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 BRIEF:
New data published by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) confirms that migration increased significantly at the U.S.-Mexico border from July to August. The largest increases were in migrants traveling as families, and migrants from Central America, Cuba, and the Andes. Migration continues to increase in September. Migration had declined in the months following the end of the Title 42 pandemic policy, but by now that lull has completely reversed.
Meeting with the acting commissioner of CBP, Mexican authorities agreed to take measures to reduce concentration of migrants near the common border, including relocating migrants and perhaps even stepping up deportations to some countries. Mexico’s southern-border city of Tapachula continues to fill up as approximately 6,000 migrants arrive every day along Mexico’s border with Guatemala. Migration through Panama’s Darién Gap remains near record levels, and continues to increase through Honduras.
The U.S. government is likely to shut down on October 1 for lack of a congressionally approved budget. The House of Representatives’ Republican majority is coalescing around demands that the Biden administration and the Democratic-majority Senate agree to a list of hard-line border security proposals and asylum restrictions in exchange for keeping the government open.
THE FULL UPDATE:
Migration in August Increased 36 Percent Over July
Late on September 22, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) published data detailing the agency’s encounters with migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border during August. The 181,059 people apprehended by Border Patrol represented a 36 percent increase over July, and an 82 percent increase over June, but was still below levels measured in much of 2022.
Another 51,913 migrants, mostly asylum seekers, were able to come to land-border ports of entry (official border crossings) in August, a 2 percent increase over July. Of that number, 45,400 (87 percent) had made appointments using the “CBP One” smartphone app.
Of the combined 232,972 migrants encountered border-wide in August, 145,278 were issued notices to appear in U.S. immigration court, a rough idea of how many were released into the U.S. interior with asylum or other protection claims. This is slightly more than the number of notices to appear or paroles issued in late 2022.
June, the first full month after the Biden administration terminated the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy, was an unusually low month for migration. As some migrants and smugglers paused amid new post-Title 42 rules on asylum, among other policy changes, migrant encounters fell to their lowest level since February 2021. They have since recovered, and continue to increase in September.
Of migrants encountered, nearly every nationality has increased since June. Among nationalities with more than 1,000 encounters, the greatest growth has been among citizens of Guatemala (266 percent from June to August), Ecuador (167 percent), Honduras (133 percent), Cuba (131 percent), El Salvador (91 percent), Colombia (90 percent), and Venezuela (54 percent).
Arrivals of Venezuelan migrants appear to have increased rapidly since the end of August, since CBP’s last reporting period. “The daily average of Venezuelans crossing the U.S. border surpassed 2,000 this past week, nearly tripling the average of 713 in August,” CBS News reported, citing “internal federal data.”
The largest number of Border Patrol apprehensions of citizens of a country other than Mexico in a single month is about 45,200 (Guatemala in May 2019, Honduras in July 2021). That record pace is about 1,500 migrant apprehensions per day. Current arrivals of Venezuelan migrants are exceeding that.
In Venezuela, “people are exhausted by so many years of economic struggle, and global policies meant to change the situation have failed to keep them at home,” read a New York Times explainer. “At the same time, social media has popularized the route to the United States, while a thriving people-moving business near the start of the journey has accelerated the pace of migration.”
116,721 migrants in August (50 percent) came as members of family units, a record. Another 14,259 arrived as unaccompanied children. Of Border Patrol’s 181,059 migrant apprehensions, 106,657 were either children or parents traveling with their children.
The Biden administration has been encouraging asylum seekers to await appointments at land-border ports of entry, and to make those appointments using CBP’s smartphone app, CBP One. Some nationalities’ migrants appear to be using this option, which avoids being subject to deportation and sanctions under the Biden administration’s post-Title 42 restrictions on access to asylum. 88 percent of Cuban migrants, 96 percent of Russian migrants, and 100 percent of Haitian migrants (a remarkable 8,687 out of 8,687) reported at ports of entry in August.
But the app’s 1,450 appointments per day appear to be far from keeping up with demand. “They are tired of waiting,” Juan Fierro Garcia of Ciudad Juárez’s El Buen Samaritano migrant shelter told the New York Times. “They are more desperate.” Some newer arrivals aren’t even aware that the app exists.
“Many of the thousands of migrants who crossed the Rio Grande into this small border city over the past week have one thing in common,” the Wall Street Journal’s Alicia A. Caldwell reported. “They got sick of waiting for an appointment on the smartphone app the government wants them to use.” Migrants interviewed had either found the app unusable, or were only able to secure appointments several months from now.
