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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Migration

At a Migration Conference in Medellín

Here are a few things I learned from fellow panelists at today’s sessions of a migration conference at the Universidad de Antioquia in Medellín.

Me (back, 2nd from left) with some of the conferencistas.

  • The largest number of people traveling through the Darién Gap get their information about the migration route through word of mouth, followed by WhatsApp, followed by other social media, followed by more reliable sources like humanitarian groups.
  • Of all major Colombian cities, Medellín is where business owners report being least willing to hire migrants.
  • In Medellín’s north-central Moravia neighborhood, organized crime demands larger extortion payments from Venezuelan small business owners than from Colombians. Most Venezuelans in the neighborhood do not intend to stay in Colombia: they either want to return to Venezuela if things improve, or they plan to move on. So they tend to choose not to mix into community life.
Poor hillside neighborhoods in northeast Medellín’s Comuna 3.

  • Among Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, there is a strong correlation between being a woman and the likelihood of being a victim of violence, including sexual violence.
  • Many Venezuelan LGBTQ+ migrants are fleeing attacks and discrimination, especially trans people who have it very bad there. But they more often cite “sexual liberation” or the availability of medical treatments, like HIV retrovirals, as their reasons for coming to Colombia.
  • Armed and criminal groups causing a lot of displacement and cross-border migration along Colombia’s remote southeast border with Venezuela and Brazil include FARC dissidents’ 10th front, the ELN, Brazil’s Garimpeiros, Venezuelan “sindicatos,” and Venezuela’s armed forces. All are profiting from illicit precious-metals mining and other environmentally disastrous practices, principally on the Venezuelan side of the border and usually in Indigenous territories. States are either absent, or part of the problem.
An ibis crosses my path at the University of Antioquia.

Hallway graffiti at the University reminds us to “unite under Maoism” and “down with revisionism.”

Video of Today’s Panel on Migration in Medellín

Here’s today’s panel at Medellín, Colombia’s Universidad de Antioquia, where I presented with Carolina Moreno of Bogotá’s Universidad de los Andes. (It’s in Spanish, which means that viewers have to puzzle through my Spanish. I’m not much more articulate in English, honestly.)

Until I ran out of time, I spoke about current migration trends, what’s happening with U.S. border and migration policy, and the poor choices that countries have for managing in-transit migration.

You can download a PDF file of the slides I used at bit.ly/2024-adam-unal-med.

My deepest thanks to professors Lirio Gutiérrez and Elena Butti of the Universidad Nacional Sede Antioquia for leading the great team of faculty and students who have organized this two-day conference. I’ve learned a lot from the panels.

And there’s another in-person day to go. I’m moderating a panel at 9:00AM tomorrow local time (10:00 on the U.S. east coast) and the discussions of migration go on until 4:00PM.

So it’s time to get some rest. But first, a few snapshots.

It has been raining a lot, and the Medellín River is quite high.

Courtyard at the Universidad de Antioquia.

State universities in Colombia are nearly always coated with leftist graffiti, but the U de A is especially exuberant.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: May 3, 2024

With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. See past weekly updates here.

Due to an extended period of staff travel and commitments, we will produce Weekly Border Updates irregularly for the next two and a half months. We cannot publish Updates during the next two weeks; sporadic posting will begin in late May. We will resume a regular weekly schedule on July 26.

Support ad-free, paywall-free Weekly Border Updates. Your donation to WOLA is crucial to sustain this effort. Please contribute now and support our work.

THIS WEEK IN BRIEF:

Preliminary numbers published by CBS News and the Washington Post indicate that Border Patrol agents apprehended 129,000 or 130,000 migrants in April, a slight decline from February and March. U.S. officials continue to credit Mexican efforts to block migrants, which were the subject of a phone conversation between Presidents Biden and López Obrador. Migration through Panama’s Darién Gap also appears to have declined in April.

With fiscal year 2024 half over, CBP’s border drug seizure data points to notable declines in opioids, including the first-ever drop in fentanyl seizures. Cocaine and methamphetamine are increasing compared to 2023, while seizures of cannabis—which decreased precipitously after U.S. states started regulating its use—remain at a low level. Except for cannabis, at least 82 percent of border drug seizures occur at land-border ports of entry.

Human Rights Watch published a report on how the CBP One app denies access to asylum through “digital metering” at the U.S.-Mexico border. ProPublica and the Texas Tribune examined the relationship between U.S. border policies, including encouraging Mexico to interdict migrants, and tragedies like the March 2023 detention facility fire that killed 40 people in Ciudad Juárez. A consortium of journalists published a series on how organized crime, with corrupt officials’ collusion, transports migrants across Mexico in tractor-trailer containers.

THE FULL UPDATE:

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Daily Border Links: May 2, 2024

Due to an extended period of staff travel and commitments, we are producing “Daily Border Links” posts less regularly between May 3 and July 19. We will be unable to post Daily Border Links at all between May 3 and May 17. Following this period, Daily Border Links will again be “daily,” with minor interruptions, between July 22 and the end of the year.

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Developments

The chief of Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector—the westernmost of the agency’s nine U.S.-Mexico border sectors—reported that agents there apprehended 10,023 migrants during the week of April 24-30. That cements San Diego’s status as the border’s busiest sector, a position it has not held since the late 1990s.

Border Patrol agents had already been making asylum seekers wait for hours or days in the open air at the sector’s California borderline before being able to process them. Now, the Washington Examiner’s Anna Giaritelli reported based on a leaked internal document, some migrants are hiking into rural California seeking to turn themselves in directly to Border Patrol stations or other law enforcement facilities.

A letter from 32 Democratic members of Congress urged House appropriators to avoid funding any federal government activities that involve collaboration with the Texas state government’s “Operation Lone Star.” The letter noted that “groups have documented repeated cases of Border Patrol turning over migrants to Texas state law enforcement instead of processing them for immigration purposes and ensuring they have access to legal protections for those fleeing violence and danger.”

In leaked audio of a phone conversation with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham complained that Border Patrol is focusing resources on seizing state-licensed cannabis at interior checkpoints. “They’re saying that they’re worried about fentanyl. So they’re taking all of our cannabis,” the governor was heard saying. “For the love of God, put them at the border in Sunland Park [west of El Paso] where I don’t have a single Border Patrol agent, not one. And people pour over, and so I’m cranky with the secretary.”

Analyses and Feature Stories

A report from Human Rights Watch detailed how rules mandating use of the CBP One app restrict access to asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, forcing many to wait for months in precarious and vulnerable conditions inside Mexico. The report included examples of people kidnapped for ransom by Mexican criminal groups while awaiting appointments. CBP personnel, it found, routinely turn asylum seekers away from ports of entry, even when they say they are in danger, because they did not use the app to make appointments. The report called on DHS to stop making the app’s use mandatory and instead increase processing capacity at border ports of entry, while increasing adjudication capacity to reduce asylum case backlogs.

“The Right Way,” a video produced by ProPublica and the Texas Tribune, profiled a Venezuelan family who had to wait for five months in Ciudad Juárez for a CBP One appointment, during the 2023 period when 40 migrants died in a detention center fire in the city.

An article by the Migration Policy Institute evaluated the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy, which expired a year ago on May 11. Despite nearly 3 million expulsions, it found, migration at the U.S.-Mexico border reached new highs during the 38 months that the policy was in place. The report debunked claims that bringing back Title 42 or a similar “asylum shutdown” policy would deter or significantly reduce irregular migration: “While Title 42 offers a campaign-style slogan to shut down the border, the reality is that it never met that promise. And whatever outcomes it had came at the very sizeable cost of reneging on decades of U.S. commitments to guaranteeing humanitarian protection.”

On the Right

Daily Border Links: May 1, 2024

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Developments

Migration through the Darién Gap has declined in April, a surprising development confirmed by an April 29 press release from Panama’s migration authority. The release reported that 136,523 people had migrated through the treacherous region since January 1, a number that stood at 110,008 on March 31. That means the average daily traffic through the Darién was 947 people per day during the first 28 days of April. That is the second-lowest daily average of any month since February 2023.

Similarly, a look at Honduras’s statistics shows a daily average of 1,281 over the first 24 days of April, which is also down significantly from 1,473 in March and 1,701 in February.

The Huffington Post’s Roque Planas, who broke a story in February about Border Patrol agents’ frequent use of the slur “tonk” to describe migrants, published new revelations from the agency’s internal emails and text messages. The communications, from 2017 to 2020, reveal agents joking about beating or poisoning migrants. “Now you’re leaning left and sounding like a snowflake,” wrote one agent after a colleague used the word “migrant” to describe a migrant.

Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) top official, Troy Miller, testified Tuesday before the House of Representatives’ Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security. Questioning noted that Border Patrol’s apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border have fallen recently to about 3,900 per day; members of Congress credited Mexico’s stepped up migrant interdiction operations. Miller noted that he has “an individual, a senior advisor assigned to me that is solely dedicated to working with Mexico.”

A front-page Washington Post story cites U.S. officials’ belief that the Mexican government’s crackdown on migration is “the biggest factor” explaining 2024’s relative decline in migration at the border. Border Patrol’s migrant apprehensions in April totaled “about 130,000,” reporter Nick Miroff revealed; that would be a decline from 140,638 reported in February and 137,480 in March. “The next several weeks will be a key test” of Mexico’s interdiction operations, officials told Miroff.

The Associated Press reported, citing White House national security spokesman John Kirby, that U.S. cooperation with Mexico to curb migration will intensify in the areas of “prevent[ing] major modes of transportation from being used to facilitate illegal migration to the border, as well as the number of repatriation flights that would return migrants to their home countries.”

A release from the Government Accountability Project regretted that CBP’s testimony did not address whistleblowers’ complaints about contracting failures in the agency’s medical care system for migrants in custody, which they allege contributed to a child’s preventable death in Texas in May 2023. Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Illinois) asked Miller about measures taken in the aftermath of 8-year-old Anadith Danay Reyes Alvarez’s in-custody death.

Two women were hospitalized and in need of “higher level care” after falling from the border wall in San Diego, local news reported. In San Diego, the report added, “This year so far, at least five migrants have died as a result of a border wall fall, while dozens more have been injured.”

Four U.S. senators—two Democrats and two Republicans—sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas voicing concerns, and requesting information about, CBP’s warrantless searches of travelers’ electronic devices at border crossings. The signers included Sen. Gary Peters (D-Michigan), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

NOTUS reported that two Texas border counties’ police departments—Webb (Laredo) and Val Verde (Del Rio)—have purchased “TraffiCatch,” surveillance technology that tracks cellphone and Bluetooth signals and matches them to license plates. The counties used federal grant money (Operation Stonegarden) to buy the systems. “We are well beyond the idea that people have no privacy in public,” said Jennifer Granick of the ACLU. “Here, they’re installing this mass surveillance system. The public doesn’t know about it.”

Mexico has sent 600 troops to its northeastern border states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo León amid worsening violence between competing criminal groups.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) imposition of secondary state “safety inspections” at El Paso ports of entry—apparently a tactic to force Mexico to do more to block migrants—has snarled cargo traffic from Ciudad Juárez, “stopping the movement of 1,344 units in two days, representing 87.4 million dollars in merchandise,” according to a local freight transportation association.

Analyses and Feature Stories

A ProPublica and Texas Tribune investigation drew a straight line between years of U.S. border and migration policies—including “outsourcing” of enforcement to Mexico—and the March 2023 detention facility fire that killed 40 migrants in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Nothing has changed about U.S. policy since; “If migrant deaths would lead to policy change, we would have changed policies a long time ago,” migration expert Stephanie Leutert told reporter Perla Trevizo.

