Adam Isacson

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

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Border Security

Daily Border Links: February 26, 2024

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Developments

In a February 23 White House meeting with state governors, President Joe Biden confirmed that he is considering executive actions to make asylum harder to obtain at the U.S.-Mexico border, but added that existing laws and budgets leave him with few options.

Migrant rights defense groups and progressive legislators continue to voice outrage about the possible executive actions, which came to light in news reporting on February 21.

As of February 25, year-to-date migration through the Darién Gap totaled over 68,400 people, about 22,700 more than the same period in 2023, EFE reported.

So far this year, the U.S. government has returned 12,144 Guatemalan citizens to their country on deportation flights.

The Texas Newsroom obtained invoices for four flights that Texas’s state government chartered to fly asylum-seeking migrants to New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. The total price tag of $845,000 was well over $1,000 per passenger.

A poll of Venezuelan citizens living in the United States found that more than 65 percent would return to Venezuela if the political opposition were to win this year’s presidential elections, a dim possibility amid rising political repression.

Analyses and Feature Stories

Analyses at the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times examined why migrant apprehensions are up (though leveling off) at the Arizona and California borders and declining in Texas. “Stepped-up enforcement efforts by the governments of Mexico, Panama and Colombia, and heightened violence by cartels on the Mexican side of the Texas border have likely slowed expected migration into that state,” wrote Andrea Castillo at the LA Times.

Asylum-seeker arrivals, and resulting Border Patrol releases, into San Diego have increased so rapidly that they have exhausted a county budget for a short-term migrant welcome center. As a result, CBP is leaving migrants outside a bus station.

The New Yorker, profiling El Paso’s Annunciation House, and the Arizona Daily Star, profiling Casa Alitas, pointed to the key role that migrant shelters play in receiving asylum seekers released from CBP custody. Shelters are facing a rising wave of rhetorical and legal attacks from right-wing politicians.

The Center for Public Integrity revealed that the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which receives and finds sponsors for migrant children who arrive unaccompanied, handled 2,724 reports of missing migrant children in the United States in 2022, many more than in previous years. Federal efforts to locate the missing children are insufficient.

In Eagle Pass, Texas, first responders are “overwhelmed and increasingly traumatized” by the frequency with which they rescue migrants—or recover their bodies—from the Rio Grande, NBC News reported. “On some shifts, firefighters with the Eagle Pass Fire Department can spend three to five hours in the water.”

A Rolling Stone feature looked at the impact that the Texas state government’s border security and migration crackdown is having on daily life in Eagle Pass.

In Arizona, younger Democratic voters are voicing frustration at the Biden administration’s rightward turn on border and migration policy, the Washington Post reported.

Congressional Republicans often urge President Biden to revive the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy despite its human rights impact, even though “it’s not clear Mexico’s government would play along,” Joseph Zeballos-Roig wrote at Semafor.

Voice of America and Mexico’s Milenio both published articles about Haitian migrants who have decided to settle in Mexico instead of pushing on to the United States.

On the Right

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: February 23, 2024

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.

Support ad-free, paywall-free Weekly Border Updates. Your donation to WOLA is crucial to sustain this effort. Please contribute now and support our work.

THIS WEEK IN BRIEF:

Media reports indicate that the White House is considering executive orders that would restrict asylum access. Possibilities include a new expulsion authority and a higher bar in credible fear screening interviews, though those could run counter to existing law or duplicate current policies. Meanwhile, a group of 10 moderate Republicans and centrist Democrats is sponsoring a bill that would mandate expulsions and “Remain in Mexico” along with Ukraine and Israel aid.

On March 5, depending on what a federal judge decides, Texas will begin enforcing a law making it a state crime, punishable by imprisonment, to cross the border without inspection. Texas is also accusing a respected El Paso migrant shelter of “harboring” and “smuggling” migrants and threatening to shut it down. The state’s governor is building a giant National Guard base near Eagle Pass.

The week of February 9-16 saw nine known examples of alleged human rights abuse, misconduct, or other reasons for concern about the organizational culture at U.S. border law enforcement agencies. Two senior Border Patrol officials were suspended, emails revealed widespread use of a slur to describe migrants, a new report detailed seizures of migrants’ belongings, and a whistleblower complaint revealed a bizarre incident involving “fentanyl lollipops.”

THE FULL UPDATE:

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Daily Border Links: February 23, 2024

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Developments

Yesterday saw few new developments after Wednesday’s multiple media reports indicating that the Biden administration is considering drastic limits, via executive order, on the right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. (See yesterday’s Daily Border Links.) According to some reporting, these limits could include expulsions of asylum seekers when daily migrant encounters reach a certain level.

Progressive Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) voiced firm opposition to the proposal: “Doing Trump impressions isn’t how we beat Trump,” tweeted Ocasio-Cortez.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) wrote that a Biden executive order or similar actions would be “election year gimmicks.”

