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.

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Border update

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: September 23, 2022

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.

This week:

  • CBP’s migrant encounters hit 2 million during the first 11 months of the 2022 fiscal year. While this is a record, it includes an unusually high number of repeat crossers and migrants expelled under Title 42. August was the 9th busiest month at the border, of the Biden administration’s 19 full months. Led by a sharp increase in overland migration from Venezuela, migration from countries other than Mexico and Central America’s “northern triangle” for the first time exceeded migration from those countries.
  • New details about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s operation to send 48 mostly Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard—some of them in the text of a class-action lawsuit—point to the Governor’s operatives deliberately lying to the migrants about what was being done to them.
  • A letter from a Senate Intelligence Committee member and an article about artificial intelligence-enabled sensor towers raised concerns about privacy and civil liberties at the border.

Two million migrant encounters in eleven months

With a September 19 release of data covering August, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported that, for the first time in a single fiscal year (October-September), its personnel had taken migrants into custody 2 million times at the U.S.-Mexico border.

CBP encountered migrants 203,597 times during August: 22,437 at land border ports of entry, and 181,160 in the areas between the ports of entry where CBP’s Border Patrol component operates. The Border Patrol apprehensions number was the smallest since February 2022, ranking 9th of the 19 full months since Joe Biden took office.

Title 42 exceptions at the ports of entry

The port-of-entry number was the second-largest monthly total in the nearly 11 years of records that WOLA has available (since October 2011), exceeded only by April 2022 when the ports processed over 20,000 people fleeing Ukraine. It indicates that CBP’s Office of Field Operations was allowing an increased number of exemptions to the Title 42 pandemic policy, for asylum-seeking migrants deemed most vulnerable.

In August, CBP admitted and processed 15,906 asylum seekers at ports of entry under this system of Title 42 exemptions, a 37 percent increase over July. These have been happening at six ports: Hidalgo (Rio Grande Valley, Texas, 5,446 in August); San Ysidro (San Diego, California, 4,403); Laredo (Laredo, Texas, 2,847); Eagle Pass (Del Rio, Texas, 1,646); Paso del Norte (El Paso, Texas, 1,218); and Nogales (Tucson, Arizona, 346).

During the week of September 12, though, CBP abruptly suspended Title 42 exemptions at several ports of entry, including Hidalgo, the busiest. “The decision came after reports of Haitian asylum-seekers protesting at shelters in Reynosa, Mexico, and growing repeatedly angry after their names were not called for admittance,” according to Border Report. The migrant population currently waiting for a chance to seek asylum in Reynosa, across from Hidalgo and McAllen, Texas, is 85 percent Haitian, totaling about 7,000 Haitian citizens, according to Sr. Norma Pimentel of Rio Grande Valley Catholic Charities. As of September 19, Title 42 exemptions were resuming at Hidalgo but remained suspended in Laredo, according to Border Report.

Expulsions

Under Title 42, a policy prolonged by federal court order in May, CBP seeks to expel migrants from the United States, in the name of public health, very quickly and without affording them a chance to ask for asylum. Even as the pandemic shows strong signs of easing, CBP expelled 36 percent of migrants it encountered in August, including 48 percent of single adults and 12 percent of families. The number of migrants encountered by Border Patrol and actually processed under regular U.S. immigration law was 1,020,233, a number that Border Patrol has in fact exceeded in 19 previous fiscal years, though not since 2006.

Including both expelled and processed migrants, the August numbers pushed overall CBP encounters to 2,150,639 for the 11 months between October 2021 and August 2022: 1,997,769 taken into custody by Border Patrol and 152,870 at ports of entry. All three numbers set full-fiscal-year records.

Adding expulsions to those deported under regular immigration law, CBP reported removing people encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border 1,300,467 times in 2022. That would leave about 850,000 of 2022’s migrants still in the United States facing immigration proceedings: some in custody and most released into the U.S. interior. Since Joe Biden’s January 2021 inauguration, the New York Times reported that “more than one million undocumented immigrants have been allowed into the United States temporarily after crossing the border.”

“Encounters” versus “individual people”

Title 42’s rapid expulsions tend to facilitate repeated attempts to cross the border, and 22 percent of CBP’s August encounters were with migrants who had already been taken into custody at least once in the previous 12 months. The agency actually encountered 157,921 individual people in August, of whom about 135,000 were encountered by Border Patrol. That was Border Patrol’s smallest “individuals” number since April.

CBP’s encounters with unaccompanied children fell to 11,365 in August, the fewest since January and 17th of the Biden administration’s 19 full months in office. The agency had a daily average of 422 unaccompanied kids in custody in August, down from 562 in July.

Migrants’ nationalities, especially Venezuela

The most notable aspect of August’s border migrant encounters was the migrants’ countries of origin. The number from Mexico and Central America’s “northern triangle” (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) was smaller (49 percent) than the number of migrants from the rest of the world. This was assuredly the first time this has ever happened: migrants from these four countries consistently comprised over 90 percent of the total as recently as 2019 (and 89 percent in 2020). Now, the lines on this chart have crossed for the first time:

Mexico and the Northern Triangle are the four countries whose citizens Mexico allows CBP to expel across the land border under Title 42, and they make up over 99 percent of Title 42 expulsions. August’s encounters with citizens of those countries were the fewest since January, ranking 17th of the Biden administration’s 19 full months, and one-third fewer than August 2021.

Because of Title 42’s rapid expulsions and ease of re-entry, CBP often encounters citizens of these four nationalities more than once. The agency took into custody 56,979 individual Mexicans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans in August, just 36 percent of that month’s “unique individuals” total and 43 percent fewer than a year before.

Of countries whose citizens were encountered over 5,000 times at the US-Mexico border in August, those that saw the most robust increases were Venezuela (up 92 percent from June to August), Haiti (up 61 percent, nearly all of them arriving at ports of entry as Title 42 exemptions), and Brazil (up 43 percent).

Citizens of Venezuela (August’s number-two country), Cuba (number three), and Nicaragua (number seven) made up 35 percent of CBP’s “unique individuals” last month, up 175 percent over August 2021.

As discussed in WOLA’s September 16 Border Update, arrivals from Venezuela have been increasing since March, as migrants from that country began arriving over long land routes from South America. (This was after Mexico’s January decision, at strong U.S. suggestion, to begin requiring visas of visiting Venezuelans.)

CBP’s September 19 release blamed “failing communist regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba” for “driving a new wave of migration across the Western Hemisphere,” including the increase at the border. While these regimes repress their populations amid plummeting living standards, another factor underlying the migration increase is the impossibility of expelling or deporting migrants to Caracas, Havana, or Managua after they reach U.S. soil.

The overland journey

Venezuelans’ overland journey requires passage through the roadless, dangerous Darién Gap jungle of northwest Colombia and eastern Panama. Over 31,000 migrants—1,000 per day—passed through this ungoverned region in August; 22,500 were Venezuelan. Of the 102,000 migrants who came through the Darién during 2022’s first 8 months (68,000 of them Venezuelan), 24 percent were female, and 14,571 were children.

“There is much corruption and evil things” in the Darién, Venezuelan migrant Reina Gil told Border Report in El Paso. “We saw dead people. A river nearly drowned us. We were robbed. We heard of rapes and many ugly things. I am telling you this so that people will know it is not easy to get here.” A migrant named Gerardo added, “When you come out, people cry, they embrace each other. You have mixed feelings because you accomplish something that not everyone can. You see people dehydrate, starving, unable to walk because their feet get swollen. People just leave them there.” The migrants also told Border Report of “having to constantly pay off ‘transportation people’ (smugglers)” to get across Mexico, and having to dismount repeatedly from vehicles and walk around Mexican authorities’ road checkpoints.

El Paso

The rapidly growing Venezuelan migrant population had been arriving principally in Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector, in mid-Texas. There, many migrants have died by drowning in the swollen Rio Grande. In response, smugglers have begun routing migrants far upstream to El Paso, Texas, where the river is far shallower.

As WOLA’s September 16 update noted, that has strained CBP’s processing capacity in the sector, as well as the capacity of El Paso’s community of short-term shelters for asylum-seeking migrants released from custody. Border Patrol has managed to “de-compress” its El Paso facilities, avoiding chaos and backlogs in migrant processing by employing “processing buses” and transferring some migrants to other sectors. Shelters, though, are struggling to keep up, and local media report that migrants are still sleeping outside downtown El Paso’s Greyhound bus station. The city prohibits camping on sidewalks, Border Report explained: “the migrants, instead, are sleeping on flattened tents.”

September migrant arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border appear to be increasing over August as temperatures cool. “Over the past few days, there have been about 8,700 crossings a day, which is historically high,” according to the New York Times. NBC News notes that “White House officials have previously set 9,000 per day as an internal trigger to begin what they refer to as ‘interior processing,’ where migrants are flown or bused from the border to interior cities where shelters can take care of them” as they await immigration proceedings and find places to live, often with relatives or other U.S.-based contacts.

Troubling aspects of the Florida governor’s Martha’s Vineyard stunt

While the federal government has not yet begun transporting asylum seekers to the U.S. interior, Republican governors have been using their states’ funds to send migrants, on an apparently voluntary basis, to U.S. jurisdictions governed by Democrats. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has attracted much attention in conservative media by sending busloads of asylum-seeking migrants to Washington and New York after their release in Texas. Two such buses arrived outside the official residence of Vice President Kamala Harris in the pre-dawn hours of September 15.

The migrant-removal stunt that has received the strongest blitz of media attention is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) contracting of planes that took 48 mostly Venezuelan asylum seekers from San Antonio, Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, a Massachusetts resort island, on September 14. The planes arrived without any prior notice to local authorities, abandoning the confused migrants at the airport (along with a videographer who provided footage to Fox News and other outlets).

Serious questions surround the legality of DeSantis’s stunt, as testimonies point to the migrants being deceived and misinformed about where they were going, casting doubt on whether their participation was truly voluntary. The sheriff of Bexar County, Texas, which includes San Antonio, launched a criminal investigation on September 20, contending that the migrants had been “lured” away from a service provider in the city “under false pretenses.” Sheriff Javier Salazar said he is prepared to work with federal authorities should they launch their own investigation, as California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and other Democrats have called on the Justice Department to do.

“It seems like there were clear elements of deception in this particular case. It seems like there was fraud in terms of their transport and what was represented to them,” Julie Dahlstrom, of Boston University Law School’s Immigrants’ Rights and Human Trafficking Program, told CBS News. She added, though, that whether the evidence points clearly to a violation of the law is a “difficult legal question.”

Also on September 20, advocacy groups Alianza Americas and Lawyers for Civil Rights filed a class-action lawsuit on the Venezuelan migrants’ behalf in Massachusetts federal court. “In or around September 2022, Defendants and their unidentified accomplices designed and executed a premeditated, fraudulent, and illegal scheme centered on exploiting [migrants’] vulnerability for the sole purpose of advancing their own personal, financial and political interests,” it reads. The suit seeks a minimum of $75,000 per migrant as compensation for having “suffered economic, emotional, and constitutional harms as a result of Defendants’ intentional, reckless, and negligent conduct.”

The suit, which draws from some of the 48 migrants’ accounts of what happened to them, offers troubling details about Gov. DeSantis’s stunt, as have other media reports filed in the days since the planes landed at Martha’s Vineyard.

  • Many accounts tell of the central role that a woman named “Perla” played in recruiting the migrants, “trolling streets outside of a migrant shelter in Texas and other similar locales.” Migrants described her as tall, blond, and driving a white SUV. She gave one a mobile phone number typical of the Del Rio area, less than three hours’ drive from San Antonio. Nobody answered this number after the migrants were dumped in Martha’s Vineyard.
  • “Emmanuel,” a 27-year-old Venezuelan migrant, told San Antonio Report that “Perla” gave him “$200 in cash to recruit people from outside San Antonio’s migrant resource center” for the Martha’s Vineyard flight. He said she “told him she wanted to send migrants to ‘sanctuary states’ where the government has more resources to help them.”
  • “Perla” and possibly others told the migrants that if they “were willing to board airplanes to other states, they would receive employment, housing, educational opportunities, and other like assistance upon their arrival,” reads the lawsuit. They told the migrants they would be going to Boston.
  • Iván Espinoza-Madrigal of Lawyers for Civil Rights told the New York Times that, according to “dozens” of the migrants, “they only had been informed midair” that their true destination was Martha’s Vineyard, a ferry ride and two-plus-hour drive away from Boston.
  • “Perla,” and perhaps other recruiters, enticed the migrants to talk to them in San Antonio by giving them $10 McDonald’s gift certificates, the lawsuit narrates.
  • The recruiters paid to host the migrants in San Antonio hotel rooms “while they gathered enough of them to fill two planes and carry out their scheme,” according to the lawsuit. Their recruitment efforts “took days of work.” The hotel stays allowed the recruiters to “sequester” the migrants so that “any true Good Samaritans” would not earn of their plan, the suit reads, and so that they would be unlikely to change their minds.
  • The lawsuit relates that before the planes landed, Gov. DeSantis’s operatives “provided the individual Plaintiffs each with a shiny, red folder that included other official-looking materials,” among them a custom-made brochure entitled “Massachusetts Refugee Benefits,” The document provided to the migrants made several false claims, including that “During the first 90 days after a refugee’s arrival in Massachusetts, resettlement agencies provide basic needs support including…assistance with housing…furnishings, food, and other basic necessities…clothing, and transportation to job interviews and job training…assistance in applying for Social Security cards…registering children for school” and “up to 8 months of cash assistance for income-eligible refugees without dependent children, who reside in Massachusetts.”
  • After abandoning the migrants at the Martha’s Vineyard airport, the lawsuit reads, DeSantis’s operatives “disappeared and did not answer alarmed calls from the class members to get information about what had gone wrong after they landed. But nothing had ‘gone wrong.’ Instead, the scheme worked exactly as the Defendants intended.”
  • Gov. DeSantis’s office has sought to deflect accusations that the migrants were deceived, pointing to consent forms that each voluntarily signed. According to testimonies, “Perla” provided the migrants with a McDonald’s gift card only if they agreed to sign the forms. “She did not explain what the document stated, and it was not completely translated to Spanish: an entire paragraph about liability and transport was not translated at all, and language specifying that the journey would take place from Texas to Massachusetts was not translated at all either,” reads the lawsuit.
  • “DeSantis’s staff apparently supplied exclusive video of these heroics to Fox: It shows the migrants, some children, disembarking from planes, and then walking along a street, all in quiet, orderly fashion,” wrote Greg Sargent at the Washington Post.
  • Florida’s state government paid $615,000 ($12,300 per passenger) for the use of two private chartered planes, the lawsuit and media reports allege. The contractor, Vertol Systems, is a generous donor to Florida Republicans, the Intercept reported.
  • Observers detected a flight plan filed for a September 20 charter from San Antonio to a small airport near Joe Biden’s summer home in coastal Delaware. That flight never happened. The Miami Herald reported that migrants had been recruited, perhaps by “Perla,” for this flight as well. After that trip’s abrupt cancellation, some of those migrants were left stranded at the hotel where DeSantis’s operatives had put them up, about 10 miles from San Antonio’s migrant resource center.

Border technology and civil liberties concerns

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a September 15 letter to CBP voicing serious concerns about the electronic privacy of travelers who pass through U.S. ports of entry, including land border crossings and airports. Sen. Wyden accused CBP of “pressuring travelers to unlock their electronic devices without adequately informing them of their rights” and “downloading the contents of Americans’ phones into a central database, where this data is saved and searchable for 15 years by thousands of Department of Homeland Security employees, with minimal protections against abuse.”

The Washington Post and Gizmodo reported on the letter, and on CBP’s apparent power to carry out “advanced searches” of travelers’ phones—including those of U.S. citizens—if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that the individual is breaking the law or poses a “national security concern.”

Even without such suspicion, CBP claims the power to access travelers’ electronic devices, looking at “anything that ‘would ordinarily be visible by scrolling through the phone manually,’ including contact lists, calendar entries, messages, photos and videos,” the Washington Post explained citing a 2018 CBP filing. With the “reasonable suspicion” standard, CBP can copy the entire contents of the phone or device. “That data is then stored in the Automated Targeting System database, which CBP officials can search at any time.”

CBP is collecting data from as many as 10,000 border-crossers’ devices each year. The agency then retains the copied data for 15 years. Sources told the Washington Post that about 2,700 or 3,000 CBP personnel have access to this collected data, all without a warrant.

Other civil liberties concerns emerged in a September 16 Guardian article about 189 sensor towers being built along the border on a CBP contract with Anduril, a technology company founded by Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey. Anduril is backed by Peter Thiel, a PayPal co-founder who has funded Donald Trump and far-right U.S. political candidates like Senate hopefuls Blake Masters in Arizona and J.D. Vance in Ohio. Anduril’s towers use an artificial intelligence system, “Lattice,” that identifies and tracks people and vehicles autonomously.

Other news

  • Mexico’s increasing reliance on its military to control migration, including a new law placing its National Guard police under permanent military command, “increases the risks of human rights violations, in many cases serious, to which migrants are subjected throughout the entire migration process,” migration expert Álvaro Botero, one of a panel of speakers, said at a September 20 event sponsored by WOLA and partner organizations.
  • Of asylum seekers interviewed after being forced to await proceedings in Mexican border cities during 2022’s court-ordered renewal of the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” program (now being terminated), 1,109 reported suffering violent attacks while in Mexico, including 401 kidnappings. In 399 cases of violent attacks, respondents implicated Mexican officials. These results are documented in a new report from Human Rights First.
  • “The Biden administration has deployed more than 1,300 law enforcement agents and officers to Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras in an effort to counter the smuggling operations,” the New York Times reported. “One of the administration officials speaking on background on Monday said officials believed this had stopped 57,000 immigrants a month from getting to the southwestern border. Mr. Biden announced the counter-smuggling campaign in June.”
  • The U.S. embassy in Cuba will resume processing immigrant visas for the first time since the Trump administration suspended the service in 2017, forcing Cubans to travel to Guyana for their interviews. The resumption of visa processing may mean Cuba will once again allow more U.S. deportation flights to land in Havana.
  • The Washington DC City Council voted September 20 to create an Office of Migrant Services, with a $10 million budget, to provide temporary assistance, mainly to migrants sent to the capital by Republican governors.
  • “The Biden administration’s unwillingness to apply more pressure on increasingly autocratic governments is in part driven by a desire to preserve support for its migration and security policies in Central America,” reads a lengthy New York Times analysis citing “former U.S. officials and civil society leaders.”
  • Tijuana’s Juventud 2000 migrant shelter—which appears often in news outlets’ stock photos because of its use of tents to house migrants in its indoor space—is so full that it may begin housing migrants’ tents outdoors near its location, in northern Tijuana near the port of entry to San Diego.
  • Activists, joined by former U.S. envoy to Haiti Dan Foote, held a demonstration outside the White House to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the mass arrival of Haitian migrants, and hostile Border Patrol response, that made worldwide news for days in Del Rio, Texas.
  • Following a shootout between Mexican criminal groups near the border in eastern Tijuana, Border Patrol encountered three men with bullet wounds on the U.S. side, in the Otay Mesa area southeast of San Diego.
  • Border and migration issues may be giving Republican candidates a few percentage points of momentum in polls for some U.S. Senate races, and for the Texas gubernatorial race, ahead of November 8 elections, report ABC News and the Dallas Morning News.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: September 16, 2022

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.

This week:

  • Even as it opposes a court order to keep implementing the Title 42 expulsions policy, the Biden administration is reportedly asking Mexico to accept expelled migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.
  • El Paso is experiencing a sudden increase in asylum-seeking migration from Venezuela, which has exceeded short-term shelter capacity and led to over 900 releases of migrants onto the city’s streets.
  • Reports from Panama’s treacherous Darién region, from Ecuador’s northern border, and from Costa Rica all point to further increases in U.S.-bound migration of Venezuelan asylum seekers.

Biden administration may be seeking to expand Title 42 expulsions into Mexico

Reuters reported on September 14 that the Biden administration is “quietly pressing” Mexico to allow U.S. border authorities to expel more asylum-seeking migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela under the Title 42 pandemic authority.

When the Trump administration developed this policy in March 2020—which denies the right to request asylum in the name of public health—Mexico’s government agreed to take back expulsions of its own citizens, and those of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Since then, U.S. authorities have expelled citizens of those four countries across the land border into Mexico more than 2 million times.

Citizens of most other countries, whose expulsions would happen by air at some cost, usually avoid Title 42 expulsion and, as a result, may request asylum, which often involves release into the United States pending immigration hearings.

With the pandemic easing, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had set May 23, 2022 as Title 42’s final date, with a return to normal immigration processing and a restoration of the right to ask for asylum. Litigation by Republican state attorneys-general led to a Louisiana federal district court overturning the CDC decision in mid-May, forcing the Biden administration to continue implementing Title 42. The administration continues to oppose that judge’s order in the federal courts, seeking to win back the right to end the pandemic authority.

In early May 2022, when Title 42’s end appeared imminent, administration officials convinced Mexico to take back a limited number of Cuban and Nicaraguan asylum seekers. Expulsions of those countries’ citizens jumped from 639 in April to 4,172 in May. Mexico, though, had only agreed to accept these expulsions until May 23, and the number of expulsions declined to 605 in June.

