Adam Isacson

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

Border Security

Video: A lot of migration at the border isn’t “illegal.”

We hear a lot that people at the U.S.-Mexico border are being allowed into the United States “illegally.” Well, no.

For decades, U.S. law has stated that if you fear for your life or freedom if returned to your country, you are entitled to due process. Asylum seekers are doing something legal. And many of them qualify.

Here’s a two-minute explanation:

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: September 29, 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.


New data published by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) confirms that migration increased significantly at the U.S.-Mexico border from July to August. The largest increases were in migrants traveling as families, and migrants from Central America, Cuba, and the Andes. Migration continues to increase in September. Migration had declined in the months following the end of the Title 42 pandemic policy, but by now that lull has completely reversed.

Meeting with the acting commissioner of CBP, Mexican authorities agreed to take measures to reduce concentration of migrants near the common border, including relocating migrants and perhaps even stepping up deportations to some countries. Mexico’s southern-border city of Tapachula continues to fill up as approximately 6,000 migrants arrive every day along Mexico’s border with Guatemala. Migration through Panama’s Darién Gap remains near record levels, and continues to increase through Honduras.

The U.S. government is likely to shut down on October 1 for lack of a congressionally approved budget. The House of Representatives’ Republican majority is coalescing around demands that the Biden administration and the Democratic-majority Senate agree to a list of hard-line border security proposals and asylum restrictions in exchange for keeping the government open.


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The Dangerous Wait for a CBP One Appointment in Tamaulipas, Mexico

An investigation by four veteran Reuters reporters finds a link between the Biden administration’s use of an app that makes asylum seekers wait for weeks in Mexico, and an increase in attacks on migrants, especially rapes of migrant women, in Mexico’s organized crime-dominated northern border state of Tamaulipas.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration in May moved to a new system that required migrants to secure an appointment—via an app known as CBP One—to present themselves at a legal border crossing to enter the United States.

Nine experts, including lawyers, medical professionals, and aid workers, told Reuters the new system has had unintended consequences in the two cities, contributing to a spike in violence.

The high risk of kidnapping and sexual assault in Reynosa and Matamoros is one of the factors pushing migrants to cross illegally, four advocates said. Crossings border-wide surged in September.

Tamaulipas border cities like Matamoros and Reynosa have been notoriously dangerous for years. They’re home to the decades-old Gulf Cartel, the Northeast Cartel (an heir of the Zetas), and other splinter groups that compete violently.

Map showing Tamaulipas' location along the eastern segment of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Tamaulipas, from WikiMedia Commons

These regional cartels have less-solid control of their territory than do larger national cartels like Sinaloa. This makes them more prone to use violence against newcomers and outsiders—including U.S. citizens, four of whom were kidnapped, two killed, in March when they came to Matamoros for a cosmetic surgery procedure. These criminal groups also make somewhat less money from the drug trade than the larger cartels; such “poorer” criminal groups are more likely to fund themselves by preying on vulnerable people, including migrants.

The Mexican state, especially the hyper-corrupt local government in Tamaulipas, is no protection. Officials often collude with organized crime.

So in recent months, when an asylum seeker uses CBP One, they can travel from elsewhere in Mexico to the border and show up at a U.S. port of entry at their appointed time. They do not need to hire a smuggler. That’s great.

What’s less great is that, when the port of entry is in south Texas (Laredo, McAllen-Hidalgo, and Brownsville, which make up 42 percent of CBP One appointments border-wide—605 out of 1,450 daily spots), the asylum seeker must travel through Tamaulipas territory under organized crime control. In order to be sure not to miss their appointment, they may even stay in this territory, near the port of entry, for days or weeks.

When they do that, the cartels—whose eyes and ears in the region are thorough enough to rival Cold-War East Germany—often find them and demand money. Reuters explains:

[C]riminal groups are still demanding these migrants pay to enter their territory, the experts said.

“Rape is part of the torture process to get the money,” said Bertha Bermúdez Tapia, a sociologist at New Mexico State University researching the impacts of Biden’s policy on migrants in Tamaulipas.

