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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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

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

(Cross-posted at

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

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

Thread: new border and migration data graphics

Yesterday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released its August data about migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Using that, along with data from Mexico’s government and recent non-governmental studies, I posted a 9-tweet thread to Twitter last night, with 17 graphics. Here is that thread, deconstructed.

(1/9) Let’s post a bunch of migration data using CBP and Mexico government numbers.

With 800,000+ apprehended in 11 months, this is the largest apprehensions total since 2007. But unlike 2007, 2 out of 3 are children and parents. In fact, single adults are still trending down.

(2/9) Trump’s June tariff threat caused Mexico to increase its own apprehensions, leading to a drop in US apprehensions at the border. But we’ve seen this before: there were drops after crackdowns and disruptions in 2014 and 2017, and migration recovered after a few months.

(3/9) The crackdown has further increased demand on Mexico’s overwhelmed, underfunded asylum system.

(4/9) After the crackdown, migration from Guatemala dropped more sharply than migration from Honduras. Honduras is now the number-one origin country for migrants apprehended at the US-Mexico border, followed by Guatemala then Mexico.

(5/9) Add people on waitlists at ports of entry plus “Remain in Mexico” victims, and there were at least 52,000 asylum seekers stuck in Mexican border towns by the end of July. It’s probably somewhere around 65,000-70,000 now: a nightmare scenario.

(6/9) CBP seems to have eased “metering” ever-so-slightly in August. (6/9)

(7/9) 11 months into fiscal 2019, seizures of cocaine, meth, and fentanyl already exceed fiscal 2018. As usual, most seizures happen at ports of entry, not the areas in between where some would build more walls. Heroin is flat, perhaps because demand for fentanyl is greater.

(8/9) Marijuana seizures continue to decline sharply at the border, a likely outcome of states’ legalizations, and port-of-entry seizures are suddenly the majority.

(9/9) Download these graphics and more as a big PDF at

Graphics: border numbers through May

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) just released new border migration numbers through May. Border Patrol apprehended more migrants in May 2019 than in any month since March 2006 (monthly data here).But back then, something like 95% of migrants were single adults. In May, only 27% were single adults.

In what is becoming a monthly ritual, here are the numbers in graphical form. You can download an updated PDF with these and other graphics at the easy-to-remember URL

Two-thirds of migrants apprehended this year are kids or parents. That is unprecedented, and was absolutely unimaginable only a few years ago.
In May, 73 percent of all migrants apprehended at the border were children or parents. Nearly three out of four.
Apprehensions of single adults are up, but not even as high as they were in 2014 and earlier years. Child and family migration accounts for nearly all of the current increase.
It’s not just the United States. #Mexico is on the way to another vertiginous increase in asylum-seekers this year. In 5 months, Mexico has almost equaled its 2018 applicants figure, which was a huge increase at the time.
Assuming maybe 8,000 single adults, about 1 out of every 205 people in Honduras was apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in May alone. Honduras saw the biggest child and parent apprehensions increase over October-May ’18: 433%.
About 1 in 350 Guatemalans was apprehended at the border in May. Guatemala is the number-one nationality of migrants apprehended at the border. Followed by Honduras, and then Mexico—the actual bordering country.
El Salvador is in third place in border apprehensions among the Central American “Northern Triangle” countries, but its growth rate is not far behind Honduras.
Border apprehensions of children and families from outside the Northern Triangle and Mexico are also way up. Are they Cuban? Venezuelan? Nicaraguan? From Asia or Africa? Probably all of the above, but CBP doesn’t report other nationalities monthly.
Look at this increase in Cubans arriving at border ports of entry. The January 2017 drop was the Obama administration’s revocation of the “wet foot dry foot” policy granting admittance to any Cuban who could touch U.S. soil. Numbers are recovering fast.
At ports of entry, CBP’s “metering” practice continues to restrict, severely, the number of people who can ask for asylum. All of the growth in child-family migration is happening between ports of entry. This means smugglers get more money, and Border Patrol gets nearly all processing duty.
Here’s the above “metering” graph, zoomed in and just showing kids and families. They’re about 4,500 per month, rarely over.

Finally, some charts showing border drug seizures through May. Note how nearly all drugs are overwhelmingly seized at the official land ports of entry. The action is not in the areas between the ports, where Border Patrol operates.

Border marijuana seizures have dropped precipitously since several US states legalized/regulated cannabis.

You can download an updated PDF with these and other graphics at the easy-to-remember URL

New Border Apprehension Numbers Show Brutal Effect of ‘Metering’ at Ports of Entry

Yesterday, after CBP released its April statistics detailing migrants apprehended at the border, I rushed to update our package of graphics representing aspects of that data (which is always a big PDF file at

The result was a Twitter thread that I’m pleased got a lot of shares, and a graphical commentary at WOLA’s website.

