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.


Preliminary data revealed by the Washington Post point to Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants increasing from just under 100,000 to about 130,000 from June to July. The lull in migration that followed the end of the Title 42 policy has ended. This erodes the narrative that the Biden administration’s tough new asylum rule—recently struck down by a federal court but still in place for now—has deterred migration. Rights groups filed a new legal challenge to CBP’s use of its “CBP One” app to limit asylum seekers’ access to ports of entry. Meanwhile, data from Panama, Honduras, and elsewhere point to continued increases in migration.

The past week’s developments in Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) “Operation Lone Star” include revelations that Texas police are arresting migrant fathers for “trespassing” and separating them from their families; the discovery of two deceased people’s remains in or near the “buoy wall” that Abbott ordered built in the Rio Grande at Eagle Pass in July; the Eagle Pass City Council’s revocation of a legal document that Operation Lone Star has used to carry out its activities there; and the Biden administration’s imminent drawdown of active-duty troops deployed border-wide in May.

As of July 27, the appropriations committees of the Democratic-majority Senate and the Republican-majority House of Representatives have both approved draft legislation funding the Department of Homeland Security in 2024. The bills, which Congress must reconcile into a single budget, differ widely in overall amounts, and in border-relevant items like funding for wall construction, Border Patrol hiring, shelter funds, and ICE detention beds.


Border Patrol apprehensions increased 30% in July

Citing preliminary data from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Washington Post reported that Border Patrol’s apprehensions of migrants between the U.S.-Mexico border’s ports of entry jumped by more than 30 percent from June to July. “U.S. agents made more than 130,000 arrests along the Mexico border last month, preliminary figures show, up from 99,545 in June,” reporters Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti revealed.

The fastest growth was in Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, which comprises most of Arizona, despite a long string of days there with temperatures exceeding 110 degrees. The 40,000 apprehensions in July were the most that the Tucson sector has measured since April 2008. As recently as December 2022, Tucson was in 5th place for migrant apprehensions among Border Patrol’s 9 U.S.-Mexico border sectors. Unnamed CBP officials told the Post that migrant smugglers have shifted to desert areas west of Nogales “because they know U.S. authorities have limited detention space and migrants who cross into Arizona are more likely to be quickly released.”

NBC News, also citing preliminary data, reported that Border Patrol’s daily average apprehensions of family-unit members (parents traveling with children) tripled from early June to late July, from 790 to 2,230 per day. An unnamed CBP official told the Washington Post that “parents with children comprise about half of the migrants currently held in CBP custody.”

Based on current trends, NBC predicted that August’s Border Patrol migrant apprehensions could increase to 160,000. If that happens, migration will have recovered to the high levels last seen in May (171,387), the last month before the Biden administration replaced the Title 42 pandemic policy with a restrictive new asylum rule. Migration dropped sharply in the weeks after Title 42’s termination, but as WOLA’s recent Border Updates have noted, that lull is now ending.

The asylum rule, facing revocation

As covered in many recent updates, the Biden administration had replaced Title 42 with an administrative rule that blocks access to asylum, with some exceptions, to all non-Mexican migrants who (a) come to the border between ports of entry (land border crossings), instead of making an appointment using Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) “CBP One” smartphone app; and (b) did not try and fail to seek asylum in at least one other country along their route. People subjected to the rule are deported—and deported into Mexico if they are citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, or Venezuela—and banned from entry into the United States for five years.

In a July 27 exchange with Spanish-language journalists, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) assistant secretary for border and immigration policy, Blas Núñez-Neto, revealed that since the rule went into effect on May 11, his Department has deported more than 85,000 people to 115 countries (not all of them asylum seekers). Of that total, 4,000 of the deportees were citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela returned back into Mexico, as the Mexican government agreed when Title 42 ended. The rest are Mexican citizens sent back to Mexico, or other countries’ citizens placed aboard deportation flights, which total about 120 per month.