In June 2023, amid the post-Title 42 drop in arrivals, 31 percent of all encountered migrants came to the ports of entry (45,027 people, more than 38,000 of them with CBP One appointments). By August, the number at ports of entry had increased 15 percent, to 51,913, with about 19 percent more CBP One appointments ( 45,400). But that was only 22 percent of all of August’s migrant encounters: the other 78 percent (181,059) crossed between the ports and into Border Patrol custody.
CBP also shared statistics about the Biden administration’s Humanitarian Parole program for citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, who apply from outside the United States and avoid the border entirely. If they have passports and sponsors, and pass background checks, those authorized for humanitarian parole may arrive at a U.S. airport and remain in the United States for two years. CBP reported that, through August, “More than 47,000 Cubans, more than 84,000 Haitians, more than 39,000 Nicaraguans, and more than 68,000 Venezuelans have been vetted and authorized for travel.” Compared to the end of July, that is 8,000 more Cubans, 24,000 more Haitians, 12,000 more Nicaraguans, and 13,000 more Venezuelans authorized for travel.
Border Patrol divides the U.S.-Mexico border into nine geographic sectors. For the second straight month, Arizona’s Tucson Sector was the number-one destination of encountered migrants. 27 percent of all migrants in Border Patrol custody (48,754 people) came to Tucson. In second place, with 26 percent, was Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley Sector in south Texas (46,536 people).
Migration continues to increase in September. Citing data shared by Mexico’s president, WOLA’s September 22 Border Update estimated that Border Patrol averaged about 6,650 migrant apprehensions per day during the first 17 days of this month. A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official told CBS News that apprehensions surpassed “8,600 over a 24-hour period” during the week of September 17.
Such levels may be a “new normal.” An unnamed senior CBP official told CNN, “In the near term, we’d expect that numbers will probably stay somewhere close to where they were last week, as some of these things take effect.” (“Things” referred to some steps agreed with Mexico, discussed below.) The official noted that CBP lacks funding to do more; congressional refusal to consider a 2023 supplemental funding request has left the agency in a “resource constrained environment.”
According to CNN, the Border Patrol sectors with the most migrant arrivals right now are Del Rio, Texas; El Paso, Texas; Rio Grande Valley, Texas; and Tucson, Arizona, with each receiving more than 1,000 people per day.
Eagle Pass, Texas (population 28,000) saw an especially large number of migrant arrivals during the week of September 17. On September 21, CBP processed about 2,500 migrants who had turned themselves in, at a site under one of the two bridges between Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras, Coahuila. That followed about 2,700 on September 19 and 3,000 on September 20, according to the Associated Press. On September 22, Eagle Pass Mayor Rolando Salinas, Jr. told CNN that Border Patrol apprehended another 800 to 1,000 migrants. Across the Rio Grande in Piedras Negras, Mexican National Guardsmen and armored personnel carriers are stationed at the entrance to “Bridge 1” to prevent migrants from crossing.
By September 23, CBP reported that it had resumed vehicle and cargo processing at its bridges in Eagle Pass, after closing them temporarily in order to devote more staff to the processing of asylum seekers.
Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens told ABC News that the mass arrival of migrants in Eagle Pass was a deliberate tactic by organized crime to pull agents away from other areas, to ease drug smuggling.
On September 20 and 21, authorities recovered the drowned bodies of an adult man and a three-year-old boy from the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass. The child was swept away by the current as he tried to cross with his family. Both drownings appear to have occurred upstream of the “buoy wall” that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has installed along 1,000 feet of the middle of the river in front of the city.
In El Paso, the Wall Street Journal reported that local authorities are opening a short-term shelter that can hold about 400 people, but “that space will be almost immediately full.” The city’s “ migrant crisis dashboard” reports that CBP is releasing an average of 1,183 people into the city this week, and that the agency’s migrant encounters are averaging 1,628 per day—the most since just before Christmas 2022, when El Paso was the busiest of Border Patrol’s 9 sectors. Mayor Oscar Lesser told reporters that about two thirds of migrants coming to El Paso have been single men, about 32 percent members of families, and 2 percent unaccompanied children.
CBP pulled some officers into migrant processing duties, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R, a political opponent of the Biden administration) began intensifying cargo vehicle “safety checks” on the El Paso side of border bridges. These measures have led to long lines forming across the border in Ciudad Juárez, slowing trade, Reuters reported.
By September 25, Border Report was reporting that as Mexico increased operations to prevent migrants from boarding cargo trains hundreds of miles to the south, “the number of people waiting by the border wall is beginning to decrease” in El Paso.
