Adam Isacson

Still trying to understand Latin America, my own country, and why so few consequences are intended. These views are not necessarily my employer’s.

Categories

Get a weekly update in your email




Border update

Weekly Border Update: December 3, 2021

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.

Remain in Mexico to restart Monday, December 6

On December 2 the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Justice (DOJ), and State announced, and Mexico’s government acknowledged, agreement on a court-ordered restart of the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” program. Starting on December 6 at one port of entry—probably El Paso—non-Mexican asylum seekers will once again be made to await their U.S. immigration hearings inside Mexico, rather than inside the United States where many have family ties, support networks, and places to live. The program will “start in one location and will expeditiously expand… border-wide in the days that follow,” reads a DHS court filing.

Known officially as “Migrant Protection Protocols” or “MPP,” Remain in Mexico sent 71,071 asylum-seekers back across the border between January 2019, when the Trump administration began implementing the policy, and Inauguration Day 2021, when the Biden administration suspended it. Human Rights First was able to document 1,544 violent attacks on these asylum seekers—kidnappings, assaults, rapes—after their return to Mexican border towns with some of the hemisphere’s highest violent crime rates. Of 45,387 RMX asylum cases that reached a decision, only 740 (1.6 percent) resulted in grants of asylum or other relief, and only 10 percent (18 percent of those who were able to attend all immigration hearings) had legal representation.

Candidate Joe Biden opposed Remain in Mexico; in December 2019 Jill Biden decried the program on a visit to an encampment of asylum seekers in Matamoros, Mexico. The new Biden administration suspended it and brought more than 10,000 asylum seekers with pending cases back to the United States. A June 1, 2021 DHS memo officially terminated Remain in Mexico.

The Republican attorneys-general of Texas and Missouri sued to reinstate the policy. A federal district court judge in Amarillo, Texas (a Trump appointee) agreed on August 13 that the Biden administration had failed to weigh the consequences of terminating RMX, and ordered it to carry out a “good faith” effort to restart the program. The Supreme Court refused to place a stay on this order while the Biden administration appealed it.

DHS issued a new memo (on October 29) “re-terminating” Remain in Mexico, with strong arguments about the program’s cruelty and ineffectiveness. However, amid a sharp increase in migration at the border during the pandemic’s latter phases, the Biden administration has been internally ambivalent about re-starting the program. “Biden appointees at DHS and the National Security Council had already proposed reviving the policy months earlier, in the spring,” CBS News reported in November. And the administration has followed the Texas court’s order rigorously, setting up infrastructure for hearings near border crossings and negotiating with Mexico its reception of those who would be forced to “remain.”

As laid out in a November 26 statement, Mexico’s government had several demands for a restarted program. Asylum seekers, it said, should have improved access to legal assistance. They should have medical attention and COVID-19 vaccines. Those with vulnerabilities—pregnant women, people with physical or mental disabilities, the elderly, LGBTI people, those who speak only Indigenous languages—should not be made to “remain.” Returns should be closely coordinated with authorities on the Mexican side. The U.S. government should provide resources for shelter and “meaningful” efforts to improve migrants’ conditions.

U.S. negotiators committed, with varying degrees of specificity, to meeting all of these conditions, and Mexico gave its green light on December 2. According to the deal to restart Remain in Mexico, first reported by the Washington Post, asylum seekers will be sent back into Mexico at ports of entry in San Diego and Calexico, California; Nogales, Arizona; and El Paso, Eagle Pass, Laredo, and Brownsville, Texas. Immigration courts, with a total of at least 22 dedicated judges, will operate near the San Diego, El Paso, Laredo, and Brownsville ports of entry. The Laredo and Brownsville facilities will once again be tents where asylum seekers must argue their cases via videoconference.

Due to difficult security conditions across from Eagle Pass (Piedras Negras), Laredo (Nuevo Laredo), and Brownsville (Matamoros), “some individuals” sent across the border there “may be moved to the interior of Mexico to await their hearings,” reads the guidance DHS published on December 2. It is not clear how they will be transported back to attend those hearings.

An official told the Washington Post that the plan “initially” is to apply Remain in Mexico “primarily for single adult asylum seekers,” instead of families. This has not been reported or acknowledged elsewhere.

Though administration officials claim they are only reinstating Remain in Mexico, a program they oppose, to comply with a court order, their efforts to do so have been far from minimal. In fact, the program’s 2.0 version will apply to citizens of even more countries than before: “nationals of any country in the Western Hemisphere other than Mexico,” the guidance reads. The Trump-era program was applied only to Spanish and Portuguese speakers, but notices for migrants who claim fear of harm in Mexico are being translated into Haitian Creole as well, according to an internal document seen by CBS News reporter Camilo Montoya-Galvez.

Between September 19 and November 26, the U.S. government used the Trump-era “Title 42” pandemic authority, which remains in effect, to expel 8,898 people back to Haiti, 20 percent of them children, on 85 different flights, usually without any chance to ask for asylum. The Biden administration will most likely continue to apply Title 42 to most migrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, as Mexico agreed in March 2020 to take back expelled citizens of those countries. Asylum seekers from other hemispheric countries, who are harder to expel because of distance or poor consular relations, will now be more likely to end up forced to Remain in Mexico—apparently including Haitians. Those migrants will have U.S. hearing dates, while those expelled under Title 42 do not.

Immigration attorney Taylor Levy, who has represented numerous RMX clients, shared this chart of likely destinations for asylum seekers, by nationality, as the Biden administration operates Remain in Mexico and Title 42 simultaneously:

( Tweeted December 2 by Taylor Levy @taylorklevy)

U.S. government documents and media reports point to the following changes that the Biden administration has agreed to implement to “soften” Remain in Mexico.

  • All asylum seekers will receive a COVID vaccine (one-dose Johnson and Johnson if over 18, one dose of a two-dose regime if between 5 and 18). “Proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required for re-entry into the United States.” Mexico’s December 2 statement refers to “making vaccines available to migrants subject to both [Remain in Mexico] and Title 42 of the United States Code,” but no U.S. statements have referred to vaccinating those expelled under Title 42.
  • Mexico demanded that cases be resolved within a six month maximum timeframe; DHS guidance commits only to coordinating with the Justice Department’s Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR, the immigration court system) “to align the number of new MPP enrollments with the number of cases EOIR states it generally can complete within 180 days.”
  • DHS will facilitate access to counsel by providing “legal resource packets;’ State Department information about “where they can locate places in Mexico to engage in telephonic or video communications with counsel;” toll-free, confidential telephone access to confer with attorneys while in DHS custody; and the ability to confer with counsel before their hearings. These measures may make little difference to most of those made to remain in Mexico:        
    • Only 10 percent of those in the Trump-era program had legal representation, compared to 60 percent inside the United States.
    • Confidential discussions with counsel are very difficult while in DHS custody. “How is DHS going to do this? They struggle to do this with people in ICE custody who aren’t in MPP. It’s hard to imagine CBP [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] pulling off confidentiality,” tweeted Ohio State Law professor César García.
    • Meanwhile, “getting a US lawyer while stuck in Mexico in MPP is nearly impossible,” as Aaron Reichlin-Melnick of the American Immigration Council put it. In an October 19 letter, 73 legal service providers, law school clinics, and law firms, representing the overwhelming majority of border-area pro bono legal counsel, refused to take RMX cases this time, citing past security threats and trauma while trying to do their jobs in Mexican border towns. They are declining government requests to be added to the contact lists that asylum seekers will be given before DHS returns them to Mexico. “We certainly hope and expect that there will be counsel who will be available to help this population,” an official told reporters on a December 2 call.
  • Procedures for expressing fear of returning to Mexico will be strengthened somewhat. CBP officials must now “proactively ask questions” about migrants’ fear of return to Mexico. Those who do will have 24 hours to consult with counsel while in custody, if they can obtain representation, before an interview with an asylum officer. Asylum seekers will not be returned to Mexico if they can convince the asylum officer “that there is a ‘reasonable possibility’ that they will be persecuted on account of a statutorily protected ground (race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion) or that they will be tortured in Mexico.” The standard of “reasonable possibility” is less stringent than the past RMX standard of “more likely than not.”
  • Vunerable people exempted from Remain in Mexico will include “those with a known mental or physical health issue, including a disability or a medical condition related to pregnancy”—but not pregnancy itself; “those with particular vulnerabilities given their advanced age” but not all elderly people; and those at risk “due their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Reichlin-Melnick observes, “These categories are very similar to what they were under Trump, and CBP routinely violated even the narrow protections in place. I fully expect CBP to ignore these exemptions this time around too.”
  • While security in Mexican border towns remains uncertain, the DHS guidance states that the agency is “working with” the State Department and government of Mexico to ensure “access to shelters in Mexico and secure transportation to and from ports of entry to these shelters, so as to enable safe transit to and from court hearings.” No specifics are yet available about shelters and safe transportation. (The Trump-era program made no allowances for shelter, and required asylum seekers to find their own way to ports of entry on their hearing dates, usually for 4:00AM appointments.)

When asylum seekers have no address in Mexico—which is almost always, since they have sought to travel through Mexico to reach the United States—the DHS guidance tells CBP officials to instruct asylum seekers to update their forms “once an address is secured.”

As in the past, finding shelter in Mexican border towns is entirely up to migrants, and relies heavily on those towns’ charity-run shelter systems. “If people put into MPP are to ‘have access to shelters,’ those shelters should already be ready. Where are they?” García tweeted. In fact, right now “many shelters are full, and some shelters continue to operate at a reduced capacity” due to COVID-19 in Mexican border towns, according to the latest (December 1) “ Metering Update” from the University of Texas Strauss Center. The 23 public and private shelters in Ciudad Juárez are already at 70 percent capacity, the Mexican daily Milenioreported this week.

During the Trump-era Remain in Mexico program, Mexico “resisted” UN or outside assistance to shelter asylum seekers, as the Washington Post put it. This time, the Mexican government’s November 26 statement “considers it essential to have additional resources from the United States, destined for shelters and international organizations to improve conditions for migrants and asylum seekers in a meaningful way.”  The IOM-Mexicooffice already reiterated its public criticism of the program, which it considers in violation of international law, and called on the Biden administration to end it as soon as possible. 

While all this happens, the Biden administration continues to challenge the Texas judge’s order in the courts; its appeal remains before the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit. The American Civil Liberties Union has indicated that it may revive its Trump-era lawsuit against Remain in Mexico. If it does, the Biden administration may find itself in the bizarre position of fighting the ACLU to preserve “Remain in Mexico” in one court, while simultaneously fighting the attorneys-general of Texas and Missouri to end “Remain in Mexico” in another court.

2021 border drug seizures overview

A massive mid-November drug seizure at a San Diego port of entry—17,584 pounds of methamphetamine and 389 pounds of fentanyl on a single truck—drew attention to increased trafficking of synthetic drugs at the U.S.-Mexico border, even as seizures of drugs derived from plants (cocaine, heroin, marijuana) are flat or declining. Further attention came from a much-mocked tweet by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-New York), chairwoman of the House of Representatives’ Republican Conference, reporting a big fentanyl seizure at a port of entry as a sign of “Biden’s Border Crisis.”

In late October CBP released statistics about border drug seizures during the 2021 fiscal year, which ended on September 30. Three trends in particular stand out.

1) For the first time, seizures of fentanyl exceeded seizures of heroin. This is remarkable because by weight and volume, fentanyl is about 50 times more potent than heroin. The drug, synthesized in labs, appears to be replacing heroin among U.S. users of illegal opioids; some journalistic reports have documented depressed prices and conditions for farmers who grow opium poppies in rural Mexico. By weight, fentanyl seizures in 2021 were more than double heroin seizures. Since 2018, CBP’s seizures of heroin have declined 9 percent while seizures of fentanyl have increased 456 percent. Fentanyl was involved in a majority of the shocking 100,306 estimated overdose deaths in the United States in the 12 months ending April 2021.

2) Another synthetic drug, methamphetamine, continues to increase, while seizures of cocaine—derived from the coca plant—are barely rising. Seizures of methamphetamine are up 39 percent since 2019. Cocaine is up only 8 percent since 2018, even as U.S. and UN estimates point to a multiplication of the drug’s production in the Andean region over the past 8 years. These charts point to a similar divergence between synthetic and plant-based drugs.

Seizures of another plant-based drug, marijuana, have plummeted even more steeply, by 71 percent since 2018. This owes largely to the drug’s legalization in many U.S. states, which has deeply reduced incentives to risk smuggling it across the border.

3) With the exception of the rapidly declining marijuana traffic, the overwhelming majority of border drug seizures happen at ports of entry, and not in the areas between where Border Patrol operates and walls get built. Drugs are most often smuggled in vehicles and amid cargo. Even a significant portion of Border Patrol’s seizures happen at vehicle checkpoints, and not out in the field. Reduced traffic at ports of entry during the pandemic—non-citizens were barred from entry for “non-essential” purposes between March 2020 and November 2021—may have helped CBP seize more drugs, Vice observes.

Caravan updates

“Caravans” of migrants from Central America, Haiti, and elsewhere continue to leave Mexico’s southern border-zone city of Tapachula, in Chiapas, the country’s poorest state. They are not succeeding in reaching either Mexico City or the U.S. border. Security-force and immigration personnel are preventing participants from traveling in vehicles, forcing them to walk. Many are meanwhile accepting offers of documents allowing them to await decisions on their asylum cases in other parts of the country.

Increasingly, the “caravans” are resembling less efforts to migrate than protests against Mexican government policies confining asylum applicants to the state where they applied. Mexico’s refugee agency, COMAR, is badly backlogged. It reported receiving 15,018 asylum requests in November, bringing its year-to-date total up to 123,187 asylum requests. This is by far COMAR’s record, 95 times more asylum requests than the agency received in 2013—and 2021 isn’t over yet. Two thirds of this year’s asylum seekers are from Haiti (47,494) or Honduras (35,161).

While people await decisions from the overwhelmed agency, they must remain in the same state where they applied. 68 percent of asylum seekers—84,606 people—submitted their applications this year in Tapachula, a city of 300,000 that offers very few employment and income opportunities for those whose Mexican migration documents restrict them to Chiapas. Groups of mostly Haitian migrants sought to exit Tapachula en masse in late August and early September, but were blocked or dispersed by Mexican forces. (In mid-September, though, a group of 15,000 mostly Haitian migrants made it all the way to Del Rio, Texas; how Mexico’s enforcement shifted to allow this to happen remains unclear.)

On October 23, a caravan of perhaps 3,000 mostly Central American migrants departed Tapachula, and has proceeded on foot for hundreds of miles, reaching the Isthmus of Tehuántepec, Mexico’s narrowest point, in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz. By November 27, the Mexican daily La Jornada reported, this caravan’s numbers had dwindled to about 150; most had taken offers from Mexico’s migration agency, INM, of documents allowing them to reside in another central or southern Mexican state while awaiting outcomes from COMAR. In recent days, the remaining members of this caravan appeared to be attempting to board cargo trains, known as La Bestia, to take them from Veracruz to Mexico City.

Other groups that departed Tapachula in mid-November appear to be following a pattern of walking many miles up Chiapas’s coastal highway, then desisting. Usually, the marches end with official offers of documents allowing caravan participants to move to other Mexican states, along with bus transportation to those states, all of which are far from the U.S. border. Some of these recent “caravans” are now more properly described as highway blockades: protests to demand relocation outside of Chiapas.

Thousands of Haitian migrants remain in Tapachula. Many are assembled outside the city’s soccer stadium, which COMAR has been using as a processing facility. Most are demanding permission to await decisions in states other than Chiapas. Meanwhile, more Haitian people continue to arrive in southern Mexico. Panamanian authorities counted more than 75,000 Haitian citizens—most of whom had lived for years in Brazil and Chile—crossing through the treacherous Darién Gap region between January and October, the Houston Chronicle reports. 17,000 came through in October alone.

Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) meanwhile continues to report large numbers of migrant apprehensions. August (3rd), September (1st), and October (2nd) are INM’s top three months for migrant apprehensions in the 20 years since Mexico’s government started sharing records. Of 228,115 migrants Mexico has apprehended between January and October 2021, 97,968 are from Honduras, 64,733 from Guatemala, 18,988 from El Salvador, 17,516 from Haiti, 10,960 from Nicaragua, 5,133 from Cuba, 2,288 from Venezuela, 2,166 from Chile (nearly all of them children of Haitians born in Chile), and 1,766 from Brazil (many of them also probably Haitians born in Brazil).

Notably, Mexico has deported just over one migrant for every three it has apprehended this year—82,627 deportations between January and October. Those most frequently deported come from Honduras (42,375), Guatemala (32,427), El Salvador (3,682), and Nicaragua (1,222). Haitians are fifth with 816 deportations.

Links

  • A “Bicentennial Framework” has replaced the “Mérida Initiative” as the guiding set of principles for U.S. security cooperation with Mexico. It focuses on a public health approach to drugs, combating arms trafficking, and targeting illicit financial flows. A new analysis from WOLA’s Mexico Program unpacks the likely differences and continuities in U.S. policy and the bilateral relationship.
  • The latest quarterly “ Metering Update” from the University of Texas Strauss Center finds 26,505 asylum seekers on waiting lists in 8 Mexican border cities in November—a 29 percent increase from the researchers’ Augustreport.
  • A new report from the El Paso-based Hope Border Institute digs into the reasons why increasing numbers of migrants are arriving. 51 in-person interviews with migrants at Ciudad Juárez shelters revealed that COVID and climate change are layered onto the traditional reasons why people are fleeing. Using data gained from thousands of surveys in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the Migration Policy Institute, World Food Program and MIT Civic Data Design Lab found an increased desire to migrate, a modest increase in actual plans to migrate, and economic factors predominating over several causes behind people’s decisions to migrate.
  • A study by physicians associated with Physicians for Human Rights finds evidence of long-lasting mental disorders among migrants whose families were forcibly separated at the border during the Trump administration. The Dallas Morning News has an overview.
  • CBP took 2,021 formal disciplinary actions against members of its 60,000-person workforce in fiscal year 2020, up from 1,629 actions in 2019, according to a new report.
  • On November 17, just before a mandate that all federal employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 by November 22, Border Patrol had a 79 percent rate of full vaccination. Another 16 percent had pending requests for exemptions from the mandate, much higher than the federal government average, leaving 5 percent unvaccinated or unresponsive. At the Intercept, Ken Klippenstein writes about agents who resent or are resisting the vaccine mandate.
  • Numbers of unaccompanied children arriving at the border have been gradually increasing since mid-October, though daily totals are still well below March-April and July-August increases. Aaron Reichlin-Melnick of the American Immigration Council charts it out.
  • The U.S. and Mexican governments announced agreement to support “Sembrando Oportunidades,” a joint program of development aid to Central America. This may have been an effort to sweeten the deal involving Mexico’s cooperation with “Remain in Mexico.”
  • CBP has issued a policy statement laying out standards for more humane treatment of, and medical care for, infants and pregnant, postpartum, and nursing women in the agency’s custody.
  • At the Arizona Daily Star, Curt Prendergast and Alex Devoid document repeated unsuccessful attempts to pass legislation to deal more effectively with migrant deaths on U.S. soil near the border. “In all but one instance, bills that addressed migrant deaths either stalled in committees or were voted down as part of comprehensive immigration reform bills.”
  • More than 200 migrants, including one group of 70 from Venezuela, have been apprehended in Texas’s Big Bend National Park, one of the remotest and usually least active stretches of the entire border, between November 25 and December 1.
  • Reuters reports from Alpercata, a small town in Minas Gerais, Brazil that has lost a large portion of its population to U.S.-bound migration—including 10 percent of students and 5 percent of employees at the mayor’s office—since the pandemic hit. As is the case with several South American countries, Mexico had not been requiring visas of visiting citizens of Brazil. Due largely to U.S. pressure stemming from large numbers of Brazilian citizens arriving in Mexico and being apprehended on the U.S. side of the border, Mexico on November 26 announced a temporary suspension of visa exemptions for Brazil.
  • Just since October 1, people have breached the border fence in CBP’s El Paso sector more than 198 times using bolt cutters, grinders, and acetylene torches, the agency reports. Still, in south Texas’s Starr County, the state government is preparing to use its own funds to build border fencing along about 20,000 acres of property fronting the Rio Grande.
  • As the world reacted to the COVID-19 omicron variant, first documented in South Africa, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) earned rebukes after tweeting that South Africans were being apprehended at the Texas-Mexico border. Border Patrol apprehended four South African citizens at the border in all of 2019, and four more in 2020.
  • Rodney Scott, the Trump administration’s last Border Patrol chief who exited his position in August, faced a San Diego Superior Court judge for a September tweet in which he advised former Border Patrol agent turned activist Jenn Budd, who has recounted being raped at the Border Patrol academy, to “lean back, close your eyes, and just enjoy the show.” Budd also posted screenshots on Twitter showing Scott among those on private CBP and Border Patrol agents’ Facebook groups sharing images of Border Patrol shoulder patches reading “Let’s Go Brandon,” a right-wing euphemism for “F— Joe Biden.”

Weekly Border Update: November 24, 2021

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.

We will not post an update on Friday, November 26. The next update will be posted on December 3, 2021.

Migration declined in October for the third straight month

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported on November 15 that its personnel encountered 117,260 individual undocumented migrants on 164,303 occasions during the month of October. That was an 18 percent reduction in people, and a 14 percent reduction in “encounters,” from September. Encounters have dropped 22 percent in two months, from 209,840 in August, and 23 percent from July’s years-long high of 213,593.

The overwhelming majority of those encounters (158,575) took place between official border land ports of entry, where CBP’s Border Patrol component took the migrants into custody. CBP encountered 5,728 at the ports of entry, the fewest since April.

The giant difference between “individuals” and “encounters” owes to a large number of repeat crossings. “29 percent involved individuals who had at least one prior encounter in the previous 12 months, compared to an average one-year re-encounter rate of 14 percent for FY2014-2019,” CPB reported. The “Title 42” pandemic expulsions policy begun by the Trump administration and continued by the Biden administration, which rapidly sends Mexicans and most Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans back into Mexico, involves little time in CBP custody and appears to have facilitated repeat attempts to cross.

In McAllen, Texas, in the Border Patrol’s busiest sector (Rio Grande Valley), the reduced pace of arrivals is palpable. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is releasing fewer than 300 asylum-seeking migrants a day to the city’s respite center, run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. In July, according to Border Report, U.S. authorities were turning over “upwards of 2,000 migrants” per day to the respite center.


Despite the reduction, October’s monthly “encounters” figure is historically high: 164,303 is the 12th-largest monthly total this century.

Unlike most of this century, though, Title 42 is in place, and most of the  encountered migrants aren’t being processed. CBP expelled 57 percent of migrants it encountered in October, the largest monthly proportion since May. Of single adults encountered in October, 74 percent got expelled. 31 percent of family members were expelled, the largest monthly proportion since April. The Biden administration does not expel non-Mexican children who arrive unaccompanied.

70,627 undocumented migrants were not expelled, and instead processed in the United States, many of them asylum seekers. That is the lowest monthly number of non-expelled migrants since May. Non-expelled migrants have declined by 20 percent since September and 38 percent since August. The number of migrants whom CBP actually processed in October was fewer than it was during six different months of the Trump administration (February-July 2019). Of those who weren’t expelled in October, 60 percent were children and family members. Children and family members were 14 percent of the expelled population.

CBP’s 42,913 encounters with undocumented family members in October was the least since February 2021, and represented a 51 percent drop in just two months, from August’s high of 87,054. (These numbers include a small number of “accompanied children” encountered at ports of entry traveling with relatives other than a parent.)

Arrivals of unaccompanied children (12,807) dropped to their lowest level since February as well, and have declined 32 percent since August. In October, the American Immigration Council notes, “the average number of unaccompanied children in CBP custody was 595 per day, compared with an average of 772 per day in September.” The drop calls into question whether migrants are being deterred by application of Title 42: unaccompanied children are fewer even though the policy isn’t being applied to them. The Council’s Aaron Reichlin-Melnick warns, though, that “daily border apprehensions of unaccompanied children have been slowly rising in recent weeks.”

Encounters with single adults—who are most likely to attempt repeat crossings—haven’t declined as sharply. In October they totaled 108,583, down 4 percent from September, up 4 percent from August, and down 11 percent from their high point in May.

It is unexpected to see migration to have declined in October, during the cooler fall months when it usually increases, after reaching its highest point of the year during summer. Reasons may include:

  • Mexico has been cracking down harder; as we’ve noted in recent updates, Mexico broke its records for monthly migrant apprehensions in August and September (it has not yet released October data). Reporter Manu Ureste at Mexico’s Animal Político points out that Mexico’s apprehensions jumped 120 percent after U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’s June 8 visit to Mexico City, which included a meeting with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
  • Though the numbers dropped slightly from September to October, the Biden administration had increased its month-on-month expulsions of family members every month between July and September, which may have affected asylum seekers’ calculations.
  • It’s possible that the population of would-be migrants who were “bottled up” during many months of border closures at the height of the pandemic have now all had a chance to migrate, and we’re seeing a leveling off.
  • U.S.-led crackdowns caused dramatic September-October declines in migration from Haiti and Ecuador. The Biden administration has expelled about 8,800 Haitians back to their country on 84 flights since September 19, and encouraged Mexico to begin demanding visas of Ecuadorians arriving in the country, which it did on August 20. Border encounters with undocumented Haitian migrants fell 95 percent in a month, from 17,638 to 902. Ecuadorian migrant encounters fell 90 percent, from 7,353 to 744.

In September, CBP encountered migrants from seven countries more than 10,000 times each. In October, CBP encountered migrants from four countries more than 10,000 times each.

Beyond Haiti and Ecuador, migration from the so-called “Northern Triangle” countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) has been declining since July. 50,937 encountered migrants came from those countries in October, down 45 percent in two months, since August.

Migration from Brazil, too, hit its lowest point since June, as Mexico has demanded visas of at least some Brazilians arriving at its airports. In Tijuana, “Brazilian migration has been going on for months, there was even a time when 20, 30, 50 were arriving daily six or seven months ago, arriving with their tourist visas,” José María García Lara of Tijuana’s Movimiento Juventud 2000 shelter told the local daily El Imparcial.

In addition to small increases in Colombians and Russians, the countries whose citizens registered the largest September-to-October migration increase are Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba. In October, these countries respectively occupied 4th, 6th, and 8th place on CBP’s list of most-encountered nationalities. The U.S. government has been pressing Mexico to impose visa requirements on Venezuelans arriving at its airports, Reuters reports, though one U.S. official “said Washington was not leaning hard on Mexico.” A Mexican government source said “Mexico was reviewing its options, and holding discussions with Venezuela to explore alternatives to imposing visa requirements.”

After declining during the summer, migration from Mexico has increased for two straight months. Of 65,276 encountered Mexican migrants in October, all but 4,628 were single adults.

Remain in Mexico may restart in “weeks”

The Biden administration’s latest monthly filing on efforts to restart the controversial “Remain in Mexico” program, submitted November 15 on the orders of the judge who ordered its revival, is much shorter than previous filings: just one page of information. (Here are September’s and October’s filings.) This one reports that the administration has “initiated the relevant contracts and largely finished its internal planning,” and that “reimplementation will begin within the coming weeks.”

Between January 2019 and Joe Biden’s January 2021 inauguration, this Trump-era program, officially known as “Migrant Protection Protocols,” sent 71,071 non-Mexican asylum seekers back into Mexico after their apprehension in the United states. There, they had to wait for many months or more, usually in high-crime Mexican border towns, for hearing dates in the United States. Human Rights First documented more than 1,500 assaults, kidnappings, rapes, and other crimes committed against migrants after U.S. officials sent them back. While the Biden administration sought to terminate Remain in Mexico, a district court judge in Amarillo, Texas forced its restart and demanded monthly filings about “good faith efforts” to do so. (This background is amply covered in past weekly updates.)

Restarting the program means negotiating with a Mexican government that has not yet agreed to resume receiving potentially thousands of non-Mexican asylum seekers. The negotiators, the filing reports, “are close to finalizing these discussions,” with “one set of outstanding issues that must be resolved.” The filing does not name that set of issues, but it may have to do with migrants’ access to counsel for their cases. Border-zone immigration attorneys have voiced strenuous opposition to being made once again to risk their safety trying to represent clients who, while forced to live in danger, faced extremely low asylum grant rates in the program. “We refuse to be complicit in a program that facilitates the rape, torture, death, and family separations of people seeking protection by committing to provide legal services,” reads an October 19 letter from the principal pro bono attorneys’ organizations.

An administration official said that Presidents Biden and López Obrador did not mention the Remain in Mexico restart during a November 18 White House summit of North American leaders.

Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), which compiles large amounts of immigration data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, received documents indicating that 18 asylum seekers were placed in “Remain in Mexico” in October. This seems unlikely because Mexico has not yet approved the program. Austin Kocher of TRAC told Border Report that his organization hasn’t yet cleared up this data point: “18 is not a fluke. Still, the number is small enough (and things are more confusing now policy-wise) that it’s hard to say exactly what’s up.”

The border is a subject of two Senate hearings

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas appeared in an often contentious hearing before a polarized Senate Judiciary Committee on November 16. A day later, two DHS officials and a third from the General Services Administration participated in a more sober hearing before the Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee on Government Operations and Border Management. Here are a few highlights of both.

November 16: Oversight of the Department of Homeland Security

  • Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) opened with remarks contending that “The chaos during the previous administration hobbled DHS and put our nation’s security at risk.” Durbin gave specific mention to the Trump administration’s “emergency” transfer of Defense budget money to build miles of border wall. “The Trump administration endangered our national security by literally transferring billions of dollars and Department of Defense funds to build the President’s so called border wall. American taxpayers, not Mexican taxpayers, as President Trump had promised so many times have paid dearly for this costly endeavor.”
  • Ranking Republican member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) colorfully went after the Biden administration: “When you terminate physical barrier constructions, when you severely restrict the ability of ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to deport illegal immigrants, when you terminate the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy, when you roll back asylum cooperative [‘Safe Third Country’] agreements, when you gut Title 42, when you openly support sanctuary cities policies, then you should not be surprised when there’s a surge at the southern border. When you allow the ACLU and open border immigration activists rather than career law enforcement professionals to dictate the terms of your immigration and border policies, then you shouldn’t be surprised when record-shattering numbers of people start showing up at the borders to take advantage of that situation. When you run DHS like it’s an ‘Abolish ICE fan club,’ you shouldn’t be surprised when you have an immigration crisis on your hands.”
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) asked how many of the 1.7 million migrants encountered during fiscal 2021 are still in the United States. Mayorkas estimated “approximately 375,000 are still here.”
  • Of asylum seekers who were released and not detained, Mayorkas told Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), “Between January 1 and October 31 of 2021, my data indicates that 210,465 non citizens were issued notices to appear. And 94,581 were issued notices to report [which don’t include specific court dates]. We’ve discontinued the practice of issuing notices to report.”
  • Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said, “We know basically, based on Border Patrol projections, that this figure 1.7 million doesn’t include 385,000 or so people who simply evade detection by Border Patrol. We know that there are about 350,000 people who are subject to a notice to appear in court or a notice to report, by my count that’s 735,000 people who have successfully made their way into the United States.”
  • Sen. Cornyn alleged that 10,000 relatives or sponsors of unaccompanied children placed in the United States have not responded to follow-up telephone check-in calls.
  • On the September incident involving horse-mounted Border Patrol agents charging at Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), asked, “What about the issue with your Border Patrol agents recently being accused by some folks in the media of whipping illegal immigrants, when in fact they were not? Why on earth? Did you not defend them?… Your response and your failure to defend them then and now is nothing short of morale crushing.”
  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Mayorkas should go to prison for not reinstating Remain in Mexico quickly enough. “Customs and Border Patrol [sic] agent leadership have told me that your agency is slow-walking and refusing to comply with the order from the federal court to return to the Remain in Mexico policy. What would you say to the judge? If the judge was asking why you should not be held in contempt and incarcerated for defying a federal court order?”
  • Sen. John Kennedy (R-Louisiana) asked, “Your department has released thousands of people illegally into this country who are drug dealers, haven’t you?” Mayorkas responded, “I’m not familiar with what you’ve just articulated.” Kennedy followed up, “Your department has released into our country thousands of people who have probably gone on welfare. Isn’t that the case?” Mayorkas replied, “I don’t believe that.”
  • Sen. Alex Padilla (D-California) raised the issue of Border Patrol’s use of “Critical Incident Teams” to find exculpatory evidence in use-of-force cases, a secretive practice recently revealed by the Southern Border Communities Coalition. Mayorkas responded by praising Border Patrol.

November 17: Federal Government Perspective: Improving Security, Trade, and Travel Flows at the Southwest Border Ports of Entry

  • Ranking Subcommittee member Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) lamented the court-ordered end of “metering” of asylum seekers at ports of entry. “Career staff who served in the Obama and Trump administrations have stated the metering policy was useful as CBP navigated increasing flows of migrants. Rescinding the metering tool, I fear, will open up our ports to increased risk by leaving cartels to be able to surge migrants at the ports and overwhelm them to distract CBP, while they move funneling hard narcotics across the border as our country reopens to travel.”
  • Witness Stuart Burns of the General Services Administration, which manages government buildings like ports of entry, noted that the average land port of entry “was designed and constructed more than 40 years ago. As a result, many of these facilities are functionally obsolete for the 21st century.”
  • Witness Joe Jeronimo of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) said his agency devotes about 20 percent of its work hours to CBP port of entry drug seizures. “And every time there is an interdiction by CBP, HSI spends at a minimum 95 hours to handle that interdiction, from cradle to grave, 95 hours, that’s 12 business days. So again, that’s significant in nature. And that’s a huge commitment.”
  • Jeronimo praised the agency’s monitoring of travelers throughout the hemisphere. “Our second effort is our biometric collection system. Bitmap is a partnership with DOD, CBP, as well as FBI, we have Bitmap locations in 18 countries. And what that does is it gives us an opportunity to enroll individuals as they come into the Western Hemisphere, and make their way up through South America into Latin America and into Mexico, from Sao Paolo to McAllen, is 5000 miles. And when somebody enters into the Western Hemisphere, I can pretty much tell you with certainty where that when that individual arrives, and where they’re going to travel through before they reach the southwest border. And what that does is it gives us an opportunity to know in advance who we’re dealing with, especially individuals that we consider KSTs, or individuals of interest to the United States, before they reach the southwest border. That Bitmap program last year enrolled 35,000 individuals and about 80 percent of those do make it to the southwest border.
  • “In the last two years,” Jeronimo added, “we have initiated over 5000 cases and nearly 8000 arrests, specifically to human smuggling organizations.”
  • Sen. Lankford asked, “What’s the current going rate for coyotes in moving a person or a family?” Jeronimo replied, “Depends on location, if you’re coming from Asia it could be anywhere from $50 to $75,000, if you’re coming from Brazil could be 10 to 15,000. If you come from Latin America, Mexico, anywhere from 5 to 10,000.”

Two migrant caravans now moving, entirely on foot, through southern Mexico

Two caravans of migrants, both multinational but mostly Central American citizens, are now walking on roads in southern Mexico. Both departed the city of Tapachula, Chiapas, near Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, where tens of thousands of migrants have applied for asylum. Mexico requires asylum seekers to remain in the state where they applied while their cases are being decided, but Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state, offers few economic opportunities. So migrants are organizing and seeking to leave en masse, relying on “safety in numbers.”

The first group departed Tapachula a month ago, on October 23. Its members have walked the entire length of Chiapas, then turned northward in Oaxaca and crossed the Isthmus of Tehuántepec, Mexico’s narrowest point. They are now in the vicinity of Acayucan, a crossroads town in the state of Veracruz, not far from the Gulf of Mexico. The second group left Tapachula on November 18 and is only part of the way through Chiapas.