The El Paso Times covered the Texas government’s legal attack on the city’s Annunciation House migrant shelter. “Annunciation House isn’t a place, per se. It’s a community of like-minded people, driven by their faith to help the most vulnerable regardless of circumstance,” wrote reporter Lauren Villagrán.

“We are now witnessing an escalating campaign of intimidation, fear and dehumanization in the state of Texas,” Bishop Mark Seitz of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso wrote in a statement. Further support for the shelter came from a group of Catholic and El Paso and Ciudad Juárez-based humanitarian and human rights groups.

A U.S. deportation flight brought 51 Cuban citizens to Havana yesterday. This is the 11th removal flight to Cuba since they resumed last April: 1 each month.

The Wall Street Journal confirmed that deportation flights to Venezuela stopped in late January. Between October and then, 15 planes had sent 1,800 Venezuelan migrants back to Caracas.

The director of Mexico‘s migration agency (National Migration Institute, INM) in Baja California called for the provision of bulletproof vests for agents in the face of attacks from smugglers. INM agents don’t carry lethal weapons, “but that could change,” though not soon, David Tejada Padilla told Border Report.

13,101 pounds of methamphetamine aboard a tractor trailer at Laredo’s Camino Real bridge on February 18 were CBP’s largest-ever meth seizure at a port of entry.

Analyses and Feature Stories

“I went through dozens of reports, scores of articles, on the discussion of this migration bill, and the reporters talked to zero migrants and zero migrant rights groups. At all. None. Zero,” media analyst Adam Johnson told Todd Miller at the Border Chronicle.

At the Washington Post, Philip Bump tried to envision Trump advisor Stephen Miller’s plan to use “red-state” National Guard soldiers to round up undocumented immigrants in Democratic-majority states. Bump’s conclusion: “It’s cosplay.”

By busing migrants to Democratic-governed cities, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has “played into the idea of pitting immigrants against the American people in general and against immigrants who have been here for years,” a Democratic political strategist told CNN, noting that “it’s working” politically.

On the Right

Daily Border Links: February 22, 2024

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Developments

Several media outlets reported that the Biden administration is considering an executive order to adopt asylum restrictions at the border. Some of those restrictions may resemble measures agreed by Senate negotiators in a deal that fell to Republican opposition earlier this month.

Actions could include expelling asylum seekers when migrant encounters reach a certain daily threshold, or increasing standards of credible fear that asylum seekers would have to meet when subjected to initial screening interviews.

However, existing law does not allow expulsions of asylum seekers for reasons of volume, and Mexico’s reception of expelled people is not guaranteed. Meanwhile, the administration’s May 2023 asylum “transit ban” rule has already raised the credible fear standard for most asylum seekers apprehended between ports of entry.

The measures could invoke Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which empowers the President to refuse entry to broad classes of migrants. Courts have ruled, however, that this statute does not allow blocking asylum to people already on U.S. soil and requesting it.

In their opposition to the Senate “border deal,” some congressional Republicans had argued that the changes were unnecessary because President Biden already has the authority to “shut the border.” While President Biden would appear to be upholding the Republicans’ argument if he used executive authority, a very likely outcome is that courts would again strike down any blanket refusal of asylum.

The State Department broadened a policy of canceling or refusing U.S. visas to owners and senior managers of companies “providing transportation services designed for use primarily by persons intending to migrate irregularly to the United States.” State first announced this policy in November for charter flight operators taking migrants to Nicaragua, which does not require visas of most nationalities and has become an important route for U.S.-bound migrants. Officials are considering extending the visa ban to social media influencers who encourage migrants to pursue irregular travel.

The Mexican magazine Proceso revealed that the country’s migration authority, the National Migration Institute (INM), awarded irregular contracts to private detention center operators with few employees and little track record.

A 24-year-old man from Jamaica died of hypothermia just south of the border in Tecate, Baja California. “He died within an eighth of a mile of jackets and blankets and mittens and water left out by Border Kindness as part of their humanitarian aid mission,” tweeted journalist Wendy Fry.

CBP reported that a tractor-trailer driver detained at a Laredo, Texas checkpoint died in his holding cell on February 17. While the agency’s account points to a possible suicide, “the video recording system at the Border Patrol checkpoint was not fully functioning at the time of the incident”—a chronic problem noted in CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility reports.

Texas nonprofits and political leaders are rallying around Annunciation House, a longtime Catholic migrant shelter network in El Paso that Texas’s state government is accusing of “alien harboring, human smuggling and operating a stash house.” For many years Annunciation House has received busloads of released asylum seekers from CBP and Border Patrol, cooperating closely with the agencies.

Guatemala’s congress may increase the budget and activities of its national commission for migrants (Conamigua), which assists Guatemalan migrants abroad and deportees. The agency does not have history of spending out even its small annual budgets.

Analyses and Feature Stories

The National Immigrant Justice Center published a list of 10 actions that the Biden administration could take now, through executive action, to “reclaim the narrative” on immigration. They include a White House role in coordinating processing, adjudication, and work authorizations; a steep reduction in migrant detention; and dismantling Texas’s “Operation Lone Star.”

