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.
- 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.
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:
- A joint statement from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM): “We remain concerned by asylum restrictions that are inconsistent with international law standards, including those imposed through Title 42 public health action, and reiterate the call for their urgent termination. Many people subject to this measure since its implementation in March 2020 have been sent to border communities with significant security challenges, limited support networks and inadequate shelter capacities, making their return to Mexico both dangerous and unsustainable.”
- Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “I cannot support any program that creates additional requirements for Venezuelans and is coupled with an inexcusable expansion of Trump’s Title 42. Expanding Title 42 to now include Venezuelans adds salt to an open wound while further eroding our asylum system that President Biden promised to restore.”
- 140 U.S. non-governmental organizations, including WOLA: “While litigation has forced the continuation of the Title 42 policy, this administration bears sole responsibility for expanding the policy and negotiating with Mexico to increase turn-backs. Inevitably, this will push many asylum seekers to dangerous crossings away from official border posts and leave them even more vulnerable to human trafficking.”
- Numerous Mexican non-governmental organizations: “People of all nationalities have the right to seek asylum in both Mexico and the United States, but the treatment of a population that is currently recognized as refugees at a rate of about 97% by the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR) in Mexico is of concern; a figure that supports the government’s explicit recognition of attention to a population in need of protection.”
- WOLA: “WOLA is alarmed by the Biden administration’s response to the record numbers of Venezuelan migrants and refugees arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, which 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. The Mexican government’s acceptance of Venezuelans under Title 42 expulsions 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. …An increase in the number of migrants subject to this program will only add to the number of vulnerable people who are preyed upon by Mexican criminal organizations, at times working in collusion with Mexican officials.”
Human rights and humanitarian groups present in Mexican border cities have voiced other strong human rights concerns about the way the expulsions are occurring. Dana Graber Ladek, IOM’s Mexico chief of mission, told Reuters that those expelled include single mothers, pregnant women, and people with illnesses. There have been reports of husbands and wives being separated, with the spouses expelled hundreds of miles apart. Migrants interviewed by the Rio Grande Valley Monitor spoke of poor conditions in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody, held “for up to nine days but only receiv[ing] apples to eat and water to drink without access to showers.” Others reported non-return of documents or damage to personal items like telephones.
Charity-run migrant shelters in Mexican border cities report being very full even before the expelled Venezuelans arrived. In Ciudad Juárez, IOM said that shelters started out at 80 percent capacity while “some already can’t receive people.” Pastor Rosalio Sosa, who heads a network of more than a dozen shelters across the border from Texas, told the Dallas Morning News: “We’re going from a very chaotic situation to an explosive one. Human traffickers are salivating.”
Elsewhere across from Texas, the Associated Press reported, the Casa del Migrante in Matamoros admitted at least 120 Venezuelans on October 13, and a lawyer at the Piedras Negras Casa del Migrante warned, “We are on the verge of collapse.” The Juventud 2000 shelter in Tijuana is at its fullest since it opened ten years ago, nearly 50 percent over capacity.
El Paso began seeing a sharp increase in Venezuelan arrivals in early September (see WOLA’s September 16 update), and Ciudad Juárez, across the Rio Grande, has so far received the most expelled people. The U.S. expulsions more than swamped shelter capacity; after the new measures went into effect, dozens of people, including families, were forced to sleep out in the open under blankets in the nighttime autumn cold, around the state government’s migrant assistance center near the Paso del Norte Bridge. “Ciudad Juarez has faced challenges in this area, this is a new challenge and it is a scenario where capacities are exhausted,” said Enrique Valenzuela, coordinator of the Chihuahua state government’s Population Council (COESPO), which runs the assistance center. “Now we continue to serve the people who are here and we will try to find more spaces for this population.”
About 160 “confused and distraught” Venezuelan migrants held a peaceful protest in Matamoros on October 14, marching to the Puente Nuevo bridge connecting the city to Brownsville, Texas. CBP closed the bridge to all traffic for several hours.