The group in Veracruz has between 800 and 1,500 members. With a significant number of children and families, they have traveled 300 miles on foot over 30 days. Mexican authorities—mainly the Interior Department’s National Migration Institute (INM) and the National Guard—have been preventing caravan participants from boarding vehicles, such as trucks, “for their own safety.” Migrants confronted National Guardsmen on this prohibition in Oaxaca, but the soldiers insisted that they walk. “I have no intention” of stopping them, a Guardsman told Agénce France Presse. “The only requirement is that they advance on foot.”

The group is still many hundreds of miles from its destination, and its numbers are dwindling due to exhaustion, and due to the INM’s repeated offers of documents allowing migrants to stay in other states—none near the U.S. border—while they await asylum decisions, if they abandon the caravan. INM reports that it has offered humanitarian and permanent resident cards for the central and southern Mexican states of Puebla, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Morelos, Hidalgo, Guerrero, Chiapas, Querétaro, Nayarit, Guanajuato, Mexico state, Jalisco, Michoacán, Colima, and Aguascalientes. 1,574 such cards had been issued as of November 16.

Caravan organizer Irineo Mujica of the group Pueblos Sin Fronteras has been urging the migrants not to accept the documents, alleging that they may be detained or deported. The INM issued a statement denouncing Mujica’s “lies and actions,” calling out his “attitude, more akin to that of human traffickers.”

The Veracruz caravan’s destination is not clear. Some may wish to proceed to Mexico City and petition the national office of Mexico’s asylum and refugee agency, COMAR, to consider their asylum petitions there. Others may seek to walk all the way to the U.S. border; Agénce France Presse mentions that some have recommended the border state of Sonora as a destination. According to Milenio, Mujica has proposed boarding the “La Bestia” cargo train.

The caravan group in Chiapas is currently on the state’s coastal highway between Escuintla and Mapastepec, where the earlier group passed at the very end of October. It appears to have started out with about 3,000 members, closely accompanied by INM agents and National Guard and Army personnel. Many are Haitian and as many as 20 to 30 percent may be Venezuelan; most migrants of both nationalities already have tough experience with long walks, having passed through Panama’s highly treacherous Darién Gap jungles.

Elsewhere in Mexico, a group of 40 migrants, including people from Ghana, Togo, Guatemala, Nicaragua, appeared traveling together in León, in Mexico’s central state of Guanajuato. They are probably unrelated to the other two caravans, and most likely traveled in vehicles for much of their route. Authorities meanwhile reported apprehending 600 migrants—455 men and 145 women—inside two tractor-trailer containers in Veracruz on November 20. They came from 12 countries: Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Cuba, El Salvador, Venezuela, Ecuador, Ghana, India, Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, and Cameroon.

Statements from Mexico’s Human Rights Ombudsman (CNDH) and a group of senators called on the INM and National Guard to respect the human rights, and right to seek protection, of migrants in the country, including caravan participants. “Caravans don’t help migrants, they don’t help the authorities, they don’t help the United Nations, they don’t help anybody,” Giovanni Lepri, the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) representative in Mexico, told reporters during a visit to Mexico’s southern border zone. “In order for the caravans to stop happening, there must be a more agile, quicker, and more diversified response from the authorities, so that people don’t feel rushed into believing that the caravans will help them solve their needs.”

Links

  • 79 percent of Border Patrol agents met a November 22 deadline to be vaccinated against COVID-19. About 16 percent more “had submitted a reasonable accommodation request.” The Rio Grande Valley, Texas Monitor reports that 5 percent of agents “were out of compliance with the deadline—3% were not fully vaccinated and had not filed a reasonable accommodation request, the other 2% were unresponsive to the agency.”
  • Border Patrol agents in the agency’s El Paso sector found a sharply increased number of deceased migrants, mostly from dehydration, exposure, and falls from the border wall. The number of dead rose from 10 in 2020 to 39 in fiscal 2021, El Paso Matters reports. CNN reported recently that Border Patrol found at least 557 bodies border-wide in 2021, which is by far a record.
  • Rep. Henry Cuellar (R-Texas) said that DHS is asking the Defense Department to increase the deployment of U.S. military personnel—probably National Guardsmen—at the border from about 3,000 to 4,500. The extra 1,500 would be “in part to operate observation blimps previously used by forces in Afghanistan,” Stars and Stripes reports.
  • Nicaragua has lifted visa requirements for visitors from Cuba, a decision that could increase the number of Cubans migrating across the rest of Central America and Mexico and into the United States.
  • The government of Haiti opened a consulate in the city of Tapachula, Chiapas, near Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, where thousands of Haitian asylum seekers have been living for months, confined there while they await decisions in their cases.
  • “One of the things we proposed [at a November 18 summit of North American presidents] is the idea of, with a view to the Summit of the Americas next summer, working with all the leaders of the region towards a new and bolder framework for managing migration,” an unnamed U.S. official told EFE. At that summit, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called on Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau to “put aside myths and prejudices, stop rejecting migrants, when in order to grow we need a labor force that in reality is not sufficiently available either in the United States or in Canada. Why not study the demand for labor and open up the migratory flow in an orderly fashion?”
  • CBP continues to investigate the mid-September incidents in Del Rio, Texas, in which horse-mounted Border Patrol agents were caught on video charging at Haitian migrants on the banks of the Rio Grande. Though Homeland Security leadership had promised a swift investigation, CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility has not completed its work, and any discipline will be “subject to certain timelines established” in CBP’s labor agreement with the Border Patrol’s union.
  • “Between Oct. 28 and Nov. 9, agents encountered five groups, mostly from Brazil and Venezuela,” in Border Patrol’s California-based San Diego Sector, a CBP release reads. “The groups all entered the United States illegally and consisted of men, women, and children and were 43, 49, 73, 84 and 93 people in size.”
  • “There is little doubt that the administration has used the [Title 42] policy as a stopgap measure to quickly remove migrants who are gathering at the southern border in large numbers,” the New York Times Editorial Board wrote on November 13.
  • Anne Schuchat, an official at the CDC during the Trump years, confirmed that view in comments before a congressional select committee revealed on November 12. “The bulk of the evidence at that time did not support this policy proposal” and “the facts on the ground didn’t call for this from a public health reason,” she said.
  • The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, visited Mexico on November 22. He and Mexican officials signed an agreement to strengthen the capacities of Mexico’s overwhelmed refugee and asylum agency, COMAR.
  • CBP officers at San Diego’s Otay Mesa port of entry caught a trucker trying to smuggle 17,584 pounds of methamphetamine and 389 pounds of fentanyl in a single cargo load labeled as “auto body parts.”
  • The federal trial of Hia C-ed O’odham activist Amber Ortega continues in Tucson, Arizona. Ortega was arrested in September 2020 for interfering with border wall construction, carrying out civil disobedience near the ecologically fragile Quitobaquito Spring along the Arizona-Sonora border. While the Biden Justice Department continues pursuing her prosecution, the case’s district court judge has decided that Ortega may not use a “religious freedom” defense.
  • On October 29, the Tijuana municipal government counted 769 migrants, 40 percent of them children and many of them expelled or blocked from the United States under Title 42, living in a miserable encampment outside the Chaparral port of entry into San Diego. The mayor, who recently installed fencing around the site, expects numbers to decline with upcoming seasonal rains.
  • A Dallas Morning News – University of Texas at Tyler poll found 49 percent of Texans, and 38 percent of Texan independents, supporting Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) very hardline border policies. 50 percent of those polled, including 46 percent of independents, agreed that “a wall along the Texas-Mexico border is necessary for a safe border.”

Weekly Border Update: November 12, 2021

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.

U.S. border reopens—but not to asylum seekers

On November 8, after nearly 20 months of closure to all “non-essential” foreign nationals, the United States opened its official land border crossings to documented, vaccinated travelers. Many ports of entry at first saw long lines as Mexicans with U.S. visas or border-crossing cards sought to reunite with relatives, resume doing business, or just shop on the U.S. side. Traffic flows quickly returned to normal nearly everywhere.

Ports of entry remain closed, though, to asylum seekers—migrants who lack U.S. visas but claim fear of return to their home countries—regardless of their vaccination status. The Biden administration continues to implement the Trump administration’s “Title 42” policy of expelling or quickly turning back all undocumented migrants, even if they seek protection.

In El Paso and Nogales, advocates accompanied asylum-seeking families, vaccination cards in hand, as they sought to cross into the United States to seek asylum the “proper” way—that is, by arriving at an official port of entry instead of climbing a fence or crossing a river. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers stationed at the borderline blocked them from accessing U.S. soil. The continued application of Title 42 even to vaccinated asylum seekers places great stress on administration officials’ insistence that the Trump-era measure is a public-health policy and not an immigration deterrent.

While CBP sought to dispel rumors that the border re-opening applied to undocumented travelers, anecdotal reports pointed to an increase in migrants arriving in Mexican border towns in the lead-up to November 8. “They haven’t listened to us and they don’t want to wait,” José García, whose Movimiento Juventud 2000 is one of several shelters currently filling up in Tijuana, told Reuters regarding recently arrived migrants who’ve received “misinformation.” About 1,200 people remain in a makeshift encampment just outside Tijuana’s main pedestrian port of entry into San Diego, California. Last week, municipal authorities built a fence around the encampment and cut off the power that residents had drawn from electric lines.

Many new asylum-seeking arrivals in Mexican border towns are Mexican citizens, primarily from states like Michoacán and Guerrero that are racked by criminal violence. Carlos Spector, a well-known El Paso-based immigration attorney who specializes in Mexican asylum cases, told the Border Chronicle that he expects to see a big increase in such cases after November 8. Some will be threatened Mexicans who already have U.S. travel documents: “that’s generally going to be the lower middle class on up. I’ve had calls from women working with coalitions searching for the disappeared.” And some will be Mexican human rights defenders who can no longer withstand constant threats to their lives and to their families’ lives: “The biggest thing I’m seeing is that these are heavyweight human rights leaders, who before told me they weren’t going anywhere.” Over roughly the last three years, nearly 100 human rights defenders have been killed in Mexico, including multiple family members of the disappeared.

This week saw several other notable developments in border and asylum policy:

  • A report from Syracuse University’s TRAC Immigration project revealed that a larger proportion of asylum seekers won their cases in fiscal year 2021 than in fiscal year 2020. TRAC, which compiles large amounts of data obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, found that 37 percent of cases were successful in 2021 compared to 29 percent in 2020. Due to COVID-19 closing immigration courts for much of the year, however, 2021 saw only 23,827 asylum cases decided overall, compared with 60,079 decisions in 2020; only 8,349 people were granted asylum during this period, with another 402 granted some other form of relief. TRAC’s monthly plotting of the data shows that asylum approvals steadily increased after President Joe Biden was sworn in last January. “By September 2021, the asylum denial rate had dropped to 53 percent. That means that success rates had climbed to 47 percent.”
  • The Biden administration’s court-ordered restart of the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” program, which forces non-Mexican asylum seekers to await their hearings inside Mexico, is proceeding apace, even as Mexico’s government has not yet assented to hosting those foreign nationals again. The Rio Grande Valley, Texas Monitor showed construction of tent courtrooms to hold teleconference hearings underway in Brownsville; they are also being built in Laredo. Two top House of Representatives appropriators, Barbara Lee (D-California) and Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairwoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-California), sent a strong letter to the Departments of State and Homeland Security (DHS) rejecting the program’s restart and laying out some strict conditions that a new Remain in Mexico would have to meet in order to receive funding from Congress. On November 15 (Monday), the Biden administration must submit to Texas District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk its latest monthly report documenting its “good faith efforts” to restart the program. (The last two reports are here and here.)
  • Witness at the Border’s latest monthly report on U.S. deportation and expulsion flights finds that DHS ran 80 expulsion flights to Haiti between September 19 and November 7, “expelling an estimated 8,500 people, almost half of which were women and children.” October also saw 37 direct expulsion flights to Guatemala and 35 expulsion flights of Central American citizens to southern Mexico. Since the southern Mexico flights began in August, Witness at the Border estimates that the Biden administration has sent over 11,000 Central Americans to Tapachula and Villahermosa, Mexico.
  • CBS News reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will be sending court documents to about 78,000 asylum-seeking migrants who were released at the border without a court date, due to overloaded CBP processing capacity at the time. These individuals were issued “Notices to Report” at an ICE facility in their place of destination to begin their cases, rather than “Notices to Appear,” with specific hearing dates, which take longer to produce. While the majority of those who received “Notices to Report” indeed reported at ICE facilities, what the agency calls “Operation Horizon” is seeking to notify the rest by mail.
  • The Associated Press covers immigration judges deciding asylum cases on the so-called “rocket docket”: the Biden administration’s effort to reduce the amount of time it takes to decide the claims of the most recently arrived migrants. Asylum cases routinely take three or four years or more to decide. By placing at the head of some courts’ lines the migrants who arrived at the border most recently, officials assume that the quick resulting decisions, usually within 300 days, might deter others with “weaker” asylum claims from attempting the journey to the United States. More than 16,000 cases are now on this “last in, first out” docket; critics worry that the policy weakens due process, as “it rushes the complex work of building asylum cases, making it nearly impossible for migrants to have a fair shot.”

A diminished migrant caravan reaches the Isthmus of Tehuántepec

The migrant “caravan” that departed Mexico’s southern border-zone city of Tapachula on October 23 exited Mexico’s southernmost state, Chiapas, on November 7. By November 11, approximately 1,000 (or by one count, up to 2,500) mostly Central American migrants were beginning their day in the town of Zanatepec, in the state of Oaxaca, not far from Mexico’s narrowest point, the Isthmus of Tehuántepec. (The caravan’s past progress is covered in our last two weekly updates.)

The group is moving slowly, as Mexican forces—including the National Guard contingent closely accompanying the marchers—are preventing vehicles from transporting the migrants. Entirely on foot, they have covered about 200 miles in about 20 days.

Their numbers are dwindling. Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) said that it now numbers fewer than 1,000 people, down from as many as 4,000 during its first days in Chiapas. It is hard to count them for sure, as not all are traveling in a tight formation: a group of 60, for instance, appears to be far ahead of the rest, already crossing from Oaxaca into the state of Veracruz.

Exhausted and frequently ill, many caravan participants, especially parents with children, have been turning themselves in to Mexican migration authorities. The INM announced on November 10 that it has delivered humanitarian visas to 800 “vulnerable” caravan participants—children, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and their relatives—who will be allowed to await their asylum decisions in the southern and central Mexican states of Puebla, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Morelos, Hidalgo, and Guerrero.

The two activists accompanying or leading the caravan have indicated to the press that they no longer plan to walk to Mexico City. The original intention was to go to the capital and petition for better living conditions, particularly the right to live in states other than impoverished Chiapas, while Mexico’s overwhelmed refugee agency, COMAR, decides on their asylum applications.

Now, though, Irineo Mujica and Luis García Villagrán say that the group intends to go straight to Mexico’s northern border with the United States. They blame Mexican forces’ aggression for the route change. In an October 31 incident that earned criticism from Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, National Guardsmen fired on a truck driving through a roadblock, killing a Cuban migrant and wounding several others. On November 4, though, a group of migrants confronted National Guardsmen with stones and sticks on the highway near the town of Pijijiapán, Chiapas. While no migrants were reported wounded in the incident, five guardsmen were wounded badly enough to go to the local hospital; all were discharged by November 6.

The caravan’s new route would avoid the capital, crossing the Isthmus of Tehuántepec on foot from Oaxaca into the Gulf of Mexico state of Veracruz. Caravan leaders say that they could be in the Gulf Coast city of Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz within 10 days. There, they might meet up with another caravan reportedly set to depart Tapachula on November 17 or 18, then head several hundred miles into the northern border state of Tamaulipas.

“It’s a painful road, when the migrants enter the corridor,” U.S. Ambassador Ken Salazar told a press conference on November 9. “But the majority of them come to the corridor because they’ve been deceived by the traffickers, criminals and those organizations are the ones that are enriching themselves by millions of dollars.” In an apparent reference to Mujica and García Villagrán, the Ambassador blamed the caravan’s formation on people “doing it for the money, they’re not doing it for the benefit of the migrants… The organizers portray themselves as if they’re doing something for human rights, when in reality what they’re doing is filling their pockets with money that comes from the traffickers and criminals.”

 The Ambassador provided no evidence to clarify this accusation, however. Those who participate in caravans usually do so in an effort to avoid having to pay a smuggler, seeking to get across Mexico instead through “safety in numbers.”

Indicators point to migration decline in October

According to preliminary CBP numbers reported in the Washington Post, migration at the US-Mexico border may have dropped by 25 percent in the three months between July and October. “About 160,000 border crossers were taken into CBP custody during the month, preliminary figures show, down from 192,000 in September,” the Post’s Nick Miroff reports. “It was the third consecutive month that border arrests have declined, after peaking at 213,593 in July.”

The sharpest decline, Miroff adds, is in arrivals of migrants from Haiti. CBP and its Border Patrol component apprehended about 1,000 Haitians in October, way down from 17,638 in September. That month, a sudden arrival of nearly 15,000 Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas, made national news.

The decline in Haitian migration owes to the uniqueness of the Del Rio event, a finite, one-time flow. (However, several thousand Haitians, most of whom lived in Brazil and Chile, remain in Tapachula, and along migration routes in South America, Panama’s treacherous Darién Gap, and Central America). It also owes to the Biden administration’s harsh response to that event: since September 19, DHS has expelled about 8,700 migrants back to Haiti on 82 flights. As a result, the number of Haitians seeking asylum in Mexico has increased: Haitians in October overtook Hondurans as the number-one nationality of migrants seeking asylum before Mexico’s refugee agency, COMAR, so far in 2021.

As we await CBP’s official release of October data, another indicator of a significant decline last month is a chart of immigrant arrivals in the very busy McAllen, Texas area, maintained by Valerie González of the Rio Grande Valley Monitor. Her chart, included in a larger article about how Border Patrol scrambled to deal with a sharp increase in child and family migration in July and August, appears to show McAllen’s migrant arrivals dropping to near their lowest levels since Joe Biden took office.

(Image from the Rio Grande Valley Monitor)

Arrivals of unaccompanied children, too, are down. While in July and August CBP was routinely apprehending more than 500 children per day, daily official reports of unaccompanied child apprehensions (collected here by Twitter user @juliekayswift) show the agency rarely encountering more than 400 per day anymore, and often fewer than 300. As of November 9, 12,418 unaccompanied children were in U.S. government custody (11,742 with the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, 676 in short-term CBP custody); that is still a very large number, but it is down from over 20,000 in April and May.

Links

  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) began a crackdown on undocumented border-area migration this year, known as “Operation Lone Star,” that has led to the arrest of more than 1,500 people since July—including some asylum seekers—on state charges of trespassing, a misdemeanor. The Wall Street Journal revealed that only 3 percent of those 1,500 have been convicted so far. “Most of the rest are waiting weeks or months in jail for their cases to be processed.” Of 1,006 in jail as of November 1, 53 percent had spent more than 30 days confined—for a misdemeanor offense—due to small rural courts’ overwhelm. Meanwhile, “of 170 Operation Lone Star cases resolved as of Nov. 1, about 70% were dismissed, declined or otherwise dropped, in some instances for lack of evidence.” After release, many migrants are not expelled under Title 42: “some migrants who likely would have been deported had they been immediately caught by the Border Patrol are waiting in the U.S. after being released by state authorities.”
  • “You’re preaching to the choir, and we appreciate you coming, and we appreciate you being here, and we’ll take your help,” the judge (top local authority) of Kinney County, Texas told leadership of the “Patriots for America.” This armed citizen militia group had arrived in the rural border county to respond to what it called “an invasion of this county” by migrants. Kinney County is one of the most active participants in Gov. Abbott’s “Operation Lone Star,” with over 1,000 arrests in two months. Concerns about this county-militia relationship are raised in a November 10 public information request by ACLU of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project.
  • Reversing an initial statement that “it’s not going to happen,” President Biden said on November 6 that the Justice Department might settle lawsuits and pay significant sums to “compensate” many of over 5,600 migrant families who suffered harm when the Trump administration separated children and parents at the border. Dozens of Republican senators have sponsored an amendment to the 2022 defense authorization bill, currently under consideration, that would ban any such payments.
  • Some non-citizens who served in the U.S. military but were later deported after committing criminal offenses are being allowed back into the United States after many years, under a new Biden administration policy.
  • At least 45 Haitian migrants detained at the border are being denied access to counsel while held at Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Torrance County Detention Facility in New Mexico, according to several migrants’ rights groups. One pregnant woman was denied medical care at Torrance and had a miscarriage, according to a civil rights complaint that groups filed.
  • Reporting from Haiti for Public Radio International, Monica Campbell talks to migrants who were expelled from the United States in recent months. Many are already planning to migrate again.
  • Florida’s government reported spending $570,988 to deploy dozens of state law enforcement personnel and equipment to Texas’s border with Mexico, in response to a request from Gov. Abbott. “While in Texas, state law enforcement officers made contact with 9,171 undocumented immigrants,” the Miami Herald reported. “Just over 3% of those contacts resulted in a criminal arrest.”
  • Nearly two months after being shown on widely shared video clips charging on horseback at Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas, at least six Border Patrol agents involved “were slated to sit down with DHS investigators to offer their own accounts of what happened in interviews on Tuesday and Wednesday,” CBS News reports.
  • Manuel Orozco, a longtime Central America expert at Creative Associates, told an interviewer that he expects an increase in migration from Nicaragua after Daniel Ortega’s re-election in an illegitimate vote on November 7.
  • “In historical perspective, the percent of criminal individuals apprehended by Border Patrol is low at about 1 percent in 2021,” writes Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute. “The rate of criminal individuals apprehended in 2021 is near the historical low point of zero to 1 percent during the late 1940s through the mid-1950s. Far from living during a period of high criminal apprehensions along the border, we are likely living during a period of relatively low border criminality.”
  • The mayor of Laredo, Texas called on Mexican authorities to do more to police the highways leading up to his border city from Mexico’s interior. Laredo is the starting point for Interstate 35, a transcontinental U.S. highway that criminal groups use as a corridor for transshipment of illicit drugs to U.S. markets.
  • The data visualization experts at the Pew Research Center shared a new post, “What’s Happening at the U.S.-Mexico Border in 7 Charts.”

Weekly Border Update: November 5, 2021

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.

Migrant caravan continues grueling journey through coastal Chiapas

A “caravan” of at least 1,000 and perhaps up to 3,000 mostly Central American migrants, many of them families with children, continues a journey begun nearly two weeks ago, on October 23. They are still following a highway leading up the Pacific coast of Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state. In about twelve days, they have progressed, entirely on foot, as far as a car could drive in about three hours (about 200 kilometers or 125 miles).

Since 2019, Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) and National Guard have blocked or dispersed several attempts to form caravans. Some migrants have sought to employ this collaborative tactic to cross Mexico without having to pay smugglers, opting instead for “safety in numbers.” While all departed from the Mexico-Guatemala border zone city of Tapachula, none since late 2018 has made it as far into Chiapas as the current caravan.

This group is larger than most of the previous unsuccessful caravans, and many of its members claim that they do not seek to cross into the United States. Instead, their stated goal is to come to Mexico City and negotiate the government’s requirement that they remain in Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state, as they await long-delayed decisions on their asylum applications.

Between January and October, Mexico’s refugee agency COMAR received 108,195 asylum requests, leaving far behind 2019’s full-year record of 70,406 requests. October saw a new monthly record with 18,034 new asylum applications. 69 percent of 2021’s requests have been filed in Tapachula, where this caravan’s participants have been compelled to remain while awaiting the overburdened agency’s decisions on their cases.

This year’s top seven countries, COMAR director Andrés Ramírez tweeted, are Haiti (37,849 asylum requests), Honduras (33,578), Cuba (7,915), El Salvador (5,433), Chile (5,294, nearly all of them children of Haitians), Venezuela (5,113), and Guatemala (3,799). COMAR approves about 40 percent of Haitians’ applications, far fewer than those of Venezuelans (97 percent) or Hondurans (87 percent).

While the INM and National Guard have not acted to block or disperse this caravan, they are accompanying it closely, and strictly preventing its members from boarding buses or other vehicles. As the shortest route from Tapachula to Mexico City is about 1,200 kilometers, it would take the caravan participants 10 more weeks to reach the capital at their current walking pace. Luis García Villagrán of the non-governmental Centro de Dignificación Humana, who is closely accompanying the group, said that the migrants may take a route from Chiapas into Veracruz, avoiding Oaxaca where authorities, in his words, have set up a “bunker” to await them.

Migrants are falling ill in the heat of Chiapas’s coastal Soconusco region. The INM reported on November 1 that six caravan participants, five of them children, had contracted dengue fever, a severe mosquito-borne illness. Irineo Mujica of the organization Pueblo Sin Fronteras, who along with Villagrán is accompanying the group and frequently serving as a spokesman, insisted that the children were only suffering from dehydration and that “the INM is lying.”

On November 4, a contingent of National Guard carrying riot shields sought to block a group of migrants described as “rezagados de la caravana” (stragglers of the caravan), just outside the town of Pijijiapán. Videos showed the group of migrants, who appeared to be adult men or teenage boys, hurling stones and branches at the guardsmen, and beating one of them unconscious.

Authorities, who were caught on video treating caravan participants very roughly in August and September, appeared to be showing restraint during the November 4 incident. This was just days, though, after National Guardsmen discharged lethal firearms at a vehicle carrying migrants, killing at least one.

The incident happened after midnight on October 31 on a dirt road south of the coastal highway, a few miles from Pijijiapán. A statement from the National Guard, a force created in 2019 whose members are mostly soldiers or marines “on loan,” claims that a pickup truck carrying 14 migrants ignored guardsmen’s order to stop at a checkpoint, and tried to ram into them. At least one guardsman opened fire on the vehicle, killing a Cuban migrant and wounding four more people aboard.

The Chiapas state prosecutor’s office at first claimed that a rifle was found in the truck, but the National Guard made no mention of that in its statement. “Images that circulated later showed a weapon right under the body of the migrant who was shot to death,” Animal Político reported, adding “it is unusual for migrants to carry weapons.” Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on November 3, however, that “they did not shoot, they did not attack and the Guard fired.”

On November 3 word emerged that a second migrant had died of wounds resulting from the incident. President López Obrador told his morning press conference, “Two migrants lost their lives, they were shot at.” Later that day, the INM and Chiapas health authorities reported that they only knew of one death, the Cuban man.

López Obrador had some strong words for the guardsmen involved. “I already gave instructions to make these elements of the National Guard available to prosecutors… This should not happen, there are other ways to detain those who are violating the laws, this took place on a rural road in Pijijiapan, Chiapas. They could have stopped them further ahead, closed the way, without shooting at them.”

While the president’s expression of concern is welcome, prosecutions of security-force personnel for human rights violations are rare. This rapidly escalated use of lethal force, too, is a predictable outcome of placing combat-trained military personnel in roles, like migration checkpoints, that involve frequent contact with the civilian population.

Two press accounts point to deep disagreements within the Biden administration

Two reports from border-zone reporters this week point to deep disagreements within the Biden administration over how quickly, and to what extent, to dismantle the hardline border and migration policies inherited from the Trump administration. Unnamed sources revealed some of the turmoil to CBS News’ Camilo Montoya-Galvez and to a collaboration between the Associated Press’s Elliot Spagat and AIM Media Texas’s Valerie Gonzalez. An edition of the new Border Chronicle podcast interviewing Stephanie Leutert, who left a State Department post in July, offered additional perspective.

The inter-agency division appears to run between “those who are more progressive and those who are more enforcement-minded,” as a source tells CBS; “immigration advocates” versus “Biden’s inner circle,” as AP/AIM characterize it; or “more progressive members and then more political members,” as Leutert puts it.

“These battles have led to paralysis, which has allowed things to get worse in several ways,” the first source tells Montoya-Galvez. “We’re not making any progress,” says another, “citing ‘so much division’ among Mr. Biden’s appointees.”

Divisions emerged early on, the AP/AIM reports, when “Immigration advocates on the transition team shot down a detailed memo circulated among top aides that called for turning back some migrants who cross illegally by making them seek protection in other countries.” According to this narrative, the immigration advocates pushed back against predictions that migrant flows would increase without this “turnback” policy. Migrant flows did increase, despite the Biden administration using Trump’s “Title 42” pandemic border closure policy to swiftly expel hundreds of thousands, including asylum seekers.

In early July, CBS found, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was ready to lift Title 42; officials had “a comprehensive nine-page plan” to step up asylum seekers’ processing and alternatives to detention. Senior officials at DHS and the White House—Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice is often named—spiked the plan, as migration levels increased and COVID-19’s Delta variant spread. “Other Biden appointees,” though, “believe the continued implementation of Title 42 is largely based on optics” more than public health imperatives, CBS reports. They see the expulsions policy persisting “because of concerns that ending it will fuel perceptions of a chaotic border.”

Now, a Biden appointee told CBS, “We are in this very weird place where we’re implementing Title 42 more strongly than the Trump administration did.”

AP/AIM noted “‘great frustration and irritation’ at the administration’s highest levels” when the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas began refusing to accept Title 42 expulsions of Central American families with small children. South Texas, across from Tamaulipas, has since had a much smaller percentage of expelled families than other parts of the border.

Officials have disagreed sharply on the September decision to expel Haitian migrants back to their troubled country through a massive airlift of about 80 expulsion flights since September 19. “Some Biden appointees were horrified,” CBS reports, but they were overruled by senior officials like Rice and White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, who believed the expulsions “would deter other Haitians from coming.”

CBS reveals that Biden appointees at DHS and the National Security Council had proposed reviving the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico policy—which Biden halted on Inauguration Day—last spring, months before a Texas district court judge’s August order for it to restart. Aides presented the revival of the program—which forced non-Mexican asylum seekers to await their U.S. hearings in dangerous Mexican border towns—“as a deterrence tool.” (DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told a forum on November 4 that talks with Mexico to enable Remain in Mexico’s court-ordered restart will conclude “in the coming days.”) 

According to CBS, members of the administration also floated—unsuccessfully, so far—get-tough measures like expelling unaccompanied teenagers under Title 42, or trying to convince Mexico to sign a “safe third country” agreement forcing non-Mexican asylum seekers to apply there instead. (The Trump administration signed such agreements with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, but could not compel Mexico. The Biden administration canceled the Central American agreements.)

“By midsummer, the pendulum swung to enforcement as patience wore thin in Biden’s inner circle,” AP/AIM put it. A few officials interviewed by CBS vented anger at “progressives” and non-governmental advocates who oppose harsh, Trump-like measures, insisting on reform to the asylum system even amid high current migration levels.

  • A Biden appointee: “Some administration officials ‘don’t want to see folks ever removed. That’s not where President Biden is. That’s not where the mainstream Democratic Party is.’”
  • An unnamed official: “The advocacy groups have not made things easy on the administration. The only policies they support are those in which every person who crosses the border is released into the country with cases that will take years to get to, if the government can get to them at all. That is not functional, or sustainable.”
  • Cecilia Muñoz, a former Obama White House domestic policy advisor who served on the transition team: “Some advocates have not grappled with the difference, if any, between their position and an open-borders position. And an open-borders position is anathema in the country. It’s like pushing the administration right off a cliff.”

Persistent divisions have brought a lack of clarity about the Biden administration’s long-term plan for handling large-scale flows of protection-seeking migrants. Particularly muddy is the administration’s vision for what asylum processing and adjudication—among other border and migration mechanisms—might look like after Title 42’s inevitable, eventual lifting. “The administration has yet to release detailed plans of the ‘humane’ asylum system that Biden promised during his campaign,” AP and AIM Texas observe.

“I think there are probably a couple ideas being floated around,” Leutert told the Border Chronicle’s Melissa del Bosque.

But I think publicly, no, and really a concrete vision of what the next two three years will look like, I don’t think that’s been clearly articulated. …If you don’t have that that kind of end point of, we’re building toward X, we’re building toward the border looking like this articulated vision, if you don’t have that, and not everyone’s rowing their oars in the same direction, you do get swept away by the day to day events.

There are so many thoughtful, talented people in the administration and in the interagency. And they are working really round the clock, because there’s so much happening on a day to day basis. And the challenge there is that when you’re working all the time, when you’re working long hours, you’re responding to whatever fire is burning that particular day. It’s hard to think long term. There’s so much on a day-to-day basis, the numbers are creeping up, the President is getting just pummeled about immigration on the border on Fox News and in conservative media.

Texas updates

Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R), who vocally opposes the Biden administration’s partial dismantling of the Trump administration’s border and migration policies, continues to carry out his own series of border enforcement measures using state resources. Abbott launched what he calls “Operation Lone Star” in March, and is devoting more than $2 billion in state funds to fence-building, National Guard and state police deployments, and efforts to arrest and jail migrants on state charges like trespassing.

On October 28 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested a Texas state policeman serving “Lone Star” duty. Pablo Talavera will face a charge of conspiracy to sell narcotics. A criminal complaint reported in the Rio Grande Valley Monitor discusses Talavera escorting “loads of money and methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine on behalf of his father and uncle’s drug trafficking organization, which allegedly operated in Tennessee” between May 26 and September 16.

At Texas Monthly, Aaron Nelsen reports from rural Kinney County (population less than 4,000), which has arrested and jailed more migrants under “Operation Lone Star” (1,300) than any of Texas’s 254 counties. “Though hundreds of those apprehended have been released on bond, 792 of the 914 immigrants currently in state prison were arrested in Kinney.” The caseload has overwhelmed “a county that hasn’t had a jury trial in seven years.”

About 70 percent of the state police and national guardsmen deployed on Gov. Abbott’s orders, Nelsen reports, are in Kinney and neighboring Val Verde counties. (Both are in Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector, which for the first time ever in 2021 was second in migrant encounters among the agency’s nine U.S.-Mexico border sectors.)

“Biden is diffusing all of these people in our country to change our culture,” Kinney County Judge Tully Shahan told Nelsen. “The left is on the way.” (In Texas, a county judge is an elected top leadership position whose power and responsibilities extend well beyond courts.) A county commissioner added, “These people are obviously bringing diseases. There’s leprosy, tuberculosis, measles, chicken pox, they’ve had some show polio, and COVID as well.”

Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas), whose district includes much of San Antonio, led a letter calling for a Justice Department investigation into “Operation Lone Star” for constitutional violations. The letter bears the signatures of 26 Democratic House members and is addressed to DHS Secretary Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland. It cites Gov. Abbott’s operation’s “likely violation of the Supremacy Clause [stating that the Constitution takes precedence over state laws] and its treatment of migrants, especially in regards to an individual’s constitutional right to due process.”

“One county in particular, Kinney County, has had to manage over 80 percent of the cases, and many of the migrants there had been without attorneys for weeks.,” the letter reads. “Over the past month, the [county] has passed multiple state statute deadlines to file charges, and jails must release defendants without those charges filed, which has also not occurred in all cases. As a result almost 1,000 migrants [have had] to sit in prison for weeks and sometimes over a month.”

With “Lone Star” and frequent criticism of the Biden administration, Gov. Abbott has made the border a central issue ahead of a 2022 re-election campaign. A Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation poll released this week had Abbott virtually tied (43 to 42 percent) with likely Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke.

