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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Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: January 27, 2023

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.

This week:

  • Using a now-familiar tactic, 20 Republican state governments filed suit in a Texas federal court to block the Biden administration’s use of humanitarian parole to admit up to 30,000 Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan migrants per month. This policy, combined with an expansion of Title 42 expulsions into Mexico, has dramatically reduced the number of migrants at the border in January, while contributing to greater hardship for asylum seekers blocked in Mexico.
  • CBP released data about migration at the U.S.-Mexico border in December, a record month for migrant encounters. Over two-thirds of those encounters were with migrants from countries other than Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. Because those other countries’ citizens were harder to expel using Title 42 (until this month), a record-low 20 percent of migrants were expelled from the border in December. CBP continues gradual increases in the number of asylum seekers permitted to present themselves at ports of entry under a system of Title 42 exemptions.
  • House Republicans have had to abandon plans to fast-track a bill that would block access to asylum at the border unless virtually impossible border security standards are met. Republican immigration-policy moderates expressed discomfort with the hardline bill. As it lacks the votes for quick floor passage, the “Border Safety and Security Act of 2023” must now pass through committee consideration, like most bills.

GOP-led states sue to stop Biden administration’s “Humanitarian Parole” program

In a scenario that has become common, 20 Republican state governments filed a lawsuit in Texas federal court seeking to block a Biden administration immigration policy. This time, the legal action targets the “humanitarian parole” program that the administration announced on January 5 (see WOLA’s January 6 Border Update).

Since that date, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has managed a process allowing up to 30,000 citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela per month to apply remotely—without coming to the U.S. border—for a status allowing them to remain in the United States, with work authorization, for up to two years.

To qualify for parole, migrants must have a sponsor in the United States and possess a passport, two requirements that exclude many would-be applicants for asylum in the United States. (In Haiti, passport requests have more than tripled, to 4,200 per day, overwhelming the government’s passport authority. Reports point to long lines forming at passport offices in Cuba.) As of January 25, about 1,700 migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Haiti had entered the United States legally under the program, administration officials told reporters.

The Biden administration had established a similar sponsor-based parole program in April 2022 for Ukrainian migrants fleeing Russia’s invasion. The states’ lawsuit does not target that similar program.

Under the new parole program, citizens of these countries who fail to apply and instead show up at the U.S. border are now quickly expelled back into Mexico regardless of their asylum needs, with the Mexican government’s agreement, under the nearly three-year-old “Title 42” pandemic authority.

The near impossibility of seeking asylum at the border has caused migration from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela to plummet by 97 percent between December and January, a month of record-high migration levels (see this update’s next section). “Encounters with individuals from these countries dropped from a 7-day average of 3,367 per day on December 11, to a seven-day average of just 115 on January 24,” reads a January 25 DHS release. January is now “on track to see the lowest levels of monthly border encounters since February 2021.” A DHS official told CNN that the overall number of migrants, from all countries, is down “by more than half in January compared to last month.”

During the first three weeks of January, over 14,000 migrants had passed through Panama’s Darién Gap jungles, Panamanian authorities told EFE. That is on track to match or exceed Darién Gap migration in November (16,632) and December (20,297), but to end up well below the nearly 60,000 migrants who passed through this treacherous region in October. January’s Darién Gap migrants come mostly from Haiti (6,459), Ecuador (3,031), and Brazil (562).

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Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: January 20, 2023

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.

This week:

  • Arrivals of migrants in El Paso, the busiest part of the border near the end of 2022, have declined sharply. A key reason is the impossibility of seeking asylum for people of additional nationalities amid the Biden administration’s recent expansion of the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy.
  • As Mexican border cities absorb more expelled migrants, they are receiving more new arrivals, who are apparently not deterred by the Title 42 expansion.
  • CBP’s new app-based process allowing especially vulnerable asylum seekers to access Title 42 exemptions was quickly overwhelmed by demand.
  • New York Mayor Eric Adams, whose city is receiving over 3,000 weekly arrivals of asylum seekers, traveled to El Paso. He called on the federal government to provide more support, and criticized governors who have been sending migrants to his city without coordination.
  • CBP rolled out a new vehicle pursuit policy that intends to clarify when Border Patrol agents may engage in high-speed chases, which have led to an increasing number of fatalities on public roads in the border region.

Migration declines in El Paso

Across the U.S.-Mexico border, U.S. border agents are apprehending about 4,000 migrants per day in mid-January, an unnamed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official told CBS News. That is down from an average of 7,000 per day in November.

In mid-December, as WOLA’s Border Updates discussed at the time, El Paso, Texas was experiencing a sharp increase in migrant arrivals, reaching a daily average of 2,254 in the middle of December, according to data shared on a city “dashboard” page. Of that number, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was releasing an average of 1,478 migrants per day—virtually all of them with asylum claims—into El Paso shelters or, when those filled, onto the city’s streets.

Since then, migration has rapidly plummeted in El Paso. The daily average of migrant arrivals for the past week has fallen more than 60 percent from its mid-December peak, to 850. The daily average of migrant releases has dropped 89 percent, to 166.

El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser told Border Report that CBP has not released migrants onto the city’s streets because of exhausted shelter capacity “for weeks now.” El Paso’s convention center is no longer being used as a shelter, and the area around its bus station, where hundreds of homeless migrants were gathered in December, is now empty, the New York Times reported. The city’s government will allow a 30-day disaster declaration, issued on December 23, to lapse.

A key reason for the drop in migration to El Paso is a January 5 policy change that now makes asylum all but impossible to obtain for migrants from Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. That is the list of countries whose citizens Mexico has agreed to accept as land-border expulsions under the Title 42 public health authority, which the Supreme Court prolonged on December 27.

CBP does not afford migrants subject to these expulsions the right to ask for protection in the United States, normally guaranteed under Section 208 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. With asylum impossible to obtain (with a few exceptions for the most vulnerable, discussed below), the number of asylum seekers from those countries has plummeted, at least in El Paso, where the local government reports numbers almost in real time.

With the Mexican government’s assent, the Biden administration expanded the list of countries subject to Title 42 land-border expulsion in October to include Venezuela, and in early January to include Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua. For all four countries, the administration paired this with a new “humanitarian parole” program allowing a combined total of up to 30,000 citizens pero month to apply online for a two-year documented status in the United States. (Applicants must hold passports and have sponsors in the United States—likely barriers to many threatened migrants—and must pass background checks.)

The first 10 migrants to be granted parole under this new system arrived by air in the United States on January 10, CBS News reported, citing “unpublished government data.” More than 600 other migrants from these four countries had already been approved for parole as of January 13. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had received “thousands” more applications.

At the Washington Examiner, analysts at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation viewed the Biden administration’s Title 42 expansion as a likely cause for El Paso’s drop in migrant arrivals, but gave more credit to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) mid-December deployment of 700 National Guardsmen to the borderline. Troops set up armored vehicles and concertina wire along the Rio Grande between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, blocking or discouraging would-be asylum seekers.

One Texas Public Policy Foundation analyst is Rodney Scott, Border Patrol’s chief during the Trump administration and the first months of the Biden administration. Scott shared with the Examiner his view that increased fighting between organized crime groups in Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, is the main factor: “My sources within [the Department of Homeland Security] believe that the primary reason that illegal cross-border traffic has slowed in El Paso is because of the cartel wars that have ramped up recently.” (Ciudad Juárez saw a violent beginning to the new year: a prison break that freed 30 inmates, including a leader of the Sinaloa Cartel-tied “Mexicles” gang, and a related shootout that killed 17 people.)

Large numbers of migrants continue arriving in Mexican border cities

Whatever the reason for the drop in migration to El Paso, the trend appears to be uneven border-wide.

Del Rio continues to be busy. They are still getting large groups daily,” a Border Patrol official wrote to the Washington Examiner’s Anna Giaritelli, referring to the rural mid-Texas Border Patrol sector hundreds of miles east of El Paso that has been a top migrant destination since 2021. The official added that “The Rio Grande Valley along Texas’s Gulf Coast and Yuma in western Arizona have also remained top regions for arrests.”

In Yuma, Amanda Aguirre of the Regional Center for Border Health, the NGO that receives and transports migrants released from CBP custody, told the Arizona Daily Star that “the numbers of people they are helping has been enormous—up to 500 a day.” With the Center’s capacity overwhelmed, CBP began releasing migrants directly into Yuma on December 20, the city’s mayor, Douglas Nicholls, told El Paso Matters. Yuma is “just beginning to see… what we saw a year ago, and that is people walking through the community without going through Border Patrol,” he added.

In cities on Mexico’s side of the border, there is scant evidence that the Biden administration’s Title 42 expansion is deterring migrants.

In those cities, estimates of the number of asylum-seeking migrants awaiting an opportunity to cross to the United States range from 18,000 (Doctors Without Borders, cited this week), to at least 35,200 (according to “a Dec. 31 CBP internal report obtained by Yahoo News”), to 44,700 (“individuals on waitlists in ten Mexican border cities” in November, according to the University of Texas Strauss Center).

In Ciudad Juárez, across from a less-busy El Paso, shelters are 85 percent full and the Chihuahua state government Population Center (COESPO) “has been seeing between 200 and 400 migrants per day—a higher number than in the days prior to the end of Title 42 expulsions in late December,” according to Border Report.

The United States is expelling about 50 migrants per day into Ciudad Juárez, fewer than originally expected when the Biden administration expanded Title 42’s application, according to Alejandra Corona of Jesuit Refugee Services. Mexican immigration authorities are giving expelled families documents allowing them to remain in the country for 60 days; single adults may remain for just 15 days. Most of those expelled to Ciudad Juárez, Corona said, are not interested in applying for asylum in Mexico.

But migrants keep arriving in the city from the south, including thousands of Venezuelans led by “a lack of information about the new requirements, combined with the hope President Biden ‘will change his mind,’” COESPO official Enrique Valenzuela told Border Report. “Also, many Venezuelans who were waiting for the end of Title 42 in December haven’t left, and those expelled from the U.S. since then aren’t going anywhere, either.”

Further east in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, across from Eagle Pass, Texas, U.S. authorities have expelled about 3,000 Cuban migrants in just over a week, the Mexican daily Milenio reported.

In Matamoros, Tamaulipas, across from Brownsville, Texas, “more than 4,000 migrants are living on the street,” Doctors Without Borders humanitarian official Anayeli Flores told Mexico’s La Jornada. That includes at least 2,000 mostly Venezuelan migrants living in an encampment along the river, which received mention in a January 11 CBP Office of Intelligence report seen by Yahoo News. So far, Flores said, U.S. expulsions of Cubans, Haitians, or Nicaraguans “have not been detected” in Matamoros.