“Unboxing”: Migración en la Era de Biden

Here (en español) is an episode of DemocraciaAbierta’s #Unboxing program, in which host Sandra Borda (of Colombia’s Universidad de los Andes) and I discuss the Biden administration’s post-Title 42 changes to immigration policy. We recorded this in late May, so it’s not razor-sharp current, but we do go into some detail that you don’t often get in a video interview.

Nationalities of Migrants at the U.S.-Mexico Border, June Through August

Here are some more graphics made using data that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released late Friday. WOLA’s whole collection of border infographics is at our Border Oversight website.

The tables in the graphic below show the nationalities of migrants who ended up in Border Patrol custody, after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border between ports of entry, between June and August 2023. As the tiny numbers on the right edge show, several nationalities experienced triple-digit percentage increases from June to August (that is, they more than doubled).

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

Includes only those encountered between ports of entry.

June 2023
Mexico 33,960
Venezuela 12,549
Other 11,485
Honduras 10,660
Guatemala 9,548
Ecuador 4,706
Colombia 3,916
India 2,513
Peru 2,478
Brazil 2,225
China 2,122
El Salvador 2,041
Turkey 493
Cuba 351
Russia 186
Nicaragua 179

July 2023
Mexico 36,002
Honduras 23,091
Guatemala 21,491
Venezuela 11,432
Other 10,930
Ecuador 9,580
Colombia 5,193
China 3,076
El Salvador 3,062
India 2,696
Peru 2,355
Brazil 2,150
Cuba 632
Turkey 465
Nicaragua 272
Russia 104

August 2023
Mexico 39,512
Guatemala 37,204
Honduras 31,747
Venezuela 22,090
Ecuador 13,238
Other 11,572
Colombia 8,036
El Salvador 5,063
Peru 3,042
Brazil 2,692
India 2,567
China 2,361
Cuba 756
Nicaragua 604
Turkey 400
Russia 85

Data table

The tables in the next graphic show the nationalities of migrants who were able to present themselves at U.S.-Mexico border ports of entry between June and August 2023. Most of them—87 percent in June—made appointments using the “CBP One” smartphone app.

Notable here: Haiti is third in August, as 8,687 of its citizens came to ports of entry, but Haiti does not even appear on the Border Patrol graphic above because zero Haitian citizens crossed between the ports of entry in August.

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

Includes only those encountered at ports of entry.

June 2023
Mexico 15,308
Venezuela 7,907
Haiti 7,331
Honduras 4,434
Cuba 2,330
Other 2,145
Russia 1,242
El Salvador 1,143
Guatemala 814
Colombia 790
Brazil 737
Ecuador 399
Nicaragua 238
Peru 145
China 25
Ukraine 15
India 9
Turkey 8

July 2023
Mexico 17,929
Haiti 10,669
Venezuela 7,532
Other 3,065
Cuba 3,037
Honduras 2,934
Russia 1,736
Brazil 963
El Salvador 891
Colombia 758
Guatemala 637
Ecuador 331
Nicaragua 173
Peru 118
China 29
Ukraine 15
Turkey 8
India 7

August 2023
Mexico 15,990
Venezuela 9,373
Haiti 8,687
Cuba 5,425
Honduras 3,426
Other 2,882
Russia 2,012
El Salvador 1,017
Colombia 908
Brazil 771
Guatemala 733
Ecuador 392
Nicaragua 133
Peru 104
China 18
Ukraine 15
Turkey 7
India 7

Data table

Finally, this graphic combines the above two tables. Here is all nationalities at the border from June through August, regardless of how CBP encountered them.

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

Includes those encountered at, and between, ports of entry.

