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.
- Migration of Venezuelan citizens, which broke monthly records at the border in August, continues at very high levels this month, as evidenced by reports from Panama’s Darién Gap, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, and the border. New York is planning to build giant tents to provide short-term shelter to migrants, bused by Republican border-state governors, who have nowhere else to go.
- Advocates have now documented hundreds of cases of CBP and ICE personnel entering false addresses on asylum-seekers’ paperwork, usually those of random charities in U.S. cities far from the border which are finding perplexed migrants arriving unexpectedly at their facilities.
- The White House hosted a meeting with representatives of many Western Hemisphere countries to follow up on migration management and protection commitments made at the June Summit of the Americas.
Venezuelan migration updates
U.S.-bound migration of Venezuelan citizens, which has reached unprecedented levels, appears to be continuing or even increasing further, according to reports over the past week from along the migration route. As discussed in WOLA’s September 23 Border Update, U.S. authorities encountered more than 25,000 Venezuelan citizens at the U.S.-Mexico border in August, a monthly record that placed Venezuela in second place, after Mexico, among migrants’ countries of origin.
The Darién Gap
During the first 23 days of September, Panamanian migration authorities reported receiving over 32,000 migrants emerging from the treacherous Darién Gap jungles straddling the country’s border with Colombia. Panama’s National Migration Service reported a year-to-date total of 134,178 migrants moving through the Darién, which already breaks the full-year record set in 2021. The majority this year—two thirds as of August—are from Venezuela.
That is up from 102,067 at the end of August, meaning nearly 1,400 people per day have been taking the grueling, roughly 60-mile journey on foot through the Darién this month. Panama’s security minister, Juan Manuel Pino, said that 2,400 emerged from the jungles in a single day—as a “caravan” in his words—on September 21.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) mission chief in Panama, Santiago Paz, told EFE his agency predicts that 200,000 migrants will have passed through the Darién, a region until recently regarded as impassable, by the end of 2022. Paz noted that even the rainy season, which makes trails harder to walk and swells treacherous rivers, has not slowed the rate of migration.
The danger of the Darién journey, many miles of ungoverned territory with a strong presence of criminal groups, is notorious. “It’s hell. You see cadavers. Desperate people steal food from other people. At night, when you are camping, you hear people screaming for help,” a migrant named “Juan” told the Guardian.
On September 21, a 6-year-old Venezuelan child was killed, and two adult migrants wounded, in an attack apparently carried out by “Panamanian Indigenous people and a group of unidentified foreigners” in the Darién. The day before, a 10-year-old migrant girl drowned in one of the region’s rivers.
Visiting a migrant reception site near the end of the Darién migrant trail, Pino, the security minister, promised that Panama would build up its official security presence. “We’re going to guarantee your security, you are victims… We need information and we get it by talking to you,” Pino said. The human rights ombudsmen of Colombia and Panama met in Medellín on September 23 to discuss the establishment of a “binational early warning” mechanism to improve safety in the Darién.
Costa Rica’s foreign minister, Arnoldo André Tinoco, told the Voice of America that migration from Venezuela and Nicaragua “is exceeding the bounds of reasonableness, it is exhausting the systems.” He explained that Costa Rica is experiencing two groups of migrants.
The first are those who arrive from Panama and intend to pass through Costa Rica. “We are talking about 160,000 people per year; they are very vulnerable, they are families or women or children who pass through the country to continue their journey north. Sometimes they stay a few days, weeks or months in the country to see if they can accumulate some reserves or financial resources to continue their march, because in Nicaragua they are charged for the passage.”
The second are those who intend to settle in Costa Rica. Tinoco said that Costa Rica has received about 200,000 applications for asylum in recent years; adjudicating these cases is taking more than 8 years. About 85 percent of temporary work permit applicants in Costa Rica are Nicaraguan; most of the rest are Venezuelan or Colombian, with a few Haitians and Cubans.
While Venezuelans must pass through Nicaragua along their journey (being charged $150 each in the process), the country’s most visible migrant population is Cuban. Last November, Nicaragua’s government eliminated visa requirements for Cuban visitors. Of the more than 190,000 Cuban citizens encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border since October, the vast majority passed through Nicaragua.
That number exceeds past peaks of Cuban migration, like the 1980 Mariel boatlift and the “rafter” crisis of the mid-1990s. Their journey is expensive: Voice of America spoke to one who paid $3,600 per person for a one-way ticket, with stops, to Managua. For fees ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 per person, smugglers are offering to meet migrants in the Managua airport and bring them to the U.S. border in a journey that takes 15 days to a month.
Data from Honduras’s National Migration Institute, summarized by EFE, indicates that authorities there have encountered 106,476 “irregular” migrants so far this year, including 51,000 from Cuba and 33,000 from Venezuela. 17 percent of all migrants, and also of all Venezuelan migrants, are children.
Many Venezuelan migrants pass through the city of El Paraíso near the Guatemalan border. They told EFE that they are “victims of abuses in the Central American country, mainly by intercity bus carriers,” who prefer to take Cubans “because they can charge them more than double the fare.”