The emerging July apprehension totals indicate that this asylum rule is not deterring desperate migrants. “Each crackdown is followed by a short-term drop in apprehensions, as migrants adopt a “wait and see” approach,” Dara Lind observed in a July 28 analysis for the American Immigration Council’s Immigration Impact site. “But as it becomes clear that at least some people are successfully getting into the U.S. – and as situations in migrants’ home countries, or the countries they’re waiting in, may become harder to bear – border apprehensions start to increase again.”

As noted in WOLA’s July 28 Border Update, the asylum ban is in legal peril anyway. A U.S. district judge struck it down on July 25, agreeing with migrant rights defenders who argued that it is contrary to existing law guaranteeing the right to seek asylum. The Biden administration is appealing this decision, and on August 3 the  federal judiciary’s Ninth Circuit kept the asylum rule in place while deliberations continue. Should the Ninth Circuit’s eventual decision concur with the district court and strike the rule down, the administration may go to the Supreme Court.

203 civil, human rights, and immigrant rights organizations (including WOLA) signed an August 2 letter to President Joe Biden asking him to desist from appealing the district judge’s July 25 decision and “redouble your focus on effective, humane, and legal solutions.” A letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland from 13 U.S. senators and 53 representatives, all Democrats, called for an end to application of “expedited removal” to asylum seekers, a process requiring people to defend their cases within days of apprehension while still in CBP’s austere custody conditions, usually with no access to counsel.

CBP One, an insufficient “carrot”

Along with its tough asylum rule, the Biden administration has sought to keep post-Title 42 Border Patrol apprehensions low by steering asylum seekers to the ports of entry (official border crossings), creating a system of appointments accessible from northern Mexico using CBP One, a smartphone app. CBP One appointments now total 1,450 per day, leading in recent months to record numbers of migrants able to access the ports of entry instead of crossing rivers, climbing border fencing, or otherwise ending up in Border Patrol custody.

That number of appointments still means migrants must wait, usually unemployed and insecure, for weeks or months in Mexican border cities before they get a chance to approach the ports of entry. In Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas, that has spurred the formation of a massive encampment of migrants along a mile-long stretch of the Rio Grande, despite a recent reported increase—from 350 to 600 per day—in CBP One appointments at the Brownsville port of entry.

In the midst of a deadly, historic heat wave in much of the border zone, this has been intolerable for many migrants, Sister Norma Pimentel, who runs Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and its migrant shelter services in south Texas, told NBC News. “She said many of the families who come to her shelter are there because they can no longer wait in the ‘merciless heat’ and live under the threat of violence in Mexico.”

In the organized crime-dominated border city of Nuevo Laredo, hundreds of migrants staged a protest at the Mexican end of one of the border bridges. They were “complaining about scheduling asylum interviews in the United States,” Border Report noted. “Some were part of the 2,000 asylum-seekers who had arrived in Nuevo Laredo a few weeks ago after inaccurate rumors circulated in Mexico that no appointment was needed to cross the international bridge.”

By making CBP One the only certain path to the asylum process, advocates argue that CBP has effectively reinstated “metering”—the practice of limiting asylum seekers’ access to ports of entry—which was struck down by a federal court in 2021. Many of the same organizations involved in the earlier case filed a new lawsuit on July 27. “People arriving at POEs [ports of entry] have the right to seek asylum without artificial caps or technological barriers,” stated the American Immigration Council, which is among groups representing the organizations Al Otro Lado and Haitian Bridge Alliance, along with 10 individuals turned away at ports of entry.

Other legal pathways

In addition to asylum appointments, the Biden administration continues to implement other new programs that aim to steer migrants away from crossing between ports of entry.

A July 25 DHS fact sheet provided the first public number of citizens of four countries granted a two-year humanitarian parole status, which permits up to 30,000 applicants per month to enter the United States via airports if they possess passports and have U.S.-based sponsors. Nearly 160,000 people have arrived in the United States under this program since it was made available to Venezuelans in October 2022 and to the other 3 countries in January 2023:

  • Haiti: more than 63,000 approved for travel, more than 50,000 arrived
  • Venezuela: more than 58,000 approved, more than 48,500 arrived
  • Cuba: more than 38,000 approved, more than 35,000 arrived
  • Nicaragua: more than 29,500 approved, nearly 21,500 arrived

Republican states have sued to stop the humanitarian parole program, which relies on a presidential parole authority dating back to a 1950s law. The case goes before a Texas district court judge for arguments on August 24.

