty” with the migrant shelter on the U.S. side. I’ll be hard to contact throughout the day.

The day ahead: April 9, 2019

I’ll be very hard to contact today. (How to contact me)

I’ll be spending day 2 in San Diego in an all-day meeting with a great assemblage of border and migration activists. It promises to be a forward-looking, proposal-focused discussion. I won’t be near a keyboard much, though I’ll be looking to see whether CBP, despite its leadership shakeup, posts its March migration numbers.

The day ahead: April 8, 2019

I’m traveling and will be hard to reach. (How to contact me)

Hello from San Diego. I have two meetings with U.S. border-security agencies today, and I’ll be working a long shift at the local shelter for migrant families who’ve been released from custody. There’s a time in late afternoon (early evening East Coast) when I may be easy to contact, but that’s about it.

Latin America-related events in Washington this week

Monday, April 8

Tuesday, April 9

  • 8:30–5:00 at the U.S. Institute of Peace: Alternative Approaches to Incarceration Abroad (RSVP required).
  • 9:30 in Room 2172, Rayburn House Office Building: Hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on FY 2020 Foreign Assistance Budget and Policy Priorities.
  • 10:00 in Room 342, Dirksen Senate Office Building: Hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Unprecedented Migration at the U.S. Southern Border: Perspectives from the Frontline.
  • 10:00–11:30 at the International Republican Institute: The Venezuelan Migration Crisis in Colombia: Local Governance Challenges (RSVP required).
  • 12:30–1:30 at WOLA: A Wake-Up Call: Colombia’s Peace at Risk (RSVP required).
  • 12:30–2:00 at Georgetown University: A Missionary Order without Saints: Unbeatified and Uncanonized Jesuits and Substitute Sanctity in Italy and Peru, 1580–1622 (RSVP required).
  • 5:30–6:30 at the Wilson Center: A Conversation with His Excellency Hamilton Mourão, Vice President of the Republic of Brazil (RSVP required).

Wednesday, April 10

Thursday, April 11

  • 8:30–9:30 at AEI: What is next for US-Venezuela policy? A conversation with Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) (RSVP required).
  • 8:30–10:30 at the Inter-American Dialogue: Chile’s Private Pension Experience and the Outlook for New Reforms (RSVP required).
  • 8:30–2:00 at CSIS: 2019 Global Development Forum (RSVP required).
  • 10:00–10:50 at the Brookings Institution: The latest on Brazil’s economic reforms: A conversation with Economy Minister Paulo Guedes (RSVP required).
  • 10:00–12:00 at the U.S. Institute of Peace: Youth: The Missing Peace (RSVP required).

Friday, April 12

  • 9:00–10:30 at the Inter-American Dialogue: A Conversation with Alberto Carrasquilla, Colombia’s Minister of Finance and Public Credit (RSVP required).
  • 12:00–2:00 at the Inter-American Dialogue: Latin America’s Digital Economy and Trends in International Taxation (RSVP required).

WOLA Podcast: Rebelocracy: Social Order in the Colombian Civil War

Ana Arjona on the findings of her award-winning 2016 study

Here’s an interview with Ana Arjona, director of the Center for the Study of Security and Drugs (CESED) at Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá, and an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Northwestern University.

Professor Arjona is the author of the 2016 book Rebelocracy: Social Order in the Colombian Civil War. Based on extensive field work and data analysis in Colombia, Rebelocracy offers an intricate theory of how armed conflicts and civil wars function, viewed at the local level. Arjona finds that most of the time, the situation is not anarchy and chaos: there can be some sort of order in the midst of civil war. Further, she finds that this order usually takes one of two forms, and what form it takes is often up to the civilian population themselves.

The day ahead: April 5, 2019

I’ll be around in the afternoon. (How to contact me)

It’s my last day in the office until April 15, as I’m headed back to the U.S.-Mexico border this weekend. This morning I’m giving a talk about Colombia at the annual meeting of the American Association of Geographers. I’m in the office the rest of the day, tying up loose ends and doing some writing.

New memo: There is a Crisis at the U.S.-Mexico Border. But it’s Manageable

Here’s a piece that a few of us at WOLA just put out today, throwing together a lot of our data, arguments, and proposals about the current moment at the border.

This is a brief summary. The full text with graphics is at WOLA’s website.

There is a real crisis at the border due to a dramatic increase in the number of families from Central America seeking asylum. Almost two-thirds of migrants now coming to the U.S.-Mexico border are children or families, compared to only 10 percent in 2012.