Arrivals of migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela have more than quadrupled since 2021, from 94,000 during the first 10 months of fiscal year 2021 (October 2020-July 2021) to 438,000 during the same period this fiscal year. U.S. authorities have used Title 42 to expel 2 percent of them.

Encounters with migrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are near their highest level in over 15 years, but have declined from 2021 (154,000 in July 2021, 104,000 in July 2022). U.S. authorities have used Title 42 to expel 78 percent of them.

Now, even as it opposes the court order preventing it from ending Title 42, the Biden administration is asking Mexico to expand it, this time allowing expulsions of Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans, according to “seven U.S. and three Mexican officials” whom Reuters cited.

“Behind closed doors, some Biden officials still view expanding expulsions as a way to deter crossers, one of the U.S. officials said, even if it contradicts the Democratic Party’s more welcoming message toward migrants,” Reuters noted. The article offered a previously unreported detail: that the White House is asking Panama to accept some expelled Venezuelans who passed through the country en route to the United States.

El Paso sees a sudden increase in Venezuelan migration

Of the 128,556 migrants from Venezuela whom U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) encountered between October and July, 59 percent crossed into the United States in Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector, a rural region of mid-Texas whose largest border cities are Del Rio and Eagle Pass. Now, Venezuelan migration—which has been increasing since March—appears to be shifting westward.

“For weeks, El Paso has been teetering with a rising number of migrants, as smugglers shift from Eagle Pass and Del Rio to West Texas,” Alfredo Corchado reported in the September 9 Dallas Morning News. It is possible (though unconfirmable) that migrant smuggling routes may have shifted upstream from the Del Rio sector because of a large number of recent drownings in the Rio Grande in that region, including a mass tragedy in Eagle Pass on September 1.

Before September began, Border Patrol agents in the El Paso sector—which includes Texas’s two westernmost counties and all of New Mexico—were encountering about 900 migrants per day. Of Border Patrol’s nine U.S.-Mexico border sectors, El Paso has been in fourth place for migrant encounters so far in fiscal 2022, but had edged up into third place more recently.

Since about the week of September 4, Border Patrol’s daily average in El Paso has risen to 1,300 or 1,400 per day. “Among those migrants arriving over the past five days are an average of 660 Venezuelans per day,” a Border Patrol spokesperson told the El Paso Times on September 14.

Asylum seekers have been arriving in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, the city that shares the border with El Paso, and wading across a Rio Grande that, at current low water levels, is roughly ten yards wide. They have been arriving in groups of as many as 300 at a time. There is a border fence on the U.S. side of the river, perhaps 100 yards from the ever-shifting riverbank.

“Faced with the massive arrival of migrants at the border, elements of [Mexico’s] National Guard and INM [Mexico’s immigration agency, the National Migration Institute] went this Monday, September 12, to the section of the Rio Grande where the migrants were entering the United States, but they were only observing the process,” reported El Paso Matters and the Ciudad Juárez daily La Verdad at the Venezuelan outlet Tal Cual.

Asylum seekers wait in the space between the river and the fence to turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents, who take them to El Paso’s Border Patrol processing center. If the migrants are from countries to which Title 42 expulsion is difficult—like Venezuela, whose current government the Biden administration does not recognize—then most are given notices to appear before asylum officers or immigration judges and released into El Paso.

Releases of asylum seekers are nothing new for El Paso. City officials say that less than 1 percent of migrants released in El Paso intend to stay there. As the rest have destinations elsewhere in the United States while they await their court dates, the city’s most pressing need is short-term shelter for the released migrants. Its network of short-term shelters, principally Annunciation House which has 14 facilities in the area, can assist about 800 migrants each day.

That is significantly less than the 1,300-1,400 currently arriving (not all of whom get released into El Paso: some adults are detained, and other nationalities may be expelled or deported). The Border Patrol processing center, where migrants should not be held for more than 72 hours except during emergencies, is currently holding about 3,500 people—more than 3 times its capacity.

When shelters are full and Border Patrol still needs to “de-compress” its processing center, the agency releases migrants onto the city’s streets, usually in the vicinity of the Greyhound bus station. As of the morning of September 14, that had happened to about 900 migrants over the prior week, the El Paso Times reported.

The city has paid for some hotel rooms, but other migrants are sleeping in tents near the bus station. (“When you’ve waded through jungles and mountains, walked in waist-deep mud and crossed rivers that nearly drowned you, this is nothing,” Miguel Ángel, a 24-year-old Venezuelan man, told El Paso Matters outside his tent.) El Paso expects to bill the federal government for reimbursement for lodging and transportation costs.

Unlike most prior populations of asylum seekers, a large portion of the arriving Venezuelans do not have relatives, contacts, or support networks in the United States. They lack a plan and a particular destination in the U.S. interior. Normally, a shelter like Annunciation House puts migrants in touch with U.S.-based contacts who help them pay for transportation to their destination within the United States. Many Venezuelans, though, lack these contacts, destinations, and money for bus or plane fare.

“A very high percentage of them don’t have a sponsor and they have no place to go, and so that backs everything up,” Annunciation House Director Rubén García told the Dallas Morning News. “They did not have a network set up in America like the other migrants do. That’s what threw this into a tailspin,” El Paso City Manager Tommy Gonzalez told Border Report.

Many Venezuelans point to New York as a destination. Since August 23, El Paso’s city government has so far paid for about 25 charter buses to send more than 1,135 recently arrived migrants to New York. The city plans to spend about $2 million on bus transportation over the next 16 months.

In an effort to send a political message to Democratic-run cities, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has been sending busloads of asylum-seeking migrants to Washington D.C., New York, and now Chicago since April. Those buses mostly depart from Del Rio, not El Paso. A September 8 Houston Chronicle investigation found that Abbott’s busing scheme has been costing Texas taxpayers $1,700 per migrant. This is part of a larger set of hardline border-security activities for which Abbott has now spent over $4 billion, cobbling together the funds with some creative accounting, including the use of federal COVID-19 relief funds, the September 13 Dallas Morning News reported.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) has joined Texas in sending busloads of migrants to northeastern cities. On the afternoon of September 14, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) added a new stunt, paying to fly 50 Venezuelan and Colombian asylum seekers to Martha’s Vineyard, a resort island in Massachusetts, apparently under false pretenses.

Venezuelans along the migration route

More than 6.1 million of Venezuela’s roughly 30 million people have left the country since the mid-2010s. Most migrated to other Latin American countries: as recently as February 2021, U.S. border authorities had not encountered more than 1,000 Venezuelan citizens per month. Venezuelan arrivals at the border began increasing in mid-2021, reaching nearly 25,000 in December.

Until January 2022, most Venezuelan migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border flew to Mexico, which had not required visas of visiting Venezuelans. Under strong U.S. urging, Mexico (along with Costa Rica and Belize) began requiring visas of Venezuelans on January 22 of this year.

Encounters with Venezuelan migrants dropped to 3,073 in February 2022, but quickly recovered (to 17,650 in July) as a growing number of Venezuelan citizens opted to migrate by land.

This 3,000-mile journey requires passage through the Darién Gap, a jungle region along the Colombia-Panama border where the Pan-American Highway was never built. Migrants walk about 60 miles through dense jungle with venomous animals, treacherous rivers, and almost no state presence, often falling prey to bandits, rapists, drug traffickers, and unscrupulous migrant smugglers. At its aid post near the end of the Darién route, Doctors Without Borders reported attending to 100 sexual violence victims in just the first five months of 2022.

In the first four months of 2021, Panama’s migration authorities registered just 15 Venezuelan citizens passing through the Darién Gap. By January 2022, that number had increased to just over 1,100. Since then, with the visa-free air route to Mexico closed off, the number of Venezuelans making the Darién journey has exploded, reaching 23,632 in August. During the first 8 months of 2022, 68,575 Venezuelans have passed through the Darién Gap.

(Venezuela is green on this chart.)

Panama’s border police (Servicio Nacional de Fronteras de Panamá, Senafront) revealed this week that it had found the remains of 18 migrants in the Darién during the first 8 months of 2022. Five drowned, and the other thirteen died of unknown causes. The actual death toll is doubtlessly higher, given migrants’ frequent accounts of seeing bodies on the journey, and given Panamanian authorities’ scarce presence along the full length of the route.

“You step on bodies, even children’s bodies. That jungle smells like death from the moment you enter until you leave,” two Venezuelan migrants in San José, Costa Rica told a reporter from Venezuela’s Efecto Cocuyo, which has been reporting extensively along the migrant trail.

In another story, Efecto Cocuyo describes “the grandfather’s camp” (“el campamento del abuelo”), a gathering of tents a few days’ journey along the Darién trail. (“Who is the grandfather? Nobody knows, nobody has seen him.”)

For the Monterrey family [Venezuelan migrants who passed through the Darién], this camp was one of the worst places in the jungle. The site is improvised, with wooden poles everywhere and some spaces covered with zinc or tarpaulin. “That place is terrible, you see animals mixed with garbage and even decomposing humans,” said Juan Monterrey.

In still another story, an Efecto Cocuyo reporter tells of his own migration through the Darién Gap in 2019:

In the days I was there I was threatened with death and harassed by human traffickers and armed groups that dominate specific parts of the route. I was kidnapped for 19 hours during which I felt that my life no longer belonged to me. I saw the corpse of a stranger in the jungle and also sick, lost and disoriented people who had been abandoned to their fate. By the time I finished the tour, I had been stripped of practically all my belongings.

The inhospitable jungle, located on the border between Colombia and Panama, is like a sort of Tower of Babel where people from more than 50 countries and different languages converge.

(See also Canadian journalist Nadja Drost’s April 2020 account of the Darién journey in California Sunday, which won her a Pulitzer Prize.)

Many of the Venezuelan migrants along this route have only recently left their country. Many others, though, abandoned Venezuela months or years ago and have had little success elsewhere in South America where employment is scarce, visa regimes are tightening, and discrimination is common.

The Ecuadorian daily El Universo reported on September 13 from Tulcán, Ecuador’s border city where the Pan-American Highway crosses into Colombia. There, its reporters note, the past three months have seen an increase in northward migration of Venezuelans leaving Argentina, Chile, Peru, and elsewhere in South America. “But in recent weeks, the presence of Venezuelans at the border terminals of Huaquillas and Tulcán has tripled to between 500 and 700 travelers per day.” The Tulcán bus terminal’s administrator estimated that perhaps 60 percent of the Venezuelans, especially the younger ones, intend to migrate to the United States, while the rest may be giving up and returning to Venezuela.

Efecto Cocuyo meanwhile reported from an area near the bus terminal in San José, Costa Rica, where Venezuelan migrants congregate, some sleeping in tents, just days after emerging from the Darién. What keeps many from moving immediately on to Nicaragua and further north is knowledge that Nicaraguan authorities charge $150 per migrant for “safe conduct” to pass through the country’s territory. “For many, the Darién took everything from them, so they have to stay in Costa Rica to collect the money or look for alternatives.” Lacking relatives or contacts in the United States who might wire money, many of the Venezuelan migrants are selling items like candy on the streets in order to earn enough to pay the Nicaraguan authorities.

These reports from along the migrant route indicate that the flow of Venezuelan migrants now being experienced in El Paso and elsewhere along the U.S.-Mexico border is not ebbing. It is likely to intensify further in the coming weeks.

Other news

  • In recent months, CBP has allowed a few hundred Haitian migrants each week to approach some ports of entry and seek asylum or humanitarian parole, as exceptions to Title 42. This led to a sharp drop in the number of Haitian migrants who cross between ports of entry and end up in Border Patrol custody. Still, the number allowed to access the ports each day is small, and Haitians waiting in Mexican border cities like Reynosa, Tamaulipas have begun to “protest” and voice anger at shelter directors when their names are not called, Sister Norma Pimentel of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley told Border Report. Currently, she said, 85 percent of all migrants in Reynosa, one of Mexico’s most violent border cities, are from Haiti.
  • That situation appears likely to worsen as CBP has suddenly suspended Title 42 exemptions at the Reynosa/Hidalgo port of entry.
  • At the Guardian, Valerie González reported from Reynosa, where shelter capacity is overwhelmed and migrants are camped outdoors in miserable conditions.
  • “We told him that we are not going to remain silent if migrants are mistreated, much less if Mexicans are mistreated, and I spoke about the issue of the wall, that President Biden has said that he is not going to build a wall, and that he is keeping his promise,” said Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador about his September 12 meeting in Mexico City with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
  • Alongside that meeting, a “High-Level Economic Dialogue,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Chris Magnus met with Mexican National Migration Institute (INM) director Francisco Garduño for what is at least the third time since June.
  • Three migrant women were hospitalized after falling from the border wall south of San Diego on September 11. In the San Diego area, “Just from January 1 to July 31, Mercy [Scripps Mercy trauma service] reported treating 141 patients and UCSD [University of California at San Diego] reported 159, putting them on track to beat prior years’ wall-fall counts,” reported the Medpage Today website.
  • Construction projects in Arizona continue as the Biden administration closes gaps between sections of border wall built by the Trump administration. Dora Rodríguez of the humanitarian group Salvavision Rescue Arizona told Fronteras Desk that “she worries closing them will just send people into deeper wilderness areas, especially as border policies like Title 42 severely restrict the ability to ask for asylum at a port of entry.” Construction of “levee walls” in south Texas continued last year despite the incoming Biden administration’s call to halt wall-building, note documents obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity.
  • “Joint Task Force Alpha,” an anti-smuggling initiative begun last year in the Biden administration’s Justice Department, handed down eight indictments of members of what it called “a prolific human smuggling operation in Texas and across the Southern United States.”
  • “Before crossing into the United States, César Ávalos sensed that something was not right, stopped his car and opened the trunk to find two men inside,” begins an article in the Mexican daily Milenio about an increase in cases of Mexican smuggling organizations using documented border-crossers as unwitting “blind mules.”
  • Though data point to an alarming increase in border-wide migrant deaths on the U.S. side of the border this year (as detailed in our September 9 and July 29 border updates), Cronkite News reports a reduction in Arizona. Though the state’s deserts are often one of the deadliest parts of the border, the Medical Examiner of Pima County, which includes Tucson, reports recovering 136 remains during the first 8 months of 2022, compared to 163 during the first 8 months of 2022.
  • Between the reasons they fled and abuse suffered during the journey, “7 out of 10 migrant women” who pass through the shelter in Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico “are currently in need of psychological or even psychiatric assistance,” estimated the shelter’s director, Alberto Xicotencatl Carrasco.
  • A data analysis from the Syracuse University-based TRAC Immigration project concludes that, contrary to much official and NGO reporting (including WOLA’s), Title 42 expulsions have not led to an increase in repeat border crossings.
  • CBP will shut down its “@CBPWestTexas” Twitter account after an unidentified employee used it to share former Trump advisor Stephen Miller’s view that “Biden’s eradication of our border means we are no longer a Republic,” and to issue “likes” to homophobic tweets.
  • “It’s not migrants bringing [fentanyl] across in backpacks, it’s mostly U.S. citizens and truckers smuggling it into the country through legal ports of entry,” reads an analysis of the lack of overlap between drug smuggling and migration, by Aaron Reichlin-Melnick of the American Immigration Council.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: September 9, 2022

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.

This week:

  • As many as 13 migrants drowned trying to cross a swollen Rio Grande between Piedras Negras, Coahuila and Eagle Pass, Texas on September 1. It is the latest tragedy in what is already a record year for migrant deaths at the border.
  • Mexico’s migration authorities apprehended their fourth largest-ever monthly total of undocumented migrants in July. For the first time, fully half of them were not from El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. Eight months in, 2022 is already Mexico’s second-largest year for asylum requests. Mexico’s armed forces are playing an ever-larger role in interdicting migrants.
  • Guatemala blocked more than 500 migrants in a northbound “caravan” attempting to enter from Honduras. Smaller “caravans” are forming several times per week in Mexico near the Guatemala border, as migrants seek to obtain documents allowing them to transit Mexican territory.

Tragedy in Eagle Pass

On September 1, about a mile downstream of the border bridges between Piedras Negras, Coahuila and Eagle Pass, Texas, a large group of migrants attempted to cross a Rio Grande swollen by recent rains. CBP reported as of September 3 that nine members of this group died by drowning  in the river. A September 3 tweet from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Chris Magnus referred to “13 lives lost yesterday while they attempted to cross the Rio Grande River at Eagle Pass.”

The nationalities of the deceased have not been reported. U.S. personnel reported rescuing 37 members of the group from the river, while Mexican authorities apprehended 39 on the Coahuila side. The Washington Post reported that the tragedy “appeared to be the deadliest mass drowning along the border in years.” The Eagle Pass fire chief told the New York Times that U.S. and Mexican authorities recovered 12 bodies from the river in a single day (in separate events) about 2 months ago, adding that drownings are an everyday event there.

Eagle Pass is one of two major (over 30,000 population) towns in Border Patrol’s Del Rio Sector, in a rural area of mid-Texas. (Border Patrol divides the U.S.-Mexico land border into nine sectors.) Once a quiet part of the border, Del Rio was the border’s number-one sector for CBP migrant encounters in January, June, and July of this year.

More than half of migrants encountered in Del Rio (70 percent of them in July) come from countries other than Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. Two thirds in July came from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Colombia. Citizens of those countries are led to cross in Del Rio (and in Yuma, Arizona) by word of mouth—but also by smuggling organizations. “What we know with absolute certainty is that the smuggling organizations control the flow,” the chief of Border Patrol’s Tucson, Arizona Sector told the Associated Press in a story reported this week from Yuma.

2022 is already the worst year on record for deaths of migrants on the U.S. side of the Mexico border, punctuated by tragedies like the June asphyxiation death of 53 people in a cargo container, and several hundred fatal cases of dehydration and exposure in deserts, dozens if not hundreds of drownings in rivers and canals, and numerous falls from the border wall. A 5-year-old Guatemalan girl drowned near El Paso, Texas on August 22. That week, Border Patrol encountered two unaccompanied Guatemalan girls, aged four and one years old, near Ajo, Arizona. The remains of 28 Guatemalan migrants, found at different locations this year, are currently in the morgue of McAllen, Texas, awaiting final certification of their identities.

Mexico’s migrant apprehensions remain high, and military role increases

Mexico’s migration authorities apprehended their fourth largest-ever monthly total of undocumented migrants in July—33,848 people—according to data posted in late August.

For the first time, fully half of those apprehended were not from Central America’s so-called “Northern Triangle” countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras). As recently as 2018, 87% of Mexico’s apprehended migrants came from those countries. The countries whose migrants Mexico apprehended over 1,000 times in July were, from most to least: Honduras, Guatemala, Venezuela, El Salvador, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Colombia.

For the month of August, Mexico’s refugee agency (Mexican Refugee Aid Commission, COMAR) reported receiving its largest number of asylum applications since March. 10,763 people applied for asylum in Mexico last month, boosting COMAR’s annual total to 77,786—already its second-largest asylum total ever. (COMAR received nearly 130,000 applications last year.)

The countries whose migrants have sought asylum in Mexico over 3,000 times in 2022 so far are, from most to least: Honduras, Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Applications from Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, and “other countries” already exceed their 2021 full-year totals.

Mexico, meanwhile, is increasingly using its military to interdict migrants. This is part of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s overall drive to increase the military’s role in Mexican life. That drive includes a bill nearing passage in Mexico’s Congress that would place the  National Guard, a militarized police force established in 2019, firmly within the military chain of command. A September 2 WOLA commentary warns that this step will give the armed forces “more and more power vis-à-vis civilian authorities.”

The Mexican Presidency’s latest annual “report on activities” offers statistics about the armed forces’ migration role, summarized by journalist Manu Ureste at Animal Político. The Army, Marines, and National Guard reported collaborating in the apprehension of 345,584 migrants between September 2021 and June 2022. Three-quarters were apprehended by the Army. Ureste notes that—for unclear reasons—this is more than the 309,430 migrants that Mexico’s civilian migration agency (National Migration Institute, INM) reported apprehending during those months.

46,916 military and National Guard personnel are currently deployed on counter-migration missions in Mexico right now, a 46 percent increase over 2021. Of those, 23,458 are marines (a 46 percent increase over 2021); 14,013 are army soldiers (a 2.5 percent increase); and 9,445 are guardsmen (a 296 percent increase).

Although the National Guard can check immigration status, formally, military personnel are not supposed to be detaining migrants: that is the task of the INM, a force that does not carry lethal weapons. Soldiers are meant to provide perimeter security for INM operations and to man checkpoints. However, as Ureste points out, human rights organizations have been pointing out since 2015 that military and police personnel are playing active roles in arresting migrants.

“In administrative terms, it is the INM who makes the detention,” Alberto Xicoténcatl of the Saltillo, Coahuila migrant shelter told Animal Político. “But in practical terms, those who carry out the operations to detain migrants, those who chase them and put them in the detention vans, are directly the National Guard or the Army.” Adds Yuriria Salvador of the Tapachula, Chiapas-based Fray Matías Migrant Rights Center, “It is very visible that the National Guard has become the armed wing of the INM and the executor of a migration policy based on containing and detaining migrants and asylum seekers, and on militarizing the Institute.”

