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 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:

Read More

Daily Border Links: February 9, 2024

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Developments

Following the Senate’s February 7 rejection of a spending bill with negotiated language limiting asylum access, the majority-Democratic Senate leadership introduced a new spending bill with no border or migration content at all, except for fentanyl-related provisions. The new bill contains just foreign aid to Ukraine, Israel, and other countries, without the earlier bill’s $20 billion in border spending and changes to immigration law.

This new bill cleared an initial hurdle on February 8 despite the objections of some Republicans holding out for tough border and migration language: by a 67-32 vote, senators cleared it for debate. (That’s the stage at which the earlier bill with the “border deal” language failed on February 7, by a 49-50 vote.)

This may not be the end of the story for border legislation, though. Democratic and Republican Senate leaders are negotiating Republican amendments that may be brought to the chamber’s floor during the next few days’ debate. (The Senate is postponing the beginning of a two-week recess and working through the weekend.)

Those amendments could include some or all of the Senate negotiators’ “border deal” language limiting asylum access; some or all of H.R. 2, a hardline bill thoroughly gutting asylum that passed the Republican-majority House of Representatives last May without a single Democratic vote; or some hybrid of the “border deal” and H.R. 2.

Those amendments would be unlikely to pass: as they are not germane to what is now a bill with no border or migration content, they would need 60 votes to win approval.

Putting off the start of a two-week recess, the Senate convenes at mid-day today and could vote on a “motion to proceed” after 7:00pm. Amid a confusing set of possible paths guided by arcane procedural maneuvers, senators might find themselves in a heated floor debate during Sunday’s Super Bowl.

As preliminary numbers show a 50 percent drop in migration along the U.S.-Mexico border, CBS News noted that Arizona and California now make up 60 percent of recent weeks’ Border Patrol apprehensions. In fiscal year 2023 those states made up 41 percent of Border Patrol apprehensions.

The conservative Daily Caller reported on Border Patrol agents’ February 6 apprehension of a migrant from Colombia who was identified as having terrorist ties because of prior membership in the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary group, which collaborated with the country’s U.S.-backed military, disbanded in 2006, and was removed from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations in 2014.

CBP does not report the nationalities of apprehended migrants who show up on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Terrorist Screening Data Set, but recent years’ increase coincides with growth in migration from Colombia, a country that has had five groups on the terrorist list this century, of which the largest two have long since demobilized.

Analyses and Feature Stories

“Many people in Ciudad Juárez and other parts of the border have reported waiting up to three months to receive an appointment through the [CBP One] application, while others receive it in a matter of days or weeks,” reported Verónica Martínez of the Ciudad Juárez-based La Verdad. Martínez’s feature documented many challenges that asylum seekers face while trying to use the app.

A Semafor analysis examined whether hardline Trump-era policies, especially “Remain in Mexico,” succeeded in reducing migration, as their backers claim. Arrivals of asylum seekers did fall in the months after June 2019, when Trump ramped up “Remain in Mexico,” but that makes it one of many attempted crackdowns on asylum-seeking migration over the past 10 years that had only short-term effects. Whether “Remain in Mexico” would have joined that list of policies with temporary effects is unknown, as the pandemic and Title 42 policy came nine months after June 2019, shutting the U.S. border.

“Right now, with the patience of the American public running thin, both Republicans and Democrats seem more interested in pursuing policies that will help them look tough on the border in an election year, rather than a comprehensive approach to fixing the problem,” read a “seven questions” explainer at Vox.

“In 1996 and 2006, Congress passed the last significant border and immigration bills to date. Both were hawkish messages to voters in election years, and both have become infamous for their unintended consequences,” wrote Rafael Bernal and Saul Elbein at The Hill.

At the Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein looked at Republican candidate Donald Trump’s plan to deploy National Guard soldiers from Republican-leaning states into Democratic-leaning states to carry out what Trump calls “the Largest Domestic Deportation Operation in History.”

Covering last weekend’s right-wing “convoy” rally near Eagle Pass, Texas, the New Yorker’s Rachel Monroe concluded that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) “insurrection-adjacent rhetoric seems to have breathed new energy into a movement that was thrown off by the events of January 6th.”

On the Right

Daily Border Links: February 8, 2024

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Developments

A deal that took nearly three months to negotiate went down in defeat yesterday in the U.S. Senate, just three days after its text became public. In a vote that needed 60 senators to agree to begin consideration of the Biden administration’s $118 billion request for spending on Ukraine and Israel aid, border items, and other priorities, only 49 voted in favor, with 50 opposed.