Links

  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) found the remains of 557 migrants on U.S. soil during the 2021 fiscal year, according to data shared with CNN. This number, not yet final nor broken down by region, would vastly exceed CBP’s prior record of 492 remains found in 2006. Groups that seek to locate bodies in some regions of the border routinely find far more than CBP does. Most migrants who perish succumb to dehydration, exposure, drowning, or other preventable causes while traveling through treacherous wilderness in an attempt to avoid capture.
  • A woman died and 36 more migrants were detained late on October 29, as a group of about 70 sought to swim the Pacific Ocean from Tijuana to San Diego, around the border fence that runs about 100 yards into the sea.
  • The Latin America Working Group’s Daniella Burgi-Palomino visited a migrant shelter in Mexico City that is at capacity amid an increase in Haitians seeking asylum there.
  • Republican legislators voiced outrage at indications, first reported in the Wall Street Journal, that families separated by the Trump administration might receive big payouts as part of a litigation settlement. Asked about it, President Biden said payments of $450,000 per person are “not going to happen.” The ACLU replied that “President Biden may not have been fully briefed about the actions of his very own Justice Department.”
  • The Senate Finance Committee approved the nomination of Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus to be the next commissioner of CBP, by a 15-13 vote. The lone Republican vote came from Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana), who said the agency needs someone in charge amid the “mess at the border” and that he appreciated the “straight answers” Magnus gave at his October 19 hearing.
  • A November 1 memo from acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller officially rescinds Trump-era guidelines limiting the number of people allowed to approach land ports of entry to seek asylum (a practice known as “metering”). It calls on CBP officers to process asylum-seeking migrants as much as “operationally feasible,” including through use of CBP’s new “CBP One” mobile app. This changes little for the moment, though, since the “Title 42” pandemic expulsions policy prevents most everyone without documents from approaching ports of entry in the first place. The new guidelines comply with a federal district court judge’s September decision striking down “metering.”
  • A graphical report from Mijente, Just Futures Law, and the No Border Wall Coalition explains the extent, and the risks involved with, the installation of new border-security technologies. Among the capabilities the report covers are video surveillance systems, drones, biometric data collection, facial recognition, CBP’s new app, and telephone and internet communications intercepts.
  • Amber Ortega, a member of the Hia Ced O’odham tribe, is on trial in Tucson federal court for blocking border wall construction in southern Arizona’s ecologically fragile Quitobaquito springs in mid-2020. At that time, the Intercept reports, “For a low-level misdemeanor usually handled with a trespassing ticket, the two women [Ortega and fellow O’odham protester Nellie Jo David] were strip-searched, shackled, and driven to a for-profit jail 130 miles away, where they were held incommunicado, without access to a lawyer, for nearly 24 hours.”
  • Official border crossings, closed to “non-essential” travelers since the COVID-19 pandemic’s March 2020 onset, are to reopen to all documented people who are fully vaccinated with an approved vaccine brand, on November 8. The Dallas Morning News predicts that the reopening will ease labor shortages in Texas. El Paso Matters reports on south El Paso stores anxious to see the return of Mexican shoppers who make up most of their clientele. For 20 months, Ciudad Juárez residents who had U.S. visas or border crossing cards, and could afford airfare, could only come across the Rio Grande to visit El Paso by booking flights.

Weekly Border Update: October 29, 2021

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.

CBP reports “record” annual migrant numbers, with notable changes in recent months

On October 22—just as last week’s update was going online—Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released data about its encounters with migrants during September 2021. As September was the last month of the U.S. government’s fiscal year, CBP was also making public its 2021 end-of-year totals.

Headlines noted that CBP and its Border Patrol component “encountered”—that is, took into custody, at least briefly—more migrants than in any prior fiscal year. The agency reported encountering 1,734,686 undocumented people between October 2020 and September 2021. Of that number, 1,659,206 were encountered between official ports of entry by Border Patrol. That narrowly exceeds the 1,643,679 migrant apprehensions Border Patrol logged in 2000.

In 2000, Border Patrol had about half as many agents as it does now at the U.S.-Mexico border and most migrants were seeking to avoid apprehension versus actively seeking agents out to request asylum. It is very likely, then, that a far larger number of additional migrants evaded capture in 2000 than did in 2021. So this year was almost certainly not the year with the largest number of overall border crossings.

The 2021 figure may also include more double counting than in the past: CBP reported that 26 percent of the migrants it encountered in September had already been encountered at least once before during fiscal 2021. That is way higher than the 14 percent “recidivism” average that the agency recorded between 2014 and 2019. (CBP does not have “recidivism” estimates from before 2005.)

The number of individual people encountered in 2021, then, was significantly fewer than 1.7 million. During the first 11 months of the fiscal year, CBP had reported 1.54 million “encounters” with 1,002,722 individual people. While the agency did not update these numbers for the full 12 months, the final number of individuals is probably about 1.15 million, which is larger—but not immensely larger—than 2019:

The reason for the increase in repeat crossings is “Title 42,” the pandemic border policy put into place by the Trump administration in March 2020, which the Biden administration has maintained. Under the pretext of avoiding holding migrants in congregate settings where COVID-19 might spread, “Title 42” seeks to expel them as quickly as possible, without regard to whether they might be seeking asylum. If they are Mexican, Guatemalan, Honduran, or Salvadoran, and sometimes from other countries, CBP or Border Patrol may send them back into Mexico within an hour or two. For many migrants, especially single adults, the rapid expulsions enable them to attempt repeat crossings.

The year-end statistics show that CBP used Title 42 heavily in 2021. The agency expelled migrants, either into Mexico or by air to their home countries, on 1,063,526 occasions over the course of the year. That’s nearly 61 percent of all encountered migrants in 2021. The number of expulsions since March 2020—1,268,313—is now roughly equivalent to the population of Dallas, Texas.

The Biden administration stopped expelling children who arrived unaccompanied (and who are not Mexican), even though an appeals court, overturning a November 2020 district court decision halting the practice, had cleared a legal path for sending kids back to their own countries alone. The number of unaccompanied children encountered in fiscal 2021—147,975—was a record, though numbers leveled off in August and dropped in September.

Migrants arriving as families—parents with children—totaled 483,846 in 2021, fewer than the 527,112 apprehended in 2019. The Trump and Biden administrations applied Title 42 to expel families 27 percent of the time in fiscal 2021. Both families and unaccompanied children declined from August to September.

Most of those expelled were single adult migrants, who were subject to Title 42 provisions 84 percent of the time in 2021. As single adults are more likely to attempt repeat crossings, their overall “encounters” number is artificially high, with much double-counting.

Migrants not seeking asylum often travel in remote and treacherous areas, seeking to avoid capture. So do migrants who might seek asylum but have decided against surrendering to U.S. authorities, because Title 42 has made asylum very hard to request. This has led to an increase in the number of migrants dying of preventable causes, like dehydration and exposure, on U.S. soil—often deep in borderland deserts. ABC News reported October 17 that CBP found “over 470” remains of migrants in 2021, a number that is near the annual record, but hasn’t been officially reported and could still rise. In the border sectors that they cover, local humanitarian organizations’ counts of deceased migrants tend to be higher than CBP’s as CBP only reports the remains it encounters, not the total number of migrants who have died in U.S. borderlands.

More than 80 percent of encountered migrants came from Mexico or Central America’s “northern triangle” region (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras). In recent months, though, an increasing number of migrants—an unprecedented 36 percent in September—came from other countries (yellow on this chart).

In September, the number-five country was Haiti, which is unsurprising since nearly 15,000 Haitian migrants arrived in Del Rio, Texas over a few-day period in the middle of the month. During the entire fiscal year, though, the number-five country was Ecuador, followed by Brazil, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

For the first time ever, more than half of family unit members encountered at the border in September were from countries other than Mexico or the northern triangle. September also saw a very sharp drop (45 percent) from August in arrivals of family members from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

A look at the citizenship of family members from “other” countries shows that most are from South America (Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela) or Haiti. Brazil was just behind El Salvador as the number-five country of origin for families. Many of the South American citizens are likely to have arrived by air to Mexico, which does not require entry visas of them, and then traveled north to the U.S.-Mexico border.

A look at the top 12 countries of origin of 2021 migrants shows a wide variation in expulsion rates. U.S. authorities applied Title 42 to a majority of Mexicans and of citizens of other countries whom Mexico allows to be expelled: El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. A majority of Ecuadorians were also expelled into Mexico; while we have no official word explaining this, most of them are single adults expelled in the El Paso sector—into Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, where authorities may be permitting expulsions of Ecuadorian citizens.

Citizens of other countries are expelled relatively rarely. That is because the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must do so by air, to their home countries, which is costly. That cost did not stop the Biden administration from expelling over 8,000 Haitians by air since September 19, following the Del Rio migration event, or running 162 expulsion flights to Central America and 95 to southern Mexican cities between April and September.

The result is a two-tier system in which some countries’ citizens are swiftly expelled without a chance to ask for protection, while others stand a strong chance of being released into the United States to pursue asylum claims. Should the “Remain in Mexico” policy (discussed below) restart in November, it may be applied most heavily to those from this second tier who are from Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries.

Mexico released its own updated migrant apprehension data on October 29. It showed Mexico’s migration forces shattering their monthly apprehensions record in September, with 41,225. (Their previous record, narrowly set in August, was 32,155.) As with the United States, over 35 percent of September’s apprehensions were of citizens of countries other than El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

As noted in past updates, Mexico’s refugee agency COMAR has already more than broken its annual record for asylum requests; through the end of September the agency counted 90,314 applications, continuing a pattern of exponential growth interrupted only during the pandemic year of 2020.

The graphics used in this narrative, among others, are available as a regularly updated PDF document at bit.ly/wola_border.

Caravan forms in Chiapas

Some outlets reported during the week of October 17 that migrants stranded in Mexico’s southern border-zone city of Tapachula were planning an October 23 “caravan” to Mexico City, where they would petition for permission to move more freely about Mexico’s territory while awaiting decisions on their asylum cases. Mexican law currently prohibits asylum applicants from leaving the state where they submit their applications until their case is resolved, and tens of thousands of migrants are effectively confined to Tapachula, a municipality of 350,000 people, about a dozen miles from Guatemala in Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state.

As announced, at least 1,000 migrants departed Tapachula on the 23rd for what they are calling the “March for Peace.” They have progressed entirely on foot, moving slowly and sticking together along southern Chiapas’s coastal highway. The march has attracted more participants along the way: estimates of its size—which is hard to gauge—now tend to run in the 2,000-3,000 range. On October 29, Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) offered an estimate of 1,200.

As of October 29, after six days of walking, the group was somewhere between Escuintla and Mapastepec, Chiapas, less than two hours’ driving distance from their starting point in Tapachula. Luis Villagrán, an activist closely accompanying the march, said that the slow pace owes to a deliberate choice to keep the group close together. Meanwhile, as John Holman has documented at Al Jazeera, Mexican authorities’ strategy so far appears to be to allow the group to walk in this zone’s intense heat, but to prohibit any vehicles or buses from giving rides to the migrants.

This larger caravan comes after four unsuccessful attempts by groups of several hundred mostly Haitian migrants to leave Tapachula en masse in late August and early September. On all four occasions—as covered in earlier updates—INM agents, backed by National Guard personnel, blocked or dispersed the migrants within a couple of dozen miles of Tapachula. (In fact, no “caravan” has successfully reached the U.S. border since the end of 2018.) At times, Mexico’s forces employed brutality to stop the migrants’ progress: agents were caught on camera punching and kicking people who were already subdued. These unsuccessful “caravans” were followed by the mysteriously sudden arrival of nearly 15,000 Haitian migrants at Mexico’s northern border, in Del Rio, Texas, in mid-September.

The current group includes some Haitian migrants, but appears to be mostly Central American with citizens of a few other countries, notably Cuba, accompanying. Many—perhaps a majority—are families with young children.

The only confrontation with Mexican security forces so far occurred at the very beginning of the march, when participants encountered a cordon of National Guardsmen and migration agents at Tapachula’s outskirts. The group pushed through, though a small boy suffered minor head injuries in the scuffle. Security forces have been closely shadowing the marchers ever since.

A significant number of marchers appear not to be intent on reaching the United States. Many are simply frustrated at being unable to leave Tapachula, where employment and income opportunities are scarce. Of the 90,314 people who applied for asylum in Mexico during the first 9 months of 2021, 70 percent (63,126) did so in Tapachula after crossing from Guatemala. While COMAR has taken some measures to try to speed asylum adjudication, such as using Tapachula’s stadium as a temporary processing facility, migrants are tiring of being forced to wait there for many months, particularly when more economically prosperous Mexican states have greater need for laborers. So while some caravan participants no doubt hope to reach the United States, for many the goal is to get to Mexico City where they can appeal to the COMAR office for either faster adjudication or the ability to await their decision elsewhere.

Two activists closely accompanying the march, Irineo Mujica of Pueblo Sin Fronteras and the above-cited Luis Villagrán of the Centro de Dignificación Humana, say they are bringing “46 packets with petitions to federal judges to allow the migrants to leave Tapachula.” At their current pace—if indeed they are permitted to exit Chiapas—the marchers will take over a month to get to Mexico City.

The INM reported on October 27 that it was facilitating returns to Tapachula of an unknown number of migrant families who, exhausted, sought to return there voluntarily. On October 29 the agency reported that in meetings with Mujica and Villagrán, it offered to provide humanitarian visas to especially vulnerable migrants, and “to transfer migrants to several states in the country to provide them with assistance in their procedures, as well as provide them with lodging in open-door shelters and food.” The activists rejected the offer, according to INM, arguing that people should be able to register in states of their choosing.

In fact, the marchers themselves rejected the offer, Holman reports, though “no government official actually came to put that proposal to the people, leaving the caravan organizers to frame it to them.” He adds, “the states finally on offer [as places to live and work] also weren’t the most attractive safety or work-wise: Morelos, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla, and Hidalgo.” Most of these southern and central Mexican states, while still far from the U.S. border, have healthier economies than Chiapas, and UNHCR has local integration programs in Puebla and Guanajuato. However some, particularly Guanajuato, Guerrero, and Morelos, face severe public security challenges.

Two U.S. Border Patrol sources told the Washington Examiner that “government intelligence reports” tell them to expect caravan participants to arrive eventually in Del Rio, Texas and Yuma, Arizona. Mark Morgan, an acting head of CBP during the Trump administration, told the Examiner that he is “not as concerned with the caravan” because the number of migrants who arrive at the border with smugglers every day is much larger. “The United States Border Patrol deals with multiple caravans every single day. It’s just spread out through the entire southwest border.”

DHS issues Remain in Mexico “re-termination” memo

On October 29 DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued a long-awaited memorandum once again terminating the “Remain in Mexico” program (officially known as “Migrant Protection Protocols” or MPP). The Department shared a press release, the memo itself, and a longer explanatory statement. The Biden administration then filed a motion to send the matter back to district court.

The Trump administration launched “Remain in Mexico” in December 2018, applied it to migrants for the first time in January 2019, and expanded it dramatically in June 2019. Between then and January 2021, DHS sent over 71,000 non-Mexican asylum seekers back into Mexico with instructions to report back to border crossings months later, where their immigration court hearings would take place by teleconference. Mexico agreed to this arrangement, but provided few services or protection to the migrants waiting on its side of the border. More than 1,500 asylum seekers under the program were kidnapped or attacked while waiting in Mexican border towns, and asylum approval rates were far lower than in normal immigration courts, in part due to significant difficulties in accessing legal counsel.

Candidate Joe Biden opposed Remain in Mexico—his wife Jill even visited a tent camp where asylum seekers were subsisting in the city of Matamoros—and halted new enrollments in the program on Inauguration Day 2021. Soon after, DHS launched an effort that brought more than 10,000 asylum seekers under Remain in Mexico into the United States to pursue their claims. On June 1, Mayorkas issued a memorandum formally terminating Remain in Mexico.

In August, though, conservative critics of Biden’s border policies used the justice system to force the program’s revival. The Republican attorneys-general of Texas and Missouri brought a lawsuit alleging that the Biden administration failed to “consider all relevant factors” in terminating Remain in Mexico. On August 13, Amarillo, Texas District Court Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk agreed with the plaintiffs and ordered the Biden administration to make a “good-faith effort” to restart the Trump-era program. On August 24, the Supreme Court refused to suspend Kacsmaryk’s order while lower-court appeals continue.

Court filings on September 15 and October 15 detail the Biden administration’s “good faith efforts,” including construction of “tent court” facilities for video hearings in Laredo and Brownsville, Texas, and ongoing negotiations with the Mexican government. Administration officials continue to insist, though, that they oppose the program that the courts are forcing them to reinstate.

Migrants’ rights advocates had been calling on DHS to issue a new memo “re-terminating” Remain in Mexico, this time with more specific language explaining the reasoning for doing so. By doing so, they hope, the administration can meet the court’s requirement to “consider all relevant factors” before shutting the program down. It took two and a half months, but Secretary Mayorkas produced that memo on October 29.

According to DHS’s interpretation, the new memo alone is not enough to halt Remain in Mexico. That will require “a final judicial decision to vacate the Texas injunction,” the memo reads—and that is up to the same court that agreed with the Texas and Missouri attorneys-general. In the meantime, DHS “will continue complying,” restarting the Remain in Mexico program. (Axios reports that the Biden administration is considering “softening” a renewed program by offering COVID-19 vaccines to all asylum-seeking migrants whom it forces to remain in Mexico.)

While DHS expects to have infrastructure in place by mid-November, it does not yet have Mexico’s agreement to admit thousands more non-Mexican asylum seekers on its soil. As the October 15 filing indicates, Mexico has raised some strong objections about long wait times for hearing dates, returns of especially vulnerable migrants, access to counsel, and other issues.

The October 29 memorandum may give Mexico further pause before agreeing to a restart of the program. While not going so far as to say that MPP was illegal, it details the program’s many failures, including ways in which it violated asylum seekers’ rights, even physically endangering them.

“I have concluded that there are inherent problems with the program that no amount of resources can sufficiently fix,” Mayorkas’s memo reads. The explanatory statement discusses migrants’ difficult conditions while waiting in Mexico, concerns about sending asylum seekers back to danger, access to counsel and other process issues, costs, damage to the U.S.-Mexico relationship, and unclear impact on reducing migrant flows, among several other issues.

“Significant shortcomings” in accountability for Border Patrol Facebook group posters

A strongly (and explicitly) worded report from the House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Reform, issued on October 25, details the disciplinary process following 2019 revelations of a secret Facebook page at which CBP personnel posted racist, violent, and lewd content. The Committee discovered that for most involved, consequences were light: they “had their discipline significantly reduced and continued to work with migrants.”

In July 2019, ProPublica revealed the existence of “I’m 10-15,” a Facebook group with about 9,500 members, many or most of them CBP and Border Patrol personnel. (“I’m 10-15” means “I have migrants in custody.”) ProPublica, and later the Intercept, posted screenshots of content replete with sexual imagery, threats of violence, racist sentiments toward migrants, and disparagement (or worse) of left-of-center political figures.

“CBP knew about Border Patrol agents’ inappropriate posts on ‘I’m 10-15’ since 2016, three years before it was reported publicly,” the House Committee found. Among the Facebook group’s members were Border Patrol’s last two chiefs, Carla Provost (2018-2020) and Rodney Scott (2020-August 2021). Both indicated that they followed the group in order to monitor agents’ attitudes and complaints. After ProPublica revealed the page’s existence, Provost had said “these posts are completely inappropriate” and that agents “will be held accountable.”

Investigators had a hard time finding out whether anyone was indeed being held accountable. Facebook refused to provide content from the page to investigators from CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), forcing them to rely on screenshots obtained by media outlets. During the Trump administration, CBP refused to hand over disciplinary records to the House Oversight and Reform Committee, even after the committee issued a November 2020 subpoena. The records were turned over in February, after Donald Trump left office.

The Committee found “significant shortcomings in CBP’s approach to disciplining and training employees on social media misconduct.” CBP OPR opened 135 investigations into allegations related to “I’m 10-15” and other unnamed secret Facebook groups. A chief patrol agent, in the role of “deciding official,” made all disciplinary decisions.

This individual decided that 60 of the 135 CBP employees committed misconduct. In the end, the Committee found, “Almost all received significantly lighter final penalties than proposed by CBP’s Discipline Review Board.”

In the end:

  • 2 were fired; CBP’s Discipline Review Board had recommended 24 removals. Both had published sexualized and in some cases violent images of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), among other disturbing content.
  • 43 were suspended without pay, most for five days or fewer; the Discipline Review Board had recommended 60 suspensions. Those suspended were “then permitted to return to work in positions of power over migrants,” the Committee’s report notes.
  • 12 received letters of reprimand, 3 received “alternate disciplinary actions” like suspension with pay, 11 received “corrective or non-disciplinary actions,” and 10 took retirement before disciplinary action was taken. Twelve appealed their punishments.

“The CBP discipline system is broken,” a report from an independent DHS panel had flatly stated in 2016. “No one official and no single office of CBP is actually responsible for assuring timeliness for all phases of the discipline process,” it notes, while “responsibility for investigating an allegation of misconduct is fragmented.” Improving human rights oversight was not a priority during the Trump administration, so no notable accountability progress was made since that report’s publication.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee report describes the byzantine accountability process:

OPR investigates the conduct, and CBP’s Discipline Review Board proposes discipline. A deciding official then makes a discipline determination. In some cases, when CBP substantiates allegations of misconduct, employees may be able to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB); file a grievance with a CBP employee union such as the National Border Patrol Council, which may invoke arbitration on behalf of the employee; or, if they believe the action was discriminatory, file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

This description leaves out the DHS Office of Inspector General and Office on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, which may play at least tangential roles.

“CBP’s failure to prevent these violent and offensive statements by its own agents or impose adequate discipline creates a serious risk that this behavior will continue,” reads a press statement from the committee’s chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York). “As we saw with the mistreatment of migrants by Border Patrol agents in Del Rio, Texas last month, systemic behavior problems within CBP persist. CBP must take immediate steps to reform its disciplinary processes, strengthen social media policies and training, and address longstanding issues of poor morale within its ranks.”

Texas update

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), an archconservative critic of the Biden administration’s border and migration policies, has added $300 million to his state’s National Guard budget to pay for a deployment to the border, part of what he calls “Operation Lone Star.” At the same time, however, “Texas has slashed its tuition assistance budget by more than half” for its National Guardsmen, Army Times reports.

Gov. Abbott is also using state funds to build barriers along segments of Texas’s border with Mexico. Among the five companies under consideration to build this fencing is Fisher Sand and Gravel, a North Dakota company that got billions in Trump administration wall-building contracts, and also built private barriers for “We Build the Wall,” a non-profit whose founder is under indictment for fraud and tax evasion.

Gov. Abbott has instructed state police and guardsmen to arrest migrants on state charges of “trespassing.” Since June, Texas has confined at least 1,300 migrants in two state jails. A report from CNN shows that some of these migrants, including many asylum seekers, have been held for weeks or months without being charged with a crime, and without access to counsel. Some haven’t even been able to make phone calls to loved ones for weeks at a time. In some cases, body camera footage shows, Texas police encountered migrants in areas where they were not trespassing, then marched them onto private property in order to arrest them. Judges have ended up releasing many migrants without charges—at times into the U.S. interior.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) this week turned down a request from Gov. Abbott for reimbursement of what he regarded to be “emergency” border spending.

Links

  • The Southern Border Communities Coalition has sent a letter to congressional leadership urging a hearing into Border Patrol’s “Critical Incident Teams,” secretive units whose purpose is “to seek to exonerate agents. They act as cover-up units, protecting agents, rather than the public, and they answer to no one except the Border Patrol chiefs.” The SBCC notes that no other law enforcement agency has anything similar.
  • Though DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas promised that an investigation would be complete in “days, not weeks,” the Border Patrol agents captured in photos and video charging on horseback at Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas in September have not yet been questioned about their actions, a source tells ABC News. Apparently, action is first required from the Justice Department. The agents in question have been assigned to administrative duties in the meantime.
  • Rights organizations and advocates (including WOLA) called for an end to Title 42 expulsions and other denials of the right to seek protection during a virtual  hearing about “Protection of persons in human mobility in the United States, Mexico, and Northern Central America,” part of the 181st sessions of the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. . U.S. and regional organizations also presented at a hearing on the “Human rights situation of migrants and refugees in the United States,” with the participation of several U.S. officials from the Departments of State and Homeland Security. 
  • Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights is honoring Guerline Jozef, director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, with its 2021 Human Rights Award. Jozef has led efforts to obtain Temporary Protected Status for Haitians, and to oppose Title 42 aerial expulsions of Haitian migrants to a country that has suffered, since July, a presidential assassination, an earthquake, and generalized gang violence including what may be the world’s worst kidnapping rate. “Despite these dangerous conditions, the Biden administration has continued to make use of Title 42, a racist and draconian Trump-era policy, to forcibly deport over 8,000 asylum-seekers, putting their lives at risk,” reads a statement from RFK Human Rights.
  • In 2020, despite a sharp nationwide increase, “violent crime rates in 11 of the largest communities along the U.S.-Mexico border stayed below the national average,” Axios reports based on FBI and census data.
  • DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued a new guidance expanding the list of domestic locations that are off-limits to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. In addition to schools and hospitals, the “protected areas” list now includes COVID vaccination locations, places of worship, places where children gather, social services establishments, disaster or emergency response centers, religious or civil ceremonies, and public demonstrations, parades, or protests.
  • Reports in Honduras’s media cover Haitian migrants’ entry into the country from Nicaragua via informal rural border crossings, and a greatly increased presence of Haitian migrants near the bus station in the capital, Tegucigalpa.
  • Two Haitian women were found dead on Monday and Tuesday along the Mexico-Guatemala border near Tapachula. One was apparently strangled, while authorities say the other died of cardiac arrest.
  • The Biden administration is in talks to offer immigrant families that were separated during the Trump administration around $450,000 a person in compensation,” the Wall Street Journal reported on October 28. That’s “close to $1 million a family, though the final numbers could shift.” On Fox News, former vice president Mike Pence called the idea “incomprehensibly stupid.”
  • Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) introduced legislation, the “Reimagining Asylum Processing Act,” which would make a series of humanitarian, capacity, and efficiency improvements to processing of asylum seekers, which is currently a weak point at the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • The Mexican border city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas endured an alarming night of shootouts and road blockades as organized crime gangs fought authorities on October 22. Four people were killed. Just across the river, in Brownsville, Texas, the Biden administration is building a “tent court” facility for asylum seekers whom a revived Remain in Mexico program may force to wait for months in Matamoros.
  • The city of Tijuana is building a fence around the encampment of migrants, many of them expelled by U.S. authorities under “Title 42,” that has sprung up this year next to the San Ysidro-Chaparral port of entry.

Weekly Border Update: October 22, 2021

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.

Border migrant encounters appear to fall in September, capping off a fiscal year of very high levels

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has not yet released its count of undocumented migrants encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border in September—and thus in all of fiscal year 2021, which ended September 30. Nonetheless, the agency shared some numbers with the Washington Post’s Nick Miroff, and later with NBC News, showing what could be the largest number of migrant encounters ever recorded in a single year.

During fiscal 2021, CBP encountered 1.7 million migrants, 1.66 million of them between the land ports of entry (Border Patrol) and about 40,000 at the ports of entry (CBP’s Office of Field Operations). The 1.66 million exceeds the prior record of 1.64 million apprehensions Border Patrol reported in 2000, and 1.62 million in 1986.

The 2021 figure includes a lot of double and triple-counting. Due to the controversial “Title 42” pandemic policy, under which CBP rapidly expels most Mexican, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Honduran migrants into Mexico regardless of protection needs, 2021 saw a large number of repeat crossers. For many migrants, Title 42 means spending an hour or two in Border Patrol custody, then being delivered back into Mexico—a process that has incentivized repeat attempts. In recent months, the Post recalls, “recidivist” migrants have made up more than 25 percent of those CBP has encountered.

As a result, the actual number of people apprehended in 2021 is assuredly lower than 1.7 million. At the end of August, when CBP reported 1.54 million “encounters” border-wide, the agency noted that this represented “1,002,722 unique individuals”—in other words, about one and a half encounters per person. The agency doesn’t report (or didn’t keep) recidivism data from before 2005, but repeat crossings were also probably quite frequent during the previous record-breaking years (2000 and 1986), a time of few border barriers, heavy use of voluntary returns, and a mostly adult Mexican migrant population.

NBC’s Julia Ainsley reported that CBP encountered 192,316 migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border during September. If that figure incorporates both Border Patrol and ports of entry, it would be an 8 percent reduction from August and a 10 percent reduction from July. Data about arrivals of unaccompanied children at the border also indicate a notable decline since the summer.

Of the 1.66 million Border Patrol encounters in fiscal 2021, Miroff reports, “more than 608,000” were from Mexico, 309,000 from Honduras (a country whose entire population is just below 10 million), 279,000 from Guatemala, 96,000 from El Salvador, and 367,000 from other countries.

Of the nine sectors into which Border Patrol divides the U.S.-Mexico border, the most migrants were encountered in southeast Texas’s Rio Grande Valley (549,000), which has been in first place every year since 2013. In second place, for the first time ever, is south-central Texas’s rural Del Rio sector (259,000), which was sixth in 2019 and 2020. Del Rio is where about 15,000 mostly Haitian migrants arrived en masse in mid-September.

Reports point to a culture of inhumane behavior at U.S. border agencies

This week saw a few NGO and media reports pointing to an everyday pattern of cruelty toward migrants among CBP and Border Patrol personnel, ranging from petty insults to acts of violence.

On October 21 Human Rights Watch published findings from documents obtained via a years-long Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. “They Treat You Like You Are Worthless” is based on over 160 accounts of “misconduct and abuse of asylum applicants at the hands of officers within several DHS [Department of Homeland Security] components, particularly CBP officers and Border Patrol agents.” These were compiled by asylum officers from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, another DHS component) during interviews with protection-seeing migrants.

Allegations of agents’ and officers’ abuse include “assault, sexual abuse, due process violations, denial of medical care, harsh detention conditions, and dehumanizing treatment at the border.” Among many alarming examples the report brings to light are these in its opening summary:

In 2017, a US Border Patrol agent kneed a woman in the lower pelvis, leaving bruises and pain days later, according to her statement to a government official screening her asylum claim. In a separate incident that year, a Border Patrol agent or Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer forced a girl to undress and then inappropriately touched her. In 2018, a CBP officer hit another asylum applicant so hard he was knocked unconscious and suffered brain swelling. That same year, an officer wearing a green uniform, consistent with those of the Border Patrol, asked an asylum applicant to give him oral sex in exchange for being released from custody. Another asylum applicant was bitten in the testicle by a Border Patrol service dog and denied medical treatment for about one month and ultimately had to have his testicle surgically removed. In 2019, CBP officials appeared to withhold food from a man in a freezing cold holding facility until he agreed to sign a paper that he did not understand.

The FOIA revelations, Human Rights Watch concludes, show a deeply embedded culture in CBP and Border Patrol that views migrants as adversaries deserving of punishment or suffering, and that assumes its personnel will not be held accountable.

A 2019 report from the DHS Office of Inspector General found that 47 percent of CBP employees surveyed did not believe officials at all levels were held accountable for their conduct. In a 2018 affidavit, CBP’s former deputy assistant commissioner for internal affairs, James Wong, described CBP leadership as “reluctant to hold agents and others within the agency accountable for their actions, including if they were involved in criminal activity.” …The FOIA documents paint a picture of DHS as an agency that appears to have normalized shocking abuses at the US border.

“The documents make clear that reports of grievous CBP abuses—physical and sexual assaults, abusive detention conditions and violations of due process—are an open secret within DHS,” Clara Long, the Human Rights Watch report’s principal author, told the New York Times. 

The report calls for fundamental changes in migrant reception and processing practices, as well as for far greater oversight and accountability of these agencies, both within DHS and by other federal investigative bodies, including Congress. A DHS spokeswoman told the Times that Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who took over in February, has ordered internal reviews of policies and training, and that the Department has beefed up its Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), which has a lackluster record of following up on complaints.

Also on October 21, Human Rights First published the latest in a series of very grim updates about the Title 42 policy and its impact on the rights and well-being of asylum seekers. “The suffering of families, adults, and children subjected to this policy continues to mount, with at least 7,647 kidnappings and other attacks on people blocked or expelled under Title 42 since President Biden took office,” it reads.

Like the Human Rights Watch document, the Human Rights First report, “Illegal and Inhumane,” details numerous recent examples of cruel and callous treatment of asylum seekers at the hands of CBP and Border Patrol. Among them:

  • “In October 2021 DHS agents repeatedly told an asylum-seeking Honduran family to ‘shut up’ and refused to answer their questions as they transferred the family by plane from McAllen, Texas, where they had crossed the border to seek asylum, to Arizona for expulsion into Nogales, Mexico. According to Kino Border Initiative, an agent attempted to seize the family’s documents related to their asylum claim.”
  • “A Haitian mother expelled in late September 2021 begged U.S. officers to remove her handcuffs to enable her to comfort her crying young daughter on the plane ride, according to Blaine Bookey from UC Hastings Center for Gender and Refugee Studies.”
  • “Belone Mpembele, an asylum seeker from Angola, was expelled to Haiti by the United States… in its rush to expel Haitians in September 2021.”
  • “DHS continues to carry out some Title 42 expulsions to dangerous Mexican border cities in the middle of the night, when businesses are closed and humanitarian services are unavailable, increasing the risk that expelled individuals will be attacked. For example, Border Patrol agents expelled more than 20 people through the DeConcini port of entry to Nogales, Mexico around 2:00 a.m. in late August 2021, leaving them stranded.”
  • “In August 2021, DHS subjected three Nicaraguan political dissidents to a lateral expulsion flight after they sought protection near McAllen, Texas. DHS officers verbally abused them, threatening to release dogs to attack them. The officers woke the men at 1:00 am, handcuffed them, and forced them to stand for more than two hours before the expulsion flight. The officers lied to the men telling them that they would be sent to California and permitted to pursue their asylum cases, but instead expelled them to Tijuana.”

Numerous migrants’ rights and advocacy groups submitted comments this week on proposed Justice Department and DHS asylum regulations (as did former Trump advisor Stephen Miller’s “America First Legal” group). A comment submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas calls for clearly removing CBP from the asylum process due to its adversarial posture toward asylum seekers.

The ACLU document notes that “CBP personnel regularly fail to ask required questions” of apprehended migrants regarding whether they fear persecution and return to their home country, “even in the presence of independent observers.” The comment cites several examples of CBP personnel falsely recording in their paperwork that asylum seekers did not express fear of return. The agency’s jail-like holding facilities, it continues, are no place to expect people to prepare for a high-stakes credible fear interview to evaluate their pleas for protection.

Further troubling information about CBP and Border Patrol treatment of migrants comes from a leaked January 2021 CRCL document obtained by BuzzFeed’s Hamed Aleaziz. The report documents agents’ and officers’ zeal to send asylum-seeking migrants back into treacherous Mexican border cities to await their U.S. hearings, under the Trump administration’s controversial “Remain in Mexico” policy (also known as “Migrant Protection Protocols” or MPP, and discussed further below), regardless of their disabilities or medical conditions.

“The report offers a rare window into the behind-the-scenes dysfunction and confusion surrounding the Migration Protection Protocols,” Aleaziz notes. It documents a dozen cases in which U.S. personnel found that migrants were “amenable” to being forced to remain in Mexico despite “circumstances such as cognitive disability, glaucoma, epilepsy, cervical metaplasia, uterine cancer, heart conditions, ‘crippled’ legs, chicken pox, AIDS, and diabetes.” BuzzFeed continues:

In one case, investigators looked into an allegation that a 6-year-old girl from Honduras was returned to Mexico despite having advanced cerebral palsy. The CBP records the investigators reviewed indicated that she, her parents, and brother were placed into MPP on May 20, 2019. A DHS form the investigators reviewed indicated “CRIPPLED LEG, LEFT” and “CRIPPLED LEG, RIGHT” under a section reserved for “scars, marks, and tattoos.”

