Adam Isacson

Still trying to understand Latin America, my own country, and why so few consequences are intended. These views are not necessarily my employer’s.

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Denying the right to asylum led to fewer asylum seekers transiting Panama’s Darién Gap

Panama just posted November records of migration through the dangerous Darién Gap jungles that straddle its border with Colombia. The result is unsurprising. They show that denying protection to people, even as it violates international human rights standards, will keep them from trying to come, at least in the short term.

Migration through the Darién plummeted 72 percent from October to November. This was led by a 98 percent drop in migration from Venezuela.

That fewer people risked crossing through the Darién Gap should be good news: hundreds each year die, are attacked, and suffer sexual violence along this ungoverned 60-mile walk. But the reason for the decline is not a happy one.

On October 12, the U.S. and Mexican governments announced that any Venezuelan citizens encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border would be swiftly expelled back into Mexico, without even affording them the chance to seek asylum. That denial of asylum is usually illegal, but the U.S. government invoked the Title 42 pandemic authority, in place since March 2020. On November 15, a U.S. federal judge struck down Title 42, so the expulsions should stop by December 21.

For now, though, the Title 42 expansion forced a pause in U.S.-bound migration through the Darién Gap. For unclear reasons, November also saw declines in migration of citizens from Peru (-92%), Colombia (-87%), Cameroon (-44%), Afghanistan (-31%), the Dominican Republic (-30%), and Ecuador (-25%). Other countries increased, though: Nigeria (+56%), China (+38%), Haiti (+24%), India (+20), and Bangladesh (+18%).

Despite the November decline, 2022 is already the busiest year for migration in the history of the Darién Gap, which until recently was viewed as nearly impenetrable.

Asylum requests are increasing again in Mexico’s system

13,217 migrants applied for asylum in Mexico’s system in November 2022, the most in a month since November 2021, according to the Mexican government’s Refugee Aid Commission (COMAR). November’s asylum requests increased 15 percent over October, and 47 percent over September.

From October to November, COMAR received the largest increase in applications from citizens of Venezuela—27 percent—though the number of Venezuelan applicants was in second place behind that of citizens of Honduras. Venezuela’s applications almost certainly increased because, after the U.S. and Mexican governments began applying Title 42 and expelling Venezuelans into Mexico on October 12, Venezuelan citizens could no longer seek protection in the United States.

All nationalities measured increases in asylum applications from October to November:

  • Venezuela: +27%
  • Haiti: +17%
  • Dominican Republic: +14%
  • Colombia: +12%
  • Honduras: +12%
  • El Salvador: +12%
  • Others: +12%
  • Brazil: +12%
  • Guatemala: +12%
  • Cuba: +11%
  • Nicaragua: +5%

Despite what you hear from some U.S. politicians and media outlets, the Americas’ ongoing migration event is not just a US-Mexico border phenomenon. People are fleeing everywhere. Colombia and others are assimilating millions of Venezuelans. Costa Rica is doing the same with Nicaraguans. And here’s Mexico.

Mexico’s use of the military for migration missions

In the past month or two, Mexico again increased the number of soldiers, marines, and national guardsmen assigned to border and migration duties. The most recent count, as of November 21, was 31,777 individual military personnel.

The numbers come from “security reports” periodically presented at President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s morning press conferences, and uploaded to the Mexican Presidency’s website:

Mexico, in October, set a new record for most migrants apprehended in a month

The Mexican Interior Department just updated its migration statistics for October 2022. It took them longer than usual, and the reason could be that October 2022 shattered Mexico’s record for migrants apprehended in a month.

Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) took 52,262 people into custody over those 31 days. INM’s average since 2013 is 14,895 migrant apprehensions per month.

42 percent of migrants apprehended in Mexico last month were citizens of Venezuela. Of 2022’s top eight countries, plus “all others,” the rates of increase from January to October were:

  • Ecuador 1478%
  • Venezuela 808%
  • Colombia 335%
  • Nicaragua 156%
  • Other countries 119%
  • Cuba 47%
  • El Salvador 37%
  • Honduras -6%
  • Guatemala -26%

The number of unaccompanied migrant children is ticking upward again

When unaccompanied migrant children are encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processes them and hands them off to the Health and Human Services Department’s (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement, which manages a network of shelters around the country. HHS tries to get the children out of these shelters, and placed with U.S.-based relatives (often parents) or other sponsors, as quickly as its procedures allow.

In a sign that migration is ticking up despite the approach of winter, the number of unaccompanied kids in HHS shelters exceeded 10,000 on November 22 (Tuesday), for the first time since August 4.