Noticias Telemundo and the Centro Latinoamericano de Investigación Periodística (CLIP) published a third installment of a series, begun yesterday, documenting the increasing and dangerous use of tractor-trailers to transport migrants across Mexico. The illicit smuggling business has come more directly under big national cartels’ control and depends on widespread corruption among immigration and security forces. The report, relying on a database of more than 170 trucks that crashed, were detained, or were abandoned between 2018 and 2023, offers many examples.

  • Albinson Linares, Angela Cantador, Ronny Rojas, Traileres, Trampa para Migrantes (CLIP, Noticias Telemundo, Chiapas Paralelo (Chiapas), April 30, 2024).

Human Rights Watch released a report moments ago documenting rights violations resulting from CBP’s requirement that asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border use the CBP One app, combined with the Biden administration’s post-Title 42 asylum “transit ban” rule.

The New York Times dug into the story of a counterfeit flier, attributed to a migrant aid group in Matamoros, Mexico, that urged migrants to vote for Joe Biden. Though it was a forgery, the Heritage Foundation think tank and several Republican politicians shared it publicly.

Daily Border Links: April 30, 2024

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Developments

In an April 28 phone conversation, U.S. President Joe Biden and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador discussed joint action to keep border crossing numbers down. “The two leaders ordered their national security teams to work together to immediately implement concrete measures to significantly reduce irregular border crossings while protecting human rights,” read a joint statement.

The statement did not specify what these new measures might be, but an unnamed senior Biden administration official told the New York Times that possibilities included efforts “to prevent railways, buses and airports from being used for illegal border crossing and more flights taking migrants back to their home countries.”

The call took place at Biden’s request. An ongoing Mexican crackdown is a widely cited reason for a drop in irregular migration since January at the U.S.-Mexico border. However, Border Patrol chiefs’ weekly updates have noted increases in migration to San Diego and Tucson, and recent days saw large numbers of migrants arriving, mostly by train, in Ciudad Juárez across from El Paso.

A collaborative effort among several Latin American journalistic outlets documented migrant smugglers’ dangerous but widespread use of tractor-trailers as a key vector for moving people through Mexico to the U.S. border.

In Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state, an organization called the Cartel de Chamula, whose members are largely Indigenous Tzotzil people and which has been aligned with the Sinaloa Cartel, dominates migrant smuggling operations, the reporters found. Chiapas was the scene of a December 2021 tractor-trailer accident that killed 56 of about 200 migrants whom smugglers had stuffed into its container. The report found that endemic corruption at all levels of government enables the smugglers’ operation.

The reporting project interviewed “Alberto,” a truck driver whom criminal groups have coerced into transporting migrants from Michoacán to Mexico’s northern border state of Tamaulipas, where the Gulf Cartel “is the one that transports migrants.” The migrants aboard pay steep fees—often about US$800—for their transport, which is facilitated by corrupt arrangements, including bribes to Mexican National Guardsmen and other officials.

The truck driver detailed how corrupt authorities allow his human cargo to pass through road checkpoints. The National Guard’s price, Alberto said, is “500 pesos per migrant” (about US$30) every time guardsmen stop the truck. If the National Migration Institute (INM) stops the truck because no payments were made in advance, Alberto added, the migration agents charge 1,000 pesos (US$60) per migrant.

The Texas state government’s aggressive “secondary inspections” of cargo trucks entering El Paso have increased truckers’ wait times in Ciudad Juárez from the usual one hour to eight hours, costing the industry about $32 million per day. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) uses these “safety” checks, which force truckers to undergo double inspections at border crossings—first federal, then state—“to pressure U.S. and Mexican officials to prevent mass illegal migration,” Border Report noted. CBP is responding by increasing hours of operation at nearby ports of entry.

New UNHCR reports estimated that more than 166,000 irregular migrants crossed into southeastern Honduras from Nicaragua during the first three months of 2024. Only about 20 percent of migrants did not register with the Honduran government, which is a required step for boarding buses across the country. At least 148,000 exited Honduras into Guatemala during the first quarter.

The number of people transiting Honduras is greater than that of people transiting the Darién Gap because many migrants are flying into Nicaragua, which has loose visa requirements for many nationalities.

A joint statement following an April 29 U.S.-Brazil migration dialogue praised Brazil’s “Operation Welcome,” which has documented and integrated over 500,000 Venezuelan migrants since 2018.

Following a mistrial last week after the jury could not agree on a verdict, prosecutors in Nogales, Arizona will not seek to retry George Alan Kelly, a rancher who fired his AK-47 at a group of migrants on his cattle ranch in January 2023, killing a 48-year-old Mexican man.

Analyses and Feature Stories

While migration and the border are top-tier issues for voters in the 2024 U.S. election campaign, “migration occupies a secondary place” on voters’ list of concerns ahead of Mexico’s June 2024 elections, columnist Olga Pellicer wrote at Mexico’s Proceso. As more migrants become stranded in Mexico, Pellicer noted, the danger of xenophobia rises, and the Mexican government’s lack of an institutional framework becomes more evident.

Daily Border Links: April 29, 2024

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Developments

Over 1,000 migrants arrived in Ciudad Juárez atop train cars, despite Mexico’s months-long operations to block northbound migration. Many headed to the Rio Grande to seek to turn themselves in to Border Patrol to seek asylum, but Texas state authorities have blocked most of them on the riverbank.

It is one of the largest mass arrivals of migrants at the border during a 2024 calendar year marked by a Mexican government crackdown that has made it more difficult for migrants to get across Mexico’s territory. “Some U.S. officials are attributing the surge to a concerted effort by transnational criminal organizations” in Mexico to move migrants northward, according to Border Report.

In response, Texas’s state National Guard has stocked up on less-lethal “pepperball” ammunition, while state police have stepped up “safety inspections” of cargo trucks crossing into El Paso. The state checkpoints begin shortly after trucks cross official ports of entry. This double inspection—federal, then state—is causing hours-long delays at border crossings into El Paso.

Migrants in Ciudad Juárez told EFE that they crossed to the U.S. side of the Rio Grande to ask U.S. authorities for asylum, but Texas state National Guard personnel aggressively pushed them back into Mexico.

The mostly Venezuelan migrants added that they fear Mexican organized crime more than Mexican migration authorities, but their fear of authorities mistreating them—or even handing them over to criminals—prevents them from asking for help.

Mexican authorities stopped a Ciudad Juárez-bound tractor trailer with 131 migrants inside. 108 were from Guatemala, 22 from Ecuador, and 1 was from El Salvador. Fourteen were unaccompanied children.

Someone on the Mexico side of the U.S.-Mexico border fired a weapon at an agent near San Elizario, in eastern El Paso county, on April 25. CBP has reported no injuries or other information about the incident.

USA Today covered Mexican forces’ strategy, intensified so far in 2024, of busing migrants away from the U.S. border zone and into the country’s interior, often Mexico’s far south. This, analysts told reporter Lauren Villagrán, has done more than Texas’s state crackdown to reduce recent migration into Texas. The Mexican government is relying less on international deportation or long-term detention.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that he plans to meet with Guatemalan President Bernardo Arévalo at the end of May, probably near the two countries’ border. Migration will be among the topics of discussion between the outgoing Mexican president and the recently inaugurated Guatemalan leader.

Guatemala’s Attorney General’s Office raided the Guatemala City offices of Save the Children, apparently looking for evidence of abuse of migrant children. Prosecutors “claimed Save the Children and a number of other non-governmental groups could ‘be participating in child trafficking operations,’” the Associated Press reported.

Save the Children stated that its staff have done nothing wrong, and noted that the prosecutor’s office has made no specific allegations.

Political motivations, with U.S. links, are a likely factor. The secretary general of the Attorney General’s Office issued a video, distributed by Fox News, calling on Texas state Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) to aid his investigation. Paxton recently sought legal action against Annunciation House, an El Paso migrant shelter, but was rebuffed by a state judge.

In Guatemala, the attorney general is a separate branch of government, not part of the executive branch headed by President Arévalo. The current attorney-general, Consuelo Porras, has aggressively sought to prosecute anti-corruption judicial operators and journalists, is a frequent hindrance to Arévalo, and faces strict U.S. sanctions for links to corruption and anti-democratic behavior.

San Diego’s county supervisor said that Border Patrol agents in the border’s westernmost sector—rather suddenly the busiest part of the border—apprehended 2,000 people on April 23 alone. CBP has released more than 30,000 migrants onto the city’s streets since February, when a county-run reception center shut down for lack of funding.

In Colombia, a draft resolution appeared to indicate that the government was going to begin requiring Venezuelan citizens in the country to possess a passport. If that were to occur and Venezuelans faced such a barrier to documented status in Colombia, a U.S.-bound exodus through the Darién Gap would be likely. After an outcry, the Colombian government walked this back; President Gustavo Petro denied that a passport requirement was in the offing.

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Lou Correa (D-California) urges CBP to explore making greater use of artificial intelligence at the border.

Analyses and Feature Stories

An update from UNHCR broke down, by country, the 1.157 million refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced people currently in Mexico and Central America. This is about double the figure from 2020.

An article from the Migration Policy Institute recalled that the pandemic-era Title 42 expulsions policy did not reduce migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

A report from the Center for Migration Studies calls for deep, long-term reforms to the U.S. immigration court system’s staffing and infrastructure, along with other reforms to the immigration system, to reduce the system’s backlog of more than 2.5 million cases. Because of that backlog, most asylum seekers released into the U.S. interior from the border can expect to remain in the immigration court system for years. A “BacklogPredictor” tool helps estimate future backlogs and resource needs based on different assumptions.

The New York Times reported on how portraying migration at the border as an “invasion,” which only recently was considered an extreme, marginal position, is now a staple of mainstream Republican politicians’ rhetoric.

The mistrial of George Kelly, an Arizona rancher who shot and killed a migrant on his property, is emblematic of the polarized, politicized, and complicated situation along the border today, explained an essay by Rachel Monroe at the New Yorker.

An Axios poll found half of U.S. respondents favoring mass deportations of undocumented migrants. On the other hand, 58 percent said they support expanding legal immigration pathways, and 46 percent favored protecting asylum seekers with “legitimate” cases.

Texas state “border czar” Mike Banks, a former career Border Patrol agent, told USA Today, “Over the next five years … we’re going to continue building tactical infrastructure. We’re going to continue building border wall. Right now, our current pace is about one mile a week. We’re going to put up things like the border buoy barriers.”

On the Right

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: April 26, 2024

With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. See past weekly updates here.

Support ad-free, paywall-free Weekly Border Updates. Your donation to WOLA is crucial to sustain this effort. Please contribute now and support our work.

THIS WEEK IN BRIEF:

Mexican security and migration forces’ stepped-up operations to interdict migrants, especially in the northern border state of Chihuahua, have been suppressing the number of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. However, these have come with human rights complaints, and reductions are unlikely to last long as large numbers of people continue to migrate across Mexico’s southern border.

The House of Representatives’ April 20 passage of a Ukraine-Israel-Taiwan aid bill formally ended Republican legislators’ monthslong effort to tie strict border and migration controls to any aid outlay. That effort had foundered after a negotiated deal in the Senate failed in February. House Republican leaders allowed consideration of a separate hardline border bill on April 20; it failed but attracted five votes from centrist Democrats.