June 2023
Mexico 49,268
Venezuela 20,456
Honduras 15,094
Other 13,630
Guatemala 10,362
Haiti 7,360
Ecuador 5,105
Colombia 4,706
El Salvador 3,184
Brazil 2,962
Cuba 2,681
Peru 2,623
India 2,522
China 2,147
Russia 1,428
Turkey 501
Nicaragua 417

July 2023
Mexico 53,931
Honduras 26,025
Guatemala 22,128
Venezuela 18,964
Other 13,995
Haiti 10,684
Ecuador 9,911
Colombia 5,951
El Salvador 3,953
Cuba 3,669
Brazil 3,113
China 3,105
India 2,703
Peru 2,473
Russia 1,840
Turkey 473
Nicaragua 445

August 2023
Mexico 55,502
Guatemala 37,937
Honduras 35,173
Venezuela 31,463
Other 14,454
Ecuador 13,630
Colombia 8,944
Haiti 8,687
Cuba 6,181
El Salvador 6,080
Brazil 3,463
Peru 3,146
India 2,574
China 2,379
Russia 2,097
Nicaragua 737
Turkey 407

Data table

Charts: U.S.-Mexico Border Migrant Encounters Since October 2020

With U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) releasing new data last night, we now know what migration at the U.S.-Mexico border looked like through August.

The most notable thing about these charts is the rapid increase in migrant arrivals from June to August, in the areas between ports of entry (official border crossings) where Border Patrol operates. We know that the increase is continuing in September.

June was the first full month after May 11, 2023, when the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy ended. At that moment, many migrants and smugglers refrained from crossing between ports of entry because it wasn’t clear what would happen next, and migration plummeted to levels not seen since February 2021.

As they grew frustrated with clogged “legal pathways” like the CBP One smartphone app, and as they got better information about the likelihood of being able to pursue asylum claims within the United States despite the Biden administration’s harsh new asylum rule, more have been crossing between the official ports of entry and turning themselves in to Border Patrol agents.

This chart shows, by country, who has been ending up in Border Patrol custody after crossing between ports of entry.

Border Patrol Apprehensions by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

August 2023: Mexico 22%, Guatemala 21%, Honduras 18%, Venezuela 12%, Ecuador 7%, Colombia 4%, El Salvador 3%, Peru 2%, All Others <2% 

Since October 2020: Mexico 33%, Guatemala 12.1%, Honduras 11.7%, Venezuela 6.7%, Cuba 6.6%, Nicaragua 5.4%, Colombia 4.8%, El Salvador 4.1%, All Others <4%

Data table

This chart shows, by country, who was able to present themselves at a U.S.-Mexico border port of entry. Of the 51,913 people shown here in August, 87 percent (45,400) had made appointments using CBP One, according to CBP.

Chart: CBP Port of Entry Migrant Encounters by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

August 2023: Mexico 31%, Venezuela 18%, Haiti 17%, Cuba 10%, Honduras 7%, Russia 4%, El Salvador 2%, All Others <2% 

Since October 2020: Mexico 39%, Haiti 15%, Venezuela 8.8%, Russia 8.7%, Honduras 8.5%, Ukraine 4%, All Others <3%

Data table

The following charts combine people at and between ports of entry (CBP plus Border Patrol). Here are migrants arriving as members of family units (parents plus children). Border Patrol encountered more migrants arriving as families in August 2023 (93,108) than in any month in history. The second-place month (84,486) was May 2019, when Donald Trump was president.

Chart: Family Unit Member / Accompanied Minor CBP (Border Patrol Plus Port of Entry)
Migrant Encounters by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

August 2023: Guatemala 23%, Honduras 22%, Mexico 18%, Venezuela 13%, Ecuador 6%, Colombia 4%, All Others <4%

Since October 2020: Honduras 18%, Mexico 12%, Guatemala 10.5%, Venezuela 9.7%, Colombia 8%, Ecuador 6.1%, All Others <6%

Data table

This chart, combining people at and between ports of entry, shows the countries of origin of migrants arriving as unaccompanied minors. August was the number-12 month ever for Border Patrol apprehensions of unaccompanied migrant children: 13,549 last month.

Chart: Unaccompanied Child CBP (Border Patrol Plus Port of Entry) Migrant Encounters
by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

August 2023: Guatemala 38%, Honduras 28%, Mexico 18%, El Salvador 6%, Venezuela 3.2%, Ecuador 3.1%, All Others <1%

Since October 2020: Guatemala 39%, Honduras 26%, Mexico 19%, El Salvador 10%, Ecuador 1.9%, Nicaragua 1.6%, All Others <1%

Data table

And here are single adult migrants. It was an unremarkable month for single adults (28th place for Border Patrol apprehensions, 74,402, since October 2011, which is the first month for which I have Border Patrol breakdowns by demographic group.)

