Adam Isacson

Defense, security, borders, migration, and human rights in Latin America and the United States. May not reflect my employer’s consensus view.

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Honduras

At Least 545,000 People—Many From Outside the Americas—Migrated Through Honduras in 2023

As we noted in a June report, Honduras keeps a reasonably accurate count of migrants transiting its territory, because it requires people to register with the government in order to have permission to board a bus. A minority travel with smugglers and don’t register, but most do.

Honduras also reports the nationalities of “irregular” migrants in something close to real time, so here’s what in-transit migration looked like through December.

Data table

The top 15 nationalities transiting Honduras during December were:

  1. Venezuela 13,803 (32% of 42,637 total)
  2. Cuba 8,997 (21%)
  3. Guinea 3,558 (8%)
  4. Ecuador 3,324 (8%)
  5. Haiti 3,001 (7%)
  6. China 2,121 (5%)
  7. India 1,472 (3%)
  8. Colombia 1,461 (3%)
  9. Senegal 706 (2%)
  10. Chile (children of Haitians) 456 (1%)
  11. Afghanistan 325 (1%)
  12. Vietnam 325 (1%)
  13. Peru 305 (1%)
  14. Brazil 249 (some children of Haitians) (1%)
  15. Angola 222 (1%)

The top 15 nationalities during all of 2023 were:

  1. Venezuela 228,889 (42% of 545,364 total)
  2. Cuba 85,969 (16%)
  3. Haiti 82,249 (15%)
  4. Ecuador 46,086 (8%)
  5. Colombia 13,136 (2%)
  6. Guinea 12,902 (2%)
  7. China 12,184 (2%)
  8. Senegal 8,964 (2%)
  9. Mauritania 5,816 (1%)
  10. Uzbekistan 5,153 (1%)
  11. India 4,366 (1%)
  12. Chile (children of Haitians) 3,004 (1%)
  13. Egypt 2,845 (1%)
  14. Afghanistan 2,729 (1%)
  15. Angola 2,640 (0.5%)

A few things are notable about this data:

  1. Nationalities from Asia and Africa are heavily represented. The Americas made up just 8 of December’s top 15 countries, and 6 of 2023’s top 15 countries. The situation in the Darién Gap is similar: only 7 of the top 15 nationalities counted by Panamanian authorities during the first 11 months of 2023 were Latin American or Caribbean.
  2. The total is similar to that measured in the Darién Gap. Panama’s Public Security Ministry reported on Monday that a stunning 520,085 migrants passed through the Darien Gap in 2023. Honduras reported a similarly stunning 545,364. Both are more than double 2022’s totals.
  3. Honduras’s total is greater than the Darién Gap, even though some migrants don’t register, because it includes many migrants who arrived by air in Nicaragua. Honduras’s neighbor to the south lies north of the Darién Gap, making it unnecessary to take that treacherous route, and does not require visas of visitors from most of the world. A growing number of people from Cuba, Haiti, and other continents have been taking circuitous commercial air routes, or often charter planes like one halted in France two weeks ago, to arrive in Managua and then travel overland to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. Much of the increase in migration through Honduras reflects the growth of that route—especially those from African countries, whose numbers declined in the Darién Gap because Nicaragua presented a safer, shorter alternative. (Darién Gap travelers from outside the Americas often fly first to Ecuador or Brazil.)

Unusual: Even as Migration Drops Along the U.S.-Bound Route, It Jumps at the Border

According to leaked CBP data, U.S. authorities encountered 14,509 migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border yesterday (December 18). That’s probably about 13,000 Border Patrol apprehensions between ports of entry (official border crossings) and about 1,500 people reporting to the ports of entry, nearly always with appointments made using the “CBP One” app.

That’s almost certainly the largest number of migrant arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border in any day since at least 2000.

Aaron at the American Immigration Council says this increase, which seems to have begun in November, “is driven partly by rumors that the border will close soon and the CBP One app will be shut down.” That may explain it. A funding crisis at Mexico’s migration agency (National Migration Institute, INM) could also be a factor.

This is really unusual, though, because migration data further south along the U.S.-bound migration route would lead one to expect the numbers at the U.S.-Mexico border to be declining. Panama, Honduras, and Mexico have been reporting fewer people coming after record-breaking levels in late summer and early fall.

Here’s Panama: a 24 percent decline in migration through the Darién Gap from October to November, and a 50 percent decline in migration from September to November. So, fewer people departing the South American continent.

Monthly Migration Through Panama’s Darién Gap

November 2023: Venezuela 61%, China 11%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 9%, Ecuador 8%, Colombia 5%, all others <1%

Since January 2020: Venezuela 53%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 21%, Ecuador 9%, all others <3%

Data table

Here’s Honduras: down 41 percent from October to November. So, fewer people coming from South America and through the increasingly used aerial entry point in Nicaragua.