At the July 27 briefing with DHS’s Núñez-Neto, the State Department’s principal deputy assistant secretary of population, refugees, and migration, Martha Youth, gave an update about the U.S. government’s effort to set up “Secure Mobility Offices” around Latin America (covered in depth in WOLA’s June 30 Border Update). “To date,” Youth stated, “we have registered about 18,000 people in Guatemala and Colombia through the movilidadsegura.org website. In Guatemala, more than 650 people have already been referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. In Costa Rica, more than 250 people have been referred to the Program and about 200 people have been admitted to settlement in Spain.” Data are not yet available for Colombia.

Some migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela who are already in Mexico will be able to apply, from “an international multipurpose space” in southern Mexico, for the U.S. government’s refugee resettlement program, according to a brief July 28 announcement from the White House National Security Council. In January, the White House had announced its intention to increase refugee admissions from Latin America and the Caribbean to 20,000 per year. While relatively small, this program provides some government benefits to assist resettlement; the U.S. asylum program, by contrast, provides none and does not even allow application for work permits until an application is six months old.

Increased migration elsewhere along the U.S.-bound route

The end of the post-Title 42 drop in migration, which is challenging the Biden administration’s “carrot and stick” approach, is very much in evidence further south along the U.S.-bound migration route.

  • Panamanian authorities announced (but have not yet published data) that 52,530 people passed through the treacherous Darién Gap region in July, the second-largest monthly total ever. On July 31 alone, Panamanian authorities received 1,869 people at the Darien route’s western extremity. An until-recently unthinkable 248,901 people migrated through the Darién in the first 7 months of 2023, already breaking Panama’s annual record set last year. More than half (136,650) were Venezuelan. Visiting the area, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Will Freeman reported that the Colombian side of this route is firmly controlled by the Gulf Clan neo-paramilitary group, while the Panama side is more anarchic and even less safe for migrants.
  • In Honduras, the government’s migration authority reported registering 46,779 migrants passing through the country in the first 30 days of July, smashing the previous monthly record of 30,775 set in October 2022.
  • Guatemala—which takes a more punitive approach to in-transit migration than do Panama or Honduras— reported detaining, and expelling back into Honduras, 105 migrants, 87 of them Venezuelan and 12 Chinese, on July 31. The country’s police have expelled 12,137 migrants so far this year.
  • Financial remittances from Ecuador to Mexico jumped 283 percent from the first 3 months of 2022 to the first 3 months of 2023, according to Ecuador’s central bank. This appears to reflect people in Ecuador sending money to loved ones migrating through Mexico, including those needing to pay smugglers and those kidnapped and held for ransom.
  • An encampment of hundreds of migrants has formed on the Mexican bank of the Suchiate River, which forms part of the border between the state of Chiapas and Guatemala. “The migrants pointed out that there are few immigration personnel to attend to them, and some have been waiting up to seven days for an appointment to process an entry and transit permit for the country,” Milenio reported.
  • Mexico’s refugee agency, COMAR, posted on August 3 that it received 11,226 asylum applications in July. COMAR is on pace to reach over 150,000 asylum applications in 2023; its previous annual record is 129,751 (2021). The top nationalities of asylum applicants in July were Honduras, Haiti, Cuba, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Venezuela was in sixth place; relatively few Venezuelans (526 in July) apply for asylum in Mexico.

Texas is now separating families

Texas’s state government continues to draw national attention for its punitive approach to border security and migration, and for its sharp criticism of the Biden administration. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) plans to spend $9.5 billion in state funds between 2021 and 2025 on fence construction, police and national guard deployments, arrests of migrants on state trespassing charges, busing of asylum seekers to Democratic-governed cities, and other measures that he calls “Operation Lone Star” (OLS).

Abbott’s policies drew an outcry in July when a state police whistleblower revealed that OLS was causing asylum seekers to be wounded by razor wire, placed at risk of drowning, and denied requests for water (see WOLA’s July 21 Border Update).