Chart: Single Adult CBP (Border Patrol Plus Port of Entry) Migrant Encounters by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

August 2023: Mexico 31%, Venezuela 16%, Guatemala 5.82%, Honduras 5.76%, Ecuador 5.75%, Haiti 5.0% All Others <5%

Since October 2020: Mexico 47%, Guatemala 8%, Honduras 7.3%, Cuba 6.8%, Venezuela 6%, Nicaragua 5%, All Others <4%

Data table

Finally, this chart combines all migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border: those at and between ports of entry, single adults, families, and children.

All CBP (Border Patrol Plus Port of Entry) Migrant Encounters by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

August 2023: Mexico 24%, Guatemala 16%, Honduras 15%, Venezuela 14%, Ecuador 6%, Colombia 3.8%, Haiti 3.7%, Cuba 2.7%, El Salvador 2.6%, All Others <2%

Since October 2020: Mexico 34%, Honduras 11.4%, Guatemala 11.1%, Venezuela 7%, Cuba 6%, Nicaragua 5%, Colombia 4.4%, El Salvador 4.0%, All Others <4%

Data table

I’m still updating our collection of charts to reflect CBP’s new data dump. But what’s done is at WOLA’s Border Oversight page and downloadable as an 8-megabyte PDF file.

93,108 Migrants Arriving as Family Units Entered Border Patrol Custody in August

Chart: Unaccompanied Children and Families Encountered at the U.S. Border (Border Patrol)

106,657 child and family migrant encounters in August

				12-Jan						12-Jul						13-Jan						13-Jul						14-Jan						14-Jul						15-Jan						15-Jul						16-Jan						16-Jul						17-Jan						17-Jul						18-Jan						18-Jul						19-Jan						19-Jul						20-Jan						20-Jul						21-Jan						21-Jul						22-Jan						22-Jul						23-Jan						23-Jul	
Unaccompanied Children	1465	1446	1259	1635	2077	2755	2703	2541	2071	2118	2289	2044	2333	2392	2218	2260	2986	4120	4206	3985	3384	3607	3718	3550	4181	4344	4327	3706	4845	7176	7701	10578	10620	5499	3138	2426	2519	2610	2858	2118	2385	3126	3273	2943	3833	4182	4638	4485	4943	5604	6757	3089	3092	4209	5162	5594	4750	5026	5767	5699	6704	7346	7187	4405	1910	1041	997	1473	1949	2475	2987	2961	3153	3973	4063	3202	3115	4141	4287	6388	5115	3938	4393	4360	4964	5257	4753	5105	6817	8956	8880	11475	7372	5554	3722	3165	2841	3308	3223	2680	3070	2974	712	966	1603	2426	2998	3756	4687	4475	4852	5688	9263	18716	16900	13878	15022	18681	18492	14180	12625	13745	11704	8607	11779	13892	11857	14420	14929	13003	10993	11539	11654	12780	11829	9034	10418	11853	11062	9443	6736	10041	13549
Family Unit Members	896	848	732	1026	936	1227	1208	925	791	898	918	711	799	776	746	847	923	1310	1384	1315	1250	1651	1907	1947	2414	2786	3311	2286	3281	5752	6511	12772	16330	7405	3296	2301	2162	2415	2891	1622	2041	2782	3087	3861	4042	4503	5159	5273	6025	6471	8973	3143	3050	4451	5620	6783	6627	7569	9353	9609	13115	15588	16139	9300	3123	1126	1118	1580	2322	3389	4631	4191	4836	7016	8119	5654	5475	8873	9648	9485	9449	9258	12760	16658	23116	25164	27507	24188	36530	53204	58713	84486	57358	42543	25049	15824	9721	9006	8595	5161	4610	3455	716	979	1581	1989	2609	3808	4634	4172	4248	7066	19289	53411	48297	40816	50106	76572	79899	62577	41556	43279	49437	30419	25165	34052	37082	51166	44071	42851	39305	44579	46749	49827	60844	25829	25643	33269	46555	45028	31266	60160	93108

Data table

Late on September 22, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released data about migration at the U.S.-Mexico border during August 2023.