On the Right

Daily Border Links: February 21, 2024

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Developments

In a new escalation against humanitarian workers, Texas’s attorney-general, Ken Paxton (R), is seeking to revoke the license of a 47-year-old Catholic non-profit migrant shelter in El Paso. Annunciation House works with CBP and El Paso’s city government to receive asylum seekers released from federal custody, helping migrants to avoid being left on the city’s streets and to connect to destinations in the U.S. interior. Paxton accuses the shelter of facilitating human smuggling, and demanded that it hand over a large trove of client records with no advance notice.

Annunciation House will hold a press conference on Friday.

Texas has spent over $148 million to bus 102,000 migrants to Democratic Party-governed cities elsewhere in the United States. That is $1,451 per bus ride. The figure comes from public records obtained by The Texas Newsroom, a public radio journalism outlet.

“Let him put as many as he wants,” said Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in response to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) plan to install a state military base near Eagle Pass. “Supposedly this is how he is going to detain the migrants. Pure politicking! It is not serious.”

Mexico’s army killed two people from Venezuela, and captured three others, in a confrontation in rural Michoacán. Those killed and arrested were reportedly migrants recruited by organized crime.

NBC News identified the reason why Border Patrol’s acting deputy chief, Joel Martinez, was suspended from his post: an investigation into multiple claims of sexual misconduct and harassment on the job. The Washington Post had broken the Martinez story last week without identifying the reason for his suspension. The case recalls late 2022 allegations against Tony Barker, then Border Patrol’s number-three official.

Analyses and Feature Stories

The Washington Post detailed the Trump campaign’s unprecedented plan for large-scale migrant deportations if the former president is re-elected. Proposals include challenging birthright citizenship, using the military to remove people, and building mass pre-deportation camps.

“We documented a handful of cases where people ended up in the emergency room” because Border Patrol confiscated asylum seekers’ prescription medications and did not return them, Noah Schramm of ACLU Arizona, a principal author of a mid-February report on confiscation of belongings, told the Border Chronicle.

The National Immigration Forum published an overview of the “Defending Borders, Defending Democracies Act” (H.R. 7372), legislation sponsored by moderate Republicans and centrist Democrats that would allow some U.S. aid to Ukraine and Israel while enabling expulsions, a renewed “Remain in Mexico” program, and other limits on the right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Recent poll data do not show any improvement in the Biden administration’s approval rating on border and migration issues after Republicans scuttled the Senate “border deal,” according to the Washington Post.

A fact-check from the Colombian outlet La Silla Vacía pointed out that while broad-based U.S. sanctions exacerbated Venezuela’s economic crisis, large-scale migration from the country had already begun, for other reasons, before the Trump administration imposed them.

On the Right

Daily Border Links: February 20, 2024

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Developments

Axios reported that as President Joe Biden prepares for his March 7 State of the Union address, “one bold move” he has considered “is an executive order that would dramatically stanch the record flow of migrants into the Southwest. This could even happen in the two weeks before the address.” The article offered no further details about what such an executive order might contain, nor is it clear what Biden could do within existing law to “stanch” arrivals of asylum seekers.

54,547 people have crossed the Darién Gap into Panama so far this year, according to a statement from the country’s security ministry. Minister Juan Manuel Pino predicts that migration through the Darién in 2024 will exceed the 520,000 who passed through the treacherous region last year.

Pino estimated that criminal organizations in the Darién made about $820 million from smuggling migrants last year.

Panama has extended through July its so-called “Shield” campaign, the statement reads, “with a greater number of land, naval and air troops to create a greater blockade on the border with Colombia.”

A February 18 tweet from the Ministry records a larger Darién Gap figure: 59,521 migrants year-to-date. Of that total, 38,108 are citizens of Venezuela; 4,777 are from China, 4,532 are from Ecuador, and 4,033 are citizens of Haiti.

The first six weeks of 2024 saw “an important increase in the number of people irregularly entering Honduras,” most with the goal of reaching the United States, reported the UN Refugee Agency. Between January 1 and February 11, 57,202 people had entered Honduras’s southeastern border, more than double the number during the same period in 2023.

The death toll is now three from a February 15 armed attack on two vehicles carrying migrants in rural Sonora, Mexico, near the Arizona border. The victims are a child from Ecuador and two adult women, likely from Peru and Honduras.

A University of Texas at Austin poll found that 59 percent of Texas voters, including 48 percent of those identifying as Democrats, “favor making it harder for migrants to seek asylum in the United States.” Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) approval rating was 53 percent, up from 48 percent in December.

Analyses and Feature Stories

BBC Mundo told the story of a family of Venezuelan asylum seekers who flew to the organized crime-controlled border city of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico for a CBP One appointment at the Laredo port of entry. They missed their appointment because they ended up among thousands whom organized crime groups have kidnapped for ransom in Mexico’s violent border state of Tamaulipas. Now free, they haven’t been able to secure a new appointment using the app.