In Baja California and Sonora, Mexico, officials have “voiced concern about managing daily returns of approximately 200 migrants” expelled from the United States, the same CBP report notes.

In Sonora, the Arizona Daily Star reported, the Title 42 expansion “created immediate confusion among migrants who were already at the border and for many of the shelters and centers in Sonora that serve them.” A CBP document cited by Yahoo News claims that “Only 11 agents from Mexico’s immigration agency… are deployed along the entire border with Arizona.” Sonora’s state government buses the first 100 people expelled from Arizona each day to the state capital, Hermosillo. There, state official Bernardeth Ruiz Romero said that the government shelter accommodated 221 Cuban migrants in the days after the Biden administration’s Title 42 expansion.

In Baja California, where the largest border city is Tijuana, children of migrant families expelled by the United States or unable to ask for asylum there are posing a challenge to local schools. “Migrant students in Tijuana face stigma and learning challenges at public schools, where teachers receive little guidance on how to address their unique needs,” reported the San Diego Union-Tribune, citing a very high figure of at least 46,000 foreign students of 70 nationalities enrolled last year in Baja California’s school system.

Further south in Mexico City, the coordinator of the Casa Tochan migrant shelter told La Jornada that expelled migrants have recently arrived there. “They mainly continue to be Venezuelan, but there are also Nicaraguans.”

In the city of Tapachula, Chiapas, near Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, Fredy Castillo of the Haitian Bridge Alliance told EFE that his humanitarian organization has “noticed an increase in people after the last U.S. decree [expanding Title 42]. There is a lot of misinformation from social networks (but that increase) is remarkable.” Some migrants in Tapachula “of diverse nationalities” told EFE “that they will seek to transit irregularly through the Latin American country [Mexico] until they reach the northern border in an attempt to challenge the new U.S. immigration program.”

The population of migrants stranded in Tapachula remains large. In the pre-dawn hours of January 16, a municipal police operation blocked migrants’ access to a public space in the city’s center where hundreds of them, mostly Haitians, had been gathering each day to earn small amounts of money by selling goods. The operation involved “no injuries,” according to La Jornada.

All along the migration route, “Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama are facing limitations on capacity at migrant shelters, with some countries having to shutter shelters due to lack of funding,” according to a non-public December 15 report, produced by the DHS “Intelligence Enterprise’s Migration Indicators and Warnings Cell Migrant Fusion Cell,” cited by Yahoo News.

That report finds Costa Rica’s government “overwhelmed by the migration surge as well as the related health, education, and security costs.” It adds that in late July 2022, Panama’s government “notified the U.S. that it will begin limiting long-term detention for known or suspected terrorists and other special interest migrants, citing lack of funding and overcrowding and ‘lack of specific justifications for prolonged detention.’” Detaining a migrant costs Panama “between $55 and $65 per day.”

Guatemala’s government meanwhile issued a January 13 “yellow alert,” deploying additional police and soldiers to its border with Honduras, citing “the possible mass arrival of migrants at its borders in the coming days.”

The “CBP One” app, now used for Title 42 exemptions, quickly hits capacity

As discussed in WOLA’s January 13 Border Update, the Biden administration on January 6 began using a CBP smartphone app to manage asylum-seeking migrants’ applications to access a small but growing program of Title 42 exemptions for those deemed “most vulnerable.” Appointments available through the CBP One app, which can book appointments within a two-week window, quickly filled up.

Those who apply must be in Mexico above the 19th parallel (roughly north of a point just south of Mexico City). Those who get appointments may approach a land-border port of entry to request asylum. CBP will use Title 42 to expel them, though, if officers determine that the migrant does not meet “vulnerability” criteria.

“Vulnerable” migrants are those who have a physical or mental illness, a disability, are pregnant, lack safe housing or shelter in Mexico, have been threatened or harmed while in Mexico, or are under 21 or over 70 (or family members of migrants who meet these criteria). The criteria do not include LGBTQ status as a vulnerability.

The app replaces a less formal, often confusing Title 42 exemption process that had relied on recommendations of the most vulnerable migrants shared with CBP by NGOs, immigration attorneys, and other service providers. CBP had been granting about 180 exemption appointments each day at its San Ysidro port of entry south of San Diego, the border’s busiest, and about 70 per day in El Paso, the Associated Press reported. In Nogales, appointments averaged 60 per day.

Critics of the CBP One app have voiced concern about CBP’s use of location and other data that the app gathers, and the possibility that it could exclude some of the most threatened, who may lack smartphones and internet access.

Appointments for Title 42 exemptions using the app filled up very quickly. By January 16, a screenshot of the app shared by the Cato Institute’s David Bier showed no appointments available until at least January 31, and no ability to make an appointment until January 19.

“In Matamoros on 01/18, the available spaces for a POE appointment in Brownsville, TX, lasted approximately 90 minutes, after which the asylum seekers had to choose other ports until there were no more available,” tweeted Estuardo Cifuentes of Lawyers For Good Government’s Project Corazon in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley. In Matamoros, Voice of America talked to perplexed migrants who were only able to secure appointments dozens or hundreds of miles away, requiring travel through Mexico’s dangerous state of Tamaulipas.

“It’s like Ticketmaster but for asylum seekers — and then if you don’t get it, you don’t get it,” Erika Pinheiro of San Diego/Tijuana-based Al Otro Lado, a legal services non-profit, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “There’s no queue of people who tried to get an appointment and didn’t get it.” Cato’s Bier tweeted, “The whole premise of the app was that people would not cross illegally if they knew that they could enter legally, but now they don’t know that they can. It defeats the purpose.”

New York’s mayor visits El Paso

New York City Mayor Eric Adams paid a January 14-15 visit to El Paso. There, he appealed to the federal government to provide funds and take other steps to help New York and other large cities accommodating a large number of arrivals of asylum-seeking migrants.

Adams’s city has been averaging about 400 daily arrivals of migrants who first come to the U.S.-Mexico border, including 875 on January 12, according to the New York Times. (If sustained over a year, 400 people per day would increase New York City’s population by nearly 2 percent.) “Over 36,000 people have gone through New York’s system, and roughly 24,000 are still in the city, according to the latest figures from the mayor’s office,” the Times added; according to Border Report, Adams cited a figure of 40,000 asylum seekers “welcomed” by New York City since last spring, adding that the city had received 3,100 people in each of the two previous weeks.

“We still have over 26,000 people still in our care,” including many in homeless shelters, the New York mayor said. The cost to the city of sheltering, feeding, schooling, and providing other services for newly arrived migrants could be “anywhere from $1.5 billion to $2 billion,” Adams told a New York radio station on January 13.

“In New York and Houston and Los Angeles and Washington, our cities are being undermined and we don’t deserve this,” Adams said in a press appearance with El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser. “Migrants don’t deserve this and the people who live in the cities don’t deserve this.”

Many of the migrants arriving in New York and elsewhere—though probably not a majority—have arrived on buses funded by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican who has made a point of ensuring that cities and states run by Democrats feel the impact of the current increase in asylum-seeking migration. Mayor Adams voiced strong criticism of Abbott’s “disrespectful” and “wrong” busing effort, which the Texas state government carries out with no coordination with receiving cities’ local governments or NGOs. (Adams extended his rebuke to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, who had briefly begun busing migrants to New York and Chicago until those mayors asked him to stop.)

On January 15, the Guardian published the story of a Colombian migrant mother whom Texas placed on a bus to Philadelphia, far from her intended destination, with a sick child. “Food was in short supply and there was no medical attention available.”

Mayor Adams toured a migrant processing center, visited the border wall, and spoke with migrants outside Sacred Heart Church in El Paso’s Segundo Barrio neighborhood, where many migrants receive humanitarian assistance. Outside the church, Adams struck a different tone than his “undermining” message, telling a cheering group of migrants, “We are fighting for you for an opportunity to work and experience the American dream.”

The Mayor called on the federal government for help. He asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide more assistance to New York and other cities, and to coordinate more closely with local governments. He called on Congress to change the law to allow asylum seekers to obtain work authorizations earlier in the asylum process, so that they might be less dependent on public assistance to survive.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on January 15 that she “wholeheartedly” agreed with Adams’s call for more federal support, CBS News reported. In Miami, meanwhile, the city school district’s rolls increased by 14,723 foreign-born students during the current academic year, 9,935 of them from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, the Miami Herald reported.

CBP updates its vehicle pursuits directive

After years of increasing fatalities associated with Border Patrol’s chasing down suspected smuggling vehicles on border-area roads, CBP on January 12 made public a new directive on “Emergency Driving and Vehicular Pursuits.” It expands on a January 2021 directive—the first one that CBP ever made public, in November 2021—by spelling out more clearly when Border Patrol agents should engage in risky vehicle pursuits, when it makes sense to terminate a pursuit, and how the agency must report incidents afterward.

Border Patrol agents frequently pursue vehicles that agents suspect of transporting undocumented migrants or contraband, or otherwise violating the law. When suspect vehicles “fail to yield,” these pursuits on public roads, usually at high speeds, become hazardous. “As many modern police agencies move away from high-speed chases, placing tight restrictions on when their officers can pursue suspects, the Border Patrol allows its agents wide latitude to use them to catch people trying to enter the country illegally, a practice that often ends in gruesome injuries and, sometimes, death,” a 2019 ProPublica and Los Angeles Times investigation reported.

That investigation looked at over 500 reported vehicle pursuits along the U.S.-Mexico border between 2015 and 2019, finding that 1 out of every 3 ended in a crash, with at least 250 people injured and 22 killed. The ACLU of Texas and New Mexico documented 22 people killed as a result of Border Patrol vehicle pursuits in 2021, up from 14 in 2020 and 2 in 2019.

ACLU lawyers argued that CBP’s existing vehicle pursuit policy “gives agents too much discretion in determining the risk to public safety,” the New York Times reported in January 2022. Under the existing policy, “What we see in practice is that agents will engage in pursuits really on the basis of zero information and under any circumstances,” Shaw Drake, then an attorney with ACLU of Texas, told the Associated Press. In May, CBP’s commissioner at the time, Chris Magnus, announced that the agency would be revising this policy following an extensive review process, which would include learning other law enforcement agencies’ best practices.