August was the number-one month ever for Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants traveling as members of families. “Family Unit” apprehensions totaled 93,108 last month.

August was the number-12 month ever for Border Patrol apprehensions of unaccompanied migrant children: 13,549 last month.

Add those numbers, and Border Patrol apprehended 106,657 child and family migrants in August 2023, a record.

August was the number-28 month since October 2011 for Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants traveling as single adults: 74,402 last month. Single adult numbers have been dropping since the end of the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy, which ironically made repeat crossings easier because of less time in custody.

Looks Like the Buoys Didn’t Work

Still from a video published to the NY Times site, with the caption "About 2,500 migrants crossed into Eagle Pass, Texas, from Mexico on a single day."
From the New York Times.

The New York Times reported Wednesday:

The mayor of Eagle Pass said 2,500 migrants arrived in one day, part of a recent surge in crossings along the border that has taxed local, state and federal resources.

The border city of Eagle Pass, Texas is where Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has deployed a world-famous “wall of buoys” in the Rio Grande, about 90 miles of rolls of razor-sharp concertina wire that injured 133 people statewide in July and August, and a huge contingent of state police and National Guard.

Who could possibly have foreseen that so much security theater wouldn’t deter people who are desperate enough to leave their homes, uproot their lives, travel across a continent, and turn themselves in to uniformed U.S. border agents?

The answer, of course is “everyone who’s paying attention.” We all could have guessed that this would happen, and will keep happening. Deterrence at the border is cruel—but it also doesn’t work.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: September 22, 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.


Arrivals of migrants, mostly asylum seekers, at the U.S.-Mexico border rose to about 8,000 per day this week, a level last seen in April 2023 before the termination of the Title 42 policy. As shelters fill and Border Patrol begins releasing processed migrants on border cities’ streets, it is apparent that migrants’ post-Title 42 “wait and see” period is over. Asylum seekers are again opting to turn themselves in to Border Patrol despite the Biden administration’s “carrot and stick” approach of legal pathways and harsh limits on asylum access. Shelters and migrant routes are similarly full throughout Mexico.

Nearly 82,000 people migrated in August through the treacherous Darién Gap jungle region straddling Colombia and Panama. During the first eight months of 2023, over 330,000 people have taken this once-impenetrable route. So far this year, 60 percent have been citizens of Venezuela and 21 percent have been children, despite the dangers of the journey. In this region of dense forest and difficult terrain, governments have limited short-term options to control territory or channel the flow of people.

As the U.S. government heads for a September 30 budget deadline and an increasingly likely shutdown, the U.S. House of Representatives’ narrow, fractious Republican majority may be proposing a bill that would keep the government open through October 31 in exchange for some radical changes to border and migration policy that the Democratic-majority Senate and the Biden White House would be certain to oppose.


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142,000 Migrant Encounters at the U.S.-Mexico Border During the First 17 Days of September

During his marathon morning press conference today, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador shared Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) preliminary U.S.-Mexico Border migration statistics for the first 17 days of September. He showed this slide about 2 hours and 11 minutes into a video embedded on the Presidency’s page.

Screenshot of table grabbed from the video feed

The graphic shows a total of 142,000 migrant encounters over those 17 days. It combines migrants who have entered Border Patrol custody plus those who came to official land-border ports of entry, but doesn’t distinguish between them.

In all of July, the last full month that CBP has reported, this number was 183,503.

If September’s pace continues for all 30 days, by the end of the month CBP would report 250,654 migrant encounters. Only December 2022 (252,325) has exceeded that number.

The most Venezuelan migrants in a single month was 33,804 in September 2022. September 2023, with 25,577 people in 17 days, may exceed that.

