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:

  • CBP encountered 14 percent fewer migrants at the border in June than in May, though it was still the busiest June since public monthly reporting began in 2000. 44 percent of encounters ended with Title 42 expulsions.
  • The nationality of migrants that increased the most was Venezuelans. This is despite Mexico’s January requirement of  visas for visiting Venezuelans: more are migrating through the dangerous Darién Gap region.
  • CBP’s data show border-zone seizures of nearly all major drugs, except possibly fentanyl, falling behind their 2021 pace. As in past years, the overwhelming majority of drugs—except cannabis—are seized at border ports of entry.
  • Following the July 12 meeting between the U.S. and Mexican presidents, Mexico detailed new border infrastructure investments, assigning many to its military. Mexico signaled that the U.S. government would offer more temporary work visas, but U.S. officials won’t confirm that.
  • Texas’s state law enforcement is rounding up migrants and dropping them at ports of entry, and sending released migrants on buses to Washington. A sergeant died on July 15, the eighth loss since October of a Texas National Guard soldier deployed to the border.

CBP’s migrant encounters dropped 14 percent in June

U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported encountering 207,416 undocumented migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in June. This was the most encounters ever for a month of June but 14 percent fewer than in May.

The Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy, prolonged by a federal court order, continues to ease repeat attempts to cross the border because it involves minimal time in CBP custody. As a result, the 207,416 “encounters” were with 153,379 actual individual people. 26 percent of CBP’s reported encounters were with people who had already been encountered at least once before in the past 12 months.

The “encounters” total includes 15,518 migrants who appeared at land ports of entry (official border crossings). The other 191,898 encounters occurred in the spaces between the ports of entry, where Border Patrol operates. This was Border Patrol’s smallest monthly total since February.

It is still a historically large number. Border Patrol has encountered migrants 1,634,104 times since October 2021, when the U.S. government’s 2022 fiscal year began. With three months to go before fiscal 2022 ends, that nearly exceeds 2021’s 1,659,206 encounters, which were the most ever reported.

Of those encountered in June, 44 percent were swiftly expelled under the Title 42 authority, which had been scheduled to end on May 23 but was prolonged by a Texas federal judge’s decision. Since the pandemic began in March 2020, Title 42 has been used to expel migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border 2,116,211 times.

In late June, Republican legislators succeeded in adding language to two 2023 appropriations bills that would keep Title 42 in place potentially for years, as reported in WOLA’s July 1 Update. More than 180 U.S. organizations, including WOLA, signed a July 15 letter calling on Congress to remove this “poison pill” language from the bills.

Mexico agreed in March 2020 to accept expelled citizens of Central America’s so-called “Northern Triangle” (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras), and in May 2022 to accept limited numbers of expelled Cubans and Nicaraguans. Other migrants are expelled by air, although only Haiti has seen a significant percentage of its migrants returned on planes (33 percent during this fiscal year).

June saw a slowdown in expulsions of citizens of countries other than Mexico and the Northern Triangle. Expulsions of Cubans and Nicaraguans dropped from 3,979 in May to 593 in June. Mexico had committed to accepting expelled Cubans and Nicaraguans until May 23, the day that Title 42 was originally slated to end. The numbers show that Mexico did not resume accepting those expulsions after the court order prolonged Title 42. Planes to Haiti, meanwhile, largely ceased: Just 15 Haitians were expelled in June.

In fact, in an encouraging development, Border Patrol encountered only 143 Haitian citizens crossing between the ports of entry in June, down from more than 7,000 in May.

The reason is a change at the ports of entry: in coordination with humanitarian organizations, CBP has been allowing a larger number of migrants considered more vulnerable to approach the ports to seek protection. The 15,518 undocumented migrants who came to ports of entry in June were the sixth-largest monthly total measured since fiscal year 2012; May was the fourth-largest monthly total. Nearly 4,000 of the  migrants allowed to approach the ports last month were Haitian. About three-quarters of them arrived at ports of entry in south Texas.

The recent experience with Haitian migrants—orderly processing of protection claims at ports of entry, with a sharp drop in improper crossings—offers a potential model for managing today’s large hemisphere-wide flows of protection-seeking migration.