“There’s a lot of people in this community that are upset with how the governor is using our community as a political staging area to have this narrative that we’re being invaded,” Jessie Fuentes, who runs a Rio Grande kayak tour business in Eagle Pass, Texas, told the Border Chronicle in an audio interview.

Daily Border Links: February 19, 2024

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Developments

Salon obtained CBP’s still-unreleased report on unidentified migrant remains found in fiscal year 2022. It reports a record 895 known migrant deaths that year. Humanitarian workers say that this is a significant undercount.

Heavily armed men attacked vehicles carrying migrants late last Thursday night in Sonora, Mexico, near the Arizona border. They killed a 4-year-old Ecuadorian boy and injured 10 others.

Heavy rainfall has turned outdoor migrant tent shelters in Reynosa and Matamoros, across from McAllen and Brownsville, Texas, into seas of mud, reported Border Report.

A Government Accountability Project whistleblower complaint alleges that CBP’s chief medical officer, Dr. Alexander Eastman, pressured his staff to order “fentanyl lollipops” to bring along on a September trip to the United Nations, and secured narcotics for a friend who is a pilot in CBP’s Air and Marine Operations division. The Chief Medical Officers office and its contractor, Loyal Source Services, have been under fire for alleged negligence leading to the May 2023 death of a Honduran-Panamanian girl at a south Texas Border Patrol station.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced the construction of an 80-acre state National Guard forward operating base near Eagle Pass. It will be able to house between 1,800 and 2,300 soldiers.

Now that Mexican national guardsmen have set up a camp near a break in the border wall where asylum seekers frequently crossed near Jacumba Springs, California, they “are now crossing the border at another spot four miles east,” CBS News reported.

The San Diego and Tijuana-based legal group Al Otro Lado filed a lawsuit against CBP for records surrounding the January 2023 in-custody death of Cuban migrant Idania Osorio Dominguez. Ms. Osorio’s daughter “first learned of her mother’s death through a press release on CBP’s website after weeks of attempting to get answers from the agency regarding her mother’s whereabouts.”

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas discussed migration with Guatemala’s new president, Bernardo Arévalo, at the Munich Security Conference.

Analyses and Feature Stories

In Tijuana, several shelters have faced direct attacks and threats from criminal groups, forcing closures and increased security measures, according to Global Sisters Report.

The New Yorker’s Jonathan Blitzer published an 8,000-word profile and interview with DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who was impeached last week by House of Representatives Republicans who disapprove of his, and the Biden administration’s, approach to border security and migration.

The New York Times’s Eli Saslow visited Arizona borderland ranchers Jim and Sue Chilton, whose remote desert land, long traversed by smugglers and migrants seeking to avoid detection, has now become a destination for asylum seekers, many of them families, from numerous countries.

At the Progressive, Jeff Abbott reported on Guatemala’s decision to dissolve its national police force’s border unit, DIPAFRONT, amid widespread accusations that its members extort migrants to allow them to keep going north. Abbott noted that DIPAFRONT members have received training funded by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement.

“Washington’s failure to oversee where migrants go after entering the U.S. is causing particular pain to New York—and not just because the city has received the largest number of migrants from Texas buses,” wrote Jerusalem Demsas at the Atlantic, but “for political reasons, the Biden administration has abdicated its responsibility to coordinate where asylees from the southwestern border end up.”

PolitiFact published an explainer about migrant encounters at the border and the asylum process.

On the Right

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: February 16, 2024

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.

Support ad-free, paywall-free Weekly Border Updates. Your donation to WOLA is crucial to sustain this effort. Please contribute now and support our work.

THIS WEEK IN BRIEF:

After migration at the U.S.-Mexico border reached a record high in December, new CBP data showed January to be the third-quietest month at the U.S.-Mexico border of the Biden administration’s 36 full months. Border Patrol apprehensions dropped 50 percent in a single month, the sharpest single-month drop in over 24 years of data. Reasons appear to include rumors circulating among migrants, seasonal patterns, and a crackdown by Mexican government forces. An increasing share of migrants are coming to Arizona and California.

After the February 7 failure of negotiated bill language restricting migrants’ access to asylum, the Senate approved a Ukraine, Israel, and other foreign aid funding bill without that language, or any other border and migration-related content. That bill now goes to the Republican-majority House, whose leadership opposes bringing it to debate because it does not harden the border or restrict migration. Democrats are seeking to take advantage of the “border deal’s” failure to shore up their position on border and migration issues as the 2024 campaign gets underway, even though doing so risks normalizing the idea of blocking most asylum seekers’ right to seek protection.

After failing to win enough votes to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last week, House Republican leaders’ second try succeeded by a single vote on February 13. The impeachment, arguing that Mayorkas’s handling of the border and migration constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors,” now goes to the Democratic-majority Senate, where a conviction is all but impossible and even a full-blown trial is very unlikely.