This is a genuine a humanitarian crisis, not a security threat. The Trump administration’s policies—including threats to shut down the border, build a wall, cut aid to Central America, and increase deportations—have made the situation worse.

The crisis is taking a toll on migrant families, humanitarian aid workers, overworked Border Patrol agents, and overwhelmed judges.

This presents new challenges for border and immigration policy, but it is something that the U.S. government should be capable of administering in a safe, orderly, and humane way. In a new analysis, WOLA provides background on who is coming, why they are coming, and what could be done to address the problem. Here is a brief overview of the key points.

Who is coming?

  • Families and children from Honduras and Guatemala, and a much smaller number from El Salvador, seeking asylum.
  • This represents a shift—not just an increase in numbers, but a new population of migrants.
  • This new pattern is likely to be an ongoing trend unless underlying factors are addressed.

Why is it happening? A combination of these:

  • Violence and insecurity in Central America at some of the world’s highest levels.
  • Poverty and lack of economic opportunity, including collapsed rural economies, with risk of famine in some areas.
  • Corruption, which benefits organized criminal groups, smuggling networks, and public entities engaged in illicit activities.
  • Separated family members seeking to reunite.
  • The asylum backlog itself, during which many asylum-seekers wait years for their hearings.

What can we do to address the long term trends?

  1. Contribute to efforts to make Central America a place that people don’t need to flee.
  2. Recognize Mexico’s efforts to support Central American migrants and expand access to asylum.
  3. Massively revamp our beleaguered land ports of entry.
  4. Get serious about alternatives to detention, especially family case management.
  5. Eliminate the backlogs with more courts, judges and staff in a reformed immigration court system that respects due process.

What can we do in the short term?

  • Relieve Border Patrol agents and let case workers and others process forms and handle the needs of children and families.
  • Expand short-term facilities to process migrants and asylum-seekers in a timely and humane manner.
  • End backlogs and waitlists for asylum-seekers at the ports of entry.
  • Immediately cancel the “Remain in Mexico” program, which is contributing to risks and chaos at the border.
  • Hire people who speak indigenous languages to assist in processing migrants.

For more information, read the full analysis.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

April 4, 2019

Western Hemisphere Regional

McAleenan announced that CBP officers currently at the ports of entry would be reassigned to help with processing migrant families. The decision has led to longer wait times and concerns about security

Anti-immigration sentiment is driving demand for harsh policies that may not only fail to reduce arrivals, but to also make the problem look even more uncontrolled and overwhelming


Some 450 Brazilian and foreign companies, ranging from makers of machine guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers to “target detection” technology and surveillance drones, are on display at the four-day LAAD defense and security expo

Central America Regional

By willfully concealing the names of corrupt government officials in Central America, in defiance of Congress’ intent, the Trump administration is engaging in a cover-up

Here are some examples of programs financed by American dollars in the three countries targeted by President Trump


En la breve comunicación se señaló, además, que la estrategia está enfocada en “aumentar la erradicación y las operaciones contra las redes de tráfico”.

The rearrangement of the multiple FARC dissident units into one single structure could mean a return to combat with similar military power as the group had before it demobilized

La fuerte estrategia del embajador para incidir en las objeciones, especialmente en la que tiene que ver con la extradición

El próximo lunes será citado el debate en la plenaria, sin embargo, desde ya se avizora una estruendosa derrota del Gobierno

Many of the protesters belong to sectors of the population most affected by this rising violence

El movimiento social que hoy cumple 24 días, ya cuenta con alrededor de 25.000 personas provenientes de varios departamentos como Cauca, Antioquia, Chocó, Tolima, Nariño, Huila, Valle, Amazonía, entre otros


Según Juan Francisco Sandoval, fiscal contra la impunidad que contribuyó a llevar a prisión a tres expresidentes acusados de corrupción, el gobierno de Jimmy Morales ha sido el peor para combatir estos abusos

Even approaches that have accounted for the root causes of regional mass migration have underestimated the impact of climate change


The Department of Homeland Security on Monday reallocated up to 750 officers, citing a “growing security and humanitarian crisis at the border,” and said that the reassignments might rise to more than 2,000 personnel

The difference is that Nixon had clear and potentially achievable objectives in mind with his game of diplomatic chicken. Trump does not

The governor indicated the president had not made a final decision regarding a border closure, despite multiple threats to do so over the last week