Honduras’s “Irregular” Migrant Encounters (Since August 2022)

November 2023: Venezuela 44%, Cuba 20%, Haiti 9%, Ecuador 6%, Guinea 5%, China 4%, All Others <4%

Since August 2022: Venezuela 41%, Cuba 18%, Haiti 14%, Ecuador 10%, Colombia 2.2%, All Others <2% 

	Venezuela	Cuba	Haiti	Ecuador	Colombia	China	Guinea	Senegal	Mauritania	Other Countries
22-Aug	10769	6899	836	1583	314	42	19	118	18	2278
22-Sep	11325	5144	863	1685	379	45	23	135	14	2220
22-Oct	14027	5290	1856	5793	723	99	30	185	18	3037
22-Nov	3756	9219	2858	5130	400	186	34	158	38	3857
22-Dec	1923	7225	2518	6557	231	405	22	87	63	4034
23-Jan	1866	2079	5365	4562	296	415	72	202	31	4054
23-Feb	4462	629	4092	5010	449	688	97	159	71	4449
23-Mar	9112	776	2991	2493	624	719	90	191	88	4576
23-Apr	10883	1301	2392	1692	682	985	87	472	87	4350
23-May	11809	2397	1629	2147	654	801	277	831	427	4398
23-Jun	12698	3254	1305	2817	488	1045	118	390	1801	2870
23-Jul	25050	6721	1558	6116	954	980	389	1398	2036	3769
23-Aug	35669	11343	4051	5789	1330	654	1005	1629	1036	3020
23-Sep	42550	19288	14898	4830	2174	570	1762	1066	48	3453
23-Oct	34547	17513	35529	3581	2021	1006	2304	1235	75	4198
23-Nov	26440	11671	5438	3725	2003	2200	3143	685	87	4395

Data table

And here’s Mexico: down 4 percent from September to October (Mexico, like the United States, has not reported November yet).

Mexico’s Migrant Apprehensions (Since 2022)

October 2023: Venezuela 30%, Haiti 11%, Honduras 10%, Cuba 8%, Ecuador 7.5%, Guatemala 7.1%, All Others <4%

Since January 2022: Venezuela 26%, Honduras 16%, Guatemala 13%, Ecuador 7%, Cuba 6%, Nicaragua 5.2%, All Others <5%

	Venezuela	Honduras	Guatemala	Ecuador	Cuba	Nicaragua	Colombia	El Salvador	Haiti	Other Countries
22-Jan	2733	5841	6304	246	2214	2234	503	1565	368	1374
22-Feb	1120	5929	5191	202	3384	1843	2986	1721	254	1674
22-Mar	1209	6390	6075	276	6333	2701	3375	2338	205	1851
22-Apr	1960	6457	6920	513	6103	2854	1746	2579	304	1770
22-May	1640	7544	7222	780	3191	3474	3031	3307	246	2855
22-Jun	3919	6507	7010	668	2481	1561	2840	1990	110	3337
22-Jul	6431	7461	6578	719	2550	2182	2169	2936	145	2731
22-Aug	16885	5741	4927	1185	2159	2327	2479	2544	174	4298
22-Sep	15381	5309	4932	1528	3244	4062	2704	2471	223	3938
22-Oct	21781	5475	4632	3266	3247	5711	2179	2144	308	3458
22-Nov	12298	5895	5380	4459	3318	7329	2225	2379	505	5697
22-Dec	11721	4379	4344	8314	3251	4547	2041	1271	1605	7509
23-Jan	5329	3911	4015	6081	2919	2200	964	1234	2319	8388
23-Feb	6721	5202	4249	7003	384	408	1435	1234	2971	8434
23-Mar	9119	6053	6025	3126	237	205	3170	1793	3769	11131
23-Apr	6725	3759	3303	1018	156	164	1369	1118	1658	5723
23-May	17258	5034	3259	2187	472	225	1258	834	1496	8001
23-Jun	18480	11162	6952	4559	1021	883	1313	1474	1573	10848
23-Jul	24236	15450	7484	6115	1837	1762	1756	1854	1951	11070
23-Aug	21936	20139	12673	7328	1320	1939	2450	2533	1258	10774
23-Sep	30560	12059	9146	8199	5022	2829	3905	2603	4079	18140
23-Oct	28275	8954	6600	6937	7202	1887	3055	2656	10646	16696

Data table

Why are the numbers up so much at the U.S. border when they’re down everywhere else along the route? The answer probably has to do with:

  • A jump in migration from citizens of Mexico and Central American, and/or
  • Crossings of Venezuelans and others who had arrived in Mexico more than 1-2 months ago, and perhaps are now giving up on waiting for CBP One.

Also, If recent Decembers are a guide, the U.S. border numbers could be on the verge of dropping. The first halves of December 2021 and December 2022 saw very heavy migration, capping off growth that accelerated all fall (as did the fall of 2023). Numbers dropped during the second halves of those Decembers, as the holidays approached.

Border Patrol Apprehensions by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

October 2023: Mexico 26%, Venezuela 16%, Guatemala 12%, Honduras 10%, Colombia 7%, Ecuador 6%, El Salvador 3%, All Others <3% 

Since October 2020: Mexico 33%, Guatemala 12.2%, Honduras 11.6%, Venezuela 8%, Cuba 6%, Nicaragua 5.2%, All Others <5%

Data table

Darién Gap Migration Dipped in October

Fresh numbers from Panama show a 35 percent drop, from September to October, in the number of people migrating through the Darién Gap. The main cause was a 41 percent decline in the number of citizens of Venezuela (blue in the chart) who traveled through the treacherous jungle region.

