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 update

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: April 12, 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:

Migration continues to experience an unusual springtime lull across the U.S.-Mexico border, with numbers appearing to decline below January-March levels. San Diego, California, where migration is level, might soon become the border’s busiest sector, a change that has exceeded federal and local capacities there. Some of the drop in migration is a result of a Mexican government crackdown that began with the new year. Numbers of migrants are higher in Panama and Honduras than they were last year, but are not increasing.

President Biden told a Univisión interviewer that he is still considering taking executive action to “shut down” access to asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border when daily migrant encounters cross a certain threshold. A possible legal justification for doing so, which courts have not upheld, is a broad presidential authority to block migrants whose entry is considered “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas appeared separately before House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees on April 10. He called for 2025 budget increases for the Department, including a flexible $4.7 billion border contingency fund that Republicans have opposed. The Senate still awaits the Republican-majority House of Representatives’ transmittal of impeachment articles against Mayorkas, alleging mismanagement of the border. Those articles narrowly passed the House in February; an actual Senate trial is unlikely.

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Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: April 5, 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:

The number of migrants entering Border Patrol custody declined from February to March, by about 2 percent, according to preliminary data. Migration usually increases in spring: this is only the second time this century that Border Patrol has recorded a February-to-March decline. Increased enforcement in Mexico may be a cause. Weekly data show Border Patrol apprehensions declining in Arizona and California from the beginning of March to the end of March.

A 24-year-old Guatemalan woman’s fatal March 21 fall from the border wall in San Diego drew new attention to the region’s sharply increased numbers of wall-related deaths and injuries. Elsewhere in San Diego, a federal judge ruled that outdoor encampments where Border Patrol makes asylum seekers wait to be processed violate a 1997 agreement governing the treatment of children in the agency’s custody.

“Now, to be fair, maybe Texas went too far,” said Texas’s solicitor general in arguments before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is considering the constitutionality of the state’s harsh new law, S.B. 4. The law, if allowed to go into effect, would permit Texas law enforcement to arrest, imprison, and even deport people for the crime of illegal entry from Mexico. However the appeals court rules, the law is almost certainly headed for the Supreme Court.

Panamanian authorities report that an average of 1,200 people per day migrated through the treacherous Darién Gap jungle region during the first quarter of 2024, well ahead of 2023’s record-setting pace. Human Rights Watch published a big report finding fault with the Colombian and Panamanian government’s responses to Darién Gap migration, and calling for the U.S. and other governments to expand legal migration pathways. The New York Times documented the alarming recent increase in cases of sexual assault committed against migrants in the Darién.

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

Migration at the U.S.-Mexico border usually  increases in springtime. That is not happening in 2024, although numbers are up in Mexico and further south. Increased Mexican government operations to block or hinder migrants are a central reason. Especially striking is migration from Venezuela, which has plummeted at the U.S. border and moved largely to ports of entry. It is unclear why Venezuelan migration has dropped more steeply than that from other nations.

Migration at the U.S.-Mexico border increased by 8 percent from January to February; the portion that is Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants grew by 13 percent. February’s levels were still on the low end for the Biden administration. Preliminary March data indicate no further increases this month.

Texas’s governor, an immigration hardliner, is claiming credit for a westward shift of migration toward Arizona and California. Uncertainty over a harsh new law—currently blocked in the courts—could be leading some migrants to avoid Texas, but the overall picture is more complex. Migration declined slightly in Arizona in February and is still dropping there in March, while four out of five Texas border sectors saw some growth in February.

President Bernardo Arévalo of Guatemala, in his third month in office, paid his first official visit to Washington, meeting separately with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. The White House touted $170 million in new assistance to Guatemala and the operations of a U.S.-backed “Safe Mobility Office” that seeks to steer would-be migrants toward legal pathways. In 2023, Guatemala’s previous government expelled more than 23,000 U.S.-bound migrants, most of them from Venezuela, back across its border into Honduras.

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

A report and database from No More Deaths document a rapid increase in the number of migrant remains recovered in Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector, which covers far west Texas and New Mexico. A preponderance of deaths occur in or near the El Paso metropolitan area, within range of humanitarian assistance. CBP meanwhile released a count of migrant deaths through 2022, a year that saw the agency count a record 895 human remains recovered on the U.S. side of the border. Heat and drowning were the most frequent causes of death.

Nearly six months into the fiscal year, Congress on March 21 published text of its 2024 Homeland Security appropriation. As it is one of six bills that must pass by March 22 to avert a partial government shutdown, the current draft is likely to become law with few if any changes. Congressional negotiators approved double-digit-percentage increases in budgets for border security agencies, including new CBP and Border Patrol hires, as well as for migrant detention. The bill has no money for border wall construction, and cuts grants to shelters receiving people released from Border Patrol custody.

