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.

The victims were part of a group of 13 Mexican migrants who had recently crossed into the United States. They had stopped to take a drink out of a reservoir when Mike and Mark Sheppard allegedly pulled over their pickup truck while the migrants hid in the desert brush. “Someone from the truck yelled out in Spanish, ‘Come out you sons of b****es, little a**es,’ the migrants told police later,” according to the Texas Tribune.

Surviving migrants claim that the brothers got out of the truck and fired at the group, then drove off, apparently to attend a local water commission meeting.

The Sheppard brothers were held in the Hudspeth County jail until October 3, when they were released on a bond of $250,000 each. While they have changed details of their story, they claim that they were hunting animals (first ducks, then a javelina) and did not realize that they had shot at people.

Reports quickly emerged that one of the brothers, Mike Sheppard, has a complicated history with migrants. Until his arrest, which resulted in his firing, Sheppard was the warden of the West Texas Detention Center in Sierra Blanca, a 1,053-capacity county jail that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) used as a migrant detention facility between 2007 and 2021. The Detention Center is operated by LaSalle Corrections, a private prison contractor.

“Everyone in town knows them,” Hudspeth County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Lazaro Salgado told the Washington Post, adding that he “had never heard the brothers making bigoted or hateful statements about migrants. ‘Nothing that I’m aware of,’ he said.”

This contradicts other accounts. The Texas Tribune and the Intercept reported that the West Texas Detention Center has faced serious complaints of abuse of migrants, some allegedly committed by the warden himself.

In 2018 RAICES, the Texas A&M University Law School Immigrant Rights Clinic, and the University of Texas Law School Immigration Clinic filed a complaint against the detention facility, alleging that 30 Somalian migrants held there had suffered a month of beatings, pepper-spraying, and racist taunts.

A detainee said that Warden Sheppard had hit him in the face, then had him sent to solitary confinement. There, he was “forced to lie face down on the floor with my hands handcuffed behind my back while I was kicked repeatedly in the ribs by the Warden.”

The Intercept reported:

The men described Sheppard routinely using racist language in addressing them, including: “Shut your Black a** up. You don’t deserve nothing. You belong at the back of that cage”; “Boy, I’m going to show you. You’re my b****”; and “Now you belong to me, boy.” …Some claimed they were tossed into solitary confinement for speaking too loudly to the West Texas warden.

Texas updates

Beyond these incidents, it was an eventful week in Texas.

  • A New York Times investigation revealed the identity of “Perla,” the operative working for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) who lured migrants in San Antonio to board a September 14 flight to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. She is Perla Huerta, a “combat medic and counterintelligence agent” who left the U.S. Army in August.

    According to numerous testimonies from the migrants, Huerta convinced them to board the flight by paying for hotel rooms in San Antonio and falsely promising jobs and housing assistance in “Boston.” Her clandestine operation, paid for with a $12 million Florida state appropriation for transporting migrants out of the state, took place without the knowledge of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who like DeSantis is also a prominent Republican politician.

    Lawyers representing the mostly Venezuelan migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard say that they expect to name Huerta as a defendant. They told the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent that “this could pave the way to deposing her for details about the DeSantis administration’s potential involvement in deceiving the migrants.”

  • Texas meanwhile continues to send busloads of asylum-seeking migrants to Washington, New York, and Chicago, cities run by Democratic mayors. Between March and October 3, CNN found, Texas’s state government had spent more than $18 million to bus about 12,000 migrants. That is $1,500 per migrant.

    Many recent buses have departed El Paso, which appears to have become the top destination for Venezuelan asylum-seekers over the past month. The city’s Democratic mayor has facilitated these buses to other cities, in part because many of the Venezuelan migrants lack U.S.-based relatives or contacts who can fund their travel to destinations in the U.S. interior.

    Luis Chaparro of VICE accompanied one of these buses from El Paso to New York, about 40 hours of driving. He discovered that, upon reaching Dallas, the migrants get transferred onto old, second-class buses with faulty plumbing and air conditioning, subject to breakdowns. No food is provided to the migrants and their children, many of whom have no cash. Bus drivers have ended up buying migrants sandwiches out of their own pockets. A driver told Chaparro that by the time the buses reach New York, half the passengers have abandoned the trip, remaining in other cities along the way.

  • “Operation Lone Star,” Gov. Abbott’s border security buildup begun in March 2021, continues after spending over $4 billion to flood border zones with police and National Guardsmen, to jail migrants for “trespassing,” and to build border fencing. The Texas Facilities Commission approved $307 million to build 14 miles of 30-foot-tall border wall ($22 million per mile) near Del Rio and in south Texas’s Rio Grande Valley.

    Much of it would be built using panels originally intended for Donald Trump’s border wall, which became surplus after Joe Biden halted construction in January 2021. Construction won’t start right away because most land along Texas’s border is private property. “We’re still negotiating for the land,” a Texas Facilities Commission official told Border Report.

  • A service member assigned to the Texas National Guard component of Operation Lone Star died by suicide, using his duty weapon, on the morning of October 4. The soldier, who has not yet been identified, appears to be the fifth guardsman assigned to Operation Lone Star to die by suicide, and the tenth to have died since the Operation’s military component began in September 2021.

    The first four suicides occurred during an eight-week period in late 2021, amid rapid and chaotic callups and reports of miserable living conditions for the soldiers hastily assigned to the mission. Two other soldiers died in accidental shootings; one died of a blood clot after working a long shift in July heat; one died in a motorcycle accident; and Specialist Bishop Evans drowned in April while trying to rescue migrants from the Rio Grande, despite not being equipped with a flotation device.

    “Though officials won’t confirm a number,” the Dallas Morning News reported, “the mission currently involves closer to 5,000 Guard personnel than 10,000 at peak deployment a few months ago.” The Morning News adds that the military and police mission may run out of funding by the end of November.