“Critically, this policy does not prohibit pursuits. CBP’s unique border security mission requires that it retain the ability to pursue vehicles,” reads the agency’s January 12 release. It does, however, clarify the “reasonableness” standard that agents must consider before engaging in, and while persisting in, a high-risk vehicle pursuit. The new policy defines “Objectively Reasonable” as follows:

When the Governmental Interest in apprehending a subject at the moment outweighs the Foreseeability of Risk to the public, other law enforcement, and vehicle occupants. It is the constant responsibility of all officers/agents involved in a Vehicular Pursuit to continue weighing Pursuit Risk Factors if a Subject Vehicle continuously Fails to Yield to an Authorized Officer/Agent’s authority. If after weighing these factors, a Pursuit is no longer Objectively Reasonable, the Pursuit must be Terminated consistent with the requirements of this directive. Objective Reasonableness is based on the totality of the circumstances known by the officer/agent at the time of the event rather than the advantages/benefits of post-incident hindsight.

The new directive will become effective in May 2023.

The announcement came just days after a January 8 Border Patrol vehicle pursuit in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, west of El Paso, that ended in a crash that killed two and injured eight aboard the fleeing vehicle. Three days earlier, near Hachita, New Mexico, a vehicle rolled over, injuring two aboard, in a pursuit incident that followed the rare shooting of a Border Patrol agent, who was wearing body armor and emerged unharmed.

Other News

  • A letter from three Senate Democrats, reported in The Hill, raised alarms about federal inaction against armed private militia groups operating along the U.S.-Mexico border. “Absent federal action cracking down on their unauthorized behavior, vigilante groups will continue to operate and weaken the government’s ability to maintain migrant safety, protect human rights, and defend the rule of law at the border,” reads the communication from Sens. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), and Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
  • A document from the National Immigrant Justice Center lays out a set of principles for a more humane system to receive migrants at the border, based on coordination with local government and civil society, “non-custodial, humanitarian reception centers at the border,” and large investments in asylum processing and humanitarian needs.
  • A Human Rights First fact sheet condemns the Biden administration’s proposal to issue a “transit ban” rule making it very difficult for asylum seekers to apply for protection in the United States if they did not first apply in a country through which they passed en route to the U.S. border. Almost 300 organizations, including WOLA, sent a letter to Biden expressing “alarm and condemnation” of  this proposed rule.
  • A Cuban migrant woman died in Border Patrol custody on January 2 in Eagle Pass, Texas, CBP reported. The cause of death, perhaps, was heart failure.
  • Since November, Ecuadorians have been the number-one nationality of migrants passing through Panama’s Darién Gap jungles; in April 2022, Mexico suspended its visa exemptions for Ecuadorians, making the air route complicated for those not qualifying for tourist visas. “According to Ecuadorians who have already arrived in the United States or are awaiting passage in Mexico,” reported Spain’s El País, “migrants are sold the Darién route as a complete package that leaves Quito, passes the Rumichaca bridge on Colombia’s southern border, and arrives in the jungle. However, some do not appreciate the harshness of the journey.” (For now at least, Ecuador is not among the countries whose citizens Mexico accepts as land-border Title 42 expulsions.)
  • A 2022 Gallup poll found that about 30 percent of Latin Americans—which would be roughly 140 million people—“would like to move to another country permanently if they could.” Of those, about a third, perhaps 46 million, would move to the United States.
  • In Mexico’s violent border state of Tamaulipas, the state police’s “elite” U.S.-trained unit, the Special Operations Group or GOPES, is getting a name change and losing about a quarter of its members, according to Elefante Blanco. Now to be called the Special Forces of the State Guard, the unit is under a cloud of human rights and corruption allegations, including members’ role in a January 2021 massacre of migrants.
  • “It’s unclear how much the federal government will have to spend to remediate the damage in the Coronado National Forest. Or whether it will remediate” following the Arizona state government’s takedown of a “shipping container wall” built between gaps in the border fence on federal land, reported Melissa del Bosque at the Border Chronicle.
  • After consulting with “stakeholders,” CBP is releasing a new plan for border wall replacement south of San Diego, near the Pacific Ocean. This apparently includes a plan to reopen “Friendship Park,” a 1970s-era space where U.S. and Mexican citizens were once able to interact. Now, as in the recent past, interactions will have to occur between fence bollards.
  • Mexican immigration agents found three Salvadoran unaccompanied children, sisters aged nine, six, and one year old, stranded on an islet in the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, Texas and Piedras Negras, Coahuila.
  • “President Biden has let cartels run rampant on the border,” wrote Rep. Mark Green (R-Tennessee), the new chairman of the House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Committee. Rep. Green is among 50 Republican sponsors of the “Border Safety and Security Act,” one of the first pieces of legislation to be introduced by the new House Republican majority. That bill would expel most undocumented migrants—including asylum seekers—encountered at the border, and suspend the right to seek asylum until DHS achieves “operational control” of the border. A letter to Congress signed by 250 U.S. organizations, including WOLA, calls this bill part of “an alarming uptick in hateful rhetoric and violence targeting asylum seekers and immigrants in the United States.”

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: January 13, 2023

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.

This week:

  • President Joe Biden announced an expansion of the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy, recently prolonged by the U.S. Supreme Court, to encompass citizens of Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua, earning strong criticism from migrant rights’ advocates. The announcement came with a new “humanitarian parole” policy for those countries’ citizens, and plans to expand use of a CBP app to process protection-seeking migrants’ requests. Biden then paid a brief visit to El Paso en route to a meeting of North American leaders in Mexico City.
  • Mexican border cities are bracing for the first arrivals from these expanded Title 42 expulsions.
  • U.S. border cities received visits over the past few days from 11 U.S. senators: a bipartisan delegation that went to El Paso and Yuma, and an all-Republican delegation that visited Del Rio.

Migration a central issue as Biden visits El Paso and Mexico City

U.S. border and migration policy started 2023 with an eventful week. To recap:

  • In a January 5 policy speech, President Joe Biden announced an expansion of the Title 42 pandemic policy to encompass new nationalities’ land-border expulsions into Mexico, along with a new humanitarian parole program for citizens of those nationalities. (WOLA’s January 6 Border Update discussed this new policy at length.)
  • On January 8, President Biden paid a visit to El Paso, Texas.
  • On January 9 and 10, President Biden was in Mexico City for a summit of North American leaders, at which migration was a principal issue.
  • On January 12, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) began employing its “CBP One” smartphone app to manage applications for Title 42 exemptions, granted to asylum seekers deemed most vulnerable.

Policy changes

Biden gave his January 5 White House speech nine days after the Supreme Court ruled that the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy must remain in place for months pending later decisions. As discussed in WOLA’s January 6 update, up to 30,000 citizens per month from Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua are now subject to rapid Title 42 expulsion into Mexico if they are apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border, regardless of their stated need for asylum or other forms of protection in the United States. Mexico now accepts land-border Title 42 expulsions of eight countries’ citizens, including its own.

The same monthly number of those countries’ citizens may access a two-year humanitarian parole status in the United States i, which requires them to have a sponsor in the United States, a valid or recently expired passport, and passage of a background check. The first two hurdles, in particular, stand in many would-be parole applicants’ way.

Part of the parole application process involves registration via the CBP One smartphone app, which the agency has been rolling out “as a single portal to a variety of CBP services.” The Biden administration announced that the app will now also play a major role in asylum processing. As of January 12, asylum seekers must use the app to access a system of exemptions to Title 42, applying from outside the United States for appointments to present themselves at certain land ports of entry.

Over the past year, CBP has been granting a slowly expanding number of exemptions to Title 42, allowing asylum seekers who “meet specific vulnerability criteria” to approach land-border ports of entry on appointment. This initiative had relied on vulnerability recommendations made by humanitarian groups, immigration lawyers, and other service providers, with at times uncomfortable results. As of January 12, CBP intends for the CBP One app to become the main channel for seeking exemptions.

This use of the app is “an experiment,” an unnamed senior administration official told CNN. “Work is underway to build out the portal and is expected to come together in the next several months.” Critics of the process worry about CBP’s use of location and other data that the app gathers, and the possibility that it could exclude some of the most threatened. “Asking people fleeing for their lives to download an app and wait for months in their home country, where they are in mortal danger, is next-level cynicism,” wrote Melissa del Bosque at the Border Chronicle.

President Biden’s policy speech, further detailed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), included other proposals. For migrants who cannot be expelled easily under Title 42, DHS plans to increase use of “expedited removal”: migrants who do not specifically claim fear of persecution if returned, or who fail a credible fear interview with an asylum officer, will be repatriated quickly. It is not clear how broadly the expedited removal policy might expand, as DHS would incur significant cost removing migrants by air.

Migrant advocates are alarmed by a DHS and Department of Justice (DOJ) plan to issue a proposed rule that would deny asylum, with exceptions, to migrants who pass through other countries on their way to the U.S.-Mexico border. The so-called “transit ban” proposal resembles on the surface a policy that the Trump administration implemented in 2019, only to see it struck down by a federal court in 2020. Migrants who “circumvent available, established pathways to lawful migration, and also fail to seek protection in a country through which they traveled on their way to the United States, will be subject to a rebuttable presumption of asylum ineligibility in the United States unless they meet exceptions that will be specified,” a DHS document explained. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that further details about this proposed rule will be “available in the coming weeks.”

Four Democratic senators joined advocacy groups’ opposition to the proposed “transit ban,” warning in a statement that it “will disregard our obligations under international law by banning families from seeking asylum at the border, likely separating families and stranding migrants fleeing persecution and torture in countries unable to protect them.” Mexico’s chief diplomat for North America, Roberto Velasco, told the New York Times that any so-called “safe third country” attempt to send asylum seekers back to Mexico to apply for asylum there “is a red line for us… it would overwhelm the system.” Added Ana Lorena Delgadillo of Mexico’s non-governmental Foundation for Justice, “Mexicans are fleeing violence in their own communities. How are we going to protect others if we cannot protect our own?”

A White House document relating President Biden’s visit to Mexico City mentioned a few other small initiatives on migration cooperation.

  • The United States would help Mexico establish a migrant resource center in its southern-border city of Tapachula, from where people would be able to access information about how to apply to migrate to the U.S. and obtain assistance in Mexico. Confusingly, though, at the North American leaders’ joint January 10 press appearance in Mexico City, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said, “We are not thinking of building any center in the southeastern part of Mexico—any migration center. We’re not thinking of that. What we do is help with shelters, with healthcare services, with food services as well.”
  • The United States, Canada, and Mexico committed to “sharing best practices to increase promptness, efficiency, and fairness for the asylum processing systems.”
  • They agreed to counter “xenophobia and discrimination against migrants and refugees by promoting balanced public narratives on migrants and refugees to support their meaningful inclusion in the region.”
  • They committed to increase coordination on a strategy to crack down on northbound drug trafficking and southbound weapons trafficking. The presidential visit came just days after a bloody Mexican operation in Sinaloa state that captured the son of jailed drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, a reputed top figure in the Sinaloa Cartel organized-crime network.