From January to August, Jeff Abbott reported at Foreign Policy, Mexico had deported 26,557 Guatemalans by land. (The official statistic for all Mexican deportations of Guatemalans, including flights, is 28,826 during the first 7 months of 2022.) Abbott notes that almost no services are available to returned Guatemalans: “The extent of the attention they receive essentially ends once they leave the reception center.” The difficulty of crossing Mexico has increased smugglers’ fees to an average of US$15,500 “for a package that includes multiple attempts to cross the Mexico-U.S. border.”

Guatemala blocks “caravan” from Honduras, while short-term “caravans” form almost daily in Chiapas

Amid news of a “caravan” of several hundred migrants leaving Honduras and bound for the United States via Guatemala’s southern border, Guatemala’s migration authority (Guatemalan Migration Institute, IGM) declared itself on “orange alert.” Migration agents, in coordination with security forces, carried out an operation that, as of September 5, had removed 548 migrants back across the border into Honduras. (Guatemala has expelled about 11,000 migrants into Honduras so far in 2022.)

The IGM reported that 361 of the removed migrants were Venezuelan, 60 were Honduran, and 56 were Cuban. Other nationalities mentioned include Haiti, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Cameroon. One woman from Angola was detained while walking barefoot, her feet bleeding.

Under a longstanding migratory agreement, citizens of Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador can enter Guatemalan territory without a visa or passport, just showing their national identity cards. The IGM noted that it expelled the Honduran members of this most recent group, though, because they did not cross in an official manner.

On the other side of Guatemala’s border with Mexico, in Chiapas, migrants stranded in the border-zone city of Tapachula have organized about 12 so-called “caravans,” each approximately 200 to 500 people, in the space of just over two weeks. Their destination appears to be Tapanatepec, in Oaxaca state, the first crossroads town one hits after leaving Chiapas along the Pacific coastal highway from Tapachula, 180 miles away.

Word of mouth has spread that in that town, over the past month and a half, an INM facility has been handing out Multiple Migratory Forms (FMMs, basically tourist cards) allowing undocumented migrants to be in Mexico for 30 days.

With an FMM, migrants have a documented status allowing them to board buses and travel through Mexico, including to the U.S. border zone. Migrants told the online journalism outlet Desinformémonos that word of mouth tells them to go to areas in Mexico’s northern-border zone where Mexican authorities are less likely to take migrants’ FMMs and “rip them up in your faces.”

Other News

  • The latest quarterly “Metering Update” from the University of Texas Strauss Center estimates 55,445 migrants currently on asylum waitlists in 11 Mexican border cities. The number includes those who’ve added their names to Title 42 exception waitlists. Most are in Tijuana.
  • “The U.S. government has returned 225 Cuban citizens in the last hours in four operations carried out through the port of Orozco, in the western province of Artemisa,” Cuba’s Interior Ministry announced on September 6. They were among the more than 5,154 Cuban citizens interdicted at sea since fiscal year 2022 began last October. Mexico, meanwhile, has carried out 13 deportation flights to Cuba this calendar year, returning 1,697 people.
  • Mexican authorities’ seizures of fentanyl in Tijuana increased 333 percent during the first 8 months of 2022 over the same period in 2021, EFE reported. Most seizures have taken place in Tijuana’s Zona Norte, a tourist-heavy area not far from the main (San Ysidro) port of entry.
  • A tweet from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico indicates that the State Department’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement bureau (INL) plans to fund the training of 200 agents from Mexico’s migration agency (Instituto Nacional de Migración, INM) in 2022 and 2023.
  • Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said that “border infrastructure” will be on the agenda when he meets U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken for a high-level economic dialogue next week in Monterrey.
  • “Absolutely,” Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke said when asked whether, if elected, he would keep National Guard troops and Texas state police stationed along the state’s border with Mexico. “But with all things, there has to be a balance,” narrowing their mission, he added before a crowd in the border city of Del Rio. O’Rourke is challenging current Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who has spent over $4 billion in state funds on military and police border deployments that the Democrat calls “stunts.”
  • Medium-term shelter is among the most acute needs for the nearly 10,000 migrants whom Gov. Abbott has bused to Washington, DC since March, the Washington Post reported in a story citing many migrants and aid workers. Of those bused to Washington, many of them Venezuelan, an unusually large number have no contacts, support networks, or places to stay in the United States. “The military said: ‘If you don’t have family to receive you, go to Washington. The trip is free,’” a Nicaraguan migrant said that a Texas National Guardsman told him.
  • “No one solves a problem they cannot see,” wrote Joy Olson at Mexico Today about Mexican migrant kidnappers’ extortion of their victims’ U.S.-based relatives—a crime that goes vastly unreported because so many of the relatives are undocumented and unwilling to alert U.S. authorities. “To see this problem, we need to develop clear channels for reporting.”
  • The latest monthly report from Witness at the Border, covering August, counted 140 migrant removal flights to 14 different countries, down from 142 flights in July. Colombia (19 to 23) and Brazil (3 to 10) saw the largest increases in flights; Guatemala (46 to 29) saw the largest decrease.
  • “The Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector has a new challenge coin that features concertina wire around the Border Patrol’s badge,” wrote Pedro Rios of the American Friends Service Committee’s U.S.-Mexico Border Program at the San Diego Union-Tribune. “In its description on its website, it says the concertina wire symbolizes ‘a new way of thinking about border security in San Diego.’”
  • Costa Rica’s asylum system is so strained by an ongoing wave of Nicaraguan migration that applicants are being given appointments for the year 2030, the AP reported.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: August 19, 2022

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 absence, WOLA will not publish Weekly Border Updates on August 26 or September 2. The next update will appear on September 9.

This week:

  • July saw the second consecutive monthly drop in CBP’s encounters with migrants. The agency encountered slightly more individual migrants and significantly fewer repeat border crossers. Only 52 percent of July’s migrants came from Mexico or Central America’s “Northern Triangle,” the nationalities that make up nearly all Title 42 expulsions. As the remaining 48 percent came from countries whose citizens are harder to expel, the share of migrants subjected to Title 42 in July fell to 37 percent, the smallest share since the pandemic began.
  • Mexico’s two largest border cities, Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez, saw unusually fierce outbreaks of organized-crime violence between August 11 and the August 13-14 weekend. CBP’s operations, including removals and expulsions into those cities, were unaffected.
  • Revelations about continued confiscation of Sikh asylum seekers’ turbans in Arizona drew new attention, and new advocacy energy, to the longstanding issue of CBP officers’ and Border Patrol agents’ confiscation, disposal, and non-return of migrants’ valuable and vital possessions.

Migration slows from Mexico and Northern Triangle, increases from elsewhere

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and its Border Patrol component encountered undocumented migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border 199,976 times in July, a 4 percent drop from June and a 6 percent drop from July 2021. “This marks the second month in a row of decreased encounters along the Southwest border. While the encounter numbers remain high, this is a positive trend and the first two-month drop since October 2021,” CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said in a release.

Of last month’s 199,976 “migrant encounters”:

  • 181,552 took place in territory where Border Patrol operates: between the official border crossings, or ports of entry. That is 6 percent fewer than in June 2022 and 10 percent fewer than in July 2021.
  • 18,424 took place at the ports of entry, usually because CBP officers allowed migrants—many of them asylum seekers—to approach these border facilities and present themselves. That was 19 percent more encounters at ports of entry than in June, and 42 percent more than in July 2021. In the nearly 11 years for which we have monthly data, July 2022 saw the 3rd-largest monthly total of migrants allowed to approach ports of entry. (Really the 2nd-largest total, because April 2022, when a large number of Ukrainian refugees were processed at the ports of entry, was an anomaly.)

CBP reported that its 199,976 “encounters” took place with 162,792 actual individual migrants. 22 percent of last month’s migrant encounters were with repeat crossers: individuals who had already been encountered at least once in the previous 12 months.

That is a larger number of repeat crossers than was the norm in fiscal years 2014-19 (15 percent). The reason is the Title 42 pandemic authority in place since March 2020, which usually expels migrants very quickly: without a chance to ask for asylum in the United States, but also with very little time in CBP custody or other consequences. That, as an August 16 Wall Street Journal analysis points out, has incentivized repeat attempts to cross.

Despite this, July continued what appears to be a several-month decline in repeat border crossers. Although CBP reported a June-July drop in overall “encounters,” the agency reported increased individuals (162,792, up from 153,379 in June’s CBP release).

Read More

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: August 5, 2022

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, WOLA will not publish a Weekly Border Update on August 12. The next update will appear on August 19.

This week:

  • As the Senate nears a vote on a big “Inflation Reduction Act,” a procedural quirk may provide Republican senators with an opportunity to add amendments curtailing the right to seek asylum, building more border walls, and otherwise hardening the border.
  • A month after the Supreme Court green-lighted the Biden administration’s efforts to end “Remain in Mexico,” some in the administration appear to favor keeping the program in place for now.
  • Confiscation of religious headgear, falsification of migration forms, post-midnight expulsions of small children,  a 33-hour detention of a 9-year-old U.S. citizen, and another fatal vehicle pursuit highlight continued concerns about human rights at CBP and Border Patrol.

“Vote-a-Rama” in U.S. Senate could include anti-migrant amendments

Before it leaves for its August recess, the U.S. Senate—which is divided evenly between 50 Democrats (including Democrat-leaning independents) and 50 Republicans—will debate and possibly approve the “Inflation Reduction Act,” a large budget bill reflecting Biden administration priorities, especially health care and climate provisions. The Senate’s complicated rules allow budget-only measures like this one to pass with a simple majority, avoiding the 60-vote “filibuster” threshold that prevents much legislation from being considered.

The resulting process, called “reconciliation,” requires that the bill be open to amendments on unrelated topics during a grueling, many-hours-long procedure that usually drags on until the pre-dawn hours of the next day. Called “vote-a-rama,” it offers an opportunity for senators from the body’s large Republican minority to introduce amendments that could restrict migration, codify obstacles to the right to seek asylum, or otherwise harden the U.S.-Mexico border.

Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), the principal sponsor of a bill that would keep in place Title 42, the pandemic provision that eliminates the right to seek asylum at the border, told Roll Call on August 2 “that Republicans have some immigration-related amendments ‘in the queue,’ though he declined to provide specifics.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) added that “he thought border security would come up during the vote-a-rama process.”

Amendments could seek to enshrine into permanent law the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico program, which forces asylum seekers to await their U.S. court dates inside Mexico, or Title 42, empowering U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to expel migrants indefinitely for public health reasons. Amendments could also seek to re-start construction of the Trump administration’s border wall, which Joe Biden halted when he assumed office in January 2021.

It is possible that some of these amendments to the spending bill could pass with a simple majority. They will have solid Republican support, and a small number of moderate and conservative Democrats, or Democrats facing tough re-election races in states where immigration is unpopular with swing voters, could end up voting for them as well. Several conservative or vulnerable Democrats are already co-sponsors of Lankford’s legislation that would keep Title 42 in place for months after the end of the U.S. COVID-19 emergency, which could last for years. (Currently Title 42, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had intended to lift on May 23, remains in place by order of a federal judge in Louisiana.)

Should such amendments succeed, however, the larger “Inflation Reduction Act” bill—which, if it passes, would do so with the slimmest of majorities—could be in jeopardy. The anti-migrant measures could lead progressive and pro-immigration Democratic senators to vote against the entire bill. If hardline “poison pill” border and immigration provisions added during “vote-a-rama” cause even a few of those senators to vote “no,” the bill will fail.

At the Washington Post, columnist Greg Sargent called the likelihood of Republican immigration amendments a “ticking time bomb still threatening the big climate deal.” Sargent cited an e-mailed statement from Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), who warned that “Adoption of amendments that would end access to asylum or expand Trump’s border wall…will put reconciliation at risk.” This, Sargent said, “is a not-so-veiled suggestion that adoption of such poison pills might imperil the whole climate deal.” Menendez repeated this language on Twitter.

WOLA, one of many groups to issue statements opposing harmful “vote-a-rama” amendments, warned that such provisions could usher in “a harmful regime that could cause years of real human suffering.” A letter from 286 U.S. non-governmental organizations, including WOLA, urged senators to oppose any legislation that might “end asylum at the border”; “harm immigrants’ health, economic well-being, or education”; or “further bloat enforcement or militarize the border.”

As of Thursday morning (August 4), the timetable is not clear. The Senate’s Democratic leadership is awaiting word from the body’s parliamentarian on how the rules of debate will proceed, while trying to secure the support of the remaining Democratic holdout, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona). “Several Democratic senators” cited by Roll Call said they expect the “vote-a-rama” process to begin “as soon as this weekend.”

“Remain in Mexico” is not over yet

With a 5-4 decision on June 30, the Supreme Court upheld the Biden administration’s ability to cancel the “Remain in Mexico” policy, an initiative begun by the Trump administration in 2019 that sent over 70,000 asylum-seeking migrants back across the border into Mexico to await their U.S. immigration hearings. Evidence that the Biden administration is preparing to end the policy, however, is scarce.

President Joe Biden began shutting down Remain in Mexico, which he regarded as cruel and ineffective, after taking office in January 2021, but a Texas federal judge in August 2021 ordered the White House to restart it. The program re-launched in December; since then, about 5,000 more migrants have been sent back to Mexico to await their U.S. hearings. The Supreme Court’s recent ruling overruled that August 2021 decision, giving a green light to “re-terminate” Remain in Mexico.

A month later, though, Remain in Mexico continues to operate, sending dozens of migrants back to Mexico each day.

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Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: July 29, 2022

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.

This week:

  • Leaked data show that 2022 is already the worst year on record for deaths of migrants on the U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • Mayors’ complaints indicate that Texas and Arizona governors’ steady flow of migrants bused to Washington, D.C. has begun to strain local services.
  • A new report shows how a rapidly changing smuggling business is using social media to sell its services, often with highly misleading claims, to an increasingly online migrant population.

Migrant deaths: 2022 is the worst year on record

2022 is already the worst year on record for deaths of migrants on the U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico border, according to internal data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Anna Giaritelli of the Washington Examiner obtained and confirmed data showing that, since the U.S. government’s 2022 fiscal year started in October, CBP has found 605 remains of migrants. That already exceeds the fiscal 2021 full-year total of 566, which itself was a record. It is roughly double the amount of deaths CBP recorded each year from 2014 to 2020.

Most migrants die painful deaths. Dehydration, heat exhaustion, or exposure at night in deserts and dry brushland appear to be the most common causes. An increasing number are drowning in the Rio Grande, irrigation canals, and other bodies of water. An increasing number are killed, or badly injured, trying to climb segments of 30-foot-high border wall installed during the Trump administration. This year’s 609 deaths include the 53 migrants who perished in a hot, airless cargo trailer between Laredo and San Antonio, Texas, on June 27.

In a June 28 analysis, WOLA noted that “migrants continue to die at the U.S.-Mexico border, usually of drowning, dehydration, exposure, or falls from the border wall, with a frequency that seems unprecedented.” The new data confirms that the frequency is without precedent.

The Examiner and Reuters—which published an in-depth examination of border migrant deaths this week—both reported that CBP recorded 151 “CBP-related” deaths during the 2021 fiscal year. The term refers to deaths in CBP custody, at a port of entry or checkpoint, or while trying to elude CBP personnel.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) maintains a separate count of migrant deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border (as well as other migrant routes). The UN-affiliated agency counts 357 dead so far during the 2022 calendar year, on pace to match or exceed the 728 it counted in 2021.

“In addition to these deaths—the worst of all outcomes—there are countless other grave injuries sustained by people migrating as a result of the dangerous routes they are forced to undertake,” recalls a July 23 statement from Annunciation House, an El Paso respite center that attends to thousands of migrants released from CBP custody each month. “Many of our guests at Annunciation House are recovering from broken bones, amputations, or other injuries that were sustained because of the border wall and draconian immigration policies. In many cases, these injuries will permanently affect their mobility, well-being, and ability to earn a living.”

As WOLA’s July 28 analysis noted, border deaths increase as enforcement policies harden in an effort to deter migrants. (Today’s record levels of migration show that decades of deterrence policies have had no effect, other than increased fatalities.) Reuters cites the “towering wall” along the border, which has channeled migrants to more dangerous desert routes, and the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy, prolonged in May by a Louisiana federal court order, that forces many countries’ asylum seekers to avoid detection rather than turning themselves in to U.S. authorities.

“The U.S. immigration enforcement system has operated under a single premise since the creation of the Border Patrol in 1924: deterrence,” wrote Jason Buch in a July 25 essay at the Texas Observer. “It’s the idea we can somehow make coming to this country more miserable than the natural disasters, civil wars, gang violence, and economic hardship that displace people in the first place.”

Border Patrol divides the U.S.-Mexico border into nine geographic sectors. According to the 2022 data, the sector with the most reported deaths this year is the easternmost one, south Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, with 173 remains found. Giaritelli wrote, “The Del Rio region of Texas followed with 154 bodies; 72 in Tucson, Arizona; and 64 in Laredo, Texas.”

Many of the deaths in the Rio Grande Valley region actually take place about 80 miles north of the border, in Brooks County, where Border Patrol maintains a highway checkpoint that migrants seek to evade by walking for miles through dry brushland where it is easy to get lost. “There have already been 60 migrant deaths so far this year in Brooks County,” Sandra Sanchez of Border Report told the Texas Standard this week. “Last year there were 119, and in the entire Rio Grande Valley sector, there have been 140. So you can see almost half of the deaths occur in this area, Brooks County.” (For more, see the award-winning 2021 documentary Missing in Brooks County and WOLA’s podcast interview with its creators.)

Just west of the Rio Grande Valley, in Laredo, the organization Texas Nicaraguan Community reported that the bodies of four men and one woman remain in the city morgue two months after they perished because of difficulties in repatriating them to Nicaragua. “The organization says that ‘there are many suspicions of more Nicaraguans in that morgue in unidentified condition,’” according to Nicaragua Investiga.

Further west in El Paso, Border Report noted, CBP has counted 56 migrant deaths since fiscal 2022 began. Of those, 20 were drownings in fast-flowing irrigation canals, most of them in the past two months. The El Paso Sheriff told Border Report that a 42-year-old Mexican man was recovered from an irrigation canal on July 22, while the El Paso Times reported the recovery of a boy’s body from a canal that same day.

Border Report this week also profiled work to recover and identify bodies, and to help bring closure to victims’ families, in Tucson, Arizona by the Pima County Medical Examiner and the Colibrí Center for Human Rights.

Though not at the border, U.S.-bound migrants are also dying in elevated numbers at sea this year. At least 17 Haitians, including a child, died on July 24 when their 30-foot speedboat, loaded with up to 60 people, capsized about 7 miles off the coast of the Bahamian island of New Providence. “The passengers paid $3,000 to $8,000 to travel on the boat,” according to Bahamian officials cited in the New York Times.

Border Patrol “rescues” data also highlight migrants’ plight. The agency counted 16,897 search-and-rescue efforts carried out during the first 9 months of fiscal 2022, up from 12,833 in all of 2021 and about 5,000 each in 2019 and 2020.

The Washington Examiner border-wide data are revealing because CBP has not updated its official count of migrant deaths since 2020. Section 5(a) of the Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Act ( Public Law 116-277, passed on December 31, 2020) requires CBP to produce a public annual report on migrant deaths, including—where possible—information about the decedents’ gender, nationality, and location of death. The first report was due at the end of 2021; a WOLA inquiry to congressional oversight staff found that it is still forthcoming, but the timetable for release is not clear.

Washington and New York mayors appeal for help with Texas and Arizona migrant buses

In April, Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R), an immigration hardliner up for re-election in November, began paying to place willing asylum-seeking migrants on buses to Washington, DC, after their releases from CBP custody. Since then, Texas has bused over 5,400 migrants to Washington, Abbott’s office told DCist this week. In May, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) began a similar operation; Arizona has bused 1,151 migrants to Washington, according to Border Report.

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Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: July 22, 2022

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.

This week:

  • CBP encountered 14 percent fewer migrants at the border in June than in May, though it was still the busiest June since public monthly reporting began in 2000. 44 percent of encounters ended with Title 42 expulsions.
  • The nationality of migrants that increased the most was Venezuelans. This is despite Mexico’s January requirement of  visas for visiting Venezuelans: more are migrating through the dangerous Darién Gap region.
  • CBP’s data show border-zone seizures of nearly all major drugs, except possibly fentanyl, falling behind their 2021 pace. As in past years, the overwhelming majority of drugs—except cannabis—are seized at border ports of entry.
  • Following the July 12 meeting between the U.S. and Mexican presidents, Mexico detailed new border infrastructure investments, assigning many to its military. Mexico signaled that the U.S. government would offer more temporary work visas, but U.S. officials won’t confirm that.
  • Texas’s state law enforcement is rounding up migrants and dropping them at ports of entry, and sending released migrants on buses to Washington. A sergeant died on July 15, the eighth loss since October of a Texas National Guard soldier deployed to the border.

CBP’s migrant encounters dropped 14 percent in June

U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported encountering 207,416 undocumented migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in June. This was the most encounters ever for a month of June but 14 percent fewer than in May.

The Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy, prolonged by a federal court order, continues to ease repeat attempts to cross the border because it involves minimal time in CBP custody. As a result, the 207,416 “encounters” were with 153,379 actual individual people. 26 percent of CBP’s reported encounters were with people who had already been encountered at least once before in the past 12 months.