Though arrivals of unaccompanied children increased slightly (4 percent) from May to June, other demographics decreased. Migrants arriving as family units dropped 13 percent from May to June, and encounters with single adults dropped 16 percent. The sharpest drop was in citizens of countries other than Mexico or the Northern Triangle: 24 percent fewer adults, and 31 percent fewer family members. This is unusual since citizens of those countries tend to be more difficult for CBP to expel under Title 42, due to either distance or poor consular relations.

The countries whose citizens’ encounters dropped the most from May to June were Mexico, Cuba, Nicaragua, Colombia, and Haiti. In percentage terms, encounters with Ukrainians also declined sharply, since the Biden administration’s “United for Ukraine” program now offers them a separate legal pathway for seeking protection.

Only a few countries—principally Venezuela, Honduras, and Guatemala—saw significant increases in migration from May to June.

Though relatively small in absolute terms, migrants from Turkey have increased sharply, from 930 in February to over 2,300 in May and June. Border Report noted that most Turks have been arriving between ports of entry in Border Patrol’s El Paso, Texas Sector: “Shelling up to $15,000 per trip, the Turks typically fly to Mexico City. The transnational criminal organizations then decide where the newly arrived will cross.”

Separately, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published its latest monthly data on enrollments in the “Remain in Mexico” program, which a June 30 Supreme Court decision allowed the Biden administration to terminate. Asylum seekers enrolled in the controversial program, rebooted by court order in December 2021, increased again in June, to 2,395 from 2,243 in May. As in past months, more than half of those made to await their U.S. court dates inside Mexico were Nicaraguan adults.

While a total of 9,653 people have been enrolled in Remain in Mexico, many have successfully argued that their lives would be in danger in Mexico, or have been taken out of the program for other reasons. As of June 30, about 5,764 people had been returned to Mexico, though 1,330 were removed from the program later, after their initial court dates on the U.S. side of the border.

114 organizations, including WOLA, signed a July 20 letter asking the Biden administration to move swiftly to terminate Remain in Mexico, including an immediate halt to new enrollments while awaiting the Supreme Court’s notification of its decision to the Texas court that ordered the program’s restart.

Venezuela migration recovers despite Mexico visa ban

CBP’s encounters with migrants from Venezuela jumped from 5,089 in May to 13,194 in June (159 percent), the largest increase of any nationality last month.

It was the largest number of Venezuelan arrivals since January (22,779), the month when Mexico—at strong U.S. suggestion—placed new visa requirements for visiting Venezuelans. As a result of those restrictions, the Inter-Agency Coordination Platform for Venezuelan Migrants and Refugees (R4V) reported, the number of Venezuelans arriving by air in Mexico plummeted from 31,518 in December to 4,333 in April.

It is not just Mexico, the latest quarterly report from the Mixed Migration Center (MMC) noted: “The visa requirements for Venezuelan citizens adopted by Guatemala, El Salvador, and Panama were replicated by Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica in early 2022. These restrictions limited the use of safe air routes to migrate from South America to the north.”

Denied a safer route to the U.S. border, dramatically more Venezuelan migrants have begun traveling by land directly from Venezuela. As noted in WOLA’s July 15 Update, Venezuelan citizens made up nearly three quarters of the 15,633 people who migrated through the dangerous Darién Gap jungle region along the Colombia-Panama border in June.

Citing a migrant, the MMC report, which includes an excellent map of the routes migrants are using, calls the Darién route “3 to 10 days ‘in hell.’” David Smolansky, the OAS Commissioner for the Venezuelan migrant crisis, tweeted on July 13 that four Venezuelan migrants had died in the Darién during the previous week. Smolansky told EFE that one of the dead was a minor and one was a former Venezuelan police official. Smolansky also noted the death, probably of hypothermia, of a Venezuelan migrant along the border between Bolivia and Chile.

Venezuelans who make it overland to Mexico often end up in Tapachula, a city near the Guatemalan border in Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost and poorest state. There, Mexican government policy requires that migrants remain in the same state while their asylum or other migration situation is resolved, which could take over a year. (See WOLA’s early June report from Tapachula.)

Tapachula has seen regular protests, sometimes called “caravans,” among the thousands of migrants stranded there. Several times in recent months, as discussed in WOLA’s July 7 Update, Mexico has resolved the protests by granting migrants temporary permission to travel through Mexico, including to the U.S. border zone where their numbers are increasing.