There were no other records relating to her health.

In 2019 CBP sent back into Mexico an 11-year-old boy who “had severe epilepsy, with convulsions leading to loss of memory and vomiting.” Personnel also sent into Mexico “a 4-year-old child in MPP who had been found to have chicken pox and his young sister who had been sexually assaulted.” Other asylum seekers relegated to Mexican border towns included “a 34-year-old woman who had a pituitary tumor that pressed against her brain, a 13-year-old child with only one functioning lung, and an 8-year-old boy who had a urethral malformation that required surgery.”

The CRCL report also confirmed that it is standard Border Patrol practice to separate families who were forced to remain in Mexico: “In emails provided to CRCL by CBP, CBP personnel state that it is USBP procedure to separate one parent from the rest of the family and only maintain family unity for the other parent and children.”

“I once asked CBP why a 13-yr-old boy who lost his left leg in Mexico was placed in MPP,” tweeted BuzzFeed reporter Adolfo Flores, “despite the agency’s guiding principals [sic] saying immigrants with ‘known physical/mental health issues’ should not be placed in the program.” CBP’s response read, “Creating a categorical exclusion for a specific medical condition could have a chilling effect on amenability determinations for MPP. Amputation in and of itself in an otherwise healthy individual is not considered a medical condition that would inhibit enrollment in MPP.

Humanitarian and human rights groups protest Remain in Mexico restart

As detailed in last week’s update, the Biden administration continues to move toward complying with a Texas judge’s order to restart the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico program, which President Biden had halted on Inauguration Day and formally terminated on June 1.

Although Mexico has not yet agreed to receive non-Mexican asylum seekers under a renewed MPP, “tent courts” are once again under construction next to ports of entry in Laredo and Brownsville, Texas. DHS expects to have those facilities ready by mid-November, at a cost of $14.1 million. There, asylum-seeking migrants forced to Remain in Mexico will once again be brought to appear before immigration judges—most of them based in San Antonio—via videoconference.

“The court facilities will be located on the same spots where they previously were built in 2019 under then-President Donald Trump, and will be the go-to location for all asylum hearings once MPP is restarted,” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who represents Laredo, told Border Report. “They’re going to set it up the way it was prior to this administration. They’re going to do the same thing in Brownsville. It’s the same contractor from New York,” Cuellar said.

Amarillo, Texas District Court Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk is requiring the Biden administration to file updates on its “good-faith efforts” to restart a program it opposes. The latest filing, from October 15, details some of the Mexican government’s objections to a restarted program. “The GOM [government of Mexico] made clear that enhancing opportunities for MPP enrollees to secure adequate access to counsel is a critical issue that needs to be addressed before it could decide to accept MPP enrollees into Mexico,” that document reads.

“Adequate access to counsel” would require the cooperation of pro-bono attorneys and other service providers, many of whom sought to represent vulnerable asylum seekers in Mexican border towns, often at great personal risk, during the Trump administration. Livid at the prospect of the revival of a program that puts asylum seekers in danger and inherently interferes with due process, and angry at the Biden administration for not taking steps to challenge Judge Kacsmaryk’s order, these attorneys and service providers are refusing to participate in the program—in the strongest possible terms.

On October 16, border-area attorneys and advocates “walked out” of a virtual off-the-record “stakeholder meeting” with Biden administration officials, inserting words of protest into their Zoom backgrounds and exiting after about eight minutes.

“We can no longer come into these conversations in good conscience when the Biden administration continues to perpetuate illegal and inhumane Trump-era immigration policies such as Title 42, and now MPP,” read a prepared statement from the groups in attendance. “Advocates engaged with many of you during the transition and the beginning of the administration. We even provided the administration with a road map that included solutions on how to restore the asylum system. You continue to play politics with human lives. Your policies are sending people to their deaths.”

“We have to proceed in good faith or be held in contempt of court, and as a government, we cannot do that,” Esther Olavarria of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council told the advocates.

Groups have been calling on the Biden administration to issue a new memo “re-terminating” Remain in Mexico, noting that the federal courts’ rulings found that the original June 1 memo insufficiently explained the reasons for termination. A new memo, advocates say, should make clear the administration’s view that MPP violated U.S. immigration law and international human rights commitments, and thus cannot be restarted.

The administration is in the process of preparing a new “re-termination” memo. Advocates have been critical of the lack of urgency with which they are producing the memo, but as an official told reporters in an October 14 call, their view is that “the memo can’t go into effect until the injunction in the federal cases is lifted,” which Judge Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee, is unlikely to do. Advocates, too, are unclear about whether a new “re-termination” memo would be enough to halt the program without violating the judicial order.

On October 19, 73 legal service providers sent a letter to President Biden and other top officials reinforcing their refusal to participate in or enable Remain in Mexico.

“[T]here is no way to make this program safe, humane, or lawful,” it reads.

No measure of involvement from civil societies will mitigate the harms of this horrific, racist, and unlawful program. Nor is it just for this administration to continue to force U.S. lawyers and humanitarian staff to risk their safety due to the failure of this administration to take swift action to uphold U.S. refugee laws and treaties. We refuse to be complicit in a program that facilitates the rape, torture, death, and family separations of people seeking protection by committing to provide legal services.

Representing people returned under MPP or expelled to Mexico under the illegal Title 42 policy has also endangered attorneys and humanitarian groups, including staff of some of the undersigned organizations. In fact, during the two years it was operated under the Trump administration, U.S. based attorneys were threatened with kidnapping and violence in connection with their representation of people in MPP.

“We stand ready to offer legal services to asylum seekers, were your administration to follow U.S. and international law,” the letter concludes. “But there is no protection in the Migrant Protection Protocols.”

This position makes it unlikely that Biden administration negotiators will be able to satisfy the Mexican government’s concerns about access to counsel for migrants subjected to a renewed Remain in Mexico program. Meanwhile, though, construction crews continue to build the “tent courts” in Brownsville and Laredo.

Senate publicizes its 2022 Homeland Security appropriations bill

On October 18 the Senate Appropriations Committee revealed its draft text of nine bills necessary to fund the U.S. government in 2022, including the Department of Homeland Security appropriation. The Committee published the text, the explanatory statement, and a summary of its version of the 2022 Homeland Security Appropriations Act.

The House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee approved its version of the 2022 Homeland Security bill, along with an explanatory statement, on July 1. It has not yet passed the full House. Our July 9 update provided an overview of that version of the bill.

Some highlights of the Senate bill:

  • Rescinds $1,893,662,867 in prior years’ appropriations for border wall construction. The House bill would rescind $2.06 billion.
  • Devotes that rescinded border-wall money to:        
    • CBP salaries and retirement funds ($416 million);
    • New migrant processing facilities ($130 million);
    • New border security technologies ($144 million, compared to $132 million in the House bill), including body-worn cameras;
    • Detection and inspection equipment for ports of entry ($68 million);
    • A transfer to the Interior Department to mitigate the environmental harms done by border wall construction ($50 million, compared to $100 million in the House bill);
    • Training and childcare services for CBP personnel ($41 million);
    • IT modernization, especially for migrant processing ($40 million);
    • Child welfare professionals for CBP facilities ($15 million);
    • Efforts to identify cargo produced by forced labor ($10 million); and
    • “a range of other investments including life-saving search and rescue capabilities, medical support at CBP facilities, and modernizing land ports of entry.”
  • Provides $14.5 billion to fund CBP. That’s $80 million below the Biden administration’s request, and $501 million below the 2021 level. (The House bill would provide even less: $14.11 billion.)
  • Provides $7.88 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), $58 million below the Biden administration’s request and $40 million below the 2021 level. (The House bill would provide slightly more: $7.97 billion.) This includes:        
    • $3.93 billion for ICE “enforcement, detention, and removal operations, including transportation of unaccompanied children,” about $194 million below 2021 levels. (The House bill provides $3.79 billion.)
    • $2.63 billion for ICE custody operations, $143 million below the Biden administration’s request and $202 million below the 2021 level. (The House bill provides $2.46 billion.) “The bill cuts funding for an average daily population of detention beds by 5,500,” reads the Senate appropriators’ summary of the bill.
    • $2.23 billion for ICE’s investigative arm, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), $59 million above the Biden administration’s request and $88 million above the 2021 level. (The House bill provides $2.26 billion.)
  • Repurposing unspent funds previously appropriated to ICE, directing them instead to the Biden administration’s Family Reunification Task Force “to help support the reunification of children who were traumatically separated from their parents and legal guardians at the southern border during the last Administration.”

The Senate bill will probably not go through the evenly divided (15 Democrats, 15 Republicans) Appropriations Committee, where measures like the border wall funding rescission could come under attack. House and Senate leaderships will probably reconcile differences and roll their versions of the bill into an “omnibus” appropriation, combining bills funding much of the federal government. This should happen before the next deadline for approving a 2022 budget (December 3, according to the most recent “continuing resolution” that is currently keeping the government funded at 2021 levels).

Links

  • A New York Times scoop finds that during the spring of 2020, Donald Trump’s White House advisor Stephen Miller sought to send 250,000 troops—more than half of the active-duty U.S. Army—to the border with Mexico. Trump even “pressed his top aides to send forces into Mexico itself to hunt drug cartels.” The proposal was relayed directly from the Department of Homeland Security to the U.S. Northern Command, bypassing the office of Defense Secretary Mark Esper who, “alarmed,” quashed it.
  • According to ABC News, CBP reported “over 470 deaths” of migrants on U.S. soil during fiscal 2021. This is a very large number: the agency’s records since 1998 show a high of 492 in 2005 followed by 471 in 2012, and its count is much lower than those of local organizations dealing with migrant deaths. A likely explanation for the increase in deaths is more migrants traveling in hazardous areas in an effort to evade Title 42 expulsion. The Guardian profiles Lenilda dos Santos, a nurse from Brazil’s impoverished north who perished of dehydration in the desert near Deming, New Mexico in September. It was her second attempt to reach the United States after being detained and deported in April.
  • At his confirmation hearing, the Biden administration’s nominee for CBP commissioner, Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus, voiced support for maintaining Title 42 and for some additional border barrier construction, citing “some gaps where that could make sense.” On questions of CBP’s troubled organizational culture, he said, “I have a long history of transparency and sharing things with the public, whatever the outcome may be, because I think this is how you sustain and build trust.” Magnus refused to go along with Republican senators’ efforts to get him to call the situation at the border a “crisis.” He is expected to be confirmed with few or no Republican senators’ votes.
  • The attorneys-general of Texas and Missouri, who already sued (so far successfully) to reinstate the Remain in Mexico program, have filed suit in federal court again, this time seeking a preliminary injunction to force the Biden administration to spend appropriated money to build Donald Trump’s planned border wall. This suit would presumably be rendered irrelevant if Congress rescinds past-year border wall funds, as discussed above.
  • NBC News and EFE reported that mostly Haitian and Central American migrants stranded in Mexico’s southern border-zone city of Tapachula, Chiapas are holding vigils and planning a “caravan” across Mexico, which would leave on Saturday the 23rd. Activists working with the migrants state that the caravan will head to Mexico City, seeking legal permission for migrants to move about within Mexican territory, rather than being confined to Tapachula. Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) issued protection measures requesting state and federal authorities to respect the migrants’ rights during their journey. This news also provoked concerns over a possible surge in migrant arrivals at the U.S. border. No migrant caravan has succeeded in getting beyond Chiapas since late 2018, however, as Mexican security forces have stopped or dispersed them, at times brutally. There is little reason to believe that this caravan’s outcome would be much different. The caravan announcement is one of a series of actions by migrants seeking for COMAR, Mexico’s refugee agency, to speed the resolution of their asylum requests.
  • At TruthOut, Sandra Cuffe reports from El Ceibo, the tiny border town in Petén, Guatemala that has received more than 14,000 expelled Central American migrants and asylum seekers—many or most of them flown from the United States to southern Mexico—in the past two months.
  • In Corinto, Honduras, just over the border from Guatemala, Honduras’s Criterio and Contra Corriente relate tragic stories of migrants who made it all the way to the U.S. border only to be expelled to Mexico, then expelled by Mexico to Corinto. Often, as happened with 11 busloads of people on October 14, the expelled migrants arrive in Corinto during pre-dawn hours when no officials are there to receive them. Most did not realize, and weren’t told, that they were being sent back to the country they had fled. Mexico has returned 8,000 Hondurans to Corinto in the past month (some of whom were apprehended in Mexico, not the United States).
  • Mexico’s migration agency (INM)—whose monthly record of migrant apprehensions, set in June 2019, is 31,396, or about 1,000/day—reported “identifying” 1,957 undocumented migrants in a single day on October 15.
  • NPR reports on how social media and smartphones have changed the face of northbound migration. “In Facebook, they mostly use groups, finding information about the route, about if someone died or sharing U.S. news, like if Biden said something about the border, about if it’s open or if it’s closed or if they’re taking in families,” says reporter Luis Chaparro.
  • Panama’s foreign minister tells Spain’s El País that 105,000 people have passed through her country so far this year, most of them through the hazardous jungles of the Darién Gap, a region once thought to be impenetrable. By the end of the year, she adds, “we believe we’re going to exceed 150,000, which is a really troubling number.” That’s up from 20,000 in 2019 and 8,000 in 2020.
  • Colombia’s migration authority reports encountering 90,610 undocumented migrants passing through its territory so far this year, up from 3,922 in the pandemic border-closures year of 2020.
  • A data-heavy update from the International Organization for Migration finds that 10,831 people were expelled or repatriated back to Haiti between September 19 and October 19. The United States expelled 7,915, followed by Cuba (1,194), the Bahamas (1,031), Mexico (248) and Coast Guards’ maritime interdictions (406).

Weekly border update: October 15, 2021

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.

Biden administration, complying with court order, will soon restart “Remain in Mexico”

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D), who represents Laredo, Texas, said October 13 that the Biden administration would roll out a revived “Remain in Mexico” program, as ordered by a Texas judge, “within the next month or so.” According to CQ/RollCall’s Suzanne Monyak, Cuellar said “That means that you’ll see the tents in the Laredo area be expanded.” By “tents,” the congressman was referring to temporary facilities by the port of entry where, during the Trump administration, asylum seekers forced to remain in Mexico attended their immigration hearings via videoconference.

The term “Remain in Mexico” refers to the so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP),” a program begun by the Trump administration in late 2018 and early 2019. It sought to deter and discourage would-be asylum seekers by forcing more than 71,000 of them to await their U.S. hearing dates on Mexican soil, where many were subjected to kidnapping, assault, and other crimes. Candidate Joe Biden criticized this program, and his administration quickly terminated it. On August 13, though, Amarillo, Texas District Court Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk (a Trump appointee), responding to a suit brought by the Republican attorneys-general of Texas and Missouri, ordered the Biden administration to restart Remain in Mexico. The Supreme Court upheld this order while lower-court appeals continue.

At midnight on October 15, the Biden administration submitted its latest monthly filing, required by Judge Kacsmaryk, on the steps it has taken to restart the controversial program. The document reports that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been “recreating the administrative, personnel, physical, and policy framework necessary to operate MPP and are prepared to re-implement MPP in mid-November, subject to Mexico’s decision to accept those that the U.S. seeks to return.” It adds that “multiple discussions” have taken place with Mexican authorities, who would have to receive the asylum-seekers, about a re-start. Further, the filing notes that construction of Remain in Mexico hearing facilities has begun in Laredo and Brownsville, Texas, as Rep. Cuellar had partially indicated, at a cost of $14.1 million.

Mexico has not yet agreed to take back migrants subject to the Remain in Mexico program. It has not refused, either. A brief October 15 statement from Mexico’s Foreign Ministry expresses “concerns” about the program and about how the United States has implemented Title 42 pandemic-related migrant expulsions (discussed below), but notes that “Mexico will continue the dialogue.”

If the Biden administration finds itself implementing both Remain in Mexico and Title 42 at the same time, a possible result might be a two-tier system in which Mexico’s border towns receive two classes of non-Mexican migrants. The first class would be citizens of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, who might be expelled under the public health authority without even a chance to seek asylum. The second would be Spanish or Portuguese-speaking residents of the “other” countries, many of whom have been arriving in greater numbers lately, as discussed in a section below: Brazilians, Colombians, Cubans, Ecuadorians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans. Right now, Mexico does not accept citizens of these countries as Title 42 expulsions—but under a revived “Remain in Mexico” program, Mexico might receive them as people with pending asylum cases. Those from Mexico and the northern triangle would not have pending asylum cases due to Title 42.

U.S. asylum advocates have issued scathing responses, arguing that the Biden administration has had other options to keep from complying with the court order to re-start Remain in Mexico, such as more swiftly issuing a new memo to “re-terminate” the program with clearer wording about its decisionmaking process.

  • “Trump 2.0 policies at the border are a recipe for continued cruelty, disorder, and violations of refugee law,” Eleanor Acer of Human Rights First told The Hill. “The Biden administration must honor its promise to terminate this horrific program.”
  • “The Biden administration has had nearly two months to issue a new memo that addresses the district court’s concerns and formally terminate the MPP program for good,” said Jorge Loweree of the American Immigration Council. “The fact that it has not done so and is instead moving forward with plans to restart the program in November is a betrayal of the president’s campaign promises.”
  • “There is no humane way to implement a program that was intended by [Trump advisor] Stephen Miller as a way to torture asylum seekers as deterrence model after the national outcry to family separation,” tweeted advocate Alida García, who spent a short stint this year as a White House senior advisor for migration.

Official border crossings to reopen to vaccinated travelers, but “Title 42” persists

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced on October 12 that next month, after 19 months of pandemic-related closures, the United States’ land borders will once again open to documented foreign travelers coming for “non-essential” reasons—as long as they have proof of COVID-19 vaccination. Starting in early November, tourists or people visiting family members will once again be able to enter the United States from Mexico and Canada.

Those who enter will need to present paper or digital proof of having received a full dose of a vaccine approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization. Unlike those who arrive by air, those entering by land will not have to provide proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test.

The pandemic travel restrictions had reduced documented border crossings significantly. 92 million people or cargo vehicles crossed into the United States from Mexico during the first 6 months of 2021, a one-third reduction from 136 million in the first 6 months of 2019.

As it ends pandemic restrictions on documented border crossers, DHS is keeping in place the so-called “Title 42” policy of swiftly expelling undocumented border crossers, including people seeking asylum. A Biden administration official told CBS News that “the policy considerations are different because migrants are generally held in Border Patrol facilities where social distancing can’t be enforced.”

Between February and August 2021, the Biden administration’s DHS expelled undocumented migrants 704,019 times at the U.S.-Mexico border. 92,676 of them were traveling as families (parents and children). Mexicans and many citizens of Central America’s “northern triangle” countries were pushed back across the border into Mexico. Others, like nearly 8,000 Haitians since September 19, have been flown back to their countries, often in shackles or occasionally worse.

New data obtained by CBS News show that while DHS has carried out more than 1,163,582 expulsions since the Trump administration imposed Title 42 in March 2020, the agency has permitted only 3,217 asylum seekers to petition for protection in the United States, using the higher evidentiary standards of the UN Convention Against Torture. Of these, only 8 percent (272) passed their interviews.

“It’s a heartbreaking thing to see” the expulsions of “individuals who are seeking a better life,” Mayorkas told a conference in Qatar this week. But he insisted that “the Title 42 authority is a public health authority. And it is not an immigration policy. It is not an immigration policy that we in this administration would embrace. But we view it as a public health imperative as the Centers for Disease Control has so ordered.”

Public health experts dispute that. “It’s clearly something that is politically expedient and I think that’s dangerous,” Michele Heisler, the medical director at Physicians for Human Rights, told the American Prospect. Added Paul Spiegel of the Johns Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health, “This is not a public-health issue, it’s a lack of immigration policy and I think we know that, and we can’t let them keep on.”

Harold Hongju Koh, a senior adviser on the State Department’s legal team, shared this assessment. A former dean of Yale University’s Law School and former assistant secretary of state for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Koh resigned his post on October 4, two days after issuing a memo calling the Title 42 policy “illegal and inhumane,” concluding, “It simply is not worthy of this Administration that I so strongly support.”

Yale Law School’s Lowenstein Project, together with 13 non-governmental organizations, submitted an emergency petition to the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) seeking precautionary protection measures for 31 asylum seekers subject to Title 42. “These expulsions,” it reads, “mark persons returned to Mexico as migrants trapped in Mexico, rendering them particularly vulnerable to this rampant violence, including kidnapping, sexual assault, extortion, and other forms of abuse at the hands of organized criminal groups and corrupt authorities.” Lee Gelernt, the ACLU attorney leading one of the main legal challenges to Title 42 in U.S. federal court, noted in the American Prospect that “evidence the organization submitted in trial court indicated that 20 percent to 40 percent of families [expelled under Title 42] are kidnapped by cartels.”

Aftermath of the Biden administration’s mass expulsion of Haitians

As covered at length in our September 27 update, for several days in mid-September a remote sector of the U.S.-Mexico border in Del Rio, Texas saw the sudden arrival of nearly 15,000 mostly Haitian migrants, nearly all of them seeking to turn themselves in to U.S. authorities and request asylum. The Biden administration dealt with the influx by applying Title 42, expelling most of those who did not return to Mexico.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) paid GEO Group, a controversial private prison and immigrant detention center operator, over $15 million to operate a swift tempo of flights expelling migrants back to Port-au-Prince and Cap Haïtien, Haiti. Most of those expelled via air had not lived in Haiti in a long time: they had fled to South America in the years after a devastating 2010 earthquake, living and working in Brazil, Chile, and elsewhere until the pandemic caused employment to dry up. They then braved the dangers of the multi-country journey northward—including Panama’s treacherous Darién Gap jungles—only to be shackled, placed on aircraft, and returned without any chance to ask for protection in the United States.

The expulsion flights began on September 19. Since then—according to Tom Cartwright, who monitors flights for Witness at the Border—there have been 74 flights expelling about 7,900 people to Haiti. The pace appears to be slowing as the number of Haitians in custody has no doubt declined. By comparison, Cartwright points out, the United States repatriated just 5,659 Haitians over the 40 months between January 2018 and April 2021. Counting people sent to Haiti from Mexico, Cuba, the Bahamas, and intercepted at sea, the International Organization for Migration counts 10,218 expulsions and returns since September 19.

It remains unclear how such a large number of Haitians made it all the way across Mexico virtually undetected in mid-September, just weeks after Mexican security and immigration forces harshly blocked four mass attempts to leave the southern state of Chiapas. Alfredo Corchado of the Dallas Morning News looked into it and found “a well-organized effort by human smuggling organizations facilitated through social media, and by Mexican authorities who either looked the other way or were simply overwhelmed.” Ruben Figueroa of the Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano told Corchado of Haitians suddenly being allowed to board vehicles in the southern border-zone city of Tapachula, Chiapas, where Mexican forces had earlier been confining them. “This just doesn’t happen without the complicity of government authorities,” Figueroa said.

Tens of thousands of migrants from Haiti and other countries remain in Tapachula. There since late September, Mexico’s overwhelmed refugee agency (COMAR) has been attempting to process roughly 2,000 asylum seekers per day at the city’s soccer stadium.

Further south, the number of mostly Haitian refugees waiting in Colombia’s Caribbean coast town of Necoclí to board ferries to Panama’s dangerous Darién Gap region has risen to 22,000, up from the 17,000 to 19,000 noted in our October 4 update. Colombian migration authorities report at least 82,000 arrivals in Necoclí since January. Panama’s National Migration Service counted 88,514 emerging through the Darién as of late September, according to Reuters. Of those, 19,000 were minors, perhaps half of them under the age of 5, according to UNICEF.

Journalists continue to document the extreme dangers of the 60-mile pedestrian journey through the Darién, which was once regarded as nearly impenetrable. NPR’s John Otis accompanied a lone Cuban migrant for the start of the trip, before he crossed into Panama, in an audio report posted October 11.

In Colombia, where Secretary of State Antony Blinken is to visit next week for a “high level dialogue,” President Iván Duque said he plans to ask the Biden administration to send messages to Haitian migrants that would “minimize expectations” of being granted protection in the United States.

More scrutiny of migrants from beyond Mexico and the Northern Triangle

In August 2021, 29 percent of migrants U.S. authorities encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border were from countries other than Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. That, to the best of our knowledge, is the first time this has happened before.

The Haitians discussed above are part of this population, but so are migrants from South America who have been flying into Mexico—which since 2018 has not required visas for several South American countries—then traveling to the U.S. border, crossing, and requesting asylum. During the first 11 months of fiscal 2021 (October-August), CBP reports encountering 46,410 migrants from Brazil, 88,786 from Ecuador, and 37,859 from Venezuela. In most cases, U.S. authorities do not expel citizens of these countries under Title 42: Mexico has not agreed to take them, and long flights would be expensive. A Wall Street Journal article portrayed these new arrivals as “middle-class migrants.” Reporter Alicia Caldwell spoke to a dozen Venezuelans who arrived together near Yuma, who said that their entire journey took about two days.

Reuters reported on Brazilian authorities’ June arrest of a businessman accused of charging would-be migrants nearly $20,000 each to be smuggled into the United States via Mexico. “To pull it off, [Chelbe] Moraes has constructed an international network that includes corrupt cops and officials as well as U.S-based family members,” allegedly coaching clients to pose as tourists in Mexico,” the report reads.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) raised eyebrows by telling Fox News that, on a recent trip to Yuma, he had seen Brazilian migrants “headed for Connecticut wearing designer clothes and Gucci bags.” Attempting to clarify his comments to the Washington Post, Graham said, “Usually when you go to the border, you see people who are dressed really haggardly and who look like they’ve been through hell. This time at Yuma, there were dozens that looked like they were checking into a hotel — and smartly dressed.”

At the United States’s behest, Mexico is now tightening visa requirements for citizens of Brazil and Ecuador. Guatemala, too, has begun requiring visas of Ecuadorians.

Links

  • At ProPublica, Dara Lind reports on a new DHS Inspector-General report about a CBP intelligence unit that targeted U.S. citizen activists and journalists it suspected of association with migrant “caravans” in 2018 and 2019. “[A]t least 51 U.S. citizens were flagged for interrogation—often based on evidence as flimsy as once having ridden in a car across the border with someone suspected of aiding the caravan.” As its name indicates, CBP’s “Tactical Terrorism Response Team” was created to respond to terrorist threats, not migration events.
  • The Senate Finance Committee will meet October 19 for the nomination hearing of Tucson, Arizona police chief Chris Magnus, the Biden administration’s choice to be CBP commissioner. Magnus’s nomination has been delayed by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), who was demanding that CBP first provide more information about role the agency played in combating protesters in Portland in 2020, during the Trump administration.
  • Mexico captured 652 migrants at a military checkpoint in southern Tamaulipas state on October 7. 101 of them were unaccompanied minors from Guatemala, whom Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM, the government’s immigration authority) expelled days later.
  • Border Report cites rumors of a “mother of all caravans” being organized by unnamed “activists” for October 23 in Chiapas, southern Mexico. We have seen no other source corroborating this rumor, and colleagues in southern Mexico say they haven’t heard anything.
  • “There is a growing gulf between the progressive immigration values President Joe Biden professes and the enforcement policies he’s implementing at the border,” reads an analysis by Vox immigration reporter Nicole Narea, “and it’s led to confusion among immigration officials, uncertainty for migrants, and questions about whether the president has a coherent strategy on immigration at all.”
  • “To be a Haitian asylum-seeker knocking at the door of the U.S. is to stand at perhaps the most visible convergence of race and empire imaginable in this hemisphere,” writes Miriam Pensack at The New Republic.
  • A retired rear admiral is replacing a retired army general as the head of Mexico’s INM in the northern border state of Chihuahua.

Weekly Border Update: October 1, 2021

With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. See past weekly updates here. Due to staff travel, there will be no update next week; we will return on October 15.

Haitian migrants: Biden administration carries out an aerial expulsion campaign of historic proportions

By September 24, U.S. authorities had cleared the large encampment of mostly Haitian migrants near the Rio Grande in Del Rio, south-central Texas. Between September 9 and then, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) told Border Report, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Border Patrol had encountered 30,000 migrants in CBP’s once-quiet Del Rio Sector, most of them from Haiti.

According to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, 8,000 of these 30,000 crossed back into Mexico. About 13,000 were processed into the United States: about 3,000 sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers, and about 10,000—presumably mostly families with children—released into the U.S. interior to pursue asylum claims in the U.S. immigration system. As of the middle of this week, about 4,000 were still in DHS custody being processed, at which point officials would determine whether migrants get released, detained, or expelled, under the “Title 42” pandemic authority, back to Haiti without a chance to seek asylum.

It is not clear how DHS is determining which migrants get released, detained, or expelled. “Officials have said families with vulnerabilities could be exempted from Title 42 (pregnancy, medical issues),” tweeted Camilo Montoya-Galvez of CBS News. Another factor in favor of release, the New York Times indicated, is the ability to “produce evidence of a friend or relative who could help provide a foothold.”

The Biden administration’s effort to expel as many Haitians as possible has been massive. By the end of September 30, the U.S. government had expelled 6,131 Haitians on 57 flights to Port-au-Prince or the northern city of Cap-Haïtien, Haiti over 12 days. Seven flights landed on September 30 alone, discharging 773 expelled Haitians. Of the first 50 flights, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported, 32 had gone to the capital and 18 to Cap-Haïtien. About 44 percent of those expelled were women and children.

In the 12 months before September, ICE ran 57 removal flights to Haiti, according to the count kept by Witness at the Border. We have now seen 57 flights in 12 days.

More than 210 of the children expelled with their Haitian parents were born in Chile, Brazil, Venezuela, or Panama. Nearly all of the Haitians who arrived in Del Rio had not lived in Haiti in a long time: they had migrated to South America in the years after a 2010 earthquake devastated their home country. Many found Brazil and Chile, in particular, to be inhospitable, with legal status difficult to obtain or maintain. (Anti-migrant sentiment, in this case against Venezuelans, erupted in Chile’s northern city of Iquique on September 25. A march against migrants grew violent as protesters built a bonfire of homeless Venezuelans’ belongings.)

The journey from South America leads up through Panama’s Darién Gap jungles, Central America, and Mexico. Analysts and local officials voiced surprise that such a large number of migrants could cross Mexico, and arrive in the small city of Ciudad Acuña across from Del Rio, in such a short time. What we know is that the migrants crossed Mexico in small groups, often taking public transportation and paying a premium in artificially high fares, and in bribes at Mexican authorities’ road checkpoints. Writing for Politico, Jack Herrera reports that a rumor spread among Haitians that U.S. authorities were allowing crossings in Calexico, California, and Del Rio, and that September 16—Mexico’s bicentennial independence day, when authorities might be distracted—would be a good time to travel.

Giuseppe Loprete, the head of the IOM mission in Haiti, noted Haitians’ extreme anguish upon return to a country that most had fled years earlier. “They’re very distressed,” he told CBS. “They start crying the moment they arrive. I’ve seen young, strong guys—some freak out. Women cry. Kids cry because they see the women crying.” IOM is distributing meals, toiletries and a roughly $100 per person stipend to returned Haitians, and is testing them for COVID-19, which the U.S. government does not do. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) “said it is providing $5.5 million to IOM so it can serve deported Haitians,” according to CBS.

Ultimately, though, Haitians arriving in Port-au-Prince are being ushered out of the airport into what the Associated Press calls “an archipelago of gang-controlled islands in a sea of despair.” A strong statement from IOM and three UN agencies paints a very grim picture of an already-struggling country, the hemisphere’s poorest, that since July has seen its president assassinated, a devastating earthquake, and a tropical storm:

Haiti continues to face an escalation in violence and insecurity, with at least 19,000 people internally displaced in the capital Port-au-Prince in the summer of 2021 alone. Well over 20 per cent of girls and boys have been victims of sexual violence. In addition, nearly 24 per cent of the population, including 12.9 percent who are children, live below the extreme poverty line of US$1.23 per day. Some 4.4 million people, or nearly 46 per cent of the population, face acute food insecurity.

IOM, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) called “on states to refrain from expelling Haitians without proper assessment of their individual protection needs,” recalling that “International law prohibits collective expulsions and requires that each case be examined individually to identify protection needs under international human rights and refugee law.” That is the opposite of how Title 42, which affords no opportunity to ask for asylum, is operating.

Reuters reports that IOM asked Brazil to receive some Haitians who have Brazilian-citizen children, or who passed through Brazil on their way north through South America. Two sources “said the first request was more likely to be approved.” A DHS statement notes that the agency is engaging with Brazil and Chile “to ensure they too are doing their part to offer protection for vulnerable populations and receive individuals who had legal status there.”

That statement adds that DHS Secretary Mayorkas met on September 28 with Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond. Mayorkas thanked Haiti’s government “for supporting the safe return and re-integration of Haitian nationals.” He added that investigations of mistreatment of Haitian migrants “is ongoing”; Edmond had raised the shocking and widely shared photos and videos of mounted Border Patrol agents running down migrants on the banks of the Rio Grande in Del Rio.

No State Department official of similar rank was present at the Haitian ambassadorial meeting, but the newly confirmed Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Brian Nichols, traveled to Port-au-Prince September 30 with the National Security Council’s director for the hemisphere, Juan González. The visit appeared mostly focused on Haiti’s political impasse; the Miami Herald reported that “the duo said they had no agenda other than to listen to Haitians.”

Haitians in Mexico

Mexico’s government carried out its first removal flight to Haiti in some time, flying 70 Haitian migrants, including 13 minors, to Port-au-Prince on September 29. Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) called this an “assisted voluntary return” of Haitians who desired to go back to their country, or who at least had not voiced a desire to seek asylum in Mexico. It referred to those aboard as “the first group,” but it is not clear how frequently the INM plans to run these flights. Mexico reported deporting 223 Haitians in the first 8 months of 2021, 138 of them in August.

This flight occurred after a September 23-24 visit of Haitian authorities to Mexico’s southern border zone, where they toured INM installations and agreed to re-activate aerial removals. Those aboard the September 29 flight had been living in the southern border state of Tabasco, or in central Mexico. They had not been to the U.S. border, and had not been living in the southern border-zone city of Tapachula, where most Haitians in Mexico are currently stranded as they await decisions from the country’s backlogged asylum system.

Mexico’s foreign secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, told a committee of the country’s senate that his government plans to provide refuge to about 13,255 Haitian citizens. “What will Mexico’s position be? That those who want refugee status will be granted it. Mexico is one of the countries that least rejects refugee status,” Ebrard said. The chief diplomat condemned excessive use of force by INM agents and National Guard personnel in the southern state of Chiapas in early September.

As noted in our September 3 and 10 updates, photo and video evidence showed Mexican personnel kicking, beating, and aggressively chasing Haitian migrants who had sought to walk northward from Tapachula, a city of 350,000 that offers them few income opportunities while they await asylum decisions from COMAR, Mexico’s refugee agency. The OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights added its condemnation, and urged Mexico to hold responsible personnel accountable, in a September 27 statement.

COMAR is taking steps to speed asylum processing in Tapachula, where 55,000 people had requested asylum between January and August. For the next four weeks, COMAR is managing a reception center outside Tapachula’s soccer stadium, where it plans to process 2,000 people per day, using about 200 staff, many seconded over from other agencies.

In August, Chiapas Paralelo estimated that as many as 30,000 Haitians were stranded near Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, especially in the city of Tapachula. After so many fled to Del Rio, it’s not clear how many remain in Tapachula awaiting COMAR’s response; the agency is requiring all to check in at the stadium in order to remove inactive cases from its giant backlog.