The “encounters” total includes 15,518 migrants who appeared at land ports of entry (official border crossings). The other 191,898 encounters occurred in the spaces between the ports of entry, where Border Patrol operates. This was Border Patrol’s smallest monthly total since February.

It is still a historically large number. Border Patrol has encountered migrants 1,634,104 times since October 2021, when the U.S. government’s 2022 fiscal year began. With three months to go before fiscal 2022 ends, that nearly exceeds 2021’s 1,659,206 encounters, which were the most ever reported.

Of those encountered in June, 44 percent were swiftly expelled under the Title 42 authority, which had been scheduled to end on May 23 but was prolonged by a Texas federal judge’s decision. Since the pandemic began in March 2020, Title 42 has been used to expel migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border 2,116,211 times.

In late June, Republican legislators succeeded in adding language to two 2023 appropriations bills that would keep Title 42 in place potentially for years, as reported in WOLA’s July 1 Update. More than 180 U.S. organizations, including WOLA, signed a July 15 letter calling on Congress to remove this “poison pill” language from the bills.

Mexico agreed in March 2020 to accept expelled citizens of Central America’s so-called “Northern Triangle” (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras), and in May 2022 to accept limited numbers of expelled Cubans and Nicaraguans. Other migrants are expelled by air, although only Haiti has seen a significant percentage of its migrants returned on planes (33 percent during this fiscal year).

June saw a slowdown in expulsions of citizens of countries other than Mexico and the Northern Triangle. Expulsions of Cubans and Nicaraguans dropped from 3,979 in May to 593 in June. Mexico had committed to accepting expelled Cubans and Nicaraguans until May 23, the day that Title 42 was originally slated to end. The numbers show that Mexico did not resume accepting those expulsions after the court order prolonged Title 42. Planes to Haiti, meanwhile, largely ceased: Just 15 Haitians were expelled in June.

In fact, in an encouraging development, Border Patrol encountered only 143 Haitian citizens crossing between the ports of entry in June, down from more than 7,000 in May.

The reason is a change at the ports of entry: in coordination with humanitarian organizations, CBP has been allowing a larger number of migrants considered more vulnerable to approach the ports to seek protection. The 15,518 undocumented migrants who came to ports of entry in June were the sixth-largest monthly total measured since fiscal year 2012; May was the fourth-largest monthly total. Nearly 4,000 of the  migrants allowed to approach the ports last month were Haitian. About three-quarters of them arrived at ports of entry in south Texas.

The recent experience with Haitian migrants—orderly processing of protection claims at ports of entry, with a sharp drop in improper crossings—offers a potential model for managing today’s large hemisphere-wide flows of protection-seeking migration.

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Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: July 14, 2022

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.

This week:

  • CBP released a long-awaited investigation into the September 2021 incident in Del Rio, Texas, when horse-mounted Border Patrol agents were caught on camera behaving aggressively toward Haitian migrants. The report finds fault with agents’ behavior, Border Patrol command and control, lack of crowd control training, and other issues. Administrative punishments appear likely.
  • President Biden and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador met in Washington on July 12. Mexico agreed to make $1.5 billion in border infrastructure investments over the next two years. There was no agreement on temporary work visas.
  • 15,633 people migrated through Panama’s treacherous Darién Gap jungles in June, a number that has increased nearly every month this year. Almost three quarters of the migrants were Venezuelans who are now unable to fly visa-free to Mexico.
  • The once-quiet Del Rio border sector appears poised to become the busiest, leading all others in migrant encounters, with more than 13,000 in an early July week. Most are not from Mexico or Central America’s “Northern Triangle.”
  • An executive order from Texas’s governor, whose language adopts “invasion” rhetoric, empowers state law enforcement to apprehend migrants and transport them to border ports of entry.

CBP concludes Del Rio investigation

On July 8 U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released a long-awaited report on the September 2021 incident along the Rio Grande in Del Rio, Texas, when horse-mounted Border Patrol agents were caught on camera charging and swinging reins at Haitian migrants during a mass migration event. The investigation by CBP’s Office of Public Responsibility (OPR, a body that reports directly to CBP’s commissioner) foundfailures at multiple levels of the agency, a lack of appropriate policies and training, and unprofessional and dangerous behavior by several individual Agents.”

An outcry followed publication of the September 19 images and videos of mounted agents charging at, grabbing, swinging reins, yelling, and maneuvering the Haitians back into the river. Condemnation and promises of swift action came from President Joe Biden, Vice-President Kamala Harris, and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, among many others. “I promise you, those people will pay. There is an investigation underway right now and there will be consequences,” said Biden.

Mayorkas promised that an investigation “will be completed in days—not weeks.” In fact, it took OPR nearly 10 months to produce its 511-page report. CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus, who took office last December, said he was “not happy about the length of time.” Much of the delay owed to the agency’s choice to treat the case as a criminal matter, referring it to the Department of Justice. The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas considered it for nearly six months before deciding, on March 11, 2022, not to pursue criminal charges. During that long period, OPR was unable to interview the Border Patrol agents directly involved in the incident.

What imprecisely became known as the “whipping incident” happened during an unusual immigration event. CBP noted that “over the course of several days, U.S. Border Patrol Agents processed, screened, and vetted more than 30,000 migrants by the international bridge” in Del Rio, a mid-Texas border city of 30,000 people that until recently had seen only modest levels of migration.

Much of this population was Haitian: over the course of 2021, approximately 100,000 Haitian citizens who had been living in Brazil and Chile migrated north through Panama’s Darién Gap, then to Mexico. (Panama recorded 101,072 Haitians passing through the dangerous Darién in 2021, including children born in South America, while Mexico apprehended 18,924 Haitians and received asylum requests from 51,076.)

In late August and early September (as noted in WOLA’s Border Updates at the time) thousands of Haitian migrants bottled up in Mexico’s far south organized “caravans” seeking to continue toward the U.S. border. Mexican forces broke these up, often brutally—but then, in mid-September, for reasons that don’t remain fully clear, roughly 15,000 mostly Haitian migrants were able to transit the country and arrive in Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, across from Del Rio, over the same few days. The migrants forded the river, which had shallow areas at the time, and gathered by the thousands in areas near the border bridge.

The mass arrival appeared to take CBP by surprise. Border Patrol, which had just 1,504 agents assigned to its once-quiet Del Rio Sector in 2020, surged personnel from elsewhere. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), an immigration hardliner, deployed state police to Del Rio.

While Abbott’s Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) personnel appeared to be seeking to block migrants’ access, CBP was seeking to process the Haitian migrants on U.S. soil. (The Title 42 pandemic order has curtailed the right to seek asylum, so many of the Haitians “processed” in Del Rio ended up being among the more than 26,000 whom the Biden administration has flown back to Haiti.)

Border Patrol, which could barely accommodate the thousands of migrants waiting to be processed on the banks of the river, was allowing them to cross into Mexico to buy food and water, then cross back.

During the mid-day on September 19, though, journalists’ cameras caught members of a Border Patrol horse patrol unit, brought in from Carrizo Springs, Texas, aggressively seeking to block the migrants—many of them carrying bags of food—from re-entering the United States. “At the time the agents used or threatened to use force, the migrants were not threatening” the mounted agents, the OPR report found.

The report includes the following findings about what happened over approximately a half hour on September 19.

  • There was no evidence that the agents “whipped” the migrants or that the riders’ reins struck any migrants. In future crowd control events, though, CBP will prohibit mounted agents from “twirling” their reins as “a distancing tactic.”
  • “Several mounted Border Patrol Agents used force or the threat of force to drive several migrants back into the Rio Grande River, despite the fact the migrants were well within the territorial boundary of the United States.”
  • In addition to swinging reins, aggressive tactics included charging horses at migrants to keep them from entering, in one case maneuvering a horse very close to a boy, and in another causing a man to fall back into the river; grabbing a man by his shirt and flipping him around; and yelling “unprofessional” comments, including “Hey! You use your women? This is why your country’s s***, you use your women for this.”
  • By pushing migrants back to the river and Mexico, the horse-patrol agents were following orders given not by Border Patrol, but a request from Texas state DPS. Though blocking migrants was not CBP’s objective, the Border Patrol supervisor approved the state agency’s request without checking with higher-ups.
  • This owed much to faulty command and control within Border Patrol. The horse patrol agents’ supervisor “was unable to obtain additional guidance from higher in the USBP chain of command at the time of the request” from Texas DPS. The agents “repeatedly sought guidance from the USBP incident command post” by radio, and backed off after being “eventually told to allow all the migrants to enter.”
  • Though assigned to a crowd control mission—a difficult job with a high risk of escalation and human rights abuse—the horse patrol unit’s members’ responses indicated that they had not received crowd control training. Commissioner Magnus said that from now on, horses would not be used for crowd control without the commissioner’s approval.

With the OPR report complete, a CBP Disciplinary Review Board, separate from OPR and made up of senior officials, is now considering punishments for the agents involved. Four agents may face administrative measures. CBS News reported that no firings are recommended, and that the Review Board proposed a seven-day suspension for the supervisor who approved the Texas state DPS request.

The agents’ defenders—including the National Border Patrol Council union, House Homeland Security Committee ranking Republican Rep. John Katko (R-New York), and several former Border Patrol leaders in a mid-June letter—argue that they are not receiving due process because President Biden had demanded in September 2021 that they “pay” for their actions. Border Patrol union President Brandon Judd said that the union will appeal any punishments.

Commissioner Magnus said on July 8 that despite the “reins” incident, “the vast majority of Border Patrol Agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel acted with honor and integrity and provided an unprecedented response to the situation in Del Rio.”

While that could be accurate for much of the Del Rio migration event, the OPR report’s scope does not go beyond what happened in the approximate half-hour on September 19 when the horse patrol was caught on camera. Much of the report, in fact, describes scenes that are already familiar to anyone who has reviewed the much-publicized footage. Migrant rights groups like the Haitian Bridge Alliance and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights have documented other alleged abuses in the context of the Del Rio event.

Critics of the OPR report have meanwhile lamented that investigators did not speak to a single Haitian migrant about what happened. Among those who would have been available is Mirard Joseph, the man whose shirt was grabbed by a horse-mounted agent in one famous image. Joseph was removed to Haiti and is suing the U.S. government.

Biden and López Obrador discuss the border and migration

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was in Washington on July 11- 12 for his second visit since Joe Biden took office. Much media attention focused on the frosty relationship between the two leaders’ administrations, who disagree on issues ranging from energy policy to the Ukraine conflict to the June Summit of the Americas’ invitation list. López Obrador’s 30-minute-plus oratory during the presidents’ Oval Office photo op also drew comment.

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Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: July 7, 2022

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.

This week:

  • May was Mexico’s fourth-largest month on record for apprehensions of migrants, and nearly half were not from Central America’s “Northern Triangle.” Mexico is on track to receive its second-largest annual total of asylum applications. Migrants—including an increasing number from countries, like Venezuela, who can no longer visit Mexico without a visa—have been staging protests and obtaining temporary migratory status.
  • We learned more about the circumstances of, and the victims of, the June 27 tragedy in which 53 migrants died of heat-related causes while being smuggled in the back of a tractor-trailer in south Texas. Humanitarian and human rights groups warned against quickly deporting the survivors.
  • Outbreaks of organized crime-related violence in Sonora and Baja California drew further attention to the difficult security situation along Mexico’s side of the border.

Trends in migration through Mexico

In late June Mexico’s Interior Department (Secretaría de Gobernación), through its Migratory Statistics Unit, released data about migration through the country during May 2022. That month, Mexican authorities apprehended 32,948 migrants, their 4th-largest monthly total on record.

Of that total, only 54 percent came from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the countries of Central America’s so-called “Northern Triangle.” Until the middle of last year, these three countries very rarely made up less than 80 percent of Mexico’s migrant apprehensions.

The remainder—shown in green in the above chart—come from the rest of the world, mainly the Americas. The following 13 nationalities measured at least 100 apprehended migrants in Mexico in May:

  1. Honduras 7,512
  2. Guatemala 7,046
  3. Nicaragua 3,462
  4. El Salvador 3,285
  5. Cuba 3,141
  6. Colombia 3,016
  7. Peru 1,165
  8. Venezuela 1,640
  9. Ecuador 756
  10. Brazil 398
  11. Russia 271
  12. Haiti 246
  13. Dominican Republic 102

The number of apprehended migrants from Haiti (#12) has fallen sharply: fewer than those from Russia in May. Haitian migration through Mexico reached a peak in September 2021, the month of the infamous Border Patrol “whipping” or “flailing reins” incident in Del Rio, Texas. That month, Mexican migration and security forces apprehended 9,009 Haitian citizens.

In early July, Mexico’s refugee agency (COMAR) reported that 9,740 people requested asylum in Mexico in June. That is slightly fewer than in February, March, and April, but still puts COMAR on track for its second-busiest year ever, with 58,462 applications during the first half of the year.

In 2021, a large number of Haitian citizens, migrating north after spending years living mostly in Brazil and Chile, made Haiti the number-one country of origin for asylum seekers in Mexico. The Chileans who appear in the above chart in 2020 and 2021 (in orange) were almost entirely the Chilean-born children of Haitian migrants.

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Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: July 1, 2022

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.

This week:

  • The Supreme Court upheld the Biden administration’s cancellation of the “Remain in Mexico” program. By a 5-4 vote, judges determined that lower courts could not compel the administration to re-start the Trump-era program, as it had by sending about 5,000 asylum seekers back to Mexican border cities since December.
  • A horrific tragedy in San Antonio, Texas—the death of 53 migrants smuggled in a stifling hot tractor-trailer—drew attention to the dangers faced by those unable to access legal asylum and migration channels, during a year that appears likely to see record-breaking numbers of deaths near the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • The House Appropriations Committee drafted its 2023 Homeland Security budget bill. It includes a Republican amendment that, if made law, would preserve the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy, potentially for years.

Supreme Court allows Biden administration to terminate “Remain in Mexico”

With a 5-4 decision on June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the Biden administration did not violate immigration law when it ended the controversial Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) or “Remain in Mexico” program. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may now proceed with its plan to stop sending asylum seekers to await their U.S. hearings in Mexico.

The Trump administration, which began implementing Remain in Mexico in January 2019, sent 71,076 asylum-seeking migrants back into Mexico until their next immigration court dates. At least 1,544 of them suffered “murder, rape, torture, kidnapping, and other violent assaults” in Mexico , Human Rights First has reported.

Fulfilling a campaign promise, the Biden administration began shutting down the program with a February 2021 executive order and a June 2021 memorandum, bringing many of the asylum seekers into the United States. That process was halted in August 2021 when Amarillo, Texas federal judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled—in a suit brought by the Republican attorneys-general of Texas and Missouri—that the Biden administration had not properly terminated Remain in Mexico. Kacsmaryk ordered the program to restart, and the Biden administration appealed, issuing a new termination memorandum in October 2021. In December, the 5th Circuit blocked the administration’s attempt to end the program. The Supreme Court heard arguments in April.

Since its court-ordered restart of the program got underway in December, the Biden administration sent more than 4,300 (or 5,114, or at least 5,600) asylum seekers, primarily from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, back to Mexico to await hearings.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the court’s three liberal members in agreeing that the renewed “Remain in Mexico 2.0” may now come to an end. “The Government’s rescission of MPP did not violate section 1225 of the INA [Immigration and Nationality Act], and the October 29 Memoranda constituted final agency action,” the court’s decision reads.

While the Republican state attorneys-general may persist with their litigation before Judge Kacsmaryk, it appears that he and other lower-court judges are now unable to force DHS to revive the program while litigation proceeds through lower courts.

Should a challenge to Remain in Mexico’s termination make its way back up to the Supreme Court, the justices’ decision indicates that they might strike it down. The majority found that Remain in Mexico was a discretionary program: something that the Biden administration “may” continue carrying out, but was not required to. The court noted that the law also allows DHS other options, including detention (which Congress doesn’t fund fully enough to detain all asylum seekers) or parole into the U.S. interior, which is increasingly being used.

The Court also found that Remain in Mexico carries too many “foreign affairs consequences” for it to be mandatory. Forcing the administration to negotiate with Mexico to accept other countries’ asylum-seeking migrants “imposes a significant burden upon the Executive’s ability to conduct diplomatic relations with Mexico, one that Congress likely did not intend section 1225(b)(2)(C) to impose,” the decision reads.

The count obtained by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) project (which is higher than DHS’s publicly reported count) shows that as of May 31, the court-ordered revival of Remain in Mexico had sent 5,114 asylum seekers to Mexican border cities. 1,109 of whom have had their cases decided or closed, with the rest still pending. It is not yet clear whether the remaining 4,000 will now have an opportunity to re-enter the United States to continue pursuing their cases.

Meanwhile, the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy, prolonged by a Louisiana judge in May under other litigation from Republican state attorneys-general, remains in effect. While DHS returned 1,460 migrants to Mexico under the Remain in Mexico program in May, DHS expelled migrants 100,699 times under Title 42 that same month, usually into Mexico and always without a U.S. hearing date.

Tragedy in San Antonio highlights alarming increase in border deaths

In the late afternoon on June 27, a very hot day in San Antonio, Texas, a worker encountered a horrible scene along a road on the city’s outskirts. A refrigerated tractor trailer with no air conditioning unit had been left with its doors partially open. People inside were crying for help, but too weak to leave. Inside, as PBS reported it, were “people piled on top of each other. Bodies were also found strewn along the road near the scene.”

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Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: June 24, 2022

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.

This week:

  • Several data points across border sectors—including a shocking 10 drownings in El Paso’s irrigation canals since June 9—point to a historically high number of migrants dying in the Rio Grande and on U.S. soil this year, mainly of drownings, dehydration, and falls from tall segments of the border wall.
  • The Supreme Court was expected to issue a ruling this week on the Biden administration’s effort to end the “Remain in Mexico” program, but no decision came. Media reports this week revealed that one woman assigned to Remain in Mexico attempted suicide in June, and three men were kidnapped in April.
  • Migration levels remain very high in June across the border. A court filing showed that CBP is increasingly granting parole—which doesn’t include an assigned immigration court date—while releasing migrants with tracking devices. Remnants of an early June caravan are arriving near the U.S. border, though Mexican states have been preventing the mostly Venezuelan migrants  from boarding buses.
  • Mexico sent hundreds more troops to the border cities of Tijuana and Matamoros in response to outbreaks of violence. A document from Mexico’s Defense Department shows the current extent of the military’s border-security and migrant-interdiction mission.

The migrant death toll increases further

Migrants continue to die at the U.S.-Mexico border, usually of drowning, dehydration, or falls from the border wall, with a frequency that appears unprecedented. WOLA’s Border Updates of May 13, May 27, June 3, and June 17 discussed migrant deaths. While U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has not reported official border-wide deaths data since 2020 (despite a legal requirement to do so), partial information points to the trend worsening further.

Since the U.S. government’s 2022 fiscal year began in October, CBP has reported 14,278 “search and rescue efforts,” which already exceeds 12,833 rescues in all of fiscal 2021 (October 2020-September 2021).

The U.S. Border Patrol divides the Mexico border into nine sectors. In its El Paso Sector, which covers 264 border miles in far west Texas and all of New Mexico, the agency reports recovering the remains of 37 migrants who died of injuries, drowning, dehydration, or vehicle strikes since October, according to a thoroughly reported El Paso Times story. Border Patrol had recovered 39 remains in all of fiscal 2021, and fiscal 2022 still has 3 very hot months to go.

Fifteen of the thirty-seven migrants who have died in the sector in 2022 have drowned in fast-flowing irrigation canals that run from the Rio Grande. At least 10 people have drowned in the two weeks since June 9, as “irrigation season”—when authorities increase the flow of water through the canals—has just begun.

“The purpose of the canal is to get water as fast as possible to our agriculture community,” Border Patrol Agent Orlando Marrero told the El Paso Times. “At 62 pounds per square foot, the water traveling nine miles per hour will create exactly 302 pounds of force. Imagine an average person, five-feet-eight or nine, in 10-foot deep water: There is no way. They are going to be swept.” Fernando García of the El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights, said, “We have never seen so many deaths in a short period of time. The structure of that canal means that whoever falls there does not come out alive.”

The danger is worse in El Paso’s American Canal, where the most drownings have occurred, because it runs right alongside a segment of border fence that was built to 30 feet during the Trump administration. “That made it more dangerous,” Irrigation district manager Jesus Reyes told the El Paso Times. “Those people are coming over and, in some cases, they climb over and fall directly into the canal.”

Five of the sector’s thirty-seven deaths in 2022 have been heat-related: while the El Paso area’s Chihuahuan Desert is not as intensely hot as Arizona’s Sonoran Desert to the west, it is still deadly, and climate change is making it more so.

CBP reports that 229 migrants have suffered injuries since October, in the El Paso Sector alone, from falls from the border wall. Injuries range “from ankle injuries to brain injuries,” according to CNN. Some falls are fatal, like that of a man who fell from an El Paso Sector border wall segment near the Santa Teresa, New Mexico port of entry in the pre-dawn hours of June 17. He died the next day after suffering “a brain hemorrhage, skull fracture, sternum fracture and broken ribs.”

In Border Patrol’s Big Bend Sector in remote west Texas—the part of the border that sees the fewest migrants—the agency has recovered 24 remains during the first 8 months of fiscal year 2022, already tying the number for all of fiscal year 2021.