In October, congressional Republicans refused to allow the spending measure to move forward unless it included language changing U.S. law to make it harder for migrants to access asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. A group of senators launched negotiations before Thanksgiving, coming up with a set of measures that outraged both migrants’ rights defenders and progressive Democrats who feared people would be harmed, and conservative Republicans who wanted it to go further.

In the end, only four Republicans voted to begin debating the bill: Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, and the Republicans’ chief negotiator, James Lankford of Oklahoma. Even Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who had vocally backed Lankford’s negotiating effort, voted “no.” Five Democrats voted “no.” (Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) had to change his vote to “no” for procedural reasons allowing a reconsideration of the bill.) They were Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Alex Padilla of California, and Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont, who opposed the unconditional Israel aid in the bill.

As it nears a two-week recess, the Senate is paralyzed as Republicans are divided about whether to consider a spending bill without the asylum-restrictions deal attached to it, which is what Democrats had initially sought. One possible outcome for considering such a “clean” bill might be a debate process that allows votes on Republican-sponsored amendments seeking to limit asylum and perhaps other legal migration pathways.

Senate Republicans plan to meet this morning “to plot a path forward,” the Associated Press reported.

News analyses indicate that President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign will make the border deal’s failure a central point of attack against Donald Trump and the Republican Party this year, or at least a way to blunt Republican attacks on Biden’s border and migration policies.

Following the border deal’s legislative failure, the Biden administration is considering “executive action to deter illegal migration across the southern border” before migration inevitably rises again, two U.S. officials told NBC News. The article does not specify what these actions might be, though they “have been under consideration for months” and “might upset some progressives in Congress.”

The likelihood of migration rising again, after a sharp reduction in January, is strong. In Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector, the sector chief tweeted that agents apprehended 8,659 migrants during the week of January 31-February 6. That is more than any week’s apprehensions in the sector during December 2023, which was a record-setting month for the entire border.

Recent years’ immigration increases will add over $7 trillion to the U.S. economy over the next ten years, raising U.S. government tax revenues by $1 trillion, according to projections published by the Congressional Budget Office.

As the Biden administration reinstates some sanctions on Venezuela, two scheduled flights deporting Venezuelan migrants back to Caracas have been canceled since last week, the New York Times reported.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel interviewed migrants in the Darién Gap alongside Panamanian authorities in December, and “not one claimed fear of political persecution,” according to agency communications leaked to conservative reporter Ali Bradley.

Analyses and Feature Stories

The American Immigration Council published a thorough analysis of the now-defunct Senate border deal. “What we have seen, time and time again, is that adding additional penalties or complications to the process for asylum seekers once they arrive in the U.S. immiserates those asylum seekers without having a lasting impact on overall border arrivals.”

If President Biden were to confront Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) by federalizing the state’s National Guard, he would have to invoke the Insurrection Act, explains Joseph Nunn of the Brennan Center for Justice at Just Security. While doing so “would almost certainly pass legal muster,” Nunn counsels against it for now, as it “should be a tool of last resort.”

Fentanyl addiction and overdoses have reached crisis levels in Tijuana and some other Mexican border cities, Will Grant reported at the BBC.

Pour One Out for the Senate Border Compromise

Republican senators refused to consider a big Ukraine-Israel-border funding bill unless it included language changing U.S. law to make it harder for migrants to access asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. A group of senators negotiated for two and a half months, coming up with a set of measures three days ago that outraged both migrants’ rights defenders who feared people would be harmed, and far-right Republicans who wanted it to go further.

The bill with the compromise language just failed on the Senate floor, by a vote of 49-50. (It was a procedural vote that needed 60 votes to allow debate to begin.)

Republicans demanded that the border-migration language be included, but in the end only four voted for it (Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, and the Republicans’ chief negotiator, James Lankford of Oklahoma). Even Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who had vocally backed Lankford’s negotiating effort, voted “no.”

Five Democrats voted “no.” (Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) had to change his vote to “no” for procedural reasons allowing a reconsideration of the bill.) They were Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Alex Padilla of California, and Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont, who opposed the unconditional Israel aid in the bill.

I hope that the senators move soon to approve aid to Ukraine, this time without weakening the right to asylum.