Monthly Migration Through Panama’s Darién Gap

October 2023: Venezuela 70%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 8%, China 6.0%, Ecuador 5.8%, Colombia 4%, all others <2%

Since January 2020: Venezuela 53%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 22%, Ecuador 10%, Cuba 3%, all others <3%

	Venezuela	Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile)	Ecuador	Cuba	Colombia	China	India	Afghanistan	Bangladesh	Other Countries
20-Jan	9	1332	11	48			7		16	115
20-Feb	20	1535	4	45	2		9		48	162
20-Mar	3	972	6	16	2		7		10	83
20-Apr		0								0
20-May		0								0
20-Jun	2	135	1	12			5		10	17
20-Jul		0								0
20-Aug		0			1	3				2
20-Sep	5	84			2					17
20-Oct	5	315	2		2					47
20-Nov	3	313	7	1	1				2	38
20-Dec	22	645	9	123	11		11		37	113
21-Jan	3	720	3	176	8		3		38	120
21-Feb	9	1231	2	205	7				90	313
21-Mar		2193	14	198	1	2	30		15	241
21-Apr	3	3818	12	1306			102		127	497
21-May	113	2180	5	1514			44		118	488
21-Jun	205	6527	9	2770	4		44		131	577
21-Jul	248	15488	19	2354	8		34		210	452
21-Aug	568	21285	22	2857	8		1		128	463
21-Sep	437	22473	48	1566	31	3	40		102	805
21-Oct	339	20626	88	3018	29	11	65		325	1403
21-Nov	352	3595	65	1639	18	22	158		222	1691
21-Dec	542	936	100	997	55	39	71		151	1303
22-Jan	1421	807	100	367	48	32	67	1	70	1789
22-Feb	1573	627	156	334	72	39	74	3	81	1303
22-Mar	1704	658	121	361	59	56	88	40	201	1539
22-Apr	2694	785	181	634	72	59	172	31	126	1380
22-May	9844	997	527	567	248	67	179	67	254	1144
22-Jun	11359	1025	555	416	287	66	228	82	210	1405
22-Jul	17066	1245	883	574	407	85	431	162	236	1733
22-Aug	23632	1921	1581	589	569	119	332	128	150	2083
22-Sep	38399	2642	2594	490	1306	136	350	180	189	1918
22-Oct	40593	4525	8487	663	1600	274	604	551	143	2333
22-Nov	668	5520	6350	535	208	377	813	379	176	1606
22-Dec	1374	6535	7821	431	188	695	756	596	48	1853
23-Jan	2337	12063	6352	142	333	913	562	291	127	1514
23-Feb	7097	7813	5203	36	637	1285	872	276	132	1306
23-Mar	20816	8335	2772	35	1260	1657	1109	359	87	1669
23-Apr	25395	5832	2683	59	1634	1683	446	386	77	2102
23-May	26409	3633	3059	59	1645	1497	161	192	148	2159
23-Jun	18501	1743	5052	74	894	1722	65	217	185	1269
23-Jul	38033	1548	9773	123	1884	1789	96	321	243	1577
23-Aug	62700	1992	8642	172	2989	2433	27	467	159	2365
23-Sep	58716	3176	4744	166	2570	2588	43	609	260	2396
23-Oct	34594	3958	2849	97	2051	2934	36	400	200	2137

Data table

2023 is still—by far—a record-breaking year for Darién Gap migration, though. 458,228 people migrated through the region during the first 10 months of the year, making it certain that the year-end total will surpass 500,000. 294,598 of this year’s migrants (64 percent, blue in the chart) have been Venezuelan.

Annual Migration Through Panama’s Darién Gap

2023: Venezuela 64%, Ecuador 11.2%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 10.9%, China 4%, Colombia 3%, All Others <1%

Since 2010: Venezuela 47%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 22%, Ecuador 8%, Cuba 7%, Colombia 2.24%, China 2.18%,  All Others <2%

	Venezuela	Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile)	Ecuador	Cuba	Colombia	China	India	Nepal	Bangladesh	Other Countries
2010		0		79		268	12	29	53	118
2011		1	15	18	65	9	11	9	45	110
2012		0	18	1154	24	11	48	213	89	220
2013		2	4	2010	26	1		297	398	313
2014		2	1	5026	9		1	468	377	291
2015	2	8	14	24623	32	1	1	2426	559	1623
2016	6	16742	93	7383	16		20	1619	580	3601
2017	18	40	50	736	36	6	1127	2138	506	2119
2018	65	420	51	329	13		2962	868	1525	2988
2019	78	10490	31	2691	23		1920	254	911	5704
2020	69	5331	40	245	21	3	39	56	123	538
2021	2819	101072	387	18600	169	77	592	523	1657	7830
2022	150327	27287	29356	5961	5064	2005	4094	1631	1884	20675
2023 (Oct)	294598	50093	51129	963	15897	18501	3417	2035	1618	19977

Data table

Data from the United States and Honduras also show sharp drops in migration from Venezuela. The cause appears to be U.S. and Venezuelan governments’ October 5 announcement that they would be renewing deportation flights to Caracas. Though these flights are proving to be relatively infrequent so far, the mere possibility of being sent all the way back to Venezuela seems to have led many Venezuelan citizens considering migration to “wait and see” and delay their plans.