As they reduce access to asylum and send a message of tightening at the border, the announced policy changes “were viewed as a win for presidential advisers with a background in national security over the more-liberal immigration policy advocates who are also part of Biden’s team,” the Washington Post reported.

Still, the measures, and Biden’s decision to visit the U.S.-Mexico border for the first time in his presidency, faced sharp criticism from the right. “This checks a box, but it doesn’t even begin to solve the problems we are facing there,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia), the ranking Republican member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, told the Washington Post. “Your visit to our southern border with Mexico today is $20 billion too little and two years too late,” read a letter that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) handed President Biden upon his arrival in El Paso. A letter from 14 Republican members of Texas’s House of Representatives delegation called on Biden to take even harder steps, like getting Mexico to agree to revive the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” program. America First Legal, the far-right NGO led by former Trump White House advisor Stephen Miller, promised to “pursue every available legal remedy” to block the Biden administration’s expansion of humanitarian parole, which it called a “colossal horror.”

Biden’s proposals faced strong criticism from backers of the right to seek asylum. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the Title 42 expansion “a disastrous and inhumane relic of the Trump administration’s racist immigration agenda.” Andrea Flores, who worked on immigration policy in the White House during the Biden administration’s first year and is now an advisor to Sen. Menendez, told the Washington Post that the new policy could send “bona fide asylum seekers” back to danger in Mexico, while allowing well-connected migrants facing less danger to access protection using an app. “Democrats must refuse to participate in Republicans’ games with people’s lives,” added a statement from the House Progressive Caucus.

“It’s enraging and sad to see a Democratic administration make it harder for vulnerable people to seek asylum all because they’re scared of angry MAGA voters on this issue,” a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) told CNN. Both CNN and CBS News reported on a blistering virtual meeting White House and DHS officials held with Democratic CHC members. The legislators said they felt “blindsided” by the announced policy changes, which had not been consulted with them. “The lawmakers were ‘pissed’… ‘It was pretty brutal,’” CBS reported that a participant in the meeting said.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which has stated several times its opposition to Title 42 because it blocks the internationally recognized right to seek asylum, repeated that position in a January 6 statement published to the United Nations’ main website. “What we are reiterating is that this is not in line with refugee law standards and that to establish a link between safe and legal pathways which have been announced and of course we welcome the expansion of those on one side that are accessible for some people with curtailment for the right to seek asylum for many more who are ineligible for these pathways,” said UNHCR spokesperson Boris Cheshirkov.

Asked about the policy changes’ critics, Biden replied, “both the extremes are wrong. It’s a basic middle proposition.” He repeated an administration talking point portraying the October 12, 2022 expansion of Title 42 expulsions to Venezuelans as a “success,” noting that the arrival of Venezuelan migrants at the border “has dropped off dramatically…from 1,100 persons trying to enter to—per day—to 250 a day.”

El Paso

The President was in El Paso, Texas for four hours on the afternoon of Sunday, January 8. CNN called it a “tightly controlled” (AP said “highly controlled”) tour of a stretch of border wall and a port of entry facility, followed by a meeting with community leaders at El Paso County’s recently established Migrant Services Center. Biden did not interact with any migrants. “Biden’s visit to the border got him a small bit of rhetorical breathing room and certainly brought him closer to the problem in a literal sense,” wrote Washington Post analyst Philip Bump. “It didn’t get him closer to a solution.”

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Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: January 6, 2023

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.

This week:

  • President Biden is to visit the U.S.-Mexico border before a January 9-10 North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico. In a January 5 border policy speech, he announced a new humanitarian parole program for citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. This comes with an expansion of Title 42 expulsions of these countries’ citizens back to Mexico if they do not, or can not, avail themselves of the new humanitarian program.
  • The Supreme Court ordered that the Title 42 pandemic authority remain in place while it considers whether Republican state governments can challenge its court-ordered termination, which had been scheduled for December 21, 2022. The abrupt shift increased confusion in cities on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, as squalid encampments have sprung up in Matamoros, Reynosa, Tapachula, and possibly elsewhere.
  • Protesters and a federal lawsuit compelled Arizona’s outgoing state government to remove thousands of shipping containers stacked to fill gaps in the border wall. Gov. Doug Ducey’s (R) container-wall project cost about $95 million to build and about $76 million to dismantle. His successor, Democrat Katie Hobbs, is dropping a lawsuit challenging federal jurisdiction over border-adjacent land.

Biden to visit border, announce Venezuela-style Title 42 expansion

While on a January 4 visit to Kentucky, President Joe Biden told reporters that he plans to visit the U.S.-Mexico border before a January 9-10 meeting in Mexico City with the leaders of Canada and Mexico. Asked what he would like to see when he visits, Biden responded, “Peace and security. No, I’m going to see what’s going on. I’m going to be making a speech tomorrow on border security, and you’ll hear more about it tomorrow.”

Biden will visit El Paso, Texas. Of the nine sectors into which the U.S. Border Patrol divides the U.S.-Mexico border, the El Paso sector led all others in migrant arrivals in October and November. (December data are not yet available.)

In a January 5 speech, Biden rolled out dramatic expansions of both a “humanitarian parole” procedure for citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, and of expulsions of those countries’ citizens from the border back into Mexico under the still-in-force Title 42 pandemic authority. These are explained in documents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the White House, and in Federal Register entries laying out the parole process for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans

The administration will model its program for asylum-seeking migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Haiti on a program applied to Venezuelan migrants since October. The Venezuela policy led to a sharp reduction in arrivals of Venezuelan asylum seekers at the border and afforded several thousand an opportunity to obtain a temporary documented status in the United States. But it has also left thousands more stranded and vulnerable inside Mexico and elsewhere along the migration route from South America.

On October 12, the administration offered a two-year humanitarian parole status in the United States, with a work permit, to up to 24,000 Venezuelan migrants who applied online, had valid or recently expired passports, and had someone inside the United States willing to sponsor them. Once approved for parole, Venezuelans are able to fly to the United States.

If encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border, however, Venezuelan migrants are subject to immediate expulsion back to Mexico—with Mexico’s full agreement—under the Title 42 pandemic authority, recently prolonged by the U.S. Supreme Court (see this update’s next section). The expulsions occur regardless of migrants’ expressed need to apply for asylum.

The October 12 decision made Venezuela the fifth nationality of migrants whose Title 42 expulsions Mexico accepted across the land border (in addition to those from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras). It led Title 42 expulsions of Venezuelans to jump from 87 in September 2022 to 6,411 in October and 5,298 in November. It contributed to a drop in encounters with Venezuelan migrants from 33,804 in September to 7,931 in November. And it caused migrant shelters and encampments in Mexican border cities to fill with thousands of Venezuelan migrants who suddenly had nowhere to go.

On January 5, President Biden announced that Mexico will accept land-border Title 42 expulsions of three more nationalities: Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Haitians, for a total of eight nationalities subject to land-border expulsion. Mexico will allow up to 30,000 expulsions per month of these three countries’ citizens and Venezuelans.

That will come with an expansion of the humanitarian parole program for up to 30,000 citizens per month from these countries and from Venezuela. (November 2022 migrant encounters from those four countries totaled 82,286.) Only citizens from those countries with U.S. sponsors and passports will qualify for these 30,000 monthly humanitarian parole spots.

As the expanded Title 42 expulsions represent a new block to the legal right to seek asylum in the United States, human rights advocates had responded with alarm to a December 28 revelation, in a story broken by Reuters, that it might happen. “The Biden-Harris administration seems intent on doubling down on President Trump’s xenophobia and cruelty,” read a December 29 statement from the #WelcomeWithDignity campaign. “This move would go far beyond what any court has required, dispelling any pretense that this administration is interested in turning the page,” said Melissa Crow of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies. That day, staff at the Nogales-based Kino Border Initiative reported the arrival of seven expelled Nicaraguans at its shelter on the Mexican side of the border.

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Title 42 Must End. Here are Five Reasons Why

Just posted at wola.org, drafted by WOLA’s communications team with much input and edits from Maureen Meyer and me. As Title 42’s end date nears a Supreme Court showdown, here in 1,280 words are 5 reasons why it should terminate, as soon as possible.

Title 42 Must End. Here are Five Reasons Why (in <1,300 words):

  1. It’s illegal
  2. It wasn’t designed to protect public health
  3. It creates a discriminatory system
  4. It puts people in need of protection in further danger
  5. It undermines the U.S. ability to promote a protection-centered response to regional migration

Read the whole thing here.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: December 16, 2022

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 staff holiday absence, WOLA will not publish Border Updates on December 23 or 30. Updates will resume on January 6.

This week:

  • As the December 21 expiration date looms for Title 42, a court challenge seeks to preserve the pandemic expulsions policy and the Biden administration is considering other measures, from a “transit ban” to pressure on Mexico, to limit access to asylum. The result of the next few weeks may have long-term consequences for the right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • About 1,500 mostly Nicaraguan migrants—many of them victims of a mass kidnapping in northern Mexico—crossed from Ciudad Juárez to El Paso all at once on December 11. They are part of a sudden recent rise in migration to Border Patrol’s El Paso sector—which as recently as March was fifth of nine border sectors in migrant encounters—that is straining local services.
  • Arizona activists’ direct action appears to have halted the outgoing Republican governor’s effort to use thousands of shipping containers to fill a 10-mile border wall gap in an environmentally fragile national forest. The Biden administration had been slow to respond to the construction on federal land.

A pivotal moment for the future of asylum in the United States

December 21, the federal court-ordered expiration date for the “Title 42” pandemic expulsions policy, is drawing near. The coming days and weeks may set precedents with lasting consequences for the right, enshrined in U.S. law more than 40 years ago, to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

In March 2020, at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration invoked Section 265 of Title 42, U.S. Code, a quarantine provision, to swiftly expel undocumented migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border. It made no exception for asylum seekers, and Mexico agreed to accept expulsions of its own citizens, and citizens of three Central American countries, across the land border. The Biden administration continued to implement Title 42; both administrations have used it about 2.5 million times to expel migrants.

A Washington, DC federal district judge struck down Title 42 on November 15, finding its use “arbitrary and capricious,” but acceding to an administration request for five weeks to prepare for its end. As of December 21, the pandemic policy is to expire. Most observers expect a short-term increase in migration at the border, as many migrants who had been unable to request asylum upon reaching U.S. soil would once again be able to do so.

Republican state attorneys-general are seeking to challenge the November 15 ruling and preserve Title 42. Nineteen “red states” filed an emergency motion to the Washington, DC Circuit Court of Appeals asking it to suspend the District Court’s ruling and keep Title 42 in place past December 21. The states asked the Appeals Court to decide by December 16, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which led a coalition of groups whose suit successfully challenged Title 42, agreed.

