Adam Isacson

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


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U.S.-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.

Title 42 ends

A not-so-fond farewell to Title 42, which expelled migrants 2,426,297 times from the US-Mexico border with no chance to ask for asylum. Title 42 proved that even especially cruel measures don’t deter desperate people from migrating in historic numbers.

Sudden geographic shifts in migration at the U.S.-Mexico border

El Paso was the busiest of Border Patrol’s nine U.S.-Mexico border sectors in October, measured by number of migrants encountered. In March, El Paso was fifth.

The same border sector data, presented as aggregate numbers, not percentages:

Busy month for Mexico’s asylum system

Of 2022’s first 10 months, October was second only to March in the number of migrants who applied for asylum in Mexico. The Mexican government’s Refugee Aid Commission (COMAR) received 11,391 requests for protection during October.

The most came from Honduras, Mexico’s number-one asylum-seeking country of citizenship so far in 2022 (3,077 in October), followed by Haiti (third overall in 2022, 1,865 asylum seekers in October), Cuba (second in 2022, 1,674 in October), and Venezuela (fourth in 2022, 1,549 in October). The largest percentage increases in asylum seekers’ countries of citizenship from September to October were those from Venezuela (18%), Guatemala (16.3%), Haiti (16.0%), and Colombia (15%).

It is perhaps unsurprising that Venezuela saw the largest monthly percentage growth in asylum seekers. U.S. border authorities expelled about 6,000 Venezuelan migrants back into Mexico, without affording them a chance to ask for U.S. asylum, under the Title 42 expansion arrangement that the U.S. and Mexico announced on October 12. That means an increased population of Venezuelan citizens stranded in Mexico, and thus more asylum applicants.

COMAR reports approving 93 percent of Venezuelan citizens’ asylum applications this year. That exceeds the approval rate of all other reported nationalities, including Honduras (90%), El Salvador (89%), Cuba (50%), and Haiti (20%).

Darién Gap: 1,606 migrants per day

Panama just posted data about migration through the treacherous, ungoverned Darién Gap jungles that straddle eastern Panama and northwestern Colombia. Once regarded as an impenetrable barrier, this region of old-growth jungle is becoming a superhighway.

The data are mind-boggling. 1,606 migrants per day walked through the Darién in September. 1,280 were citizens of Venezuela, who have begun migrating in large numbers to the United States.

The chart below shows migration through the Darién Gap over the past 13 years. 2021’s record number of Haitian migrants, which seemed unthinkable at the time, has been surpassed by the exodus of 107,692 Venezuelans in 9 months. (Only 219 Venezuelans walked the Darién in all 11 years from 2010 to 2020.)

6.8 million Venezuelans (out of about 30 million) have left their country since the mid-2010s. Many of those coming through the Darién have already lived for years elsewhere in South America, and they’re giving up on trying to survive there.

There is potential for this exodus of Venezuelan migrants to multiply still further in the Darién. This has quickly become the number-one displacement and migration challenge in the hemisphere.

Venezuelan migration through Panama’s Darién gap

23,000 Venezuelan migrants arriving in a month at the US-Mexico border would be big news: it only happened once before, last December.

But in August, 23,632 migrants from Venezuela (green on the below chart) walked through Panama’s dangerous, ungoverned Darién Gap jungle.

8 months into 2022, Panama has exceeded 100,000 migrants through the Darién Gap, and seems certain to break its annual record. That number (133,726) seemed unimaginable last year when tens of thousands of Haitian people (blue on the below chart) came up from South America.

The horror of migrant deaths at the border

Someone at CBP shared with CNN the agency’s latest count of migrant remains found on the U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico border. Forced to take dangerous routes, migrants die often of dehydration, exposure, border wall falls, drownings, animal bites and other preventable causes.

This year is going to shatter all records. (And it’s important to note that CBP doesn’t capture all deaths.) Charting out the numbers of deaths since 1998 leaves me speechless.

In a better world, this would trigger a dramatic change in policy. We wouldn’t even have to advocate for it. But we’re not in a better world—we’re in one where politics continues to be dominated by the myth that migration can be deterred with “border security.”

Mexico’s asylum requests

For the month of August, Mexico’s refugee agency (Mexican Refugee Aid Commission, COMAR) reported receiving its largest number of asylum applications since March. 10,763 people applied for asylum in Mexico last month, boosting COMAR’s annual total to 77,786—already its second-largest asylum total ever. (COMAR received nearly 130,000 applications last year.)

The countries whose migrants have sought asylum in Mexico over 3,000 times in 2022 so far are, from most to least: Honduras, Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Applications from Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, and “other countries” already exceed their 2021 full-year totals.

A few important border graphics

Late Thursday, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released a pile of data about migration and drug seizures at the U.S.-Mexico border in October.

Here are some key trends. Click on any graphic to expand in a new window. You can download a PDF packet of more than 30 of these infographics at

The Trump administration has been around for 46 months (yes I know). Of those 46, October 2020 saw the 7th largest number of undocumented migrants apprehended at the border. And now they can’t blame it on “loopholes” or agents being constrained. They’re implementing some of the hardest-line anti-migration tactics ever, express-expelling most everybody, including asylum seekers, under a March 2020 CDC quarantine order.
Under the CDC border closure, US authorities have now express-expelled undocumented migrants 266,367 times. (The actual number of individual people is fewer, because some have been caught more than once.) At least 13,000 of those expelled were children who arrived unaccompanied, and were pushed back to their home countries unaccompanied.
Border Patrol is apprehending more single adults than at any time in the past decade. While there’s double-counting here because “expelled” migrants often make a second or third attempt quickly, this is a dramatic change in the profile of migrants. Many of them may be deportees seeking to reunite with spouses, children, or other family members. Nearly all seek to avoid apprehension, which means it’s likely that more will die of dehydration or exposure in deserts and other wilderness areas.
For much of the 2010s, a large number—often a majority—of apprehended migrants were children and families, usually seeking to be apprehended in order to petition for asylum or other protection. Draconian Trump policies like “Remain in Mexico” reduced child and family asylum-seeking migration—but it has been slowly recovering in recent months.
Expulsions mean it’s virtually impossible for a parent or child who needs protection to do so by approaching a port of entry (official border crossing).
Mexico’s migrant apprehensions recovered in September to pre-pandemic levels. The overwhelming majority are from Central America.
After a pandemic lull, applications for asylum before Mexico’s refugee agency COMAR recovered to early 2020 levels in October.
Something is up with drug seizures. I had to increase the y-axis on three of these charts because of a big jump from September to October. Nearly all seizures occurred at ports of entry where CBP officers inspect vehicles, not between the ports where Border Patrol operates.

Latest table of aid to Colombia

Click to enlarge. If you’d prefer this as a spreadsheet for easier copying-and-pasting, go here.

(Cross-posted from

The Senate Appropriations Committee released a draft of its version of the 2021 aid bill yesterday morning. And two weeks ago, a Congressional Research Service report revealed new data about Defense Department assistance.

The 2021 aid bill hasn’t become law yet, and might not until the next presidential administration. This table depicts the White House’s February request and the House and Senate versions of the bill. The two chambers’ amounts don’t differ widely.

Both the House and Senate packages would dedicate less than half of 2021 aid to Colombia’s military and police. This is a big contrast from the peak years of Plan Colombia between 2000 and 2015, when military and police aid in some years exceeded 80 percent of the total.

Sources for most of these numbers:

Not reflected here is assistance to Colombia to manage flows of Venezuelan refugees.

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