See also:

Daily Border Links: February 7, 2024

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Developments

The Senate will hold a procedural vote at 1:00pm today on whether to proceed with debate on a $118 billion spending bill, which includes—in response to Republican demands—negotiated compromise language that would reduce migrants’ ability to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. The vote is expected to fail, falling well short of the 60-vote threshold that it needs, as conservative Republicans have lined up against the compromise language, arguing that it doesn’t go far enough. Some Democrats, concerned by the harm to migrants, will also vote “no.”

“We have no real chance here to make a law,” said Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky).

This concludes a two-and-a-half-month negotiation process. Media coverage is broadly portraying this as a Republican flip-flop and last-minute caving in to pressure from Donald Trump, with Democrats “setting a trap” for Republicans by calling their bluff and making concessions on tough border measures.

Some coverage portrays the fiasco as a setback for less Trump-aligned conservatives like McConnell, who supported the compromise. Asked whether he felt like he’d been thrown under the bus, the Republicans’ chief negotiator on the deal, Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), said “and backed up.”

In a mid-day address from the White House, President Joe Biden voiced strong support for the bill, despite some very conservative limits on asylum and migration that contradict his earlier policy positions. He blamed Donald Trump, and Republicans’ failure to stand up to him, for the bill’s likely failure, calling on GOP members to “show some spine.”

Once today’s vote fails as expected, Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) is likely to seek a procedural vote on a version of the spending bill—which includes aid to Ukraine and Israel, and $20 billion for numerous border and migration items—with the border compromise language removed. This “cleaner” bill may have more Republican support. The Senate departs after this week for a two-week recess.

Republicans’ bad day on Capitol Hill was punctuated in the House of Representatives by a stunning 214-216 rejection of articles of impeachment against Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Surprisingly, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) went ahead with the vote even though all Democrats were opposed and House Republican leaders did not have certainty over their side’s vote count.

The Secretary, whom House Republicans claim has mismanaged the border to the extent that it constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors,” will keep his job for now thanks to the votes of three Republican members: Reps. Ken Buck (R-eastern Colorado), Tom McClintock (R-San Joaquín Valley, California), and Mike Gallagher (R-Green Bay, Wisconsin). A fourth Republican, Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah), changed his vote to “no” for procedural reasons, allowing a motion to reconsider.

House Republican leaders vow to bring the impeachment up again when one more member of their caucus is present: Majority Leader Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana), who is receiving treatments for blood cancer. Scalise is not expected to return to the House today.

Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens tweeted that the agency has apprehended “+160 undocumented subjects with gang affiliations” during the first four months of fiscal year 2024. If sustained all year, this rate—about 40 allegedly gang-tied migrants per month—would be the fewest since fiscal 2021 and the 3rd-fewest in the 8 years since fiscal year 2017.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operated 130 removal flights in January, up a bit from 128 in December and down from 140 in November, according to Tom Cartwright’s latest monthly report for Witness at the Border. Top destinations were Guatemala (53 flights), Honduras (37), El Salvador (11), Colombia (6), Ecuador (5), and Venezuela (4). One flight each went to Mauritania, India, and Romania.

Border Report went to Jacume, Mexico, just south of Jacumba Springs, California, where Mexico’s National Guard has set up a camp in an effort to block migrants at a point where asylum seekers have been arriving for months seeking to turn themselves in to U.S. authorities.

Analyses and Feature Stories

At the New York Times, Cesar Cuauhtémoc Garcia Hernandez of Ohio State University recalled that the Title 42 expulsion authority did not deter migration, and it would be wrong to expect the expulsion authority in the failing Senate bill to do so.

At the New Republic, James North pushed back against the fiction that migrants are introducing fentanyl across the border into the United States.

In an interview at the Border Chronicle, WOLA’s Adam Isacson (this post’s author) walked through some of the current migration trends and data at the border and along the migration route right now.

At the Border Chronicle: Fight Corruption and Invest in Asylum: A Q&A with Adam Isacson

I enjoyed this conversation last week with journalist Melissa del Bosque at the Border Chronicle, a newsletter and outlet she runs with fellow border-based author Todd Miller. She did an amazing job of condensing and simplifying what was a much longer conversation full of policy-nerd-speak.

I would invest a lot more in our asylum system. And I’d get rid of the 1990-era caps on who can come from which country to get residency here. I’d also vastly expand the temporary work permits. So, people can come work, and not just for farm labor but also for other skilled work. I’d also end corruption, which is a huge part of why people migrate. If I were doing foreign policy, we can certainly do more to uphold and give resources to the people fighting corruption and fighting impunity, and justice systems and NGOs and even the reformers inside the military. They should have our most high-profile backing, but so often they don’t.