Migrants expelled via the Chaparral/San Ysidro port of entry between San Diego and Tijuana were among those given only seven days to exit Mexico. “Baja California officials are scrambling to stop rumors about pending deportations back to Venezuela,” according to Border Report. Police were deployed on the evening of October 17 to Tijuana’s INM facilities, where about 300 expelled migrants held a protest that local media described as a “riot.”
Further south, Mexico’s capital is receiving both expelled Venezuelan migrants bused back from the border, and Venezuelan migrants still traveling toward the United States from southern Mexico. Milenio spoke to members of a group of about 100 migrants who, after being expelled to Matamoros and “without being explained anything,” were “placed on buses that brought them to Mexico City, where they were left to fend for themselves.”
On October 18 the Mexican daily noted a “second straight day” of long lines forming outside COMAR’s Mexico City offices as Venezuelans began entering Mexico’s asylum process. COMAR had received 86,621 asylum applications during the first 9 months of 2022, of whom 8,665 were Venezuelan—the fourth most frequent nationality of applicants. This number is now likely to increase sharply. Organizations and shelters in Mexico City are organizing and requesting donations to support the arrival of additional Venezuelan migrants.
San Pedro Tapanatepec
A small town in Oaxaca, in Mexico’s Isthmus of Tehuántepec, has recently become the place where Venezuelan migrants have gone to receive an INM document (“Multiple Migration Form” or FMM) allowing them to stay in the country for 30 days, which has eased further travel to the U.S. border. “San Pedro Tapanatepec had 7,000 migrants, about 75% Venezuelans, when The Associated Press visited at the beginning of October,” the agency reported. By October 17, the town’s mayor told AP that the number had doubled to 14,000, staying in five large tent shelters.
The flow of FMMs has slowed down recently, increasing migrants’ wait time to three or four days. Milenio reports that the new U.S. policy has added more uncertainty. “Now they’re stranded, and the number is growing as long as immigration procedures are not expedited.”
Further south in Tapachula, Chiapas, near Mexico’s border with Guatemala, migrants from Venezuela and elsewhere “sleep in public squares, where they have set up tents, while others use sheets, plastic or cardboard to spend the night,” EFE reported. Since the new policy’s announcement, migrants have organized a few “caravans,” totaling a few thousand people, whose destinations appear to be San Pedro Tapantepec.
The INM has warned that Venezuelans who travel in “caravans” or other irregular means will not be able to access the U.S. humanitarian parole policy, reminding migrants that the agency controls who is able to access an airport to board a plane to the United States.
In Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas, near Tapachula along the borderline with Guatemala, EFE reported that migrants, many of them Venezuelan, continue to arrive in rafts crossing the Suchiate River from San Marcos, Guatemala. “Migrants cross in broad daylight and in full view of the few agents of Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM), who can do little or nothing to stop the flow.”
Further south, Venezuelan migrants continue to report having a difficult time transiting Guatemala. On October 12, Jeff Abbott reported at the Progressive, nearly 400 mostly Venezuelan migrants spent the night at a bus station south of Guatemala City “because the buses were charging them double to take them towards the [Mexico] border.” The next day, another 290 Venezuelan migrants arrived at the station. Guatemalan police have begun surrounding and detaining migrants at the station, taking some to the Guatemalan Migration Institute’s “migrant attention center” elsewhere in the capital.
Guatemalan media have observed migrants arriving, and being detained by police and soldiers, in the southeastern border states of Chiquimula, Zacapa, and Izabal. The government reports having blocked the entry of about 10,000 Venezuelan migrants so far this year, including 2,354 during the first 16 days of October, mainly via Honduras. Most or all of them later manage to cross between official border posts. Migratory patterns have recently shifted, Abbott notes, from crossing the sparsely populated Petén, a region of jungles and cattle ranches, to crossing “through the central region of Guatemala to the western border with Mexico.”