THE FULL UPDATE:

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Daily Border Links: February 16, 2024

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Developments

The House of Representatives is out of session until February 28, but while members are away we can expect discussion of a group of centrist Republicans’ and Democrats’ proposal that includes new restrictions on the right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) and leadership of the House’s slim Republican majority are refusing to consider a package of Ukraine, Israel, and other aid that the Senate passed on February 12, because it does not include the hard-line border restrictions they have been demanding. Instead, ten members of the House, five from each party, are proposing an alternative bill (text/summary from Punchbowl News).

The bill restores foreign aid similar to what is in the Senate bill, but includes some controversial border provisions:

  • A one-year DHS authority to shut the border to all undocumented migrants without regard to asylum needs, presumably requiring expulsion to Mexico;
  • A one-year authority to expel, into Mexico or alternative countries, all migrants deemed to be “inadmissible” who do not specifically ask for protection;
  • A higher standard of fear that asylum seekers would have to meet in screening interviews;
  • A prohibition on transporting migrants for any purpose other than adjudicating their status; and
  • A one-year restart of the “Remain in Mexico” policy.

Next steps for this bill, which has yet to be formally introduced, are not clear.

Joel Martínez, the acting deputy chief of Border Patrol, was suspended from his duties as he faces allegations of misconduct. Reports do not specify the nature of the misconduct, though Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials specified that Martínez is not under arrest.

In Austin, federal District Court Judge David Ezra heard arguments in the Biden administration’s challenge to S.B. 4, a new Texas state law, set to go into effect on March 5, making unauthorized border crossings a state crime punishable by prison. If his questioning and comments were any guide, Judge Ezra, a Reagan appointee, seemed skeptical about Texas’s defense of the law.

A report from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector-General faulted the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement for inadequately vetting sponsors or carrying out safety checks after releasing migrant children who arrived unaccompanied. Many migrant teenagers have ended up being made to work in conditions that violate child labor and worker safety standards.

Analyses and Feature Stories

According to a new Pew Research Center poll, 45 percent of U.S. respondents view the large number of migrants arriving at the border to be a “crisis.” Another 32 percent regard it to be a “major problem.” 80 percent believed that the federal government is doing a “bad job” of dealing with the migration increase. 57 percent believe that more migration increases crime, though data do not back that up at all.

Humanitarian volunteers in Arizona “reported that Border Patrol agents in Sasabe detained and threatened them, and took pictures of their driver’s licenses” after they transported migrants from freezing conditions along the border wall to the local Border Patrol station over the weekend, Todd Miller reported at the Border Chronicle.

Texas state authorities have fenced off Shelby Park, the sprawling riverfront park along the border in Eagle Pass, stationing National Guard soldiers and usually preventing Border Patrol agents from entering. But the park’s public golf course remains open, the New York Times’s J. David Goodman reported.

On the Right

Daily Border Links: February 15, 2024

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Developments

Numerous news analyses yesterday, and a memo to colleagues from Senate Democratic “border deal” negotiator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), argue that a Democratic House candidate’s victory in a February 13 New York special election offers a “roadmap,” “playbook,” or “blueprint” for the Democratic Party to address border security and migration during the 2024 campaign cycle.

Candidate Tom Suozzi, they argue, neutralized Republican attacks and won by leaning into some of the asylum and migration restrictions and increased border policing foreseen in budget legislation that fell to Republican opposition on February 7. At the same time, Suozzi called for more legal migration pathways.

“Roses are red, violets are blue, the border deal was crushed because of you,” read an official White House tweet in the design of a Valentine’s Day message.

Advocates for human rights and immigration reform worry that the Democrats’ strategic shift may normalize the “border deal” text’s provisions denying people a chance to ask for protection on U.S. soil, as laid out in U.S. law and the Refugee Convention, and expelling them into Mexico instead.

On February 12, after the “border deal’s” failure, the Senate passed a measure to fund Ukraine, Israel, and other foreign priorities with no border or migration content included. In the House, the thin Republican majority’s leadership is refusing to bring the measure up for consideration because it now has no border language in it. Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) has called for a meeting with President Biden to discuss adding border and migration measures to the bill. The White House flatly refused.

The Huffington Post revealed internal Border Patrol emails and text messages showing agents’ continued widespread use of the slur “tonk” to refer to migrants. The agency’s management failed to curb agents’ use of a word that reportedly refers to the sound that their heavy utility flashlights make when hitting a migrant’s head.

In Mexico’s organized crime-heavy border state of Tamaulipas, Doctors Without Borders documented a 70 percent increase, from October to January, in consultations for sexual assault among the migrants the organization has treated in Matamoros and Reynosa.

At least four people died along the Caribbean coast of Panama’s Darién Gap region after a boat carrying about 25 migrants shipwrecked in rough seas.

A federal court in Austin will hear arguments today in the Biden administration’s lawsuit against Texas’s state law empowering local law enforcement to arrest and imprison migrants for improperly crossing the border. S.B. 4 will go into effect on March 5. The district judge in the case is David Ezra, a Reagan appointee who ruled months ago that Texas’s “buoy wall” in the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass was not legal.