Honduras is the country that reports in-transit migration in the most current manner. Looking at weekly migration through Honduras shows a possible recovery in Venezuelan migration (blue) during the first full week of November. However, a single week’s data don’t necessarily point to a trend. Here is migration of citizens of Venezuela during each week between September 1 and November 9.

“Irregular” Migrants from Venezuela and Haiti Registered in Honduras by Week, September-Early November 2023

	Venezuela	Haiti
Week of 9/1-9/7	10101	2475
Week of 9/8-9/14	8685	3120
Week of 9/15-9/21	11012	5138
Week of 9/22-9/28	9852	4302
Week of 9/29-10/5	10384	5632
Week of 10/6-10/12	8430	6936
Week of 10/13-10/19	8514	8199
Week of 10/20-10/26	7154	11356
Week of 10/27-11/2	4866	5141
Week of 11/3-11/9	8199	1242

The chart also shows citizens of Haiti (green), whose numbers rose then fell during the same period. The recent drop owes to the Haitian government, at strong U.S. suggestion, banning charter flights to Nicaragua at the end of October.

Haiti Led Nationalities of In-Transit Migration Through Honduras in October

Honduras’s “Irregular” Migrant Encounters (Since August 2022)

October 2023: Haiti 35%, Venezuela 34%, Cuba 17%, Ecuador 4%, Guinea 2.3%, Colombia 2.0%, All Others <2%

Since August 2022: Venezuela 41%, Cuba 17%, Haiti 15%, Ecuador 11%, Colombia 2.1%, All Others <2% 

	Venezuela	Cuba	Haiti	Ecuador	Colombia	China	Senegal	Guinea	Mauritania	Other Countries
22-Aug	10769	6899	836	1583	314	42	118	19	18	2278
22-Sep	11325	5144	863	1685	379	45	135	23	14	2220
22-Oct	14027	5290	1856	5793	723	99	185	30	18	3037
22-Nov	3756	9219	2858	5130	400	186	158	34	38	3857
22-Dec	1923	7225	2518	6557	231	405	87	22	63	4034
23-Jan	1866	2079	5365	4562	296	415	202	72	31	4054
23-Feb	4462	629	4092	5010	449	688	159	97	71	4449
23-Mar	9112	776	2991	2493	624	719	191	90	88	4576
23-Apr	10883	1301	2392	1692	682	985	472	87	87	4350
23-May	11809	2397	1629	2147	654	801	831	277	427	4398
23-Jun	12698	3254	1305	2817	488	1045	390	118	1801	2870
23-Jul	25050	6721	1558	6116	954	980	1398	389	2036	3769
23-Aug	35669	11343	4051	5789	1330	654	1629	1005	1036	3020
23-Sep	42550	19288	14898	4830	2174	570	1066	1762	48	3453
23-Oct	34547	17513	35529	3581	2021	1006	1235	2304	75	4198

Data table

We’ve grown accustomed to Venezuela (blue in this chart) being the number-one nationality of migrants transiting Central America and Mexico to come to the United States. Venezuela has been the number-one country of citizenship of people transiting Honduras during every month since March, and U.S. authorities encountered more migrants from Venezuela than from any other country—including Mexico—at the U.S.-Mexico border in September.

Data from Honduras in October, however, show at least a temporary pause in that trend. Last month, Honduras registered more migrants from Haiti transiting its territory (brown in this chart) than from Venezuela. (A new “Mixed Movements Protection Monitoring” report from UNCHR also notes this trend.)

It was a record month for Honduras’s registries of in-transit migrants from around the world: 102,009 people with “irregular” migratory status registered with the government, a necessary step for a short-term legal status making it possible to board buses to get across the country. Of that number, 35,529 were Haitian and 34,547 were Venezuelan. (271 were recorded as Brazilian and 489 as Chilean; many—probably most—of them were children born to Haitian citizen parents who had been living in those countries.)

Transit of Venezuelan migrants through Honduras fell 19 percent from September to October, from 42,550 to 34,547 people.

A possible reason could be a reaction to the Biden administration’s early October agreement with Venezuela to resume deportation flights to Caracas, news of which may have led some would-be migrants to pause their plans. Aerial deportations are expensive, however, and a charter flight to Venezuela only holds about 100-150 people. It is reasonable to expect Venezuelan migration to recover, as conditions in the country remain dire and as Venezuelans considering migration realize that the probability of aerial deportation is slim.

The sharp increase in Haitian migration appears to owe to a new air route from Haiti to Nicaragua, which does not require that visiting citizens of Haiti obtain a visa in advance (though it charges them a steep fee upon arrival). For more on that, see this good November 6 analysis from the Honduras-based journalism website ContraCorriente.

90,639 People Migrated in Transit Across Honduras in September

Data table listing more than 140 nationalities that have transited Honduras since August 2022

Just over five months ago, we visited what is by far the most-used border crossing from Nicaragua (Trojes-Danlí) and were amazed by the number of people we saw on the move. Now, it’s more than three times as many people.