If the Appeals Court denies their request, the states are asking it to declare an “administrative stay” keeping Title 42 in place for one more week, which would give the states time to appeal to the Supreme Court. It would then be up to the Supreme Court’s conservative majority whether to declare a stay, keeping Title 42 in place for the duration of appeals—which could last well over a year.

Amid the uncertainty, a December 14 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) document and media reports point to options that the Biden administration is weighing in the event that Title 42 expires on December 21. Internal discussions, and discussions with Mexico, are taking place as the migrant population increases.

The number of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) encounters with migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border exceeded 9,000 per day on three occasions during the first week and a half of December, a record-breaking pace, Axios reported, adding, “Officials now are preparing for the possibility of between 12,000 to 14,000 migrants attempting to cross every day.”

The December 14 DHS document warns of “a potential for a higher number of single adults and families to be provisionally released from DHS custody into communities without NGO or other sponsor support, pending the outcome of their immigration court proceedings.“ The chief of CBP’s Border Patrol component, Raúl Ortiz, echoed that warning of large-scale direct releases in a December 9 internal memo.

In order to accommodate the likely short-term migration increase, DHS is asking Congress for $3.4 billion over its 2023 budget request which, like the rest of the federal budget, still awaits legislative approval.

According to the DHS document, in a post-Title 42 climate the Department will increase use of Expedited Removal, a form of rapid deportation for those whom CBP personnel deem not to be asylum-seekers or otherwise needing protection. It will also seek to hold more single adult asylum seekers in detention, and refer for criminal prosecution “those whose conduct warrants it”—which according to DHS includes “noncitizens seeking to evade apprehension, repeat offenders, and those engaging in smuggling efforts.”

Press reports point to more severe steps that the administration is currently considering but has not yet decided to implement.

Axios reported that officials have internally circulated “a draft rule that would impose an asylum ban for roughly five months—initially.” It is not clear what legal basis such a rule might have.

NBC News reported that officials are “solidifying plans” to implement a so-called “transit ban,” refusing asylum applications from non-Mexican migrants who did not first attempt to seek asylum in other countries along their route to the United States. Unless they can prove that they require protection under the International Convention Against Torture, a higher standard than asylum, migrants “would have to show they first sought and were denied asylum in a country they passed through on their way to the U.S. border, four sources familiar with the planning say.”

Axios added that possible exceptions to the transit ban may apply to those who “are facing extreme circumstances, such as a medical emergency or other immediate, severe harm,” and perhaps for those who, under a new process, use CBP’s “CBP One” app to schedule an appointment at a port of entry (official border crossing).

The Trump administration sought to impose a similar severe limit on asylum in 2019; a federal court overturned it after the ACLU and other organizations filed suit. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, asked by NBC News about this controversial proposal, “did not deny that a so-called transit ban was under consideration,” even as he called the U.S. asylum system “one of our crown jewels.”

NBC and the El Paso Times, covering Mayorkas’s December 13 visit to El Paso, reported that the administration is also considering a mechanism to allow migrants from Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua to apply online for humanitarian parole in the United States. The program would be similar to one created in October for up to 24,000 Venezuelans, approving two years’ parole with work permits for those  who hold passports and have someone to sponsor them in the United States. Many poorer and threatened Venezuelans are unable to meet those two criteria.

The administration is leaning on Mexico, meanwhile, “to ensure that the surge of migrants bused to Juárez, to the border, over the weekend doesn’t happen again,” the El Paso Times reported, referring to a group of about 1,500 migrants discussed in this update’s next section. Roberto Velasco, Mexico’s senior diplomat for North American affairs, told the Dallas Morning News that “sensitive” and “delicate” negotiations with his U.S. counterparts are “intense” and happening “round-the-clock.”

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Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: December 9, 2022

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.

This week:

  • The Title 42 pandemic expulsions authority is scheduled to terminate in less than two weeks, in accordance with a November court ruling. A Biden administration appeal will not change that date, but a challenge from Republican state governments might. The Senate may soon consider a still-unpublished bill that could prolong Title 42 for a year in exchange for giving legal status to “Dreamers.” Meanwhile, preparations for a post-Title 42 reality continue: shelters are anticipating increased populations, and the Biden administration is considering other means to block or limit asylum seekers, including something similar to the Trump-era “transit ban.”
  • Migration through Panama’s Darién Gap declined by 72 percent from October to November. The main reason appears to be an October expansion of Title 42 that made it impossible for citizens of Venezuela to pursue asylum in the United States. The number of Venezuelan citizens in the Darién dropped by 98 percent.
  • In November, Mexico’s asylum system received its largest monthly number of applications in a year. Applications from citizens of Venezuela, now denied the chance to seek protection in the United States, increased by 27 percent over October.

What’s next after Title 42, if it ends on December 21

It is now less than two weeks from December 21, when, in accordance with a November 15 court ruling, the Title 42 pandemic authority is to end. Title 42 has expelled about 2.5 million people without a chance to seek asylum since the Trump administration first implemented it in March 2020.

The administration appeals

On December 7, the Biden administration’s Justice Department informed D.C. District Judge Emmet Sullivan of its intent to appeal Sullivan’s November 15 ruling. The administration, however, is not seeking to prolong the current Title 42 order. The Justice Department filing does not ask for Judge Sullivan’s ruling to be paused: its intent appears to be to preserve the executive branch’s future ability to employ Title 42 to expel migrants for public health reasons.

The Justice Department stated that it would seek to put this case on hold while the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (Louisiana and Texas) considers its appeal of another case: a Louisiana district court’s decision that had prevented the Biden administration from ending Title 42 in May 2022. The Louisiana decision had taken issue with the administration’s process for terminating Title 42, which it had planned to end on May 23. Judge Sullivan’s decision struck down the use of Title 42 entirely.

Meanwhile, 19 Republican state governments are asking Judge Sullivan to suspend his ruling. If he does not do so—as appears likely—the states could seek to have the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court hear the case. Should those higher courts agree to do so, and should they decide to stay (suspend) Judge Sullivan’s decision while appeals proceed, then Title 42 would remain in place for some time after December 21.

While the legal maneuvering proceeds, a Biden administration official told CBS News that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “continues to charge full speed ahead in preparing for Title 42 to lift on December 21.”

(For more background on this confusing narrative, see the timeline of major Title 42 developments at the end of this section.)

Possible legislation

On December 5, the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent revealed that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) were negotiating a bipartisan bill to resolve the situation of “Dreamers”—up to 2 million undocumented people who were brought to the United States as children and know no life in any other country.

The current legislative session, which ends on December 31, could be the last chance to find a legal solution for Dreamers. The House of Representatives elected in November will have a slight Republican majority, and its leadership has indicated fierce opposition to any softening of immigration policy. The Obama administration executive order that had found a temporary solution for about 700,000 Dreamers (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA) was ruled illegal by a Texas judge in 2021, and the future of appeals leading to the conservative U.S. Supreme Court appears grim.

To entice Republicans to vote for a legal status for Dreamers, the Sinema-Tillis legislation, Sargent and others report, might:

  • increase resources for migrant processing,
  • hire more border agents,
  • increase prosecutions of improper border crossers,
  • quickly remove those who don’t qualify for asylum, and—most controversially—
  • extend Title 42 expulsions for at least another year.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) has expressed “serious concerns” about the proposed bill, especially the proposal to prolong Title 42, which could cause hundreds of thousands more expulsions of migrants, many of them asylum seekers. A statement from several non-governmental groups (including WOLA) under the #WelcomeWithDignity campaign opposes “a shocking proposal to extend Title 42 for another year and additional proposals that would indefinitely curtail asylum rights.”

To move forward under Senate rules (the filibuster), this bill would require 60 senators to vote to end debate and allow a vote. Assuming that all 50 Democrats back this bill—far from certain, due to progressives’ discomfort with the Title 42 extension—Sinema and Tillis would need to convince 10 Republicans to allow it to come to a vote. That may prove very difficult, as Congress approaches the final two or three weeks of its session still needing to pass the entire 2023 federal budget and the Defense Department’s authorization.

On December 8, Sen. Tillis indicated that he and Sen. Sinema expect to finalize their bill language by Friday, December 9.

Preparations for an increase in migration

It is reasonable to expect protection-seeking migration to increase at the border after December 21, if Title 42 does truly end on that date. Data, presumably from CBP, leaked to Fox News point to 207,000 migrant encounters at the border in November, which is similar to October (it is not clear whether the number includes migrants encountered at ports of entry).

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Timeline of major Title 42 developments

This (likely with a bit more editing/polish) will be in tomorrow’s WOLA Border Update, but it’s also useful as a standalone post:

  • March 2020: The Trump administration’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) imposed the measure, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, as U.S. borders closed to most travel. Citing the difficulty of detaining asylum seekers in congregate settings where viruses could spread, the order—drafted by hardline immigration opponents in the Trump White House, citing an obscure 1940s quarantine law—suspended the right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. It ordered CBP to block asylum seekers from approaching ports of entry (official border crossings) and to quickly expel all migrants, regardless of protection needs, apprehended elsewhere. It was later revealed that CDC officials opposed this application of Title 42, but bent under intense political pressure. Mexico agreed to accept land-border expulsions of 4 countries’ citizens: its own, plus those of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
  • November 2020: D.C. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that Title 42 could not be used to expel unaccompanied child migrants. This decision was overturned on appeal in January 2021, just before Joe Biden’s inauguration, but the Biden administration has chosen not to expel non-Mexican unaccompanied children. The Trump administration had expelled unaccompanied kids 15,863 times between March and November 2020.
  • January 2021: The Biden administration kept the Title 42 measure in place. Of all Title 42 expulsions since March 2020, at least 81 percent have taken place since Joe Biden’s inauguration.
  • August 2021: After negotiations with the Biden administration broke down, the ACLU and other organizations resumed litigation challenging Title 42 in D.C. District Court.
  • September 2021: Following a large-scale arrival of Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas— notorious for disturbing images of Border Patrol agents on horseback charging at migrants—the Biden administration began a large-scale campaign of aerial expulsions back to Haiti. Witness at the Border would count 229 expulsion flights to Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien between September 2021 and May 2022.
  • March 2022: The CDC decided that the pandemic’s reduced intensity made it possible to end Title 42 expulsions. The Biden administration set May 23, 2022 as Title 42’s termination date.
  • April 2022: Human Rights First reported tracking “at least 10,250 reports of murder, kidnapping, rape, torture and other violent attacks against migrants and asylum seekers blocked in or expelled to Mexico due to Title 42 since the Biden administration took office.”
  • May 2022: Mexico agreed to accept land-border expulsions of Cubans and Nicaraguans for a few weeks, until May 23.
  • May 2022: In response to a lawsuit brought by Republican state attorneys-general, Louisiana Federal District Court Judge Robert Summerhays issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Biden administration from lifting Title 42. The May 23 deadline was revoked, and expulsions continued.
  • August 2022: For the first time ever, migrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras comprised less than half of the population of migrants encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border. This was largely because migrants from these countries faced a very high probability of Title 42 expulsion, but citizens of all other countries (especially Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Colombia) were more difficult for the U.S. government to expel; most were being released into the U.S. interior.
  • October 2022: The U.S. and Mexican governments announced that Mexico has agreed to accept land-border expulsions of citizens of Venezuela.
  • November 2022: In the case (Huisha-Huisha vs. Mayorkas) brought by the ACLU and other organizations, Judge Emmet Sullivan struck down Title 42. He acceded to a Biden administration request for five weeks in which to wind down the policy. Republican state attorneys general filed a motion to allow them to intervene in the suit.