Partial data point to migrant fatalities increasing in other sectors. In the Tucson Sector, which comprises most of Arizona’s border with Mexico, Border Patrol reports finding the remains of 48 people since October, according to the Tucson Sentinel. The agency’s fatality numbers, though, are consistently lower than those compiled by local officials and humanitarian groups: the Pima County Medical Examiner has processed the remains of 98 people found in the Sonoran Desert since October. Together with the humanitarian group Humane Borders, the Medical Examiner recovered 225 remains of people believed to have been border crossers during the 2021 calendar year; some of that number may have died in prior years.

In the Tucson Sector, migrants who seek to avoid apprehension rather than turning themselves in to ask for protection are “nearly 90 percent of people crossing,” according to Sector Chief John Modlin. This population is seeking to avoid stepped-up enforcement by “increasingly attempting to cross the stark reaches of Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, as well as craggy heights in the Baboquivari Mountains to get into Arizona,” the Sentinel reported.

Further west, in Border Patrol’s Yuma Sector, in western Arizona and eastern California near the Colorado River, Sector Chief Chris Clem reported “six migrant deaths” during the week of June 12 to 18.

To the east, in south Texas’s Laredo Sector, which has reported just 5 percent of all border migrant encounters this year, Sector Chief Carl Landrum stated that Border Patrol has rescued “over 5,000 people this fiscal year.” This number seems oddly high, since Border Patrol has reported 14,278 rescues in all 9 sectors so far this year, including 2,192 in the deserts of the Tucson Sector. Landrum did not report a number of deaths in the Laredo Sector.

This year’s increase in fatalities along the border is partly a consequence of a larger overall population of migrants: as noted below and in WOLA’s June 17 Border Update, this is a record year for migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The situation is worsened, though, by the “Title 42” pandemic border policy, which closes official border crossings to people who wish to seek asylum, and incentivizes repeat border crossing attempts by quickly expelling those who are caught. (The Biden administration’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had sought to end Title 42 by May 23, 2022, but a Louisiana judge has ordered that it remain in place.)

Across from El Paso, according to Border Report, “Officials estimate that at least 15,000 migrants are in [Ciudad] Juarez waiting for the end of Title 42 so they can apply for asylum in the U.S. “ El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said, “If Title 42 was not in place, they would be able to form, be able to come across and the process would flow. When the process doesn’t flow, there is a huge sense of desperation.” As a result, said García of the Border Network for Human Rights, “They are still crossing, and they are dying in extraordinary numbers.”

Supreme Court may rule soon on Remain in Mexico

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling soon on whether the Biden administration can terminate the Migrant Protection Protocols or “Remain in Mexico” Program, which a Texas judge forced it to restart last August. A ruling was thought probable on June 21 or 23, but the Court did not issue it.

When migrants from the Western Hemisphere who are not from Mexico ask for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, CBP may place them in the “Remain in Mexico” program, which sends them back into Mexico until their next immigration court hearing date. The Trump administration, which invented Remain in Mexico and began implementing it in January 2019, sent 71,076 migrants back into Mexico. At least 1,544 of them suffered “murder, rape, torture, kidnapping, and other violent assaults” in Mexican border towns, Human Rights First reported. Since its court-ordered restart of the program got underway in December, the Biden administration has sent more than 4,300 (or 5,114, or at least 5,600) migrants, primarily from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, back to Mexico to await hearings.

The Biden administration began shutting down the Remain in Mexico program in January 2021, bringing many of the asylum seekers into the United States. That process was halted when Amarillo, Texas judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled—in a suit brought by the Republican attorneys-general of Texas and Missouri—that the Biden administration had not properly terminated Remain in Mexico. Kacsmaryk ordered the program to restart, and the Biden administration appealed.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in April, and its decision is imminent. Though the Court has a conservative majority, it is not guaranteed to rule against the Biden administration, believe court-watchers like Aaron Reichlin-Melnick of the American Immigration Council, who explained his view in a June 21 Twitter thread. If they do not uphold Kacsmaryk’s decision, justices could “punt,” determining that the courts have no jurisdiction on immigration enforcement, or they could throw the case back to lower courts to determine whether the Administration’s second attempt to terminate Remain in Mexico met requirements.

Meanwhile, very troubling outcomes of the program are emerging.

  • The Syracuse University-based Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse project found that only 2.4 percent of the 1,109 Remain in Mexico asylum cases decided so far have resulted in grants of asylum, compared to half of cases in 2022 in the regular immigration court system.
  • Earlier this month, a woman assigned to Remain in Mexico attempted suicidewhile waiting at a migrant shelter in Monterrey, Mexico.
  • Reuters revealed that three men whom the program returned to the dangerous border city of Nuevo Laredo were kidnapped on April 10, while local authorities were transporting them to a shelter. (Most of those made to “remain” in Nuevo Laredo get transported further south, to Monterrey, but these three men were COVID-positive, requiring them to quarantine in Nuevo Laredo.) One of the victims, a man from Peru identified as “Raúl,” said they were held in a two-story house with about 20 other migrants. They beat him and released him after contacts wired a $6,000 ransom payment. Reuters reports: “‘You think you’re in good hands,’ Raul said of the U.S. government, asking that his last name be withheld out of fear of retaliation from the kidnappers. ‘But that’s not the case.’” After the kidnapping, Raul successfully petitioned to remain in the United States for the duration of his asylum case.

Migration levels remain high in June

As discussed in WOLA’s June 17 Border Update, U.S. authorities reported in May 2022 their largest number of encounters with undocumented migrants since they began publishing monthly records in 2000 (though with many repeat crossings, the number of individual migrants—177,793—may not have been a record). Arrivals at the border appear to remain very high so far in June.

In south Texas’s Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol Sector, which usually sees more migrant arrivals than any of the agency’s nine U.S.-Mexico border sectors, the agency reported encountering 533 migrants in 3 large groups during the 4 days ending on June 21. “A group of more than 100 migrants is considered a large group,” reads a CBP release; Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol has encountered over 100 large groups, totaling more than 15,000 people, since fiscal year 2022 began in October 2021.

In the mid-Texas Del Rio Sector, which gets about 50 percent of the border’s “large groups” right now, Sector Chief Jason Owens tweeted on June 18, “In the past 48 hours, agents encountered 8 groups totaling 1,780 migrants.”

In Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector, Border Report disclosed, agents were apprehending about 1,000 migrants per day in mid-May, in the runup to the expected May 23 termination of Title 42. When a Louisiana judge ordered Title 42 to remain in place, “apprehension numbers went down to 700 to 800 a day in the sector.”

The Biden administration’s latest monthly court filing in the “Remain in Mexico” litigation, shared by the Associated Press (AP), found that CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released 95,318 migrants into the U.S. interior in May, slightly over half the 177,793 individuals encountered at the border last month. The rest were either held in ICE detention centers or expelled (at times more than once) under Title 42.

Of the 95,318 released into the country, 64,263 were released on parole, which the AP calls a “rapidly expanding practice” in recent months brought on by lack of detention space, overwhelmed processing personnel, and the difficulty of expelling many countries’ citizens under Title 42. The AP explains “parole,” which does not come with an immigration court appointment:

Parole shields migrants from deportation for a set period of time but provides little else. By law, the Homeland Security Department may parole migrants into the United States “only on a case-by-case basis for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.” Parolees can apply for asylum within a year.

Processing asylum-seeking migrants for immigration court—which happened about 33,000 times in May—can take “more than an hour each,” agents told the AP. “Parole, by comparison, is processed in minutes.”

All paroled migrants “have their criminal histories checked and generally arrive in families with an address where they will stay in the U.S.,” the AP reported. They are given a handheld device with an app that tracks their movements via GPS, and required to keep it with them. The devices cannot make or take calls, other than from ICE, Border Report notes.

The June 15 court filing reports that CBP’s daily approximate holding capacity is 6,535, combining spaces at ports of entry (935) and Border Patrol detention facilities (about 5,600). In May, Border Patrol was holding an average of 12,899 people per day.

During the week of June 6, at least 7,000 mostly Venezuelan migrants had participated in a “caravan” from the city of Tapachula, in Mexico’s southern border zone near Guatemala. As discussed in WOLA’s June 10 and June 17 Border Updates, that caravan quickly dispersed after Mexican migration authorities distributed Multiple Immigration Form (Forma Migratoria Multiple, FMM) documents reportedly requiring migrants to leave Mexico or regularize their status (mainly by applying for asylum) within 30 days.

During those 30 days, these migrants can travel freely through Mexico, and many appear to have headed for the U.S. border. Federal and local law enforcement officials in mid-Texas’s Del Rio Border Patrol Sector told the Washington Examiner that “many from the caravan successfully evaded Mexican authorities and were able to cross the border illegally into the United States over the past several days.”

This included a group of about 200 migrants apprehended near Eagle Pass, Texas. Citing federal authorities, the sheriff of Val Verde County, Texas, which includes Del Rio, said, “They’re getting remnants of the caravan. Yesterday, they had just shy of 2,000 people apprehended in the sector, which is probably an all-time high for the day.”

With arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border averaging about 8,000 per day in May, a dispersed 7,000-member caravan over several days would bring only a modest, barely perceptible increase.

As noted in WOLA’s June 17 update, the governors of Mexican border states Coahuila and Nuevo León have been preventing caravan participants from boarding buses to the border, leaving hundreds of migrants stranded in the bus station in Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo León.

It is not clear what legal authority is being employed to deny the ticket sales, since the migrants, having received travel documents, are not undocumented. Governors of the Mexican states bordering Texas appear to be wary of angering Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who responded to increased migration in April by using state authority to step up vehicle inspections near the border, badly snarling trade for nearly a week (see WOLA’s April 15 and April 22 Border Updates). Abbott said on June 17 that Texas state troopers and National Guardsmen were stepping up efforts to repel caravan arrivals.

This week, about 250 migrants stranded at the Monterrey bus station began walking to Coahuila, and to the border. (The border city of Piedras Negras, Coahuila, is about 240 miles from Monterrey.) The sheriff of Maverick County, Texas, which includes Eagle Pass across from Piedras Negras, told the Washington Examiner that many other migrants, blocked from buying bus tickets, were likely paying smugglers. “It’s actually giving business to the cartel, to the smugglers,” Sheriff Tom Shmerber said of the bus prohibitions.

Security worsens in Mexico’s border cities and the government sends more troops

Tijuana, considered the most violent city in Mexico, suffered 110 homicides during the first 15 days of June and has measured more crimes so far this year than in any year since 2019. Mexico’s federal government responded this week by sending 400 more Army personnel to the city: 200 paratroopers and 200 Special Operations Forces elements. Today, the city now hosts 3,600 military or paramilitary personnel: 1,600 from the Army and 2,000 from the National Guard, a recently created force largely made up of soldiers and marines.

At the border’s other extreme, the city of Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas, began the morning of June 19 with about 16 road blockades. Armed men positioned stolen buses and trucks across main entrances to the city and set them on fire, apparently in response to the detention (or imminent detention) of a leader of the Gulf Cartel, the city’s dominant criminal organization. Mexico’s Defense Department responded by sending 200 more army troops to the city.

Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval presented the latest in a series of security updates at a June 20 presidential news conference. Gen. Sandoval’s slideshow revealed that 28,463 Army personnel are currently deployed on missions supporting the government’s “Migration and Development Plan for the northern and southern borders.”

Military personnel, it continued, have contributed to the capture of 518,668 migrants since 2019, 105,795 of them so far in 2022. 85 percent of these captures occurred in Mexico’s southern border zone. Troops are focused along four “lines of contention”: along both of Mexico’s borders, across the Isthmus of Tehuántepec in Oaxaca and Veracruz, and in an arc passing through Guerrero, Puebla, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz.

Other News

  • In a new WOLA Podcast, staff discuss what they saw and heard at the June 8-10 Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, including that meeting’s migration declaration, and discuss findings of recent field research along the U.S.-Mexico and Mexico-Guatemala borders.
  • As this update is being written on the morning of June 24, the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, which is meeting to mark up its 2023 appropriation, has adopted a Republican amendment keeping Title 42 in place for at least six months after the lifting of a COVID-19 emergency, which could be years from now. It passed by voice vote. That language will now go to the full Appropriations Committee.
  • The May 24 death of Abigail Román Aguilar, a 32-year-old man from Chiapas, Mexico, has been ruled a homicide by the Pima County, Arizona Medical Examiner. Under circumstances that remain unclear, Aguilar died of stab wounds to the chest and blunt force injuries, apparently after an altercation with a Border Patrol agent, in Douglas, Arizona. The agent “ultimately stabbed Aguilar with a knife,” reported the Arizona Daily Star. The incident is under investigation by the FBI and by CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
  • A very brief June 20 statement from CBP recounts a June 18 vehicle pursuit near Falfurrias, in south Texas, “which later resulted in a use of force incident. One person is dead.”
  • “Under current practice, children who arrive in the United States without their parents…are taken to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing centers. But it doesn’t make sense to send children to the care of a law enforcement agency that has no expertise in child welfare,” reads a Vera Institute of Justice commentary finding that the agency continues to separate close relatives in custody. “A better system would place ORR [Office of Refugee Resettlement] officials at the border to immediately evaluate family relationships. This should be done in trauma-informed and developmentally appropriate settings, rather than in jail-like holding centers.”
  • As ORR struggled to keep up with increased arrivals of unaccompanied children in 2021, many kids assigned to the agency’s massive emergency reception facilities considered or attempted suicide while awaiting handover to relatives or sponsors in the United States, Reveal News reported based on documents obtained through litigation. Those who expressed thoughts of, or attempted, suicide had been in ORR custody for an average of 37 days.
  • The United States led the world in new asylum applications received in 2021 with 188,900, according to the UN Refugee Agency’s just-released Global Trends Report 2021. The number two through four countries are Germany (148,200 applications), Mexico (132,700), and Costa Rica (108,500).
  • During the first five months of 2022, Cuban authorities reported receiving 3,289 citizens deported from other countries: 1,276 from Mexico, 1,177 from the United States, 213 from the Bahamas, and 23 from other countries. Between January and May, U.S. authorities encountered 118,603 Cuban citizens, about 1 percent of the island’s population, at the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • More than 5,000 migrant children have walked through the dangerous jungles of Panama’s Darién Gap during the first five months of 2022, according to UNICEF. 170 were unaccompanied by parents or relatives, or had been separated on the way.
  • A new report from Refugees International examined migration through the Darién Gap from Colombia. Last year, the largest single nationality migrating through this route was Haitian. This year, the flow is mostly Venezuelan. Smuggling operations originating in Colombia, the report finds, are sophisticated and lucrative.
  • The nearly 180,000 Nicaraguans who have sought refuge in Costa Rica since 2018, when the Ortega regime’s crackdown on dissent intensified, is now greater than the number of Nicaraguan applications for protection in Costa Rica during the Contra war of the 1980s.
  • DHS announced that “it would overhaul the disciplinary process for its employees,” the New York Times reported, after the Times and the Project on Government Oversight found that the Department’s Inspector-General had failed to release disturbing findings about the extent of sexual harassment within the DHS workforce and the number of personnel facing domestic abuse allegations. The DHS Inspector General, Trump administration appointee Joseph Cuffari, had responded in May with a letter blaming his subordinates. “I would never have written this,” Gordon Heddell, a former Defense Department inspector-general, said of the letter in the Times article. “To me, what he’s saying is, ‘I’m leading a very dysfunctional office.’”
  • Four former Border Patrol chiefs and other former senior officials sent a letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas demanding that the ongoing, slow-moving investigation of agents involved in the so-called Del Rio “whipping” incident be impartial. The letter criticizes President Biden and Vice President Harris for “predictively prejudging” the investigation’s outcome. Biden and Harris had called for consequences after photos showed agents on horseback charging at Haitian migrants who had arrived en masse in Del Rio, Texas in September 2021. The National Police Association announced a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit demanding records about CBP’s investigation of the Del Rio incident.
  • Border Patrol reported capturing 15 people in May who were in the FBI’s terrorist screening database. Analysts were quick to note that none of those captured face specific charges. “This is an indictment of terror watch lists because zero of these individuals ended up being terrorists,” tweeted Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: June 17, 2022

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.

This week:

  • CBP reported a record number of migrant encounters at the border in May. Nearly half of migrants were not from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. 42 percent were expelled under the Title 42 pandemic authority, which continues under court order. The 2 millionth migrant was expelled last month.
  • Thousands of participants in a large migrant caravan that was “dispersed” on June 10 are now in northern Mexico. Many are being prevented from boarding buses, though they have documents allowing them to be present in Mexico. Most are from Venezuela, and more are coming: over 9,800 Venezuelan migrants walked through Panama’s treacherous Darién Gap jungles in May.
  • Along with increased migration, an alarming series of reports points to a sharp increase in migrants dying in the U.S.-Mexican border region of dehydration amid extreme summer heat, drownings in the Rio Grande and canals, and falls from the border wall.
  • Several media reports this week pointed to an aggrieved internal culture and toleration of human rights abuse at Border Patrol. They include agents complaining to conservative press about the Biden administration, offensive “challenge coins” being produced by an unknown party, a harrowing upcoming book from a former female agent, and revelations that a third of migrants who have passed through CBP’s jail-like facilities in recent years have been children.

Record number of migrant encounters in May

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released data on June 15 detailing its encounters with migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border the previous month. In May 2022, the agency took undocumented people into custody 239,416 times, a 2 percent increase over April. Since fiscal year 2022 started in October, CBP has apprehended migrants 1,536,899 times at the border. 2022 is certain to be a record year for migrant encounters, exceeding the 1,734,686 measured in 2021.

CBP’s Border Patrol component encountered migrants 222,656 times, the largest monthly total since the agency began reporting data by month in fiscal year 2000. The record for between ports of entry had been 220,063 apprehensions, measured in March 2020.

It is unclear, though, whether more “encounters” last month meant more “people” than 22 years ago. May’s 239,416 “encounters” were with 177,793 individual people; there is no record of how many individual people were encountered during the previous record-breaking month of March 2020. Still, 177,793 is the most since CBP started reporting individuals in its monthly releases last July, and 15 percent more than reported in April.

The Biden administration’s continued use of the Trump-era “ Title 42” pandemic policy—after its lifting was blocked by a federal judge last month—and which quickly expels many migrants with few consequences, has incentivized repeat crossings. Last month, 25 percent of migrants encountered had already been in CBP custody at least once in the past 12 months; in the six years before the pandemic, the percentage of repeat encounters had been much lower: 15 percent.

69 percent of May’s border encounters were with single adults, a greater share than was common in the years before the pandemic. (Though many single adults turn themselves in to seek asylum, they are less likely to do so than children and families; as a result, a greater share of repeat crossings inflates numbers of single-adult encounters.)

Single adult encounters declined by 2 percent from April to May, to 165,200. Encounters with members of family units (defined as parents with children) increased 8 percent, to 59,282, from April to May, and encounters with children arriving unaccompanied increased 21 percent, to 14,699. “In May, the average number of unaccompanied children in CBP custody was 692 per day, compared with an average of 479 per day in April,” CBP reported.

May saw the migrant population at the border diversify further. Migration from the number one and two countries, Mexico and Cuba, actually declined from April. Migrants from April’s number-three country of origin, Ukraine, declined sharply as the Biden administration’s “United for Ukraine” effort created a process for seeking refuge that no longer involved crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Migration from Haiti, Brazil, and Ecuador increased the most, in percentage terms, from March to May. Migrants from Colombia—whose citizens do not need visas to visit Mexico—climbed to fifth place, virtually tied with Hondurans.

As recently as 2019, more than 90 percent of migrants at the border were from four countries: Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. That is no longer the case: these countries combined to total only 53 percent of migrants at the border in May. Only 29 percent of migrants arriving as families were Mexican, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, or Honduran.

This is a result of the pandemic increasing desperation, and migration, throughout the hemisphere. But it is also a result of how Title 42 has been implemented: because Mexico accepts expulsions of its own citizens, and citizens of the other three countries, across its land border, citizens of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras comprise the overwhelming majority of migrants expelled under the pandemic authority (94 percent in May).

Citizens of countries where expulsions or removals are difficult—because of the cost of air travel, or because of poor diplomatic relations—are expelled much less frequently. Migrants’ chances of expulsion after being encountered in the United States, and thus their ability to seek protection in the United States,  vary dramatically by nationality. So far in 2022, 88 percent of Mexicans and 67 percent of Guatemalans have been expelled, compared to 4 percent of Colombians, 2 percent of Cubans, and 0.4 percent of Venezuelans.

Cuba  stopped accepting flights from U.S. migration authorities in 2018 (when the U.S. stopped operations for the Cuban Family Reunification Parole program, which was resumed this past May). Nicaragua’s November 2021 decision to stop requiring visas of visiting Cubans has opened up a route through Managua, with Cubans routinely paying about $4,000 for one-way tickets there. The Biden administration pressed Mexico into agreeing to accept some land-border expulsions of Cubans and Nicaraguans, however, and about 3,000 had Title 42 applied to them in May.

Because so many migrants come from these “other” countries, CBP expelled 42 percent of migrants it encountered in May, a smaller share than had been normal. (55 percent of single adults were expelled, as were 17 percent of family unit members.)