In south Texas’s Rio Grande Valley region, Border Patrol released about 600 migrants per day to the Catholic Charities respite center in McAllen during the week of September 17, up from 400 per day the week before, CNN reported. Across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, in Matamoros, “about 4,500 migrants are waiting in shelters and encampments,” Glady Edith Cañas of the non-profit Ayudándoles a Triunfar told CNN.
In San Diego, where more than 8,100 migrants were released—often at transit stations—over the prior two weeks, the County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on September 26 “to declare a humanitarian crisis for asylum seekers at the border and request more federal support,” the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
Between Tijuana and San Diego, asylum-seekers intending to turn themselves in to Border Patrol continue to arrive at spaces between layers of the double border wall. Border Patrol was making hundreds await processing for a day or more out in the open (and in April and May, when this first happened, for several days). Tijuana’s El Imparcial reported that the wait between the walls is now down to about 12 hours, but people are arriving about as fast as Border Patrol can process them.
The segment of the U.S.-Mexico border south of San Diego where the border wall enters the Pacific Ocean is currently under renovation, a project that has destroyed a garden at a 50-year-old site known as Friendship Park. While construction continues, Tijuana first-responders say, some migrants are opting to climb over temporary fencing, which means fewer are attempting dangerous ocean crossings.
Mexico Pledges New Measures to “Depressurize” Migration
CBP’s acting commissioner, Troy Miller, was in Ciudad Juárez on September 22 to meet with Mexican government counterparts. They included the commissioner of the Mexican government’s National Migration Institute (INM), the governor of Chihuahua state, and representatives of Mexico’s security forces and of Ferromex, a railroad company. Ferromex suspended some of its operations in mid-September due to the large number of migrants boarding its northbound cargo trains.
Following that meeting, an INM statement reported that Mexico agreed on “15 points to address the needs of the train route and deter migrants.” These include a Mexican commitment to “depressurize” its northern border cities by moving migrants elsewhere, or even by deporting some back to their home countries. The INM document refers to a commitment “to negotiate with the governments of Venezuela, Brazil, Nicaragua, Colombia, and Cuba to receive their nationals.”
The statement claimed that “from January 1 to September 2023, federal migration agents have rescued [apprehended] 1,469,787 migrants, of which 788,089 have been returned by land and air,” and that 189,000 migrants were apprehended in September alone. These levels of apprehensions and deportations are not at all corroborated by Mexican government statistics, which document 402,324 apprehensions and 38,470 deportations between January and August.
Mexico also agreed to increase checkpoints along the migration route, especially near sites where migrants have been boarding cargo trains; to accept deportations (which INM calls “expulsions”) of migrants at an international bridge in Ciudad Juárez; and to carry out more cross-border “mirrored patrols” between CBP and Mexican law enforcement.
An Associated Press report cited migrants in northern Mexico who routinely had to pay bribes to Mexican officials in order to pass through security and migration forces’ many road checkpoints.
Mexican authorities’ stepped-up operations to prevent people from boarding cargo trains has led to large numbers of stranded migrants gathering in areas where they commonly board them, like Huehuetoca in the state of Mexico or Irapuato, Guanajuato. In Irapuato, La Jornada estimated that “some 4,000 migrants had been stranded for five days, but little by little they have been climbing on the train and only about 150 Central Americans remain.”
In August, according to data that the Mexican government just published, Mexico broke its migrant apprehensions record for a third consecutive month. Mexican authorities apprehended 83,725 people in August, 26 percent of them (21,949) from Venezuela, 24 percent (20,196) from Honduras, 15 percent (12,883) from Guatemala, and 9 percent (7,560) from Ecuador.
Mexico’s foreign minister, Alicia Bárcena, said on September 22 that about 6,000 migrants are arriving each day right now across the country’s southern border, approximately half of them citizens of Central American countries. Most enter Tapachula, Chiapas, a city of 350,000 people about 35 miles from the border.
Many gather at the offices of INM and its Refugee Aid Commission (COMAR) in Tapachula. INM issues migration documents to travelers who qualify, while COMAR processes asylum applications. Migrants have been protesting long waits to have their requests for asylum or travel documents processed.
On September 26 INM announced that it set up an encampment in a Tapachula park for migrants seeking appointments with COMAR. The new space, COMAR’s Chiapas coordinator told EFE, should increase the agency’s processing capacity by about 30 percent, from 1,800-2,000 per day to 2,600-2,800 per day.