U.S.-Mexico Border Update: December 2, 2022

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.

This week:

  • Municipal riot police and other forces used force to dismantle an encampment of mostly Venezuelan migrants along the Rio Grande in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. The site, which at its peak had roughly 1,500 people living in about 350 tents, formed after the U.S. and Mexican governments’ October 12 decision to expel Venezuelan asylum seekers across the land border into Mexico, using the Title 42 pandemic authority.
  • U.S. authorities are preparing for the end of Title 42, which will take effect on December 21 in accordance with a November 15 judicial decision. A short-term increase in protection-seeking migration is likely. Some indicators, including a record October number of migrants apprehended in Mexico, point to growth in the migrant population in Mexico and at the border. The Biden administration’s response may include an aggressive use of expedited removal and criminal prosecutions of single adult migrants. Also under internal discussion is increased access to legal pathways to protection, which could operate without migrants needing to arrive at a land border.

Mexican forces raze Venezuelan migrant encampment in Ciudad Juárez

A six week-old tent encampment in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, along the narrow Rio Grande across from El Paso, Texas, no longer exists. On the morning of November 27, Ciudad Juárez municipal police clad in riot gear, accompanied by Chihuahua state police and federal national guardsmen, evicted 500 to 600 mostly Venezuelan migrants from the site. As migrants scrambled to rescue their belongings, some resisted and scuffled with the police, resulting in several minor injuries on both sides.

The site that some called “Little Venezuela” sprung up after October 12, when the U.S. and Mexican governments announced that Venezuelan migrants—whose numbers exceeded 1,000 per day border-wide in September—would no longer be able to cross the border, turn themselves in to U.S. authorities, and ask for asylum. The Biden administration began applying the Title 42 pandemic authority, quickly expelling Venezuelans back across the border into Mexico, whose government agreed to accept them. As of mid-November, more than 8,000 Venezuelan migrants had been expelled into Mexico border-wide, more than a quarter of them into Ciudad Juárez.

A separate process announced on October 12 would allow up to 24,000 Venezuelans to apply for “humanitarian parole” in the United States. This opportunity, though, is available only to Venezuelans who possess a passport and have someone in the United States willing to sponsor them.

When WOLA staff visited Ciudad Juárez on November 14-16, the tent encampment’s population was near its peak: up to 1,500 migrants living in about 350 donated tents along the paved riverbank. The vast majority were Venezuelan, and most were single adults, though a significant minority were families with children.

The population decreased somewhat as temperatures dropped to below freezing at night. It dropped further after U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan’s November 15 decision striking down the Title 42 pandemic authority, effective December 21 (discussed below).

Ciudad Juárez’s network of governmental and non-governmental migrant shelters, WOLA was told, had sufficient space for children and families at the encampment, and at least some space for adults. But most migrants camped along the river were distrustful, fearing that if they left the vicinity of the border they risked being sent back to persecution in Venezuela.

For days, local authorities had been entreating the migrants to leave the encampment and relocate to shelters, citing public health risks: many migrants had been falling ill, including cases of hypothermia and respiratory disease, due to cold and unsanitary conditions. At 6:00 AM on November 27, authorities arrived at the site with buses, offering once again to take people to shelters.

After two hours of mostly unsuccessful dialogue, police “evicted the migrants with shoves and kicks and demolished the makeshift shelter,” according to a detailed report in Ciudad Juárez’s La Verdad. Cleanup crews tore down the tents, throwing them into a garbage truck. “Migrants watched as workers raked up their shoes, baby blankets and other belongings they couldn’t grab quickly enough,” NPR reported.

“Tents were burned”—apparently by protesting migrants—while “punches were thrown and scuffles erupted,” the El Paso Times reported, as a phalanx of riot police led the effort to clear the camp. The police, who did not carry firearms, overcame migrants’ efforts to form a “human wall.” Some migrants threw stones, injuring at least two police. An adult female migrant suffered a blow to the head “when the riot squad was advancing at the point of shoving with shields,” according to La Verdad. Municipal human rights official Santiago González Reyes told reporters that no rights violations took place.

Border Patrol agents and other U.S. authorities closely observed the scene from the El Paso side. Perhaps 200 migrants at the site opted to cross the river and turn themselves in to the agents; most if not all faced expulsion under Title 42, which remains in force. According to the El Paso Times, about 80 agreed to enter the Mexican federal government’s large shelter, established in Ciudad Juárez in 2019, and about 14 more went to the city government’s shelter.

The rest, about 300 migrants, scattered into the city, probably to await December 21, when they believe that they will again be able to cross into the United States and seek asylum. The Mexico City daily La Jornada reported on November 29 that about 200 Venezuelans had gathered in a new site further west along the river, in Ciudad Juárez’s Las Tortugas playground park.

What to expect after Title 42 ends

Title 42’s December 21 end date results from Judge Emmet Sullivan’s November 15 ruling that Title 42 was “arbitrary and capricious” and lacked public health reasoning to justify its use to deny the right to seek asylum. The Biden administration requested, and received, a five-week cushion allowing it to “resolve resource and logistical issues.”

The administration had originally planned to terminate Title 42 on May 23, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that the measure was no longer necessary. After 24 Republican state governments filed suit, a district judge in Louisiana issued a ruling forcing the administration to keep Title 42 in place. That ruling had focused on the procedure by which the Biden administration had sought to terminate the policy. Judge Sullivan’s November 15 ruling, the result of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and other groups, challenges the legality of the entire Title 42 policy, and thus supersedes the Louisiana decision.

Title 42 was used about 2.5 million times to expel migrants, mainly into Mexico, since the Trump administration launched the pandemic policy in March 2020. Its implementation has likely bottled up tens of thousands of migrants who otherwise would have sought asylum. The latest quarterly update from the University of Texas’s Strauss Center estimates “approximately 44,700 individuals on waitlists in ten Mexican border cities.” Some may have abandoned these waitlists, but many others are not even inscribed.

The end of Title 42, then, may mean a further increase in already high levels of migration to the United States, at least in the first months after December 21. Experts told Politico they expect “a stressful and chaotic transition” as the Biden administration, which was relying heavily on Title 42 to limit the number of migrants requiring processing, scrambles to increase processing capacity. A likely outcome will be an increase in the number of migrants released into the U.S. interior with pending hearings in a U.S. asylum system that remains badly backlogged.

CNN reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is projecting between 9,000 and 14,000 daily arrivals of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border after December 21. That is more than the 6,000 to 7,000 per day currently arriving, but in line with estimates of 6,000 to 18,000 that DHS issued in April, the last time that Title 42’s cancellation appeared imminent.

It is unusual to see migration increase at the onset of winter, but we are seeing early indicators that numbers are trending upward.

On November 22, the number of unaccompanied migrant children in custody of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement exceeded 10,000 for the first time since August 4; by November 29 that number had risen to 10,502. (The Biden administration does not apply Title 42 to non-Mexican unaccompanied child migrants.)

On November 30, Mexico’s Interior Department updated its migration statistics for October 2022. They showed Mexico’s National Migration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migración, INM) apprehending 52,262 people into custody that month, shattering the agency’s previous monthly record (set in August 2021) by nearly 6,000.

42 percent of migrants apprehended in Mexico in October were citizens of Venezuela; other countries of citizenship showing strong increases include Ecuador, Colombia, Nicaragua, and Cuba.

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Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: November 11, 2022

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 staff travel, we will not publish Border Updates on November 18 and 25. Updates will resume on December 2.

This week:

  • 40,593 Venezuelan migrants passed through Panama’s treacherous Darién Gap region in October, a 6 percent increase over September. The rate of increase slowed from previous months, because the U.S. and Mexican governments agreed on October 12 to start using Title 42 to expel Venezuelans overland into Mexico, denying them the ability to seek U.S. asylum. Overall Darién Gap migration increased 24%, as the number of migrants of all other nationalities nearly doubled.
  • Though U.S. authorities are encountering fewer Venezuelan migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, citizens of other nations continue to arrive in large numbers. El Paso is at its capacity for processing and sheltering asylum seekers. Venezuelan migrants remain stranded along the migration route through Mexico and Central America. Mexico’s asylum system saw an 18 percent increase in applications from Venezuelan citizens from September to October.
  • As the United States continues to count votes from the November 8 midterm elections, the political map along the border is little changed. Democrats held off Republican challenges in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley House of Representatives districts, and appear to have regained the district that contains New Mexico’s border.

Venezuelan migration through the Darién Gap levels off, but migration from other countries doubles

Panama’s migration authority, Migración Panamá, released data about migrants passing overland through the Darién Gap, a treacherous jungle region straddling Colombia and Panama, during October. This lawless area has seen a record amount of migration this year: over 211,000 people have walked through since January.

On October 12, the U.S. and Mexican governments announced that they would cooperate in using the Title 42 authority, first employed as a pandemic measure in March 2020, to expel Venezuelan citizens across the U.S.-Mexico land border into Mexico. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported that this change, which severely curtails Venezuelans’ right to ask for asylum in the United States, has brought a sharp decline in U.S.-bound migration of Venezuelan citizens.

While Panamanian authorities also report a sharp drop in Venezuelan migration through the Darién Gap, their data for the entire month of October, which includes nearly two weeks before the new U.S. restriction began, barely reflect it.

The number of migrants from Venezuela did begin to level off over the course of the month: Panama registered 40,593 Venezuelans emerging from the Darién jungles in October, just 6 percent more than in September (38,399). That is a far smaller growth rate compared to prior months. The overwhelming majority probably came through before the October 12 Title 42 policy change began.