Still, May saw the expulsion of the 2 millionth migrant from the U.S.-Mexico border since Title 42 went into effect in March 2020. The Biden administration has carried out over 77 percent of those expulsions. The administration’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sought to end the pandemic policy by May 23, 2022, but were rebuffed by a Louisiana judge hearing a lawsuit from Republican-led states.

One country, however, has seen a significant percentage of its citizens expelled by air. So far this year, CBP has applied Title 42 to 36 percent of Haitian migrants, including 30 percent of those encountered in May. Last month, the tempo of expulsion flights to Haiti increased sharply, to 36. This happened, according to the New York Times, “after renegotiating agreements with the island nation.”

Among the more than 26,000 people removed to Haiti by air during the Biden administration, many are so desperate to leave that a shady industry of charter flights has sprung up, according to a remarkable Associated Press investigation. Haitians who had earlier emigrated to Brazil or Chile and now have some migratory status there are paying thousands of dollars to be taken back, often to attempt the journey once again to the U.S.-Mexico border.

The probability of being put on a plane back to the hemisphere’s poorest nation, currently undergoing a paroxysm of gang violence, has caused many Haitians to pause in Mexican border cities rather than attempt to cross into the United States and turn themselves in to authorities. A June 12 Los Angeles Times feature documented attacks, discrimination, and lack of access to health care suffered by Haitians stranded in Tijuana, where the Haitian Bridge Alliance, a U.S. non-governmental organization, “has funded funerals for 12 Haitian migrants since December, mostly because of violence and medical negligence.”

Meanwhile, a new DHS report shows that the court-ordered revival of the “Remain in Mexico” program continues, and continues to expand. 7,259 asylum seekers, all adults, have been enrolled in the program since December 2021, of whom 4,387 have been made to wait in Mexican border towns for their hearing dates. 59 percent of those enrolled—52 percent in May—have been citizens of Nicaragua.

A report from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), which requests and shares government data, found that while most asylum cases within the program (81 percent) have been decided within six months, only 5 percent of those made to remain in Mexico have been able to find an attorney to represent them. Of 1,109 Remain in Mexico asylum cases that had been decided by the end of May, only 27—2.4 percent—ended with grants of asylum. “This is a dismal asylum success rate,” TRAC notes. “During the same period of FY 2022, fully half of all Immigration Court asylum decisions resulted in a grant of asylum or other relief.”

Caravan participants, given visas, approach U.S. border

WOLA’s June 10 update reported that a migrant “caravan,” with several thousand mostly Venezuelan participants, was dispersing in Mexico’s southernmost state of Chiapas, about 25 miles from the Mexico-Guatemala border zone city of Tapachula, where it began on June 6. Thousands of participants, given documents allowing them to stay in Mexico for a month, have traveled north to seek refuge in the United States.

A June 11 statement from Mexico’s National Migration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migración – INM) reported that, following negotiations with caravan organizers, the agency provided “an immigration document certifying their stay in the country” to about 7,000 participants. The document reportedly requires migrants to leave Mexico within 30 days, during which they can travel freely through the country.

Thousands of migrants boarded buses to Mexico’s border state of Coahuila, from where more than half of the 97,696 Venezuelan migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year 2022 (October 2021-September 2022) have crossed. However, Coahuila’s governor, Miguel Ángel Riquelme, has sought to block their progress. Riquelme had signed an April agreement with Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R), who had sought that month to pressure Mexico into blocking migration by stepping up state vehicle inspections, snarling cross-border cargo trade for days.

Though the caravan participants had valid travel documents, Coahuila authorities turned away buses bringing as many as 2,000 to the capital, Saltillo, diverting them back to Monterrey, capital of the neighboring state of Nuevo León. Hundreds remain in the Monterrey bus station, trying to figure out where to go next. Many complain that they bought bus tickets but did not receive refunds after being blocked from boarding.

It is not clear what legal authority the local governments are using to prevent the migrants’ progress, or whether the intent is merely to meter their flow in order to prevent a mass arrival at the U.S. border. Either way, with about 8,000 migrants arriving at the border each day right now, an extra few thousand may get little notice.

In Tapachula, where the caravan began, many migrants remain stranded, made to remain in Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state, while they wait for the country’s overwhelmed asylum system to adjudicate their applications. (See WOLA’s June 2 report on conditions in Tapachula.) Local media report that thousands are gathering each day outside the offices of INM and the refugee agency, COMAR, in Tapachula and in the nearby town of Huixtla, Chiapas.

Arrivals of Venezuelan migrants are likely to continue, and increase. Panama recorded 9,844 Venezuelans passing through the treacherous Darién Gap jungle region in May alone, 3.6 times more than in April, and part of an overall flow of 13,894 people last month.

This is a very dangerous part of migrants’ journeys. Doctors Without Borders, which maintains a humanitarian aid facility near where migrants emerge from the Darién Gap, has attended to 100 victims of sexual violence so far this year, and 328 last year. Colombia’s human rights ombudsman meanwhile counted 210 children traveling unaccompanied through the Darién in May, of whom 169 were apparently less than 13 years old.

Migrants are dying at the border of drownings and extreme heat

“The terrain along the Southwest Border is extreme, the summer heat is severe, and the miles of desert that migrants must hike after crossing the border are unforgiving,” CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus stated in May’s migration update. As the border region enters a very hot summer, deaths from dehydration and exposure threaten to hit record levels along with record overall migration.

  • In Brooks County, Texas, where dozens die each year while walking to evade a Border Patrol checkpoint, Eddie Canales of the South Texas Human Rights Center told USA Today that 36 human remains have already been found. The grim count for all of 2021 was 119.
  • In Pima County, Arizona, which includes Tucson, the Medical Examiner’s office has received 110 remains so far this fiscal year, USA Today reports. It examined the remains of 226 migrants last year, the highest count since 2000.
  • Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector “has recorded 23 deaths due to falls from the border wall, hypothermia, drownings and heat strokes” so far this year, the Dallas Morning News reports. Last year’s total was 39.

In the El Paso sector, Border Patrol has installed more solar-powered rescue beacons that make it more possible for lost or dehydrated migrants to call for help. This, the Morning News reports, has kept fatalities from being much worse. In Arizona, Border Patrol announced on June 9 that it is piloting a new “heat mitigation effort,” handing out “Heat Stress Kits/Go-Bags that will be distributed to 500 agents” at two desert stations.

Drownings in the Rio Grande, and in irrigation canals, remain severe.

  • As WOLA’s June 3 Border Update noted, more than 20 Nicaraguan citizens drowned in the river between March 4 and May 19. Authorities continue to search for Nicaraguan child Sofía Abigail, whose mother, Irma Huete Iglesias, drowned trying to cross the river between Coahuila and mid-Texas last week.
  • Mexico’s Interior Secretariat reported this week that INM recovered 33 bodies from the Rio Grande between January and May, of a total of 37 migrant remains recovered throughout the country during those months. Of the 37, five were women. Most of the drownings happened between Coahuila and mid-Texas.
  • A June 11 Border Patrol statement counted five drownings in the El Paso sector’s fast-flowing irrigation canals, which drain water from the Rio Grande, in the “last several days.” The New York Post recalled that “agents are not allowed to go in and perform a water rescue, even if it is to save a drowning person.… Only members of a specially trained Border Patrol team are authorized to perform a water rescue, or a rescue/recovery team of another agency must be called in.”

Falls from especially high new segments of the border wall continue to cause a higher death toll, as the Washington Post reported in April. A June 15 CBP statement documented the May 6 death of a man who fell in the space between two layers of fencing between San Diego and Tijuana.

Border Patrol morale and organizational culture under scrutiny

A series of feature stories in U.S. and U.K. media this week have explored aspects of a troubled institutional culture at the Border Patrol. The agency has faced serious human rights abuse allegations, while its membership (as evidenced by the posture of its union, which claims to represent 90 percent of agents) detests the Biden administration’s approach to border security and migration.

  • Eight agents and managers, speaking anonymously to the Washington Examiner, voiced their view that “the last shreds of spirit have since been dashed by outright animosity from the Biden administration.” Agents are reportedly upset that the administration criticized the harsh response, caught on camera, to Haitian migrants crossing the Rio Grande in September 2021, while President Biden has yet to thank the agency for its response to the May 24 Uvalde, Texas school shooting. “Agents are afraid of ending up on the news for doing their job or getting in trouble for doing their job. There is no morale,” said an agent in Arizona. Another, who opposes releasing asylum seekers into the U.S. interior pending court dates, said, “It feels like we’re committing a crime by allowing all these people into our country.”
  • The National Border Patrol Council union president in the Del Rio, Texas sector sounded off to the Daily Caller on rumors that those involved in the aggressive actions against Haitians will be charged with “administrative violations.” Jon Anfinsen said of the Biden administration, “They’re trying to save face and propose some kind of discipline just so they can justify their claims from day one.”
  • The aggrieved mood at Border Patrol may be reflected in “challenge coins” available on eBay and elsewhere, documented by the Miami Herald and the Los Angeles Times, defiantly depicting the Del Rio incident with pride. “Whipping ass since 1924” and “Haitian Invasion,” reads one coin with an image of the iconic September 2021 photo of a Border Patrol agent on horseback grabbing a Haitian migrant’s shirt. These are not official items, and the coins’ tie to active-duty agents remains unclear. “These coins anger me because the hateful images on them have no place in a professional law enforcement agency,” said CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus.
  • Former Border Patrol agent Jenn Budd will soon release a memoir of her time in the force, when she endured severe harassment as one of its few female agents—including rape while a student at the Border Patrol Academy in the 1990s. At the Guardian, Budd discusses her role in uncovering Border Patrol’s Critical Incident Teams ( CITs), secretive units that have interfered with past investigations of agent wrongdoing. The CITs are to be shut down by the end of September.
  • “Of the total people detained by the Border Patrol between February 2017 and June 2021, 1 in 3 was under 18 years old,” finds an investigation by the Marshall Project, published by Politico. The report follows up on some shocking findings about children’s treatment in Border Patrol custody during 2021, which appeared in an April complaint by four legal aid groups. “The Border Patrol has resisted making changes to its facilities and practices to adapt to children,” the Marshall Project’s Anna Flagg and Julia Preston report, “even while officials acknowledge that the conditions young people routinely face are often unsafe.”

Other news

  • As noted in WOLA’s June 10 Border Update , the Summit of the Americas concluded with the “ Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection,” with four “pillars” covering assistance for communities affected by migration, legal pathways for migration and protection, “humane migration management,” and coordinated emergency response. The White House shared a list of “deliverables” that signatory countries would produce. Analysts and advocates struck a generally hopeful tone, with skepticism about how concrete the signatory countries’ commitments would be, in comments to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times, Al Jazeera, and Criterio, among others.  Organizations throughout the region, including WOLA, also issued a statement calling for the governments to “ensure that they develop action plans for fulfilling the rights-respecting commitments assumed in the Declaration with clear indicators and timelines for follow-up.”
  • Human Rights First published the latest in a series of in-depth reports documenting harm done by the Title 42 expulsions policy. It contains numerous alarming anecdotes about abuses that migrants have suffered, and calls on CBP to exercise discretion with Title 42 and afford more asylum seekers a chance to seek protection.
  • CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus and the director of Mexico’s National Migration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migración – INM), Francisco Garduño, met on June 13, touring the border near Reynosa and McAllen.
  • Mexican non-governmental organizations submitted an amicus curiae brief to their country’s Supreme Court arguing that the National Guard, a militarized police force created by the current administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, should not play a role in migration enforcement.
  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) claims that his “Operation Lone Star” surge of security personnel to the border has resulted in more than 14,000 arrests. But a Dallas Morning News investigation found that a fifth of that number were arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana, mostly of U.S. citizens, mostly at routine traffic stops, and many of them far from the actual border.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: June 10, 2022

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.

This week:

  • Western Hemisphere leaders at the ninth Summit of the Americas are poised to publish a “Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection.” Provisions will endorse assistance to states managing large arrivals of migrants, legal pathways for migration, “humane” border management, and coordinated emergency response.
  • A large “caravan” of migrants departed the southern Mexico border city of Tapachula on June 6, but is now much reduced. Many migrants are apparently being offered humanitarian visas.
  • Newly revealed emails show that, in 2018, senior DHS officials sought to maximize the number of families being separated by the Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy. They complained when criminal prosecutions happened quickly enough to allow parents and children to be reunited.
  • A Supreme Court decision has gutted the ability to sue Border Patrol agents and other federal law enforcement agents who violate constitutional rights.

Migration at the Summit of the Americas

Western Hemisphere leaders gathered for the ninth Summit of the Americas are finalizing the text of the “Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection,” which is to go public on June 10. Previewing the document on June 9, a senior Biden administration official billed it as “a regional partnership to address historic migration flows affecting every country in the region.”

In a framework of “responsibility sharing” at a moment of historically high region-wide migration, the Los Angeles Declaration is to have four “pillars”:

  • Stability and assistance for communities: including assistance to address “root causes” of migration, support for countries hosting large migrant populations, the reintegration of migrants in their communities of origin, and a new package of aid to Haiti.
  • Legal pathways: including commitments to expand temporary-worker efforts like the United States’ H-2A and H-2B visa programs, to expand refugee resettlement, and to improve asylum systems.
  • “Humane border management,” a pillar which includes the role of the region’s border, migration, and law enforcement forces and collaboration on prosecuting human smuggling and trafficking networks. An administration official mentioned “cross-screening people that enter one border, repatriating people that don’t qualify.”
  • “Coordinated emergency response,” a pillar which presumably includes cooperation to manage sudden increases in migration.

“Unlawful migration is not acceptable,” President Joe Biden said in remarks opening the Summit on June 8. “We will enforce our borders through innovative, coordinated action with our regional partners.” The Associated Press noted that this cooperative approach contrasts with that of the Trump administration, “whose unilateral demands for cooperation included a threat to Mexico to close the border and raise tariffs.”

Implementing this declaration may be complicated by the challenges of translating lofty statements and commitments to concrete actions on the ground, and by the absence from the Summit of the presidents of seven of the nine Latin American countries whose citizens were encountered most often at the U.S.-Mexico border in April. The Biden administration did not invite the leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua, or Venezuela to the summit. The presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico declined to attend, though they sent foreign ministers or high officials and have likely been engaged with the Biden administration in negotiating the text. 

Vice President Kamala Harris, who is charged with developing the Biden administration’s “root causes” strategy for Central America’s “northern triangle” (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras), announced new assistance for those countries. Little if any of it would go to these three countries’ governments, whose presidents all skipped the Summit. The Vice President announced more than $1.9 billion in new commitments from corporations willing to invest there, part of a private-sector “call to action” that, according to the White House, now adds up to over $3.2 billion in new investments. Further efforts include “In Her Hands,” a program that aims to “empower, protect, and train women in Northern Central America,” the creation of a Central American Service Corps for the region’s youth, a food security initiative, a Caribbean climate partnership, and a program to train health workers.

“We’re dealing with a challenge that, for a whole variety of reasons, is beyond anything that anyone has seen before,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN. “Countries are already having to do this,” Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols said to the Associated Press, “so rather than each country trying to sort this out and figure it out for themselves, what we’re doing is saying, ‘Let’s come together in a coherent way and construct a framework so we can all work together to make this situation more humane and more manageable.’”

A June 6 letter from 108 U.S. non-governmental groups, including WOLA,  urged the Biden administration and regional governments to carry out their border and migration policies in coordination with civil society and migrant-led organizations. It offered a series of recommendations for protecting migrant rights, ensuring access to asylum (including ending the Title 42 and “Remain in Mexico” efforts that block asylum access), protecting immigrants in the United States, and expanding legal pathways to migration.

“What we hope to see in the Declaration are commitments more focused on access to protection and other legal avenues for migrants in need of leaving their countries of origin,” WOLA’s vice president for programs, Maureen Meyer, told Venezuela’s Efecto Cocuyo. “It is of concern that so far the main focus of the United States and several countries is migration control at the expense of the rights of migrants and access to protection.”

“Caravan” departs Tapachula

Thousands of migrants departed Mexico’s southern border-zone city of Tapachula, Chiapas, on June 6. This latest attempt to form a “caravan” is already dwindling as Mexico’s government engages in negotiations and prohibits participants from boarding vehicles.

Estimates of this caravan’s size have varied widely. Its principal organizer, Luis García Villagrán of the Mexican NGO Center for Human Dignity, who said it was deliberately timed to coincide with the Summit of the Americas, foresaw 15,000 participants, a number that appeared in widely shared initial reporting. As the group departed Tapachula, Reuters estimated “at least 6,000 people.” By June 7, Villagrán told reporters that numbers had dropped to between 5,000 and 8,000.

According to the Guardian, Villagrán said that 70 percent of caravan participants are women and children. While it’s not clear that this was accurate, a significant portion do appear to be neither male nor adult.

It is widely reported, though, that a majority of participants are from Venezuela—80 percent, estimates veteran Chiapas-based reporter Isaín Mandujano—with Central Americans, Haitians, Cubans, and citizens of African countries making up most of the rest. As they walked up Chiapas’s Pacific coastal highway leading out of Tapachula, some carried Venezuelan flags, sang Venezuela’s national anthem, or chanted insults aimed at the country’s authoritarian leader, Nicolás Maduro.

A large presence of Venezuelans in Tapachula is new. Until recently, Mexico did not require visas of visiting citizens of Venezuela, so most who intended to migrate to the U.S. border flew to Mexico City or Cancún, then traveled by bus with valid visas in their passports. That ended on January 21, when Mexico began requiring visas of visiting Venezuelans, at the strong suggestion of the U.S. government after encounters with Venezuelan citizens at the U.S.-Mexico border increased to over 20,000 per month.

Arrivals of Venezuelan citizens at the U.S. border soon plummeted—U.S. authorities encountered 4,103 in April—but Venezuelans determined to migrate northward have begun traveling by land in greater numbers. In the first five months of 2022, more than half of migrants walking through Panama’s treacherous Darién Gap jungles (16,720 out of 32,797 people) have been Venezuelan. In all of 2021, 2,821 Venezuelans took this route, and just 50 in 2020.

When Venezuelans without visas arrive by land in southern Mexico, they face the same choices as other undocumented migrants, most of whom end up in Tapachula: risk capture, detention, or deportation, or seek asylum in Mexico’s overburdened system. Almost 33,000 people applied for asylum in Tapachula during the first 5 months of 2022, and 89,604 applied in 2021. (Tapachula’s population is about 350,000.)

(While many can claim government persecution, even Venezuelan citizens who do not qualify for asylum are difficult to deport or remove. The U.S. government, which has sought to use Title 42 robustly to expel as many migrants as possible regardless of asylum needs, has expelled 1 percent of the Venezuelan migrants it has encountered, and most of those probably had some legal status that made possible their expulsion to Mexico.)

According to EFE, García Villagrán estimated that 45,000 migrants are currently stuck in Tapachula awaiting resolution of their asylum applications. Normally, Mexico requires asylum applicants to remain in the state where they first applied, though cases can occasionally be transferred to other states.

This is a hardship in Tapachula, an economically struggling city in Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state. With COMAR barely able to keep up, the agency’s Tapachula office is now scheduling initial asylum application appointments for August, and deciding cases many months after that. This leaves most migrants with no viable way to support themselves while they await decisions. (In early June, both WOLA and Human Rights Watch published detailed, vividly documented field research reports about the plight of migrants stuck in Tapachula.)

To some extent, the “caravan”—and several that have come before it—is a reaction to that. Though they continue to get a lot of attention in U.S. media, no caravan has arrived intact at the U.S.-Mexico border since late 2018. Mexico and Guatemala have dispersed them shortly after they’ve formed, either by blocking them through at times violent operations, by prohibiting participants from boarding vehicles, or by agreeing to allow marchers to transfer their asylum applications to other Mexican states—usually states with greater employment opportunities but still distant from the U.S. border. A few hundred participants in a late 2021 caravan walked all the way from Tapachula to Mexico City, roughly one third of the distance to the U.S. border, but dispersed after that.

The current caravan seems to be dividing. By June 8 its participants had traveled about 25 miles from Tapachula to the town of Huixtla, Chiapas, where Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) apparently offered to provide documents to those who desist. Mandujano reported that the document on offer is the Humanitarian Visitors Card (Tarjeta de Visitante por Razones Humanitarias, TVRH), which allows migrants to stay in the country for a year and work. Although humanitarian visas should be provided to asylum seekers while their cases are processed,  victims or witnesses of crime in Mexico, children, and for other humanitarian or public interest reasons, the U.S. government has often objected to Mexico’s use of this  visa because many who receive it go directly to the U.S. border.

It is not clear how many TVRHs the Mexican government is issuing to caravan participants. García Villagrán told EFE that “INM Commissioner Francisco Garduño called him and pledged to assist all of the members of the caravan with their immigration proceedings.” Over 2,100 had been issued by June 8.

The offer has apparently split or reduced the caravan. On June 9, about 2,000 migrants, mainly younger males, walked north from Huixtla, according to the Associated Press, “but throngs of families with children decided to wait in Huixtla to see if they could get some sort of temporary exit visa.”

In the United States, some are watching closely. Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols, according to EFE, warned caravan participants that “the U.S. border is not open… what I say to these people is not to risk their lives on a long journey that will not result in entry into the United States.” The caravan has been featured on the social media accounts of immigration and border hardliners like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), and the FOX News cable network.