The data are downloadable from HHS as a comma-separated values (CSV) file.

Migration, country by country, at the U.S.-Mexico border

(Cross-posted from wola.org)

The COVID pandemic, and related U.S. efforts to curtail access to asylum, have caused patterns of migration at the U.S.-Mexico border to fluctuate in often sharp and unpredictable ways. The two graphics below indicate the top countries of citizenship of migrants encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal years 2020-2022 and in the past three full months (August-October).

Scroll below the graphics for a brief narrative about migration from each country.

1. Mexico: Mexico is nearly always the number-one country of origin for migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Until 2012, over 85 percent of migrants whom Border Patrol apprehended were citizens of Mexico. By 2019, that had fallen to 20 percent; Mexican migrants made up 33 percent in fiscal year 2022 (October 2021-September 2022), and 28 percent in October 2022. In 2022, U.S. authorities used the Title 42 pandemic authority—struck down by a federal judge on November 15—to expel Mexican migrants 86 percent of the time. In October 2022, 85 percent of Mexican migrants encountered were single adults, much higher than the proportion for citizens of all countries (69 percent).

  • 2021-2022 change: +23%
  • Expelled under Title 42 in 2022: 86%
  • Single adults 2022: 91%
  • Family unit members 2022: 5%
  • Unaccompanied children 2022: 3%
  • Encountered at ports of entry 2022: 9%
  • Sectors most frequently encountered 2022: Tucson, Arizona; San Diego, California; El Paso, Texas/New Mexico

2. Cuba: Migration to the border from Cuba, already pushed by state repression and a historic economic crisis, jumped after Nicaragua’s regime, in November 2021, eliminated visa requirements for visiting Cubans, facilitating their travel to the North American mainland. More than 220,000 Cuban citizens—2 percent of Cuba’s population—were encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year 2022.

Mexico does not allow U.S. authorities to expel Cubans across the land border under Title 42, and Cuba has not permitted U.S. expulsion flights; 98 percent of Cubans apprehended at the border in 2022 were processed in the United States under normal immigration law. Under the Cuban Adjustment Act, most will be able to apply for permanent resident status after a year in the United States. Cuba agreed in November 2022 to start accepting U.S. deportation flights.

  • 2021-2022 change: +471%
  • Expelled under Title 42 in 2022: 2%
  • Single adults 2022: 76%
  • Family unit members 2022: 23%
  • Unaccompanied children 2022: 0%
  • Encountered at ports of entry 2022: 0%
  • Sectors most frequently encountered 2022: Del Rio, Texas; Yuma, Arizona/California; Rio Grande Valley, Texas

3. Venezuela: Migrants from Venezuela began arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in significant numbers for the first time in 2021. Most were flying into Mexico, which did not require visas of visiting Venezuelan citizens at the time. In January 2022, at strong U.S. suggestion, Mexico imposed a visa requirement on Venezuelans. Migration from Venezuela dropped, then steadily recovered as tens of thousands of migrants per month braved Panama’s dangerous Darién Gap jungles, traveling overland all the way to the U.S. border.

During fiscal year 2022, 1 percent of Venezuelan migrants were expelled under Title 42, nearly all of them people who had some migratory status in Mexico. On October 12, 2022, the U.S. and Mexican governments announced Mexico’s agreement to take back Venezuelan citizens expelled across the land border under Title 42; the impact is seen in the one-third reduction in Venezuelan migration from September to October.

  • 2021-2022 change: +286%
  • Expelled under Title 42 in 2022: 1%
  • Single adults 2022: 64%
  • Family unit members 2022: 35%
  • Unaccompanied children 2022: 1%
  • Encountered at ports of entry 2022: 0%
  • Sectors most frequently encountered 2022: Del Rio, Texas; Yuma, Arizona/California; El Paso, Texas/New Mexico

4. Nicaragua: Citizens of Nicaragua continue to flee the Ortega regime’s repression, and economic turmoil, in great numbers. The U.S. government has consistently run two removal flights to Nicaragua per month; 97 percent of Nicaraguan migrants encountered at the border were processed in the United States under normal immigration law.