Migrants continue to denounce frequently having to pay bribes to corrupt police while transiting Guatemala. According to Guatemala’s Prosecutor’s Office Against the Smuggling of Migrants, a police agent can receive up to 10,000 quetzales ($1,275) “for permitting or collaborating with the transfer of migrants.”
In Honduras, migrants have begun to cross from Nicaragua into the eastern department of Olancho. 300 people arrived in Olancho’s capital, Juticalpa, in the pre-dawn hours of October 14. Near the Honduras-Guatemala border in El Paraíso, migrants told the Honduran news site Criterio, “When they mentioned that they were Venezuelan or Cuban, they were immediately detained longer and asked to fill out other forms. The procedure was different for them than for Haitian, Nicaraguan and other migrants.”
Still further south, the number of migrants crossing Panama’s treacherous Darién Gap jungles remains at historic highs. Juan Pino, Panama’s minister of public security, revealed on October 17 that 187,644 migrants had arrived through the Darién Gap since January 1. This exceeds, by 60 percent, the total number of people who took this migration route in 11 years between 2010 and 2020. 36,062 people had arrived in the first 16 days of October alone, and over 9,000 are in the Panamanian government’s reception camps at the jungle trail’s endpoints.
EFE reported about migrants’ use of TikTok to document the journey. Some videos show remains of migrants who perished in the jungle, often of illnesses, drownings, animal attacks, or even homicide. Migrants who have passed through this ungoverned area often report seeing abandoned bodies along the way.
Panama’s foreign minister, Janaina Tawney, said that upon the U.S. announcement of Title 42’s extension to Venezuelans, “coordination began immediately” with the governments of the United States and Costa Rica on “the manner in which assistance of any kind is to be received, or to make a request for technical or logistical cooperation for the management of this crisis.”
The commander of U.S. Southern Command, Gen. Laura Richardson, visited the Darién during a trip to Panama for a bilateral security dialogue. Gen. Richardson was on hand for the delivery of a Beechcraft King Air 250 aircraft for Panama’s border force (National Border Service, Senafront). Pino, the security minister, said that Seafront would deploy 300 agents to the Darién and the Colombia border zone.
At the beginning of the Darién route, in the Caribbean coastal town of Necoclí where Colombia’s road network ends, 10,000 mostly Venezuelan migrants have been waiting turns to take boats across the Gulf of Urabá to the jungle trail. After the U.S. Title 42 announcement, many of them reportedly gave up and are leaving Necoclí. The coastal town received a visit from the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Colombia and ambassador of the U.S. Venezuela Affairs Unit, who reinforced the message about expulsions and the new humanitarian parole policy.
Still further south, press in Ecuador continue to report on Venezuelan migrants migrating northward, toward Colombia and the United States. The Guayaquil daily El Universo spoke to migrants, many who had given up on trying to make a living in Chile and Peru as well as Ecuador. “Although the U.S. Government has restricted access to Venezuelan migrants, they are part of the dozens of Venezuelans who continue their passage.”
- WOLA published a two-part discussion about the state of migration in the Americas, and the policies of the U.S. and regional governments, with Vice President for Programs Maureen Meyer and Director for Defense Oversight Adam Isacson. Part one looks at the increase in Venezuelan migration and the way Title 42 is being implemented. Part two examines the experience with “root cause” approaches to migration, and regional migration policy coordination in the framework of the June 2022 Los Angeles Declaration.
- On October 12, WOLA hosted an event on “Abuse, Accountability, and Organizational Culture at U.S. Border Law Enforcement Agencies” with colleagues from the ACLU, the Kino Border Initiative, the Southern Border Communities Coalition, and the Project on Government Oversight. Video of the discussion, in English, is at YouTube.
- CBS News revealed that, during a May interview with the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) top migration expert said that the agency’s Trump-era adoption of Title 42 had little public health justification. “I was concerned that there may be a motivation that was beyond the specific public health agenda,” said Dr. Marty Cetron, the longtime director of CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine. Title 42 “did not originate from CDC,” Cetron affirmed.