As House Republicans’ impeachment of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas heads to the Senate, the New York Times reported that the Democratic-majority chamber, which is certain to acquit Mayorkas, will pursue a fast, truncated, low-profile process. At Just Security four legal scholars offered a roadmap for how the Senate could quickly dismiss the Mayoras case.

Rep. Mark Green (R-Tennessee), who as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee managed the Mayorkas impeachment, announced that he will not seek re-election this year.

The migration authority director of Guatemala, which inaugurated a new government last month, is paying a visit to the United States. The Guatemalan Migration Institute’s (IGM) Stuard Rodríguez met with Assistant Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner for International Affairs James Collins and will visit a CBP detention facility and operations center in Tucson, Arizona.

Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas), whose district encompasses hundreds of miles of rural west Texas border, alleged in Newsweek that migration declined in January because “the cartels are trying to carry the Biden administration” and Mexico’s government for “a couple rounds” as elections approach in both countries.

Daily Border Links: February 14, 2024

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Developments

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released data about its encounters with migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in January. The numbers showed a 50 percent drop in Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants from December, which had set a record for the most migration in a single month. (50 percent is the steepest one-month drop in apprehensions that we’ve seen in more than 24 years of monthly data going back to October 1999.)

In particular, Border Patrol’s apprehensions of Venezuelan citizens between the ports of entry dropped 91 percent. Venezuela fell from the number-two nationality of apprehended migrants in December to number seven in January.

Possible reasons for the decline include false rumors urging people to cross in December before the border “closed” at the end of the year; seasonal patterns; and the Mexican government’s stepped-up migration enforcement.

NewsNation visited an example of Mexico’s new efforts to block northbound migrants, a military and National Guard “command center” across from Jacumba Hot Springs, California, where large numbers of asylum seekers have been crossing to turn themselves in to Border Patrol.

After failing by one vote last Wednesday, the House of Representatives’ Republican majority succeeded, again by one vote, in impeaching Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

While the Democratic-majority Senate is certain not to convict and may not even hold something resembling a “trial,” this is the second-ever impeachment of a cabinet official in U.S. history and the first since 1876. All but three Republicans agreed that Mayorkas’s management of the border constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors”; all Democrats voted “no.”

The vote outcome changed because Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) returned after receiving cancer treatments, and Rep. Judy Chu (D-California) contracted COVID and could not be present to vote.

Border security and immigration were the number-one issue of contention in a special congressional election in New York to replace expelled Rep. George Santos (R). Constant attacks seeking to tie him to President Joe Biden’s border and migration policies failed to prevent Tom Suozzi from winning by at least seven percentage points. The House now has 219 Republicans and 213 Democrats.

The “borderless” foreign aid bill that passed the Senate on Monday left out Senators’ failed “border deal,” and also cut out $20 billion in border and migration money that the Biden administration had requested. Without that money the Washington Post reported, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is facing a $700 million budget deficit and may have to release thousands of detained people.

Now that the “borderless” bill has passed the Senate, House Republican leadership is vowing not to bring it to a vote because it lacks border provisions. However, Punchbowl News reported, “There’s already discussion in the House Republican Conference about attaching some border provisions to the bill,” including elements of H.R.2, the draconian bill that passed the House without a single Democratic vote last May.

The House and Senate will both be out of session next week.

Guatemala is dissolving its police force’s border unit (Dipafront), which has been tarred with widespread corruption allegations.

Guatemala also reported expelling 1,642 people into Honduras so far this year: 76 percent from Venezuela, and the rest from Haiti, Ecuador, Honduras, and Colombia.

Mexico has quietly reduced its own deportations of migrants, according to an analysis by Tonatiuh Guillén, who headed the country’s migration authority (INM) during the first months of Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s presidency.

Analyses and Feature Stories

A report from ACLU of Arizona and partner organizations detailed Border Patrol’s, and other U.S. immigration agencies’, confiscation of asylum seekers’ belongings on “hundreds” of documented occasions. Confiscated and trashed items include medications and medical devices, identification documents, religious garb and items, money, cellphones, and irreplaceable family heirlooms.

A Human Rights First fact sheet explained that Black asylum seekers, including many stranded in Mexico awaiting appointments at ports of entry, “face significant discrimination and barriers within the U.S. asylum system and encounter targeted violence and mistreatment.”

“West Texas oil billionaires continue to bankroll the chaos and xenophobic rhetoric” employed by prominent Texas Republican politicians, wrote Melissa del Bosque at the Border Chronicle.

CBP Reports that January Border Migration Dropped Sharply

Late this afternoon—right around the time House Republicans were impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas—CBP released data showing that Border Patrol’s apprehensions of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border dropped by 50 percent from December to January.

I’ve got monthly Border Patrol data going back to October 1999, and 50 percent is the steepest one-month drop of all of those 24+ years. Steeper than the first full month of the pandemic (April 2020). Steeper than the first full month after Title 42 ended (June 2023).

It’s peculiar that migration dropped so much over two months during which no policy changes were announced. I’ll repeat the most probable reasons, as laid out in WOLA’s January 26 Border Update.