On October 1 Andrés Ramírez, COMAR’s coordinator, tweeted that 90,314 people had requested asylum in Mexico between January and September, shattering the country’s previous full-year record of 70,423 set in 2019. At this pace, Ramírez pointed out, Mexico will receive 120,000 asylum requests by the end of 2021. More than one-third of Mexico’s asylum seekers so far this year are Honduran (31,884), followed by Haiti (26,007), Cuba (7,683), El Salvador (5,170), and Venezuela (4,670). COMAR also shows 3,591 Chileans and 1,691 Brazilians: many of these are probably children born in those countries to Haitian parents.

Haitians who remain in and around Ciudad Acuña, across from Del Rio, are under strong pressure from Mexican authorities to relocate or return to Tapachula, to await COMAR’s decisions on their status. INM has arranged transport for many to return to the southern city. Reuters notes that a growing number of Haitians are arriving elsewhere at Mexico’s northern border: in Tijuana, where a few thousand of their fellow citizens settled after a 2016 migration event. This population is generally doing well economically, but “most are wary of going public about their achievements lest it cause them problems with migration authorities or attract the attention of organized crime.”

Elsewhere in northern Mexico, in Tampico, Tamaulipas, some Haitian migrants protested outside the local INM office demanding that they be granted some legal status, without which the city’s hotels are prohibited from even renting them rooms.

The Darién Gap

Further south along the migration route, perhaps 17,000 to 19,000 people, mostly Haitians, remain crowded into the small Caribbean coast city of Necoclí, Colombia. For migrants who wish to pass through Panama and northward, Necoclí is where the road ends. Migrants must take a ferry across northwestern Colombia’s Gulf of Urabá, then cross into eastern Panama’s treacherous Darién Gap jungles.

Our September 10 update noted that 11,400 migrants were in Necoclí, with the town’s mayor predicting that “by the end of September we’re going to have more than 25,000 migrants.” That prediction wasn’t far off.

An agreement between Colombia and Panama is allowing ferries to take 500 people per day to Panama—but estimates of the number of people newly arriving in Necoclí range from 1,000 to 1,200 to 1,500, so the population in Necoclí keeps growing as the wait time for a ferry passage stretches through the end of October. That means a month camped on the town’s beach or paying $10 a night for a shared room, as townspeople charge migrants high prices for food, water, restroom access, and supplies for the journey through Panama. Some migrants are paying smugglers to take them across the Gulf clandestinely.

A handful of Haitians—perhaps 250, according to Colombia’s human rights ombudsman’s office—have decided to abandon their journey after seeing the Biden administration’s big expulsion flight push.

“So far this year,” Reuters reports, “88,514 migrants have entered Panama through the Darien jungle, according to figures from the National Migration Service, and Panama went from receiving an average of 800 migrants in January to 30,000 in August.” About 70 percent of them have been Haitian.

The idea of this many people passing through the Darién Gap is unheard of. This Connecticut-sized jungle zone, where the Pan-American highway ends and government presence is nearly zero, is notorious for the dangers it poses—both natural and criminal—to those who attempt the 60-mile, several-day walk. For a harrowing account of this region’s dangers, see “When Can We Really Rest,” an April 2020 report in California Sunday that won Canadian journalist Nadja Drost the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for feature-writing.

The Darién provincial prosecutor’s office has recorded the bodies of 41 migrants found along the region’s rivers so far this year. The Wall Street Journal, citing Doctors Without Borders and other sources, documented an epidemic of rapes of migrant women at the hands of criminals who operate freely in the zone. Still, as nearly a third of migrants U.S. authorities now encounter at the U.S.-Mexico border are coming from places other than Mexico or Central America’s northern triangle, we can expect even greater numbers of migrants from Haiti and elsewhere to attempt the journey through the Darién.

“Remain in Mexico” and Title 42 in the courts

On September 29 DHS announced its intention to issue a new memo terminating the Migrant Protection Protocols, or “Remain in Mexico” (RMX) program. RMX was a Trump administration initiative that forced over 71,000 non-Mexican asylum-seeking migrants to await their immigration hearings while living in Mexican border towns for months or years. The Biden administration terminated RMX on inauguration day, and formally terminated it in a June 1 memo. However, a lawsuit from the Republican attorneys-general of Texas and Missouri convinced a Texas district judge to force the Biden administration to restart the program, and the Supreme Court left that order in place pending appeals. (See our August 27 update for the full story.)

The ruling left the Biden administration compelled to implement a policy it bitterly opposes. Opponents of RMX, who cite at least 1,500 attacks and kidnappings suffered by migrants forced to remain in Mexican border cities, have contended that the administration might satisfy the courts’ conditions by issuing a new memo terminating the program, one that does more to explain its legal reasoning. That is the step that DHS announced this week.

The “re-termination” memo won’t necessarily stop the reimplementation of RMX for the time being, however. “A new memorandum terminating MPP will not take effect until the current injunction is lifted by court order,” the September 29 DHS statement explains. In the meantime, the Department must continue to show the Texas court that it is working “in good faith” to restart the program. That means ongoing diplomatic talks with Mexico about accepting other countries’ asylum seekers again, and building up staffing and “tent court” infrastructure near border crossings to handle cases.

Speculation continues that these “good faith” efforts could lead to some sort of “Remain in Mexico lite” that forces a smaller number of asylum seekers to wait in Mexico, but with “better living conditions and access to attorneys,” as Politico put it.

Even with RMX on hold, the “Title 42” pandemic expulsions policy continues to send large numbers of would-be asylum seekers either to their home countries (like expelled Mexicans, or the massive Haiti flights) or to Mexico in the case of citizens of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. As noted in our September 17 update, on the 16th, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that Title 42 could not be used to expel asylum-seeking families.

This victory for migrant rights groups has been followed by disappointment. Judge Sullivan delayed his ruling’s implementation for two weeks, to give the Biden administration—which used Title 42 to expel more than 92,676 family unit members between January and August—a chance to respond. On September 30, just as Sullivan’s ruling was to go into effect, a panel of three Washington, DC Circuit Court judges (appointees of Clinton, Obama, and Trump) stayed its implementation pending the outcome of the Biden administration’s appeal. As oral arguments on the appeal are scheduled for January, the Biden administration is free to expel asylum-seeking families well into 2022.

The Trump administration developed the Title 42 expulsions policy at the pandemic’s outset in March 2020, and the Biden administration has maintained it, although it no longer applies it to unaccompanied children. The policy has been roundly condemned by human rights and migrant rights groups, medical experts, and the UNHCR. Human Rights First has tracked “at least 6,356 kidnappings, sexual assaults, and other violent attacks against people blocked at ports of entry or expelled to Mexico by DHS since President Biden took office.” The ACLU led the litigation to stop its application to families, leading to Judge Sullivan’s September 16 ruling.

Officials like DHS Secretary Mayorkas insist that Title 42—which allows quick expulsions and thus less contact with possibly infected migrants—remains necessary due to COVID-19’s continued prevalence. “The pandemic is not behind us. Title 42 is a public health policy, not an immigration policy,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press on September 26. Mayorkas told a September 27 Migration Policy Institute conference that the migrant population has had “a rate of illness of approximately 20 percent.”

Mayorkas has publicly insisted that Title 42 is a public health measure and not an “immigration policy.” CBS News notes, though, that “in a court filing Monday [September 27] defending the continued enforcement of Title 42, Justice Department lawyers called the expulsion policy ‘a significant deterrent to the entry of family units.’” On a call this week with senior DHS officials, NBC News reports, Mayorkas also speculated that a termination of Title 42 for families could lead to “a worst-case scenario in which 350,000 to 400,000 migrants cross the border in October,” roughly double the high migration totals of July and August.

In a filing, several children’s and migrants’ rights groups urged the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to lift the court order forcing the Biden administration to reinstate RMX, citing the number of children that the program had subjected to “gang violence, attempted kidnappings and unsanitary conditions.” A September 28 Noticias Telemundo report published horrific accounts of torture, rape, and kidnapping suffered by more than 30 migrants expelled into Mexico between 2019 and 2021. Expulsions have also led to the death of asylum seekers who see no choice but to re-enter the United States. “Maria Eugenia Chavez, a Mexican national who twice crossed the border and asked the Border Patrol to file an asylum claim only to be returned to Mexico under Title 42, drowned off the coast of San Diego when the boat she was on fell apart on her third attempt to cross the border,” reads a September 28 tweet from the Immigrant Defenders Law Center.

The ACLU vows to continue pushing the Title 42 case. “I think litigation is as important in holding the feet to the fire of our quote ‘allies’ [in the Biden administration] as it is about fighting the foes of civil liberties and civil rights, because that is what creates the political will,” Executive Director Anthony Romero told the Associated Press. “The policies that they [Biden administration officials] are actively pursuing are very different than the ones they promised,” added Todd Schulte of FWD.us. “The policies they are actively pursuing are failing. Yet the continued direction is in the wrong direction.”

Texas’s crackdown overwhelms its courts

In Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has loudly criticized the Biden administration’s border and migration policy from the right, the state government continues its own crackdown on migration. Abbott will double the Texas National Guard presence along the border, using state funds, to about 2,500 guardsmen by the end of October. Even after the Del Rio migrant camp was cleared, the Texas National Guard left 70 Humvees “prepositioned in the area in case a similar situation arises,” Stars and Stripes reported.

The guardsmen are in addition to a federal force of 3,500 National Guardsmen deployed along the entire border since 2018 to support CBP. The Texas Military Department posted a request for volunteers on social media, offering guardsmen who join the effort lodging and a $55 daily per diem. The Texas force will be building border barriers—a 10-foot chain link fence—mainly on private land with border landowners’ permission. About three miles of fence have been built so far. This is all part of a $2 billion program of enhanced border security measures that Abbott, who is up for re-election in 2022, calls “Operation Lone Star.”

As part of that operation, National Guard troops—who are rarely given arrest authority on U.S. soil—arrested more than 2,000 undocumented border crossers, and reported seeing another 200 turn back into Mexico, in just the past week, a Texas official said on September 30. While Texas cannot charge its detainees with violating federal immigration law, it has jailed at least 1,000 single men since June for state crimes, nearly always trespassing. Detained migrants are being held in two prisons in central and south Texas (Dilley and Edinburg). As of September 27, the state prisons were holding more than 900.

This has not been an orderly process. On September 28 the state was forced to release 243 jailed migrants because they had not been formally charged with any crime within the 15-day deadline state law requires. The delay usually owes to the Texas state police force’s (Department of Public Safety) inability to produce arrest reports without long delays.

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid came to an agreement with counties’ prosecutors to release the migrants, 168 of whom had been held without charges for more than 30 days. Most don’t speak English and have “spent weeks or months with little to no legal help, few opportunities to talk to their families and often fewer chances to find out what is happening to them or how long they will be imprisoned,” the Texas Tribune reported.

Once Texas releases migrants—whether because they were uncharged, or because they have finished serving their jail time—they don’t necessarily end up in ICE custody; some may be released into the U.S. interior. “It is not clear how many people Immigration and Customs Enforcement might choose to take into custody, and the agency did not immediately clarify,” the Washington Post reported.

On another legal front, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody filed a lawsuit September 28 seeking for the Biden administration to stop the practice of releasing migrants with pending cases, including asylum seekers, into the U.S. interior. This suit would seem to contradict laws giving DHS discretion about whom to detain, and legal precedents (like the 1997 Flores settlement agreement) limiting child and family detention. But the U.S. legal system has issued some surprising rulings on immigration lately, so it’s impossible to say with certainty that this legal challenge won’t move forward.

Links

  • For the second time, the Senate’s Parliamentarian has dealt a blow to Democrats’ efforts to use budget legislation to allow about 8 million undocumented immigrants in the United States to apply for legal status. This proposal, Elizabeth MacDonough ruled, was not sufficiently budget-related. As a result, under Senate rules, the immigration legislation would need 60 votes to stop debate and move to a vote—that is, to block a Republican “filibuster.” Democrats hold 50 seats in the 100-seat Senate. Senate Democratic leaders are weighing next steps.
  • Citing Freedom of Information Act documents that he had to fight to obtain, Bob Moore of El Paso Matters found that CBP often turned away asylum seekers at the El Paso port of entry in 2018, claiming they were “at capacity” even when the port had plenty of available space to hold them. “We knew, we knew, we knew (that the capacity explanation was untrue), and there was nothing that we could do about it,” said Ruben Garcia of El Paso’s Annunciation House shelter.
  • “Migrant deaths from border wall falls have increased from four in 2020 to 12 this year as replacement border wall barriers increased in size under former President Donald Trump, according to the Southern Border Communities Coalition statistics,” writes Pedro Rios of the American Friends Services Committee. “There have also been hundreds of injuries, according to the Mexican Consulate. In a meeting between local San Diego advocates and then-Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott in June 2018, which I attended, Scott shared that the Border Patrol purposely chose the height of new replacement border wall after it conducted psychological tests to establish at what height an average person becomes so disoriented that he or she would stop climbing a wall—30 feet.”
  • A letter to Justice Department leadership and the DHS Inspector-General from Alliance San Diego alleges that former Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott, who left his post in August, is violating the Ethics in Government Act. Scott established a consulting firm in July, while still working for Border Patrol, and issued a Facebook request for CBP and ICE personnel to provide information, possibly including restricted information, “to counter the lies and misinformation that the DHS Secretary and Biden officials spew.”
  • “Today, while asking me about who I was visiting on my trip, a Border Patrol agent said I was being ‘coy’ with my answers and suggested that it would be possible that I am friends with—I kid you not—Osama Bin Laden,” tweeted Abdallah Fayyad, a member of the Boston Globe’s editorial board.
  • “For the past decade,” writes Border Patrol critic Garrett Graff at the Washington Post, the agency’s “heavily armed and kitted-out agents have primarily faced a much different challenge that it’s proved itself repeatedly poorly equipped to handle,” that of processing protection-seeking migrants.
  • Mexico’s chief prosecutor, Alejandro Gertz Manero, met with U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland in Washington. “The two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to work closely on criminal investigations and prosecutions of cross-border crime,” reads a Justice Department statement, “including with regard to narcotics and firearms trafficking, human smuggling and trafficking, and illicit finance and money laundering.”
  • Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) has lifted his hold on the nomination of Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus to be the next commissioner of CBP. The nomination will begin advancing through the Senate Finance Committee (“Finance” because of CBP’s “Customs” role). Wyden had been demanding that CBP first provide information about the Trump administration’s violent deployment of border personnel to Portland, Oregon to confront protesters in 2020.
  • “Relentless in its border crisis coverage, Fox News has influenced how other cable networks, such as CNN and MSNBC, talk about the border,” Sergio Muñoz of Media Matters for America said in an excellent narrative analysis by Melissa del Bosque at the Border Chronicle. “Major news outlets characterize the border as in crisis, playing into the right-wing narrative that it is a dangerous place and under constant assault, and that Trump’s policies, which effectively ended asylum, should remain in place.”
  • A new Biden Administration initiative is providing government-funded attorneys to unaccompanied children facing deportation proceedings in eight U.S. cities.
  • Once released from Office of Refugee Resettlement custody to family members or sponsors in the United States, many unaccompanied children face years in “a purgatory of insecurity and, on occasion, exploitation” as they wait years for their cases to be decided, writes immigration scholar Diana Gordon at the New York Review of Books.
  • Expelled migrants, among them would-be asylum seekers, held a protest south of the borderline in Nogales, Mexico, on September 25. When a few participants in the protest tried to approach the U.S. port of entry to petition for asylum, CBP shut the automatic gates, sealing off the port.
  • Two Mexican military vehicles carrying 14 soldiers crossed an international bridge into El Paso after midnight on September 25. CBP detained the soldiers, processed them, and sent them back to Mexico within hours. One was found to be possessing a small amount of marijuana. “The CBP (agents) yelled at the soldiers to put their hands up and drop their weapons immediately,” a witness told Reuters.
  • “Just 35% of Americans approve of [Joe] Biden’s handling of immigration, down from 43% in April, when it was already one of Biden’s worst issues,” according to a new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.

Weekly Border Update: September 24, 2021

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.

A large group of Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas faces horses, hunger, expulsion flights, and—for some—“notices to report” in the United States

This week, one of the remotest and most rural segments of the U.S.-Mexico border witnessed an event of major humanitarian, human rights, and political impact. Over the course of about a week a large group of migrants, mostly Haitian in origin, arrived en masse at the border crossing between Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, Mexico, and Del Rio, Texas, a site where the Rio Grande is shallow enough to wade across.

By September 18, Del Rio’s mayor, citing information from Border Patrol, said that 14,534 migrants were encamped on the riverbank, under and around the border crossing bridge. There, while awaiting their turn to be processed by Border Patrol, they washed in the river and slept in tents, under shelters built out of vegetation, or in the open air. While access to the site has been restricted, the scene appeared to be chaotic but peaceful.

Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector, which sits east of Big Bend National Park and west of Laredo, usually ranks low among the agency’s nine land border sectors in number of migrant arrivals. By August of this year, though, Del Rio had broken its annual record for migrant encounters.

Between October 2020 and August 2021, Del Rio border agents encountered citizens of Mexico, Honduras, Venezuela, Haiti, Ecuador, and Cuba at least 10,000 times each. Fear of organized crime in Mexico’s borderlands influences where migrants cross, and word had gotten out among citizens of these countries that Ciudad Acuña was a relatively safe place. “It’s unclear how these rumors started,” Nicole Phillips of the Haitian Bridge Alliance told the Intercept.

How they’ve arrived

Though Haiti this year has suffered COVID-19, the assassination of its president, an earthquake, and a tropical storm, very few of the Haitians in Del Rio have been there recently. Most left the country years ago, in the years after Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, to pursue work opportunities in South America, especially Brazil and Chile. (Haitian labor was important, for instance, in Brazil’s effort to build infrastructure for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.)

The pandemic hit South American economies hard, and several Haitian migrants in Del Rio told the New York Times that “they made the journey because they had lost their visas or their jobs and had no choice but to find a way to survive in the United States.”

At the moment, large numbers of Haitian migrants are backed up at key points along the migrant trail between South America and the U.S.-Mexico border. A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) document seen by NBC News claims that 3,000 Haitians are currently in Peru. Colombia’s human rights ombudsman, Carlos Camargo, said on September 22 that 19,000 mostly Haitian migrants were waiting in the Caribbean coast town of Necoclí for their turn to take ferries to Panama.

Once there, they walk through eastern Panama’s treacherous Darién Gap region, an ungoverned jungle area where unknown but significant numbers die of dehydration or illness, or are attacked and robbed—or worse—by criminals. This is the heaviest year ever for migrant flows through this route; estimates range from “more than 50,000” people to “more than 70,000 people, among them 13,000 children” passing through the Darién so far this year.

The DHS document cited by NBC estimates that about 1,500 Haitians are in Panama. In August, Panama’s migration authorities reported encountering 15,279 Haitian citizens exiting the Darién Gap.

In August, Chiapas Paralelo estimated that as many as 30,000 Haitians were stranded near Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, especially in the city of Tapachula. There, most are confined to the area as they await decisions on asylum requests before Mexico’s refugee agency, COMAR. Our weekly updates from late August and early September covered Mexican authorities’ repeated attempts to keep Haitian and other migrants from leaving Tapachula on foot. These included four operations to stop “caravans” in Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas. Some of these operations generated outrage, as photos and videos circulated of agents from Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) chasing and beating migrants.

Following a September 21 conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Mexico’s Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said that most of the Haitians in Mexico had refugee status in Chile or Brazil and were not seeking it in Mexico. (In fact, Haiti is the number-two country among COMAR’s asylum applicants.) “What they are asking for is to be allowed to pass freely through Mexico to the United States,” Ebrard concluded.

It remains a mystery how nearly 15,000 Haitian migrants could so quickly make their way to remote Ciudad Acuña so soon after INM’s repeated crackdowns in Tapachula. “Many of the recently arrived Haitians took buses through Mexico, expediting their arrival and increasing their numbers,” NBC reported. They were able to do so despite the INM, National Guard, and other Mexican agencies maintaining numerous highway checkpoints.

“The Haitian community did not arrive at the northern border without the complicity of the federal authorities,” alleges veteran migration reporter Alberto Pradilla of Animal Político. “Either they looked the other way or they benefited (there are policemen who asked for bribes and companies that charged tickets at a very high price).” Pradilla also speculates that the INM may have responded to criticism of its human rights performance in Chiapas by catching a case of the “blue flu.” He notes, “a week of looking the other way shows the consequences [of their inaction], and then they can tell the U.S., ‘don’t question our methods.’”

Many Mexican officials blame organized crime. “They are domestic gangs, they come from the south and everything derives from there, but whoever receives them here also has to do with the polleros [smugglers] who work between Tamaulipas, Nuevo León and Coahuila,” said Coahuila governor Miguel Riquelme. The smugglers “have tricked them…telling them, let’s go to the United States because they’re going to give us residency or even citizenship,” said Ebrard.

According to the Associated Press, though, the Haitian migrants are “a population that relies little on smugglers and instead moves based on shared experience and information exchanged between the tight-knit community, often via WhatsApp or Facebook, about where it is safest, where jobs are most plentiful and where it is easiest to enter a country.” Earlier this year, the AP notes, Haitians were coming more frequently to the El Paso sector hundreds of miles west of Del Rio. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that the shift to Del Rio “was unusually sudden.”

Following this word of mouth, Haitians are even leaving other Mexico border cities to travel—eastward or westward, often through territory under heavy organized crime influence—to Ciudad Acuña and Del Rio. In the Gulf Coast state of Tamaulipas, Mexican authorities forced a group of a few hundred Haitians to dismount the buses on which they had been riding. They walked or hitched rides northward, and by the middle of this week, many were sleeping near the border in San Fernando—a town notorious for a 2010 massacre of 72 migrants by the Zetas organized crime group.

Some arrived in the Tamaulipas border city of Reynosa, across from McAllen, Texas—a town known both for very high violent crime and for a very large population of mostly Central American migrants recently expelled by the United States. Few Haitians plan to stay or to cross there. (Milenio reported, though, that some intend to settle in the prosperous industrial city of Monterrey, just south of Tamaulipas.)

A Haitian woman in Reynosa told the Rio Grande Valley Monitor that her goal was to arrive in Ciudad Acuña, more than 300 miles away—and that she wasn’t even aware that Reynosa was on the border. On the other end of the border, other Haitian migrants are planning to leave Tijuana for Ciudad Acuña, according to Milenio.

Catching U.S. authorities unprepared

The rapid arrival of such a large population of migrants in Del Rio came as a surprise to U.S. authorities. CNN reported that Border Patrol agents in Del Rio had been asking management since June for more resources to process migrants, but—at least according to the local union—had not received an adequate reply.

In response to the Haitians’ rapid arrival, CBP surged 600 Border Patrol agents, CBP officers, and DHS volunteers to Del Rio, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said during a September 20 visit to the sector. CBP also shut down Del Rio’s official land port of entry (the border bridge), and closed Border Patrol checkpoints north of Laredo, Texas, allowing traffic to flow freely without inspection while personnel moved to Del Rio.

By September 21, CBP had constructed a field hospital and was more systematically providing food for migrants encamped around the border crossing. Chef José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen also provided numerous free meals. But for the first several days, food and clean water were scarce at the Del Rio site. This forced migrants to wade into Ciudad Acuña, Mexico to buy food at local stores and restaurants, then wade back into the United States with their provisions.

Some disturbing images

On their return to U.S. soil, some of the migrants, often laden with bags of food, encountered hostile Border Patrol agents on horseback. Photos and videos showed agents appearing to charge at migrants, including some children, at the water’s edge, apparently trying to force them to return to Mexico. One can be heard using a profane slur against Haiti. Some are shown waving or making slapping motions with lariats or long reins, which bore a resemblance to whips.

“Video footage of Border Patrol’s actions in this incident clearly demonstrate that the migrants being encountered by mounted agents did not present an imminent threat,” an ACLU letter describes the scene. “In one video an agent stops a family with small children, makes derogatory and xenophobic comments to the family, and then maneuvers his horse in a way that comes dangerously close to trampling a child.”

Border Patrol Chief Raúl Ortiz, a former Del Rio sector chief, claimed the agents were attempting to control the horses with the reins. The Washington Post’s Philip Bump wrote that “this was an apparently isolated encounter, one that soon resolved with those seeking to enter the country and return to or arrive at the camp able to do so.”

Nonetheless, images of uniformed White men on horseback menacing Black people with what looked like whips blanketed U.S. social media on September 19 and 20, inspiring horrified reactions.

Immigrant rights and civil rights groups joined in condemnation. In Miami, 200 Haitian-Americans protesting outside the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) field office forced road closures. The NAACP tweeted side-by-side “then” and “now” images: a drawing of a slaveholder whipping a Black man next to one of the Del Rio photos. A letter from civil rights groups said Biden’s promises for a more humane immigration policy “are being shredded before our eyes.” Human Rights Watch called it “the latest example of racially discriminatory, abusive, and illegal U.S. border policies that are returning people to harm and humanitarian disaster.”

Reactions in Congress were strong. The images were “horrific and disturbing,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. “We had not seen the horses and the whips with any other population of people, so that to us goes to racism,” said Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. House Oversight Committee Democrats sent a letter demanding a briefing from Biden administration officials by September 24.

Strong words also came from the Biden administration itself. “As it relates to those photos and that horrific video, we’re not going to stand for that kind of inhumane treatment and obviously we want this investigation to be completed rapidly,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. “What I saw depicted, those individuals on horseback treating human beings the way they were, was horrible,” said Vice President Kamala Harris. “Human beings should never be treated that way, and I’m deeply troubled about it.”

On September 24, President Joe Biden addressed the images for the first time. “It’s horrible what you saw. To see people like they did, with horses, running them over, people being strapped, it’s outrageous,” he said. “I promise you, those people will pay. There is an investigation underway right now and there will be consequences.”

DHS promised an investigation and disciplinary actions, and suspended the use of horse patrols in Del Rio. However, “There is little reason to have confidence in the department’s willingness to hold its agents accountable,” Chris Rickerd and Sarah Turberville contend at the Los Angeles Times, noting that “CBP’s own records found that it took no action in 96% of 1,255 cases of alleged Border Patrol misconduct between January 2012 and October 2015.”

The state government’s “steel wall”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R), an immigration hardliner who has made border security a signature issue as he heads toward a 2022 re-election campaign, sent hundreds of Texas state police to Del Rio, where they parked their vehicles in a tight line along the bank of the river. It’s not clear whether Haitian migrants were deterred by Abbott’s so-called “steel wall” of cars, since they were already on U.S. soil and waiting for Border Patrol to take them into custody and process them.

On the right, where some conservative media has been openly portraying this non-white migration as part of a Democratic party-orchestrated “great replacement,” politicians called for a Trump-style crackdown on asylum seekers and defended the actions of the Border Patrol agents depicted in the controversial horseback photos. “As tens of thousands of illegal immigrants come across the border, Joe Biden promises them citizenship,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) falsely stated on Twitter.

Meanwhile, life in the small town of Del Rio has been largely unaffected by the situation along the riverbank. “Residents collectively agreed the situation at the bridge and the release of migrants into their region and town are not directly affecting their daily lives,” read a Washington Examiner article whose headline nonetheless describes the town as a “dusty war zone.”

Expulsion flights

While voicing outrage about the horse patrol photos, Biden administration officials doubled down on the use of Title 42, the pandemic provision that the Trump administration implemented in March 2020 and the Biden administration has continued. Title 42 allows U.S. authorities to expel undocumented citizens rapidly in the name of public health, even without affording them a chance to ask for asylum in the United States.

“I want to make sure that it is known that this is not the way to come to the United States,” DHS Secretary Mayorkas said. On September 19, DHS began filling planes with Del Rio Haitians and expelling them back to Haiti, regardless of asylum concerns. The tempo of flights from Texas to Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitien increased from three on September 19 to six on September 24.

By the evening of September 23, the number of Haitians taken from Del Rio and flown back to Haiti had climbed to 1,949. Those sent back to Haiti reported being shackled by their hands and feet for the duration of their flights. Some said they were not told where the planes were going, and only found out they were back in Haiti—a country most had left many years ago—when they landed. 

DHS is not testing the expelled Haitians for COVID-19. The Haitian government claimed it would provide food, a COVID test, and US$100 cash to the new arrivals, but “deportees said they got only half or a quarter of that amount,” according to the New York Times.

Expelled migrants vented their despair at the Port-au-Prince airport. They pelted a plane with stones and shoes on September 21. Authorities dumped their belongings on the tarmac; “video footage taken at the airport shows people scrambling for their personal belongings,” the BBC reported.

Jean Negot Bonheur Delva, the head of Haiti’s government migration office, pleaded for a suspension of the flights. “It is unconscionable to return migrants against their will to this situation of uncertainty and mortal danger,” read a statement from Doctors Without Borders, which adds, “The insecurity that we see today in Port-au-Prince is the worst we have seen in decades.”

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi put out a statement voicing his “shock” at the images from Del Rio and calling for the United States to “fully” lift the Title 42 expulsions policy. After a meeting between Congressional Black Caucus members and White House officials, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California, who WOLA presented with its 2021 Human Rights Award on September 22) called for a halt to deportations of Haitian migrants. Speaking from the Senate floor, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said, “I urge President Biden to put a stop to these expulsions and to end this Title 42 policy at our southern border. We cannot continue these hateful and xenophobic Trump policies that disregard our refugee laws.”

As we noted last week, on September 16 U.S. District Judge Emmett Sullivan ruled that Title 42 must no longer be applied to families—but he paused his ruling, which the Biden administration immediately appealed, for two weeks. If the appeals court doesn’t overturn Sullivan’s decision by October 1, it’s possible that DHS will no longer be able to expel Haitian or any other families.

Some are released

Only a fraction of the Haitians in Del Rio are being put on planes. Some, especially those with small children or unspecified “vulnerabilities,” are being given a chance to apply for asylum in the U.S. interior. These releases are happening on a “very, very large scale,” in the thousands, a U.S. official told the AP. Who goes where appears to be determined by a color-coded system of “tickets” that Border Patrol agents have been handing out to yet-to-be-processed migrants.

As often happens with asylum-seeking families, most are being released with a notice to appear at ICE offices, in or near their destination cities, within 60 days. These “notices to report” take less time to issue, but they are not appointments for a hearing to start immigration proceedings.

DHS, with support from the Defense Department, has been busing Haitian migrants from Del Rio to other, more populated, Texas border sectors, and flying a few to Tucson, Arizona, where Border Patrol then processes them. Those who are processed in Del Rio itself and then released are mostly dropped off at the town’s bus stop, which is really just a gas station.

Mexico starts cracking down

At least several hundred (or possibly several thousand) of the migrants, fearing expulsion to Haiti, fled back across the river from Del Rio to Ciudad Acuña. The Mexican town has since been encircled by migration agents and other authorities, who have been sweeping through parks and hotels where migrants have been staying.

While Mexico isn’t sending captured migrants back to Haiti—at least not yet—it has begun busing and flying many back to southern Mexico: the cities of Villahermosa, Tabasco, and Tapachula, Chiapas, where thousands of migrants are already living while they await decisions on their asylum applications. Detained migrants, an official told AP, may be “flown directly to Haiti once Mexico begins those flights” if they fail to ask for asylum.

Those who ask for asylum inside Mexico will wait many months for a decision from the country’s overburdened refugee agency, COMAR. As a steady flow of Haitians continues to manage to exit Tapachula, the COMAR office in Mexico City this week saw a big jump in Haitian asylum seekers applying there.

Guantánamo?

On September 22 NBC News, noticing an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contract announcement, reported that the agency was seeking a private contractor to run a Migrant Operations Center at the U.S. naval facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The facility, which was used in the 1990s to detain thousands of Haitians intercepted at sea, has not been used for that purpose since 2017.

“The facility has a capacity of 120 people and will have an estimated daily population of 20 people,” the request reads. “However the service provider shall be responsible to maintain on site the necessary equipment to erect temporary housing facilities for populations that exceed 120 and up to 400 migrants in a surge event.”

A DHS spokesperson was quick to clarify that the agency did not intend to use the facility to hold Haitians detained at Del Rio or elsewhere along the land border. It is apparently being stood up to respond to a possible increase in Haitians attempting to migrate by sea.

Dissent within the Biden administration

The persistence of Title 42 expulsions, and a general sense that the administration’s immigration and border policies lack direction, appear to have increased frustration among officials within the Biden administration. There are also splits between those who want a new approach to asylum-seeking migrants at the border, and those who urge tougher policies to “deter” large-scale migration.

“Several officials who have been involved in discussions about the border said that Susan E. Rice, Mr. Biden’s domestic policy adviser, has been a leading proponent of more aggressive enforcement,” the New York Times notes, “arguing that it is more compassionate to pursue an immigration system that is orderly in order to pass broader reforms.” However, “Esther Olavarria, a Cuban-born immigration lawyer who serves as Ms. Rice’s deputy, has often pushed to allow more migrants into the United States so they can pursue asylum claims.” DHS Secretary Mayorkas “is sympathetic to Ms. Olavarria’s view, several people said, but as the head of the department he has been the public voice of the harsher approach.”

Speaking anonymously, some of 20 government officials who communicated with BuzzFeed’s Hamed Aleaziz had some strong things to say:

  • There is a complete lack of direction. Everything is deferred to the White House National Security Council, which can’t see past low polls on immigration and are terrified their own shadow may be a pull factor. Career and political staff are equally concerned.”
  • “I don’t know what our immigration strategy is at all. I don’t know if we are building an infrastructure for the future, or what direction we will be going in as we head into a midterm election year.”
  • “They are almost exclusively focused on detention, deterrence, and generally treating asylum-seekers with as much violence and inhumanity as the prior administration. Honestly, I don’t know how much longer I can stay at DHS if this continues. I stayed because I believed Joe Biden and Kamala Harris when they promised to build it back better. The despair I am feeling about what they are doing now is indescribable. I can’t go on like this.”
  • “​​This administration’s immigration policy is schizophrenic. Their words are not backed up by policy choices or deeds. The border would be challenging under any circumstances, but this administration is stuck in a deterrence-only posture, expecting different results from similar approaches. Flows are going to continue. It would be better for the administration to focus on how to process them in a faster and more humane manner instead of focusing on how to convince desperate people not to make the journey.”

On September 22, the State Department’s special envoy for Haiti, Dan Foote, resigned with a very strongly worded letter. “I will not be associated with the United States inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees,” he wrote.

Numbers are going down in Del Rio

Meanwhile, at the Del Rio site, the number of migrants awaiting processing continues to fall. As of the morning of September 23, there were just over 4,050, down from the September 18 peak of 14,534. The chief executive of Val Verde County, of which Del Rio is the seat, said that the expectation is for the camp to be empty by September 25, as migrants are expelled, flee to Mexico, are moved elsewhere for processing, or are released into the U.S. interior. 

Update: as we write this on September 24, Secretary Mayorkas is reporting that the Del Rio site is now empty of migrants. 