Emails reveal that family separation was the point of “Zero Tolerance”

2018 email correspondence between Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials, made available via ongoing litigation, reveals that they sought to maximize the number of migrant parents and children being separated by the Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy. Officials, some of whom remain in senior positions today, were upset that some parents were being released from the U.S. criminal justice system quickly enough to be reunited with their children.

Starting in late 2017 and intensifying during the spring of 2018, the Trump administration, led by then-attorney general Jeff Sessions, sought the highest possible number of criminal prosecutions of migrants who crossed the border between ports of entry, which is a misdemeanor. Under the “zero tolerance” policy, adult improper border crossers were jailed and made to appear in federal courts, regardless of whether they were seeking asylum. Meanwhile, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) carried out a policy called “metering,” sharply limiting the number of asylum seekers who could approach ports of entry “properly” to ask asylum, making improper crossings the only viable way to seek protection without a very long wait.

If the criminally prosecuted migrants arrived with children, CBP took the children away from parents, on the pretext that children cannot be held in prison, then classified the children as “unaccompanied” and sent them to the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). These separations happened more than 4,000 times until a San Diego federal judge ordered a halt to the “zero tolerance” policy in June 2018. For reasons that remain unexplained, CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) made very little effort to note the connection between jailed parent and separated child. As a result, hundreds of parents were deported without their children, and many remain separated today.

Trump administration officials sought to portray the family separations as an unfortunate byproduct of its “zero tolerance” effort to enforce existing U.S. laws. (“On multiple occasions, high-ranking members of the Trump administration denied developing a family separation policy,” CBS News put it this week.) The trove of emails, first revealed by the Washington Post’s Maria Sacchetti, explodes that claim. They show that the family separations were, in fact, the point: an effort to deter future migration by inflicting suffering on migrants, including asylum seekers.

On May 10, 2018, senior ICE official Matthew Albence sent a memo to top colleagues voicing his concern that, because judges were often sentencing parents to time served and releasing them, parents were returning to DHS custody too quickly, before their children could be classified as “unaccompanied” and taken away from them. According to the Washington Post, “Albence said CBP should work with ICE ‘to prevent this from happening,’ such as by taking the children themselves to ORR ‘at an accelerated pace’ or bringing the adults directly to ICE from criminal court, instead of returning them to their children.” Albence now works in the private sector.

Tae Johnson, a senior ICE official at the time, complained on May 25, 2018 that CBP was “reuniting adults with kids” after prosecution in McAllen. “What a fiasco,” he added. Tae Johnson is now the acting director of ICE, a position he has held since the final days of the Trump administration.

“We can’t have this,” Albence responded to Johnson’s e-mail. “ORR needs arm twisted,” wrote ICE official David Jennings. Albence added on May 26,“This obviously undermines the entire effort and the Dept is going to look completely ridiculous if we go through the effort of prosecuting only to send them to a [Family Residential Center] and out the door.” CBP official Sandi Goldhamer responded by suggesting “that Border Patrol ‘cease the reunification process’ if officials are ‘concerned about appearances.’”

Lawyers representing victims of family separation obtained these emails as part of a lawsuit filed against the U.S. government after settlement negotiations broke down in late 2021. The officials’ words, they say, strengthens the plaintiffs’ case: “in practice, the government implemented a sweeping administrative family separation policy—the exact DHS proposal discussed throughout 2017—under the guise of a prosecution policy, which was merely a pretext for the ultimate goal: separating families to deter immigration.”

Supreme Court decision shields border agents

In a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 8 that a U.S. citizen could not sue a Border Patrol agent who assaulted him. The Egbert v. Boule decision will complicate future efforts to hold accountable federal law enforcement agents who violate constitutional rights.

The case stems from a 2014 incident in Washington state, along the U.S.-Canada border, in which Border Patrol agent Erik Egbert shoved and pushed to the ground innkeeper Robert Boule, who accused Egbert of illegally entering his property. The Supreme Court’s majority, in an opinion authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, decided that Boule did not have the right to sue a federal agent without explicit authorization from Congress.

This further weakens a 1971 Supreme Court ruling (Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics) that had allowed federal law enforcement officers to be sued for violating constitutional rights in some instances. The U.S. Constitution includes protections against excessive force or illegal search and seizure, but “it is silent about what the proper remedy is against an officer who violates these limits,” Ian Millhiser explained at Vox. The possibility of lawsuits as a recourse was already weakened by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 2020 (Hernandez v. Mesa), which prohibited relatives of a 15-year-old Mexican boy from suing the Border Patrol agent who, while standing on U.S. soil, shot and killed him from across the border.

In a dissenting opinion cited in the Washington Post, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that “the court had ‘absolutely immunized from liability’ thousands of Border Patrol agents ‘no matter how egregious the misconduct or resultant injury.’”

Cecillia Wang, the ACLU’s deputy legal director, told the Los Angeles Times that the Ebert v. Boule decision “leaves victims of police violence by Border Patrol agents without an effective remedy and endangers us all. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is by far the largest federal police agency, and it has an appalling record of injuring and killing people.” Added the Southern Border Communities Coalition, “The decision in the Washington state case is a setback for victims and survivors of Border Patrol agents’ violence. The court found that BP agents cannot be held individually liable for abuse and excessive force used during their work day.”

Links

  • On June 7, WOLA co-hosted with partner organizations the Summit side event “From Deterrence To Integration: Civil Society Voices On Migration Policy Challenges and Good Practices in The Americas.” Video of the event is here.
  • NBC News revealed that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is developing a plan to alleviate overcrowding at the border by transporting asylum-seeking migrants to cities in the U.S. interior after initial processing. A DHS spokesperson said that “no decision has been made” on the proposal. The plan has been in the works for months, a CBP source told Univisión. DHS officials are jokingly referring to it as the “Abbott plan,” citing Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) scheme to send released migrants on buses to Washington, DC.
  • A letter from 104 organizations (including WOLA) urges President Biden to use all available authority, “to the greatest extent permissible under existing court orders—in order to ameliorate the harms caused by Title 42 and ensure access to asylum… This should begin first and foremost with an immediate rulemaking to rescind the CDC’s Title 42 order.”
  • A copy of a Border Patrol Critical Incident Team (CIT) incident report has been shared with the public for the first time. It was obtained by the ACLU, which is litigating the case of Eric Molix, a U.S. citizen who died in an August 2021 high-speed Border Patrol vehicle pursuit in New Mexico. As first revealed by the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) last October, CITs are Border Patrol units that often arrive at the scene when agents may have committed wrongdoing, and are accused of altering crime scenes or otherwise seeking to build cases that might exonerate agents. CBP announced in early May that it would phase out CITs by the end of September 2022.
  • Witness at the Border’s latest monthly tracking of ICE flights found that May 2022 saw the second-largest monthly total of migrant removal flights (139) since the organization began tracking in January 2020. The countries now accepting Title 42 expulsion flights, it reports, “made up 95% of all removal flights in May.” Those countries are “Haiti (36), Guatemala (32), Honduras (30), Colombia (21), El Salvador (12), and Brazil (1).”
  • The Biden administration may soon be able to enforce vaccine requirements for federal workers, which could mean disciplinary action, even firing, for possibly thousands of Border Patrol agents who have refused the COVID-19 vaccine, the Washington Examiner reports.
  • A report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the U.S. Congress’s investigative arm, looked into oversight and data collection regarding Border Patrol’s 110 interior road checkpoints. It found that Border Patrol’s data on checkpoint drug seizures is reliable, but that the agency keeps poor records on “other checkpoint activity data, including on apprehensions of smuggled people and canine assists with drug seizures.”
  • A heavy presence of border law enforcement and military personnel “ultimately didn’t stop a homegrown shooter from inflicting terror” in Uvalde, Texas on May 24, the Dallas Morning News observed. At Palabra, Michelle García blames the border security apparatus and a “constructed war zone” for encouraging “violence and inhumanity.”
  • 500 Texas National Guardsmen assigned to Gov. Greg Abbott’s “Operation Lone Star” have been sent home during the past two months. This is a slight downsizing: about 6,000 were still stationed along the Texas-Mexico border as of May 27, and 3,700 are assigned elsewhere in Texas, according to Stars and Stripes.
  • In Mexico’s border state of Chihuahua, which includes Ciudad Juárez, kidnappings and disappearances of migrants happen most often in zones controlled by the Juárez Cartel, a regional organized crime structure now allied with the larger Jalisco New Generation Cartel, according to an investigation by the Mexican magazine Proceso.
  • Arizona’s Republican governor and Republican-majority legislature are near a budget deal that would devote $544 million in state funds to border security. “$355 million would be used for fencing,” Axios reports.
  • Mexican media reported on factories seeking to hire Haitian migrants currently stranded in the border cities of Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa, Tamaulipas.
  • The Texas Tribune profiles a Salvadoran family whose unification could be derailed by one of the Texas attorney general’s many lawsuits in the state’s federal courts. This suit would end the Central American Minors Program, which allowed threatened Central American children with family members in the United States to apply for protection at U.S. embassies. The Obama administration began the program in 2014, the Trump administration halted it in 2017, and the Biden administration revived it in 2021.
  • “Across the U.S., a surveillance system tracking the movements of tens of thousands of people seeking refuge or permanent residency in the U.S. is quietly but quickly expanding,” observes an investigation of alternatives-to-detention programs by Erica Hellerstein at Coda. Most are required to use a facial recognition app known as SmartLINK.
  • A New York Times photo essay depicts asylum seekers’ cross-border journeys from shelters on the Mexican side to custody on the U.S. side.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: June 3, 2022

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.

This week:

  • Three more Nicaraguan migrants drowned to death in the Rio Grande. The chief of Border Patrol’s Del Rio, Texas sector reported 10 deaths there in a weekend. 2022 appears likely to be a record year for deaths of migrants on U.S. soil. This is in part because Title 42 has closed ports of entry to asylum seekers, routing many to the treacherous areas in between.
  • Mexico’s asylum system  is on track to experience its second-largest annual number of applicants in 2022. April was Mexico’s fifth-heaviest month ever for apprehensions of migrants. Half of those apprehended were not from El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras, which is unprecedented. Many are from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and South America.
  • “Shared responsibility” is a main theme of a regional declaration on migration that the Biden administration hopes to sign with other Latin American and Caribbean heads of state at the June 8-10 Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles.
  • The Uvalde, Texas mass school shooting response has increased attention to BORTAC, Border Patrol’s little-known elite tactical unit, which has performed non-traditional, non-border-specific missions from Portland to Miami to foreign countries.

Still more migrant deaths

Last week’s Update noted that seven citizens of Nicaragua had died crossing the Rio Grande, in five separate incidents over about six days. This week, the grim toll continued to rise.

Three more Nicaraguan citizens perished in the river over the Memorial Day weekend, according to Nicaraguan Texas Community, a non-profit organization. Kelvin Antonio Tórrez Medina’s body was identified in Laredo, Texas, on May 27. The bodies of Alexander Zelaya Espinoza and Iván Ramiro Rivera Velásquez were recovered in Piedras Negras, Mexico, across from Eagle Pass, Texas, on May 28 and 29, respectively.

Between March 4 and May 19, 2022, more than 20 Nicaraguans have perished,” reports Confidencial, an independent Nicaraguan media outlet that persists despite repression from the regime of President Daniel Ortega. “Of these, nine died trying to cross the waters of the Río Bravo [Rio Grande], mainly in the Piedras Negras area.”

Another migrant of unknown nationality drowned on May 31 at California’s Border Field State Park, trying to swim around the border fence that continues for about 100 yards into the Pacific Ocean. CBP meanwhile posted a release about the death of a man who fell from the border wall in Tornillo, Texas on March 27. As documented in recent reports from the Journal of the American Medical Association and the Washington Post, the number of people dead or gravely injured from attempts to climb the border wall has multiplied since the Trump administration installed hundreds of miles of 30-foot fencing.

In mid-Texas’s Del Rio Sector alone, Border Patrol’s sector chief reported 10 deaths in a May 31 “Weekend Rewind” tweet.

In Tijuana, scores of people attended a June 2 funeral for two Haitian migrants: EFE identified them as “Joselyn Anselme, 34, who was killed in an attempted assault, and Caroly Archangel, 30, who died of a heart attack due to alleged medical malpractice.”

Border Patrol found the remains of more than 8,600 migrants on U.S. soil between 1998 and 2021. Humanitarian groups that recover bodies in specific regions routinely find far more than Border Patrol reports.

In a year that may break records for overall migration, it is not surprising that the number of migrants dying may be approaching record numbers. But the problem is exacerbated by the Title 42 pandemic policy’s closure of ports of entry to asylum-seeking migrants. Media reports point to many children and parents among the dead as they attempt to cross between the ports of entry, which used to be rare. Two small children are among the ten Nicaraguans recovered from the river this month.

Border Patrol is slow to report migrant deaths along the entire border: it has still not shared an official figure for 2021. When it does so for 2022, it’s probable that, even amid a rise in migration, the ratio of deaths to overall migrant encounters may be greater than normal.

48,981 people have applied for asylum in Mexico since January

The Mexican government’s Refugee Assistance Commission (COMAR) has published data documenting migrants’ applications for protection in Mexico’s asylum system through May 31. In the first five months of 2022, 48,981 citizens of other countries have filed asylum requests with COMAR.

That is already the third-largest annual total for Mexico, which as recently as 2013 got only 1,296 asylum requests all year. COMAR is on pace to finish 2022 with its second-largest number of asylum requests, after 2021 when a large number of Haitian migrants helped lift the total over 130,000. (However, new asylum applications have declined for the past two months, from 13,238 in March to 9,113 in May.)

This year, Haiti is not the number-one country of origin of Mexico’s asylum applicants. It is third behind Honduras (usually the number-one country) and Cuba, and followed by Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Brazil (including many children of Haitian parents), Senegal, and Colombia.

The Mexican Interior Department’s Migratory Statistics Unit has updated data through April. That month saw Mexico’s migration authorities apprehend their fifth-largest monthly number of migrants ever: 30,980 people, which is in fact fewer apprehensions than Mexico measured in August, September, and October of 2021.

Half of migrants apprehended in Mexico in April were not from El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. Instead, many are from (in declining order) Cuba, Nicaragua, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Haiti, Chile (mostly children of Haitian parents), and Peru. This is a sharp break with past years, when a quarter or fewer of Mexico’s migrant apprehensions were citizens of these “other” countries.

Mexico’s data also show an increase in the U.S. government’s deportations of Mexicans into Mexico. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported 25,966 Mexican citizens in April, the second-highest monthly total (after March) since 2019. (This figure does not include Title 42 expulsions into Mexico, which often happen at the borderline without any Mexican authorities on hand to count them.)

April deportations to the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas (3,804), where organized crime activity and kidnapping are so severe that the State Department has issued a level-four “Do Not Travel” warning, hit their highest level since November 2020.

Migration on the agenda at next week’s Summit of the Americas

Presidents and heads of government from many Latin American and Caribbean countries will be in Los Angeles on June 8, 9, and 10 for the ninth Summit of the Americas, the latest in a series of high-level region-wide meetings that began in 1994. Five issues lead the agenda, White House and State Department officials explained to reporters on June 1: “democratic governance, health and resilience, the clean energy transition, our green future, and digital transformation.”

“On the margins of the summit,” National Security Council Western Hemisphere Director Juan González explained, will be an additional item: “addressing the historic migration crisis.” President Joe Biden is to “join other heads of state to sign a migration declaration, sending a strong signal of unity and resolve to bring the regional migration crisis under control.”

Though the U.S. political debate tends to focus on what happens at the U.S.-Mexico border, much of the hemisphere is also experiencing mass emigration, receiving large-scale immigration, or in some cases both. Over 6 million Venezuelan migrants have relocated to Colombia and elsewhere in South America. Nicaraguans fleeing the Ortega regime have arrived massively in Costa Rica. Mexico’s asylum system, as noted above, is facing unprecedented demand, much of it from Central America, Haiti, and Cuba. Haitians are crossing into the Dominican Republic or attempting dangerous sea voyages. (For more on the hemisphere-wide migration phenomenon, see WOLA’s May 26 commentary “Beyond the U.S.-Mexico Border.”)

Though the content of the Summit’s migration declaration isn’t yet known, U.S. officials are signaling a desire for greater shared responsibility at a time of very high migration throughout the region.

“For the last couple of months the President has and the Secretary of State and Secretary of Homeland Security, the Vice President, and others have been all-hands-on-deck to mobilize leaders around a bold new plan centered on responsibility sharing and economic support for countries that have been most impacted by refugee and migration flows,” González told reporters. “What we are hoping to do is…to look at the regional challenge from the context of responsibility sharing and the need to provide economic support to countries to have been impacted by refugee and migration flows, but also the importance of…in-country processing avenues, expanding refugee protections, and also addressing, I think, some of the core drivers of migration, which are lack of economic opportunities and insecurity.”

Brian Nichols, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, added that the summit’s migration declaration is likely to cover helping and “stabilizing” communities that are hosting migrants; ensuring access to legal documentation and public services; “promoting pathways for legal, orderly migration when appropriate”; ensuring ethical employment practices; “promoting humane migration management; and a shared approach to mitigating and managing irregular migration.”

It’s not clear how officials are squaring these goals and values with the court-ordered persistence of the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy, which has returned nearly 2 million migrants into Mexico, Haiti, or elsewhere, usually with minimal coordination with local authorities and without giving threatened migrants a chance to ask for protection in the United States.

Sixteen members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus sent a letter to President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging them to include a list of commitments in the Summit’s migration declaration. These include, among others, protecting the rights of migrant children and other vulnerable populations; guaranteeing migrants’ access to medical care and legal counsel; ending detention for children and families; upholding the principle of non-refoulement (not sending endangered people back to places where they are threatened); and expanding safe and legal, pathways to migration.

In an essay at Foreign Affairs, Dan Restrepo of the Center for American Progress—who held González’s National Security Council post during Barack Obama’s first term—calls on U.S. policymakers to recognize that high levels of region-wide migration are “not going to stop.” Adjusting to that reality, he argues, will require “a new, hemisphere-wide approach to migration, combined with steps to modernize U.S. laws, policies, and border infrastructure.”

A sustainable migration framework for the Western Hemisphere must help integrate and establish legal status for already dislocated populations, with additional protection measures for the most vulnerable among them. It must provide options for would-be migrants apart from overburdened asylum systems. And it must establish infrastructure to respond to sudden increases in irregular migration. Large numbers of people will be moving throughout the Americas for years to come. It is time the United States coordinated more closely with other countries in the region to make this a manageable trend, rather than a disruptive one.

School-shooting role draws attention to Border Patrol’s elite unit

Investigations at the New York Times and Vice profile BORTAC, Border Patrol’s elite 250-member SWAT-team-like tactical unit, whose personnel killed the gunman in Uvalde Texas’s Robb Elementary School on May 24.

Border Patrol may operate within 100 miles of a land or coastal border, or elsewhere in a declared emergency. As one of the few non-military federal law enforcement bodies with “special operations” capabilities, BORTAC has played numerous non-traditional, non-border-specific roles.

  • On Trump administration orders, its members fought protesters on the streets of Portland, Oregon, in the summer of 2020 following the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis. BORTAC personnel, with no insignia on their uniforms, were filmed grabbing protesters off the street and hustling them into unmarked, rented vans.
  • 66 BORTAC personnel were posted outside George Floyd’s funeral in Texas.
  • Also in 2020, BORTAC raided the desert camp of No More Deaths, an Arizona humanitarian group, on two occasions.
  • Its members carry out numerous overseas training missions, and likely were among personnel revealed to have confronted a January 2020 migration event in Guatemala by forcing Honduran migrants into unmarked rented vans and driving them back to Honduras.
  • In 2000 it was BORTAC personnel who took Cuban child Elián González from distant Miami relatives to return him to his father in Cuba.