Mexico’s migrant apprehensions

In late September Mexico’s migration authority (Instituto Nacional de Migración or INM) released data about migrant apprehensions in August. The agency apprehended 42,408 migrants transiting Mexico that month, a number it has only exceeded twice before (in July and August 2021).

For the first time, citizens of Venezuela were the number-one nationality apprehended: 16,881 people, or 40 percent of Mexico’s August apprehension total. The second-place country of citizenship in August, Honduras, saw one-third as many apprehensions (5,602).

Until September 2021, citizens of Central America’s so-called “Northern Triangle” (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) had consistently made up at least 75 percent of Mexico’s migrant apprehensions. Due to the large increase in Venezuelan migration, “Northern Triangle” migrants dropped in August to just 31 percent of the total.

While Mexico’s migration data for September are unlikely to be available for a few weeks, It appears that apprehensions are continuing to increase. According to Proceso, the INM apprehended 3,263 migrants from 50 countries in a single day, September 22. Even if the INM were to average half that daily amount over the course of the month, September would still break Mexico’s monthly apprehensions record.

Mexico’s refugee agency (Comisión Mexicana de Atención a Refugiados, or COMAR) reported receiving 8,954 asylum requests during September, pushing its 2022 year-to-date total to 86,621 asylum applications. While the beleaguered agency is not on track to break its 2021 asylum-requests record (129,844), COMAR had never received more than 10,000 requests before 2017.

One reason 2022 is running behind 2021 for COMAR is the relatively small number of asylum applicants from Venezuela, which is now the number-one country of origin of apprehended migrants. Even as the INM apprehended nearly 17,000 Venezuelans in August, COMAR received just 632 asylum applications from Venezuelans that month. Mexican authorities appear to be giving many Venezuelan migrants “Multiple Migration Forms” (FMM) that allow them to remain in the country for a month; this often (but not always) enables travel to the U.S. border.

Other News

  • “Panama’s National Border Service (Senafront) reported 123 deaths in the Darién Gap between January and September of this year, with a total of 151,572 migrants crossing this route,” reported Expediente Publico. Panama has not yet reported September migration through the Darién.
  • “During 2022 Guatemala has blocked the entry of 9,366 Venezuelans at the Agua Caliente border with Honduras, in the country’s northwest,” EFE reported, citing Guatemalan government data. 2,240 of them were turned around in September.
  • Mexico is sending an additional 600 soldiers to the violence-plagued border state of Tamaulipas, across from south Texas. The deployment coincides with the recent inauguration of a state governor from Mexico’s ruling party (Morena). Mexican military documents leaked in a major hacking episode indicate that the Gulf Cartel, which operates in eastern Tamaulipas, “co-opted personnel from the Special Operations Group of the Tamaulipas State Police and the National Guard” in an effort to locate members of the rival Jalisco Cartel. “Crime rates in Tamaulipas are improving, but much work remains to be done,” tweeted U.S. Ambassador Ken Salazar during an October 4 visit to the border state.
  • Migrants in south Texas’s Rio Grande Valley reported being attacked, robbed, and sexually assaulted on the U.S. side of the border before being apprehended, CBP reported.
  • Haitian Bridge Alliance, African Communities Together, and Undocublack Network filed a lawsuit to compel DHS to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests for records regarding the treatment of Haitian migrants during a September 2021 mass migration event in Del Rio, Texas. “U.S. agents harassed and intimidated migrants, including through physical force. And then, abruptly, the government rounded up and expelled thousands of the migrants, forcing many to return to Haiti, a country that could not safely receive or protect them,” the groups’ complaint reads.
  • An analysis by Philip Bump at the Washington Post recalls that most Mexican-origin fentanyl seized at the border is seized at ports of entry, not in the areas in between, and that such seizures rarely involve migrants. “[T]he idea of smuggling fentanyl into the country is to get the drugs in quickly without detection. Paying a citizen to drive them in makes more sense in that regard than having a noncitizen lug them across the Rio Grande.” Migrants smuggling drugs are “not a common thing,” Nogales-based ICE Homeland Security Investigations official Andrew Montijo told InsightCrime. “Rather, he estimated these cases represent ‘less than 10 percent’ of all the drug trafficking investigations his office has worked.”
  • A coalition of Arizona-based groups led by ACLU Arizona sent a letter to CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus, summarized by the Border Chronicle, asking his agency to cease its practice of requiring asylum-seeking migrants to relinquish their personal belongings, which are usually discarded. The letter’s appendix includes numerous examples of items taken from migrants, from medications to the ashes of a Nicaraguan man’s father who died on the journey.
  • According to NBC News, Biden White House officials are internally debating whether to launch a big policy push for immigration reform after the November 8 midterm elections.
  • Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-New York), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, led a letter signed by 54 Democratic members of Congress calling on DHS to disenroll all asylum seekers who are still in the “Remain in Mexico” program, which was revived under court order in late 2021 and early 2022, then re-terminated when the Biden administration’s appeal to the Supreme Court succeeded.
  • A report from the DHS Inspector-General, based on inspection visits in March, found fault with the conditions migrants had to endure in Border Patrol custody during a time of record arrivals in the agency’s Del Rio, Texas sector. It detected 1,164 people held for more than the federal maximum of 72 hours in 4 Border Patrol “short-term” facilities. Though held for several days, migrants were unable to shower. The Del Rio Sector has an authorized personnel strength of 1,700 agents, the IG report noted, but had 1,538 positions filled at the time of the inspection. That is less than one-tenth of Border Patrol’s 2020 staffing level along the U.S.-Mexico border, even though Del Rio is one of nine Border Patrol sectors along the border and, during recent months, the sector experiencing the most migration.