- A report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), summarized by the Washington Post, looked at “Notices to Report” that Border Patrol issued to 94,000 migrant family members released into the United States between May and September 2021. (The documents, which involved little paperwork at a time of heavy migrant arrivals, required migrants to report to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office within 60 days.) It found that on about 60 percent of the “Notices,” Border Patrol agents had entered incorrect or incomplete address information for the migrants’ intended destinations. About 75 percent of migrant families required to “report” did indeed show up, which overwhelmed many ICE offices in migrants’ destination cities. GAO noted a lack of coordination between CBP and ICE. In November 2021, CBP stopped issuing “Notices to Report” and now relies more on “alternatives to detention” with electronic monitoring.
- Asylum seekers and other non-detained migrants awaiting court dates are increasingly being electronically monitored by these “alternatives to detention” programs, an article in the Nation described. As of September, about 41,000 people in the U.S. interior must wear GPS-enabled ankle monitors, and 255,602 are monitored by the SmartLINK phone app, described as “buggy.” Both efforts are managed by a single company: BI Enterprises, a subsidiary of GEO Group, a private prison contractor.
- In fiscal year 2022, “Immigration Court judges dismissed a total of 63,586 cases”—1 out of every 6 that year—“because Department of Homeland Security officials, chiefly Border Patrol agents, are not filing the actual ‘Notice to Appear’ (NTA) with the Immigration Court,” reported Syracuse University’s TRAC Immigration program. Such failures to file were rare, TRAC notes, “until Border Patrol agents were given the authority to use the Immigration Court’s Interactive Scheduling System.” Meanwhile, “the public has also been left in the dark as to what ultimately happens to these cases and the immigrant involved.”
- A report from Oxfam America and the Tahirih Justice Center found that “asylum deterrence policies” like Title 42 and Remain in Mexico “engender conditions that cause gender-based violence to proliferate at the US southern border.”
- Politico spoke to “five current administration officials who work with CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus” who criticized Magnus, a former Tucson chief of police, for being “unengaged” and “focused primarily on reforming the culture of the Border Patrol, addressing its long list of allegations of racism and violence.”
- A Miami Herald investigation dug up much new information about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) September operation to send a planeload of asylum-seeking migrants from San Antonio, Texas to the resort island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Perla Huerta, “a 43-year-old former U.S. Army counterintelligence agent” working for DeSantis, left about $700 in cash payments behind a dumpster for a migrant whom she convinced to recruit others for the trip. The governor’s operatives may have committed the crime of “unlawful restraint,” moving people without their informed consent. That is a misdemeanor except when the victims are under 17—like 5 of the migrants sent to Massachusetts.
- An Axios analysis of annual FBI U.S. crime data released this month found that eight U.S. border cities had lower violent crime and homicide rates than the U.S. national average in 2021. The only border city above the national average was Yuma, Arizona.
- Border Report found funeral homes on the Texas side of the border overwhelmed by an increase in migrant deaths, noting that some remains are “piling up” in a shipping container 10 miles outside of Eagle Pass.
- The Wall Street Journal reported on how migrant smugglers are increasingly using TikTok, Snapchat, and other social media networks to recruit young U.S. citizens to drive undocumented migrants who have just crossed the border from Mexico.
- Gothamist published a Q&A about the large tent facility, in a stadium parking lot, that New York City’s government has built to temporarily shelter asylum seekers arriving on buses sent by Texas state and municipal governments. The site can hold up to 1,000 single male asylum seekers for up to 4 days each.
- Three weeks after twin 60-year-old brothers shot at a group of at least nine migrants in west Texas, killing one and wounding another, the surviving members of the group are “languishing in detention,” the Associated Press reported. The brothers, who claim they thought they were shooting at animals, are out on bail. One was the warden of a jail at times used as an ICE detention facility.