Links

  • “Suddenly Ecuadoreans, Brazilians, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, Haitians and Cubans are turning up by the hundreds of thousands, a trend that accelerated sharply in the past six months,” reads a Wall Street Journal analysis. “After the pandemic, what we are now seeing is like a pressure cooker in which the valve has exploded,” said Enrique Vidal, of the Tapachula, Mexico-based Fray Matías de Córdoba Human Rights Center.
  • As of September 20, Texas state authorities operating under Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) orders had arrested 925 migrants, mainly on trespassing charges. They’ve been sent to jails in Dilley and Edinburg.
  • Guatemalan authorities report that between August 22 and September 20, 238 buses had dropped off 8,594 Guatemalans and Honduras at the very remote Mexico-Guatemala border crossing of El Ceibo. Mexican authorities have expelled these migrants—many of them expelled by the United States on flights into southern Mexico—in most cases without offering any opportunity to request asylum or protection in Mexico.
  • A still-unreleased DHS Inspector General report finds that CBP improperly targeted U.S. advocates whom the agency believed had some involvement with 2018-19 migrant caravans through Mexico. These individuals were subjected to more intrusive inspections when crossing the border into the United States, and “sensitive information” about them was shared with the Mexican government.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s much-heralded effort to assist Central American nations with job-creation efforts—and thus reduce migration—has fallen far short of its objectives, reports Animal Político.
  • Just-retired former Border Patrol chief Rodney Scott authored a letter claiming—among numerous concerns—that Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas “and other political appointees within DHS have provided factually incorrect information to Congressional Representatives” and are directing Border Patrol to admit people who, in Scott’s view, should be expelled under Title 42.
  • A dozen organizations (including WOLA) published “a summary of migrant and refugee rights violations in Mexico documented by civil society organizations and journalists from August 2021 through the present.” It recommends an immediate rescission of the Title 42 expulsions order.
  • BuzzFeed reports that CBP officers insisted on expelling back into Mexico a Honduran LGBT woman whose spine was fractured in an anti-gay attack in Mexico, and who had also been raped by Mexican police.
  • In operations involving more than 28,000 personnel, Mexico’s armed forces claim to have had a hand in 63,614 migrant apprehensions between August 21 and September 20. That, if reported accurately, would shatter Mexico’s monthly migrant apprehensions record of 31,396 set in June 2019. Mexico’s INM reported apprehending 117,052 migrants over the first 7 months of 2021.
  • At National Geographic, Anna-Cat Brigida explores the “collective despair”—depression and suicide—plaguing Honduran youth, many of whom choose to migrate.
  • Border Patrol is expanding its hiring of “Processing Coordinators,” a new non-law-enforcement position, The Hill reports. They will be charged with handling asylum seekers’ paperwork and release or handoff to other agencies—tasks that have been up to armed, uniformed Border Patrol agents up until now.
  • The Texas Civil Rights Project reports that on September 21, “a federal judge ordered that Pamela Rivas be given back her land, which was seized for the border wall in Los Ebanos, Texas. This is the end of a condemnation fight that began under President Bush in 2008.”
  • A CBP officer was among those arrested at the small “Justice for January 6” far-right protest in Washington on September 18.

Weekly Border Update: September 17, 2021

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

Judge orders halt to family expulsions

A September 16 ruling from Washington DC District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan blocks the Biden administration from using the “Title 42” pandemic expulsions policy to expel members of migrant families encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border. Judge Sullivan stayed his decision for 14 days in order to give the administration a chance to appeal or to adjust the way it implements Title 42. If his ruling stands, undocumented migrant parents arriving at the border with children must once again be processed under regular immigration law, which means if they ask for protection in the United States, they must be allowed to seek asylum.

“Title 42” refers to an old, little-used quarantine authority that the Trump administration implemented in March 2020, along with COVID-19-related border shutdowns, and the Biden administration has kept in place. In the name of preventing disease spread, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) uses Title 42 to expel—eject from the United States with minimal processing, often in a matter of hours—as many apprehended migrants as possible, usually without even offering an opportunity to ask for asylum or protection. Mexico accepts many expulsions of migrants at the border from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, along with citizens of other countries who have any visas or migratory status in Mexico.

Between March 2020 and August 2021, CBP has used Title 42 to expel 1,163,582 people, including 1,027,506 single adults, 118,466 family unit members, and 15,915 unaccompanied children.

Most of these expulsions happened during the Biden administration. Since February 2021—Joe Biden’s first full month in office—CBP has used Title 42 to expel 704,009 people, including 610,249 single adults, 92,676 family unit members (the expulsions that Judge Sullivan’s decision would stop), and 32 unaccompanied children.

In November 2020, ruling on an earlier challenge to Title 42, Judge Sullivan had halted all expulsions of unaccompanied children. This ruling was overturned on appeal in late January 2021, but the Biden administration refused to resume expelling children, alone, to their home countries. (Unaccompanied Mexican children are still deported alone.)

Judge Sullivan’s latest decision comes after a month (August 2021) that saw CBP expel the largest number of family members (16,240) since April: 20 percent of those encountered were expelled last month, the largest percentage since May. Most families who are not expelled are admitted into the United States to await adjudication of their asylum claims, a process that often takes years due to immigration court backlogs.

Under Judge Sullivan’s ruling, the blue part of this chart would shrink to zero.

The ban on family expulsions is a victory for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the other organizations involved in litigation dating back to the final month of the Trump administration. The Biden administration and ACLU had put this case on hold until August 2, when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—citing the persistence of COVID-19 and its Delta variant—abandoned plans to phase out family expulsions, leading the organizations to resume litigation.

“We hope the Biden administration has no plans to appeal and continue to place families in grave danger,” Lee Gelernt, the ACLU’s lead lawyer in the Title 42 families challenge, had told CBS News on September 16. Nonetheless, on September 17 the administration moved to appeal Judge Sullivan’s ruling.

This is not completely surprising: the Wall Street Journal pointed out that DHS’s assistant secretary for border and immigration policy had defended Title 42’s implementation in an August 2 court declaration. That official, former Democratic Senate Judiciary staffer David Shahoulian, resigned his post this week, citing personal reasons.

Single adults, for now, can still be expelled under Title 42; CBP expelled 77 percent of single adults it encountered in August 2021.

Migration “levels off” in August

That August 2021 number comes from a September 15 CBP release and data update pointing to a 2 percent drop, from July, in the agency’s “encounters” with undocumented migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. CBP reported 208,887 encounters with 156,641 individual migrants during August, the second-largest total (after July) in 2021 and one of the largest monthly totals this century.

Several trends stood out in our analysis of this data.

  • Measured by individual migrants, not encounters, the first 11 months of fiscal year 2021 are about 18 percent ahead of the pace set in 2019, which at the time was the busiest year for migration at the border since 2007.
  • Encounters with single adults declined for the third straight month. Single adults are now down 15 percent from May, though their numbers remain far higher than in the decade before the pandemic. Numbers of single adults shot upward after March 2020, in part because rapid Title 42 expulsions trigger repeat attempts by adult migrants who wish to avoid being caught. Of the migrants the agency encountered in August, CBP had already encountered 25 percent at least once already this year. (CBP’s September 15 statement mentions a “Repeat Offender Initiative,” begun in July, that seeks to prosecute more repeat border crossers.)
  • Encounters with family unit members grew by 3.6 percent over July.
  • Encounters with unaccompanied children stayed near July’s record levels, dropping by just 0.6 percent—though, as noted below, new arrivals of unaccompanied children have declined in late August and so far in September.
  • 47 percent of those encountered by Border Patrol were expelled in August, the same proportion as July.
  • As noted above, Title 42 expulsions of family unit members increased from July to August. “The number of encounters with family unit individuals so far this fiscal year (415,185),” CBP reports, “remains below the number of encounters at the same point in Fiscal Year 2019 (505,102).”
  • Migrants from Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador declined somewhat from July to August (red arrows in the graphic below). All other nationalities with over 100 monthly encounters increased. The largest proportional increases were migrants from Colombia and Haiti.
  • There is remarkable variation, by country, in which nationalities are expelled most often under Title 42.
  • Fully 30 percent of encountered migrants—and 39 percent of family unit members—are from countries other than Mexico or Central America’s “Northern Triangle.” We have seen no record of that ever happening before this year.
  • Daily reports from CBP (collected here as a large zipfile) point to declining arrivals of unaccompanied children since mid-August, to their lowest numbers in three months.

Data as of September 10 viewed by NBC News point to an overall decline in migration at the border over the prior three weeks: “the 21-day average of immigrants stopped crossing the U.S.-Mexico border by Customs and Border Protection was 6,177 per day, down from 7,275 in mid-August.” The daily number of Title 42 expulsions, however, increased over the past month—from 2,550 per day on August 11 to 2,733 per day on September 10.

This recent decline in migration at the border, however modest, means that “pressure on DHS from the White House to get a handle on migration across the southern border has cooled over the past two weeks,” a “source directly involved with internal discussions” told NBC. The source said that this has allowed DHS to devote more bandwidth to processing Afghan evacuees.

As thousands of mostly Haitian migrants arrive in rural Del Rio, Texas state government escalates crackdown

As of mid-September, migration is clearly not declining in at least one part of the border. The border sector centered on the town of Del Rio, Texas (population 40,000, across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila), is where CBP encountered 69 percent of Haitian migrants in August, along with 55 percent of Cubans and 64 percent of Venezuelans. The flow to Del Rio—which migrants and smugglers often view as a safer, if very remote, route—is pronounced: while nearly 20,000 Haitians came to Del Rio between October and August, only 12 (twelve) came to south Texas’s very busy Rio Grande Valley sector.

This week, Del Rio has seen a further increase in migrant arrivals, overwhelming CBP’s local processing capacity. As of the evening of September 16, the town’s mayor, Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano, was tweeting that 10,503 migrants—perhaps 70 percent Haitian, but also many Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans—were waiting under the Del Rio-Acuña border bridge for Border Patrol to process them. That number, the mayor said, was up from 8,200 that same morning. This is up from 2,500 on September 11, the sheriff of surrounding Val Verde county told the Texas Tribune.

The migrants’ wait to turn themselves in—in most cases, to apply for asylum—may take up to five days, several told Reuters. U.S. border agents are giving each person or family unit a ticket with a number that they will eventually call.

Once processed with an asylum claim, the majority will probably be allowed to remain in the United States to await that claim’s adjudication. Logistical and consular issues make it difficult for CBP to expel migrants to Port-au-Prince, Havana, Managua, or Caracas. However, on September 15 DHS sent a deportation flight to Haiti for the first time since August 14, when a 7.2 magnitude earthquake caused widespread devastation in the Caribbean nation.

The migrants in Del Rio are being concentrated outdoors where heat is in the high 90s; water, food, and sanitary facilities are scarce; and social distancing is difficult. Migrants with CBP’s “tickets” have been wading the knee-deep river back to Acuña to buy food, water, and other provisions on the Mexican side. “CBP is scrambling to send additional agents to Del Rio to help process the migrants,” the Washington Post reports. Pictures and footage from the area are striking.

Mayor Lozano told the Post that the migrants have been arriving on buses from elsewhere in Mexico to Ciudad Acuña. “It just sounds like there’s an off-grid bus system that’s not registered with the Mexican government that are driving these individuals north,” he observed.

The situation in Del Rio has drawn the attention of conservative media (Fox News battled CBP for the right to shoot drone footage) and figures like former Trump advisor Stephen Miller.

One of the most vocal proponents of a hardline approach to asylum-seeking migration, Texas governor Greg Abbott (R), announced on September 16 that he had directed state police and guardsmen “to surge personnel and vehicles to shut down six points of entry along the southern border to stop these [migrant] caravans from overrunning our state.” Abbott added that “The border crisis is so dire that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection is requesting our help as their agents are overwhelmed by the chaos.”

It wasn’t clear what Gov. Abbott was talking about: state law enforcement agencies do not have the authority to shut down border ports of entry, which are run by the federal government. CBP spokespeople said they had made no requests to Texas for help, and had no plans to shut down ports of entry. Later on the 16th, Abbott reversed himself, claiming that the Biden administration “has now flip-flopped to a different strategy that abandons border security.”

Abbott, meanwhile, has plans to divert more than $2 billion into border security efforts over the next year, expanding a package of crackdowns, begun in March, that he calls “Operation Lone Star.” He has deployed Texas state police and National Guard personnel to the border zone, giving soldiers a rare power to arrest people. He plans to use state funds to build border fencing where landowners allow it, and the Texas Facilities Commission just signed an $11 million contract with two firms charged with planning and design of barriers.

In a program first rolled out near Del Rio, Abbott ordered police and guardsmen to arrest migrants found on state and private land, so that they may be charged with, and jailed for, the crime of trespassing. Hundreds of migrants—including some who turned themselves in with the expectation of asking for asylum—have been jailed at a facility in Dilley, Texas, and now at a second prison in Edinburg.

Migrants initially jailed in July are now being released, often with dropped charges. It is unclear what happens to them next: because they haven’t committed violent offenses, they are not a priority for ICE, and because they’ve been in the country for a while, they are not a priority for CBP. Texas authorities have started releasing formerly jailed migrants at a gas station bus stop in Del Rio. Under a new process agreed last week, CBP will process migrants released from Texas jails. Some who have entered this process so far have been deported, but roughly half have been released from CBP custody to await adjudication of their asylum cases within the United States.

In south Texas’s Rio Grande Valley region, local station KRGV reports, “Operation Lone Star” has meant a sharp increase in often frivolous traffic stops as state police crowd local roads. Citations for “having anything on the car’s windshield,” among other examples, are up 1,060 percent. KRGV cites a 2014 study by the El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights, which found that during past deployments to the Rio Grande Valley border region, Texas state police oversaw a 127 percent increase in traffic citations for Hispanic drivers—and a 40 percent drop in citations for White drivers.

Links

  • As required by the judge in the case, the Biden administration has submitted its first monthly report documenting its “good faith efforts” to restart the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols, or “Remain in Mexico,” program.        
    • The report explains that while Remain in Mexico hasn’t restarted yet, an “interagency task force” is “meeting regularly to quickly and efficiently rebuild the infrastructure and reapportion the staffing required.”
    • Rebuilding facilities to hold immigration hearings at ports of entry “will cost approximately $14.1 million to construct and $10.5 million per month to operate.”
    • Mexico, the report notes, hasn’t agreed yet to take back any migrants. Discussions between the United States and Mexico must determine where returns could happen, how many people could be returned, demographic questions (like whether Mexico would take families or would limit ages of children sent back), and how Mexico would support those made to remain in the country for months or years to await their U.S. hearing dates.
  • 68 organizations, including WOLA, sent a letter to President Biden and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urging a series of policy changes and measures to reduce extreme heat-related deaths of migrants on U.S. soil, which have totaled more than one per day so far this year.
  • Mexican migration authorities apprehended 150 Haitian migrants near the Guatemala border-zone city of Tapachula, Chiapas on September 11, then expelled them into Guatemala.
  • As Mexican immigration agents and National Guard personnel continue to block asylum-seeking migrants from leaving Tapachula, Chiapas Parelelo notes migrants’ increasing use of northward routes through central Chiapas, like the Angostura Reservoir region.
  • “Women and children seeking refuge instead find themselves incarcerated in detention centers or prisons for migrants that are paid for with our tax dollars, whether in Tapachula (the prison-city as those womean call it) or in Iztapalapa or Tijuana,” reads a letter from dozens of women’s rights groups and activists from Mexico and several other countries.
  • The coordinator of Mexico’s refugee agency COMAR, which as of August had already broken its single-year record for asylum requests, pleads for a budget increase in an interview with Mexico’s El Universal.
  • An Alabama National Guard soldier assigned to the border security mission was arrested near McAllen, Texas, while transporting about a kilogram of cocaine in a Border Patrol vehicle.
  • At least 600 migrants per day are passing from Colombia through Panama’s dangerous, ungoverned Darién Gap region right now, and about a quarter of them are children, the Associated Press reports.
  • Ciudad Juárez has reappointed a former municipal police chief, César Omar Muñoz, who had led the force from 2013 to 2016. Human rights groups accuse Muñoz of ordering human rights violations and defense officials have alleged that he has organized crime ties, Vice reports.
  • “It hurts my heart” to see the effects in Mexico of cross-border arms trafficking from the United States, where weapons are easy to obtain, said Ken Salazar, the new U.S. ambassador to Mexico. The Ambassador added that there is a need for “a new bilateral migration model,” though he did not offer specifics.
  • The New York Times looks at residents’ disagreements about border wall construction in the Rio Grande Valley border town of Los Ebanos, Texas.
  • A New York Times essay by journalist Lauren Markham recalls that past U.S. experiments with “alternatives to detention” programs for asylum seekers, including social work support, have achieved near 100 percent appearance at court dates.
  • “The Central American migrants crossing Mexico have undoubtedly been subjects from whom everyone has taken everything they can,” author and journalist Óscar Martínez tells Mexico’s SinEmbargo. “Both the state and organized crime, the small gangs of assailants who kill and rape. The passage through Mexico is a kind of enormous toll where the decision to seek a better life has to be paid with much suffering.”
  • “Few people will throw stones at a tree planting program, but Guatemalans aren’t going to stop leaving home because they got temporary work planting trees,” writes former WOLA executive director Joy Olson at Reforma’s Mexico Today. “The tree program is about Mexico looking like it is responding to a migration crisis without actually doing much. The US needs to provide serious numbers of work visas to Central America, and Mexico should push them to do it.”

Weekly Border Update: September 10, 2021

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

Mexico solidifies role as bulwark against U.S.-bound migration

On September 5, for the fourth time in about a week, Mexican immigration agents and militarized National Guard personnel broke up a “caravan” of migrants in Chiapas, near Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala.

Perhaps 800 people, mostly from Haiti, Central America, Cuba, and Venezuela, many of them parents with children, sought to leave en masse from the southern border-zone city of Tapachula on September 4. They got about 30 miles up Chiapas’s Pacific coastal highway to the town of Huixtla, where most bedded down at a basketball court.

There, before dawn on the 5th, about 200 agents and guardsmen descended on the migrants. The Mexican forces spent the next eight hours chasing people through Huixtla and its environs, capturing many and hauling them away in vehicles. An unknown number escaped.

We saw many people injured and wounded, in states of shock and fear,” reported Isaín Mandujano at Chiapas Paralelo. “Many people stated that the INM [Mexico’s National Migration Institute] took their documents and belongings during the operation.” Human rights defenders alleged that agents deliberately separated families “as a coercion strategy” to get people to turn themselves in. “They began to hit me all over,” a woman told the Associated Press “amid tears, alleging that police also beat her husband and pulled one of her daughters from her arms.” A Honduran man told Chiapas Paralelo that a National Guardsman threw him to the ground and hit him with his rifle butt. As the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Mexico office noted, INM and National Guard personnel also acted aggressively toward human rights defenders and journalists present in Huixtla, interfering with their ability to monitor the situation.

“So far the strategy of the authorities is to allow the migrants to walk, let them get tired, and then launch operations to detain them and return them to Tapachula,” observed reporter Alberto Pradilla at Animal Político. Some, however, are being expelled into Guatemala, even if they have documentation indicating that their asylum cases are pending.

While they await decisions on their petitions, Mexico requires asylum seekers to remain in the state where they filed their requests. For most, that means Chiapas: the country’s poorest state. Of the 77,599 people who have requested asylum in Mexico this year through August—a number that already breaks Mexico’s full-year record for asylum requests—55,005 applied in the Tapachula office of Mexico’s beleaguered refugee agency, COMAR. The agency is so badly backlogged that asylum case decisions—which used to come within 45 working days, before pandemic-related measures removed the deadline—are taking many months: a migrant who starts the asylum process in Tapachula today might receive an interview appointment date for January or February.

For tens of thousands of migrants from Haiti, Central America, and elsewhere, this means many months confined to Tapachula, a city of 350,000, with almost no ability to earn an income. With shelters long since filled, migrants are sleeping in slum housing, parks, and streets throughout what Pradilla and Chiapas Paralelo’s Ángeles Mariscal are calling a “city-jail.” Many of the caravan participants claim they are seeking simply to relocate to other parts of Mexico where they might find employment while they wait for COMAR to consider their petitions.

“What is collapsing us in Tapachula is the unusual arrival of Haitians who are not refugees,” COMAR’s coordinator, Andrés Ramírez, alleged in Animal Político. “They do not come from Haiti, they come from Brazil and Chile, but due to the lack of migratory alternatives they come to make their request with COMAR, oversaturating our asylum system and placing us in a very complicated situation to the detriment of those who really need protection.” Enrique Vidal of the Tapachula-based Fray Matías de Córdova Human Rights Center responded that the Haitians are, in fact, “de facto asylum seekers” because they’ve begun the procedure and deserve due process—or some other form of international protection inside Mexico, because their lives and integrity may be at risk if they are deported.

If its just-released 2022 budget request is any indication, Mexico’s federal government does not plan to expand COMAR’s capacity to consider asylum requests. Adjusting for inflation, the request for 45.7 million pesos (US$2.3 million) would represent a 0.58 percent reduction in COMAR’s budget from 2021 to 2022. (The INM’s budget would increase by 0.29 percent.)

Haitian and Honduran migrants interviewed by Chiapas Paralelo allege corruption at both the INM and COMAR. “It takes more than 8 months to get a humanitarian visa, but if you have 4,000 dollars, or 5,000 dollars, it will be granted,” said a man whom the publication identified as a leader of the failed fourth caravan. “They tell us that the [COMAR asylum application] process is free, but there are people who ask us for money to enter, there are people who tell us that we have to hire a lawyer,” said a Haitian migrant. Others contend that middlemen offer to quickly secure humanitarian visas for US$1,300 or refugee status cards for US$4,000 to US$5,000. COMAR insists that it does not tolerate any corrupt behavior.

Human rights defenders and migration experts are raising the volume on their calls for Mexico to change course. “We call on the Executive Branch, the Ministry of the Interior, the National Migration Institute and the National Guard to put an end to the repression, detention, and violence against forcibly displaced persons, and to provide real strategies to solve the root causes of this displacement,” reads a statement from numerous Mexican human rights groups.

Emilio Álvarez Icaza, a former Executive Secretary of the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and now an independent senator, held a press conference to demand that top officials testify about the numerous abuse allegations coming out of Chiapas. The National Guard and INM are “out of control,” the senator said. “What Mexico is doing is the dirty work of the United States, first Trump and now Biden. We did not create the National Guard to chase migrants, but to fight crime.”

Tonatiuh Guillén, a longtime migration expert who headed the INM during the first six months of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s term, told Spain’s El País that the images of abuse in Chiapas “portray a profound regression of this government’s migration policy, which I believe had started out with a very different scenario, one of respect for human rights. We’re on the other side now.” This, Guillén added, is a result of Mexico’s “institutional internalization of the containment agreements established with the Trump Administration.” Now, “it is in line with militarization. The INM and the Guard are acting as though they’re confronting an enemy.”

WOLA’s Mexico and Migrant Rights Program Director Stephanie Brewer published a commentary calling on the Biden administration to “cease pressuring Mexico to act as an externalized U.S. border that blocks, contains, or deports as many migrants as possible, a bilateral focus that has led to a series of rights-violating practices. Current policies are producing outcomes as dangerous as they are absurd.”

“We don’t accept pressure from any government,” said President López Obrador in one of a few daily press conferences at which the migration issue came up this week. “Yes, we have this situation that concerns us and that we are dealing with, but it’s not because we’re puppets of the U.S. government, it’s because we’re putting things in order and helping, protecting.” López Obrador alleged that a “disinformation campaign” by his political adversaries is behind many of the allegations of human rights abuse and corruption.

“We do this,” the president said, “because we have to care for the migrants, though it seems paradoxical. If we allowed them to cross to the north of the country to cross the border, we would be running risks, many risks. We just rescued a very large group of migrants in the north who were practically kidnapped.” (Anarticle at the Mexican publication Lado B explores how Mexican migration authorities favor such euphemisms to describe their work: “rescues” instead of “apprehensions,” “repatriation” instead of “deportation,” “migratory stations” instead of “detention centers.”)

López Obrador mentioned that two INM agents had been fired for kicking a migrant on video during an attempted caravan the previous week. Francisco Garduño, the INM’s commissioner, told reporters that “more will also have to be fired,” but did not know how many more agents face abuse allegations. Asked about videos showing personnel beating migrants, the National Guard’s commander, retired Gen. Luis Rodríguez Bucio, responded only, “Todo tranquilo, estamos trabajando”—“don’t worry, we’re working on it.”

The Mexican president called on the United States to accept more migrants in order to face its labor shortages, and to provide more assistance to Central America. “That is what is going to be raised again today with the U.S. government, that work be done immediately in Central America because there has been nothing for years.”

By “today,” López Obrador was referring to a September 9 “High Level Economic Dialogue” meeting in Washington, inaugurated by Vice President Kamala Harris. That dialogue’s agenda has four “pillars” of which “pillar two” is “Promising sustainable economic and social development in southern Mexico and Central America,” something Mexico’s president has been advocating for years. López Obrador has particularly sought U.S. support for a program that would pay Central Americans to plant trees; the Biden administration has not yet committed to that. At the September 9 meeting, Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard gave his counterpart, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a letter from López Obrador with a proposal for creating employment opportunities in Central America.

Migration via South America hits record highs

Hundreds of miles to the south, the number of migrants whose northward journeys might lead them to Chiapas keeps growing. In Colombia, according to the government’s human rights ombudsman (Defensoría), 11,400 people, most of them Haitian, are stranded in the Caribbean town of Necoclí. This is the last stop before ferries to the Panama border for migrants who mostly entered Colombia via Ecuador, 700 miles further south.

This is the second time in two months that the number of people waiting in Necoclí has reached 10,000 (see our August 6 update). They have filled hotels and private homes, and many are sleeping on the beach. Mayor Jorge Tobónsays that 1,000 people are arriving in Necoclí each day right now, but the ferries are only talking 500 per day—the result of an agreement between Colombia and Panama to limit the flow into Panama. As a result, “if this trend continues, by the end of September we’re going to have more than 25,000 migrants in Necoclí,” the mayor says.

Panama claims that Colombia is in fact permitting more than 500 migrants per day to depart. “Right now we have 6,500 more people than we would have if the accord had been complied with,” said the director of Panama’s National Migration Service. The country’s security ministersaid that a remarkable 70,000 migrants have arrived in Panama so far this year, way up from 7,000 in the same period of 2020 and 17,000 in the same period of 2019. The Associated Press reported a still-high figure of 50,000, of whom about 16 percent are children.

The most worrying aspect of this sharply increased migration is that this route requires people to cross through Panama’s roadless, ungoverned Darién Gap wilderness. Migrants who travel through South and Central America routinely say that the Darién is the most dangerous part of their journey. As a Pulitzer-winning April 2020 report from Nadja Drost vividly documents, migrants in the Darién are routinely robbed and see dead bodies in a forest dominated by criminal bands and armed groups. The Wall Street Journal reported that Doctors Without Borders began providing medical care in May to migrants exiting the jungle from the Darién Gap. Since then, the group has documented 180 cases of rape. 70 percent of the time, the migrants were raped on Panamanian territory. “The group believes the true number of victims is likely far higher since many migrants don’t report the attacks.”

Further south, Ecuador has suddenly become the fourth-largest nationality of migrants whom U.S. authorities encounter at the U.S.-Mexico border. This owes heavily to Mexico’s 2018 decision to lift visa requirements for visiting Ecuadorians. Many who could afford a plane ticket have been flying to Mexico, traveling north, and crossing the land border into the United States. There, most have avoided expulsion under the “Title 42” pandemic policy, since deportation flight capacity to Quito is limited.

Ecuador’s government says 88,696 of its citizens traveled to Mexico from January to July 2021, and only 34,331 have returned. During those seven months, U.S. border agencies encountered citizens of Ecuador 62,494 times.

In response, very likely at the strong suggestion of the U.S. government, Mexico has reinstated its visa requirement for Ecuadorian citizens. This may mean a brief reduction in migration from Ecuador, but experts interviewed by the Guayaquil daily El Universo expect that migration routes will adjust. Even if the route becomes more dangerous, the state of the country’s COVID-battered economy may still lead many Ecuadorians to risk the journey.

Biden administration weighs “Remain in Mexico Lite,” feeds into Mexico’s southern-border “chain expulsions”

The Biden administration continues to consider how it will revive the Migrant Protection Protocols or “Remain in Mexico,” a policy that it bitterly opposes and sought to shut down. As detailed in our August 27 update, the Supreme Court refused to suspend a Texas judge’s order, still under appeal, forcing the Biden administration to make a “good faith effort” to revive the program, which Donald Trump’s administration launched at the end of 2018.

“Remain in Mexico” sent over 71,000 non-Mexican asylum-seekers back into Mexican border towns, penniless, homeless, and vulnerable to crime, to await eventual immigration hearing dates in the United States. Over 1,500 suffered assault, kidnapping, or other abuse, and less than 2 percent of those who were present for all of their hearings were granted asylum. President Joe Biden suspended Remain in Mexico the moment he was sworn in, in January 2021, and officially ended it on June 1.

Now, though, the court is ordering a restart, and on September 15 the administration must provide Amarillo, Texas District Court Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk its first monthly report on the progress of its “good faith efforts.” What those next steps might look like isn’t clear, but reporting is pointing to some sort of limited “Remain in Mexico ‘Lite.’”

Homeland Security Department (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas repeated his opposition to Remain in Mexico in an interview with CBS news, but acknowledged that “We’re planning to implement the program while we litigate the ruling.” CBS revealed that “the department’s policy office has been working on logistical plans to facilitate its ‘expeditious reimplementation,’ including cost estimates, according to an internal memo.” Mexico, too, will have to give at least an informal green light; it is not clear where talks about this currently stand.

“Some Biden officials were already talking about reviving Mr. Trump’s policy in a limited way to deter migration,” unnamed officials told the New York Times. They say the Supreme Court’s ruling gives them a chance to “come up with a more humane version of Mr. Trump’s policy.” A proposal under consideration, three sources told Politico, “would require a small number of asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their cases to be processed but give them better living conditions and access to attorneys.”

Asylum advocates reject the idea that a “lite” version of the program can exist.

  • “There’s no lite MPP just as there’s no lite police brutality or lite torture,” tweeted Aaron Reichlin-Melnick of the American Immigration Council.
  • “The answer is not to simply find a gentler, kinder MPP 2.0. That completely flies in the face of his [President Biden’s] promise” to end the program, said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of National Immigration Law Center.
  • “There’s no way to implement it in a way that will satisfy actual due process or keep people safe, because it’s impossible to keep migrants safe in Mexico,” said Taylor Levy, an attorney who represented many victims of Remain in Mexico.
  • “The reinstatement of MPP will place thousands of asylum seekers in harm’s way and deny them the right to a fair hearing of their claims,” said asylum officers’ union leader Michael Knowles.
  • “I rejoiced when you declared an end to this immoral policy on your first days in office, and despaired when the Supreme Court required your administration to implement it once again,” reads a letter to President Biden, published in the Washington Post, from Sister Norma Pimentel, who runs Catholic Charities of Rio Grande Valley’s large migrant respite center in McAllen, Texas. “We must not make children live for months in rain-logged tents. We cannot abandon them to communities where their mothers are afraid to let them use the bathroom at night for fear they might encounter a gang member or be assaulted.”

Instead, advocates are calling on the administration to meet the court’s requirements by “re-terminating” the program. That would mean issuing a memo, as it did when it formally shut down the program in June, addressing Judge Kacsmaryk’s and the Fifth Circuit of Appeals’ concerns that the administration didn’t consider the “benefits” of Remain in Mexico when it decided to close down the program.

A letter from 31 Democratic congressional representatives and senators, led by Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), proposes exactly that. “The court orders leave ample room for your administration to ensure MPP never again puts another person in harm’s way,” it explains:

The decisions suggest that the potential perceived problem with your administration’s termination of MPP was that it did not say enough to demonstrate that it had sufficiently weighed the potential consequences of its decision to terminate. The court did not endorse the states’ claims that the government is actually required to return people to Mexico under the immigration statutes. As amicus briefs explained, those claims were egregiously wrong. Thus, we believe your administration can and should re-terminate MPP with a fuller explanation in order to address any perceived procedural defect of the termination.

While the Biden administration continues to deliberate over what to do about a program that sent 71,000 people to Mexico, though, it continues to carry out a program that, to date, has sent people—including asylum seekers—back to Mexico more than a million times since March 2020. “Title 42,” the pandemic policy permitting rapid expulsions of migrants, without regard to asylum or protection needs, remains in place. Mexico continues to receive expulsions of its own citizens and those of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Expelled migrants filling a plaza in Reynosa, Mexico are living in even worse conditions than Remain in Mexico victims who had inhabited an encampment in the nearby, and similarly crime-plagued, city of Matamoros, the Los Angeles Times reported. “There’s less potable water, fewer bathrooms, showers and other sanitation that U.S.-based nonprofits spent months installing in Matamoros. Mexican soldiers circle in trucks with guns mounted on top. Migrants face not only cartel extortion and kidnapping, but also COVID-19 outbreaks and pressure to leave from Mexican authorities.” Reynosa’s critical security situation scares off U.S. volunteers and attorneys. The L.A. Times estimates that 2,000 people are currently inhabiting the plaza. Sister Pimentel’s letter notes, “Recently we estimated that there are close to 5,000 migrants in Reynosa.”

Another encampment with a large number of expelled migrants persists at the other end of the border, right outside the main pedestrian border crossing in Tijuana. There, on September 3, migrants were gathering for vaccinations when word quickly spread—inaccurately—that U.S. authorities had opened the border. Hundreds of people rushed to the line, only to find a phalanx of riot gear-clad CBP officers.

Expulsions don’t just happen at Mexico’s northern border. Since early August, DHS has put expelled Central American migrants, including many families with children, on planes destined for Mexico’s far south: the cities of Villahermosa, Tabasco and Tapachula, Chiapas. Once those planes land, Mexico’s INM has gathered the expelled migrants onto buses and driven them to southern border crossings, instructing them to exit into Guatemala. At no moment do the expelled people have any migratory status in Mexico, much less any opportunity to ask for asylum or protection.

“These expulsions ridicule public health and human rights by crowding people into planes and buses and preventing legal access to asylum in violation of domestic and international law,” reads a report and list of recommendations for the U.S. and Mexican governments produced by several organizations, including WOLA. This document, based on Witness on the Border’s monitoring of deportation and expulsion flights, counted 34 planeloads of migrants to Villahermosa and Tapachula—about one every weekday—between August 5 and August 31.

There is no official count of the number of people who have been subject to these “chain expulsions.” Animal Político, citing Guatemala’s migration authority, reports that 4,243 people were expelled between August 22 and September 6. Many were pushed across the line into the very remote village of El Ceibo, a village of a few hundred people in Guatemala’s sparsely populated frontier department of El Petén, on the edge of the Lacandón jungle a few hours’ drive from Villahermosa.

The 4,243 are not all migrants from the U.S. government’s long-distance expulsion flights. The number includes some migrants whom Mexico’s INM apprehended in southern Mexico. Unnamed official sources tell Animal Político that the number of people expelled by the United States “could be around 3,500”: 2,000 whom Mexico went on to expel in El Ceibo, and 1,500 at the Talismán border crossing near Tapachula.

“While the majority are Central American, the expulsion of Venezuelans, Cubans, and even a Senegalese person was recorded.” One may have been a U.S. citizen, Reuters reports. Animal Político has seen evidence that southern Chiapas municipal police captured Haitian families in mid-August, then handed them over to INM, which expelled them into Guatemala.

“Upon their arrival,” migrants expelled at El Ceibo and Talismán “don’t have a peso or a quetzal in their pockets,” Mexico’s La Jornada puts it. At times, the expulsion buses have dropped people in El Ceibo in the middle of the night. “Mexican immigration authorities have not coordinated these expulsions with the Guatemalan government; nor notified the Guatemalan, Honduran, or Salvadoran consulates; nor arranged for onward transport,” reads a briefreport from Human Rights Watch. “Many of those expelled have been forced to sleep on the street upon arrival in El Ceibo.” Some of those expelled, HRW reveals, had pending asylum applications in Mexico.