  • According to a few accounts, numerous people sought to cross the U.S. border before the end of 2023 because they were misled by rumors indicating that the border would “close,” or that the CBP One app would no longer work, by year’s end.
  • Seasonal patterns are a factor: migrant apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border have fallen from December to January every year since 2014 (except for a 6 percent increase in January 2021). Rainy conditions in the Darién Gap corridor straddling Colombia and Panama, and a tendency not to migrate during Christmas, may also explain some of the reduction.
  • U.S. officials are crediting Mexico with reducing migrant arrivals by stepping up patrols, checkpoints, transfers, and deportations.

Also, while there were no policy changes, there was one under heavy discussion: the Senate “border deal” that died a quick death on February 7. The spread of vague, confusing news about impending asylum restrictions could have cooled migration more than usual last month.

Anyway, here are two charts.

Here is all migration at the border, combining people apprehended by Border Patrol and people who, mainly with appointments, showed up at land ports of entry. This is what it looks like when the heaviest month for migration on record at the U.S.-Mexico border is followed by the third-lightest month of the Biden administration’s 36 months.

Data table since FY2020

And here is just Border Patrol’s apprehensions of migrants between ports of entry. Look at Venezuela: apprehensions of Venezuelan citizens fell by 91 percent from December to January. This does seem to point to everyone feeling like they needed to cross to the United States before 2023 ended, leaving few on the Mexican side after the new year.

Data table

Daily Border Links: February 13, 2024

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Developments

The U.S. Senate passed a supplemental appropriation with foreign aid for Ukraine and Israel. This is the bill that once had Senate negotiators’ “border deal” attached to it, with new limits on the right to seek asylum at the border. The bill that cleared the Senate last night has no border content, neither new funds nor new migration limits.

The bill now goes to the Republican-majority House of Representatives, where Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) stated that he does not intend to bring it up for debate because it lacks any new border or migration restrictions.

In a colorful tweet, the Democrats’ chief Senate negotiator, Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) voiced exasperation about a new demand for border language after Senate Republicans’ “no” votes defeated the negotiators’ earlier language, for which Democrats had conceded some deep restrictions on migrant protections.

Analysts note that Ukraine aid supporters in both parties might force the bill’s consideration in the House, over the Speaker’s objections, if more than half of representatives sponsor a “discharge petition.” If it happens, an eventual House debate might involve amendments limiting asylum and other migration pathways.

The removal of border funding from the supplemental appropriations bill could leave the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with insufficient funds to manage a moment of historically high migration at the border, NBC News reported. Grants to cities receiving asylum seekers could dry up.

More Americans blame Joe Biden (49 percent) than Donald Trump (39 percent) for last week’s “border deal” failure in the Senate, according to an ABC News-Ipsos survey. Biden supported the deal while Trump actively worked to sink it.

CBS News revealed that the CBP One app has been used 64.3 million times by people inside Mexico seeking to secure one of 1,450 daily appointments at U.S.-Mexico border ports of entry. CBP launched the app’s appointment-making feature in January 2023. This obviously does not mean that 64.3 million people have sought to migrate: it reflects numerous repeat attempts.

With Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) back from receiving cancer treatments, the House of Representatives may vote again today to impeach DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. House Republicans seek to make the case that Mayorkas is mismanaging the border and that this constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors.” A vote to impeach last Wednesday failed by a 214-216 margin. If the House impeaches Mayorkas, there is no chance that the Democratic-majority Senate would muster the two-thirds vote necessary to convict him.

During winter-weather conditions near Sásabe, Arizona, humanitarian volunteers evacuated some of a group of about 400 migrants waiting to turn themselves in to Border Patrol near the border wall, bringing them to the nearby Border Patrol station for processing. Some reported that agents threatened them with arrest for smuggling undocumented people.

At the Kino Border Initiative’s shelter in Nogales, most migrants—many of them families with small children—are now from southern Mexico, especially the embattled state of Guerrero. 83 percent now say they are fleeing violence, a much larger share than before, reported Arizona Public Media.

The government of Honduras registered 38,495 migrants transiting its territory in January. Most were from Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti, Ecuador, and Guinea. Of migrants transiting Honduras surveyed by UNHCR, at least 30 percent “reported having international protection needs because they had to flee their country of origin due to violence or persecution.” 38 percent reported suffering “some form of mistreatment or abuse during their journey,” though infrequently in Honduras.

Analyses and Feature Stories

Axios published a gossip-heavy account of Biden administration infighting, name-calling, and a “winding” and “irritable” President, as officials responded ineffectively to increased migration at the border. “The idea that no one wanted to ‘own it’ came up repeatedly in interviews about the border crisis.”

“It appears that in most cases, it takes about $5,000 to travel to the U.S. border” for Chinese migrants arriving in Jacumba Springs, California, reported Japan-based Nikkei Asia. “Affluent Chinese would not choose to take such a difficult journey” via the Darién Gap, it noted. “Ordinary people are the ones who take on this danger.”