Panama reported removing 864 migrants, much of them with U.S. assistance, since April 2023. Guatemala has expelled over 7,900 migrants from other countries into Honduras and El Salvador so far this year. And Mexico has deported over 7,500 Guatemalans back to their country since January.

An upgrade to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report includes a list of the top 100 nationalities of migrants whom Border Patrol has apprehended since 2014. The data reveal that the apprehended migrant population was 97 percent Mexican and Central American a decade ago, but only 52 percent Mexican and Central American today.

THE FULL UPDATE:

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Daily Border Links: April 25, 2024

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Developments

The chief of Border Patrol’s San Diego, California sector reported that agents there apprehended migrants 9,513 times over the seven days ending April 23. That is a 6 percent increase over the previous week and a 36 percent increase over two weeks prior. For the first time since the late 1990s, San Diego is almost certainly the busiest of Border Patrol’s nine U.S.-Mexico border sectors.

Volunteers providing humanitarian aid to asylum seekers waiting in open-air sites along the California border say that numbers are increasing there; donors are encouraged to contribute needed items on an Amazon wishlist.

Five centrist Democrats who had voted last Saturday for a very strict Republican-led border bill issued a statement yesterday doubling down on their position. The Democrats called on President Biden to reinstate the “Remain in Mexico” policy and to begin Title 42-style expulsions of asylum seekers, while full-throatedly endorsing the Border Patrol union’s hardline stance on border security.

In Mexico’s northern border state of Chihuahua, national guardsmen detained 150 Central American migrants who were staying in a hotel in the state capital. In Ciudad Juárez—Chihuahua’s largest city, across from El Paso—guardsmen, immigration agents, and municipal police carried out an operation to prevent 400 migrants who had arrived atop a cargo train from reaching the borderline.

The Biden administration has paused court-ordered remediation of environmental damage caused by Trump-era border wall construction, citing litigation in a separate case involving the state of Texas. The Sierra Club, Southern Border Communities Coalition, and ACLU announced yesterday that they are seeking to intervene in the Texas case in order to restart remediation projects.

Analyses and Feature Stories

The National Immigration Forum and other centrist groups (Niskanen Center, Hispanic Leadership Fund, Mormon Women for Ethical Government, State Business Executives, Association of Equipment Manufacturers, Border Perspective) published a proposed “border security and management framework” document. It calls for creating a corps of asylum officers to adjudicate most protection claims at the border in less than two months, along with increased resources for U.S. border security agencies and drug interdiction technologies.

CalMatters reported on lengthening wait times at the San Ysidro port of entry south of San Diego, amid increased cross-border traffic and longstanding CBP Field Operations staffing and infrastructure deficiencies.

Wait times for cargo at the busy commercial port of entry in Laredo, Texas have also been worsening, though Mexican government software glitches seem to be much of the cause.

On the Right

Daily Border Links: April 24, 2024

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Developments

Mexican migration agents pulled 400 migrants off of a cargo train in rural Chihuahua, Mexico, leaving them stranded in the desert, the human rights organization Derechos Humanos Integrales en Acción (DHIA) denounced. The group included 150 children and 7 pregnant women. Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) stepped up its operations in Chihuahua, the northern border state that includes Ciudad Juárez, at the beginning of April.

Asylum seekers who do arrive in Ciudad Juárez are now seeking to turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents at Gate 40 along the El Paso border wall on the bank of the Rio Grande. This is east of Gate 36, where Texas state police and National Guard have set up a large presence, with several coils of razor wire, to prevent asylum seekers from approaching federal authorities.

A group of 141 migrants who had breached the Texas state barrier in El Paso on March 21 were indicted yesterday on misdemeanor rioting charges. The Texas state grand jury’s ruling came one day after a county judge had thrown out the charges, finding insufficient probable cause. The March 21 incident, showing migrants pushing past guardsmen to reach the border wall and Border Patrol agents, was caught on video and circulated widely on social media.

El Paso’s police have applied for a $2.8 million state grant to help it combat the Venezuelan-originated “Tren de Aragua” criminal organization. “We haven’t had contact with that gang (in criminal cases), but that’s not to say they are not here in El Paso,” a police spokesman told the El Paso Times.

So far this calendar year, Mexican authorities have deported 5,689 Guatemalan citizens by land and another 1,831 by air. U.S. authorities returned 22,887 Guatemalans.

A group of relatives of missing Central American migrants traveled to Tijuana to search for them. “It took more or less a year for them to add his file as a case for search in Mexico, because the communication from my country did not go through,” said the wife of a Guatemalan man whom she last heard from in Sonora in 2021.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it met with Mexico’s National Search Commission to seek improved exchange of forensic information about migrants who have gone missing in Mexico and Central America, especially fingerprints.

The Biden administration released the 771-page text of a final rule to govern the treatment of unaccompanied migrant children in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Analyses and Feature Stories

A new data report from TRAC Immigration notes that U.S. immigration judges are ordering 50 percent more deportations now than in 2019, the peak year of the Trump administration. In the first half of fiscal year 2024, judges ordered 136,623 immigrants deported.

In 2019, 32 percent of migrants appearing in immigration court had attorneys; that has dropped to 15 percent this year.

38 percent of 2024’s rulings were asylum cases. Of those instances, only 21 percent were ordered removed; the rest received asylum or some other status allowing them to remain in the United States.

An explainer from the National Immigration Forum dug into existing efforts and pending proposals to have USCIS asylum officers—not immigration judges—adjudicate more asylum cases for migrants who arrive at the border.

The Border Chronicle’s Melissa del Bosque interviewed Zachary Mueller of America’s Voice about the controversial and possibly illegal activities of “Border 911,” a pro-Trump group whose members include former top officials of Border Patrol, CBP, and ICE.

Daily Border Links: April 23, 2024

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Developments

Panama’s government posted statistics showing that 110,008 people migrated through the Darién Gap during the first 3 months of 2024. That is 26 percent more migration than Panama measured during the first 3 months of 2023, a year in which 520,085 people ended up traveling through the Darién Gap.

22 percent of this year’s migrants were children. Of the adult population, 36 percent were women. 64 percent of this year’s total have been citizens of Venezuela, followed by Ecuador (8%), Haiti (7%), Colombia (6%), and China (6%).

The pace of migration has been unusually steady, averaging 1,161 migrants per day in January, 1,282 in February, and 1,188 in March. Last year, migration in the Darién jumped 55 percent from February to March.

Between January 1 and April 16, Guatemalan authorities expelled 7,735 mostly U.S.-bound migrants into Honduras and 177 into El Salvador. In this respect, the new government of Bernardo Arévalo has made no changes to its predecessors’ approach to in-transit migration. Of this year’s expulsions, 77 percent have been citizens of Venezuela. Other frequently expelled nationalities include Colombia (9%), Ecuador (6%), and Haiti (2%). Guatemala’s expulsions included 44 citizens of China and 18 citizens of Turkey.

Some of the migrants whom Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) paid to have flown to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts in September 2022 have been granted “U” visas, a status for victims of crimes that are currently being investigated or prosecuted, the Miami Herald reported. A U.S. district judge in Massachusetts also found recently that the private contractor Florida hired to run the flight, Vertol Systems, may have “participated in a scheme to recruit vulnerable individuals through deceit so they could unwillingly and publicly be used as a prop in an extremely divisive national debate,”

Eight dead bodies abandoned along a highway near Chihuahua, the capital of Mexico’s northern border state of the same name, may be related to turf battles between migrant smuggling organizations in the area, Border Report reported.

“Of Costa Rica’s 5.2 million inhabitants, one million are relatively recent migrants. Twenty percent of births are to Nicaraguan mothers and 20 percent of prisoners are of Nicaraguan origin,” said Costa Rica’s foreign minister, Arnoldo André Tinoco.

The independent Nicaraguan outlet Nicaragua Investiga reported on the two years of red tape and indifference that a family suffered as it tried to repatriate from Texas the remains of a young man who died of drowning in the Rio Grande in May 2022.

The jury was unable to agree on a verdict in the trial of Arizona rancher George Alan Kelly, who allegedly shot and killed Mexican migrant Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea on his property in January 2023. The judge in the case declared a mistrial.

Analyses and Feature Stories

Speaking to analysts about migration patterns, a National Public Radio piece concluded that Mexico’s ongoing efforts to block migration will not reduce arrivals at the U.S. border for long, as flows into Mexico from the south remain robust.

In a third in-depth report about U.S.-bound migration published in the past 10 days, the Honduran digital outlet ContraCorriente reported on the increasing diversity of nationalities of migrants taking the very risky journey through Mexico atop the La Bestia cargo train.

“The notion that there is a crisis caused by the border is fallacious,” economist James Gerber, author of the new book Border Economies: Cities Bridging the U.S.-Mexico Divide, told Sandra Dibble at Voice of San Diego. “There is a crisis in U.S. immigration policy, that’s the crisis. People are going to migrate and they’re going to migrate in bigger numbers over time because of the climate crisis. This is something that we need to learn how to manage better.”

Even immigration restrictionist groups avoid using the term “invasion” to describe migration—as many Republican politicians are doing—because it is “inaccurate and incendiary,” reported Rafael Bernal at The Hill.

“When we encounter someone fleeing starvation, political repression and threats to their life and liberty, we should see ourselves in them,” wrote Shmuly Yanklowitz, a rabbi who often works at the border in Arizona, in a Passover reflection published by the Chicago Tribune.

The Border Crisis Demands Our Humanity. Passover Reminds Us How.

Good stuff here, from a Chicago Tribune column by a rabbi who often works at the border in Arizona.

The central reason of the Passover night is summarized right in the middle of the Seder, the ritual meal: “In each and every generation, a person is obligated to see themselves as if they left Egypt.” There are two key messages embedded in this obligation.

The first is empathy for the oppressed. We are instructed over and over again in the Bible to care for the stranger, the widow, the orphan and the downtrodden “because you were a slave in Egypt.” When we encounter someone fleeing starvation, political repression and threats to their life and liberty, we should see ourselves in them. They are not a threatening, enemy “other,” because they are us. We know what it is like to need support, care and compassion, to need to be trusted though we are strangers. And so we will offer our support, care and compassion to those who need it now, and we will open our hearts with trust.

But there is another message. We are not only obligated to see ourselves as if we were slaves in Egypt; we also are obligated to see ourselves with the knowledge that we left Egypt. Whatever misfortunes we live with, we must know that we are free. We have power. When we see ourselves as downtrodden and powerless, we react to outsiders as a threat and justify any hostility on our part as self-defense.

Daily Border Links: April 22, 2024

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Developments

Congressional Republicans’ effort to attach hardline border measures to Ukraine aid legislation formally ended on Saturday, when the House of Representatives approved a Ukraine and Israel aid bill with no border or migration content.

The GOP demand, issued last fall, spurred a months-long Senate negotiation process, yielding a deal that would have changed the law to, among other provisions, halt asylum access at the border when migration reached certain levels. That deal failed when Republican senators rejected it in early February.

In a gesture to border hardliners, House Republican leadership allowed a separate bill to come to a vote on Saturday that would have effectively shut down the right to seek asylum at the border. H.R. 3602, the “End the Border Catastrophe Act,” included most of the provisions of H.R. 2, a strict bill that the House passed in May 2023 without a single Democratic vote. Because it was rushed to the floor in suspension of the House’s rules, H.R. 3602 failed by a 215-199 vote on Saturday. Unlike H.R. 2, though, it got 5 Democratic “yes” votes.