Links

  • WOLA released a new report on June 2 based on fieldwork performed in Mexico’s southern-border city of Tapachula. “ Struggling to Survive: the Situation of Asylum Seekers in Tapachula, Mexico” follows the difficult challenges faced by asylum seekers stuck near Mexico’s border with Guatemala. Most are the result of U.S. and Mexican policies that stand in the way of accessing protection. Mexico, for instance, restricts most asylum seekers to the state where they first applied for asylum during the many months that their applications are under review.
  • WOLA will be hosting a side event, in conjunction with partner organizations, at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles. Sign up to attend “From Deterrence To Integration: Civil Society Voices On Migration Policy Challenges and Good Practices In The Americas,” virtually on Zoom, Tuesday, June  7 from 5:00-6:30 PM U.S. Pacific Time (8:00-9:30 PM in the eastern United States).
  • Thousands of migrants stuck in Tapachula have been marching in protest, demanding quicker asylum processing or documents allowing them to transit Mexico. In response, the Mexican government is reportedly issuing permits for as many as 11,000 migrants to relocate to other, non-border states like Puebla, Morelos, Oaxaca, Jalisco, Michoacán, and Mexico state.
  • An analysis by Rebecca Beitsch at The Hill explores the Biden administration’s legal options now that a Louisiana federal court is preventing it from lifting the Title 42 pandemic policy, which enables the quick expulsion of asylum seekers at the border. While it challenges the court order, migrants’ rights advocates are encouraging the administration to quickly go through the rule-making and comment process that Judge Robert Summerhays expects it to undergo in order to end the public health policy.
  • Even with Title 42 still in place by court order, “US government protocols include exceptions for asylum seekers at a greater risk, and President Joe Biden has promised US agents will apply them. But border agents have broad discretion to grant or deny exceptions, and there are no clear consequences for agents who fail to do so or checks to ensure that exceptions are being handled properly.” The observation comes from a new Human Rights Watch report on LGBT asylum seekers stranded on the Mexico side of the border.
  • “Among the approximately 25 people with whom we spoke, over half had been waiting in Piedras Negras for a year or more and had close relatives in the United States,” reads a field research report from Refugees International. “Their most common questions were: When is Title 42 going to end? Why are some people able to cross at ports of entry (through exceptions), but not others? And why are some who try to cross the river not expelled but others are, especially Hondurans?”
  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) authorized a series of border barrier construction projects in five border sectors, using funds appropriated in 2017, 2018, and 2021, to “address operational impacts, as well as immediate life and safety risks.” Among others, the projects include gates and replacement of the border fence that enters the Pacific Ocean south of San Diego.
  • “Aid workers in Tucson are preparing for the likelihood of handling upwards of a thousand people a day very soon,” notes an NPR report from Arizona. “A good deal of the funding to support the growing humanitarian need in cities near the border like Tucson is coming from the federal government. Much of it is set to run out by the end of the month.”
  • At Reveal News, Aura Bogado discusses the post-government career path of Carla Provost, the Border Patrol’s chief during much of the Trump administration. Provost is a contractor for Endeavors, a non-profit that runs facilities, including emergency shelters, for the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement. Bogado notes that Provost managed the 2,000-bed Pecos Children’s Center in 2021 even though she oversaw Border Patrol during an era of family separations and an elevated number of in-custody deaths of children.
  • In its inaugural meeting on May 31, the Congressional Border Security Technology Caucus heard a presentation from Orbital Insight, a Silicon Valley geospatial analytics company that, according to Border Report, “analyzes satellite, drone, balloon and other unmanned-aerial-vehicle images, including cellphone geolocation data, to study a range of human activity, and provides business and strategic insights from the data.”

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: May 27, 2022

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.

This week:

  • As expected, a Louisiana judge has kept in place the Title 42 expulsions policy, which was set to expire on May 23, probably for months or even more than a year. A different federal court’s ruling affords migrant families a hearing if they fear expulsion. The Louisiana decision likely means repeat border crossings will remain very high, asylum seekers will continue to take risky routes, and more migrants will arrive from “difficult-to-expel” countries. Migration at the border is currently exceeding 8,000 people per day, straining shelters, and DHS may ask Congress for more money to manage it.
  • Data obtained by CBS News shows that more than 12,000 children whom CBP encountered as “unaccompanied” in 2021 had already been encountered, and expelled, as members of family units. This means that an alarmingly high number of families decided to “self-separate” after being expelled by Title 42, sending the children back across the border on their own.
  • Nearly 20 Nicaraguan migrants have drowned in the Rio Grande this year, including 7 in the space of a week in mid-May. Migrants also drowned this week off the coast of Mexico and in a river that separates Mexico and Guatemala.
  • The number of Haitian migrants removed by air to Haiti during the Biden administration has just surpassed 25,000.

Title 42 will remain in place for a while

Late in the day on May 20, Lafayette, Louisiana Federal District Court Judge Robert Summerhays issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Biden administration from lifting the “Title 42” pandemic expulsions policy. In the name of preventing the spread of COVID-19, this policy has enabled the rapid removal of migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border more than 1.9 million times since March 2020, without affording the chance to ask for asylum or other protection. The judge’s action makes it likely that this will continue, curtailing the right to seek asylum at the border for months or even years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had determined on April 1 that Title 42 was no longer necessary, setting May 23 as its final day. Twenty-four Republican state attorneys-general filed suit to reverse this rescission, claiming that ending Title 42 would harm their states by enabling an increase in migrants. They elected to file their suit before Judge Summerhays, a Trump appointee in the federal courts’ conservative Fifth Circuit, which encompasses Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

Summerhays’ ruling was unsurprising: he had already prohibited the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from preparing to lift Title 42 while he weighed arguments. Lawyers were unable to persuade the judge to limit his decision just to the states that filed suit, which would have allowed Title 42 to end in the Democratic-run border states of California and New Mexico.

The Department of Justice will appeal Summerhays’ injunction, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is likely to uphold it. In the meantime, the Biden administration will comply with the court’s order and continue to expel migrants quickly.

If the administration follows the ruling, its path to ending Title 42 requires the CDC to go through the federal government’s “notice and comment” rule-making procedures. Aaron Reichlin-Melnick of the American Immigration Council explains:

Notice and comment rulemaking can be a lengthy process that will likely take the CDC months to carry out if it seeks to end Title 42 again. It requires the preparation of a formal “notice of proposed rulemaking,” a comment period of 30-60 days, agency review of all comments, the preparation of a final rule, review by the Office of Management and Budget, and then usually the final rule is delayed at least 30 days before going into effect. And even if the CDC were to go through this process, states in opposition to the policy change could simply sue again to block that new rule.

Though Title 42 was an emergency provision put in place rapidly, and although the March 2020 CDC order stated that it could be ended at any time, the Louisiana judge contends that the “emergency” cannot be rescinded without a deliberative process that could take, in Reichlin-Melnick’s estimation, “months, possibly years.”

By the end of May, the Biden administration will almost certainly have hit its 2 millionth expulsion of a migrant at the border under Title 42.

In an analysis published on May 23, WOLA listed three likely consequences of keeping Title 42 in place.

First, the number of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border each month is unlikely to decline. It will remain near historic highs. The period since March 2020 has seen a sharp increase in the population of migrants who wish to avoid capture, rather than turn themselves in to seek protection. Encounters with single adults—a demographic that includes many non-asylum seekers—have quintupled from pre-pandemic levels. Repeat encounters have skyrocketed: Title 42 means that migrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras get dropped at the Mexico border without being processed, enabling many to attempt to cross again.

Second, migrants who do seek protection will continue to be forced either to cross improperly, or to wait for many more months in dangerous Mexican border cities. Because land ports of entry remain closed to them, asylum seekers will face strong incentives to risk their lives by climbing the border wall, fording the Rio Grande, and paying organized crime to smuggle them across so that they may turn themselves in to Border Patrol. If they do not wish to do that, migrants will remain stranded in Mexican border towns, where data collected by Human Rights First show at least 10,250 reports of murder, kidnapping, rape, torture and other violent attacks on migrants since January 2021.

Third, more migrants will come from “difficult-to-expel” countries, leaving Title 42 applied to only a minority of migrants. 99 percent of migrants who get expelled come from the four countries whose citizens Mexico allows to be expelled over the land border: Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. (In early May, Mexico agreed to take a limited number of Cuban and Nicaraguan citizens as well. As discussed below, thousands of Haitian migrants also get expelled by air.) Citizens of all other countries face minuscule odds of being expelled if they seek protection in the United States: their countries are too distant, or their governments have poor relations with the United States. These “other countries” made up 46 percent of migrants encountered at the border in April 2022. As a result, the Biden administration did not apply Title 42 to 59 percent of the migrants it encountered that month. That percentage is likely to increase as Title 42 persists.

In April, a remarkable 78 percent of migrants arriving as families came from these “difficult-to-expel” countries. Migrant families who turn themselves in to U.S. authorities to seek protection, however, now have a legal lifeline. A March 2022 District of Columbia appeals court ruling, allowing families to express fear of persecution or torture, went into effect on May 23.

Under the Huisha-Huisha v. Mayorkas decision, CBP officers and Border Patrol agents must give families who show fear of expulsion either an interview with an asylum officer to evaluate the credibility of that fear, or placement in regular asylum proceedings and release into the United States. New guidance issued to CBP and Border Patrol requires officials, as the San Diego Union-Tribune explains,

to watch for “manifestations of fear” that include asylum seekers saying they are afraid of being in that country, asylum seekers saying they have already been harmed or that they will be harmed in that country, as well as asylum seekers showing signs of fear. The documents list “hysteria, trembling, unusual behavior, incoherent speech patterns, self-inflicted harm, panic attacks, or an unusual level of silence” as examples of nonverbal signs of fear.

The guidance does not require U.S. personnel to ask the families if they fear expulsion. The families must speak up themselves, or the U.S. official must detect  the above-mentioned signs of fear.

These new procedures will give families from “easy-to-expel” countries a greater chance of avoiding Title 42 expulsion. An unnamed DHS official told NBC News that this new requirement is “the first nail in the coffin of Title 42.” In April 2022, DHS used Title 42 to expel 13 percent of families it encountered; this percentage is likely to decline still further.

The Biden administration already refuses to apply Title 42 to unaccompanied children. The combination of Summerhays’ ruling and the Huisha-Huisha procedures is likely to turn Title 42 into a policy applied almost entirely to single adults.

However, Lee Gelernt, the ACLU’s lead litigator on the Huisha-Huisha case, warned that some families may still be returned to danger: “We have significant concerns that families who need protection will not be screened because they will be too scared or confused to speak up without prompting and that non-verbal ‘manifestations’ of fear are too difficult to determine,” he told the Union-Tribune.

The Louisiana ruling likely reduces momentum for Republican members of Congress, accompanied by some moderate Democrats, to pass legislation to keep Title 42 in place. A bill introduced by Sens. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) would keep Title 42 until after the government’s COVID emergency declaration is terminated, potentially suspending the right to seek asylum at the border for years. It appeared that this legislation may have had enough support to be attached to a COVID-19 relief bill, but after the Louisiana court ruling some of its Democratic supporters, like Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Arizona), appear less willing to seek to attach it to the COVID measure. Republican senators insist that they still want a vote; the U.S. Congress is in recess until the week of June 6.

Meanwhile, the pandemic measure has not prevented migration at the border from reaching record levels. Internal CBP data reported by the New York Times and Axios point to 8,000 to 8,200 border crossings happening each day right now. About 1,200 adults and 1,300 family members per day are being released into the United States.

Axios revealed DHS documents’ estimate that 40,000 to 50,000 migrants, including over 10,000 Haitians, are now in Mexico awaiting an opportunity to cross. Judge Summerhays’ ruling had cited a figure of “between 30,000 to 60,000.”

At a rate of over 8,000 people per day, the backup inside Mexico is equivalent to just 6 or 7 days of migration. Erika Pinheiro of the Tijuana-San Diego legal aid group Al Otro Lado, which accompanied the mass processing of 20,000 Ukrainian migrants in March and April, told the New Yorker that CBP can handle a flow like this in an orderly way: “They have the capacity for humanitarian processing. If they treat everyone the way they treated the Ukrainians, we’ll clear this backlog in a matter of weeks.”

Between January 2021 and April 2022, about 700,000 undocumented migrants encountered at the border, mostly asylum seekers, were admitted into the United States, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data. Articles this week in the Times and the Dallas Morning News profiled the charity-run shelter networks in U.S. border towns that are endeavoring to receive these released migrants so that CBP doesn’t release them on these towns’ streets. “Attorneys to shelter operators to aid workers are in a constant scramble as ground conditions change and policies are applied to one nationality, such as Ukrainians, but not another,” the Morning News reported.

Pressure on shelters and service providers is mounting in Mexican border towns, too, where the northward flow of migrants is compounded by a steady southward stream of deportations and Title 42 expulsions from the United States (as WOLA discussed in a May 18 report from San Diego and Tijuana). The El Paso Times, La Verdad, and Milenio all reported this week from Ciudad Juárez, where the migrant shelter network is under stress, and where a growing number of Haitian migrants has been arriving.

NBC News reported that DHS is likely to ask Congress for “emergency supplemental” funding for the 2022 budget year to keep up with the cost of processing migrants. The Department claims that it is in danger of running out of money for this purpose before the fiscal year ends on September 30:

Without tapping into key programs, DHS agencies that handle migration would need roughly $1.2 billion in additional funds to cover the cost estimated if border crossings reach 10,000 per day, the document says. The extra costs would be higher if more migrants cross: $1.6 billion for 14,000 crossings a day and $2 billion for 18,000 per day.

Title 42 has caused a very high number of family “self-separations”

At about the same time Judge Summerhays issued his ruling, CBS News reported an alarming statistic that got buried under the Title 42 news. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, CBP informed CBS that, during fiscal year 2021, Border Patrol processed 12,212 unaccompanied children whom it had already processed and expelled, usually as members of family units.

About 33 times per day in 2021, then, an expelled family in Mexico appears to have “self-separated.” Parents made the wrenching choice to send their children back, unaccompanied, across the border, where they might be safer. The U.S. government stopped using Title 42 to expel families after a Washington, DC district court judge halted the practice in November 2020. Expulsions of families have continued at a robust rate, though, creating a perverse incentive for “self-separations.”

An unnamed U.S. official told CBS News that “The Biden administration has been ‘well-aware of this phenomenon’ of self-separations among migrant families and some officials have cited it as a reason to end Title 42.”

Migrants drowning in the Rio Grande and along maritime routes

The independent online media outlet Nicaragua Investiga reports that “At least in 2022, nearly 20 Nicaraguans have died trying to cross the Rio Grande to reach the United States, and another number have perished en route to the U.S. border.”

Among those appear to be 7 Nicaraguan citizens dead or missing after being swept away by the Rio Grande in about a week:

  • Kenneth Blas Cardoza, 27, on May 19
  • Irma Yaritza Huete, 25, on May 18
  • Huete’s 4-year-old daughter
  • Darling Francisca Rosales Ortiz, 32, on May 17
  • Rosales’s son Dominic, 5
  • Keythel Borges Castellón. 20, on May 14
  • Catalina Luna Orozco, 40, on May 14

The non-profit group Texas Nicaraguan Community has been keeping a grim count of the drownings.

Deaths are mounting elsewhere along the migrant route to the United States.

  • As many as seven Honduran migrants drowned when their 25-foot boat sank in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Veracruz, Mexico. Milenio notes that large numbers of migrants have been opting for a short-hop maritime route in this sector, in order to avoid three road checkpoints between Villahermosa, Tabasco and Agua Dulce, Veracruz.
  • The bodies of a drowned 36-year-old Salvadoran migrant and his 7-year-old son were found on May 19 in the Suchiate River, which forms the boundary between Guatemala and Mexico.
  • In Panama, “many of the migrants who enter the inhospitable Darién jungle in search of better living conditions die along the way,” reports the Venezuelan publication Tal Cual, citing Panamanian government data showing nearly 7,000 Venezuelans took this dangerous migration route in the first 4 months of 2022. The report is based on an alarming Twitter thread from Human Rights Watch researcher Juan Pappier, who just returned from a visit to the Darién region.
  • Though not headed to the U.S.-Mexico border, a rapidly growing number of Haitian and Cuban migrants have been taking to the Caribbean and the Florida Straits, often in barely seaworthy craft, in attempts to reach the United States. A vessel carrying Haitian migrants capsized near Puerto Rico on May 12; about 11 drowned. The Associated Press reports that the U.S. Coast Guard has interdicted about 4,500 Haitians at sea since October, more than 3,000 of them since mid-March. A new Migration Policy Institute report on maritime migration notes that early 2,000 Cuban migrants have also been interdicted since October.

Aerial expulsions to Haiti hit 25,000

As noted above, DHS applies the Title 42 expulsions policy almost entirely to migrants from the countries whose citizens Mexico accepts across the land border. Other countries’ citizens tend not to be expelled, with one major exception: Haiti.

Migrants from the island nation, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, are expelled often under a high-tempo aerial removal campaign that intensified in September 2021, when over 10,000 Haitian migrants arrived en masse on the banks of the Rio Grande in Del Rio, Texas. (See WOLA’s analysis published in February, when the Biden administration removed its 20,000th Haitian migrant.) Between September and April, CBP has encountered 39,585 Haitian migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. It has used Title 42 to expel 14,559 of them, or 37 percent. No other country whose citizens are expelled by air comes close to Haiti.

Adding expelled Haitians to deported Haitians yields an even larger number of removals to a country currently experiencing a severe wave of gang violence, kidnappings, and anarchy following the July 2021 assassination of the country’s president.

This week, the Biden administration removed its 25,000th Haitian migrant by air since January 2021, according to a count kept by Tom Cartwright of Witness at the Border, who monitors removal flights and uses International Organization for Migration (IOM) data to make regular small adjustments to his estimates. By Cartwright’s count, the administration hit the 25,000 milestone on May 25.

CBP “migrant encounters” data show a sharp increase in Haitians arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border since February. With that has come a sharp increase in DHS removal flights. 19 planes took migrants back to Haiti during the 7 days between May 20 and May 26, including an unusual 4 flights over the May 21-22 weekend. “522 people were expelled by the Biden admin to Haiti yesterday and today alone,” Guerline Jozef of the Haitian Bridge Alliance told NBC News’s Jacob Soboroff on May 22.

By the morning of May 27, Cartwright’s count had risen to 25,700. Haiti’s population is estimated at 11.4 million, so 1 in every 444 people living in Haiti today was aboard a U.S. removal aircraft during the past 16 months.

Links

  • A new WOLA analysis looks at migration beyond the U.S.-Mexico border, examining recent trends in human mobility and the challenges migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are facing throughout the hemisphere.
  • Bajo la Bota” (Under the Boot) is a new multimedia microsite put together by the Fundación para la Justicia y el Estado Democrático de Derecho (FJEDD) and five other Mexican human rights and migrant rights groups. It documents the increasing use of armed forces to counter migration in Mexico, in parts of Central America, and in the United States. “An iron-fisted wind is blowing in the region to contain the rising human river,” the site warns.
  • In circumstances that remain to be clarified, a Border Patrol agent shot and killed a Mexican migrant in Douglas, Arizona after midnight on May 24. According to the Arizona Republic, the Mexican consulate received an initial report stating that the migrant was taken to a Douglas hospital after being injured climbing the border wall, then “tried to escape and entered into a confrontation with a Border Patrol agent.” The May 24 incident is under FBI investigation, and being reviewed by CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility. This is the second agent-involved shooting near Douglas since February 19, when Agent Kendrek Bybee Staheli shot and killed Mexican migrant Carmelo Cruz-Marcos.
  • CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said that the agency is developing a new policy for vehicle pursuits. High-speed chases involving Border Patrol agents, some of them in populated areas, have generated increasing controversy. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and New Mexico, which has been documenting this closely, counted 22 people killed in vehicle pursuits in 2021, up from 14 in 2020 and 2 in 2019.
  • The embattled DHS Inspector-General, Trump-era appointee Joseph Cuffari, sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee leaders seeking to defend himself from allegations, first revealed by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), that his office (OIG) has been suppressing, delaying, and watering down information about serious patterns of sexual harassment and domestic abuse within the Department’s law enforcement agencies. Cuffari’s letter blames “senior DHS OIG officials who preceded me,” “the intransigence of some inspectors,” and OIG staff withholding information from him. “This is not the response of someone committed to meeting the statutory mandate for inspectors general,” reads a Twitter thread from POGO’s director of public policy, Liz Hempowicz.
  • A resolution seeking to block the Biden administration’s new asylum rule, which will take effect on May 31, failed by a 46-48 vote on May 26. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) was the only Democrat to vote for it. The White House had signaled its intention to veto it. The asylum rule is facing a legal challenge submitted by the Texas state government before Amarillo federal District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, the same judge who ordered reinstatement of the “Remain in Mexico” policy last August. Kacsmaryk will not issue a ruling before May 31, so the new rule will go into effect. It assigns a greater role to asylum officers in adjudicating cases, and speeds the asylum process in ways that concern immigration advocates.
  • “The government of Texas has been asking us to place barbed wire on the Mexican side of the border,” said the director of Mexico’s migration agency (INM), Francisco Garduño. “The policy of the Mexican government has been ‘no’ to the wall, and we do not believe in, and we do not want, a barbed-wire wall either.”
  • A Catholic priest who ran the Casa del Migrante migrant shelter in the Mexican border town of Tecate, east of Tijuana, was found dead on May 17. His body showed signs of torture.
  • “The Mexican government has a plan, a very good agenda for security along the Isthmus of Tehuantepec,” said U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar, referring to the region of southern Mexico where the country reaches its narrowest point. “There, in the Isthmus, for 300 kilometers, 180 miles, it’s easier to see what is happening in the 180 mile border and not 2,000 miles in the desert, so it is part of the migration solution. It is also part of the security solution.” He continued, “That’s where the keys are to solve the problems we have now regarding the flow of migration to the north.”
  • At the Dallas Morning News, Alfredo Corchado recalls the day, 25 years ago on May 20, when 18-year-old Esequiel Hernández became the first U.S. civilian killed by U.S. soldiers on U.S. soil since the May 1970 Kent State killings. Hernández, who was carrying a .22-caliber rifle while herding goats on his property in Redford, Texas, was shot and killed by a concealed active-duty Marine assigned to the border region on a counter-drug mission.
  • An agent from Border Patrol’s SWAT team, known as BORTAC, fired the shot that killed the gunman at the elementary school in Uvalde, Texas on May 24. Uvalde is about an hour’s drive from the border towns of Del Rio and Eagle Pass.
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