New developments in Texas have emerged in the past few days.

  • Citing Kristin Etter, an attorney and special project director at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, the Houston Chronicle and CNN revealed that Texas state troopers have begun to separate migrant families. On at least 26 occasions that Etter knows about since July 10, Texas personnel have stopped parents with children, arrested the fathers for trespassing, and turned the mothers and kids over to Border Patrol. The fathers, taken to state prisons, have no way to know where their children or partners are.

    In some cases, the Texas police have entrapped the families into “trespassing” by encouraging them to set foot on state or private property, even cutting concertina wire to allow them to do so. Texas police have also begun wearing green uniforms similar to those of Border Patrol, leading families to believe that they are turning themselves in to federal agents to seek asylum.
  • In Eagle Pass on August 2, the remains of two deceased people were found stuck in, or near, the 1,000-foot barrier of buoys and netting that Gov. Abbott had ordered placed in the middle of the river in July (see WOLA’s July 14 Border Update). One of the victims was a boy from Honduras.
  • Texas authorities have been using a 47-acre park, which takes up most of downtown Eagle Pass’s waterfront on the Rio Grande, as a staging area for OLS activities, including arrests and placement of barriers. That has relied on a legal fiction: in June 2022 the city’s mayor had signed an affidavit declaring Shelby Park to be his “personal property,” thus facilitating trespassing arrests. On August 1, the Eagle Pass City Council voted unanimously to rescind that affidavit. That will require Texas to enter into negotiations with the town for future park use, and “could result in hundreds of criminal trespassing cases against migrants being tossed out of court,” Texas Public Radio reported.
  • The governors of Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Nebraska sent small contingents of national guardsmen to the Texas border, where they are under state—not federal—authority supporting OLS. This week’s deployments increase to 13 the number of Republican state governors who have sent guardsmen to the border.
  • The federal government continues to maintain a presence of 2,300 national guardsmen on a separate mission in all four border states, generally in rearguard supporting positions meant to free up CBP personnel. The Biden administration had increased that deployment by 1,500 active-duty troops in May, as Title 42 ended; that military presence is now being drawn down, with 1,100 to conclude their 90-day mission by August 8 and the remaining 400 leaving by August 31.

Congressional appropriators finish draft 2024 Homeland Security bills

The Appropriations Committee of the Democratic-majority Senate met on August 27 to approve its version of the 2024 DHS budget. The hearing web page includes links to the bill, the Committee’s narrative report, and a summary. In the Republican-majority House of Representatives, the Appropriations Committee had approved a much different 2024 DHS funding bill on June 21 (see WOLA’s June 23 Border Update). The two houses will have to reconcile their diverging versions of the measure when the U.S. Congress returns from a month-long August recess.

The Senate appropriators provide $61.3 billion in discretionary funding for DHS, about $600 million more than the Department’s 2023 budget, $900 million more than the Biden administration had requested in March (see WOLA’s March 17 Border Update), and $1.5 billion less than the House appropriators approved in June.

The Senate bill would provide CBP $18.1 billion in 2024, very close to the 2023 level, $1.6 billion more than the Biden administration request, and $1.8 billion less than the House.

The Senate bill, like the Biden administration’s request, includes no new money for building border walls and barriers in 2024. The House bill provides $2.2 billion for that purpose.

The Senate bill provides $11 million “to hire an additional 145 Border Patrol agents, bringing the funded level to 20,000 agents.” The House bill would dedicate $496 million to increase Border Patrol’s authorized staffing level to 22,000, funding 1,795 more additional agents than the 350 that the Biden administration had requested.

The Senate bill would hire 700 new CBP officers at ports of entry throughout the country, more than the 150 the administration had requested; the House did not appear to specify a number.

The Senate bill would provide $719 million to CBP “to improve the detection and seizure of fentanyl and other narcotics at ports of entry,” enough to increase the number of passenger vehicles scanned at the POEs from 40 to 65 percent. The administration request had sought $305 million for “Non-Intrusive Inspection Systems, with a primary focus on fentanyl detection at ports of entry.”