Talking to residents of El Paso, USA Today’s Lauren Villagrán found that a pledge to “shut down the border” means “something different to those who live on the border than to politicians nearly 2,000 miles away in Washington, D.C.”

The Washington Examiner posited a connection between Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) crackdown on migration and a recent drop in the border-wide share of asylum seekers and other migrants crossing into Texas.

On the Right

Daily Border Links: February 12, 2024

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Developments

The Senate remains in session and continues to debate a supplemental appropriations bill that now has no border content in it. So far, procedural maneuvers and internal disputes among Republican senators have prevented the Senate from considering any border or migration-related amendments.

A Twitter thread from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) listed some of the border-hardening and migration-restriction amendments that Republican senators have proposed but been unable to get to the Senate floor. A thread from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) explained the convoluted parliamentary process that the chamber will be following over the next few days.

This process may yet provide opportunities for border amendments, though Republican proponents’ window is closing. “Feelings are running so high within the Republican conference, that Republicans have so far been unable to agree on any amendment, let alone a schedule of amendments that can accelerate the schedule,” Sen. Whitehouse noted.

The most likely outcome is that Democrats and a minority of Republicans will combine to pass a “borderless” supplemental appropriation. What happens when the bill then gets sent to the Republican-majority House of Representatives is unclear.

Panama’s authorities counted 36,001 people migrating through the treacherous Darién Gap region in January, an increase from December and much more than January 2023, but still the 4th-smallest monthly total of the last 12 months. At some point last month, the 500,000th Venezuelan migrant of the 2020s (in fact, the 500,000th just since January 2022) crossed the Darién Gap. That’s one out of every sixty Venezuelan citizens.

The University of California at San Diego’s health trauma center treated 455 patients last year who suffered serious injuries while trying to cross the border—441 of them the result of falls from the very high border wall that the Trump administration installed there. That is up from 311 wall-related injuries in 2022, 254 in 2021, 91 in 2020, and 42 in 2019.

False rumors about a year-end border closure or halt in CBP One appointments may be a key reason why migration at the U.S.-Mexico border reached record levels in December and then fell by half in January, the Washington Examiner reported.

In Ciudad Juárez, across from El Paso, a municipal human rights official told EFE that the city “is currently experiencing one of the periods with the lowest presence of migrants.” Santiago González called it “a suspicious calm” amid a possibility of migration policy changes coming from Washington.

Border Patrol processed a group of migrants who had to wait for many hours outside in a snowstorm near Sasabe, Arizona on the night of February 10.

Analyses and Feature Stories

Mexico-based Journalist Ioan Grillo published highlights of interviews with people in Piedras Negras, across from Eagle Pass, Texas. “They hunt them down and they get every peso they can from them,” the nun who runs the Casa del Migrante said of the Coahuila state police force. “It’s terrible.”

Eagle Pass, a town of 30,000, is so jammed with state security personnel that room rates at the Holiday Inn Express have risen to more than $250 per night, the Dallas Morning News reported.

The notion that migrants supply the United States with fentanyl is false, explained an Austin American-Statesman fact check. The story is “a classic example of what we call dangerous speech: language that inspires fear and violence by describing another group of people as an existential threat,” wrote Catherine Buerger and Susan Benesch at the Los Angeles Times.

An editorial in Guatemala’s Prensa Libre newspaper called on the country’s new government to carry out a purge of the national police force’s corruption-riven border unit (Dipafront), which regularly shakes down migrants for cash.

The Washington Post published a dozen charts illustrating migration trends at the border during the Trump and Biden administrations.

Many statistics about regional migration trends, causes, and migrant deaths are in the International Organization for Migration’s latest quarterly Tendencias Migratorias en las Américas report.

Much punditry covered expectations that the Democratic Party will take advantage of last week’s collapse of a Senate border deal to turn the border security and migration narrative against Republicans in the upcoming election campaign.

On the Right

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: February 9, 2024

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.

Support ad-free, paywall-free Weekly Border Updates. Your donation to WOLA is crucial to sustain this effort. Please contribute now and support our work.

THIS WEEK IN BRIEF:

By a vote 0f 49-50, the Senate on February 7 refused to advance debate on a big spending package that included historic new limits on the right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, among other measures. The limits were a response to Republican legislators’ demands and the product of two and a half months of negotiations. Most Republican senators walked away from the deal, arguing that the agreed migration limits do not go far enough. The Senate is now considering a bill with almost no border content, though there could be border-related amendments.

By a stunning 214-216 margin, the Republican-majority U.S. House of Representatives rejected an effort to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. While all Democrats voted “no,” House Republican leaders failed to convince enough of their members that what they regard to be Mayorkas’s mismanagement of the border constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors.” They may try again.

Leaked data point to a 50 percent drop in Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants in January, after reaching record levels in December. January appears to have seen the third-smallest amount of migration of the Biden administration’s thirty-six full months. Reasons probably include rumors, seasonal patterns, and Mexican forces’ stepped-up migrant interdiction. In two busy Border Patrol sectors that report data, though, migration numbers started to increase again during the second half of January.

THE FULL UPDATE:

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