The main points of that commentary (minus the graphics, which you’ll have to visit to view) were:

  • Kids and families were 68% of all apprehensions between the ports of entry last month. More than 2 out of 3. And kids and families are 64% of all apprehensions so far this year.
  • The current wave of kids and families dwarfs the 2014 and 2016 waves. This is not a temporary problem that you can push back by looking tough.
  • Family apprehensions grew from March to April, but unaccompanied kids and single adults were pretty flat. Numbers of single adults are still well below what was the norm as recently as 2012-14.
  • May apprehensions could be higher than April, but it usually drops after that because of summer heat.
  • “Metering” at ports of entry is draconian. For 11 months now, CBP has held the number of undocumented people who can present themselves at the ports to about 10,000 per month—half of them kids and families.
  • Kids and families allowed to present at ports of entry actually dropped by 18% from March to April. That’s stunning at a time of record arrivals between ports of entry. People are being incentivized to make their asylum claims “improperly” (entering without inspection, between the ports).
  • Cubans were fully a quarter of those allowed to present at the ports of entry in April. The number of Cubans has doubled since February, and is now half what it was before “wet foot dry foot” ended in January 2017.
  • Arrivals from Guatemala have leveled off. The April increase is coming from elsewhere.
  • El Salvador, long a distant 3rd place, is growing fast.
  • Lots more are coming from other countries. Nicaragua? Cuba? Don’t know.

Updated border and migration graphics are always here

I keep up-to-date a big PDF file full of stats and graphics about security and migration issues at the U.S.-Mexico border. Right now, it’s 2.2 megabytes and 36 pages long, and you can download it here or, more memorably, at the shortcut

It covers migration, Border Patrol staffing, the immigration court backlog, and security measures like terrorism, drugs, and so-called “spillover” violence (which doesn’t happen).

I just updated it again, with the March migration data that CBP released last week, while I was traveling at the border. Incidentally, I’ve screenshot every instance of that monthly report since it was first released in May 2014.

The March migration numbers

Yesterday U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released its statistics for March. They show that Border Patrol apprehended the largest monthly total of migrants since April 2007. But unlike back then, when nearly all migrants were single Mexican adult males, this time two thirds were children or parents. Most of them from Honduras and Guatemala, and nearly all of them asking for asylum.

The number of single adult migrants apprehended was the largest since the spring of 2014—but still way below what it was that year, or in previous years. This “traditional” migrant population—most of whom probably still want to avoid capture—is now just one in three apprehensions.

Meanwhile, at the ports of entry themselves, CBP officers posted on the borderline prevent most asylum-seekers from approaching. Children and parents continue to be “metered” at somewhere between 4,500 and 5,000 per month.

Another 60,000-plus turned themselves in by jumping over the fence or going across the Rio Grande, and asking their apprehending Border Patrol agents for asylum.

Graphics: the new CBP border/migration data in context

This afternoon U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released a lot of new data about migrants at the border through February. Here are updated versions of some graphics, using official data, that put those numbers in context.

For the first time ever, an incredible 61 percent of all migrants apprehended by Border Patrol at the U.S.-Mexico border are children, and parents with children. This proportion was never as high as 10 percent before 2012.
Child and family apprehensions took a big leap in February, overwhelming Border Patrol’s capacity to deal with them—and U.S. humanitarian groups’ capacity as well.
The number of single adults being apprehended at the border remains near 50-year lows, and less than most of 2016. The typical migrant is no longer an adult traveling alone.
The same thing is happening in Mexico, which has seen asylum requests almost double every year since 2014. As in the United States, most of those requesting are citizens of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras fleeing violence and poverty.
At official land ports of entry, there has been no increase in asylum-seekers. That is because CBP is rigidly “metering” arrivals of those who would seek asylum the “proper” way, posting officers at the borderline to prevent them from presenting themselves inside the ports.
The largest percent increase in migration in February came from Honduras. Some were probably participants in a mid-January caravan, who received humanitarian visas from the Mexican government. As this was a one-time event—Mexico is not offering the visas in-country now—the number of Hondurans may drop in March.
Guatemala is the number-one country for child and family arrivals. The flow is heaviest from the country’s rural highlands. A robust trafficking route is taking many to remote desert zones like Yuma and the New Mexico bootheel.
El Salvador has dropped to a distant third in child and family arrivals. The “northern triangle” is increasingly two-sided.
Arrivals from other countries are up, too. Many are probably fleeing Nicaragua’s brutal crackdown on dissent.
CBP data show that of heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine seized at the border, the overwhelming majority—80 to 90 percent—is seized at ports of entry, not the spaces between the ports where walls would be built.
CBP data show that of heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine seized at the border, the overwhelming majority—80 to 90 percent—is seized at ports of entry, not the spaces between the ports where walls would be built.
CBP data show that of heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine seized at the border, the overwhelming majority—80 to 90 percent—is seized at ports of entry, not the spaces between the ports where walls would be built.
CBP data show that of heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine seized at the border, the overwhelming majority—80 to 90 percent—is seized at ports of entry, not the spaces between the ports where walls would be built.
The one drug that is primarily seized between the ports of entry, where walls would be built, is marijuana. But marijuana trafficking from Mexico has dropped sharply since 2013. Several U.S. states’ legalization dealt a severe blow to Mexican cannabis traffickers.
The average Border Patrol agent apprehended 23 migrants during all of fiscal 2018. And 9 of them (40 percent) were children and families who, in most cases, sought to be apprehended.
Though we still await data for 2018, in 2017 Border Patrol agents were apprehending far more migrants in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley sector than elsewhere.
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