On September 2, Guatemala’s foreign minister announced an agreement with the U.S. government to send expulsion flights to the airport in Guatemala City instead of to southern Mexico. That agreement, though, will not go into effect until the end of the month—and it of course maintains Title 42’s refusal to consider migrants’ asylum or protection needs.

Links

  • While border-zone migrant deaths from dehydration, exposure, or similar causes are horrifyingly common, most victims have been single adults: migrant parents and children have been rare. That seems to be changing.        
    • A 21-year-old Ecuadorian woman died of dehydration on August 28 after attempting to migrate with her 2-year-old daughter in the desert of Sonora, Mexico, near the U.S. border. Jazmín Lema left her country, likely fleeing domestic violence, on August 21, flying to Mexico and taking buses north until stopped at a migration checkpoint. The child survived.
    • Another Ecuadorian woman, traveling with children aged seven and one, was rescued in the Arizona desert near Yuma after calling 911.
    • These events come just days after the death from dehydration, near Yuma, of a Colombian woman and her oldest child, while her toddler survived.
  • Also near Yuma, a Mexican man died after falling from a 30-foot-high section of border wall. He fell on the Mexican side, requiring rescuers to open a gate in the wall that was not wide enough for an ambulance, then carry him for a mile before he passed away.
  • Texas’s state Facilities Commission has recommended that a joint venture of two companies, Michael Baker International and Huitt-Zollars, get a contract to build fence or wall, using state funds, along parts of the state’s 1,200-mile border with Mexico. Texas’s state budget for 2022 includes $750 million to build barriers. If built at the per-mile cost of the Trump administration’s border wall, this money would build about 30-35 miles of barrier.
  • Writing at the Border Chronicle, a new journalistic newsletter, Todd Miller narrates the rapid growth of a bipartisan “border security industrial complex” made up of well-connected technology, detention, and munitions companies that have been awarded large CBP contracts. These companies’ technologies, Miller warns, are often invasive and threaten civil liberties.
  • At the Intercept, Melissa del Bosque reveals the vast expansion in CBP’s Tactical Terrorism Response Teams since their inception in 2015, finding that the secretive units detained and interrogated more than 600,000 travelers at airports and border crossings between 2017 and 2019, about a third of them U.S. citizens. The databases the teams use to flag suspected travelers rely on what is “essentially a black box algorithm,” as an ACLU attorney put it.
  • A third whistleblower has come forward with allegations of abuse of unaccompanied migrant children held at a giant emergency shelter at Fort Bliss, Texas, run by contractors of the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Valerie González at the Rio Grande Valley, Texas Monitor rebuts alarmist claims by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) by sharing recent data pointing to reduced migration to the busy Rio Grande Valley region during August.
  • About 1,500 people from Michoacán, Mexico have arrived in the border city of Tijuana, displaced by warring organized crime groups who often give them hours to leave their homes.
  • A Georgia National Guard soldier, assigned to the border security mission that Donald Trump launched in 2018, died in a drunk driving incident in McAllen, Texas. The Guard immediately imposed an alcohol ban and curfew on all 3,000-plus personnel assigned to the mission.
  • “Not a single terrorist has illegally crossed the Mexican border and then committed an attack on U.S. soil,” writes the Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh in a scathing book review, citing numerous statistics, at Reason.

Weekly Border Update: September 3, 2021

Cross-posted from wola.org. 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

Mexico pushes back asylum seekers attempting to leave its southern border zone

Several hundred migrants from Haiti and other countries sought to leave Mexico’s border zone with Guatemala, where many are confined while awaiting outcomes of their asylum cases. Three times in the past week, their northward progress was blocked—at times brutally and on camera—by personnel from Mexico’s migration agency (National Migration Institute, INM) and its National Guard (a militarized police force, created in 2019, under Army control).

Each time, authorities allowed small “caravans” to walk several dozen miles up the highway that follows the Pacific coast west and north, away from the Guatemala border, through Mexico’s southernmost state, Chiapas. Each time, authorities then swept in and apprehended migrants as they rested, or sought to block them further up the highway. No significantly sized group of migrants managed to make it more than about 110 kilometers into Mexico. (Despite several attempts, no “caravan” of migrants has succeeded in traveling through Mexico’s southern border zone since January 2019.)

The migrants are chiefly from Haiti, but were joined by Central Americans, Cubans, Venezuelans, and other countries—even apparently some from Equatorial Guinea. Many are parents with children; some are unaccompanied children. Most have traveled through many countries, including all of Central America, only to have Mexico block their progress near its southern border.

The groups sought to leave Tapachula, a city of about 350,000 people near the Guatemala border in Chiapas’s Pacific lowlands. There, thousands have applied for asylum in Mexico with COMAR, the Mexican government’s refugee commission, whose Tapachula office is its busiest in the country by far. Through July, COMAR had received 64,378 asylum requests throughout Mexico; of those, 45,072 were filed in Tapachula. (COMAR’s year-to-date asylum request total jumped to 77,559 through August, the agency’s director, Andrés Ramírez, just revealed. That’s a new record: eight months into 2021, Mexico has now received more asylum requests than in any full year.)

Though Mexican law requires COMAR to issue an asylum decision within 45 working days, a pandemic emergency measure has waived this deadline. The badly backlogged agency now takes many months to decide cases. “Currently, if someone wants to apply for asylum, they receive an appointment for the month of January,” reports Alberto Pradilla of the online news outlet Animal Político. “There’s a historic arrival of migrants to Mexico as a result of the systemic crises in their countries of origin, and the Mexican government has not strengthened the migration system in terms of budget and personnel,” Enrique Vidal of the Tapachula-based Fray Matías de Córdova Human Rights Center (recipient of WOLA’s 2020 Human Rights Award) told Chiapas Paralelo.

While awaiting a decision on their asylum applications, migrants receive a document that allows them to be present only in the state where they submitted their claim. . This is a difficult part of Mexico in which to be confined: Chiapas is the poorest of Mexico’s 32 states, with three-quarters of its population living below the poverty line. Few opportunities exist for migrants to generate an income while they remain there. Chiapas Paralelo estimates that 5,000 Haitians, and 3,000 Central Americans and Cubans, currently find themselves in this position in Tapachula. This number vastly overwhelms shelter space, and many are living in severely substandard conditions.

Many of the migrants trapped in Tapachula say they aren’t necessarily seeking to enter the United States: they would be content to settle in Mexico, but in a part of the country—like the more economically dynamic north—where employment opportunities exist. “The important thing we need is to leave Chiapas, because in Chiapas there is no work,” a migrant told veteran Chiapas-based journalist Ángeles Mariscal. “In Chiapas there is no way to live, the people are treating us like animals.”

The Haitian and other migrants marooned in Tapachula have begun gathering, usually near COMAR’s offices, to protest their situation. The protests became larger in size during the last week of August. Then, on the morning of August 28, a group of several hundred left the city on foot, walking up the Pacific coastal highway that leads into Oaxaca and the rest of Mexico.

This group walked about 42 kilometers, getting as far as the town of Huixtla, Chiapas before being captured and broken up. On the road, INM agents backed up by riot gear-clad National Guard personnel surrounded and blocked the migrants’ passage. Their methods were often brutal: mobile phone videos showed a Haitian man being pushed to the ground by guardsmen’s riot shields as he held his two-year-old baby, and an INM agent kicking another man in the head as others restrained him on the ground. It appears that one of the individuals restraining the man was Jorge Alejandro Palau, the director of Tapachula’s Siglo XXI facility, often described as the largest migrant detention center in Latin America.

A second group of migrants got through authorities’ roadblocks and made it to the town of Mapastepec, Chiapas, 107 kilometers from Tapachula. On the morning of September 1, as the migrants sought to rest in the town’s central square, INM and National Guard personnel surrounded and arrested them, chasing many throughout the town.

A third group left Tapachula on September 1, only to be detained and dispersed, in Mapastepec and other towns, within about 24 hours. INM agents raided hotels in towns along the migrant route, and pursued them through rural-dwellers’ fields and yards. A few migrants confronted the agents, throwing stones. Journalists and human rights defenders in Mapastepec reported “aggressions” at the hands of authorities; National Guard personnel used their shields to block reporters’ attempts to record video of what was happening.

Mexican authorities have not revealed what happened to the migrants captured in these operations. Haitians and others may have been “brought to Tapachula and left on the street in the middle of the night,” the Associated Press reported. Many captured Central American migrants were deported into Guatemala.

Video images of Mexican authorities beating and roughing up migrants generated outrage all week. “These painful images confirm the Mexican government’s turn into full-on immigration deterrence at the behest of the U.S. government,” columnist Leon Krauze wrote at the Washington Post. At VICE, Emily Green noted the contrast between the Mexican government’s high-profile reception of over 100 refugees from Afghanistan, and its treatment of other asylum seekers—more than 75 percent of whom had been granted refugee status by COMAR through July of this year.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador addressed the issue at a September 1 press conference. “The human rights of migrants haven’t been violated,” López Obrador insisted. “The exceptional case of a few days ago, in which two immigration officers kicked a Haitian citizen, was dealt with that same day. They were dismissed and placed at the disposal of the corresponding internal control body.”

Three UN agencies issued a statement on August 31 calling the video images “profoundly concerning,” noting threats to human rights defenders in the context of the Chiapas operations, and calling on Mexico to hold accountable all who committed abuses. “What happened in Chiapas last weekend is yet another example of the need to strengthen COMAR’s capacity for asylum processes, and to establish migratory alternatives that guarantee the human rights of migrants,” reads the document from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). In a separate statement, the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission (CIDH) called out Mexican forces’ excessive use of force and cautioned against cracking down every time migrants travel as a group.

President López Obrador upheld the policy of containing migrants “as far as possible in the south, southeast of the country. Because allowing them to enter the territory completely, to cross our country, means many risks of human rights violations, especially on the northern border.” The Mexican president repeated his call on the United States to collaborate on a strategy that addresses the root causes of why people are migrating, declaring his intention to send a letter next week to U.S. President Joe Biden laying out a proposal.

Mexico’s Interior Department, which includes the INM, indicated that it is communicating with UNHCR and Mexico’s Bishops’ Conference regarding plans “to establish a humanitarian encampment in the state of Chiapas, where attention would be offered to the migrant population of Haitian origin.” The Bishops’ Conference put out a statement clarifying that it received an “encampment” proposal but has not necessarily agreed to support it. UNHCR stated that this Mexican government proposal was one of several issues that they discussed with regard to attending to the Haitian population. 

The pushback operations in Chiapas drew fresh attention to the role of Mexico’s military in the effort to keep migrants from reaching the United States. The recently created National Guard is currently made up of more than 75 percent active-duty military personnel; while he originally billed it as a civilian force, President López Obrador announced plans in June to make it a branch of the Army.

On August 27, the day before alarming videos of migrant abuse would be recorded in Chiapas, Mexico’s defense secretary, Gen. Luis Cresencio Sandoval, told reporters that “detaining all migration” is now the armed forces’ principal mission in Mexico’s border zones. Documents accompanying President López Obrador’s annual September 1 “state of the union” presentation reveal that, as of June, Mexico had deployed 6,244 troops and 1,449 guardsmen to its southern border states on migration control missions. The document claims that military and National Guard personnel captured 134,932 migrants. Mexico’s migration agency, the INM, reports capturing 157,919 during the 12 months ending in July 2021—so either there is a lot of double-counting, or the armed forces have been involved in the vast majority of Mexico’s recent nationwide migrant apprehensions  The Iberoamerican University found, based on information requests, that 78 percent of migrant detentions between June 2019 and December 2020 were at the hands of soldiers or members of the National Guard. 

Remain in Mexico’s “awkward” restart

The Biden administration continues to reckon with how to comply with a Texas judge’s order—upheld, for now, by the Supreme Court on August 24—that it reinstate a policy that it bitterly opposes. In response to a lawsuit filed by the Republican attorneys general of Texas and Missouri, Texas District Court Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk has forced the Biden administration to carry out “good faith efforts” to revive the Migrant Protection Protocols or “Remain in Mexico” program. Launched by the Trump administration in December 2018, this program forced more than 71,000 non-Mexican asylum seekers to await their hearings in Mexican border towns, where many were left homeless, without income, and preyed upon by criminals.

As a candidate, Joe Biden had pledged to undo the controversial policy, and he issued an order suspending it on Inauguration Day 2021. Now that his Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must reinstate it, next steps are not clear, a Washington Post analysis finds. “Early indications suggest the controversial Trump-era policy may not return on a large scale,” report Nick Miroff and Mary Beth Sheridan. Judge Kacsmaryk has required the Biden administration to file monthly reports, with the first one due September 15, on its “good-faith efforts” to restart the program.

“I have talked to DHS and of course digesting this Supreme Court decision, my understanding is that they will have to start implementing it,” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), whose district includes a busy section of the Texas-Mexico border, told reporters. “They are waiting on those instructions as they are working in the D.C. headquarters on that as I talked to the judges that will have to be involved with this, and they are also getting ready to start getting this and coordinating with DHS.”

Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, an ardent proponent of Remain in Mexico, accused the Biden administration of “slow-playing” the program’s re-establishment. On a visit to the Rio Grande Valley sector of the border zone, Cruz recounted a meeting with local Border Patrol leadership. “We asked what have you done to comply with the order? They said, ‘nothing.’ They said they were instructed to do nothing. Their political leadership instructed them to do nothing.”

Whether, and at what scale, Remain in Mexico might restart depends on the government of Mexico, which would once again have to agree to receive a large population of non-Mexican citizens. Two Mexican officials interviewed by the Washington Post signaled willingness to cooperate with the U.S. government on managing migration and the border, including “technical talks” about a Remain in Mexico restart. However, these officials noted that “their capacity to take back more U.S. asylum seekers and migrants remains limited… and they regard other enforcement tools and policies to be more effective.”

The López Obrador government’s first ambassador to the United States, Martha Bárcena—who retired earlier this year—speculated that a revived Remain in Mexico would be smaller. “Mexico does not have the resources to take in asylum seekers on an indefinite basis, as it did last time,” she told the Post, adding, “the lesson from the last time was that the U.S. doesn’t keep its promise to rapidly process their cases.”

Though he “has not engaged in any conversations with Mexican counterparts on the topic,” Sen. Cruz called on the Biden administration to bully Mexico into agreeing to a robust restart of Remain in Mexico. “In particular, President Trump threatened to impose 25 percent tariffs, which would have a massive economic impact on Mexico. That threat got their attention. Absent that threat, there’s no way they would have agreed to it.”

Between February and the Supreme Court’s upholding of Judge Kacsmaryk’s decision, the Biden administration worked with UNHCR to parole into the United States 13,256 migrants with pending asylum applications who had been forced to remain in Mexico, the Arizona Republic reported. Another 3,500 migrants had registered with UNHCR, 2,000 of whom were still having their eligibility verified and 1,500 of whom were approved and awaiting their dates to enter the United States. Because of the courts’ decision, these 3,500 people must now remain in Mexico.

In California, the local ACLU filed to revive a January 2020 preliminary injunction that had required guaranteed access to counsel for migrants subject to Remain in Mexico in immigration courts within the jurisdiction of the federal courts’ Ninth Circuit (California and Arizona). The courts had vacated this injunction in June, when the Biden administration had formally ended Remain in Mexico.

“Of all the draconian measures instituted by former President Donald Trump, this was among the worst—right up there with separating kids from their parents,” reads a strong editorial in the San Antonio Express-News. “Immigration advocates are urging the administration to appeal the ruling, but since the high court deemed the suspension of the policy ‘capricious,’ the Department of Homeland Security may be able to solve the problem by fashioning a clearer statement about its intentions.”

A troubling report documents CBP abuses in Arizona

A report from two Catholic human rights advocacy groups details 35 troubling cases indicating “a pattern of abuse by Customs and Border Protection (CBP)” in the Arizona section of the U.S.-Mexico border. Due Process Denied, produced by the Washington-based NETWORK and the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Arizona-Sonora (KBI, recipient of WOLA’s 2017 human rights award), finds a “systemic culture of abuse of migrants.”

KBI operates a shelter and kitchen in Nogales, Mexico near Arizona’s busiest border crossing, about an hour and a half south of Tucson. Many of the migrants in their care have just been released from CBP’s custody, or otherwise interacted with the U.S. border agency after being deported, expelled under the Title 42 pandemic measure, forced to “remain in Mexico,” or prevented from asking for asylum at a port of entry.

When these migrants describe suffering abuse at the hands of U.S. personnel, KBI documents it, and often files complaints with CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility or DHS’s office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. KBI stands out among border groups for the extent and detail of its abuse documentation.

The Due Process Denied report highlights 35 cases in Nogales from October 2020 to mid-August 2021. “The abuses range from migrants being denied due process, such as not given an opportunity to seek asylum or destruction of documentation, to outright physical violence.” NETWORK and KBI divide them into five categories: “1. Immigrant claims of credible fear dismissed; 2. Immigrants being forced to sign documentation and then expelled; 3. Theft of documentation; 4. Medical negligence; and 5. Physical abuse.”

For the most part, the 35 incidents the report documents are not spectacular, headline-grabbing events like shootings or severe beatings. Instead, they point to an insidious pattern of “everyday” abuse that, because it is so frequent, appears to be embedded into the agency’s culture.

A few examples from the report:

  • “A Salvadoran woman, her 10-year-old daughter, 1-year-old son, brother, cousin, and cousin’s daughter, entered the United States on April 17, 2021. They saw a Border Patrol truck arriving and waited for it to arrive so they could ask for asylum. The Border Patrol agent who got out of the truck was enraged. He pulled a gun on the mother and family. He berated them, calling them ‘damned criminals,’ ‘rats,’ ‘terrorists,’ and ‘criminals,’ as they cried and asked for asylum.”
  • “At the Tucson border facility, the [Guatemalan] woman approached an agent asking how they should apply for asylum and informing him that her son has a medical condition and needs medical care. She showed him the documents (a diagnosis, x-rays, etc.) to prove that her son was in need and that he needed surgery within the next two months. The agent took the documents and threw them in the thrash. When she went to retrieve them from the trash, he took them again and told her ‘they belong in the trash.’”
  • “Everyone was asked to walk across the border to Mexico. He [a Guatemalan man] asked the agents why he was being sent to Mexico when he was Guatemalan. An agent hit him with a baton on the knee and threatened to hit him on the head.”
  • “At the Tucson facility, she [a Guatemalan woman] told an agent she was afraid to return to Guatemala and she tried to show documentation of violence, the death certificates of her family members killed by organized crime. The CBP agent told her that her documents were likely fake because she comes from a ‘corrupt’ country.”
  • “The border patrol agents who arrested them were driving a four-wheeler. They drove really fast, right towards the immigrants. The immigrants had to jump out of the way to avoid being run over.”

Though KBI is meticulous about documenting testimonies and filing complaints, the organization sees almost no evidence that CBP and DHS internal affairs or disciplinary mechanisms are functioning. Impunity for these “everyday” abuses is near total:

“Of the thirty-five complaints in this report, none of them resulted in a response to KBI or the complainant about disciplinary action taken against the perpetrators of these abuses. This means agents who attack migrants may still be on the job, repeating these same violations.

Links

  • San Diego-based 9th Circuit Judge Cynthia Bashant ruled September 2 that CBP’s practice of “metering” is unconstitutional. The term refers to posting officers on the borderline to turn back asylum seekers and limit the daily number who may approach a port of entry. The ruling against metering is the result of a suit brought four years ago by Al Otro Lado, a San Diego and Tijuana-based legal services organization (for which WOLA is among several groups that provided declarations). The decision came despite Biden Justice Department lawyers arguing for the ability to keep metering as a policy option, even as they said that the administration was reviewing its use. “The judge said she would issue her decision and then ask for more briefings on how to move forward based on that decision,” the San Diego Union-Tribune had reported. It’s not clear what will change right away, since the Title 42 pandemic policy continues to expel a large number of asylum seekers.
  • Claudia Marcela Peña, a mother from Boyacá, Colombia, flew to Mexico with her two children in late August with the intent of crossing the border to reunite with her husband in the United States. Their smuggler apparently abandoned them in Arizona. Ms. Peña and her oldest child died, most likely of heat exposure. Only her two-year-old child was alive when border agents found them.
  • As growing numbers of Brazilian citizens have been flying to Mexico then being apprehended by Border Patrol, Mexico has started denying entry at its airports to Brazilians whose passports lack a U.S. tourist visa, even when the Brazilians intend to visit Mexico. Researcher Charles Pontes Gomes reports that this is happening about 600 times per month on average.
  • Texas’s state legislature approved $1.8 billion in new spending for National Guard troops, construction of fencing, and stepped-up arrests and imprisonment of undocumented migrants charged with trespassing. “The money is in addition to the $1 billion for border security initiatives approved by lawmakers during this year’s regular legislative session and $250 million in state funding Abbott used to kick-start construction of his border barrier,” reported the Austin American-Statesman. Taken together, that’s about $105 from each of the 29.2 million people residing in Texas. Some Democratic state legislators from south Texas’s Rio Grande Valley region voted for the money, which funds projects started by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. “I have talked to many of my constituents in Cameron and Hidalgo County… and I can tell you the vast majority of those people want border security and want the wall, believe it or not,” Brownsville State Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) told the Texas Tribune.
  • 344 organizations, including WOLA, signed a letter to President Biden and other top officials calling for a halt to deportation flights to Haiti, which since July has endured a presidential assassination, an earthquake, and a tropical storm. In the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, the Defense Ministry reported apprehending and deporting 178,000 Haitian citizens in the past 12 months.
  • During a visit to Mexico, UNHCR’s assistant high commissioner for protection, Gillian Triggs, voiced concern about three U.S. policies: Title 42 expulsions, flights expelling non-Mexicans to southern Mexico, and the court-ordered revival of Remain in Mexico, a program she called “a threat to the asylum system.”

Weekly Border Update: August 27, 2021

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

Supreme Court fails to block judge’s demand to reinstate “Remain in Mexico”

A Supreme Court decision issued the evening of August 24 leaves in effect a district court order for the Biden administration to reinstate the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), or “Remain in Mexico,” program. Between its December 2018 inception and January 2021, whenever asylum seekers from several Spanish or Portuguese-speaking countries arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border, this program forced them to spend months or years in Mexican border towns—with no guarantees of housing, sustenance, or security—to await their hearings in U.S. immigration courts. (Read WOLA’s statement warning of this potential “return to an inhumane and unlawful policy.”)

Remain in Mexico forced 71,038 asylum seekers back across the border. Mexico’s government, under intense pressure from the Trump administration, went along with the program, including a sharp mid-2019 expansion.

Remain in Mexico spurred the creation of unsanitary and unsafe encampments in Mexican border cities. Human Rights First documented at least 1,544 cases of rape, kidnapping, torture, and other crimes against those subject to the program inside Mexico. If their cases even reached U.S. immigration court, difficult access to counsel and rushed, often virtual procedures made asylum all but impossible to obtain. Of the more than 15,000 closed cases for which asylum seekers attended all their hearings while remaining in Mexico, only 720—4.7 percent—were granted any form of relief from deportation.

“Donald Trump’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy is dangerous, inhumane, and goes against everything we stand for as a nation of immigrants,” then-candidate Joe Biden tweeted in March 2020. “My administration will end it.” The Biden administration suspended Remain in Mexico with an order on January 20, 2021, and then formally terminated it on June 1. Now, though, federal courts are ordering “a good-faith effort” to restart the controversial program, at least while appeals proceed.

The action stems from a lawsuit filed by the Republican attorneys-general of Texas and Missouri, who alleged that the Biden administration failed to “consider all relevant factors” in terminating Remain in Mexico. They link the program’s end to an increase in migration this year, which they claim has increased financial costs for both states.

On August 13, Amarillo, Texas District Court Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk agreed with the attorneys-general and ordered the Biden administration to restart Remain in Mexico, giving it a week to do so. Kacsmaryk is a Trump appointee. (Ian Milhiser reports at Vox that “Before Trump made Kacsmaryk a judge, Kacsmaryk worked at a religious-right law firm. He’s previously written that being transgender is a ‘mental disorder’ and that gay people are ‘disordered.’”)

His opinion claimed that a 1996 immigration law only gives “the government two options vis-à-vis aliens seeking asylum: (1) mandatory detention; or (2) return to a contiguous territory.” This is flatly incorrect: immigration law offers federal officials other options including parole, release on bond, and alternatives to detention.

Kacsmaryk, Milhiser observes, also effectively claimed that the 1996 law “required the federal government to implement the Remain in Mexico policy permanently. That policy didn’t even exist until 2019, so the upshot of Kacsmaryk’s opinion is that the government violated the law for nearly a quarter-century and no one noticed.”

The Department of Justice (DOJ) asked for a stay of Kacsmaryk’s decision while appeals proceed. A panel of three Trump-appointed judges from the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit denied that request on August 19. DOJ then went to the Supreme Court, which suspended the Remain in Mexico reinstatement until August 24.

That evening, with its three liberal-leaning judges dissenting, the Supreme Court refused to suspend Kacsmaryk’s decision while litigation continues. (While it didn’t offer a reason for its refusal, the Court cited a 5-4 decision in 2020 that blocked then-president Donald Trump’s repeal of the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program.) Remain in Mexico—or, at least, good-faith efforts to reinstate it—have thus officially gone back into effect as of 12:01 a.m. August 25.

After suspending it, the Biden administration had endeavored to admit many of those subject to the program into the United States to await their immigration court proceedings. About 13,000 of the 71,000 Remain in Mexico victims entered through a process managed with cooperation from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)  and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). That process has now been suspended—those awaiting their turn to enter the United States must now stay in Mexico—and the website for new registrations has been shut down.

What happens now isn’t entirely clear. The district court’s ruling requires the Biden administration to make a “good faith effort” to restart Remain in Mexico, but neither it nor the Supreme Court define what that means. While expressing “respectful disagreement” with the courts’ decisions and pressing its appeals, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stated that it “will comply with the order in good faith,” adding that it “has begun to engage with the Government of Mexico in diplomatic discussions.” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki reiterated that on August 25.

While the administration “vigorously” pursues its appeals, one possible next step would be for DHS to “re-terminate” the program with a fuller explanation of the reasoning behind its decision to do so. That is a step that the ACLU recommends. “In theory, that’s a solvable problem,” Milhiser writes. “Except that the Supreme Court does not even offer a hint as to why it deemed the Biden administration’s original explanation insufficient.”

There is also concern that the administration might seek to create a “lite” version of Remain in Mexico. The administration “could reimplement it on a very small scale for families who meet certain criteria from very specific nationalities,” Jessica Bolter of the Migration Policy Institute suggested to the Associated Press. “Shockingly,” reads a statement from Human Rights First, “the administration is reportedly considering launching a ‘gentler’ version of the inherently unfixable policy—an exercise doomed to fail given the policy’s illegality and pervasive violence against asylum seekers in Mexico.”

Even that, though, depends on concurrence from the government of Mexico, which must consent to the possible introduction of tens of thousands more non-Mexican asylum-seekers on its soil. Remain in Mexico would not begin again if Mexico were to say “no.” An August 23 letter to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador from more than 74 international NGOs, including WOLA, calls on him to do just that. “As a sovereign nation, Mexico has the right to reject the reinstatement of MPP or any future iteration of this policy that aims to externalize the U.S. border into Mexican territory. It is impossible to re-implement MPP in a way that upholds human rights and due process, and Mexico has the responsibility to block this detrimental policy.”

So far, Mexico hasn’t clearly indicated how it will respond. Roberto Velasco, the director for North American affairs in Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department, made clear that the U.S. courts’ rulings don’t compel Mexico to do anything. He added, though, that “the Mexican government will start technical discussions with the U.S. government to evaluate how to handle safe, orderly and regulated immigration on the border.” At his morning press conference on August 26, President López Obrador said Mexico wants to “help,” but sought to shift the conversation to efforts to address the economic causes of Central American migration. The president rejected as “conservative” those who argue that such “root-causes” strategies are long-term in nature, and don’t address the present suffering of migrants stranded in Mexico’s border cities.

Title 42 expulsions continue, including flights to southern Mexico

Regardless of next steps for Remain in Mexico, we should recall that the Trump administration did not employ the program heavily after March 2020, when pandemic border restrictions went into effect. Of the 71,000 people enrolled in the program, only 6,153 were added between April 2020 and January 2021.

That is mainly because after March 2020, the Trump and Biden administrations had a new way to expel non-Mexican migrants into Mexico. Since COVID-19 pandemic border restrictions began, authorities have employed a public health provision called “Title 42” to expel migrants rapidly, usually without an opportunity to ask for asylum or protection in the United States. Mexico takes back its own citizens and citizens of other countries with some migratory status inside Mexico, and agreed in March 2020 to accept expelled citizens of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Between March 2020 and July 2021, U.S. authorities have used Title 42 to expel migrants at the southern border 1,069,777 times. 431,662 of those times, the expelled migrants were not Mexican. (Several thousand of this number were expelled by air to their home countries, not by land into Mexico.) These numbers dwarf the 71,000 who were subjected to Remain in Mexico.

With Title 42 allowing it to expel them into Mexico, the Trump administration almost completely stopped applying “Remain in Mexico” to Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans. The 6,153 people enrolled in the program during the Trump administration’s last 10 months were almost entirely citizens of 6 Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries to which expulsions are difficult: Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

Even as it ended Remain in Mexico, the Biden administration has energetically continued to expel people under Title 42: 610,208 expulsions, including 76,384 parents and children, between February and July. Because it is hard to expel them, though, the Biden administration has processed into the United States many citizens of the six countries that were subject to Remain in Mexico during the Trump administration’s pandemic tenure.

A two-tier system has resulted. Between February and July:

  • Citizens of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras were expelled, under Title 42, 54 percent of the time. If traveling as families, they were expelled 34 percent of the time.
  • Citizens of Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela were expelled 22 percent of the time. If traveling as families, they were expelled 4 percent of the time.

Citizens of most of these six countries have been arriving in greater numbers since February. By July, increases in citizens of Ecuador and Nicaragua had pushed El Salvador into sixth place among arriving migrants. This was quite possibly the first time El Salvador has ranked so low, even though arrivals of its citizens did increase from June to July.

Each column ranks all countries that had at least 100 migrants encountered by CBP at the U.S.-Mexico border in at least one of the last two months. Red arrows indicate decreases in the number of encounters; grey arrows represent increases.

If Remain in Mexico is reinstated, citizens of the six countries might find themselves pushed back into Mexican border towns again. However,  they would at least have hearing dates in U.S. immigration courts, while Title 42 persists they would still be better off than the Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans being expelled without even a chance to ask for asylum.

On August 25 Human Rights First published a major update of its running series of reports documenting abuses committed against migrants after their expulsion into Mexican border towns. By gathering information from interviews and local organizations’ surveys and databases, the group has now “tracked at least 6,356 kidnappings, sexual assaults, and other violent attacks against people blocked at ports of entry or expelled to Mexico”—just in the months since President Biden took office. Of migrants participating in the surveys who identified as LGBTQ, a stunning 89 percent reported suffering recent attacks or threats while in northern Mexico.

Two encampments made up of expelled or blocked migrants continue to grow. One is in a public square near the border crossing in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, a city plagued by violence. Recent press estimates of the population subsisting there range from “more than 2,000” to “at least 2,500” to “over 5,000.” A similarly sized encampment sits outside the Chaparral port of entry in Tijuana.

The New York Times describes the Reynosa camp as “filthy and foul-smelling, lacking the health and sanitation infrastructure that nonprofit groups had spent months installing” in an earlier, now-demolished camp for Remain in Mexico victims in the nearby border city of Matamoros. “Assaults and kidnappings for ransom are commonplace.” Several people interviewed there “said that they had tried to make a case for asylum to U.S. Border Patrol agents, but that the agents would not listen. They were told, they said, to just answer questions and follow directions,” and were bused back to Mexico.

Several non-governmental groups are seeking to raise money for a facility to shelter roughly 400 COVID-positive migrants so that they might at least be able to leave the camp while they recover. Meanwhile, Reynosa’s municipal government—which recently sought to close down the city’s largest church-run migrant shelter—ordered the confiscation of gas cylinders that migrants in the camp were using to cook food, citing safety concerns. The migrants now depend more heavily on charitable food donations.

The U.S. government is offering no support. To the contrary: unnamed sources told Reuters that U.S. officials are urging Mexico to clear the encampments, “in part because the sheer volume of people in them could jeopardize security if they made a sudden rush for the border.”

In some cases, the U.S. government is seeking to move migrants even further from the border: since sometime in early August, DHS began expelling some Central American migrants via aircraft to two cities in southern Mexico—Tapachula, Chiapas, and Villahermosa, Tabasco—a relatively short drive from the Guatemalan border. From those cities’ airports, Mexican authorities have been busing migrants to border crossings and escorting them into Guatemala. The migrants are given no opportunity to ask for asylum in either country.

Guatemala has voiced particular concern about expulsions into the tiny border town of El Ceibo, in the country’s remote, sparsely populated, and organized crime-influenced northern department of Petén, which borders Tabasco, Mexico. Guatemala only authorizes, and has facilities to handle, deportees at one border crossing site hundreds of miles away, in the Pacific-zone border town of Tecún Umán. Very few services exist in El Ceibo, where Guatemala’s Migration Institute (IGM) on August 24 estimated that Mexico had dropped off 500 Central American migrants in the previous 3 days.

August migration may be declining somewhat

In July 2021, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported taking 154,288 migrants into custody at the U.S.-Mexico border through 212,672 separate “encounters,” a term that includes many repeat crossings. This was the largest number all year, and one of the largest monthly totals in this century.

Some indicators, however, point to at least a modestly lighter flow of migrant arrivals in August. Daily reports (available here as a 12MB zipfile) show a decline over the month of August in arrivals of unaccompanied migrant children at the border, after a sharp increase in July. During the last two weeks of July, an average of more than 500 children per day were entering CBP custody at the border, and more than 600 per day the first week of August. This has dropped to 424 per day during the week of August 15 and 469 per day so far this week.

In Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, the sector that receives by far the largest number of migrants, especially children and families from Central America, numbers also appear to be dropping. myRGV.com reports:

Assistant City Manager Jeff Johnston reported that the numbers were down significantly last week.

“Back on Aug. 9, we reported an all-time high of 11,026 immigrants dropped off by Customs and Border Protection that week here in McAllen. That was an average of about 1,575 per day,” Johnston told city commissioners during Monday’s meeting. “This last week, our numbers were down quite a bit from that, in fact down by over 40%. We had 6,320 drop-offs this last week for an average of about 900 per day.”

COVID-19 positivity rates among asylum seekers in the Rio Grande Valley were also down “from about 15 percent two weeks ago to approximately 12 percent this week.”