The number of migrants from elsewhere in the world, however, virtually doubled from September to October, increasing 96% (from 9,805 to 19,180). The most rapid growth among countries whose citizens were encountered over 100 times in the Darién in October occurred with citizens of Ecuador (+227% in one month), Afghanistan (+206%), China (+101%), Pakistan (+73%), Brazil (+73%), and India (+72%). Many of the fast-growing Afghan population, the New York Times noted, are escaping the Taliban regime that took power in August 2021.

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U.S.-Mexico Border Update: November 4, 2022

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.

This week:

  • Fiscal Year 2022 saw the largest-ever number of encounters with undocumented migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. 45 percent of those encounters, though, ended in rapid Title 42 expulsions. Migration from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, declined from 2021. Those countries’ citizens are largely denied the right to seek asylum because Mexico allows them to be expelled across the land border under Title 42. Migration increased from more distant countries, like Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Colombia, whose citizens have a greater likelihood of seeking asylum because Title 42 expulsions are more difficult.
  • The U.S. and Mexican governments’ decision to allow Title 42 expulsions of Venezuelans into Mexico led to a short-term reduction in U.S.-bound migration from Venezuela. It also sent thousands of expelled Venezuelans into Mexican border cities (and Mexico City) that are ill-equipped to receive them, while stranding thousands in other countries along the route. In Ciudad Juárez, where migrants have begun living in tents along the borderline, U.S. border agents repelled a cross-border protest using “less-than-lethal” weapons.
  • Border Patrol recovered the remains of at least 853 migrants along the border in fiscal year 2022, which is a record by far. A larger migrant population and Title 42’s blockage of legal pathways to asylum are probably the main causes of the increase. Border Patrol has recovered nearly 9,500 remains in the past 25 years; this is certainly a significant undercount of the actual death toll.

CBP releases 2022 border data

WOLA hosts a full collection of charts and graphics, including those used in this narrative, at the “ Infographics” section of its Border Oversight resource, including links to most underlying data tables.

With an October 21 data release, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) shared information about its encounters with migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in September 2022 and during the U.S. federal government’s entire fiscal year, which runs from October to September.

Fiscal Year (FY) 2022

  • The agency reported encountering undocumented migrants 2,378,944 times at the U.S.-Mexico border during FY 2022. Border Patrol recorded 2,206,436 of these encounters in border zones between ports of entry. This is an all-time record for the number of times the agency took undocumented migrants into custody in a year.

  • 45 percent of migrant encounters in FY 2022 (1,079,507) ended with rapid expulsions under the Title 42 pandemic authority, which the Trump administration first implemented in March 2020.
  • Because it expels many migrants quickly into Mexico without an opportunity to ask for protection in the United States, Title 42 has facilitated many repeat crossings. Because of much double-counting, the actual number of individual migrants encountered at the border is significantly less than 2.2 million. CBP did not report an annual number of individuals.
  • The largest increases in migration from FY 2021 to FY 2022 involved citizens of countries distant from the U.S.-Mexico border. Of nationalities with more than 20,000 migrant encounters in FY 2022, those that saw the largest year-on-year percentage growth in migration over FY 2021 were Ukraine (3,652%), Colombia (1,918%), Cuba (471%), Russia (430%), Venezuela (286%), and Nicaragua (227%). Citizens of these countries have a greater probability of being allowed to ask for asylum despite Title 42, because the cost of expelling them by air is high or because the U.S. government lacks consular relationships with their governments.
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Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: October 21, 2022

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.

This week:

  • In the wake of the Biden administration’s announcement that Venezuelan asylum seekers will now be expelled into Mexico under Title 42, this week’s Border Update reviews numbers of expelled migrants, how the U.S. offer of humanitarian parole for 24,000 Venezuelans will work, and human rights concerns voiced by numerous actors.
  • The narrative then moves to resulting humanitarian concerns and migration shifts in a long geographic arc, going north to south from Mexican border cities, through Mexico City and southern Mexico, through Guatemala and Honduras, to Panama’s Darién Gap, Colombia, and Ecuador.

Due to staff travel, WOLA will not publish a Border Update next week. The next Update will appear on November 4.

U.S. completes first week of Title 42 expulsions into Mexico

From the U.S. border to South America, migrants, service providers, and governments have been jolted by the Biden administration’s October 12 announcement that asylum-seeking migrants from Venezuela are now subject to rapid expulsion across the land border into Mexico.

Under the Title 42 pandemic authority, begun by the Trump administration and prolonged by the Biden administration and then by a federal court order, all migrants are subject to rapid expulsion regardless of their expressed need for asylum. Mexico agrees to accept land-border expulsions of its own citizens, as well as those of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and now—as of October 12—citizens of Venezuela.

The U.S. measure comes with a program allowing up to 24,000 Venezuelans to apply for humanitarian parole in the United States. (In September alone, 33,000 Venezuelan migrants arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border.)

Mexico’s foreign secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, said that U.S. authorities expelled 1,768 Venezuelan citizens during the new measures’ first four days, with each day’s number fewer than the last. By the time six days were complete, Dana Graber Ladek, the Mexico chief of mission for the U.N.-backed International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that expulsions of Venezuelans totaled more than 3,000. After seven days, according to credible information seen by WOLA, they exceeded 4,000.

Expulsions of Venezuelans have been taking place from El Paso, Texas into Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua; San Diego, California into Tijuana, Baja California; Brownsville, Texas into Matamoros, Tamaulipas; Nogales, Arizona into Nogales, Sonora; and Eagle Pass, Texas into Piedras Negras, Coahuila.

“According to a Mexican official, the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador demanded that the US admit one Venezuelan for humanitarian reasons for each Venezuelan it expels to Mexico,” the Mexican daily Reforma reported. “So, if the Biden Administration receives 24,000 Venezuelans, Mexico would not accept more than 24,000 Venezuelans expelled from the United States.” WOLA has heard no official information, however, corroborating this claim that expulsions are capped at 24,000.

Humanitarian parole

On October 18, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) posted details about how the humanitarian parole process will work. Venezuelans outside the United States will be able to apply online “for advance authorization to travel and a temporary period of parole for up to 2 years.” To be approved, applicants must not have been expelled before, or have entered Mexico or Panama after the new policy went into effect (the policy was published in the U.S. Federal Register on October 19). They must have “a supporter in the United States who agrees to provide them with financial support for the duration of their parole in the United States.”

A key obstacle is a U.S. requirement that Venezuelan applicants hold a passport that is either unexpired or within five years of having expired, restricting the availability of humanitarian parole to Venezuelans who have been able to obtain a passport. This is not easy to do, WOLA noted in 2018, due to the Venezuelan regime’s passport service being in a state of “bureaucratic disarray” and reliant on a thriving black market. “The cost of a passport in Venezuela is $200, nearly ten times the country’s minimum wage,” Reuters reported. (The Mexican daily Milenio cited black-market rates “between US$700 and US$1,500.”) “Only 1% of 1,591 migrants who left Venezuela between June and August held a passport,” Reuters added, citing the non-governmental Observatory of Social Investigations.

Upon their expulsion, Mexico’s migration authority (National Migration Institute, or INM) has been giving Venezuelan migrants documents allowing them to stay in the country for only 15 days—and in some cases, 7 days. Nearly all lack the resources or security guarantees to “self-deport” back to Venezuela, and Mexico is unlikely to have the resources to detain thousands of undocumented Venezuelans or fly them to Caracas. The most likely outcome is that many expelled Venezuelans will turn to Mexico’s already overwhelmed asylum agency (National Refugee Assistance Commission or COMAR). COMAR’s coordinator, Andrés Ramírez, said he expects the agency to receive 10,000 asylum applications from Venezuelan citizens by the end of the year.

Human rights concerns

Criticisms of the Biden administration’s move came from many quarters:

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Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: October 13, 2022

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.

This week:

  • Mexico has agreed to a U.S. request to accept expulsions of Venezuelan citizens into its territory, using the Title 42 pandemic authority. The DHS announcement comes with the launch of a small program to allow up to 24,000 Venezuelan citizens to apply for humanitarian parole from outside the United States. Venezuelan migration to the U.S.-Mexico border, nearly all of it overland, totaled 33,000 people in September.
  • Over 48,000 people, 80 percent of them Venezuelan, transited Panama’s Darién Gap wilderness in September. The barely-governed region, once regarded as impassable, remains very dangerous for migrants who seek to walk its 60-mile-plus length.
  • A foreign ministers’ meeting alongside the OAS General Assembly session in Peru followed up on 21 countries’ commitments to improve migration management. The State Department announced in recent weeks $817 million in new migration-related assistance.
  • Mexico’s attorney general has proposed giving the National Guard, a new branch of the armed forces, a direct role in apprehending and detaining migrants, and requiring the government’s migration agency to maintain a registry of human rights defenders.
  • Texas’s troubled “Operation Lone Star” anti-migration policy was the subject of several lengthy pieces in the U.S. media over the last week, including the CBP Commissioner’s view that Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) busing of migrants has become a “pull factor” encouraging migrants to come to the border.

Mexico will now accept Title 42 expulsions of Venezuelans

“Effective immediately,” the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on October 12, “Venezuelans who enter the United States between ports of entry, without authorization, will be returned to Mexico.” A release from Mexico’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that these returns will be expulsions across the land border under Title 42.

Title 42 is a measure that U.S. authorities, in the name of limiting COVID-19’s spread, have used to quickly expel migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border over 2.2 million times. Often, these expulsions deny migrants the right to ask for asylum in the United States. Land ports of entry along the border remain closed to most asylum seekers.

The Trump administration first implemented Title 42 in March 2020. The Biden administration maintained it, then planned to suspend it in May 2022 amid declining COVID cases. A lawsuit brought by Republican state attorneys-general prevented that May suspension. Now, the Biden administration is fighting for the right to suspend Title 42 even as it expands its application to Venezuelan citizens.

As of October 12, Mexico is accepting U.S. Title 42 land-border expulsions of citizens of five countries: Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and now Venezuela. Citizens of those first four countries have made up 99 percent of recent months’ Title 42 expulsions, since land-border expulsions are cheaper and easier—both logistically and diplomatically—than expulsions by air.

As the first reports emerged of disoriented, homeless migrants returned to Mexican border cities, human rights and migrants’ rights defenders were quick to criticize the new measure. Migrants expelled to Mexico under Title 42 have been subjected to thousands of known cases of assault, rape, kidnapping, robbery, and other violent attacks. WOLA called out the Biden administration for a policy that “seeks to bring the numbers down at all costs rather than adopting measures to reopen the border to access asylum or other forms of protection,” and faulted the Mexican government for a step that “once again demonstrates its willingness to do the U.S. bidding on migration enforcement, even at the expense of the safety and well-being of migrants and asylum seekers.”

