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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Venezuelan migration through Panama’s Darién gap

23,000 Venezuelan migrants arriving in a month at the US-Mexico border would be big news: it only happened once before, last December.

But in August, 23,632 migrants from Venezuela (green on the below chart) walked through Panama’s dangerous, ungoverned Darién Gap jungle.

8 months into 2022, Panama has exceeded 100,000 migrants through the Darién Gap, and seems certain to break its annual record. That number (133,726) seemed unimaginable last year when tens of thousands of Haitian people (blue on the below chart) came up from South America.

The horror of migrant deaths at the border

Someone at CBP shared with CNN the agency’s latest count of migrant remains found on the U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico border. Forced to take dangerous routes, migrants die often of dehydration, exposure, border wall falls, drownings, animal bites and other preventable causes.

This year is going to shatter all records. (And it’s important to note that CBP doesn’t capture all deaths.) Charting out the numbers of deaths since 1998 leaves me speechless.

In a better world, this would trigger a dramatic change in policy. We wouldn’t even have to advocate for it. But we’re not in a better world—we’re in one where politics continues to be dominated by the myth that migration can be deterred with “border security.”

Mexico’s asylum requests

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.

Migrants apprehended in Mexico in July

Mexican migration authorities apprehended their fourth largest-ever monthly total of undocumented migrants in July, 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 migrants came from those countries.

The increasingly non-Mexican, non-Central American nature of today’s migrant population was the subject of a story that the Associated Press, reporting from the U.S.-Mexico border, published yesterday.

Data tables added to many border infographics

I added a small but useful feature to our collection of infographics about the U.S.-Mexico border and migration, hosted at our Border Oversight website.

Now, it’s not just a pretty image of a chart: if you want the actual numbers, many pages now have a little link you can click to view the underlying data as a plain-HTML table. That table easily copies-and-pastes into any spreadsheet.

A few weeks ago U.S. Customs and Border Protection started sharing its migration data, going back to fiscal year 2020, as a downloadable dataset. The “data table” pages here query that dataset in an instant and save me an incredible amount of time building these graphics. And now, any time CBP uploads new data, I can grab it, upload it to the Border Oversight server, and all these little “data table” pages will update automatically.

737 migrants per day in the Darién Gap last month

Panama’s government published data on the number of people whom its migration authorities registered coming through the dangerous Darién Gap migration route, in the country’s far east along the Colombia border.

The 22,582 migrants who came through the Darién in July (737 per day) were the fourth-largest monthly total that Panama has ever measured. The top three were in August-October 2021, when a large number of Haitian migrants took this very dangerous route.

This year, migration of Haitian citizens is reduced, but a stunning number of Venezuelans are now passing through the Darién. Three-quarters of July’s migrants in this region (16,864, or 544 per day) came from Venezuela.

In January, at strong U.S. suggestion, Mexico established a visa requirement for Venezuelan citizens arriving in the country, which sharply reduced the number of Venezuelans arriving by air, many of whom were traveling to the U.S. border to seek asylum. U.S.-bound migration of Venezuelans fell in February, but is now recovering as migrants take the far more dangerous land route.

In the first 7 months of 2021, Panama registered 45,029 migrants in the Darién. The total for the first 7 months of 2022 is 71,012.

Migration through the Darién Gap increased further in June

Panama’s migration authority has released data through June detailing migration through the Darién Gap, a jungle region along the border with Colombia that is where the Pan-American Highway stops. It’s a barely governed area where violent criminal groups more or less have free rein. Migrants who dare to make the roughly 60-mile journey routinely report being robbed, beaten, or raped, and seeing dead bodies along the trail.

This year, most of the growing number of people taking the Darién route are coming from Venezuela. 11,359 Venezuelan people passed through the Darién in June, more than ever before. That’s nearly 3 out of 4 (73%) of the 15,633 people who took this once-avoided route just last month.

Nearly 50,000 people migrated through the Darién during the first half of 2022. That’s on pace to be second to 2021, when 133,726 took this dangerous route. Last year, three-quarters of migrants were Haitian. This year, nearly 60% are Venezuelan.

Venezuelans seeking to migrate north used to be able to skip Darién’s dangers and fly to Mexico. But in Jan 2022, at strong US suggestion, Mexico started requiring visas of arriving Venezuelans, as Human Rights Watch reported last week. Most now have to take the land route.

Growing numbers of migrants taking the Darién route are coming from Africa: 6,188 so far this year. Many came from Angola and Senegal earlier in the year. In recent months, more migrants are coming from Ghana and Somalia—both east and west Africa.

Migration data from Mexico

Sometime at the very end of June, Mexico’s Interior Department released data about migration through the country in the month of May. It turns out that May was the fourth-busiest ever month that Mexico has experienced, with authorities apprehending 32,948 migrants from other countries.

This next chart used to be almost entirely blue, brown, and yellow, representing the three countries of Central America’s “Northern Triangle,” who made up nearly all migrants coming through Mexico. Now, though, those countries make up only 54 percent of the total.

The rest—shown in green—come from the rest of the world, mainly the Americas. Here’s all nationalities with 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 last September, the month of the “whipping” or “flailing reins” incident in Del Rio, Texas. That month, Mexican forces apprehended 9,009 Haitian citizens.