The Darién Gap Underscores Just How Lousy Governments’ Options Are For Managing In-Transit Migration

One of many reasons—but a big one—why U.S.-bound migration has hit record levels, and may break records again this fall, is that the Darién Gap jungle region straddling Colombia and Panama is no longer an impenetrable barrier.

In fact, the Darién Gap has been crossed over 330,000 times so far this year, including 82,000 crossings in August, according to the latest in a very good series of reports from New York Times correspondent Julie Turkewitz and photographer Federico Ríos.

Federico Ríos photo from the September 14, 2023 New York Times. Caption: “The journey into the jungle begins, led by a guide from the New Light Darién Foundation.”

It’s not really clear what Colombia and Panama can do about it. The options are really lousy:

  • Try to block migrants? Good luck with that. The Darién Gap is dense, roadless jungle (at least for now). If security forces focus on one pathway, another will open up. And what if Colombia and Panama somehow succeed in blocking migrants? What do they then do with hundreds of thousands of stranded people from all over the world? Fly them back to China, India, Afghanistan, Cameroon, and dozens of other destinations, at huge expense and at huge risk to the returnees? Bus them back to threats and penury in Venezuela and Ecuador?
  • Create a safe movement corridor? Channeling migrants through a route that is government-controlled territory—or, better yet, avoids the environmentally fragile forest entirely—would cut organized crime out of the picture. It would reduce many of the alarming security risks that migrants now face. Governments would have biometric records and other data about everyone attempting to pass through. By registering most migrants and permitting them to transit their territory on buses, Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras are already doing this. But the political obstacles to “safe passage” approaches are beyond daunting: the U.S. government (or at least, key officials and members of Congress) would condemn and seek to punish Colombia and Panama for waving everyone northward. U.S. officials would fear that the promise of safe passage would attract still more migrants.
  • ”Soft blocking” of migrants? That more or less describes the situation today in the Darién region (and Mexico, Guatemala, and some South American countries). The official position is that migration is an administrative offense, and migrant smuggling is illegal. A handful get detained or deported, and some (usually very low-level) smugglers get arrested. But either security forces view their checkpoints and patrols as opportunities to shake migrants down for bribes, or organized crime takes over routes. Usually both. Migrants get assaulted, robbed, or worse. Some may spend time in state detention. But if they can run that gauntlet and remain alive—and most do, obviously—very few end up discouraged from proceeding northward.

None of these options is promising: some violate the most basic human rights, some assist organized crime, some are simply impossible, and the least-bad choice would hit a political brick wall.

Faced with these very poor choices, it’s not surprising that leaders like Colombia’s Gustavo Petro are reluctant to make in-transit migration a priority. According to the Times:

Colombia’s president, Gustavo Petro, acknowledged in an interview that the national government had little control over the region, but added that it was not his goal to stop migration through the Darién anyway — despite the agreement his government signed with the United States.

After all, he argued, the roots of this migration were “the product of poorly taken measures against Latin American peoples,” particularly by the United States, pointing to Washington’s sanctions against Venezuela.

He said he had no intention of sending “horses and whips” to the border to solve a problem that wasn’t of his country’s making.

That last bit is a veiled reference to a September 2021 incident in Del Rio, Texas, where Border Patrol agents on horseback were caught on camera charging at Haitian migrants on the bank of the Rio Grande. The Times continues:

just like the people running the migration business, he [President Petro] presented his hands-off approach to migration as a humanitarian one.

The answer to this crisis, he said, was not to go “chasing migrants” at the border or to force them into “concentration camps” that blocked them from trying to reach the United States.

“I would say yes, I’ll help, but not like you think,” Mr. Petro said of the agreement with the Biden administration, which was big on ambition but thin on details. He said any solution to the issue had to focus on “solving migrants’ social problems, which do not come from Colombia.”

He expects half a million people to cross the Darién this year, he said, and then a million next year.

He may be right.

U.S.-Mexico Border Update: September 15, 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.