During the past week, about 3,000 mostly Venezuelan migrants participated in a new round of protests in Tapachula, where many are suffering from the inability to secure an income and worsening health problems. Agents from Mexico’s migration agency (National Migration Institute, INM) brought some protest participants to Tapachula’s giant immigrant detention center. Inside the “Siglo XXI” facility over the July 17-18 weekend, some of the migrants continued to protest in a way that local press reported as unruly. Mexico deported some of them on July 18 via an unusual flight to Caracas.

The MMC report estimated that as of May 2022, 6,133,473 Venezuelans had left their country—more than a fifth of its population—and that nearly 5.1 million (83 percent) were living elsewhere in Latin America and the Caribbean. “Colombia is the main recipient of Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the region (36% live in this country), followed by Peru (25%) Ecuador (10%), Chile (8%), and Brazil (6%).”

Drug seizures mostly behind 2021 pace

Border Patrol agents seized about 250 pounds of fentanyl pills at a vehicle stop in Campo, California, east of San Diego, on July 18. This single seizure is equivalent to more than a fifth of Border Patrol’s border-wide fentanyl seizures since fiscal year 2022 began in October (1,196 pounds).

85 percent of the fentanyl that CBP has found at the border this fiscal year has been seized by CBP Field Operations officers at ports of entry, not by Border Patrol agents in areas between the ports, like Campo. The same goes for most other common drugs like heroin (84 percent seized at ports of entry), cocaine (87 percent), and methamphetamine (92 percent). The exception is cannabis, 84 percent of which has been seized by Border Patrol this fiscal year.

Cannabis seizures, however, have plummeted over the last decade as more U.S. states have legalized recreational and medical use of marijuana. The 58,000 pounds of cannabis seized at the border during the first 9 months of fiscal 2022 are equivalent to what would have been seized in a typical week in 2013.

Seizures of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine during the first nine months of fiscal 2022 are behind where they were at the same time in 2021. Seizures of fentanyl are slightly behind 2021—or at least they were before the large July 18 seizure in California.

Outcomes of Biden-AMLO meeting

Following his July 12 Washington meeting with President Joe Biden, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador discussed follow-on commitments for border infrastructure, and less-clear U.S. commitments on temporary work visas.

At the July 12 meeting, López Obrador committed to investing US$1.5 billion in Mexico’s border infrastructure between now and 2024. Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department announced that it would devote 17.2 billion pesos (US$832 million) for construction at 12 border crossings.

The Department is also transferring 14.6 billion pesos (US$706 million) to Mexico’s military (National Defense Department, SEDENA) for improvements to 19 customs facilities. Among many previously civilian roles that he has assigned to the military since taking office in 2018, López Obrador has placed the army in charge of Mexico’s customs system. The Mexican President also committed to installing more military posts near crossings in the border state of Tamaulipas.

In remarks on July 14, López Obrador said that the U.S. government had agreed to increase temporary work visas for migrants from Mexico and especially for Central America. No U.S. official confirmed that an increase in visas was forthcoming.

On June 22, Mexico’s Interior Secretary had stated that the U.S. government was agreeing to 150,000 temporary work visas for Mexicans or foreigners currently in Mexico, and 150,000 more for Central American countries. (Currently, according to the Migration Policy Institute, about 10,000 temporary visas are available each year to citizens of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.)

This was not announced during López Obrador’s July 12 visit. Still, Reuters reported on July 14 that Mexico’s ambassador in Washington, Esteban Moctezuma, predicted a robust increase in H2A temporary work visas, to 260,000. Again, Washington did not confirm.

The largest news item to emerge in the wake of the Mexican President’s visit was the presumably unrelated July 15 arrest in Sinaloa of Rafael Caro Quintero, a veteran drug trafficker wanted in the United States for crimes including the 1985 murder of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Enrique Camarena.

Texas updates

As of July 14, a week after Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued an executive order demanding it, Texas state police and National Guardsmen had captured at least 903 migrants and dropped them off at border ports of entry. “This helps us immediately because we’re not waiting hours for Border Patrol to come get them,” said Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw. As noted in WOLA’s July 7   Update, Gov. Abbott’s order is of dubious legality, as it employs state law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law.