Here is the latest data about deportations of Mexicans into Mexico. This statistic has reached higher levels than during the last two years of the Trump administration, in part due to a larger number of Mexican citizens attempting to migrate into the United States. Notable is the recent growth of this chart’s yellow segment: deportations into Tamaulipas, the only Mexican border state considered so violent and dangerous that the U.S. State Department has given it a Level 4 “Do Not Travel” warning.

The data underlying these charts is from the Mexican Interior Department’s Migratory Statistics Unit. I used Table 3.1.1 and Table 5.1.

Social leaders in Colombia: the crisis is not abating

The UN verification mission in Colombia counted 56 killings of human rights defenders and social leaders in just 3 months, from March 26 to June 27. (All but seven remain to be verified.)

That’s three homicides every five days. In the nearly five years and four months before this latest quarterly reporting period, the UN Mission counted about one homicide very four days.

For people who want to participate non-violently in local politics, the pace of death is not slowing.

The image is from the infographic report accompanying the UN Mission’s latest quarterly report on the peace process. The press release summarizing that report is here.

Latest data from Mexico’s asylum system

9,740 people requested asylum in Mexico in June. That’s slightly fewer than in February, March, and April, but still puts Mexico’s refugee agency, COMAR, on track for its second-largest year ever.

Last year, 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. (The Chileans who appear here in 2020 and 2021 were almost entirely the Chilean-born children of Haitian migrants.)

This year, Honduras has returned to the number-one position that it has held during recent years. Arrivals from Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua all appear likely to break past records.

Supply and demand

Here’s what it looks like when you chart out Table 8.3 in the just-released 2022 UNODC World Drug Report. This is the average price of a gram of cocaine sold on U.S. streets over the 31 years between 1990 and 2020, in 2020 inflation-adjusted dollars, adjusted for purity.

Two things stand out:

  • If the purpose of “supply side” drug policy is to make cocaine scarcer, it has largely failed to do so. The only moment when cocaine prices were a bit higher than usual—indicating some relative scarcity—was the late 2000s and early-to-mid 2010s. That was a time when aerial fumigation was declining in Colombia, and manual eradication and territorial governance efforts were increasing.
  • The White House’s last update on Andean cocaine showed the region’s total potential production of the drug increasing from 1,521 tons in 2016 to 2,132 tons in 2020. That’s a 40% potential supply increase. But this chart shows almost no decrease in price over those four years, just $6, or 3 percent. That probably tells us that the Andes’ big increase in coca and cocaine production is going to other countries’ drug markets, not to the United States, where there’s some balance between supply and demand.

Big increase in Venezuelans coming through Panama’s Darién Gap

The Panamanian Migration Service’s latest data show a 145 percent increase, from April to May, in migrants coming through the dangerous, ungoverned Darién Gap jungles. 13,894 people took this several-day walk in May, risking drowning, disease, and assault, theft, and rape from criminal groups that operate with total impunity.

That’s not a record—more migrants passed through the Darién in July-October of last year, a period when Haitians who had been living in South America massively migrated toward the United States.

This year, most migrants are Venezuelan: 71 percent in May, and 51 percent in January-May. Venezuelan migration through the Darién was 43 percent greater in May than in the first four months of the year combined. Migration of Colombian and Ecuadorian citizens in May was also nearly double the January-April total.

Until recently, Venezuelans seeking to migrate toward the United States would mostly arrive by air to Mexico, which did not require visas of visiting Venezuelan tourists. That route got shut down on January 21 when Mexico, at very strong U.S. suggestion, began imposing visa requirements for visiting Venezuelans.

Venezuelans are now taking to the treacherous land route. Once they make it through Panama, most are ending up in the Mexican southern-border zone city of Tapachula, where they are stranded. Venezuelans made up most of the attempted migrant “caravan” that left Tapachula a week ago. That caravan made headlines but is now mostly dispersed, as Mexican migration authorities have been providing visas allowing migrants to leave Tapachula.

Asylum requests in Mexico

The Mexican government’s refugee agency, COMAR, is nearly on pace to tie Mexico’s record, set last year, for the most migrants applying for asylum.

Last year, the largest number of Mexico’s asylum seekers came from Haiti. This year, Hondurans have retaken the number-one spot.

These and 48 more infographics about the U.S.-Mexico border and migration now “live” at WOLA’s new “Border Oversight” website.

Current chart of aid to Colombia

There’s some guesstimating here, because I don’t have current numbers for Defense Department “train and equip” aid, and I don’t have a breakdown for how much of the State Department’s International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement aid goes to the military/police and how much goes to the judiciary and other civilian priorities. But I think this pretty close, for Latin America’s largest U.S. aid recipient:

Here’s a Google spreadsheet attempting to break it all down.

Unaccompanied Children at the Border: Update through September 7

New arrivals of unaccompanied children are trending steadily downward at the US-Mexico border, after rising in July.

The population of unaccompanied children in Border Patrol custody is way down, below 500 for the first time in 4 months.

The number in the Health and Human Services Department’s (HHS) network of shelters, awaiting placement with US-based relatives or sponsors, remains stubbornly over 14,000.

HHS hasn’t increased the pace at which it discharges children since early May.

The data comes from 116 daily reports saved in a zipfile (13.5 MB) at http://bit.ly/uac_daily.

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