Links

  • During Fiscal Year 2021 so far (October through July), Border Patrol has found the remains of 383 migrants on U.S. soil near the U.S.-Mexico border, the New York Times reports. Most died of dehydration, exposure, or drowning. That is more remains than Border Patrol has found in any full year since 2013 (451); with two months to go, 2021 is already the sixth-worst year since 1998, when Border Patrol’s records begin. CBP reports finding more than 100 remains of migrants just in the Rio Grande Valley sector, “on rugged ranch lands in south Texas,” adding, “Last week alone, 10 decedents were discovered on the ranch lands. This month, more than 20 people have lost their lives during smuggling attempts.”
  • Mexican officials assert that seven out of every ten Ecuadorians traveling to Mexico in recent months have ended up apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol near the U.S.-Mexico border. Mexico is tightening visa requirements for Ecuador’s citizens, after easing them in 2018.
  • Because it wants cooperation on limiting migration, the Biden administration has not been following up officials’ tough anti-corruption talk with action against Central American government officials, a New York Times analysis asserts. The piece leads with the scoop that shortly before being fired and forced into exile, Guatemala’s top anti-corruption prosecutor had a witness tell him of going to President Alejandro Giammattei’s home and delivering “a rolled-up carpet stuffed with cash.”
  • As environmental advocates had warned would happen, monsoon rains in Arizona’s desert caused flash flooding that blew recently built border wall segments’ gates right off of their hinges.
  • Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) has now sent about 1,000 National Guardsmen to the border with Mexico, with more than 60 of them tasked with building “temporary barriers in key areas.” These state-funded troops are in addition to about 3,800 soldiers and guardsmen whom the Trump administration sent to the border to support CBP, a deployment that the Biden administration has continued. Abbott’s move has pulled National Guard personnel away from the role they were playing in manning El Paso’s only food bank during the pandemic, forcing it to close most of its locations, at least temporarily. The governor has charged police and guardsmen with arresting undocumented migrants near the border on state charges, nearly always trespassing. As of August 25 Texas was holding 486 migrants in a prison in the town of Dilley, and is considering using a second facility in Edinburg, in the Rio Grande Valley. By a 14-8 vote, the Texas House’s Appropriations Committee approved $2 billion on August 24 to pay for Abbott’s crackdown.
  • “Most public-health experts say it isn’t likely that migrants are contributing significantly to [COVID-19] transmissions within the U.S., since nearly all are tested and quarantined before release, and because the Delta variant is already widespread,” reads a Wall Street Journal analysis. “Think about an entire city on fire and I was to walk in and drop a match,” said one epidemiologist.
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and other voices on the U.S. right are alleging that the rapid Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, which included a mass prison release, may lead to terrorists seeking to enter the United States via the border with Mexico.
  • Large numbers of Haitian migrants are stuck in Mexico’s border zone near Guatemala, where they must await decisions from Mexico’s refugee agency, COMAR, on their asylum cases. They are urging COMAR to adjudicate more quickly. Activists tell Chiapas Paralelo that their numbers in the border zone could be as high as 30,000, with another 15,000 en route, currently in Colombia and Panama. (The actual number may be smaller.)
  • Intense fighting between the Jalisco cartel and local organized-crime groups, with almost no government intervention, has displaced thousands from the town of Aguililla, in Mexico’s Pacific state of Michoacán. Many families are trying to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, Vice reports.
  • August 24 marked the 11th anniversary of an infamous massacre of 72 migrants from at least 6 countries in San Fernando, near the Texas border in Tamaulipas, Mexico. Nobody has ever been sentenced for the crime.

Weekly Border Update: August 6, 2021

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

We will not publish updates on August 13 and 20, but look forward to resuming on August 27.

Preliminary data point to 210,000 migrant encounters in July

David Shahoulian, the Department for Homeland Security’s (DHS) assistant secretary for border and immigration policy, submitted an August 2 declaration as part of ongoing litigation (discussed below) regarding expulsions of asylum-seeking migrants. Shahoulian’s document offers a preview of official data about migration at the border in the month of July, which Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has not yet released.

Some highlights:

  • CBP is likely to have encountered about 210,000 undocumented migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in July.

This would be the largest number of times that U.S. border authorities have encountered migrants since March 2000, when Border Patrol reported 220,063 apprehensions, and the third-largest on Border Patrol’s reporting of all monthly totals since 2000. This chart shows approximately how July would compare to all months since October 2011:

There is much double-counting, though: repeat crossings are far more common now than in 2000, since pandemic expulsions ease repeated attempts. As a result, the number of individual people whom CBP is encountering is probably in the low-to-mid 100,000s. That is still high, but probably not even in the top ten monthly totals of the past 22 years.

Still, it is extraordinarily unusual for a hot month of July to exceed migration levels measured in spring. Long-standing seasonal patterns no longer apply. As a new WOLA analysis points out, the number may keep increasing, as family and child migration patterns in place since 2014 have been heightened by the pandemic’s impact on governance and economies throughout the hemisphere. “Based on current trends,” Shahoulian’s document reads, “the Department expects that total encounters this fiscal year are likely to be the highest ever recorded.”

  • “July also likely included a record number of unaccompanied child encounters, exceeding 19,000.”

Numbers of unaccompanied children arriving at the border had been inching upward since May, but jumped approximately after the July 4 holiday, for unclear reasons. On August 4, Border Patrol reported taking into custody a remarkable 834 non-Mexican children who arrived at the border unaccompanied. That is the largest single-day number in all daily reports on unaccompanied children that CBP and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have produced since March 24, and may be the largest daily number ever.

Along with the increase in child arrivals has come an increase, once again, in the number of unaccompanied children in Border Patrol custody, in the agency’s jail-like holding cells and processing facilities. A smoother process of handoffs to HHS, which runs a network of shelters as it works to place children with U.S.-based relatives or sponsors, had reduced numbers in Border Patrol custody from more than 5,000 in March to fewer than 1,000 in May and most of June. The volume of new arrivals, though, has caused the number to climb again.

As of August 4, 2,784 children were in Border Patrol facilities. Reuters reported on August 3 that, according to an unnamed “source familiar with the matter,” unaccompanied children were spending about 60 hours in Border Patrol custody, just under the legal limit of 72 hours for handoff to HHS. However, Reuters added that as of August 3, 877 kids had exceeded the 72-hour threshold.

  • July encounters with family unit members are cited either as “over 75,000” or “around 80,000.”

This number of family members—which, like children, includes few repeat crossers—would be second only to May 2019, when Border Patrol apprehended 84,486.

  • Two of the nine sectors into which Border Patrol divides the border “experienced a disproportionate amount of these encounters.”

They are both in Texas: the Rio Grande Valley, the easternmost part of the border; and Del Rio, in the central part of Texas’s border with Mexico, across from Coahuila, Mexico. “These two sectors have also experienced a disproportionate amount—about 71 percent—of family encounters.”

  • As of August 1, Border Patrol facilities were at 389 percent of their “COVID-19 adjusted capacity,” with 17,778 non-citizens, including 2,233 unaccompanied children, in the agency’s custody.

10,002 of them were in the Rio Grande Valley sector, 3,623 of them in a temporary processing facility in Donna, Texas, which has a normal (non-COVID) operating capacity of 1,625. “Border Patrol was over capacity in seven of its nine southwest border sectors.”

Images posted on social media by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) and a Border Patrol union leader showed large numbers of migrants, including families with children, being held under bridges, outdoors, for days. These are Border Patrol’s Temporary Outdoor Processing Site (TOPS) under the Anzalduas International Bridge in Mission, Texas, and the Del Rio International International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas.

In the Rio Grande Valley, about 800 migrants, mostly asylum-seeking family members, are being brought each day to the Catholic Charities humanitarian respite center in downtown McAllen. “The center struggles every day to have enough supplies and donations to meet the growing demand,” reports Border Report, adding that the facility’s air conditioning broke down over the July 31-August 1 weekend “and temperatures were in the triple digits.”

Northbound migration becomes more visible in Colombia

Colombia sits along a route long used by migrants moving northbound from South America, often via countries like Ecuador or Brazil that are relatively more open to travelers from outside the continent. In its northwest corner, though, there is a major bottleneck: the Pan-American highway does not cross the Darién Gap, an area of dense jungle between the Colombian border and central Panama.

“Before the pandemic,” notes the Bogotá daily El Espectador, “Colombia issued a safe-conduct so that migrants could transit through national territory and leave within 30 days, but with the [pandemic border] closure, it stopped issuing them.” Although Colombia reopened its borders in May 2021, the safe-conduct system “has not resumed.”

Most international migrants transit Colombia with the aim of reaching the Atlantic coast town of Capurganá, which borders Panama. From there, they walk through the Darién Gap—a part of the journey to the United States that many migrants recall as the most miserable and dangerous—until they end up at facilities run by the Panamanian government and humanitarian groups on the other side. From there, they travel through Central America and either seek asylum in Mexico or seek to reach the U.S. border.

Capurganá is poorly served by roads, though, so migrants usually take a 40-mile ferry across the Gulf of Urabá, an inlet of the Caribbean Sea, from Necoclí. This municipality of 45,000 is part of Antioquia department, of which Medellín is the capital. A stronghold of pro-government paramilitary groups during the worst years of Colombia’s armed conflict 20 years ago, Necoclí remains under the influence of the Gulf Clan, an organized crime syndicate descended from the paramilitaries.

As migration surges throughout the Americas, the bottleneck in Necoclí has become dramatically backed up. About 10,000 migrants from Haiti and several other countries are in the beachfront town waiting for a chance to board one of the 12 daily ferries to Capurganá. The town’s only ferry company “simply cannot match demand,” Agence France Presse (AFP) reports; a translator for the company told CNN they “try to move eight or nine hundred migrants per day, but it’s hard.” This backup is forcing migrants to spend many days in Necoclí.

Colombian Defense Minister, visiting the town on July 31, said that the country’s navy would build an emergency pier that would allow more boats to operate. President Iván Duque pledged to work more closely with Panamanian authorities.

Most of the Haitian migrants stranded in Necoclí left Haiti years ago and settled in South America, often in Brazil or Chile. The pandemic dried up employment opportunities in these countries, though, and “they say their visas were not renewed,” reports AFP. Colombian migration authorities told CNN that Haitians are more likely to attempt the Darién route in family units with children.

The stay is expensive: a Haitian man told AFP that he “paid US$105 to enter Colombia illegally from Ecuador, another US$200 for a four-day bus ride to Necocli, and more still to pay police bribes,” and that a room in Necoclí costs US$10 per person. “Some migrants denounced mafias that sell them ‘tourist packages’ to make the journey from Ipiales, in Nariño [where the Pan-American Highway crosses from Ecuador to Colombia], charging up to 300 dollars to cross the border,” said Colombia’s human rights ombudsman, who visited Necoclí.

During the week, Colombia reported two apprehensions of migrant groups along the Pan-American Highway in the country’s southwest, several hundred miles south of Necoclí. Police stopped two buses carrying 99 Haitians in the Andean highlands of rural Nariño, and a vehicle carrying seven Haitians and a Brazilian in Valle del Cauca, not far from Cali.

12 developments last week affecting asylum seekers

As their numbers increase, the situation of asylum seekers in the United States and Mexico grew more complicated in several ways last week, though there was progress on some fronts. There is so much to report that this section avoids going into detail; follow links to learn more.

  1. U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone granted a temporary restraining order blocking a July 28 executive order from Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R). Abbot would have required Texas state police, in the name of preventing COVID spread, to stop, divert, and even impound vehicles transporting migrants—mainly asylum-seekers—released from CBP custody. The order would have crippled humanitarian groups’ efforts, and the Justice Department, which sued to challenge Abbott’s order on July 30, included statements from Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials contending that the order would block contractors hired to transport migrants. (In the Rio Grande Valley alone, Border Patrol has used contractors to transport most of 100,700 released migrants in Fiscal 2021, according to Sector Chief Brian Hastings’ filing.) Judge Cardone said Abbott’s order would end up “exacerbating the spread of COVID-19.” Her restraining order expires on August 13, when a new hearing is scheduled.

    In addition to the Justice Department action, the ACLU and several other Texas organizations filed suit against Abbott’s order on August 5. While the Justice Department is focused on the government’s ability to transport migrants, the organizations’ suit focuses on the racial profiling and other harms that might result from the order.

    Governor Abbott meanwhile continues to oversee a state effort to arrest, charge, and jail undocumented migrants on charges of trespassing near the border. According to Texas Tribune reporter Jolie McCullough, who has done the closest monitoring of this operation, more than 150 migrants are now jailed at a Texas prison in the town of Dilley, with the first arraignments scheduled for August 11. On July 30, McCullough witnessed Texas police separating a Venezuelan husband and wife, taking the husband off to jail as a “visibly confused” Border Patrol agent looked on.
  2. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a new order on August 2 renewing the controversial “Title 42” authority to quickly expel migrants, including asylum seekers, in the name of preventing COVID-19 spread. The order does not apply to unaccompanied children, but families will still be subject to expulsion, despite expectations a month ago that the Biden administration would no longer apply Title 42 to families.

    “Processing a family under Title 42 typically takes 10 to 15 minutes and is largely conducted outdoors, while processing a family for Title 8 can take 1.5 to 3 hours and is generally conducted indoors,” according to the above-cited filing by DHS’s Shahoulian. The document was part of the Biden administration’s defense to ACLU-led litigation against Title 42’s application to families. Negotiations between the ACLU and the government collapsed upon notice that the CDC would issue its renewal order, and both parties made a joint filing in Washington, DC district court on August 2.
  3. The renewal of Title 42, and of litigation, spells an end to two arrangements that were allowing a few hundred expelled asylum seekers per day judged “most vulnerable” to re-enter from Mexican border towns and be processed within the United States. The so-called Huisha-Huisha and Consortium processes were temporary arrangements that placed non-governmental organizations in the role of determining who was most vulnerable. They allowed over 16,000 individuals to be processed in the United States since May. Now, they are taking no new entrants.
  4. Mexico’s refugee agency COMAR revealed that, as of July 31, it had accepted 64,378 asylum applications so far in 2021. In August, less than two-thirds of the way into the year, the Mexican agency is likely to break its annual record for asylum applications of 70,405, set in 2019. While applicants come from 97 countries, 41 percent are Honduran, 21 percent are Haitian, and 10 percent are Cuban. For a week, COMAR closed its busiest office, in Mexico’s southern border zone town of Tapachula, Chiapas, for pandemic-related deep cleaning. When it reopened on August 5, hundreds of migrants gathered outside and local authorities deployed the National Guard when the crowd became unruly.
  5. The Rio Grande Valley Monitor reported, and the Washington Examiner added more detail, about Mexico (or at least, many Mexican states) possibly refusing expulsions of non-Mexican families whom CBP encounters at other parts of the U.S.-Mexico border. This step may already have been reversed by subsequent dialogues between U.S. and Mexican officials. But if it were to take place—which seems unlikely at the moment—it would put a halt to “lateral” expulsions, for instance where CBP takes a family into custody in a busy sector and transports them to a quieter sector for expulsion into Mexico. Neither the U.S. nor the Mexican federal government has confirmed the change.
  6. DHS announced on July 30 that it carried out its first “expedited removal” flight, returning family members to Central America who had either failed a credible fear screening or did not express fear of return to CBP personnel. The flight had a capacity of 147, but only 73 were family members because many had tested positive for COVID or been exposed to an infected person, the Washington Post found. As noted in last week’s update, the Biden administration announced that it would resume expedited removals on July 26.

    This process is flawed, a Houston Chronicle editorial contends: “Many migrants are unlikely to have lawyers to walk them through this process, subjecting them to Border Patrol agents who are often poorly trained for these encounters.” The Chronicle cites a 2016 finding from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom that “in 86.5 percent of the cases where a fear question was not asked, the record inaccurately indicated that it had been asked, and answered.”
  7. Reuters reported that DHS has begun expelling some Mexican and Central American adults and families by air, sending them deep within southern Mexico. It appears the first expulsion flight took place on August 5. “The United States will work with non-governmental organizations and shelters in southern Mexico to ensure that migrants can safely return to their home countries,” a source told Reuters—though there is no indication that such organizations or shelters are willing to cooperate with this arrangement. This process is for Title 42 expulsions into Mexico, not the expedited removals mentioned in the above point.
  8. NBC News reports that, in order to ease crowding of Border Patrol facilities, many unprocessed families will be transferred to ICE. That agency will either place families in alternatives-to-detention programs within the United States, or put them on deportation flights if they do not express credible fear of return. “In an unprecedented move,” NBC reports, “an agency usually tasked with detention, enforcement and removal of undocumented immigrants… will be performing health screenings, offering COVID vaccines, telling immigrants their legal rights and connecting them with non-governmental organizations that can help them.”
  9. The Washington Post reports that the Biden administration is preparing to offer the Johnson and Johnson single-dose COVID vaccine to migrants along the border. The vaccine would be administered to those being processed in the United States—including those facing deportation—but not to those expelled under Title 42. The same article notes that ICE continues to lag badly in its administration of vaccines within its network of U.S. detention centers, though an oversight official’s July 31 report claims that “46 percent of ICE detainees who were offered vaccine had refused it during the past month.”
  10. The average daily population of ICE’s detention facilities rose to 27,041 in July, up from 15,100 in January, the Biden administration’s first month. Of the 25,526 in ICE custody as of July 31, 3,318 (13 percent) were detained asylum seekers.
  11. As the Biden administration seeks to reunify the last few hundred of 3,913 asylum-seeking families separated during the Trump administration, a BuzzFeed investigation looked at what happened to some families after reunification. Documents indicate that “families from the first group of reunifications have reported homelessness shortly after entering the country.”
  12. A new report from the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and FWD.us offers important perspective on asylum. It documents how the United States and other recipient governments have been steadily chipping away at the right to seek refuge for years. Policies weakening the ability to seek asylum “have caused unimaginable human suffering and loss, particularly for Black, Brown, and Indigenous asylum seekers,” the report points out.

Links

  • A new WOLA commentary explains the current rise in migration at the border and throughout the hemisphere as part of a trend going back as far as 2014, heightened by the pandemic. It argues that the increase presents the Biden administration with an opportunity to show the world a different approach: how to handle a migration event without another cruel and ineffective crackdown.
  • Local government in Mexico’s troubled border state of Tamaulipas announced on August 4 that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit gave recognition awards—plaques citing “exceptional contributions” and “outstanding service”—to Arturo Rodríguez, head of a 150-person state police unit. Prosecutors accuse eight or twelve members of this unit, the GOPES (Special Operations Group), of carrying out a grisly massacre of 14 Guatemalan migrants and five other people near the border, in the municipality of Camargo, in January. VICE detailed the Camargo massacre and its investigation in a report also published August 4. Associated Press coverage of the DEA/HSI award describes other serious recent allegations that GOPES personnel have killed, stolen from, and otherwise abused civilians.
  • CBP announced it will begin to outfit its officers and Border Patrol agents with body-worn cameras, in order “to better enhance its policing practices and reinforce trust and transparency,” especially regarding migrant encounters and use-of-force incidents. The agency plans to deploy about 6,000 body cameras by the end of 2021. Reuters notes that in 2015, CBP under the Obama administration had piloted the use of body cameras but ultimately rejected them, citing “a number of reasons not to adopt the devices, including cost and agent morale.”
  • Mexico is building three permanent National Guard barracks in Ciudad Juárez, across from El Paso, including one in the western colonia of Anapra, a frequently used migration corridor.
  • The government of Mexico, where legal firearms are rare, filed suit in a Boston federal court against several U.S. gun manufacturers and distributors. The suit alleges that these companies seek to profit from Mexican criminal groups, who pay for weapons smuggled south over the border from the United States, where they are easy to obtain legally.
  • A report from the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) recommends that the U.S. Department of Justice issue an “opinion that clarifies that climate change serves as grounds for refugee status under U.S. law.”
  • A passenger van carrying 30 people, most of them probably undocumented migrants, crashed after taking a high-speed turn off a highway in Brooks County, Texas, about 80 miles north of McAllen and the border. The driver and nine passengers were pronounced dead. Brooks County is where large numbers of migrants die walking through arid scrubland trying to evade a Border Patrol highway checkpoint; its sheriff reported finding 50 human remains during the first 6 months of 2021.
  • Mexican Army troops and national guardsmen in the border city of Mexicali rescued six men from the southern state of Guerrero, whom a criminal group was holding captive. It turned out they were being used as forced labor to build and operate an 80-meter-long, 16-meter-deep tunnel under the border into Calexico, California.

Weekly Border Update: July 30, 2021

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

July migration appears to be exceeding June

Only twice in this century has migration at the U.S.-Mexico border been greater in the summer than in the spring. On both of those occasions, migration was recovering from a sharp drop earlier in the year: after the January 2017 inauguration of Donald Trump, and after the March 2020 imposition of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

2021 appears to be the first time this century that summer migration may exceed spring without an early-year reduction, despite the harsh heat along most of the border during the season’s height. This was foreseeable, as COVID-19 has devastated economies, border closures had stifled migration, and travel restrictions worldwide are gradually lifting. Still, in the past 22 years for which we have monthly data, we have not seen this pattern before.

Border Patrol’s encounters with migrants in July are “projected to be even higher” than June, according to preliminary data shared with the Washington Post. This past week, reporting about the summer increase has focused on Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Rio Grande Valley sector, the easternmost segment of the border, in south Texas. (CBP divides the U.S.-Mexico border into nine sectors.) There, Border Patrol Sector Chief Brian Hastings tweeted on July 25 that agents had apprehended more than 20,000 “illegally present migrants” during the previous week alone.

As of July 26, Border Patrol was holding about 14,000 migrants in its stations and processing facilities border-wide, the Rio Grande Valley Monitor reported. On the 25th, in the Rio Grande Valley, the agency was holding 7,000 migrants, up from 5,000 on July 19 and 3,500 on July 14. Border Patrol facilities’ capacity in the sector is about 3,000.

As of July 28, 2,246 of those in Border Patrol custody were unaccompanied children, up from 724 on July 12. This number of children in the agency’s rustic, jail-like facilities rarely exceeded 1,000 in June. That month, as the law requires, Border Patrol agents were able to move kids within 72 hours into shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). As of June 30, children were spending an average of 28 hours in CBP custody; the stay is almost certainly longer now.

This is due to a steady increase in arrivals of unaccompanied children, to levels not seen since late March. Border Patrol encountered an average of 501 children per day between July 25 and 28, and 547 per day the previous week. We had not seen an average over 500 since March 23-25, the first few days for which CBP and HHS started providing daily numbers of unaccompanied children.

Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol agents are apprehending large groups of kids, adults, and families all at once. On July 27, agents encountered a single group of 509 people, mostly families and unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Venezuela. It was the largest group encountered all year. Along the Rio Grande, where periodic flooding and currents make it impossible to build fencing on the water’s edge, migrants who want U.S. authorities to apprehend them gather on the riverbank south of the border fence. Once on U.S. soil, they have the right to ask for asylum or other protection in the United States. 

Migrant detention and processing duties have strained Border Patrol personnel to the extent that the agency was contemplating shutting down some interior highway checkpoints—a move that requires approval from CBP headquarters in Washington, which has not been forthcoming, the Monitor reported.

The large numbers have also strained capacities at the Rio Grande Valley’s largest humanitarian respite center, the Catholic Charities facility in McAllen, Texas. The respite center gives asylum-seeking migrant families a place to be—instead of out on McAllen’s streets—between their release from CBP custody and their travel to destinations elsewhere in the United States, where immigration courts will adjudicate their cases.

Late on July 26, the respite center had to close its doors to new migrants, as it had hit its 1,200-person capacity. Sister Norma Pimentel, the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, said she had to ask Border Patrol “to hold drop-offs to give us a chance to have space.” Still, agents kept dropping new busloads of migrants off on the street outside, and other area churches took in several hundred people. By July 28, Pimentel told the Monitor, the shelter was no longer at capacity.

Richard Cortez, who serves as county judge in Hidalgo—one of the Rio Grande Valley’s three counties, which includes McAllen—called on the federal government to “stop releasing these migrants into our communities” and on the governor of Texas to allow him to reinstate a mask mandate and other COVID-19 measures. “It was manageable last week, we did not have problems at all that I was aware of,” Cortez said on July 27. “Now, my understanding is that the Catholic Charities—who was taking over the responsibility of testing the immigrants, isolated them if they tested positive, they put them in the hospital if they were very sick…reached their capacity. So now there’s no buffer between the federal agencies and us.”

In June, the Rio Grande Valley accounted for one-third of Border Patrol migrant encounters along the border, and 56 percent of all encounters with child and family migrants. We don’t know yet whether Border Patrol’s other eight sectors are seeing a similar July increase in migration, though Tucson, Arizona, the fourth-busiest sector in June, has also begun to register large groups.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), whose district stretches along the border from Laredo nearly to McAllen, told Axios that, between July 19 and July 26, Border Patrol had released 7,300 migrants in the Rio Grande Valley sector without specific dates to appear in immigration court. In order to cut processing time, agents are issuing a document that instructs migrants to report to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office within 60 days, at which point their asylum or protection processes will begin. Officials told the New York Times that about 50,000 of these “notice to report” documents have been issued to migrants since March 19. Axios noted that just 6,700 have reported to ICE offices so far, while 16,000 have not shown up within the 60-day reporting window. About 27,000 more haven’t hit the deadline yet. In many cases, no-shows may owe to migrants’ confusion about the process.

Republican senators raised this “notice to report” issue to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who testified at a July 27 hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. The Secretary’s testimony coincided with the White House’s release of a fact sheet laying out a “Blueprint for a Fair, Orderly and Humane Immigration System.” That document, which contained little new information, declares, t “We will always be a nation of borders, and we will enforce our immigration laws in a way that is fair and just. We will continue to work to fortify an orderly immigration system.”

With an increase in migration, and the “Title 42” pandemic border policy (discussed below) making it harder to seek asylum, more migrants are traveling through dangerous sections of the border zone where, by Border Patrol’s conservative estimates, 8,258 people have been found dead of dehydration, exposure, and other causes since 1998. (See our July 16 update for a fuller discussion of migrant deaths.) In the Big Bend sector wilderness of west Texas, Border Patrol has found 32 remains of migrants so far in fiscal 2021, way up from 15 in all of 2020 and far more than the sector’s prior high of 10 (2018).

More migrants appear to be on their way, as COVID-19 travel restrictions begin to relax worldwide. Right now, at least 9,000 northbound migrants from Haiti and several other countries are stranded in the town of Necoclí, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. They aren’t being blocked: it’s just that their numbers have overwhelmed the ferry service that takes them to the opposite shore of the Gulf of Urabá, where they cross into Panama. Colombia lifted its pandemic border closures in May, and migration numbers jumped soon afterward.

Title 42 is not being lifted for families

Our July 6 update, which reflected media reporting at the time, noted that the “Title 42” pandemic measure “may be in its last days,” at least for migrant families. While no official had confirmed it, reporting indicated that Title 42 would stop applying to families by the end of July. That is not going to happen: the administration, citing concern over new COVID-19 variants and rising overall numbers, will continue to expel protection-seeking families.

Title 42 is the name given to an old law that the Trump administration’s Center for Disease Control (CDC) invoked, in March 2020, to rapidly expel nearly all migrants encountered at the border back to Mexico or their home countries, usually without a chance to ask for asylum. Most citizens of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras get expelled into Mexico, as do migrants from other countries who have tourist visas or other migratory status in Mexico.

The Biden administration kept Title 42 in place, though it has not applied it to unaccompanied children and rarely applies it to those who can’t easily be expelled to Mexico. Fewer family members have been expelled in recent months—16 percent of all who were encountered in June—in part because Mexico’s border state of Tamaulipas is refusing expulsions of families with small children, and in part because since May, nearly half of families have come from countries other than Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras.

While the COVID-19 virus’s Delta variant is a key factor leading the CDC to prolong Title 42, two U.S. officials told NBC News that the Biden administration is also “concerned about funding, facilities and staffing issues associated with lifting the restrictions.” Six months in, the administration still lacks capacity to process large numbers of asylum seekers, enroll them in alternatives-to-detention programs, and adjudicate their protection claims.

“If CDC is going to continue with Title 42, they need to be prepared for a lawsuit and to answer very specific questions in a deposition about whether they genuinely believed there was no way to process asylum seekers safely,” ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt, who has led an ongoing lawsuit against Title 42’s application to families, told the Washington Post.

A July 28 report by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) disputes CDC claims that there is any public-health justification for expelling migrants. “Every aspect of the expulsion process, such as holding people in crowded conditions for days without testing and then transporting them in crowded vehicles, increases the risk of spreading and being exposed to COVID-19,” it reads. PHR researchers’ interviews with 28 expelled asylum seekers told of suffering “gratuitously cruel” treatment and family separations at the hands of Border Patrol agents, and assault, kidnapping, extortion, and sexual violence, along with shakedowns from Mexican authorities, after being expelled into Mexico.

On the night of July 26, DHS announced that it would resume applying “expedited removal” to migrant families who are not expelled under Title 42. As many family members as possible who don’t express fear of returning will be flown back to their home countries very quickly. Those who do express fear, in many cases, may be held in CBP custody until they can get fast-tracked “credible fear” interviews with asylum officers. (According to the 1997 Flores Settlement agreement, as revised, families with children cannot be held in custody for more than three weeks.)

Those who pass these interviews will likely be released with dates to appear in immigration court. Those who do not will be deported. A current and a former official told the Washington Post that deported families will be flown “back to Central America using the Electronic Nationality Verification program, which relies on biometric data to identify migrants who lack identification or travel documents.”

The expedited removal decision caused an outcry among rights advocates. “Jamming desperate families through an expedited asylum process would deny them the most basic due process protections and can hardly be called humane,” the ACLU’s Gelernt told the New York Times.

In an agreement with ACLU and plaintiffs in the ongoing suit against Title 42’s application to families, DHS had been permitting about 250-300 expelled family members considered “most vulnerable” to re-enter the United States from Mexican border towns to pursue their asylum petitions. However, CBP officials in San Diego started cancelling these appointments late during the week of July 18, citing capacity issues at the port of entry. Attorneys at Al Otro Lado, an organization that assists migrants in Tijuana and San Diego, said that several of their clients ended up homeless in Tijuana after CBP abruptly canceled their appointments.

Texas governor’s crackdown threatens to snare humanitarian workers

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who has already declared an “emergency” in some counties, hosted Donald Trump at the border, and sought to build segments of state border wall, continues to push back hard against migration.

As of July 29, his state was jailing 55 migrants, arrested on trespassing charges, in the Briscoe prison in the town of Dilley, between Laredo and San Antonio. That’s up from three on July 20. The Briscoe facility can hold more than 950 people; all of those jailed so far have been single adult men.

On July 27 Abbott expanded powers of Texas National Guard personnel whom he has deployed to the border, giving them the ability to arrest civilians. It is very unusual in the United States for military personnel to be empowered to carry out arrests on U.S. soil, a circumstance usually limited only to riots and insurrections, and then only for a brief time.

(Other states with Republican governors have sent small contingents of guardsmen or police to the border in response to a call from Abbott. On July 26 South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who controversially is paying for her state’s Guard deployment with a private donor’s money, gave remarks in front of a section of border wall behind a Whataburger fast-food restaurant near the Hidalgo-Reynosa border bridge. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) defended a two-week deployment of state police as “the right thing to do” and said she wanted to renew it. Elsewhere, Nebraska state troopers returned from a 24-day tour affected by the desperate conditions of the children and families they encountered.)

On July 28 Gov. Abbott upped the ante, issuing an order prohibiting anyone except law enforcement personnel from transporting migrants who “pose a risk of carrying COVID-19 into Texas communities.” As a result of this order, if personnel from Texas’s Department of Public Safety (presumably through profiling) suspect that a civilian vehicle is transporting migrants released from CBP custody, they may reroute the vehicle to its place of origin and impound it. 

This order falls heaviest on humanitarian workers: those, like volunteers at Sister Norma Pimentel’s Catholic Charities respite center, who need to transport asylum seekers to airports, overflow facilities, or quarantine hotels. It is unclear whether Abbott’s order would apply to Greyhound and other bus companies that transport migrants from border towns to their destinations elsewhere in the United States. “I assume, if you’re Greyhound or somebody that’s transporting people from the respite center on behalf of Sister Norma, (they’re) going to be prohibited from doing that,” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) told the Rio Grande Valley Monitor.

Abbot issued his order as Rio Grande Valley counties are recording some of their worst infection numbers in months, as the Delta variant spreads. Still, as of mid-July the COVID-19 test positivity rate for migrants was below that of Texans as a whole, and more than 85 percent of migrants are reportedly getting vaccinated upon release. In one example of how humanitarian organizations are screening migrants for COVID-19, the Catholic Charities respite center in McAllen  performs COVID-19 tests on all migrants whom CBP drops off at its doors, at the expense of the McAllen city government. Additionally, Catholic Charities is paying more than 10 area hotels to house migrants who must be quarantined if they test positive. The respite center’s executive director has said that about 1,000 people are currently being housed in hotels—not all are COVID-positive, but some members of their family groups are—where they are required to stay, with volunteers delivering food and other needs, until they test negative.

On July 29 Attorney General Merrick Garland sent a letter to Gov. Abbott demanding that he reverse his transportation order, calling it “both dangerous and unlawful.” It notes, “The Order violates federal law in numerous respects, and Texas cannot lawfully enforce the Executive Order against any federal official or private parties working with the United States.” Garland promises that the Justice Department will “pursue all appropriate legal remedies to ensure that Texas does not interfere with the functions of the federal government.”

Links

  • A Mexican federal court has temporarily stayed municipal authorities’ order to evict the 14-year-old Senda de Vida shelter, the largest in Reynosa, Tamaulipas. Citing Rio Grande waterway requirements, the mayor’s office had given the shelter and its 600 occupants days to vacate the site, in one of Mexico’s most dangerous border cities.
  • A Mexican man died of head injuries after falling from a new 30-foot segment of border wall in Otay Mesa, just east of San Diego, on July 25.
  • A second Government Accountability Project whistleblower complaint includes new revelations of deplorable conditions at the private contractor-managed HHS emergency child migrant shelter at Fort Bliss, outside El Paso, Texas. Conditions included “riots” in boys’ tents, children cutting themselves, hundreds of COVID cases, and severe shortages of basic goods like face masks and underwear. One mental health clinician reportedly told a boy “he had nothing to complain about and that, in fact, he should feel grateful for all he was being given.”
  • Another report from the DHS Inspector General finds serious deficiencies in border and migration agencies’ attention to detainees’ medical needs. “Once an individual is in custody,” it finds, “CBP agents and officers are required to conduct health interviews and ‘regular and frequent’ welfare checks to identify individuals who may be experiencing serious medical conditions. However, CBP could not always demonstrate staff conducted required medical screenings or consistent welfare checks for all 98 individuals whose medical cases we reviewed.“
  • DHS announced it is canceling contracts to use 2020 Homeland Security appropriations money to build about 31 miles of border wall in and near downtown Laredo, Texas. The Trump administration’s wall-building project had been bitterly opposed by local leaders. A year ago, the city council had unanimously approved the painting of a giant “Defund the Wall” mural on a main street.
  • The White House issued a document outlining its strategy for addressing the root causes of migration in Central America, as foreseen in a February 2 presidential executive order. It covers cooperation on economic issues, corruption and governance, human rights, preventing criminal violence, and preventing domestic, sexual, and gender-based violence.
  • The Washington Post’s Kevin Sieff profiles Eriberto Pop, a Guatemalan lawyer working to track down parents whom the Trump administration separated from about children. About 275 parents remain to be located. This involves a lot of riding a motorcycle around remote areas of Guatemala’s rural highlands.
  • El Diario de Juárez documents the experience of migrants from Ecuador, about half of whom have been encountered across from Ciudad Juárez in Border Patrol’s El Paso sector. “According to the Ecuadorian migrants themselves, the ‘coyoteros,’ as they call human smugglers in that country, fly them as tourists to Mexico City or Cancun, from where they are taken to Ciudad Juarez.”
  • ProPublica’s Dara Lind finds that ICEprosecutors are still seeking maximum deportations in immigration court, ignoring Biden administration guidance “to postpone or drop cases against immigrants judged to pose little threat to public safety.”
  • House of Representatives Republican leadership introduced legislation that would restore much of the Trump administration’s border and migration policies, including a restart of border wall construction.
Older Posts
Get a weekly update in your e-mail:




This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.