Border Patrol’s San Diego, California Sector experienced a weekly jump in migrant apprehensions and now firmly leads the Tucson, Arizona Sector as the apparent busiest region of the U.S.-Mexico border. While both sectors saw increases last week, San Diego reported 8,959 apprehensions during April 10-16 (28 percent more than the previous week) and Tucson reported 7,500 during April 12-18 (12 percent more than the previous week).

An Albuquerque Journal report from New Mexico’s Cibola County Correctional Center noted an increase in the number of Venezuelan migrants being deported from the Center into Mexico.

Edixon Del Jesus Farias-Farias, a 26-year-old citizen of Venezuela and a detainee in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in Conroe, Texas, died on April 18. “An autopsy is pending to determine the official cause of death,” reads an ICE release.

Though licensed cannabis is now legal in New Mexico, Border Patrol continues to seize the drug, which remains illegal on the federal level, at the agency’s interior checkpoints in the state, the Associated Press reported. This “prompted a discussion this week” between Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Analyses and Feature Stories

A greater share of this year’s reduced population of migrants is coming to the border in states west of Texas. The Texas Tribune examined Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) claims that his state government’s hardline border policies are causing the westward shift, concluding that the reasons “are much more complicated” and that the trend is probably temporary.

Gov. Abbott’s office reported busing 112,700 migrants to Democratic-governed cities since April 2022.

A significant cause of the border-wide decline is the Mexican government’s 2024 crackdown on migration transiting the country. However, “uneven enforcement and widespread corruption” ensure that Mexico rarely “blocks” migrants: its actions “make migrants’ journey north riskier, costlier, and slower,” Christine Murray reported at the Financial Times.

Despite rhetoric about terrorists potentially crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, “since 1975, the annual likelihood of an American being murdered in a foreigner-committed terrorist attack is about one in 4.5 million,” recalled the Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh.

Ecuadorian migrants transiting Mexico who spoke to Agénce France Presse said that they were nervous about identifying themselves to Mexican authorities as citizens of Ecuador, two weeks after Ecuador’s government raided the Mexican embassy in Quito, triggering a breakdown in diplomatic relations.

While most of the thousands of migrants per week transiting Honduras pass through the country quickly, some need to stay and seek temporary work, medical assistance, and shelter, the Honduran online outlet ContraCorriente reported. While some formal shelters and humanitarian aid exist, many migrants rely on informal shelters provided by local citizens or stay in rented rooms in private homes.

“The next administration in Mexico will inherit an incomplete and deficient action plan to deal with migration” from Central America, wrote Brenda Estefan of IPADE Business School at Americas Quarterly, calling for a renewed and more collaborative focus on “root causes” of migration after President Andrés Manuel López Obrador leaves office at the end of the year.

Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pennsylvania) penned a column endorsing the Dignity Act, a bipartisan bill that includes border and migration provisions that reflect some priorities of border hardliners and some priorities of migrant rights defenders.

On the Right

New at WOLA: “Why Is Migration Declining at the U.S.-Mexico Border in Early 2024?”

Here’s an analysis we published yesterday about this year’s unusual springtime decline in the number of migrants making it to the U.S.-Mexico border. As migration levels drop to some of the lowest of the Biden administration, this piece notes that:

  • Texas’s “Operation Lone Star” doesn’t explain it.
  • The main factor appears to be Mexico’s government bottling people up, even as large numbers continue arriving in the country’s south.
  • “Shutting down” asylum, as President Biden is considering trying to do by executive order, could bring numbers down in the short term but—as we saw with Title 42—won’t have a lasting effect.
  • Crackdowns will always fail. The way to a solution runs through overhauling the creaky U.S. asylum system.

Read the whole thing here.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: April 19, 2024

With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. See past weekly updates here.

Support ad-free, paywall-free Weekly Border Updates. Your donation to WOLA is crucial to sustain this effort. Please contribute now and support our work.

THIS WEEK IN BRIEF:

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) revealed in an April 12 data release that migration at the border declined from February to March for only the second time this century. The drop owes largely to the Mexican government’s stepped-up efforts to interdict migrants so far this year. San Diego may be surpassing Tucson as migrants’ number-one destination along the border.

On a party-line vote, the Democratic-majority U.S. Senate dismissed impeachment charges that the House’s Republican majority brought against Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The Republicans had alleged that Mayorkas’s management of the border and migration merited the first impeachment of a cabinet secretary since 1876. The House may meanwhile consider a hardline border and migration bill, echoing provisions in H.R. 2, in coming days.

José Raúl Mulino, a conservative populist leading polls for Panama’s May presidential election, is promising to “close” the Darién Gap and repatriate migrants. This week a UNHCR survey (with a small sample), found one in five Darién migrants intending to settle somewhere other than the United States.

An Indiana National Guardsman serving under the Texas state government’s “Operation Lone Star” fired his weapon at an individual in El Paso who allegedly stabbed two people on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande riverbank. It was the third known event since January 2023 in which a National Guardsman working under Texas state authority has fired a weapon at, or in the presence of, migrants at the border.

THE FULL UPDATE:

Read More

Daily Border Links: April 19, 2024

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Developments

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) yesterday returned a planeload of 52 Haitian citizens to their country, even though governance has collapsed and violence is rampant there. The plane landed in the northern city of Cap-Haïtien because the airport in the capital, Port-au-Prince, is too unsafe.

During the first six months of fiscal 2024, Haiti was the number-fifteen nationality of migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border between ports of entry, well behind even China, India, and Turkey. 97 percent of Haitians seeking protection at the border in 2024 have instead reported to ports of entry, in nearly all cases using the CBP One smartphone app.

“Just where are these deportees supposed to go?” William O’Neill, the UN independent human rights expert on Haiti, asked the Miami Herald. “I would just ask the United States and all countries to halt immediately all deportations to a country that cannot guarantee anyone’s security, where 1.5 million people are facing famine and where embassies are evacuating most of their personnel.”

In March, a letter from 481 organizations (including WOLA) had urged the Biden administration to suspend deportation flights to Haiti.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) alerted that its personnel in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras saw more cases of sexual violence against migrants during the first quarter of 2024 (over 250) than they did in all of 2023 (232). Most cases occurred in Mexico’s organized crime-influenced U.S. border state of Tamaulipas.

MSF reported in March that it had counted 676 cases of sexual violence in the Darién Gap in 2023, and another 120 in January 2024. Shortly afterward, Panama’s government suspended the organization’s operations in the country.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Communications Luis Miranda said that the average wait for a CBP One appointment right now is about 10 weeks. This contrasts with recent reports of appointments routinely taking six or even eight months at some border crossings.

“I am concerned that hate, bigotry and xenophobia are clouding our potential to prosper together,” Mexico’s foreign minister, Alicia Bárcena, wrote in a Dallas Morning News column directed at Texas state authorities. Bárcena is currently visiting Texas border cities.

Interviewed by CBS News, Cuba’s deputy foreign minister said that his government would be willing to accept more than the current tempo of one U.S. deportation flight per month.

Colombia has fallen behind on regularizing the status of Venezuelan migrants who arrive without passports, and this is incentivizing many Venezuelans to migrate to the United States, reported Manuel Rueda at PRX’s The World.

Two South Texas legislators, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D) and Rep. Monica de la Cruz (R), alleged that Catholic Charities of San Antonio misused federal funding by paying for released migrants’ airfare to destination cities in the U.S. interior.

Analyses and Feature Stories

Reporting from San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, a border city near Yuma, Arizona, the BBC’s Linda Pressly focused on the powerful criminal organizations increasingly extorting and kidnapping migrants there. “These extortionists and hostage-takers are not only professional criminals—some are also law enforcement,” Pressly noted.

Ariel Ruiz Soto of the Migration Policy Institute told the Voice of America that “root causes” strategies have their limits: “For example, if Microsoft wanted to set up a hub in Guatemala, they would need not only to include money to build the building, to hire workers, provide training, but also a counterpart allocation from the Guatemalan government to build the roads, to have the infrastructure for the electricity, to have broadband internet.”

“A vast enforcement crackdown is likely to harm economic opportunity in the United States,” reads a column from the Peterson Institute for International Economics’ Michael Clemens, author of a new statistical study of how the availability of lawful pathways reduces unlawful border crossings. “A rational way out of this crisis would be to set up a system expanding legal access for immigrants to the United States while retaining some categories as unlawful.”

On the Right

Daily Border Links: April 18, 2024

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Developments

The San Diego, California Border Patrol sector may now be the number one destination for migrants coming to the border, according to a read of weekly data posted by Border Patrol sector chiefs. San Diego saw the most migration during much of the 1990s but has been surpassed by other parts of the border over the past quarter-century.

An increase in migrant arrivals there—8,959 Border Patrol apprehensions between April 10 and 16—had overwhelmed San Diego county efforts to receive released migrants, resulting in 24,000 CBP “street releases ” in San Diego since federal funding ran out in February. San Diego County has received $19.6 million in federal funding from the 2024 budget that Congress approved in March, but has not yet restarted migrant reception services, Border Report found.

In an effort to pacify conservatives angry that an Ukraine aid bill is headed to a vote this weekend, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) introduced a new hard-line border bill. H.R. 3602, currently on the Rules Committee’s docket, includes most of the provisions of H.R. 2, which passed the House on a party-line vote in May 2023. Among other provisions, H.R. 2 would make it virtually impossible to access the U.S. asylum system at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The bill might come to a vote this week—or it may die a quiet death, as Republican hardliners are unhappy with the process.

As expected, the U.S. Senate voted to dismiss the House of Representatives’ effort to impeach Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The impeachment—spearheaded by House Republicans who oppose Mayorkas’s management of the border and migration—will not go to a Senate trial.

The dismissal passed by a 51-49 party-line vote in the Democratic-majority Senate. The most moderate Republicans voted to impeach, while the most conservative Democrats (or independents who caucus with Democrats) voted to dismiss.

More than 20 migrants, about half from Ecuador, were kidnapped by criminals in Ciudad Juárez last week after flying to the city. The criminals reportedly released five of them for a ransom of $8,000 each.

Mexican Foreign Secretary Alicia Bárcena is on a tour of Texas border cities, visiting consulates to help them prepare for—and to send a strong message of opposition to—Texas’s S.B. 4 state immigration law. The controversial measure is currently suspended as federal courts consider appeals.

Bárcena reiterated that Mexico will not accept any deportations, including of Mexican citizens, carried out by Texas state—not federal—authorities.

In the Darién Gap, Colombia reports capturing “98 members of different criminal organizations between August 7, 2022 and March 12, 2024,” reads an item at the U.S. Southern Command’s Diálogo website. The document does not state whether any of those captured held positions of importance in criminal organizations, as opposed to low-level figures.

A new update from the UN Refugee Agency noted that since September, Honduras has measured more in-transit migration than Panama has. “This trend is explained by air transit to Nicaragua, which allows people coming mainly from Haiti, Cuba, Guinea, and other extra-continental nationalities to subsequently take the route through Honduras without passing through the Darién. In addition, there is maritime transit from Colombia to Nicaragua.”

Monday is the deadline for public comment on CBP’s plan to install 25 miles of stadium-style bright lighting along the Rio Grande in west and south Texas. As the proposed lighting is “a major stressor to wildlife” and creates light pollution, the plan alarms environmental defenders.

Analyses and Feature Stories

A new WOLA analysis looks at the sharp drop in migration at the U.S.-Mexico border so far in 2024. Rather than U.S. policy changes or the Texas government’s crackdown, the main reason appears to be Mexico’s stepped-up interdiction of migrants, at U.S. urging. These efforts may falter as flows of new migrants into Mexico remain robust; if that happens and migration increases, the Biden administration will likely consider means to “shut down” asylum access. Those steps, too, would only have a short-term impact, the study concludes.