Abbott, a critic of the Biden administration’s migration policies who is up for re-election in November, has been using Texas state funds since April to send busloads of migrants to Washington, DC after their releases from CBP custody. To date, the Washington Examiner reported, Texas has sent 125 buses carrying 4,800 migrants to Washington, at a cost to the state’s taxpayers of $6.8 million ($1,416.67 per migrant). Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) joined in May, using state funds to send 27 buses with over 1,000 migrants to Washington.

The Washington Post reported that the pace of migrant buses in Washington “has doubled in the last weeks.” This has surpassed the capacities of a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)-funded nonprofit that had been receiving the migrants on Wednesdays through Saturdays, and of a coalition of donor-supported volunteers that had been working on other days.

Meanwhile Gov. Abbott continues to use state funds for a deployment of National Guard personnel to the border. Currently about 6,000 troops are assigned to the border mission, down from 10,000 earlier this year, according to Stars and Stripes. The mission is running low on cash: the Texas Military Department is asking for another $1.35 billion because its budget will run out in September, the Dallas Morning News reported.

On July 14, 52-year-old Sergeant Alex Ríos Rodríguez died of a pulmonary blood clot at his quarters in McAllen, Texas. “The incident occurred shortly after he’d completed a shift at a security point along the border,” on a day when the temperature reached 99 degrees, Army Times noted. Sgt. Ríos is the eighth soldier assigned to Gov. Abbott’s “Operation Lone Star” border mission to have died since October 2021. Four died by suicide in October through December. Two died of accidental shootings in January and February. A seventh soldier drowned while trying to rescue migrants in the Rio Grande in April.

Other News

  • “In the 100-mile border zone, a Latino driver may be considered reasonably suspicious because he stared at a passing [Border Patrol] agent or because he wouldn’t make eye contact,” Reece Jones, author of a new book about Border Patrol, Nobody Is Protected, wrote in the Los Angeles Times.
  • Documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union show that CBP was among DHS agencies that purchased large amounts of location data from a contractor that harvested it from hundreds of millions of phones across the United States. “In just three days in 2018, the documents show that the CBP collected data from more than 113,000 locations from phones in the Southwestern United States—equivalent to more than 26 data points per minute—without obtaining a warrant,” Politico reported.
  • The Intercept reported on a July 7 CBP briefing memo prepared ahead of a leadership meeting with the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG). It advises non-cooperation with the oversight agency, instructing “on how to push back against what it calls the inspector general’s ‘persistent’ request for ‘direct, unfettered access to CBP systems,’ as part of its ‘high number of OIG audits covering a variety of CBP program areas.’ In a section titled ‘Watch Out For/ If Asked,’ the memo describes a number of exemptions Customs and Border Protection can rely on to evade records requests from the inspector general’s office—including national security exemptions.”
  • For the second time since June 13, CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus met with the head of Mexico’s migration agency (INM), “to discuss the security relationships between the two countries as they work toward strengthening border security.”
  • A letter from Rep. James Comer (R-Kentucky), the ranking Republican on the House of Representatives’ Oversight Committee, and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-New York), chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, demands information from DHS about support for humanitarian NGOs assisting migrants released into the United States. “Under the Biden Administration, NGOs have been used as a tool to enable the mass-release of hundreds of thousands of illegal border crossers into the United States,” the letter reads.
  • Since October, Border Patrol agents in the San Diego Sector say, “5,000 rescues have been initiated for migrants who get in trouble while trying to scale the border barrier or after they’ve crossed the border.” One senior agent told Border Report, “Although migrants are told to come up over with these ladders, they do not know there’s not a ladder on the other side.”
  • Texas’s two Republican senators invited four colleagues to tour the border. At a press conference capping the visit, according to the Rio Grande Valley Monitor, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was asked about a solution to the border crisis: “‘I believe the solution…’ he said, but moved to another thought, ‘I think November is going to be a red tidal wave.’” (Cruz was referring to the upcoming midterm congressional elections.)
  • Gun battles between organized crime groups closed roads and sent populations fleeing along what had been a relatively quiet migration and smuggling route near Mexico’s border with Guatemala, between Frontera Comalapa and Comitán, where the Pan-American Highway enters Chiapas.