Central America Regional, Mexico

Trump says Mexico began to detain thousands of Central American migrants at its southern border only this week. Let’s not beat around the bush here — that’s totally false. They’ve been doing it for decades


Taking advantage of the mercenary nature of chavismo can help, by eventually offering rewards for the surrender and delivery of Maduro and his top lieutenants

Across Petare’s vertiginous back alleys such anger is inescapable – even if some still lionise Chávez as a champion of the poor

The legislation would provide $200 million in aid for Venezuela and $200 million for neighboring countries to absorb refugees

The day ahead: April 4, 2019

I’ll be available late morning and late afternoon. (How to contact me)

First thing this morning I’ll be Skyping and recording a podcast with an expert on Colombia’s conflict. During the first half of the afternoon I’ll be on a call with border groups and then have a meeting with a migration-focused philanthropy here in town.

When not in meetings, we’ll be launching a memo—it’s become a full-blown report, really—on the current child and family migrant crisis at the border and what to do about it. I’ll also be putting final touches on a presentation I’m giving at the American Association of Geographers’ Annual Meeting tomorrow, nailing down the last couple of meetings for my border trip next week, and writing another 1,000 words on an overdue article about U.S.-military ties for a Latin American publication.

Also, my spidey-sense tells me that CBP could release its March numbers showing a huge increase in migrant apprehensions at the border (they did February on March 5), so responding to and contextualizing that could derail things.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

April 3, 2019

Western Hemisphere Regional

Countries fear that legal standard of states being ‘unwilling or unable’ to deal with terrorism could be used in Latin America

On Wednesday, he took in 825 migrants, his busiest day ever


No dia em que visitaram em Israel o Museu do Holocausto, o presidente Jair Bolsonaro e seu chanceler, Ernesto Araújo, insistiram em declarar em entrevistas nesta terça-feira que o nazismo foi um movimento de esquerda

Central America Regional

Rather than turn a blind eye to creeping authoritarianism, it should pressure governments to become more democratic and less beholden to corrupt elites and criminal networks

The President’s move, which will affect everything from development aid and humanitarian assistance to joint law-enforcement operations and anti-gang initiatives, will only make the crisis at the border worse

If the money is ultimately withheld, it would affect a wide range of programs designed to improve citizen security, promote economic development and encourage accountable government

That insistence on immediate results — combined with an apparent lack of attention to the differences among countries and between types of aid — is characteristic of Trump’s approach

Colombia, Venezuela

He was responding to a March 28 letter from the upper house of Russia’s parliament that said the “illegitimate use of military force against Venezuela by other states that support the opposition will be interpreted … as an act of aggression against a sovereign state”


Es un error pensar que es una buena estrategia internacional adherirnos acríticamente a la política antidrogas en su versión más prohibicionista

El condenado se negó a colaborar con la justicia para esclarecer los autores intelectuales del crimen

Varios pueblos indígenas denunciaron ataques por parte de la fuerza pública hacia una comunidad de Cajibío, en el que dos personas resultaron heridas y una de ellas murió

El Salvador

The claim baffled development officials and Salvadorans, who saw the country’s cooperation with the United States on security, civil society and economic development as a success story


The campaign period is extra short. The top presidential contenders are women. They all face court proceedings that could take them out of the running


As more migrant families began to arrive in Agua Prieta, cartel members began to extort them in attempts to make more money

Mexico actually works closely with the U.S. government on irregular migration. Mexico deports thousands of immigrants each month, most from Central America. That’s continued under a new leftist president

López Obrador’s demure response to Trump might surprise some who followed Mexico’s presidential election last year

“The Secretary directed CBP to return hundreds of additional migrants per day above current rates to Mexico,” DHS said in a statement


It’s time to start paying attention to Nicaragua again. And Venezuela shows us exactly why


Los transeúntes formaron un avalancha humana que tumbó las vallas y burló los contenedores instalados por el gobierno chavista

A defiant Guaidó spoke publicly moments after the vote, saying he’s undeterred, while knowing he runs the risk of being “kidnapped” by the Maduro government

The day ahead: April 3, 2019

I’ll be around in the afternoon. (How to contact me)

I’ve got a morning meeting with a congressional office and lunch with a longtime colleague who’s an expert on migration. Today we should be putting out a good jointly written piece about the crisis at the border. I’ll also be finishing prep for my visit to the border next week, and for a talk about Colombia that I’m giving Friday morning at the American Association of Geographers annual meeting. I’ll mostly be doing that between lunch and end of day.

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