The Guardian examined the leading candidate in Panama’s presidential elections’ unrealistic vow to “close” the Darién Gap to migration.

A report from Jesuit Refugee Service USA and the Boston College School of Social Work looked at how digital tools are changing the migration experience, from the spread of misinformation to the challenges of using the CBP One app.

On the Right

Daily Border Links: April 17, 2024

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Developments

The populist candidate leading polls for Panama’s May 5 presidential elections is promising to block migration through the Darién Gap. “We are going to close Darien and we are going to repatriate all these people as appropriate, respecting human rights,” José Raúl Mulino told reporters. Mulino did not specify how he would manage to close to migrants a 2,200-square-mile region of dense jungle.

Leaders of the Republican-majority House of Representatives formally delivered articles of impeachment for Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to the Democratic-majority Senate, more than two months after approving them by a single vote on their second attempt. The Republican legislators contend that Mayorkas’s management of the border and migration is grounds for impeachment; Senate Democratic leaders are likely to introduce a motion to dismiss the case without going to trial, and they appear to have the votes.

Mayorkas testified yesterday in the House Homeland Security Committee, which originated his impeachment process last year. “With the authorities and the funding that we have, it [the border] is as secure as it can be,” Mayorkas told a Republican questioner.

Mayorkas said he did not recall telling Border Patrol agents that “higher than 85 percent” of encountered migrants were being released into the United States. (Judging from CBP custody statistics, more than 70 percent of encountered migrants received “notices to appear” during the first six months of fiscal 2024.)

At the hearing, Republican legislators presented a flier, first promoted on Twitter by the Heritage Foundation, supposedly produced by a Jewish immigrant aid organization in Texas. The document, which urges migrants to vote for Joe Biden in November, is an obvious fake.

Brazilian fishermen discovered the remains of nine people in a boat drifting off the coast of the country’s northeast on Saturday. They appear to have been migrants from Africa, probably Mali and Mauritania.

A Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 35 north of Laredo, Texas is receiving $15 million in upgrades that will make it the largest interior road checkpoint in the United States, Border Report reported.

Analyses and Feature Stories

“Realistically speaking, having this [Biden administration] asylum ban applied to 100 percent could mean only a few hundred people more a month being ordered removed. Not a huge shift,” pointed out the American Immigration Council’s Aaron Reichlin-Melnick in a factually dense interview with the Border Chronicle’s Melissa del Bosque.

A Bloomberg analysis examined the drift of the Biden administration’s border and migration policies, noting inconsistencies and failures to anticipate new challenges. “The first year of Biden’s term felt like it was a series of good plans getting halted, with frequent leadership changes on the issue,” a former official noted.

On the Right

Daily Border Links: April 16, 2024

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Developments

An Indiana National Guardsman in El Paso, part of the Texas state government’s “Operation Lone Star” troop deployment, shot his weapon at a migrant who had allegedly stabbed two people on Sunday afternoon.

The incident occurred along the edge of the Rio Grande. The alleged stabbing took place on the U.S. side of the river, which is very narrow in El Paso; the attacker ran back into Mexico. Two migrants were treated for “superficial wounds.”

There is little other information. The Texas Military Department confirmed that a guardsman “discharged a weapon in a border-related incident.”

This is the second time that guardsmen have fired on a migrant allegedly wielding a knife. In August 2023, a Texas National Guardsman stationed near the El Paso side of the Paso del Norte bridge fired a shot into Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, wounding the leg of a Mexican man on the opposite riverbank. The shooting occurred “after three men on the Mexican side of the border started attacking a group of migrants with a knife as the migrants attempted to cross the river,” the Washington Post reported at the time, citing a CBP official’s account.

In Nogales, Sonora, asylum seekers’ waits for CBP One appointments now often last seven or eight months, reports Christina Ascencio of Human Rights First. The Nogales port of entry, the only CBP One destination between Calexico, California and El Paso, Texas, offers only 100 appointments per day.

Texas’s state government has begun construction of a segment of state-funded border wall near the Rio Grande in Zapata county, on private land whose owner approved of it, Border Report reported. It is the first state border wall to go up in south Texas.

The House of Representatives’ Republican majority is expected to send its impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to the Democratic-majority Senate today. The measure, which passed the House by a single vote in February on a second attempt, is not expected to get a high-profile reception in the Senate.

“Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer is expected to quickly bring an end to the matter, which Democrats say is a politically motivated misuse of the impeachment process,” Reuters reported. Republicans allege that Mayorkas’s management of the border and migration constitute “high crimes and misdemeanors”; the Senate is certain not to convict, and even an actual trial is looking unlikely.

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the “customs enforcement” arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is launching an effort this week to build a separate identity from ICE, an agency more frequently associated with arresting and deporting migrants from the U.S. interior. “The makeover partly aims to appease senior HSI agents who have sought a breakaway because so many major U.S. cities have adopted policies limiting cooperation with ICE,” reported the Washington Post’s Nick Miroff.

The 2022 Homeland Security Act lashed HSI together with ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) branch, which detains and deports migrants. While it would take an act of law to separate HSI from ICE, agents will henceforth carry a separate badge, and “independent branding” will de-emphasize the ICE affiliation.

Six moderate Democratic House members, led by Rep. Gabe Vasquez, who represents a New Mexico border district, introduced a resolution last week “Condemning Republican inaction to address comprehensive immigration reform and border security.”

Analyses and Feature Stories

The UN Refugee Agency published an update about Darién Gap migration, with the results of 109 interviews with migrants. 20 percent of them, it turns out, do not have the United States as their intended destination. 70 percent of respondents were Venezuelan, but only 44 percent of those came directly from Venezuela—the rest had already left their native country and had been living elsewhere in South America.

UNHCR also released a report summarizing its surveys of migrants transiting Guatemala in 2023. It found 42 percent of them were leaving their countries for reasons of “violence or conflict,” with 72 percent of Ecuadorian people giving that response. 65 percent said that they had suffered mistreatment or abuse on their journey, usually robberies, extortions, fraud, or threats.

On the Right

Daily Border Links: April 15, 2024

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Developments

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released data late Friday about migration and border security metrics at the U.S.-Mexico border in March. CBP’s Border Patrol component reported apprehending 137,480 people at the border last month, down 2.3 percent from February (140,638). Migration usually increases in spring; this is only the second time this century that apprehensions declined from February to March.

  • March was the seventh-lightest month of the Biden administration’s thirty-eight months in office.
  • The top three nationalities of Border Patrol’s apprehensions in March were Mexico (38%), Ecuador (11%), and Guatemala (11%).
  • The top three nationalities of Border Patrol’s apprehensions during the first six months of fiscal 2024 are Mexico (30%), Guatemala (14%), and Venezuela (11%).
  • 33 percent of March Border Patrol apprehensions were of members of family units. 6 percent were unaccompanied children. The remaining 61 percent were single adults.
  • 39 percent of Border Patrol apprehensions during the first 6 months of fiscal 2024 were members of family units. 6 percent were unaccompanied children. The remaining 55 percent were single adults.
  • The top three sectors where Border Patrol apprehended migrants in March were Tucson Arizona (31%), San Diego, California (25%), and El Paso, Texas-New Mexico (22%).
  • The top three sectors where Border Patrol apprehended migrants in the first six months of fiscal 2024 were Tucson Arizona (33%), Del Rio, Texas (19%), and San Diego, California (18%).
  • CBP encountered another 51,892 people at land-border ports of entry in March, about 44,000 (85%) of them with CBP One appointments. That is similar to recent months. The top nationalities at the ports were Mexico (27%), Cuba (24%), and Haiti (18%).
  • The total number of migrant encounters in March was 189,372, combining Border Patrol apprehensions and port of entry arrivals.

Migration continues to decline in April. Border Patrol has averaged 3,800 apprehensions per day over the past three weeks, Rep. Henry Cuéllar (D-Texas), the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, said at a hearing last week reported in the Washington Examiner. That would set April on pace to be the third-lightest month of the Biden administration’s 39 full months.

As migration declines in Border Patrol’s Tucson, Arizona Sector, which has been the number-one sector since last July, the San Diego, California Sector may be surpassing it. Weekly tweets from Border Patrol sector chiefs showed more migrant apprehensions in San Diego April 3-9 (6,997) than in Tucson April 5-11 (6,700). San Diego has not been the busiest Border Patrol sector in any month during the 21st century.

Much of the decrease in migration at the border so far this year is the result of Mexican security and migration forces’ stepped-up migrant interdiction operations, including a record 120,000 migrant apprehensions in each of January and February. CNN reported on one example: greatly increased Mexican Army and National Guard patrols along the borderline east of San Diego, especially south of Jacumba Springs, California, where many asylum seekers had been turning themselves in to Border Patrol.

A migrant encampment near railroad tracks in Chihuahua, the capital of the Mexican border state of the same name, has grown to about 600 people, La Jornada reported. Chihuahua is more than 200 miles south of the state’s largest border city, Ciudad Juárez. The buildup at the encampment is a result of Mexican forces’ operations to prevent migrants from boarding railroad freight cars. NGOs cited by La Jornada “pointed out that the INM [Mexican government National Migration Institute] operations began last April 1, in Ciudad Juárez, and extended to the south of the state, registering dozens of aggressions against people in conditions of mobility.”

The Biden administration has not yet taken legally dubious executive action to restrict the right to asylum at the border because it “has been trying to find the right language to impose a crackdown without getting instantly shut down by courts—or facing an open revolt by his progressive base,” reads an Axios report, following up on an April 10 “scoop.” An executive order is “now expected within weeks,” Axios added.

The Washington Examiner reported that 464,922 unaccompanied children entered U.S. custody at the border during the Biden administration as of January 31 (the number through March 31 is 481,534). Conservatives interviewed blamed the large number on U.S. laws written to protect children who arrive at the border without parents, which mandate that they get due process for protection needs instead of being quickly deported.

The government of Colombia (population 52 million) estimated that 2,857,528 migrants from Venezuela were living in the country as of January 31. 47 percent of them are living in five cities (Bogotá, Medellín, Cúcuta, Barranquilla, and Cali). More than 2 million now have Temporary Protection Permits (PPT), notes a report from Bogotá‘s Universidad del Rosario.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will testify twice this week about the Department’s 2025 budget request. On Tuesday, the Secretary will appear before the Homeland Security Committee in the Republican-majority House of Representatives—the committee that launched impeachment proceedings against him. On Thursday, Mayorkas will testify in the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Last week, he testified in both houses’ appropriations committees.

Analyses and Feature Stories

A Washington Post feature reported on the sharp rise in migrant deaths, especially by drowning in the Rio Grande, in Maverick County, Texas, which includes Eagle Pass. Local authorities cannot keep up with the need for body bags, burial plots, and DNA collection capabilities. Bodies often get buried without being identified.

The migrant population in Mexico City is swelling, as Mexico’s 2024 crackdown is forcing more people to wait in the capital and arrange their documentation and CBP One appointments, reported David Agren at OSV News. At least 2,500 migrants are waiting in the capital, most of them in six tent encampments.

Initium Media, a Chinese-language publication, told the story of eight Chinese migrants’ late March death by drowning while trying to migrate along the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico. The group had chosen the maritime route in an effort to elide the many checkpoints that authorities place along the highway through Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state.

