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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Border Security

Fentanyl seizures continue to increase at the U.S.-Mexico border

Heroin seizures at the U.S.-Mexico border plummeted 72% since 2018, but seizures of a more potent synthetic opioid, fentanyl, jumped by 641 percent during the same period. Like heroin, 90 percent of fentanyl is seized at official border crossings (ports of entry) or Border Patrol interior road checkpoints.

Yuma, Arizona

A few asylum seekers wait to turn themselves in at the bank of the Colorado River today near Yuma, Arizona.

U.S.-Mexico Border Migrants’ Nationalities

Largest increases in US-Mexico border migration, August-October: citizens of

  • Russia 139%
  • Ecuador 90%
  • Nicaragua 78%
  • Cuba 51%

Largest decreases: citizens of

  • Brazil -87%
  • Romania -30%
  • Honduras -14%
  • Venezuela -13%

More access at border ports of entry

It’s encouraging that October saw the 2nd-largest number (as far as I’ve seen records) of migrants—many of them asylum seekers—permitted to approach ports of entry (official border crossings). The number-one month was anomalous: last April, when a big wave of Ukrainians came.

Increased processing capacity at the ports means more people were able to ask for asylum the quote-unquote “right” way, instead of jumping the fence or crossing the river in order to turn themselves in to Border Patrol.

Of migrants not expelled in October, 16% came to ports of entry, a greater share than in the past.

Title 42 ends

A not-so-fond farewell to Title 42, which expelled migrants 2,426,297 times from the US-Mexico border with no chance to ask for asylum. Title 42 proved that even especially cruel measures don’t deter desperate people from migrating in historic numbers.

Sudden geographic shifts in migration at the U.S.-Mexico border

El Paso was the busiest of Border Patrol’s nine U.S.-Mexico border sectors in October, measured by number of migrants encountered. In March, El Paso was fifth.

The same border sector data, presented as aggregate numbers, not percentages:

El Paso and Ciudad Juárez

Here are a few snapshots from the past few days at the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

Partial view of the tent encampment that formed on the bank of the Rio Grande in Ciudad Juárez after the U.S. and Mexican governments’ October 12 announcement that Venezuelan migrants would be expelled across the land border into Mexico using the Title 42 pandemic authority.
Another partial view. As of Monday there were about 350 tents sheltering nearly 1,500 people: most of them Venezuelan, some expelled from the United States, others more recent arrivals who now find themselves stuck in Juárez. Most are adult men, for whom Ciudad Juárez lacks shelter space.
A segment of Obama-era border wall in Sunland Park, New Mexico.
Same as above.
El Paso in the foreground, Ciudad Juárez in the background.
Ciudad Juárez, a couple of blocks from the Paso del Norte Bridge.
Meeting with International Organization for Migration at their offices in Ciudad Juárez. (From @OIM_Mexico Twitter)
El Paso, a couple of blocks from the Paso del Norte Bridge.
New Mexico, on I-10 somewhere between Las Cruces and Deming.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: November 11, 2022

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 staff travel, we will not publish Border Updates on November 18 and 25. Updates will resume on December 2.

This week:

  • 40,593 Venezuelan migrants passed through Panama’s treacherous Darién Gap region in October, a 6 percent increase over September. The rate of increase slowed from previous months, because the U.S. and Mexican governments agreed on October 12 to start using Title 42 to expel Venezuelans overland into Mexico, denying them the ability to seek U.S. asylum. Overall Darién Gap migration increased 24%, as the number of migrants of all other nationalities nearly doubled.
  • Though U.S. authorities are encountering fewer Venezuelan migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, citizens of other nations continue to arrive in large numbers. El Paso is at its capacity for processing and sheltering asylum seekers. Venezuelan migrants remain stranded along the migration route through Mexico and Central America. Mexico’s asylum system saw an 18 percent increase in applications from Venezuelan citizens from September to October.
  • As the United States continues to count votes from the November 8 midterm elections, the political map along the border is little changed. Democrats held off Republican challenges in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley House of Representatives districts, and appear to have regained the district that contains New Mexico’s border.

Venezuelan migration through the Darién Gap levels off, but migration from other countries doubles

Panama’s migration authority, Migración Panamá, released data about migrants passing overland through the Darién Gap, a treacherous jungle region straddling Colombia and Panama, during October. This lawless area has seen a record amount of migration this year: over 211,000 people have walked through since January.