Read the whole thing here.

Daily Border Links: February 6, 2024

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Developments

The Senate is to hold a procedural vote tomorrow (Wednesday) on a $118 billion spending package for Ukraine, Israel, border items, and other priorities. In response to Republican demands and after two and a half months of negotiations, the package includes a host of changes to immigration law that would, among other things, make asylum harder to attain at the U.S.-Mexico border. The text of those changes became public Sunday night.

Wednesday’s vote will test whether 60 senators are willing to end debate on the package and move to a vote. Right now, all signs indicate that the bill will fall short of 60 votes. It might not even be close.

More conservative senators—along with the House Republican leadership—are lining up against the compromise migration language on which they had initially insisted, arguing that it is not restrictive enough on migration. “Less than 24 hours after the text of the deal was released, nearly half of the Republican conference immediately panned it, leading to internal finger pointing, frustration and resistance,” wrote Leigh Ann Caldwell and Theodoric Meyer at the Washington Post.

Though they may favor Ukraine aid, some progressive senators are also inclined to vote “no,” because of the bill’s erosion of asylum.

Those favoring the bill include moderate Democrats and some top Senate Republican leaders—though Minority Leader Mitch McConnell did not forcefully encourage his caucus to vote for it on Wednesday. Notably, the National Border Patrol Council, the union comprising a large majority of Border Patrol agents, broke with Donald Trump and supported the bill’s border language.

If the procedural vote fails, it is not clear what will happen next: whether Senate leadership will withdraw the bill, or give senators more time to read its 370 pages and keep debating. The Senate will be out of session next week and the following week.

The full House of Representatives will vote today to impeach Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on charges of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” based on what House Republicans regard to be poor handling of border security and migration.

If all 212 Democrats in the chamber are present and vote “no,” House Republicans will need 216 members of their 219-member delegation to vote “yes”—and a handful of Republican holdouts remain. One moderate, Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colorado), published a column in The Hill yesterday laying out his “no” vote, arguing that while he disapproves of Mayorkas’s performance at DHS, it does not constitute high crimes or misdemeanors.

Even if the House votes to impeach—only the second impeachment of a cabinet member, and the first since 1876—the two-thirds vote necessary to convict will be unattainable in the Democratic-majority Senate.

Organized-crime violence has broken out into open firefights this week in the Mexican border cities of Reynosa, Tamaulipas and Tecate, Baja California.

Analyses and Feature Stories

Joe Biden has shifted to the right on border and migration issues due to “a realization that immigration has become one of his greatest vulnerabilities,” according to an analysis from Washington Post reporter Toluse Olorunnipa. Throughout his term, the analysis reveals, Biden has closely followed the latest migration numbers, even asking about specific ports of entry.

A column from Isabela Dias at Mother Jones also explored Biden’s “radical U-turn.”

A commentary from the Center for American Progress broadly supported the bill currently before the Senate, but voiced misgivings about the asylum limitations. It calls for more investment and reform to the U.S. asylum system and for more assistance to “stabilize” and support migrant integration in the Americas.

Associated Press reporters Elliot Spagat and Javier Arciga combined an analysis of the Senate bill’s asylum provisions with an on-the-ground report from Jacumba Springs, California, where asylum seekers arriving at a gap in the border wall wait for hours or days to turn themselves in to Border Patrol.

“Why not let states decide how many foreign workers they need and give each participating state an allocation of work visas or waivers to issue in industries with labor shortages?” asked author D.W. Gibson at the Los Angeles Times.

At the Nation, Arizona-based journalist John Washington published an essay based on his new book, The Case for Open Borders.

On the Right

Daily Border Links: February 5, 2024

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Developments

Senate leadership published the text of a $118 billion supplemental appropriation bill, complying with a Biden administration request, that would provide additional aid to Ukraine and Israel, among other priorities including $20 billion for border and migration management. It is the product of about two and a half months of negotiations between a small bipartisan group of senators.

Republican senators’ price for allowing this bill to go forward was new restrictions on migration at the U.S.-Mexico border. But Republicans who insist on an even tougher crackdown on migration—including Donald Trump and leaders of the House of Representatives’ GOP majority—are lining up against the bill. Prospects for its passage are poor.

Of the legislative text’s 370 pages, 281 comprise the “Border Act,” a series of border security, immigration, and fentanyl-interdiction policy changes and spending items.