  • 2021-2022 change: +227%
  • Expelled under Title 42 in 2022: 3%
  • Single adults 2022: 80%
  • Family unit members 2022: 18%
  • Unaccompanied children 2022: 2%
  • Encountered at ports of entry 2022: 0%
  • Sectors most frequently encountered 2022: Rio Grande Valley, Texas; Del Rio, Texas; El Paso, Texas/New Mexico

5. Colombia: Citizens of Colombia fleeing violence and economic turmoil are usually able to fly to Mexico, which does not require visas of visiting Colombians, although there has been a noteworthy uptick in Colombians not being admitted to Mexico upon arriving at airports, or being subject to extortion by Mexican officials. (Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and Peru have a visa-free travel arrangement under the “Pacific Alliance” structure.) The U.S. government has been running about 20 monthly expulsion or removal flights to Colombia since April. Migration from Colombia increased about twenty-fold from 2021 to 2022.

  • 2021-2022 change: +1,918%
  • Expelled under Title 42 in 2022: 9%
  • Single adults 2022: 52%
  • Family unit members 2022: 48%
  • Unaccompanied children 2022: 1%
  • Encountered at ports of entry 2022: 1%
  • Sectors most frequently encountered 2022: Yuma, Arizona/California; Del Rio, Texas; San Diego, California

6. Guatemala: Mexico accepts Title 42 expulsions of Guatemalan citizens across the land border, and U.S. authorities expelled 67 percent of Guatemalans encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year 2022. As Title 42 made requesting asylum virtually impossible for citizens of Guatemala, migration from Guatemala declined 18 percent from fiscal year 2021 to fiscal year 2022. 26 percent of Guatemalan migrants encountered in 2022 were unaccompanied children; all were processed under normal immigration law within the United States, as the Biden administration is not applying Title 42 to children arriving without parents.

  • 2021-2022 change: -18%
  • Expelled under Title 42 in 2022: 67%
  • Single adults 2022: 58%
  • Family unit members 2022: 16%
  • Unaccompanied children 2022: 26%
  • Encountered at ports of entry 2022: 1%
  • Sectors most frequently encountered 2022: Rio Grande Valley, Texas; El Paso, Texas/New Mexico; Tucson, Arizona

7. Honduras: Mexico accepts Title 42 expulsions of Honduran citizens across the land border, and U.S. authorities expelled 63 percent of Hondurans encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year 2022. As Title 42 made requesting asylum virtually impossible for citizens of Honduras, migration from Honduras declined 33 percent from fiscal year 2021 to fiscal year 2022. 18 percent of Honduran migrants encountered in 2022 were unaccompanied children. Just over half of Honduran migrants were encountered in Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector, in south Texas, in 2022.

  • 2021-2022 change: -33%
  • Expelled under Title 42 in 2022: 63%
  • Single adults 2022: 47%
  • Family unit members 2022: 35%
  • Unaccompanied children 2022: 18%
  • Encountered at ports of entry 2022: 6%
  • Sectors most frequently encountered 2022: Rio Grande Valley, Texas; Del Rio, Texas; El Paso, Texas/New Mexico
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Migration in Mexico appears to be record-breaking

The Mexican government’s record for most migrants apprehended in a month, set in September 2021, is 46,370. That’s 1,546 migrants per day.

According to a November 21 release from Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM), Mexican authorities apprehended 16,096 migrants between November 17 and 20. That’s 4,024 migrants per day, from 46 countries.

Mexico hasn’t reported October 2022 migration data yet, but in September, the INM apprehended 41,915 migrants: 1,397 per day.


Mexico’s migrant apprehensions through September.

As nearly all of this migration is U.S.-bound, it’s reasonable to expect a further increase in migration at the U.S.-Mexico border for the month of November.

Fentanyl seizures continue to increase at the U.S.-Mexico border

Heroin seizures at the U.S.-Mexico border plummeted 72% since 2018, but seizures of a more potent synthetic opioid, fentanyl, jumped by 641 percent during the same period. Like heroin, 90 percent of fentanyl is seized at official border crossings (ports of entry) or Border Patrol interior road checkpoints.

U.S.-Mexico Border Migrants’ Nationalities

Largest increases in US-Mexico border migration, August-October: citizens of

  • Russia 139%
  • Ecuador 90%
  • Nicaragua 78%
  • Cuba 51%

Largest decreases: citizens of

  • Brazil -87%
  • Romania -30%
  • Honduras -14%
  • Venezuela -13%

More access at border ports of entry

It’s encouraging that October saw the 2nd-largest number (as far as I’ve seen records) of migrants—many of them asylum seekers—permitted to approach ports of entry (official border crossings). The number-one month was anomalous: last April, when a big wave of Ukrainians came.

Increased processing capacity at the ports means more people were able to ask for asylum the quote-unquote “right” way, instead of jumping the fence or crossing the river in order to turn themselves in to Border Patrol.

Of migrants not expelled in October, 16% came to ports of entry, a greater share than in the past.

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