On October 12, the U.S. and Mexican governments announced that they would cooperate in using the Title 42 authority, first employed as a pandemic measure in March 2020, to expel Venezuelan citizens across the U.S.-Mexico land border into Mexico. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported that this change, which severely curtails Venezuelans’ right to ask for asylum in the United States, has brought a sharp decline in U.S.-bound migration of Venezuelan citizens.

While Panamanian authorities also report a sharp drop in Venezuelan migration through the Darién Gap, their data for the entire month of October, which includes nearly two weeks before the new U.S. restriction began, barely reflect it.

The number of migrants from Venezuela did begin to level off over the course of the month: Panama registered 40,593 Venezuelans emerging from the Darién jungles in October, just 6 percent more than in September (38,399). That is a far smaller growth rate compared to prior months. The overwhelming majority probably came through before the October 12 Title 42 policy change began.

The number of migrants from elsewhere in the world, however, virtually doubled from September to October, increasing 96% (from 9,805 to 19,180). The most rapid growth among countries whose citizens were encountered over 100 times in the Darién in October occurred with citizens of Ecuador (+227% in one month), Afghanistan (+206%), China (+101%), Pakistan (+73%), Brazil (+73%), and India (+72%). Many of the fast-growing Afghan population, the New York Times noted, are escaping the Taliban regime that took power in August 2021.

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U.S.-Mexico Border Update: November 4, 2022

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

This week:

  • Fiscal Year 2022 saw the largest-ever number of encounters with undocumented migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. 45 percent of those encounters, though, ended in rapid Title 42 expulsions. Migration from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, declined from 2021. Those countries’ citizens are largely denied the right to seek asylum because Mexico allows them to be expelled across the land border under Title 42. Migration increased from more distant countries, like Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Colombia, whose citizens have a greater likelihood of seeking asylum because Title 42 expulsions are more difficult.
  • The U.S. and Mexican governments’ decision to allow Title 42 expulsions of Venezuelans into Mexico led to a short-term reduction in U.S.-bound migration from Venezuela. It also sent thousands of expelled Venezuelans into Mexican border cities (and Mexico City) that are ill-equipped to receive them, while stranding thousands in other countries along the route. In Ciudad Juárez, where migrants have begun living in tents along the borderline, U.S. border agents repelled a cross-border protest using “less-than-lethal” weapons.
  • Border Patrol recovered the remains of at least 853 migrants along the border in fiscal year 2022, which is a record by far. A larger migrant population and Title 42’s blockage of legal pathways to asylum are probably the main causes of the increase. Border Patrol has recovered nearly 9,500 remains in the past 25 years; this is certainly a significant undercount of the actual death toll.

CBP releases 2022 border data

WOLA hosts a full collection of charts and graphics, including those used in this narrative, at the “ Infographics” section of its Border Oversight resource, including links to most underlying data tables.

With an October 21 data release, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) shared information about its encounters with migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in September 2022 and during the U.S. federal government’s entire fiscal year, which runs from October to September.

Fiscal Year (FY) 2022

  • The agency reported encountering undocumented migrants 2,378,944 times at the U.S.-Mexico border during FY 2022. Border Patrol recorded 2,206,436 of these encounters in border zones between ports of entry. This is an all-time record for the number of times the agency took undocumented migrants into custody in a year.

  • 45 percent of migrant encounters in FY 2022 (1,079,507) ended with rapid expulsions under the Title 42 pandemic authority, which the Trump administration first implemented in March 2020.
  • Because it expels many migrants quickly into Mexico without an opportunity to ask for protection in the United States, Title 42 has facilitated many repeat crossings. Because of much double-counting, the actual number of individual migrants encountered at the border is significantly less than 2.2 million. CBP did not report an annual number of individuals.
  • The largest increases in migration from FY 2021 to FY 2022 involved citizens of countries distant from the U.S.-Mexico border. Of nationalities with more than 20,000 migrant encounters in FY 2022, those that saw the largest year-on-year percentage growth in migration over FY 2021 were Ukraine (3,652%), Colombia (1,918%), Cuba (471%), Russia (430%), Venezuela (286%), and Nicaragua (227%). Citizens of these countries have a greater probability of being allowed to ask for asylum despite Title 42, because the cost of expelling them by air is high or because the U.S. government lacks consular relationships with their governments.
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