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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A few important border graphics

Late Thursday, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released a pile of data about migration and drug seizures at the U.S.-Mexico border in October.

Here are some key trends. Click on any graphic to expand in a new window. You can download a PDF packet of more than 30 of these infographics at bit.ly/wola_border.

The Trump administration has been around for 46 months (yes I know). Of those 46, October 2020 saw the 7th largest number of undocumented migrants apprehended at the border. And now they can’t blame it on “loopholes” or agents being constrained. They’re implementing some of the hardest-line anti-migration tactics ever, express-expelling most everybody, including asylum seekers, under a March 2020 CDC quarantine order.
Under the CDC border closure, US authorities have now express-expelled undocumented migrants 266,367 times. (The actual number of individual people is fewer, because some have been caught more than once.) At least 13,000 of those expelled were children who arrived unaccompanied, and were pushed back to their home countries unaccompanied.
Border Patrol is apprehending more single adults than at any time in the past decade. While there’s double-counting here because “expelled” migrants often make a second or third attempt quickly, this is a dramatic change in the profile of migrants. Many of them may be deportees seeking to reunite with spouses, children, or other family members. Nearly all seek to avoid apprehension, which means it’s likely that more will die of dehydration or exposure in deserts and other wilderness areas.
For much of the 2010s, a large number—often a majority—of apprehended migrants were children and families, usually seeking to be apprehended in order to petition for asylum or other protection. Draconian Trump policies like “Remain in Mexico” reduced child and family asylum-seeking migration—but it has been slowly recovering in recent months.
Expulsions mean it’s virtually impossible for a parent or child who needs protection to do so by approaching a port of entry (official border crossing).
Mexico’s migrant apprehensions recovered in September to pre-pandemic levels. The overwhelming majority are from Central America.
After a pandemic lull, applications for asylum before Mexico’s refugee agency COMAR recovered to early 2020 levels in October.
Something is up with drug seizures. I had to increase the y-axis on three of these charts because of a big jump from September to October. Nearly all seizures occurred at ports of entry where CBP officers inspect vehicles, not between the ports where Border Patrol operates.

ICE’s Removals of Cubans and Venezuelans Have Spiked Under Trump

This week DHS released its latest Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, offering data through 2019. It includes a table (Table 41, use the Excel version to get all years) of how many citizens ICE sent back to each country.

Look what happened to removals of Cubans and Venezuelans since Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant administration took office in 2017. Note that this doesn’t count Venezuelans whom the administration, we’ve now learned, has been stealthily sending back to Caracas via third countries.

Recall that despite this, fuzzy initial data show Trump beating Joe Biden among Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American early voters in Miami-Dade, Florida, where much of this community lives.

Why? Because in a dirty social-media-heavy campaign reminiscent of Colombia’s 2016 peace plebiscite, the Trump campaign and its surrogates have successfully implanted the idea that Joe Biden is a communist who would support the regimes that they fled. It’s amazing that they’ve gotten away with this while spiking deportations back to those same regimes.

Your chances of getting asylum vary by an absurdly wide margin across immigration courts

Syracuse University’s TRAC Immigration project, which obtains and presents official data, just posted information about asylum decisions in U.S. immigration courts in 2020. They found that the courts granted asylum or other relief in only 28.4 percent of cases during the 2020 fiscal year, down from 45.4 percent in 2016, the last year of the Obama administration.

Also remarkable, when you dig into their database, is the disparity among immigration courts. Though judges are following the same laws and guidelines, they’re many, many times more willing to grant asylum in New York or San Francisco than they are in Houston or Atlanta. Nobody has a great explanation for why that is.

Find this chart, and a few dozen other border and migration data visualizations, at bit.ly/wola_border, a continually updated PDF document.

Official June data from the border: single adults are migrating in the desert heat

U.S. Customs and Border Protection did its monthly data dump yesterday, reporting on how many people the agency, which includes Border Patrol, apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border last month. As the Washington Post noted, the most notable trend was a 40% increase, over May, in the number of undocumented migrants that Border Patrol encountered—even as the border is mostly shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A year ago, the big story at the border was children and families from Central America seeking asylum. The Trump administration has illegally ended asylum at the border for nearly everyone, so numbers of kids and parents have dropped sharply.

Instead, graphing the data out shows that all of the increase is in single adults, mainly from Mexico. Adults are blue in the charts below.

Keep in mind that adults are less likely to be seeking asylum. This means they’re probably trying to avoid being apprehended by Border Patrol. That in turn means many are probably migrating through some of the remotest, most treacherous parts of the border—at the very height of summer, when the desert heat is at its worst. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, there may be a spike in migrant deaths on U.S. soil, from dehydration and exposure, as a result of the COVID-19 border crackdown. Already, official Border Patrol Twitter feeds are full of accounts of rescues.

These graphics, and a few dozen others, are always available as a big PDF file at http://bit.ly/wola_border. Also of interest there are the ones showing a pretty big June jump in drug seizures, again “despite the pandemic.”

What a dramatic geographic difference over 2 months

Of the top 20 states for new COVID-19 cases, 9 weren’t on the list 2 months ago, and 6 more have moved sharply up the list.

For decades, people will be studying the decisions the United States made right now and wondering why we acted the way we did.

It’s not about “those red states.” It’s just unspeakably sad.