The text includes many of the controversial limits on access to asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border that had already been reported in media coverage. Among the bill’s many key provisions are:

  • Allowing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to impose a Title 42-like expulsion authority, “summarily removing” asylum-seekers from the United States (except for hard-to-prove Convention Against Torture appeals), when unauthorized migrant encounters reach a daily threshold.
    • This “Border Emergency Authority” would kick in when DHS encounters a seven-day average of 5,000 migrants per day or 8,500 in a single day; at its discretion DHS could start expelling people when the average hits 4,000.
    • As this threshold includes about 1,400 per day who approach ports of entry, expulsions would be mandatory when Border Patrol apprehends 3,600 or more people per day between ports of entry. Encounters have crossed that threshold in 34 of the Biden administration’s first 36 months.
    • It is not clear whether Mexico would agree to take back expelled migrants across the land border. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not have the capacity to carry out aerial deportations on this scale to countries beyond Mexico.
    • This Border Emergency Authority would “sunset,” or automatically be repealed, after three years. For each of the three years, DHS would have fewer days in which it could use it to expel asylum seekers.
  • Requiring asylum seekers placed in “expedited removal”—usually 20-25,000 per month right now, but likely to expand—to meet a much higher standard of “credible fear” in screening interviews with asylum officers.
  • Changes to the asylum system that would have asylum officers handing down most decisions in months, while making it rare for cases to be heard in immigration courts.
  • No substantive changes to the presidential authority to grant humanitarian parole.

President Biden called for the bill’s immediate passage and said he would sign it.

The bill quickly came under fire from Democrats who favor immigration reform and upholding migrants’ rights, and from Republicans who want a return to Donald Trump’s policies at the border.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) and Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) said that it was “dead on arrival” and would not come to a vote in their chamber. The House has instead scheduled a vote on a $17.6 billion standalone bill with aid for Israel and nothing else that was in the administration’s request.

Many Republicans have targeted the 5,000-encounter threshold in the “Border Emergency Authority,” incorrectly portraying it as allowing 5,000 migrants to be released into the United States (the 5,000 could just as likely be deported or detained).

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) has scheduled a vote for Wednesday to “test” whether the bill has the 60 out of 100 votes necessary to end debate and vote on it.

Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) “are counting on a center-right plus center-left supermajority of the Senate to vote for this measure,” wrote Andrew Desiderio, Jake Sherman, and John Bresnahan at Punchbowl News. “There’s no guarantee of enough support there.”

Thirteen Republican state governors joined Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in the border town of Eagle Pass. It was another show of conservative support as Texas challenges federal authority over border and migration policy, insisting that migrants are an “invasion” and blocking Border Patrol from full access to Eagle Pass’s sprawling riverfront park.

Abbott claimed, without evidence, that Texas’s policies are behind January’s drop in migration at the border, even though sectors in Arizona and California also saw reductions.

Abbott’s event somewhat overshadowed a right-wing gathering nearby, outside Eagle Pass; much coverage of this “convoy” focused on its participants’ religious fervor.

A deportation flight to Morelia, Mexico on January 30 was the first such flight to Mexico’s interior since May 2022, the New York Times reported.

Analyses and Feature Stories

The Guardian accompanied volunteers in the wilderness of California’s central border zone, more than an hour’s drive east of San Diego, where they hike through hostile territory looking for people in territory where migrant deaths are frequent.

CBS News’s “60 Minutes” program visited this region and reported on asylum seekers turning themselves in to Border Patrol in difficult outdoor conditions, including a big increase in citizens of China.

Across the border from this region, in Mexico’s state of Baja California, INewsource reported that Mexico’s government “significantly escalated enforcement” this week, installing a camp at a point where asylum seekers frequently cross.

First Look at the Senate Negotiators’ Asylum-Limits-For-Ukraine-Aid Bill Language

The Senate’s leadership has just dropped the text of a $118 billion supplemental appropriation, complying with a Biden administration request, which would provide additional aid to Ukraine and Israel, among other priorities including $20 billion for border and migration needs.

Republican senators’ price for allowing this bill to go forward in the Senate—where Democrats have a majority but most legislation requires 60 votes to end debate and proceed to a vote—was new restrictions on migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

This 370-page legislative text has been out for less than 2 hours as I write this, so my reading this Sunday evening has not been thorough. But it appears to include a lot of the controversial limits on access to asylum that had already been reported in media. (I summarized those last week in a Q&A document and in our weekly Border Update.)