The source is the Honduran government’s National Migration Institute. Since August 2022, Honduras has waived fees charged to migrants entering its territory, instead requiring all to register and have their information entered in a database. That allows migrants to get a form required to board buses through the country. As a result, Honduras’s numbers do record most people coming through.

1 in 300 Hondurans, in a Month

For about every 300 Honduran citizens living in Honduras, 1 was apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in August 2023 alone. That’s 35,173 people out of a population of 10.6 million.

Chart: Citizens of Honduras: CBP Encounters At and Between Ports of Entry

	Between the Ports of Entry (Border Patrol)	At the Ports of Entry (CBP Office of Field Operations)
19-Oct	5449	270
19-Nov	4479	295
19-Dec	4202	180
20-Jan	2567	211
20-Feb	2802	175
20-Mar	3226	124
20-Apr	1872	19
20-May	1712	34
20-Jun	2101	46
20-Jul	2880	25
20-Aug	3983	45
20-Sep	4818	28
20-Oct	7330	40
20-Nov	8146	53
20-Dec	10296	62
21-Jan	11162	70
21-Feb	20102	78
21-Mar	41989	127
21-Apr	37738	467
21-May	30624	1507
21-Jun	32620	2413
21-Jul	42594	2703
21-Aug	39532	2593
21-Sep	26798	280
21-Oct	21779	82
21-Nov	19917	188
21-Dec	17856	285
22-Jan	11726	285
22-Feb	13689	386
22-Mar	15709	504
22-Apr	14261	1473
22-May	17999	1731
22-Jun	22712	1465
22-Jul	18123	2217
22-Aug	13218	3001
22-Sep	12197	2220
22-Oct	10658	3445
22-Nov	10160	2990
22-Dec	10329	2947
23-Jan	8982	2048
23-Feb	10098	837
23-Mar	11524	1831
23-Apr	12112	1106
23-May	17813	3226
23-Jun	10660	4434
23-Jul	23091	2934
23-Aug	31747	3426

Data table

Even more citizens from Guatemala arrived at the border in August (37,937), but Guatemala’s population is larger (18.1 million). That is 1 of every 477 Guatemalan citizens living in Guatemala.

Citizens of Guatemala: CBP Encounters At and Between Ports of Entry

	Between the Ports of Entry (Border Patrol)	At the Ports of Entry (CBP Office of Field Operations)
19-Oct	5788	121
19-Nov	6129	111
19-Dec	6396	94
20-Jan	4487	93
20-Feb	4802	83
20-Mar	4269	60
20-Apr	1340	17
20-May	702	22
20-Jun	997	67
20-Jul	2349	69
20-Aug	4106	40
20-Sep	5878	34
20-Oct	9225	67
20-Nov	10279	44
20-Dec	12394	60
21-Jan	13082	55
21-Feb	19029	125
21-Mar	33921	139
21-Apr	29782	271
21-May	25846	606
21-Jun	29423	823
21-Jul	35674	794
21-Aug	36216	892
21-Sep	24162	126
21-Oct	19301	73
21-Nov	20379	90
21-Dec	20908	101
22-Jan	13746	110
22-Feb	18081	134
22-Mar	21245	147
22-Apr	19453	457
22-May	21076	392
22-Jun	24219	429
22-Jul	19810	402
22-Aug	15092	589
22-Sep	14910	421
22-Oct	14254	593
22-Nov	13970	545
22-Dec	14247	639
23-Jan	11531	439
23-Feb	14016	204
23-Mar	14884	409
23-Apr	14310	273
23-May	14152	667
23-Jun	9548	814
23-Jul	21491	637
23-Aug	37204	733

Data table

Honduras doubled its monthly in-transit migration record in August

A chart of Honduras's in-transit migrant registrations between August 2022 and August 2023.

This number averaged 23,660 per month between August 2022 and June 2023. It rose to 48,971 in July and 63,615 in August.

Data table

Honduras registers most migrants who pass through its territory en route to the United States. Since August 2022 it has waived fees required to register (and thus be able to board a bus), so the country’s data does capture most in-transit migrants.

These are mostly people who passed through the Darién Gap or began their journey on the American mainland in Nicaragua, which has relatively loose visa requirements.

Honduras also shares its migrant registry data almost in real time. And looking at that data right now yields a startling result.

This number averaged 23,660 per month between August 2022 and June 2023. It jumped to 48,971 in July, and to 63,615 in August. More than half are Venezuelan.

We’re seeing similar increases in migrant encounters in Panama and Mexico, and now at the U.S.-Mexico border. Migration at the border is probably, once again, going to be a big issue in the U.S. political debate this fall, as the 2024 elections approach. And that’s bad, because the pre-electoral debate is very unlikely to capture the complexities of migration management and processing—a very complex set of challenges.

Record-breaking month for migration through Honduras

Honduras recorded an unprecedented number of migrants transiting the country in July 2023: 46,779 people.

Screenshot of linked page showing graph with 46,779 “migrantes irregulares” coming through Honduras in July 2023; the next highest month on the graph, which goes back to 2014, is 30,775 in October 2022.

Through July 30, the month saw 52% more migration than second-place October 2022, and represented a 75% increase over June 2023.

Countries with over 1,000 migrants through July 30 were Venezuela (51% of the total), Cuba, Ecuador, Mauritania, Haiti, Senegal, and Egypt.