The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that nearly half of all migrant deaths worldwide in 2022 occurred in the U.S.-Mexico border zone. The 686 deaths counted by IOM’s Missing Migrant Project are an undercount, limited by available data. Border Patrol is preliminarily reporting a modest decrease in migrant deaths in 2023, but the full toll of this summer’s record heat remains unclear.

Media reports from throughout the Americas in the past week point to record numbers of migrants transiting Panama and Honduras, while large numbers are stranded at the Peru-Chile border, northern Nicaragua, southern Guatemala, southern Mexico, and of course northern Mexico.

As happened in May, asylum seekers trying to turn themselves in between layers of San Diego’s double border wall are not being processed right away. Border Patrol is leaving them outdoors between the walls for a day or more with little food, water, or bathroom facilities.

The Biden administration is considering a policy change that would require many asylum-seeking families to remain in south Texas while awaiting credible fear interviews. Texas’s state government has now put 36,000 migrants on buses to the U.S. interior. An Illinois coroner’s report about a Venezuelan girl who died aboard a Texas bus has discrepancies with Texas’s account of her health when her family boarded the bus. A federal appeals court is allowing Texas to keep a wall of buoys in the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass while it considers a Justice Department lawsuit to take them down.


UN draws attention to mounting migrant death toll

A report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) found that the U.S.-Mexico border was “the deadliest land route for migrants worldwide on record” in 2022. IOM’s Missing Migrant Project, which maintains a large database of worldwide migrant deaths, counted 1,457 deaths hemisphere-wide last year, of which 686 occurred on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

As the organization acknowledges, this is an undercount. On the U.S. side alone, “In FY [fiscal year] 2022, more than 890 migrants died attempting to enter the United States between ports of entry across the SWB [southwest border]”—more than the IOM figure, the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Justice reported in March, in their draft of the May asylum “transit ban” rule. The departments offered no further detail, and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has yet to produce the 2022 version of its Border Rescues and Mortality Data report. The 890 figure, too, is an undercount, as regional humanitarian groups along the border find a higher count of migrant remains than Border Patrol does in the regions that they cover.

“Although the data shows that deaths and disappearances in the U.S.-Mexico border decreased by 8 per cent from the previous year, the 2022 figure is likely higher than the available information suggests,” IOM notes, “due to missing official data, including information from Texas border county coroner’s offices and the Mexican search and rescue agency.” Of the 686 documented deaths in 2022, 307 “were linked to the hazardous crossing of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts” in Arizona and New Mexico.

Elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere, IOM counted 350 deaths on migration routes in the Caribbean in 2022, a sharp increase over previous years, and 141 in the inhospitable Darién Gap jungle straddling the border between Colombia and Panama.

Between October 2022 and August 2023, according to a recent WOLA interaction with a Border Patrol official, the agency found the remains of 640 migrants, a 24 percent decrease over the same period in 2022. This could be due to a somewhat smaller migrant population—Border Patrol’s 2023 apprehensions were down 9 percent through July compared with 2022—and stepped-up search and rescue efforts.

On the other hand, this year’s record-breaking heat, especially in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts, may have killed more people than we yet know. Border Patrol told Border Report this week that it has found 140 remains since October in its El Paso Sector, which includes the area around the Texas city and all of New Mexico. That is up very sharply from 71 in 2022, and from an average of 13 in the 24 years between 1998 and 2021.

In the El Paso Sector, “the wall, the arrival of the Texas National Guard, the surge of Department of Public Safety patrols, all of that is pushing people to the desert,” Carlos Marentes, the executive director of the Border Farm Workers Center, told Border Report.

Reports of increased migration in transit, from Peru to Mexico

After a lull following the end of the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy, countries along the northbound migration route are again experiencing elevated levels of migration, which may portend record arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border this fall. These narratives all come from news coverage from the past seven days.

On Peru’s border with Chile, Infobae reported that dozens of Venezuelan, Colombian, Ecuadorian, and Haitian citizens are stranded and sleeping outdoors in the desert border city of Tacna, as Peruvian police prevent them from moving further. The migrants had been living in Chile, which ended a state of emergency in its northern border zone on August 27, making northbound migration somewhat easier.