Doctors Without Borders wrote that it is assisting stranded migrants on a highway median just outside Tapachula, “next to a dirty water canal where migrants are stuck for days before they can continue their journey.” The wait is between three and ten days.
On the road that follows the Pacific from Tapachula to the state of Oaxaca, Mexican immigration agents at checkpoints have been pulling migrants off of buses. Now, Milenio reported, hundreds are stranded at bus stations in at least 10 municipalities along the route. Milenio also reported that Mexican National Guardsmen and migrant smugglers engaged in a September 21 shootout in Chiapas, near the Guatemalan border, that wounded three people.
in order to “de-pressurize” the INM and COMAR facilities in Tapachula, authorities have used 189 buses and 73 vans to move 8,152 migrants from the southern border-zone city to other parts of Chiapas, or to the southern states of Tabasco and Veracruz.
As an alternative model to “refugee camps” in crowded situations like Tapachula’s, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi touted a seven-year-old pilot project that the agency has managed in the city. To date, he told CBS News, the program has helped 31,000 people seeking asylum in Mexico leave Tapachula and find employment in 11 cities in central and northeast Mexico and integrate there.
Along Mexico’s northern border, organized-crime related violence continues to affect migrants. In Tijuana, where local authorities estimate that 14,000 asylum seekers are awaiting an opportunity to come north, 5,500 of them in shelters, authorities found the remains of four migrants, with evidence of bullet wounds, near the highway between Tijuana and Tecate. A month ago, Milenio reported, the bodies of five likely migrants had been encountered in the same place.
At the Dallas Morning News, Alfredo Corchado reported that increasing migration through Ciudad Juárez is happening at a time when the city is contending with worsening violence between “rival criminal groups fighting over lucrative drug and human smuggling routes.” The 110 homicides reported in August were a level not seen since the dark days of the late 2000s, when Juárez ranked among the world’s most dangerous cities.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on September 27 that he would call a meeting of foreign ministers from 10 Latin American countries to discuss “a joint plan” for migration. The meeting would take place in about 10 days. Citing an “Unprecedented Migrant Surge in Central America and Mexico,” the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a UN agency, called on Mexico and Central American governments to collaborate to address in-transit migrants’ “immediate humanitarian needs.”
Elsewhere along the migration route, “As of 23 September, over 390,000 individuals have braved the treacherous route,” the IOM reported, referring to the Darién Gap jungle region straddling Colombia and Panama. As of August 31, Panama had counted 333,704 migrants; that means 57,000 people passed through the Darién during the first 23 days of this month, about 2,500 per day. At that pace, September would end with about 75,000 migrants using the Darién Gap route, slightly less than in August (81,946).
On the Colombian side of the Darién region, “the AGC [Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces or Gulf Clan, a large organized crime group] controlling the Urabá region presents humanitarian access constraints for organizations in reaching affected people,” notes a situation overview from ACAPS. On the Panamanian side, Security Minister Juan Manuel Pino told reporters that the heavy flow of migrants is doing “irreversible” environmental damage to the Darién region’s 2,200 square miles of primary rainforest.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro and Panamanian President discussed Darién Gap migration over a bilateral meeting alongside the UN General Assembly sessions in New York. The meeting yielded no announcement of new agreements or initiatives. Panama’s government has been critical of other Colombian and South American nations for not doing enough, in its view, to control or regulate migration into the Darién.
In Necoclí, the Colombian coastal town where Darién-bound migrants take ferries to the beginning of the trail, the daily El Tiempo reported that many migrants from China and India, apparently with greater resources, “stay in the best hotels” and take longer maritime routes that require less walking through the jungle.
In Costa Rica, where authorities have counted more than 60,000 migrants crossing from Panama so far this month, President Rodrigo Chaves declared a state of emergency due to heightened in-transit migration. The measure allows the government to use more funds to respond to “safe transit” needs. Most migrants transit Costa Rica by bus rather quickly, if they can pay the $30 per person fee.
IOM noted that the number of African migrants passing through the Darién Gap has dropped 65 percent from 2022 to 2023, but the number passing through Honduras has jumped 553 percent. That owes to African and Cuban migrants “increasingly choosing air routes to reach Central America, sidestepping the Darien,” the agency explained. This is a reference to Nicaragua, which does not require many countries’ citizens to obtain visas in advance, instead charging them a fee when they arrive by air.
Because of that air route to Nicaragua, Honduras—the country immediately to the north—has registered more in-transit migrants in September’s first 25 days than Panama has: a record 74,782 people, 48 percent of them from Venezuela and 21 percent from Cuba. IOM personnel in Honduras reported the death of a Venezuelan baby in Danlí, a city near the country’s border with Nicaragua that has become a hub of in-transit migration.