96 percent of registered migrants did so in the Nicaragua border-zone towns of Danlí and Trojes, in El Paraíso department. We visited that zone at the very end of April, and posted photos and a report, when the flow of migrants was less than half what it was at the end of July.

Honduras trip report is out

Four weeks ago, I was flying back from our 10-day trip to Honduras. Today, we’ve managed to write and lay out a graphical report about what we learned.

The full, 7,000-word, photo-filled, English version is here.

The PDF version of the same is here.

Una traducción del resumen ejecutivo está aquí.

Here’s the summary in English. The much more interesting full report, again, is here.

Halfway to the U.S.: A Report from Honduras on Migration

by Adam Isacson and Ana Lucia Verduzco and Maureen Meyer

  • Four current and former WOLA staff members—Adam Isacson, Maureen Meyer, Ana Lucia Verduzco, and Joy Olson—visited Honduras from April 26th to May 5th, 2023.
  • Why we visited: WOLA has done extensive research on the U.S.-Mexico border, throughout Mexico and the Mexico-Guatemala border, and the Darién Gap has begun to draw attention. But the U.S – Mexico border is the end of a long journey, and much of what happens elsewhere along the U.S.-bound migration route is poorly understood. WOLA wants to tell the story of what’s happening at key stages of the migration route because needs are urgent and the region is experiencing unprecedented human mobility.
  • What we found: Honduras, like its neighbors, now experiences four kinds of migration:
    • Hondurans who are departing
    • Hondurans who are internally displaced
    • Hondurans deported back from other countries
    • International migrants transiting the country
  • As everywhere along the migration route, numbers of international migrants passing through the country are up, as the land route from South America has opened up since 2021. Many U.S.-bound migrants are from other continents. To reflect this new reality, humanitarian aid providers call on international and national funding to be more consistent and reliable.
  • For migrants transiting Honduras, the country is a “respiro—a place to catch one’s breath—or even a “sandwich” between arduous and unwelcoming journeys before (Darién Gap, Nicaragua) and after (Guatemala, Mexico).
  • This is largely because Honduras is neither deporting nor detaining most migrants, and it has waived a fine that it had been charging for travel documents required to board buses. That fine had left many migrants in Honduras stranded, while providing corrupt authorities with an opportunity for extortion. Upon entry, most migrants now register directly with the government without the need to pay a fee. This reduces opportunities for organized crime. It also makes transiting the country slightly more bearable and provides a more accurate registry of those who enter the country. This “amnesty” policy is a necessary alignment with reality. Honduras should make it permanent, and other countries along the route would do well to emulate aspects of it.
  • Migrants—both those transiting Honduras and Honduran migrants departing the country—are traveling with widely varying levels of information about what lies ahead. While some were aware of the “CBP One” app and the significance of May 11, 2023, the day that Title 42 ended, almost no migrants with whom WOLA interacted had clear knowledge of the complex U.S. asylum process. Some did not even know how many more countries remained to cross in the days ahead.
  • The United States and Mexico deport 1,500-2,000 Honduran migrants in a typical week. Attention to deported migrants as they arrive in Honduras is supported by the U.S. government, indirectly through international organizations and humanitarian groups. Conditions are relatively dignified and well resourced, despite some serious short-term needs. But assistance with reintegration largely stops at the doors of the reception centers. Security risks are high, but economic and psychosocial needs are the most urgent.
  • Upon arrival in Honduras, deported migrants share alarming testimonies about the treatment they receive while in the custody of, and being transported by, U.S. law enforcement agencies. These rarely end up with investigations or discipline because pathways to reporting are often unclear or inaccessible, especially when witnesses are deported.
  • International humanitarian officials and Honduran experts joined calls for more clarity and stability in U.S. immigration policy, and simpler access to reliable, current information about existing legal pathways to migration.
  • Key reasons Hondurans migrate overlap in complex ways. It is hard to extricate economic need from the security situation as gang extortion has shuttered businesses and depressed economies. Corruption—and impunity for corruption— in turn feed a national malaise and sense of rootlessness or hopelessness that spurs migration. Add to these: discrimination, domestic violence, the effects of climate change, and the need to provide remittances to loved ones.
  • WOLA’s time in Honduras was a reminder of the pressing need to find long-term alternatives to mass migration flows. These include community-based and institutional reforms that address the conditions forcing people to leave: poverty, violence, impunity, corruption, persecution, climate change, domestic violence, and a general sense of “rootlessness.”
  • Experts and service providers warned against being tempted by quick fixes that promise short-term results at great long-term cost, like the state of emergency and mass incarceration that President Nayib Bukele is carrying out in neighboring El Salvador.

The full report

Less migration? Or stranded migrants?

This talking point about a “95% drop in border migrant encounters from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela” is problematic.

Why? Let’s examine encounters along the migration route, from north to south.

Here’s where the 95% comes from.