Texas’s state government planned to start implementing S.B. 4, a law effectively enabling it to carry out its own harsh immigration policy, on March 5. While appeals from the Biden administration and rights defense litigators have so far prevented that, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court have gone back and forth about whether Texas may implement the controversial law while appeals proceed. As of the morning of March 22, S.B. 4 is on hold. Mexico’s government has made clear it will not accept deportations even of its own citizens if carried out by Texas.

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Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: March 15, 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:

73,167 people made the treacherous northbound journey through the Darién Gap region straddling Colombia and Panama during the first two months of 2024. That is 47 percent ahead of the same period in 2023, a year that ended with over 520,000 people migrating through. Panama’s government suspended Doctors Without Borders’ permission to provide health services at posts where the Darién trail ends; the announcement’s timing is curious because the organization had been denouncing rapidly increasing cases of sexual violence committed against the people whom their personnel were treating.

The White House sent Congress a $62 billion budget request to fund the Department of Homeland Security in 2025. The base budget for Customs and Border Protection would decrease slightly, though the agency would share in a $4.7 billion contingency fund for responding to surges in migration. The administration proposes to hire 1,300 Border Patrol agents, 1,000 CBP officers, 1,600 USCIS asylum officers, and 375 new immigration judge teams. The budget request stands almost no chance of passing this year, as Congress has not even passed the Department’s 2024 budget.

For at least a few more days, the Supreme Court has kept on hold Texas’s controversial S.B. 4 law, which allows state authorities to jail and deport migrants, while lower-court appeals continue. A federal judge threw out Texas’s and other Republican states’ challenge to the Biden administration program offering humanitarian parole to citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. A state judge blocked Texas’s legal offensive against El Paso’s Annunciation House shelter.

The Republican response to President Biden’s March 7 State of the Union address included a graphic, harrowing story of a woman being subjected to years of sexual violence at the border. Further scrutiny revealed that Sen. Katie Britt’s (R-Alabama) account described crimes committed in Mexico during the Bush administration. President Biden voiced regret for using the term “an illegal” to refer to a migrant who allegedly killed a Georgia nursing student in February, in an off-the-cuff response to Republican hecklers during his address.

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Weekly Border Update Promo Video

In this week’s WOLA Border Update:

  • The spring migration increase is underway
  • Boats stop, then resume, at the entrance to the Darién Gap
  • Drug seizure data through January shows drop in fentanyl

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: March 8, 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:

Leaked data points to a 13 percent increase in Border Patrol migrant apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border from January to February. Last month’s unofficial total is high for a typical February, but lower than most months during the past three years. The top two sectors for migrant arrivals were in Arizona and California. Mexico broke its single-month migrant apprehensions record in January, capturing nearly as many people that month as the U.S. Border Patrol did. Migration through Honduras illustrates many migrants’ use of a route that involves flights to Nicaragua.

Boats ferrying people to the beginning of the Darién Gap migration trail halted for five days at the end of February. The transport companies called a strike to protest the Colombian Navy’s seizure of two vessels. Ferries restarted after an agreement with the Colombian government, at a meeting that included the presence of a U.S. embassy official. The Darién route into Panama is growing more treacherous, as Doctors Without Borders is reporting an alarming increase in sexual assaults committed against migrants in the jungle so far this year.

As Democratic senators call on the Biden administration to increase funding for fentanyl interdiction at the border, CBP is reporting fewer seizures so far in fiscal year 2024. The agency is on pace to seize 25 percent less of the synthetic opioid than it did in 2023. This would be the first year-on-year decline after several years of very rapid growth. WOLA charts also depict a reduced pace of heroin and marijuana seizures, and an increased pace of cocaine and (less sharply) methamphetamine seizures.

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Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: March 1, 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:

President Joe Biden visited Brownsville, Texas on February 29, the second U.S.-Mexico border visit of his administration. His remarks—calling for Trump to work with him to pass legislation that might, among other measures, deeply reduce migrants’ access to asylum—reflect the President’s recent rightward shift on border and migration issues. On the same day, Republican candidate Donald Trump was several hours’ drive west, at the border in Eagle Pass, where he offered anti-immigrant rhetoric alongside Texas state officials.

Numerous statements from Republican politicians and GOP-aligned media figures are raising the idea of “migrant crime” after the brutal murder of a Georgia nursing student, allegedly at the hands of a 26-year-old Venezuelan man who arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso in September 2022. Analyses, though, continue to point out that migrants commit less violent crime than U.S. citizens, and that the alleged perpetrator of the Georgia murder arrived at a time when U.S. border policy was already very restrictive, with Title 42 firmly in place.

El Paso community leaders rallied around a Catholic non-profit migrant shelter under attack from the Texas state attorney general, who accuses Annunciation House of “alien harboring and human smuggling.” The incident drew attention to the vital role played by non-profit respite centers along the border that receive migrants from Border Patrol custody and help connect them to their destinations in the U.S. interior. Those that depend on federal funding are in danger of cutting back services or shutting their doors, which would force Border Patrol to leave migrants on border cities’ streets. This is already happening in San Diego and appears imminent in Tucson.

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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.”

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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.

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