A few April border charts

U.S. Customs and Border Protection released data on migrant apprehensions and drug seizures during April, the first month during which the U.S.-Mexico border spent entirely under near-closure quarantine.

As expected, the number of undocumented migrants apprehended at the border declined, as did seizures of nearly all drugs. However, April was not the month of least migration in recent memory, as I’d expected. Despite a lockdown of the border and immediate, legally dubious “expulsions” of most border-crossers, the 15,862 people apprehended by Border Patrol last month was still a higher monthly total than February through April of 2017, when migration plummeted following Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Here’s what monthly drug seizures at the border look like. Though they are down, you don’t see a sharp break in March and April. It may be that traffickers are still trying to cross with the same amount of product as always, despite the stricter border measures. Or it may be that CBP, with a lot less traffic to inspect, is seizing a larger percentage of a smaller overall quantity of smuggled drugs. No idea.

I’ve got a bunch more infographics to update, but as you can see from all the other things I’m putting on this site this evening, it’s been a long and full day, even my late-afternoon coffee is wearing off, and I’m likely to make mistakes. So more tomorrow.

U.S. COVID-19 cases in the past week

When I get anxious about something, I may make a spreadsheet about it to try to understand it better. (Doesn’t everyone?) So I made these using the New York Times case data at Github, and the COVID Tracking Project Google Docs.

In the end, I don’t know what this all means—this is far from my specialty. But what I think it means is:

  • Northeastern states still have some of the fastest growth in coronavirus cases, but this may also be a measure of more aggressive testing. As a percentage of population, New York has done five times more testing than Texas.
  • The South is showing up a lot more, more than when I ran these numbers last week.
  • Some states (California, Minnesota) have low testing, but also may genuinely have slow growth because they’ve been strict about social distancing. Others (Texas, Georgia, Iowa) have low testing, and may be missing a lot of what’s happening.
  • Virginia and Alabama are among states with the highest percentage growth in cases despite being in the bottom 15 for testing. That seems alarming.

Past week’s growth in U.S. coronavirus cases

Using the New York Times database on GitHub, I wanted to see which U.S. states had seen the greatest growth in COVID-19 cases over the past seven days (April 2-9).

It’s all here in the northeast and mid-Atlantic, or at least this is where more people are able to take tests that turn out positive. Here are the states that rank in the top 20 on at least two of the three categories below.

Updated border and migration graphics

I updated 20 graphics in my packet of border and migration infographics, to reflect new releases of data from CBP and Mexico’s INM.

That packet is always available as a big (3.8MB) PDF file at the easy-to-remember address bit.ly/wola_border.

Here are a few:

The number of migrants apprehended at the border was average for February. Slightly more than January, entirely because of an increase in single adults, most of whom probably did not intend to turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents.
With access to asylum all but shut down right now, arrivals of children and families are radically reduced.
Mexico’s apprehensions jumped in January. This was mainly because of the ill-fated “caravan” of Hondurans that got stopped in Chiapas and Tabasco that month.
Something is up with meth trafficking at the border during the first five months of the fiscal year.

“Infographics” section added to colombiapeace.org

(Cross-posted at colombiapeace.org)

We’ve just added a page with nine visualizations of data regarding peace, security, and human rights in Colombia. We’ll update these, and add more, as we make them.

At the bottom of each are shortened links to the documents from which we drew the information. The current collection of infographics covers the demobilized FARC population, U.S. aid, registered victims, U.S. cocaine prices, coca cultivation and eradication, cocaine seizures, homicides, kidnappings, and forced displacement.

We hope you find these useful. Like everything produced by WOLA on this site, you’re free to use them with proper attribution, under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Current table of aid to Colombia

The Trump administration has issued its 2021 State Department and foreign aid budget request to Congress. It calls for a big increase in counter-drug aid to Colombia’s police and military, along with cuts in economic aid and non-drug military aid.

Congress will reverse this, but in the meantime, here are the numbers from the past few years, since before the Obama administration’s “Peace Colombia” aid package went into effect in 2017.

32 years of coca cultivation estimates in the Andes

I just graphed this out for a talk I’m giving later today. It combines data from six U.S. government sources listed at the bottom of the graphic.

There’s no need to comment further, is there. The image tells its own story about the wisdom of relying so heavily on forced crop eradication.

Trump to Seize More Border Wall Money Through Brute Force

We learned in Monday evening’s Washington Post that our president plans to take another $7.2 billion out of the Defense Department’s budget and put it into the border wall that he couldn’t convince Congress to pay for. If he gets his way, more than three out of every four dollars in border-wall money will have gone without congressional approval.

This sort of rule by decree is what we’ve seen in Latin America when democracies start giving way to dictatorship.

A new commentary at WOLA’s website breaks down what’s happening: the amounts involved, the convoluted way Trump is wresting the money from defense and avoiding Congress’s constitutional checks, and the situation in the courts, where our only hope lies.

Here are two graphics I made for that piece.

Read the whole thing here.

Twitter thread of border and migration graphics

I updated my collection of data about security and migration at the border to reflect some new data releases from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and from Mexico’s Migration Policy Unit. From those, I have a collection of charts and graphics whose most current version is always downloadable as a PDF file at bit.ly/wola_border.

I just posted a Twitter thread explaining the latest trends. Here it is embedded in one place.

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