Allan Bu of the Honduras-based outlet ContraCorriente traveled to the Arizona-Sonora border and reported on migrants arriving and non-governmental humanitarian workers operating under conditions of difficult terrain and xenophobic backlash.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: April 12, 2024

With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. See past weekly updates here.

Support ad-free, paywall-free Weekly Border Updates. Your donation to WOLA is crucial to sustain this effort. Please contribute now and support our work.

THIS WEEK IN BRIEF:

Migration continues to experience an unusual springtime lull across the U.S.-Mexico border, with numbers appearing to decline below January-March levels. San Diego, California, where migration is level, might soon become the border’s busiest sector, a change that has exceeded federal and local capacities there. Some of the drop in migration is a result of a Mexican government crackdown that began with the new year. Numbers of migrants are higher in Panama and Honduras than they were last year, but are not increasing.

President Biden told a Univisión interviewer that he is still considering taking executive action to “shut down” access to asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border when daily migrant encounters cross a certain threshold. A possible legal justification for doing so, which courts have not upheld, is a broad presidential authority to block migrants whose entry is considered “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas appeared separately before House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees on April 10. He called for 2025 budget increases for the Department, including a flexible $4.7 billion border contingency fund that Republicans have opposed. The Senate still awaits the Republican-majority House of Representatives’ transmittal of impeachment articles against Mayorkas, alleging mismanagement of the border. Those articles narrowly passed the House in February; an actual Senate trial is unlikely.

THE FULL UPDATE:

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Daily Border Links: April 12, 2024

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Developments

Migration appears to be declining fast in the Darién Gap, the treacherous jungle region straddling Colombia and Panama. A brief statement from Panama’s National Migration Service (SNM) reported that the agency registered 8,065 people in the first 11 days of April (probably the first 10 days, as the 11th wasn’t over when the SNM published its statement).

That would be a daily average of about 800—and on Wednesday, the SNM reported just 485 people. During the first three months of 2024, migration through the Darién Gap averaged 1,200 people per day, which itself was a stark drop from the record 2,643 people who passed through the Darién each day last August.

Reasons for the decline are not yet clear; we have heard no reports of policy changes being implemented or organized crime trends shifting in the past several weeks.

A decline in migration is also evident in Tijuana, where migrant shelters are down to 50 to 60 percent capacity, according to municipal migration office director Enrique Lucero, who added that the city is seeing far fewer non-Mexican migrants. However, the number of migrant apprehensions throughout Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector, which borders Tijuana and much of Mexico’s Baja California state, is steady.

This may indicate that fewer migrants are choosing to endure the months-long wait in the city for CBP One appointments at the San Ysidro port of entry: they may be opting to cross and turn themselves in to Border Patrol instead.

Police in Ciudad Juárez found a Venezuelan man severely beaten and left for dead not far from “Gate 36,” a site along the Rio Grande in El Paso where many asylum seekers try to turn themselves in to Border Patrol. “Some Juarez news portals reported the migrant was beaten by smugglers and left near the river, given up for dead,” according to Border Report.

A man whose body was recovered from an irrigation canal in Socorro, Texas, is likely the 35th migrant whose remains have been found in Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector since the October 1 beginning of fiscal year 2024.

A Meganálisis poll of Venezuelans living in Venezuela showed that 40 percent would consider migrating if Nicolás Maduro wins another term in what is expected to be an un-free, un-fair election on July 28. Only 16 percent said they were certain that they would not consider leaving their country.

House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Green (R-Tennessee) is to introduce legislation that would make it impossible for asylum seekers released into the United States to board commercial aircraft for domestic flights, unless they have the same identity documents that the general traveling public must present. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is sponsoring similar Senate legislation, the Washington Examiner reported.

The measure, which is certain not to become law this year, would increase the number of released asylum seekers present in U.S. border cities, as it would complicate their departures to destination cities in the U.S. interior.

NBC News reported that Border Patrol in March 2023 apprehended, then released, a 48-year-old Afghan asylum seeker who turned out to be on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) watchlist of people suspected of terrorist group affiliations.

Analyses and Feature Stories

A Migration Policy Institute article examined South American countries’ citizens’ migration to the United States, which has risen sharply since the pandemic. It noted that South American immigrants are generally more educated and participate more in the U.S. labor force than other nationalities.

“If we truly hope to ‘secure our border’ and rebuild a safe, orderly and humane immigration system, we need to realize that deterrence isn’t a solution,” wrote Houston Chronicle editorial board member in the third of a three-part series of columns about immigration. “To find solutions, first we need to take control of the narrative.” Lankenau notes the harmful effect of a hefty “Asylum Program Fee” being attached to employers’ applications for foreign-born prospective workers’ visas.

The Central American online outlet Expediente Público looked at a non-governmental study examining why citizens of El Salvador continue to migrate in large numbers despite reduced insecurity and a popular, if authoritarian-trending, president. The reasons remain the same as before Nayib Bukele’s presidency: violence in society and economic need. El Salvador has been the number-four nationality of migrants seeking asylum in Mexico’s system in 2023 and so far in 2024.

On the Right

Daily Border Links: April 11, 2024

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Developments

An Axios “scoop” adds detail to the Biden administration’s consideration of a possible executive order to limit migrants’ access to asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. The legal justification for blocking asylum—presumably when daily migrant encounters exceed a certain number—could be Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, a vaguely worded authority that allows the President to block certain classes of migrants whose entry is considered “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

Donald Trump employed 212(f) during his presidency, but courts determined that the authority does not allow refusing asylum to people who are already on U.S. soil and asking for protection in the United States.

At a congressional hearing yesterday, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas remarked that while the administration is constantly evaluating it, “executive action, which is inevitably challenged in the courts, is no substitute for the enduring solution of legislation.”

Mayorkas testified separately yesterday before appropriations subcommittees of the Republican-majority House of Representatives and the Democratic-majority Senate. He called for budget increases for DHS, including a Biden administration proposal for a $4.7 billion “Southwest Border Contingency Fund,” which would allow the Department to spend money as it sees fit to respond to surges. Republicans—who in the House will soon send Mayorkas’s impeachment to the Senate—refuse to give the Secretary that kind of flexibility.

Republicans in both houses criticized Mayorkas’s handling of the border and migration. In answer to questioning in the House, the Secretary acknowledged that he would use the word “crisis” to describe the border situation. That has been part of Mayorkas’s border commentary since February, but it was the first time he used the term under oath.

The Secretary repeated calls to pass legislation like the Senate “border deal” that failed in February, which would have increased DHS resources while adding a new authority to refuse asylum when daily migrant encounters exceed a threshold of 4,000 or 5,000 migrants.

Border-wide, migration continues to drop, sinking below the levels of January-March, which were among the lowest of the Biden administration. Camilo Montoya-Gálvez of CBS News tweeted that Border Patrol apprehended about 4,000 migrants on April 8; the daily average for the first quarter of the 2024 calendar year was just over 4,400.

The chief of Border Patrol’s San Diego, California Sector reported apprehending 6,997 migrants during the week of April 3-9. That is similar to the sector’s weekly apprehensions in March—but it is greater than the number of apprehensions reported by the chief of the Tucson, Arizona Sector during March 29-April 4 (6,600). Tucson has been the number-one sector for migrant arrivals since July 2023, but numbers have been dropping. While one week’s data is not enough to go by, it is possible that San Diego may be supplanting Tucson as the number-one sector.

iNewSource reported that the San Diego Sector is receiving a much greater number of unaccompanied minors than before.

Guatemala’s migration agency reported that the United States has returned 21,294 of its citizens on 179 deportation flights so far this year. Aerial deportations to Guatemala are on pace this year to match or exceed levels reported before the pandemic-era Title 42 policy. Title 42 reduced aerial deportations because it allowed U.S. authorities to expel most Guatemalans directly into Mexico.

Mexican national guardsmen and immigration agents detained 700 migrants who arrived aboard a freight train in Torreón, Coahuila on April 8. “At least 55, including women and children, reported that the agents detained them for several hours, beat them, and stole money, cell phones, and documents before releasing them,” reported La Jornada.

42 percent of Latino adults surveyed support building a wall or fence along the entire U.S.-Mexico border, according to a new Axios-Ipsos Latino Poll. That is up 12 points from a December 2021 poll. 38 percent said they support deporting all undocumented immigrants. Support for wall-building was 15-20 points higher among people of Cuban descent than among people of Mexican or Central American descent.

Iowa passed a law that, echoing Texas’s S.B. 4 law currently facing federal court challenges, would make it a misdemeanor for an undocumented person to enter the state if they had been deported or denied entry to the United States.

Officials from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) announced the launch of a new fentanyl interdiction operation, which they are calling “Operation Plaza Spike.” Data from the first five months of fiscal year 2024 show CBP’s fentanyl seizures down 27 percent compared to the first five months of fiscal year 2023.

The operation is beginning in Nogales; CBP’s Tucson field office, which includes the Nogales port of entry, currently seizes the most fentanyl of all 13 U.S.-Mexico border CBP field offices and Border Patrol sectors. One new tactic would be “releasing the name of the plazas’ senior ranking cartel officials, the ‘plaza bosses,’ to increase public and law enforcement pressure on them.”

Analyses and Feature Stories

Spain’s El País reported about Haitian migrants who are starting new lives in Mexico City after applying for asylum in Mexico’s system. More than 70,000 Haitians (including children born in Brazil or Chile) have applied for Mexican asylum since 2022.

A visual report from the Financial Times illustrated the Darién Gap’s transformation from an impenetrable jungle barrier straddling Colombia and Panama, to an organized crime-dominated route used by over 520,000 migrants in 2023.

The New York Times published a report from an outdoor encampment along the border near Campo, California, where asylum seekers wait for hours or days to turn themselves in to Border Patrol. The camp, in a very remote area of the border, formed this year after Mexico placed National Guard personnel at more accessible breaks in the border wall near Jacumba Springs, California. The article features 22-year-old volunteer Peter Fink, who is coordinating humanitarian relief efforts there.

On the Right

Daily Border Links: April 10, 2024

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Developments

President Joe Biden told a Univision interviewer that he is still exploring executive actions to limit access to asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

A measure to “shut down” asylum when daily migrant encounters cross a certain threshold was part of a “border deal” that failed in the Senate in early February.

Without such a measure in the law, it is not clear what legal backing Biden could have for using executive authority to deny the right to seek asylum, which the Refugee Act of 1980 guarantees. “There’s no guarantee that I have that power all by myself without legislation,” Biden said. “And some have suggested I should just go ahead and try it. And if I get shut down by the court, I get shut down by the court.”

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is to testify about his department’s budget today in hearings before the House and Senate appropriations committees. Mayorkas is likely to endure criticism—and perhaps insults—about the Department’s border and migration policies from Republican legislators, especially in the Republican-majority House, which narrowly voted to impeach him in February. Next week (April 16), Mayorkas will appear before the House Homeland Security Committee, where the Republican leadership spearheaded its effort to impeach him.

The Democratic-majority Senate planned to spend a few hours on Thursday debating the Mayorkas impeachment while using procedural measures to “dispose” of it without going to a formal trial (which would have zero possibility of convicting Mayorkas). House Republicans, however, decided yesterday to delay their presentation of impeachment charges to the Senate for another week.

Recent years’ sharp rises in migrant deaths continue in Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector, which includes the border in far west Texas and all of New Mexico. After a record 149 remains recovered there in the 2023 fiscal year, the death toll stands at 34 halfway through the 2024 fiscal year, and the hot summer months are yet to come. Dehydration, heat exhaustion, and drowning are the principal causes of death.