The Senate bill would provide $752 million to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Shelter and Services Program, which provides short-term services to migrants released into the United States. That is slightly decreased from 2023 levels, the National Immigrant Justice Center observed in a statement that was quite critical of the Senate bill. The House had cut this program entirely, and neither house funded an administration request for a $4.7 billion contingency fund to respond flexibly to large migration increases at the border.

The Senate bill would increase the budget of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) beyond the administration’s request. This would include funding for 34,000 detention beds. The administration had requested funding for 25,000 beds, and the House bill would fund 41,000.

Senate appropriators’ narrative report voiced concern about the independence and autonomy of the Office of the Immigration Detention Ombudsman (OIDO), a new oversight body created in 2020. The House bill would defund OIDO completely.

The House bill would prohibit funding for use of the CBP One app to manage the entry of migrants. The Senate bill included no such provision.

Selected border-related items in the DHS budget

2023 level2024 Biden administration request2024 House Appropriations Committee2024 Senate Appropriations Committee
Total discretionary funding for DHS$60.7 billion$60.4 billion$62.8 billion$61.3 billion
CBP budget$18.0 billion$16.4 billion$19.9 billion$18.1 billion
New walls and barriersNoneNone$2.2 billionNone
Border Patrol hiring300 new agents350 new agents2,145 new agents145 new agents
CBP Officer hiring125 new officers150 new officersNot specified700 new officers
FEMA Shelter and Services program$800 million$83 million, plus parts of a $4.7 billion contingency fund for “surge” responseNone$752 million
ICE detention beds34,00025,00041,00034,000

When the divided Congress returns from recess in September, it will have to reconcile these two very different versions of the Homeland Security appropriation, whether as separate bills passed by each house or a single “omnibus” bill combining other federal departments’ budgets. The 2024 fiscal year starts on October 1, though Congress could keep the government running after that date by passing a “continuing resolution” keeping funding temporarily at 2023 levels.

Axios reported on July 27 that DHS is facing a severe budget shortfall well before October 1. The reason is costs incurred this year by “efforts to manage large numbers of migrants and asylum seekers illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border” and “anti-drug trafficking measures.” The Department has already notified Congress of plans to move about $1 billion among categories within its existing 2023 budget, but it may ask Congress for about $2 billion in supplemental funds just to get to the end of the fiscal year.

Other news

  • With an August 2 webinar, WOLA and the Kino Border Initiative released an in-depth report about CBP’s and Border Patrol’s persistent pattern of human rights violations, the shortcomings of the Department of Homeland Security accountability process, and more than 40 policy recommendations.
  • The DHS Inspector-General’s office must pay $1.17 million to a former employee who alleges she was the victim of whistleblower retaliation from Joseph Cuffari, the Trump appointee who has had an embattled tenure as the DHS inspector-general.
  • In June, El Paso-based Border Patrol agent Fernando Castillo offered a migrant “papers” and the ability to stay in the United States in exchange for a $5,000 bribe, and stole $500 from the migrant’s property bag, according to court documents.
  • A 25-year-old off-duty Border Patrol agent died in McAllen, Texas following an altercation with local police, who claim he was inebriated and fired a weapon at them from his car.
  • In the pre-dawn hours of June 26, Mexican National Guard soldiers beat migrants and fired their weapons at them “on at least nine occasions” as they sought to sleep below the Ciudad Juárez side of the Paso del Norte bridge that leads to El Paso, according to video footage reported by La Verdad de Juárez. Migrants say that some threw rocks in retaliation after the guardsmen harassed a Venezuelan man under the bridge.
  • Eight badly burned survivors of a March 27 migrant detention facility fire in Ciudad Juárez, which killed 40 people, are now living in a Mexico City hotel and “now feel trapped, with no money to move,” the Associated Press reported.
  • A Cubadata poll of 1,776 Cubans living on the island found 58 percent wanted to emigrate, 25 percent not sure, and only 17 percent certain that they wanted to remain.
  • Migrants from Venezuela, Cuba, El Salvador, Peru, Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala, and Ecuador represented their countries in a “Copa América Migrante” soccer tournament in Ciudad Juárez, EFE reported.