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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Migrant Deaths

Recent writing…

You may be wondering what’s the point of maintaining a personal website, if you don’t even use it to post links to things you’ve created at the moment they go public. You’d have a good point.

My only defense is something along the lines of “deadlines meetings too much happening in the news when do I sleep.” That’s a poor defense, though, because it only takes a couple of minutes to post things here, I enjoy maintaining this space, and I want it to be a useful resource.

So here’s what’s come out lately:

The Tragedy in Texas Was Avoidable, Just Like Hundreds of Other Migrant Deaths on U.S. Soil This Year: (posted June 28) As we absorbed the horror of the mass death of migrants in a cargo container in Texas, we published this commentary explaining the larger context: 2022 was already on its way to being a record year for grisly and preventable deaths of migrants on U.S. soil along the border. It’s a result of policies put in place by people in our federal government who have—I don’t know how else to put it—a really cavalier attitude about the deaths of people who’ve committed no crimes.

From rebel to president: Colombia’s new leftist leader: An hourlong English unpacking of Colombia’s election result on BBC’s “Real Story” program, with journalist Catalina Lobo-Guerrero and Oscar Guardiola-Rivera of Birkbeck, University of London.

Migration and the Summit of the Americas: (posted June 23) a podcast I hosted with three WOLA colleagues. Between myself, VP for Programs Maureen Meyer, Mexico and Migrant Rights Program Director Stephanie Brewer, and Program Assistant Lesly Tejada, since March we’ve done field research in four of the nine sectors into which the U.S. Border Patrol divides the U.S.-Mexico border, we’ve been to the Mexico-Guatemala border, and we’ve attended the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, where migration was a big topic. Here, we talk about all of that.

A fresh start for Colombia … and for US policy? (posted to the Quincy Institute Responsible Statecraft site June 22) In the wake of Gustavo Petro’s presidential election victory in Colombia, a preview of areas where the U.S. government could work with him (peace implementation, environment, ethnic and women’s rights, anticorruption) and where there may be a collision course (drugs, Venezuela, trade, the military “special relationship”).

Colombia’s politics are changing dramatically. U.S. policy must change too. (posted June 16) Posted in the runup to Colombia’s momentous presidential election, a look at what the implications might be for U.S. policy toward a country President Biden views as a “keystone.”

OK, in the end, this post actually took me a while to write, especially on a Saturday afternoon when there’s a lot going on around the house. Still, I resolve to do a better job of sharing recent work when it comes out.

Another rough year for humanitarian work in Brooks County, near the border in south Texas

“Last year there were 119 skeletal remains and bodies recovered in Brooks County. This year we’re already up to 20, and spring has just started. We haven’t even hit summer yet.”

That’s Eddie Canales, founder of the South Texas Human Rights Center in Falfurrias, Texas, interviewed by Melissa del Bosque at the Border Chronicle. (Hear a podcast I recorded with Eddie back in 2020.) Falfurrias, about 80 miles north of McAllen and the border, is where Border Patrol has a highway checkpoint. Migrants are instructed to get out of their vehicles and walk around the checkpoint, miles through the dry, flat ranchland of Brooks County (population 7,000). Every year, dozens die of dehydration and exposure.

Canales and his staff of mostly volunteers put out water stations and work with Texas State University forensic experts to help identify bodies. Since most land in south Texas is in private hands, he has to negotiate with ranchers to place the water stations—barrels full of water jugs. He tells Del Bosque where stations are needed, and names the Big Bend region, 500 miles to the west—a very remote area that, until very very recently, saw very few migrants.

Right now, we’ve got about 175 water stations, and we need a lot more. I’d like to set up more on the east side of Brooks County if I can get ranchers to agree to it. I’d also like to set up water stations in the Big Bend sector, where a lot of migration has shifted. The cartels have warehouses of people in Ojinaga, [a border town in Mexico near Big Bend] and are trying to get people through.

Del Bosque asks Canales about some ranchers’ argument that the water stations draw migrants to cross. He responds:

I don’t think that that bears out. The trail is created by the guides and coyotes. The water ends up being for stragglers, for people who are ill or who have gotten lost. Groups get chased and scattered by Border Patrol when they’re trying to apprehend them. Many get lost that way and die. I think it’s not a question of attracting more. It comes down to a question of trying to save lives and mitigating the suffering. It’s not aiding and abetting. It’s humanitarian aid.

In some recent years, Brooks County has led all other parts of the border in recovered human remains—and it’s more than an hour’s drive from the border. Eddie Canales sounds frustrated about the system that keeps sending migrants to their deaths, and pessimistic about what is to come.

As long as people already in this country are saying there’s plenty of work, people are going to keep coming. And, you know, decision makers could create more temporary work visas and other programs to regularize migration, but I think they’ll just keep the conditions that exist. And, you know, let people try to get through as best they can. And let the Border Patrol try to catch them, and then yell and scream that the border is unprotected.

[Del Bosque:] Does that mean that the deaths are going to go up in Brooks County?

Yes, I believe so.

It’s a great interview and a worthy newsletter. Read it here.

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