An America’s Voice-commissioned poll of 600 people in Central America, reported by the Dallas Morning News, found that 27 percent of respondents recalled having heard or seen a U.S. official or politician say “the border is open” within the last 6 months. Among those who heard politicians say “the border is open,” 35 percent stated that they believe with Title 42 ending, “the Biden administration is cheering people on who cross the border.”
House Republicans Place Border at Center of Government Shutdown Demands
With the federal government likely to shut down on October 1 for lack of a congressionally approved budget, the U.S. Congress remains far from a compromise. The Democratic-majority Senate appears likely to pass a stopgap bill to keep the government open for several weeks while deliberations continue.
While the Republican-majority House has been paralyzed by internal divisions among Republican members, those members do appear broadly to favor demanding that President Biden and Senate Democrats agree to restrictive border and migration measures as part of any deal to keep the government open.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-California) repeated demands from his party’s rank and file that any budget measure include tough border security measures and sweeping restrictions on the right to seek asylum. WOLA’s September 22 Border Update listed many of those measures, noting that House Republicans have been seeking to incorporate the provisions of H.R. 2, the “Secure the Border Act of 2023,” which passed the House on a 219-213 party-line vote on May 11.
House Republican leaders brought their version of the 2024 Homeland Security Appropriation to the chamber’s floor, where it passed by a 220-208 vote late on September 28. This budget bill takes a much harder line on the border and migration than the version passed by the Democratic-majority Senate (see WOLA’s August 4 Border Update).
Even if House Republicans manage to pass the bill, however, the rule that they approved would prohibit taking the formal step of sending it on to the Senate until the Senate passes the entirety of H.R. 2 (TK source). The probability of Senate Democrats doing that hovers near zero. A government shutdown is all but certain.
This would be the 15th government shutdown since 1981. A “shutdown” closes many federal agencies and furloughs hundreds of thousands of federal employees.
Though CBP employees are considered “essential” and would not be furloughed, even a small reduction in staffing caused by a shutdown could mean a “catastrophic situation” for border communities contending with increased migrant arrivals, the mayor of Laredo, Texas, Victor Treviño, told Time.
- Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas joined the president of Honduras, Xiomara Castro, on a visit to border facilities in McAllen, Texas on September 23.
- The Biden administration plans to resettle up to 50,000 refugees from Latin America in fiscal 2024, CBS News reported. That is up from a declared intention to resettle up to 20,000 Latin American refugees in fiscal 2023.
- New York State will employ National Guard members to help asylum seekers and other migrants, especially Venezuelans who have newly qualified for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), to apply for work authorizations. New York Governor Kathy Hochul said that the state’s economy currently has 400,000 unfilled job openings.
- The Southern Border Communities Coalition prepared reports for the 2023 review of U.S. compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, detailing cases of CBP or Border Patrol carrying out racial and identity discrimination, arbitrary warrantless searches, and excessive force with “impunity and lack of effective remedy.” The Coalition presented its findings at an event launched by its “Start With Dignity” campaign.
- When the Trump administration deployed CBP personnel to U.S. cities during protests after the May 2020 killing of George Floyd, “CBP often got involved in policing protests without being asked by city or state officials, and… its actions went beyond its supposed mandate to protect federal property,” found a report from the American Immigration Council, Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), and UCI School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic.
- inewsource raised questions about the death of 19-year-old Jesús Manuel Saldaña Rocha, a U.S. citizen, in a 2022 Border Patrol vehicle pursuit in El Cajon, California.
- A local television station in Buffalo, New York, ran a series about Joel Inbody, a local man whom Border Patrol shot to death in New Mexico in April after a vehicle pursuit. Body-worn camera footage showed Border Patrol firing on Inbody as he swung a wooden club (which the station calls a “tire knocker”) at an agent. Inbody’s mother “suspected he had mental health issues when he encountered border agents that night.”
- The Peruvian journalism website Ojo Público published a graphical “macro-story” about the recent history of regional migration, from researcher Catalina Lobo Guerrero.
- Border Patrol reported recovering about 25 bricks of smuggled cocaine that washed up on Texas beaches just north of the border.
- The AP’s Valerie Gonzalez profiled Yeison, a 23-year-old Venezuelan migrant in Matamoros who is preparing to part ways with Niko, a pet squirrel with whom he traveled all the way from South America, as his CBP One appointment approaches.