Chart: Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela Migrants Encountered Between U.S. Ports of Entry

	Jan-22	Feb-22	Mar-22	Apr-22	May-22	Jun-22	Jul-22	Aug-22	Sep-22	Oct-22	Nov-22	Dec-22	Jan-23	Feb-23	Mar-23
Between Ports of Entry (Border Patrol)	47270	34596	54042	55910	57280	40470	50069	56209	78256	71656	75658	84192	11909	2052	3811

US Border Patrol’s apprehensions of these 4 countries’ migrants really did drop steeply from December—after Mexico agreed to accept Title 42 expulsions of these nationalities, and once a “humanitarian parole” option opened up for some of them.

But there’s no 95% drop anywhere else along the migration route, where people fleeing those countries have become stranded.

Since December, Mexico’s encounters with these 4 countries’ migrants are only down 42%.

Chart: Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela Migrants Encountered in Mexico

	Jan-22	Feb-22	Mar-22	Apr-22	May-22	Jun-22	Jul-22	Aug-22	Sep-22	Oct-22	Nov-22	Dec-22	Jan-23	Feb-23	Mar-23
Total	7549	6601	10448	11221	8551	8071	11308	21545	22910	31047	23450	21124	12480	9859	12327

Since December, Honduras’s encounters with Cuban, Haitian, and Venezuelan migrants are up 10%.

(Nicaraguan citizens don’t need passports to be in Honduras, and thus don’t end up in Honduras’s count of “irregular” or “undocumented” migrants.)

Chart: Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela Migrants Encountered in Honduras

	Jan-22	Feb-22	Mar-22	Apr-22	May-22	Jun-22	Jul-22	Aug-22	Sep-22	Oct-22	Nov-22	Dec-22	Jan-23	Feb-23	Mar-23
Total	1589	2253	7571	10703	10757	12726	10297	18504	17332	21173	15833	11666	9310	9183	12879

Since December, in Panama’s Darién Gap, migration from Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela is up 250% (though down 57% from a high in October, before Mexico started accepting expulsions of Venezuelan migrants).

Chart: Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela Migrants Encountered in Panama’s Darién Gap

	Jan-22	Feb-22	Mar-22	Apr-22	May-22	Jun-22	Jul-22	Aug-22	Sep-22	Oct-22	Nov-22	Dec-22	Jan-23	Feb-23	Mar-23
Total	2595	2534	2723	4113	11408	12800	18885	26142	41531	45781	6723	8340	14542	14946	29186

The upshot: migration from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela may be down sharply at the US-Mexico border, due to aggressive Title 42 expulsions.

But the expulsions have absolutely not deterred these nations’ citizens from migrating. They’re still fleeing—but they’re stranded.

WOLA Podcast: “’We can’t deter our way out of this’: a view from the Honduras-Nicaragua border”

From here in Honduras, we recorded a new episode of WOLA’s podcast: “‘We can’t deter our way out of this‘: a view from the Honduras-Nicaragua border,” where more than 1,000 migrants per day are arriving from the south.

This is a quick reaction—and discussion of solutions—with my colleagues Maureen Meyer, Joy Olson, and Ana Lucía Verduzco, who were with me over the past few days to witness a mounting humanitarian crisis.

Here’s the text from the podcast landing page at wola.org.

This podcast was recorded in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where WOLA staff are on a field visit to research migration. Four current and former WOLA staff members—Adam Isacson, Maureen Meyer, Ana Lucia Verduzco, and Joy Olson—visited the Honduras-Nicaragua border region over the April 29-30 weekend.

While there, we saw—and spoke with—migrants who had just entered the country from the south, after a harrowing journey through Panama’s Darién Gap and a hostile reception in Nicaragua. We found:

  • Hundreds of people, from numerous countries, out in sweltering heat. Many were traveling as families, often with small children.
  • People waiting to obtain documents that would allow them to take an expensive day-long bus ride onward to Guatemala.
  • Aid workers—from the Honduran government, humanitarian organizations, and local civil society—doing their best to manage the situation and minimize harm. But struggling to do so with very limited resources.
  • A Honduran policy that refuses to detain or deport migrants in nearly all cases: a recognition of reality that has reduced the reach of organized crime.
  • Migrants regarding Honduras as one of the less arduous stretches of the U.S.-bound migrant route. Honduras is in a “sandwich” between harsher policies in Nicaragua and Guatemala.
  • A wide variety in migrants’ knowledge of what lies ahead, from the dangers of the journey, to the requirements for asylum, to the U.S. government’s confusing and ever-changing policies, pathways, and obstacles, like the “Title 42” expulsion policy that is expected to end on May 11, 2023.

Overall, we can’t help but conclude:

  • Nobody should have to go through this. What we saw is as severe as one would expect to see from people fleeing an armed conflict. People aren’t fleeing what would be defined as a “conflict”—they are fleeing a 21st century phenomenon of their countries becoming unlivable for a combination of reasons. What we witnessed is the result of governance failures in the region, antiquated migration policies in the United States, and a failure to cooperate and communicate all along the migration route.
  • Because of this, we’re not going to be able to deter our way out of this. Threatening ever harsher obstacles has failed in the past, it will fail now, and it will carry a terrible human toll.
  • But until we see fundamental change to U.S. migration policy, and to the conditions forcing people to leave, our communities and the migrants alike will be stuck with a patchwork of partial pathways to legal migration: from asylum to humanitarian parole to partial, inconsistent temporary worker and refugee programs.