Migrants continue to seek to transit through Honduras en masse. A group of 400 sought to enter Guatemala on September 24 at the border crossing into Entre Ríos, in Guatemala’s eastern department of Izabal. Another 600 attempted to cross on September 25. Most were from Venezuela, Colombia, Haiti, and Honduras, according to a spokeswoman of Guatemala’s Migration Institute (IGM). Of the first group, 155—mainly families with children—were allowed entry into Guatemala for humanitarian reasons. The rest were turned back for lack of proper documentation or failure to cross at the port of entry; it is likely that many or most crossed later by evading the official border crossing.
Republican governors’ buses and planes
Venezuelans make up a large portion of the migrants whom the Republican governors of Texas and Arizona (and, indirectly, Florida) have been sending to U.S. cities governed by Democrats.
New York has now received about 13,000 migrants bused from the GOP-run border states, the Associated Press reported. Unlike most migrants from other countries, many of the Venezuelans lack relatives, contacts, or support networks in the United States and need immediate assistance upon arrival. New York Mayor Eric Adams announced plans to provide short-term shelter to arriving migrants in “hangar-sized tents” with rows of cots, which will probably be erected in a parking lot in the Bronx. They “would only house migrants for up to four days while the city arranged other types of shelter,” the AP reported.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll meanwhile found broad disapproval of the governors’ busing and flying of migrants to other states. Just 29 percent of U.S. respondents polled, and 53 percent of Republicans, approved of the practice. 45 percent of respondents agreed that “state leaders transporting migrants were committing illegal migrant trafficking.”
An article at the conservative website Breitbart alleged that Venezuela’s government has been opening up its prisons and encouraging criminals to migrate to the United States. The Venezuelan online outlet Efecto Cocuyo looked into these rumors and found no facts to back them up.
CBP writing wrong addresses on asylum-seekers’ documents
A letter from the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association and an article by Adolfo Flores at BuzzFeed point to a troubling practice occurring when U.S. officials process asylum seekers at the border. Faced with an increasing migrant population without U.S. relatives, contacts, or specific destinations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Border Patrol personnel have been inventing addresses around the United States and adding them to asylum seekers’ immigration paperwork.
Usually, the incorrect future residences added to the migrants’ forms are those of non-profit service providers or churches, which in many cases are not prepared for the migrants’ arrival or to receive walk-ins. In some cases, service providers receive notifications that migrants may be headed their way, but are unable to locate them. “These immigrants and asylum-seekers, most of them from Venezuela, then show up to random buildings confused and unsure of what to do next,” Flores reported. “It’s definitely been happening, and there’s hundreds of cases,” Flores told Texas Standard.
“The DHS [Department of Homeland Security] agent will just seem to invent an address from thin air to put on their release paperwork,” immigration attorney and asylum advocate Taylor Levy told BuzzFeed. At times, she said, the Border Patrol agent or ICE officer will mislead the migrant, telling them that shelter and other services will be available at the address.
Reports about eight Venezuelan men arriving, baffled, at a Sacramento, California office building were apparently one of these cases. They were flown there not by a Republican border-state governor, but by a San Antonio, Texas service provider who had purchased plane tickets based on the addresses that U.S. personnel had added to the migrants’ immigration forms. In New York City, Catholic Charities has reported receiving more than 300 migrants with their address on their forms.
This practice jeopardizes asylum-seekers’ immigration cases. If the migrant does not receive notifications for court hearings or other required appearances they cannot follow through with their case, which can lead to an in-absentia deportation order. All correspondence regarding such appearances gets mailed to the address on these forms, unless the migrant goes to the nearby ICE office to change it, a complex process.
Some of the problem stems from agencies’ need to process large numbers of asylum seekers quickly, at a time of record migration. “I’m sure that Border Patrol agents, they’re just trying to get people out of their facilities. They don’t want to hold them there any longer than they have to, and without an address, in some cases I’m sure the agents tell them it’s either ‘I put this address or you stay here longer,’” Flores of BuzzFeed told Texas Standard.
Still, Levy told Flores, “it is certainly wrong—and appears illegal—for federal agents sworn to uphold the law to randomly choose addresses of churches, legal service agencies, and immigration nonprofits from crude google searches and then record them as alleged ‘residential’ addresses for desperate asylum-seekers.”
Biden administration hosts regional migration meeting
The White House hosted a meeting September 26, with representatives of 17 Western Hemisphere countries and several U.S. agencies, to follow up on migration-related commitments made at the June Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles. (CNN reported 19 countries.) CBP and the State Department tweeted images from the regional officials’ visit. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was on hand, and the State Department delegation was led by Uzra Zeya, the under secretary for civilian security, democracy, and human rights.
Held with little public notice and first reported by CNN on the 27th, the meeting aimed to follow up on the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection signed at the June summit. This document committed 21 Western Hemisphere nations to carrying out a series of steps to manage increased migration. These, as CNN summarized, include “expanding temporary worker programs, bolstering legal pathways like refugee resettlement and family reunification, providing support to countries hosting large migrant populations, and cracking down on human smuggling networks.”