The Border Chronicle published an interview with Bryce, a volunteer with No More Deaths who led the project that produced a report and database, published in March, documenting migrant deaths in the El Paso sector. In June 2023, he said, “something like 40 percent more people died in Doña Ana County in New Mexico than the entire state of Arizona. Most of these deaths were close to the highway or close to a town.”

Guatemala’s La Hora reported on the Trump-era border wall “improvements” that contributed to the fatality of migrant Heidy Poma Pérez’s March 21 fall from the border wall near San Diego. Friends and relatives have set up a GoFundMe to pay for the repatriation of her remains.

The House of Representatives’ Rules Committee cleared the way for prompt consideration of a resolution, introduced by Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas), “Denouncing the Biden administration’s immigration policies.”

The resolution from Gonzales, who represents the largest congressional district along the border and is facing a primary runoff challenger on his right wing, states that “the Biden administration has allowed at least 6,400,000 illegal aliens from the southwest border to travel to American communities.” In fact, the latest (April 5) report from the DHS Office of Homeland Security Statistics, current through December, shows a total of 3,356,380 CBP releases since January 2021.

Analyses and Feature Stories

The American Immigration Council’s Adriel Orozco shared an overview of what is in the U.S. government’s 2024 Homeland Security appropriation, which became law on March 23. It recalls that the budget package includes substantial increases for CBP and ICE. It cuts funding for the Case Management Pilot Program, which helps keep released migrants in the immigration system without GPS surveillance, and the Shelter and Services Program (SSP), which supports nonprofits that receive migrants released from custody.

The cuts to the SSP will deal a blow to cities receiving migrants, both at the border and in the U.S. interior, reported a second American Immigration Council post, from Juan Avilez.

The Texas state government’s military “Forward Operating Base” under construction near Eagle Pass could cost up to $400 million to maintain by 2026, recalled Bob Libal at Human Rights Watch.

The conservative talking point about young migrant men being “military age males,” and thus threatening, can be traced back to Obama-era use of the term to describe civilian men killed by drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On the Right

Daily Border Links: April 9, 2024

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Developments

Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department announced that as of April 20, the Mexican government will begin requiring visas of citizens of Peru arriving in the country, by air or otherwise.

Mexico has taken this step before to stop the flow of South American migrants flying to the country and traveling to the U.S. border to turn themselves in to U.S. authorities. It changed visa procedures for Ecuadorian citizens in August 2021; Venezuelan citizens in January 2022; and Brazilian citizens in August 2022.

Each time, the Mexican visa restriction caused a short-term drop in that nationality’s migration to the United States. In the case of Ecuador and Venezuela migration recovered to previous levels, however, as sharply increased numbers of those countries’ citizens opted to take the dangerous route through the Darién Gap straddling Colombia and Panama. We can expect to see an increase in the number of Peruvian citizens migrating through the Darién Gap.

The restriction on visas for Peru is unusual because Peru, like Colombia, is part of a four-country arrangement (the “Pacific Alliance” uniting Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru) that allowed visa-free travel.

Mexico’s decision may owe to a U.S. suggestion, but also to souring relations between Mexico and Peru. Relations between Mexico and Colombia remain cordial, and Colombian citizens may still fly to Mexico visa-free (though they must demonstrate that they have activities planned during their stay in Mexico).

  • Visas (Secretaria de Relaciones Exteriores (Mexico), Friday, April 5, 2024).

Panamanian security and migration authorities held a press conference yesterday to dispute the findings of an April 3 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report that found the Colombian and Panamanian governments failing to protect the hundreds of thousands of migrants passing through the Darién Gap.

  • According to a release, National Migration Service director Samira Gozaine “assured that this report does not reflect reality and has a hidden purpose that only they know.”
  • The director of Panama’s border police (SENAFRONT) said that since 2021, his forces have dismantled 170 jungle encampments and arrested 321 people for crimes against migrants.
  • Public Security Minister Juan Manuel Pino said that Panama’s government has chartered five flights next week to deport people whom biometric exams revealed to have criminal records.
  • The officials said that over 114,000 migrants have passed through the Darién Gap since January 1, up from 109,069 as of March 31 (it is not clear what the cutoff date is for the 114,000 figure).

Thanks in large part to the establishment of U.S.-backed “Safe Mobility Offices” in Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Guatemala, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program has already—six months into fiscal 2024—broken its full-year record for the number of refugees admitted from Latin America and the Caribbean.

California’s attorney general visited the San Diego border to discuss fentanyl smuggling. CBP’s San Diego Field Office was the number-one location for fentanyl seizures until mid-2022, when the agency’s Tucson, Arizona field office began to exceed San Diego most months.

During the first five months of fiscal 2024, fentanyl seizures at the border are 27 percent behind where they were during the first five months of fiscal 2023. Nationwide, including ports, airports, and the Canada border, fentanyl seizures are down 24 percent. This is the first notable decline in fentanyl seizures since the drug first appeared.

At the U.S.-Mexico border so far in 2024, as usual, about 86 percent of fentanyl seizures have occurred at ports of entry. Border Patrol seized an additional 6 percent at interior vehicle checkpoints.

The Heritage Foundation, a longtime conservative think-tank now closely associated with former president Donald Trump, has notified Republican senators that it will keep score of any votes against holding an impeachment trial for Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Analyses and Feature Stories

A story at Border Report expanded on the finding of a report about migrant deaths in El Paso, published last month by No More Deaths: that CBP routinely undercounts the actual number of migrants who die on U.S. soil.

A Sacramento Bee analysis noted that many Latino immigrants in the United States, some of whom have lived for years undocumented, voice “frustration” with asylum seekers being released at the border and given a temporary documented status by “an immigration system pitting immigrant Latinos against each other.” A January 2024 UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll found 63 percent of Latino respondents in California considered undocumented immigrants to be a major or minor “burden.”

The Miami Herald reported on the Tren de Aragua, an organized crime group that emerged in recent years from Venezuela’s prisons. A Venezuelan opposition-aligned intelligence analyst told the Herald that members of the group “have been quietly entering different areas of the U.S., including Florida, Chicago and New York.”

Voice of America profiled Chinese asylum seekers who, after taking long and expensive journeys to the United States via the U.S.-Mexico border, are opting to return to China, either after failing credible fear interviews while in custody, or due to “loneliness, deceit [including labor exploitation], or family pressure.”

On the Right

Daily Border Links: April 8, 2024

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Developments

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters that the U.S. and Chinese governments are discussing increasing the currently very small number of Chinese citizens whom Beijing allows to be aerially deported back to China.

The latest monthly report on ICE deportation flights from Witness at the Border noted that a plane did take migrants back to South Korea and China in March. With eight Chinese nationals aboard, NBC News noted, this flight was an example of “expensive and logistically challenging ‘Special High-Risk Charter’ flights, sometimes via South Korea.”

Mayorkas added that Texas’s use of razor-sharp concertina wire along the Rio Grande is a problem. “We do not consider concertina wire to be effective. It impairs Customs and Border Protection’s ability to do its job, and we’re also seeing migrants rather easily cutting concertina wire,” the Secretary said.

The Texas state National Guard has now extended its coils of concertina wire to the very edge of the Rio Grande in El Paso, to prevent asylum seekers from reaching U.S. soil and trying to turn themselves in to the federal Border Patrol farther up the riverbank. At parts of the El Paso border, asylum seekers have been encamped on the U.S. bank of the river, awaiting a chance to turn themselves in despite the heavy presence of Texas soldiers and police.

In California, San Diego County authorities said that CBP had released 24,000 mostly asylum-seeking migrants onto the city’s streets since late February, when county funding for migrant reception shelters ran out.

A “Migrant Via Crucis” caravan that began the week before Easter has now walked through much of Mexico’s southernmost state of Chiapas, with some arriving in Oaxaca. While the original participants have dwindled, more migrants have joined the procession. Human rights defenders said that some participants had an altercation with vehicles full of armed men, likely members of an organized crime group.

In Empalme, Sonora, Mexican soldiers threatened humanitarian workers who were offering assistance to migrants near the local railroad tracks. The director of the town’s Casa Franciscana shelter said a soldier told her, “You are on the list,” adding “It’s the first time that we encountered the Army doing something like this. We had a very good dialogue before.”

House Republicans’ impeachment of DHS Secretary Mayorkas, alleging that his management of the border and migration constitute “high crimes and misdemeanors,” is likely to end quickly in the Senate as the U.S. Congress reconvenes this week. An actual conviction, which would require a two-thirds vote in the Democratic-majority Senate, is impossible, and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) will probably use other procedural maneuvers to prevent an actual trial from happening.

Former top border and migration agency officials, including Rodney Scott, who was chief of Border Patrol for the first several months of Joe Biden’s administration, flanked Donald Trump during a campaign event with a non-profit called “Border911.”

The foreign ministers of Panama and Colombia met on April 5 for a discussion of issues including migration through the Darién Gap region that straddles their common border. The two governments’ discussions of migration cooperation have been uncommon.

The foreign ministers said they disagreed with an April 3 Human Rights Watch report documenting both governments’ lack of coordination and governance in the Darién region.

“Five men were killed early Friday, bringing the total to 21 homicide victims in the first five days of April” in Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, noted Border Report.

Analyses and Feature Stories

An Associated Press analysis looked at Democrats’ election-year effort to neutralize the border security issue, seeking to convince voters that Republicans “playing games” with the border are to blame for current challenges.

The Christian Science Monitor and Time, in an article by NYU professor Kevin Kenny, examined how the Texas state government’s actions at the border are challenging federal control over migration policy.

Violent crime is dropping in the United States, and is lower in states with so-called “sanctuary cities” than elsewhere, wrote Caitlin Bellis in an analysis puncturing the “migrant crime” narrative for the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers’ Guild.

At Semafor, Jordan Weissman highlighted data indicating that the increase in migration at the U.S.-Mexico border may be buoying the robust current level of U.S. economic growth.

The Los Angeles Times profiled iACT, a nonprofit that has organized soccer activities for children of asylum seekers stranded in northern Mexico border cities.

On the Right

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: April 5, 2024

With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. See past weekly updates here.

Support ad-free, paywall-free Weekly Border Updates. Your donation to WOLA is crucial to sustain this effort. Please contribute now and support our work.

THIS WEEK IN BRIEF:

The number of migrants entering Border Patrol custody declined from February to March, by about 2 percent, according to preliminary data. Migration usually increases in spring: this is only the second time this century that Border Patrol has recorded a February-to-March decline. Increased enforcement in Mexico may be a cause. Weekly data show Border Patrol apprehensions declining in Arizona and California from the beginning of March to the end of March.

A 24-year-old Guatemalan woman’s fatal March 21 fall from the border wall in San Diego drew new attention to the region’s sharply increased numbers of wall-related deaths and injuries. Elsewhere in San Diego, a federal judge ruled that outdoor encampments where Border Patrol makes asylum seekers wait to be processed violate a 1997 agreement governing the treatment of children in the agency’s custody.

“Now, to be fair, maybe Texas went too far,” said Texas’s solicitor general in arguments before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is considering the constitutionality of the state’s harsh new law, S.B. 4. The law, if allowed to go into effect, would permit Texas law enforcement to arrest, imprison, and even deport people for the crime of illegal entry from Mexico. However the appeals court rules, the law is almost certainly headed for the Supreme Court.