The Biden administration pushed to include Venezuelan citizens because of a sharp recent rise in arrivals of Venezuelan citizens at the U.S.-Mexico border. U.S. border authorities had encountered 153,905 Venezuelans during the first 11 months of the government’s 2022 fiscal year (October 2021-August 2022), and DHS’s release revealed that 33,000 more Venezuelans arrived at the border in September, for a full-year total of about 187,000 Venezuelan migrants. Citizens of Venezuela were the second most-encountered nationality at the border in August and September. The only other countries whose citizens have ever been encountered at the border 33,000 or more times in a single month are Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and (once, in April 2022) Cuba.

Texas Public Radio reported that “up to 660 Venezuelans have been crossing every day in El Paso alone.” This has strained the city’s short-term migrant shelter capacity, reduced when its principal humanitarian nonprofit, Annunciation House, closed the largest shelter in its network earlier this year “due to maintenance issues and a lack of volunteers,” the Guardian reported.

Along with the Title 42 expansion, DHS announced a humanitarian parole program for up to 24,000 Venezuelan refugees. As 33,000 Venezuelan migrants arrived at the border in September, this program would benefit a number equal to about 3 weeks of the current flow.

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Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: October 7, 2022

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.

This week:

  • A Mexican man was shot to death inside an El Paso-area Border Patrol station after apparently menacing agents with a pair of scissors. He is the latest in a long list of individuals to die in Border Patrol-involved use-of-force incidents. The FBI is investigating.
  • A Mexican migrant was killed, and another wounded, by two men who fired a shotgun at them in a rural area east of El Paso. One of the men was the warden of a detention facility used by ICE, where he faced complaints of violent mistreatment and use of racial slurs.
  • Other Texas updates include: the New York Times revealed the identity of “Perla,” who lured migrants into flying from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard for a stunt funded by Florida’s governor; Texas’s busloads of migrants to Democratic Party-run cities are costing the state government $1,500 per passenger; Texas is about to pay $22 million per mile to build 14 miles of border wall; and a soldier appears to be the 5th National Guardsman assigned to the Texas state government’s border mission to die by suicide.
  • Mexican authorities apprehended their third-largest ever number of migrants in August, and numbers appear to be increasing again in September. For the first time in August, citizens of Venezuela were (by far) the number-one nationality apprehended.

Mexican man shot to death in El Paso-area Border Patrol station

Agents shot and killed a Mexican migrant inside the Ysleta Border Patrol station in eastern El Paso, Texas on October 4. Manuel González Morán, a 33-year-old man from Ciudad Juárez, was shot twice and pronounced dead at an El Paso hospital.

According to an FBI statement reported by the Washington Post and a document seen by VICE, as agents opened his holding cell door to process him, González rushed out into the station’s office area. There, he reportedly grabbed a pair of scissors (which the FBI called an “edged weapon”) off of a desk, and menaced the agents with them.

Agents reportedly sought to subdue González by firing a taser at him, with no apparent result. An agent or agents then shot González at close range. One bullet grazed his arm, another pierced his temple.

“A security camera in the room was not functioning at the time of the incident,” a “person with knowledge of the investigation” told the Washington Post.

The FBI is investigating the incident, along with Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Office of Professional Responsibility. According to the Post, the FBI statement noted that González had a U.S. criminal record, a 2011 conviction for assault with a deadly weapon in Colorado.

Between October 2021 and September 14, Border Patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico border had been involved in 11 use-of-force incidents involving firearms, down from 14 in fiscal year 2021 but up from 8 in 2020 and 4 in 2019. Recent cases involving death or serious injury to migrants include:

  • An injury after agents fired at a vehicle in Calexico, California on July 11, 2022.
  • A Mexican man killed by stab wounds to the upper chest after an altercation with an agent in Douglas, Arizona on May 24, 2022.
  • A Mexican man shot to death in the desert near Douglas, Arizona on February 19, 2022; agents claim he was about to throw a rock.
  • The death of a Salvadoran migrant who became “unresponsive” after being restrained for acting “unruly” near Eagle Pass, Texas on August 2, 2021.
  • A Mexican woman who has bullet fragments lodged in her brain after an agent fired at a vehicle in which she was a backseat passenger, in Nogales, Arizona on June 16, 2021.
  • A San Diego resident shot and killed through the windshield of his car in Campo, California on May 14, 2021.
  • The shooting death of a Cuban migrant who, after emerging from the Rio Grande in Hidalgo Texas on January 29, 2021, was holding a stone.

Warden of ICE detention center arrested for shooting migrants near El Paso

Two 60-year-old Texas twin brothers were arrested and charged with manslaughter after allegedly shooting at a group of migrants in rural west Texas on September 27. They are accused of firing two shotgun rounds along a roadside near the town of Sierra Blanca, in Hudspeth County, killing a man and wounding a woman, both from Mexico.

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How Colombia’s lopsided approach to security makes Colombians less safe

Here’s the original English of an article I wrote for the Colombian analysis website Razón Pública, which they published on September 19. They had asked me to explain why Colombia faces persistently high levels of violence and insecurity, despite maintaining some of the region’s largest security forces and outspending their neighbors on security.

The answer, I argue, lies mainly in Colombia’s unbalanced approach: if you envision an entire “security sector,” Colombia has really only developed a part of it: the part that carries guns and wears uniforms.

Here’s the text:

Colombia invests robustly in its military, police, and intelligence forces. But it doesn’t invest enough in the security of its citizens. The distinction is important, because the results are tragically evident.

Colombia’s 2023 budget will include about 48 trillion pesos for its Defense Ministry. That’s about 12 percent of the General Budget of the Republic, and just a bit less than 4 percent of Colombia’s gross domestic product.

That is a lot of money. This World Bank page sorts 165 countries in the world for which data exists by percentage of GDP spent on “gasto militar,” from most to least. Scroll down from the top, and Colombia (3.38 percent in 2020) is the first country in the Americas to appear on the list. After the United States, Colombia has the largest Army and the second-largest armed forces in the Western Hemisphere.

Despite that, Colombia is no more secure than its neighbors. According to the annual “round-up” of homicide rates compiled by InsightCrime, Colombia had the Americas’ sixth-highest rate in 2021 (26.8 per 100,000 inhabitants; 27.7 according to the Defense Ministry), similar to that of Mexico, significantly higher than Brazil, El Salvador, and Guatemala, and far higher than Chile or Peru. If Colombia were a major city in the United States—a country with its own violent crime crisis—the entire country would be approximately in tenth place, well ahead of Chicago or Washington.

The government of Iván Duque left security trends moving in the wrong direction. It put most of its energy into taking down “high value targets” or cabecillas of armed groups, and killed or captured many. But between 2017 and 2021, homicides increased 15 percent, massacres and massacre victims more than doubled, and victims of mass internal displacements increased 322 percent. Colombia remains the world’s most dangerous country in which to be a human rights or environmental defender. The first six weeks of Gustavo Petro’s government has been similarly dire, with 18 massacres and the senseless killing of 8 police officers in San Luis, Huila.

What explains this mismatch between robust security expenditure and rampant insecurity? The answer lies in the lopsided and unbalanced nature of Colombia’s security investments. This expresses itself in two broad ways.

First, too much remains undone in addressing the Colombian state’s remarkable weakness in much of national territory, from the agricultural frontier to poor urban neighborhoods. The problem of state absence and territorial abandonment is historic, chronic, and covered well elsewhere. But efforts to address it remain slow and underfunded.

Six years ago, the FARC-government peace accord included an ambitious plan to address the state’s historic absence and begin providing public goods where almost none exist. Chapter 1 of this document (“comprehensive rural reform”) sought to increase state presence in neglected rural areas through Territorially Focused Development Programs (PDETs), sectoral investment plans, a multipurpose cadaster, a Lands Fund, and other initiatives.

Frustratingly, implementation of this chapter is running badly behind. The July report by a group of legislators monitoring accord implementation found that the Duque government met just 1.2 percent of what should be done each year to meet commitments for land distribution through the Lands Fund, 13.1 percent of yearly targets for land formalization, 51.7 percent of targets for the cadaster, and—most troublingly—only 37.3 percent of resources needed to implement the PDETs and stabilize state presence in territory.

The Petro government’s pledges to revive peace accord implementation are encouraging, and the ongoing regional dialogues are a step in the right direction. But much remains to be done to build state presence in ungoverned areas, as the situation has improved little in the six years since the FARC left the scene.

Second, Colombia has focused heavily on strengthening its security forces, but insufficiently on strengthening its security sector. If one regards “security” as just soldiers, police, and intelligence services, one will fail, ultimately, to enforce laws and protect citizens. What must be built up is a larger sector that requires resources, skilled personnel, independence, protection, and political backing.

Think of this “security sector” as a Parthenon-like building with many pillars, or perhaps as a shape made up of concentric layers.

The innermost layer is what most people think about when they envision “security”: highly trained people who are the only individuals in society authorized to use force or—with judicial authorization—to infringe civil liberties. They include soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, special operations forces, police, detectives, spies, and similar.

This is the part of its security sector on which Colombia has invested the most: the uniformed part of its Defense Ministry. Even here, though, there are serious unmet needs, like rural policing, rapid response capacity, de-escalatory crowd control, and other aspects of citizen protection. These get de-proritized in favor of forced coca eradication, “high-value targeting,” aerial bombardments, and other actions emblematic of the previous government’s focus on what it called “símbolos del mal.”

The next layer out consists of civilians charged with day-to-day management of these institutions. These are officials in the defense and public security ministries, ideally a solid core of people who understand threat analysis, planning, defense budget management, rules of evidence and police procedure, human rights, and similar. These institutions also include independent inspectors-general, who handle internal affairs and charges of misconduct, and who alert and accompany judicial authorities when personnel violate laws, engage in corruption, or abuse human rights.

Colombia has had civilian defense ministers for more than 30 years, and mayors share command over police, though in a sometimes confusing fashion. Still, it is hard to argue that Colombia has installed strong capacity and expertise within the civilian part of the state to manage defense issues, which remain largely left up to men (specifically, men) in uniform. Inspectors-general have faced intense institutional pressure during the times when they have truly sought to fulfill their offices’ mission.

The next layer out is another branch of government: judicial authorities, who are there to hold the security forces criminally accountable when necessary, but are especially central to investigating and punishing all criminal activity that threatens’ citizens’ safety. They include prosecutors, judges, investigators and detectives, and the prison system (or, where appropriate, those administering non-carceral alternatives).

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