Provisions include:

  • Requiring asylum seekers placed in “expedited removal”—usually 20-25,000 per month right now, but likely to expand—to meet a much higher standard of “credible fear” in screening interviews with asylum officers. The goal is to thin out asylum applications and make it unnecessary for as many cases as possible to go to immigration court.
  • Reducing the time for a large number of asylum seekers’ cases from years to a few months, often while in tightly controlled, costly alternatives-to-detention programs.
  • It does not appear to tighten the presidential use of humanitarian parole authority to permit some classes of migrants to enter the United States, though it adds a detailed reporting requirement.

Plus, the big one:

  • As expected, the bill would allow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to impose a Title 42-like expulsion authority, “summarily removing” asylum-seekers from the United States (except for hard-to-prove Convention Against Torture appeals), when unauthorized migrant encounters reach a daily threshold.
  • That threshold is:
    • An average of 4,000 migrant encounters per day over 7 days, which would allow DHS to start expelling people at the Secretary’s discretion.
    • Expulsions become mandatory once the average hits 5,000 per day, or if encounters hit 8,500 in a single day.
    • “Encounters” means people who come to the border and end up in Customs and Border Protection (CBP, which includes Border Patrol) custody without documents or authorization. Even if all 5,000 of them are deported or detained, the expulsions authority would still kick in.
    • “Encounters” includes people who come to ports of entry with appointments made using the CBP One smartphone app; the bill requires DHS to maintain the capacity to keep receiving at least 1,400 of these people each day (nearly the current number of daily CBP One appointments), even when it is expelling people.
      • While these 1,400 would not be in danger of expulsion, they do count toward the daily “encounter” threshold. If CBP takes 1,400 per day at ports of entry, then the expulsions could kick in if Border Patrol apprehends 2,600 or 3,600 more per day between ports of entry (for the 4,000 and 5,000 thresholds).
      • Border Patrol apprehensions between ports of entry have averaged less than 3,600 per day during only 2 of the Biden administration’s first 36 full months. They have never averaged less than 2,600 per day.

  • It is not clear whether Mexico would agree to take back expelled migrants, and if so from which countries.
  • The expulsions would stop if the past week’s daily average dropped to 75 percent of the amount that triggered it (3,000 per day if the 4,000-encounter threshold was used; 3,750 per day if the 5,000-encounter threshold kicked in).
  • A previously undisclosed element of the new Title 42-style authority: it would automatically “sunset,” or repeal, after three years. And DHS would have fewer days per year to employ it during each of those three years. (It would take an act of Congress to renew the authority or make it permanent—which is certainly not impossible.)

What do I make of this?

  • Just as we pointed out in our Q&A last week, if this became law it would send thousands of people back to likely danger. The expulsion authority will ensnare many people with legitimate and urgent asylum claims, denying them due process. It will place many at the mercy of organized crime along the migration route and in Mexican border cities. And it wouldn’t even be justified with a thin “public health” reasoning, like Title 42 was: asylum seekers would be kicked out just because too many other people were fleeing. “The United States cannot deny someone the right to seek safety and protection just because they are number 5,001 in line that day,” a statement tonight from Human Rights First put it.
  • And again, as the Q&A and another post from last week made clear, it won’t reduce migration, except perhaps for an initial few months. We seem to forget that the Title 42 era (March 2020-May 2023) was one of the busiest times ever for migration at the U.S.-Mexico border. The experience of Title 42 should have made clear for everyone the futility of deterring protection-seeking migrants.

Either way, though, this legislation is probably not going to pass. Though I’m complaining here about some of these provisions’ cruelty, I don’t see enough red meat here to satisfy far-right and rabidly pro-Trump Republicans, especially in the GOP-majority House of Representatives. Even those who were willing to live without a full return to Trump’s policies were demanding a lower threshold number for expulsions, and curbs on the presidential humanitarian parole authority. Since they didn’t get those, they may obstruct the bill.

So the negotiators of this text added language that may endanger people. They took great pains, though, to minimize the harm it might do to asylum seekers. It is good that they tried to do so—but it means that it will be rough going in the MAGA-heavy, election-year House of Representatives.

On PRX’s “The World”: Who’s in control of the US-Mexico border?

Click here for audio of a 5:40 segment on PRX’s The World program, recorded Friday. Host Carol Hills and I talk about the very troubling standoff in Texas between federal and state border forces. “You have this very strange tableau now,” I point out, “of armed National Guard—their patches say ‘U.S. Army’ on them—telling Border Patrol that they cannot enter an area that is actually within the U.S. border on U.S. territory.”

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