Panamanian authorities report that an average of 1,200 people per day migrated through the treacherous Darién Gap jungle region during the first quarter of 2024, well ahead of 2023’s record-setting pace. Human Rights Watch published a big report finding fault with the Colombian and Panamanian government’s responses to Darién Gap migration, and calling for the U.S. and other governments to expand legal migration pathways. The New York Times documented the alarming recent increase in cases of sexual assault committed against migrants in the Darién.

THE FULL UPDATE:

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Daily Border Links: April 5, 2024

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Developments

Following a hearing last Friday, a federal court ruled that Border Patrol must care for children who are among the groups of asylum seekers whom the agency forces to wait for hours or days to be processed at the borderline in California. District Court Judge Dolly Gee ruled that conditions at the “open air detention site” encampments east of San Diego—where food, water, sanitation, and medical care come from volunteers, not agents—violate the 1997 Flores settlement agreement, which governs the treatment of child migrants in U.S. custody.

Border Patrol and CBP had been arguing that the children and other migrants at camps between border wall layers in San Diego and near Jacumba Springs, California, are not yet in the agency’s custody: they are still free to go back to Mexico. The court found otherwise: the children count as “in U.S. custody” and must receive care and be processed quickly. By May 10, CBP’s juvenile coordinator must provide a report about the number of children present at the outdoor camps and the steps the agency is taking to care for them.

The decision is a victory for the National Center for Youth Law, the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, and Children’s Rights, which filed a motion before Judge Gee’s court, and for groups that have been providing aid and filing complaints, like Al Otro Lado, American Friends Service Committee, Universidad Popular, and the Southern Border Communities Coalition.

CBS News and the Washington Examiner confirmed reports that Border Patrol’s apprehensions of migrants declined by 2 percent from February to March at the U.S.-Mexico border. This springtime drop is very unusual: available monthly data since 2000 only show this happening once before, in 2017.

“One of the reasons for the decrease was the government of Mexico’s continued significant enforcement efforts to disrupt some of the transportation networks moving people up to the border,” a CBP official told CBS.

In a video posted to Twitter, the top U.S. diplomat in Nicaragua called out “permissive Nicaraguan authorities who irresponsibly encourage migration” of West African countries’ citizens. Large numbers from Senegal, Mauritania, Guinea, and nearby nations have been arriving in Managua by air. Nicaragua does not require that they secure visas in advance; the authoritarian government instead charges steep fees upon arrival.

The number of Russian and Ukrainian citizens requesting asylum or residence in Mexico has increased 170 percent since Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Milenio reported.

Analyses and Feature Stories

A WOLA feature, based on a series of interviews with service providers, documented a sharp increase in kidnappings and attacks on migrants, including sexual assaults, in Mexico’s organized crime-dominated border state of Tamaulipas. Corrupt Mexican officials allegedly facilitate these crimes. U.S. policies, the report finds, are not taking the danger into account: deportations into Tamaulipas are heavy, access to ports of entry is heavily restricted, and the state concentrates 43 percent of the insufficient number of border-wide CBP One appointments.

The New York Times’s Julie Turkewitz highlighted worsening levels of sexual violence that criminal gangs commit against migrants passing through the Darién Gap. The report features an evasive answer from a U.S. diplomat in Panama, and questions the Panamanian government’s March decision to suspend Doctors Without Borders, the non-governmental organization that had most consistently been documenting rising sexual violence. Panamanian government officials, meanwhile, are facilitating the work of far-right U.S. social media influencers visiting the region.

Reporting from the Colombian side of the Darién Gap, InsightCrime pointed out that the current route requiring boat travel across the Gulf of Urabá is not migrants’ most direct path to the Panamanian border. Other land routes are shut off, however, by the “Gulf Clan,” the organized crime group that controls the region, which reserves them “for other types of activities,” mainly cocaine trafficking.

Under current U.S. immigration law, “If a person from a high-demand place such as Mexico, India, and China were to ‘get in line’ for residency today, they might be waiting anywhere from two to eight decades.” This is pushing people into the U.S. asylum system, Regina Lankenau observed in the Houston Chronicle.

“Six months ago, we had never seen somebody from Bangladesh or Africa in this part of the desert,” Pastor Randy Mayer of Arizona’s Green Valley Samaritans told PBS NewsHour.

At the Huffington Post, Matt Shuham looked at some Republican politicians’ easily disprovable claim that the Biden administration’s well-publicized humanitarian parole initiative for four nationalities is a “secret flight program.”

Washington Post data columnist Philip Bump refuted Donald Trump’s claims that increased migration of Chinese citizens owes in part to the Chinese government “building an army from within” made up of “very healthy young men.”

A Slate column by David Faris criticized the Biden administration for extending Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelan citizens without proper “follow-through,” like providing assistance to help with their integration into U.S. communities. It would be possible to transfer funds for these priorities, Faris argued, if Biden were to declare that a national emergency exists.

On the Right

Daily Border Links: April 4, 2024

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Developments

In an hour-long hearing in New Orleans, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments about Texas’s controversial state law S.B. 4, which would allow state officials to arrest, imprison, and deport migrants for illegal entry. The law raises the specter of states enforcing their own immigration laws, and of Texas law enforcement profiling people and demanding they prove their status anywhere in the state.

“Now, to be fair, maybe Texas went too far,” the state’s solicitor-general surprisingly said. “What Texas has done here, they have tried to develop a statute that goes up to the line of the Supreme Court precedent but allows Texas to protect the border.”

The Texas official, Aaron Neilson, said that when arrested migrants are found guilty and agree to be deported instead of jailed, Texas authorities will hand them over to U.S. officials at border ports of entry, rather than carrying out their own deportations into Mexico. Neilson “then stumbled to explain how that is different from what is happening at the border now,” the Associated Press reported.

It is not clear when the appeals court will rule on S.B. 4’s constitutionality; the same three-judge panel already stayed the law while its deliberations continue. Regardless of the outcome, the challenge to the law—led by the federal Justice Department, joined with a suit brought by the ACLU and local organizations—is almost certain to go to the Supreme Court.

A CNN analysis recalled that Texas’s goal is probably to get a now more conservative Supreme Court to revisit a 2012 ruling that struck down a harsh law that Arizona passed in 2010.

A San Diego NBC affiliate added more detail to the account, summarized in a March 29 CBP release, of a 24-year-old Guatemalan woman’s fatal March 21 fall from the border wall between Tijuana and San Diego. The woman had been hanging from the wall and yelling for help for about 24 minutes before she let go and fell to her death from the 30-foot, Trump-era structure.

A fire truck initially showed up at the wrong side of the wall, and was unable to arrive at the woman’s location in time. The woman fell before fire department personnel arrived and about a minute after a Border Patrol agent left the scene “to meet with other agents and coordinate the transportation of other migrants apprehended in the area.”

A spokesperson for the San Diego Fire Department said, “CBP did the right thing by telling us the height of the wall at that initial location, but CBP did not provide SDFD with the best access point to the patient.” CBP will release body-worn camera footage of the incident.

Migrants are reporting abuse at the hands of Mexican National Guard personnel whom Mexico’s government recently deployed to sites east of San Diego where asylum seekers attempt to cross and turn themseves in to Border Patrol. A woman from Ecuador told Border Report that guardsmen separated women from the group with which she was traveling, groped them, and demanded bribes of $2,500 per person. Others spoke of demands for $800 and theft of belongings.

“He did not speak with any of us, so it was kind of shocking seeing that he had said that he had spoke with us, and misinforming people on live TV,” said the relative of a Michigan woman killed earlier month, apparently by an undocumented individual, whose case was part of an April 2 Donald Trump speech. The candidate told a Michigan crowd that he spoke to Ruby García’s family, but the family says that is false.

Trump’s repeated citing of “migrant crime,” Greg Sargent observed at the New Republic, “is straight from the authoritarian playbook. As The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum has noted: ‘The repetition of the phrase ‘migrant crime’ is a tactic stolen from [far-right Hungary Prime Minister] Victor Orban, who used to use ‘Gypsy crime’ in the same way.’”

A Texas National Guard soldier participating in “Operation Lone Star” is in custody after a March 31 arrest for attempting to smuggle a migrant in his vehicle near Eagle Pass.

EFE reported that a drought has reduced to a trickle the Suchiate River, which forms part of the border between Guatemala and Chiapas near Tapachula, Mexico, easing migrants’ crossings.

Analyses and Feature Stories

PBS NewsHour spoke to a smuggler in southern Mexico who “charges up to $21,000 per person for longer journeys and says his network has moved 50,000 people into the U.S. since 2021.”

On the Right

Daily Border Links: April 3, 2024

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Developments

Mexico’s government deployed more than 200 immigration agents to Ciudad Juárez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, a border sector where migration has been increasing. The operation is to expand from the borderline to the southern parts of Mexico’s border state of Chihuahua, of which Ciudad Juárez is the largest city.

The agents are apprehending undocumented migrants and, when possible, transporting them away from Mexico’s northern border zone. Though just 6,500 of Mexico’s 240,000 January-February migrant encounters ended in deportations, its government has massively bused migrants to the country’s center and southern regions.

Agents are breaking up migrant encampments near the Rio Grande, where Texas state national guardsmen are preventing people from approaching the U.S. border wall and turning themselves in to federal Border Patrol agents to ask for asylum.

The Mexican government operation, La Verdad de Juárez recalled, was launched “five days after the one-year anniversary of the fire in a migrant detention facility in Juárez that killed 40 migrants and injured 27 others.” The detention facility fire, La Verdad recalled, happened two months after a similar deployment of over 200 INM agents to Juárez. Many of the migrants who died on March 27, 2023, had been rounded up in raids throughout the city.

A much-circulated March 21 video from the El Paso side of the river had shown a group of migrants pushing past Texas state guardsmen in order to reach the border wall and seek to turn themselves in to Border Patrol. 214 people were arrested and booked into the El Paso County jail. Of those, all but 39 have been released into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. Many are contesting criminal charges of “rioting.”

At a campaign event in Michigan, former president and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump launched into several minutes of baseless anti-migrant invective. “They have wrecked our country” was among the things that Trump, flanked by uniformed police, said of people who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump addressed part of his remarks to “suburban housewives,” promising to keep them safe from “illegal aliens crawling through your windows and ransacking your drawers.”

The ex-president said that he had spoken with “some of” the family of a Grand Rapids, Michigan woman who was murdered by an undocumented migrant, an acquaintance, in March. (The alleged killer entered the United States in 2020, when Trump was president and the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy was in place.) The family said that Trump had not contacted any of them.

Analyses and Feature Stories

A new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on migration through the Darién Gap finds fault with the Colombian and Panamanian governments’ failure to protect the more than 40,000 people per month who have been passing through the treacherous jungle route. The 25,000-word report, a follow-up to an earlier report published in November, finds that the two governments, whose territory includes the Darién, do not do enough to coordinate their response.

The report calls on the U.S. government and other international actors to establish other legal migration pathways including “a region-wide temporary protection regime that would grant all Venezuelans and Haitians temporary legal status,” and to fund humanitarian responses.

HRW Americas Director Juanita Goebertus called out Panama for its recent suspension of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which had been providing medical care at the Panamanian end of the Darién trail. MSF had been vocally calling for action about the rising number of cases of sexual abuse that its medical personnel had been detecting.

At The Progressive, human rights researcher Claudia Villalona published a report from the sites east of San Diego where asylum seekers spend hours or days in makeshift outdoor encampments as they wait for Border Patrol agents to allow them to turn themselves in. This practice, which advocates call “open-air detention sites,” is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit in federal court.

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