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Border Patrol is Once Again Keeping Asylum Seekers Outdoors, Between the Border Wall Layers, South of San Diego

From the Tijuana daily El Imparcial.

Border Patrol is once again keeping hundreds of asylum-seeking migrants outdoors, without even bathroom facilities, for one to two days between the double layers of the border wall between San Diego and Tijuana.

The last time we saw this practice, in May, it generated an outcry, including a letter from Democratic members of Congress and a complaint filed by the Southern Border Communities Coalition.

Now it’s happening again. From California Public Radio:

The camp is in San Ysidro, between the primary and secondary border walls. Migrants there sleep outside with little protection from the elements. There are no bathrooms, leaving men, women and children to relieve themselves in nearby bushes.

…Customs and Border Patrol personnel give the migrants water bottles, cheese and crackers. Everything else comes from volunteers in San Diego and Tijuana, according to several migrants interviewed by KPBS.

Volunteers provided fruits, blankets, medicine, diapers, menstrual pads and generators to charge people’s phones.

…Migrants interviewed in the camp Tuesday told KPBS that they were not free to leave the camp whenever they wished. All of them had wristbands given to them by CBP personnel. Many of the people in the camp want to pursue asylum claims in the United States.

Volunteers told California Public Radio that the migrants are spending between 24 and 36 hours in the camp before agents pick them up for processing. In the meantime, they must relieve themselves in bushes between the fence lines.

Border Patrol claims that they are facing capacity challenges. These challenges are certain to increase as numbers of migrants, many of them asylum seekers, have been growing since July and may continue to grow into the fall. If that happens, and if Border Patrol is allowed to keep using the space between the walls as an open-air pen, then the wait times will get longer.

Many of the asylum seekers have given up on waiting for the “CBP One” smartphone app to cough up an appointment. Enrique Lucero, the director of Tijuana’s municipal migrant affairs office, told the local El Imparcial “there are between 5,500 and 6,000 migrants in city government-recognized shelters, who are waiting to obtain a CBP One appointment to begin their asylum process in a way that is safe and ordered by the United States.”

At the San Ysidro port of entry, CBP is taking 385 CBP One appointments per day—16 times smaller than the officially known portion of Tijuana’s migrant shelter population—plus maybe 10 more “walk-ups,” according to an August 31 report from the University of Texas’s Strauss Center.

Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector Turns Very Deadly

Chart: Migrant Remains Recovered in Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector

	El Paso, TX/NM
1998	24
1999	15
2000	26
2001	10
2002	8
2003	10
2004	18
2005	33
2006	28
2007	25
2008	8
2009	5
2010	4
2011	6
2012	1
2013	2
2014	1
2015	6
2016	2
2017	8
2018	6
2019	20
2020	10
2021	39
2022	71
2023 (Aug)	136

“This summer’s record-melting heat has pushed migrant deaths to a 25-year record with more than 130 victims and counting in the Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector, which covers the westernmost tip of Texas and all of New Mexico,” reads a September 10 El Paso Times report on the discovery of the remains of 2 migrant women in Sunland Park, New Mexico. (Sunland Park is the first town you hit when you go west out of El Paso.)

On August 30, the El Paso Times’s Lauren Villagrán reported that, amid record summer heat, “U.S. Border Patrol reports at least 136 migrants have died in El Paso Sector” in fiscal year 2023, up from 71 in 2022.

The number of migrants who’ve died in El Paso and New Mexico since October 2022 is surely greater than 136, as many remains are never found. The chart above shows what 136 looks like in this sector, though.

The death toll has undergone a vertiginous increase in the past three years as people with no other apparent legal pathway attempt to defy the heat and enter the United States through the Chihuahuan Desert, often having to cross fast-flowing irrigation canals along the way.

Across the entire U.S.-Mexico border, Border Patrol hasn’t reported a migrant deaths total for 2022 yet, though the Biden administration’s draft asylum rule—shared in March—reported that “in FY 2022, more than 890 migrants died attempting to enter the United States between ports of entry across the SWB [southwest border].” That was up sharply from 565 in 2021 and 254 in 2020.

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