Considering the magnitude of the crisis we witnessed at the Honduras-Nicaragua border, today’s measures are all woefully partial, and no substitute for real reform.

Download the podcast .mp3 file here. Listen to WOLA’s Latin America Today podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. The main feed is here.

At the Honduras-Nicaragua border

Hello from Tegucigalpa. We’re just back from a couple of days in the Honduras-Nicaragua border zone, in the department of El Paraíso. An extraordinary number of migrants are passing through this zone right now, most of them after passing through the Darién Gap and Nicaragua.

Here are a few photos.

Waiting for documents

The Honduran government’s “Center for Attention to Irregular Migrants” earlier today in Danlí. Large numbers of people from all over the world wait here for a document that allows them to remain in the country for five days. Honduras doesn’t deport or (except in rare cases) detain migrants, but it is impossible to board a bus to Guatemala without this document. The Danlí center has been processing a few hundred people per day, but the number was over 1,000 per day this weekend. This was the most people migrating that I’ve ever seen in one place at the same time.

Honduras was charging a steep fee (over US$200) for this travel document, but the current government has declared an amnesty, so the process is free. That keeps most from turning to organized crime to smuggle them through the country. To get the document, everyone must fill out a form and register biometric data. This is shared with databases of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which wants awareness of who is coming and whether they pose any potential threats.

In Trojes, right on the border, the Honduran migration office is closed over the weekend. People are lining up to get their travel documents, sleeping in a row of tents alongside the building, trying to avoid the broiling heat, waiting for it to reopen.

Transportation

For those with travel documents, the most frequent route through Honduras right now leads to the border with Guatemala in Agua Caliente, Ocotepeque, near Esquipulas, Guatemala. It’s a 12-16 hour trip. A bus company employee told me that about 20-25 buses per day are leaving Danlí right now for Agua Caliente, with about 50 migrants aboard each, with each migrant paying US$50.

The bus company employee outside the terminal said $50 to go to Agua Caliente, but the sign inside the terminal says $37. 🤷🏼‍♂️

Police check migrants’ documents at a checkpoint between Trojes and Danlí.

Border crossings

Peering into Nicaragua from the Las Manos border crossing. (Note the red and black Sandinista Front flags, and the absence of blue and white Nicaraguan flags.)

When migrants arrive in Trojes from Nicaragua, they usually do so at this gap in a fence along the border, near the customs post. Four Venezuelan men arrived during the few minutes that we stopped by here.

A multilingual “know your rights” sign a couple of hundred yards from that gap in the fence.

Facilities

A Center for Attention to Irregular Migrants in Trojes, run by LIFE Honduras, a consortium of humanitarian organizations with Unicef support.

Signage at a new shelter in El Paraíso run by the Fundación Alivio del Sufrimiento, a church-based organization that is a member of the Consortium.

And finally

Left to right: WOLA Program Assistant Ana Lucía Verduzco, WOLA VP for Programs Maureen Meyer, me, and Stívenson Amador, projects coordinator at the Fundación Alivio del Sufrimiento.

A Venezuelan migrant in Tegucigalpa, Honduras

After passing through the Darién Gap, Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, some U.S.-bound migrants get stranded en route as they struggle to raise money to pay bus fares.

At the beginning of this century, Venezuela was one of Latin America’s wealthier countries. Back then, the idea of its citizens using an image of their flag to evoke pity in Honduras—the 2nd or 3rd poorest nation in the hemisphere—would’ve been ludicrous.

Headed to Honduras

I’m flying first thing Wednesday morning for a research trip to Honduras, a country where I have to admit I’ve done little work in recent years. The last time I was there was 2005 or 2006. I look forward to working again in Central America, where I started my career in the 1990s.

Source: UNICEF/Consorcio LIFE Honduras

I’m sorry, of course, that it’s necessary to do so. Honduras is one of several countries on the route between the Darién Gap and Mexico, a route being transited by something like 1,000 people per day. (Honduras measured an average of 689 “irregular” migrants transiting the country during each of the first 112 days of 2023—mostly from Venezuela, Haiti, and Ecuador—but hundreds more per day probably evaded detection.)

With a few WOLA colleagues, I’ll be in the country’s two largest cities, and in zones along the Nicaraguan and Guatemalan borders. I’ve got a long list of research questions, which will form the backbone of a report I hope to publish as quickly as possible after our return. The outline’s “Roman numerals” so far are:

  • Migrants transiting Honduras
  • Honduran migrants returned
  • Honduran government response
  • How U.S. government policy shapes what migrants experience
  • Response of other international actors

I will post photos and impressions (for security reasons, after I leave a region) both here and at my Mastodon account.

I’m grateful to all who have agreed to meet with us in the coming days, and to those who’ve offered me some extremely useful advice as I prepared the trip.

This is the first time in many years that I’ve organized a trip to a place where I don’t already have a lot of relationships with people. In Honduras, I only have a few. But I expect to change that over the next several days.

Addendum added 8pm on April 25: Here’s the nationalities of migrants encountered by authorities in Honduras since January 2022. You can see a notable recent drop in Cuban migrants and increase in Venezuelan migrants. Both are subject to Title 42 expulsion into Mexico, but Venezuelans have become at least somewhat adept at using the “CBP One” app to make appointments for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

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