An unnamed “senior administration official” told CNN that the participating states agreed “on a set of what we’re calling action packages, or plans of action, that focus on specific priorities such as labor mobility, refugee resettlement, return and reintegration, working with financial institutions on stabilization, temporary protected status and regularization.” That official praised Ecuador for setting up a process for Venezuelan migrants, but “declined to provide” other examples of actions taken within the “Declaration” framework.
According to a White House readout of the meeting, “additional achievements and new lines of effort” will be announced at an October 6 meeting of Foreign Ministers to be held in the context of the OAS General Assembly in Lima, Peru.
- Agencies’ social media accounts showed a flurry of U.S. trainings and engagements with Latin American border and migration forces over the past week. Border Patrol offered a course in “Analysis of Capacity Deficiencies” to members of Costa Rica’s national police and Panama’s border service. Leadership of Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) met with Border Patrol’s Del Rio Sector headquarters “to coordinate actions to prevent the migrant population—who have been deceived by human traffickers—from running risks in their attempt to arrive in the United States.” The State Department’s Narcotics and Law Enforcement Bureau funded CBP training of seven INM agents in “techniques for handling hydrofoils in the rescue of migrants and combating organized crime.” Rio Grande Valley, Texas Border Patrol agents participated in a State Department-supported “bi-national training” with 33 Mexican immigration officers, involving 2 classes “focused on navigation and tactical tracking.”
- During the evening of September 26 and the morning of September 27, Border Patrol agents in San Diego responded to five incidents in which six people suffered injuries after falling from the recently heightened border wall.
- CBP’s new director of the San Ysidro port of entry between Tijuana and San Diego, the border’s busiest, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that she doesn’t yet know when the agency will reopen “PedWest,” one of the port of entry’s two pedestrian crossing facilities, built recently at significant cost, which has been closed since the pandemic. Lack of trained CBP personnel is the reason for the delay. Meanwhile, about 180 asylum seekers per day are accessing Title 42 exemptions at the port of entry.
- Staff at DHS’s troubled Inspector-General’s Office sent a letter to President Biden anonymously asking him to remove their boss, embattled Trump appointee Joseph Cuffari. The Project on Government Oversight, which has revealed concerning examples of weak DHS oversight under Cuffari, shared the letter, which cites “decisions that have demoralized his staff and damaged the organization.”
- In Nogales, Sonora on September 23, migrants held a peaceful march to commemorate the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. The event was organized by the Kino Border Initiative, whose staff told Fronteras Desk that “the remains of 30 people were found in the desert in July alone” in Arizona.
- Though Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has spent over $4 billion on border security since March 2021, “the number of migrants officials encounter at the Texas-Mexico border is higher today than it was before Operation Lone Star began,” reports a detailed overview by the Texas Tribune. It notes that Abbott’s buildup has funded the construction of a morgue in Brooks County, in south Texas, where alarming numbers of migrants perish while trying to walk around a Border Patrol road checkpoint.
- A lawsuit against the U.S. government by asylum-seeking family members whom the Trump administration separated at the border—which the Biden administration considered settling, then decided to contest—is proceeding in federal courts. The Department of Justice is now asking that the plaintiffs undergo psychological exams to determine the extent to which they truly suffered as a result of the Trump policy, CNN revealed.
- A report by the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department Inspector-General, summarized by CBS News, found that unaccompanied migrant children “suffered distress and panic attacks” while sheltered at an emergency tent complex at Fort Bliss, near El Paso, Texas, in 2021.
- During a recent field research visit to Mexico’s northern border, researchers from the Institute for Women and Migration (IMUMI), a Mexican NGO, found, “All of the women interviewed had been victims of robbery by authorities on their way through Mexico, elements of the National Guard, the National Migration Institute, state police or ‘men dressed in gray’ who had taken $2,000 or $250 dollars or $500 Mexican pesos, their only resources. In two of the cases, the women had been victims of sexual violence, by the trafficker and by a municipal policeman who touched her while extorting her at the same time.”
- “Mexican migrants are paying an average of $8,600 in total smuggling fees this year,” according to the Washington Times, which maintains a “database of smuggling cases. That’s up roughly $2,000 from 2019, the last pre-pandemic year under the Trump administration. Migrants from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are paying about $11,500 for the trip, up from $9,000 in 2020 and $7,900 in 2019.”
- 99 asylum seekers have gone through the Biden administration’s new process for speeding asylum cases, launched in May, which gives a greater role to asylum officers in adjudicating cases. Of the 99, 24 have been granted asylum, according to the New York Times. This is significantly lower than immigration courts’ 47 percent asylum grant rate this fiscal year.
- “Climate change affects migration from Central America in two major ways: the increased intensity of storms and changes in precipitation patterns that have negatively affected crop production,” Sarah Bermeo of Duke University explained in an interview with the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Mary Speck.
- “By refusing to articulate what America ought to be doing on the U.S.-Mexico border, Mr. DeSantis is painting himself and his party into a corner — where the only acceptable position will be rejecting the principle of asylum entirely,” reads a New York Times column by longtime immigration reporter Dara Lind. “What’s at stake, though no one is willing to articulate it, is the idea of asylum itself.”