Adam Isacson

Defense, security, borders, migration, and human rights in Latin America and the United States. May not reflect my employer’s consensus view.

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More Asylum Appointments, Please

Figure 1: Number of CBP One Appointments per City (February 2024)

Tijuana CBP One: 385
Mexicali CBP One: 75
Nogales CBP One: 100
Ciudad Juárez CBP One: 200
Piedras Negras CBP One: 60
Nuevo Laredo CBP One: 55
Reynosa CBP One: 195
Matamoros CBP One: 380

The latest quarterly “Asylum Processing at the U.S.-Mexico Border” report is out, from Stephanie Leutert and Caitlyn Yates at the University of Texas Strauss Center. It is the resource to find out about U.S. asylum availability for migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border’s ports of entry, the length of waitlists, shelters, and security threats.

As it has done since June, after TItle 42 ended, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) offers 1,450 daily appointments at the ports of entry for migrants who wish to turn themselves in to U.S. authorities. The process involves making an appointment using the CBP One smartphone app.

Three points, just from this map:

  1. 1,450 sounds like a lot of daily appointments. Still, it is less than a third—in some months, less than a quarter—of the number who give up on this app-driven process (or don’t even know about it), and instead cross the Rio Grande or seek a break in the border wall, then wait for Border Patrol to apprehend them. For those who resist doing that and stick with the app, wait times in northern Mexico now routinely run a few months.
  2. CBP grants 43 percent of these appointments in Mexico’s Tamaulipas state, the only border state that has a State Department Level 4 travel warning because of organized crime violence. Criminal groups in Tamaulipas specialize in kidnapping migrants, while corrupt Mexican agents and officials collude—and everyone, surely including CBP, knows it.
  3. Also, recall that Border Patrol’s Tucson, Arizona sector is the agency’s busiest right now, with hundreds of asylum seekers at a time turning themselves in to agents in the desert. You’d think Border Patrol agents would be the first ones pushing CBP to increase Nogales, Arizona CBP One appointments beyond a measly 100. Those 100—7 percent of the total—are the only ones available in the roughly 600 miles between Calexico, California and El Paso, Texas.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: March 1, 2024

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.

Support ad-free, paywall-free Weekly Border Updates. Your donation to WOLA is crucial to sustain this effort. Please contribute now and support our work.

THIS WEEK IN BRIEF:

President Joe Biden visited Brownsville, Texas on February 29, the second U.S.-Mexico border visit of his administration. His remarks—calling for Trump to work with him to pass legislation that might, among other measures, deeply reduce migrants’ access to asylum—reflect the President’s recent rightward shift on border and migration issues. On the same day, Republican candidate Donald Trump was several hours’ drive west, at the border in Eagle Pass, where he offered anti-immigrant rhetoric alongside Texas state officials.

Numerous statements from Republican politicians and GOP-aligned media figures are raising the idea of “migrant crime” after the brutal murder of a Georgia nursing student, allegedly at the hands of a 26-year-old Venezuelan man who arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso in September 2022. Analyses, though, continue to point out that migrants commit less violent crime than U.S. citizens, and that the alleged perpetrator of the Georgia murder arrived at a time when U.S. border policy was already very restrictive, with Title 42 firmly in place.

El Paso community leaders rallied around a Catholic non-profit migrant shelter under attack from the Texas state attorney general, who accuses Annunciation House of “alien harboring and human smuggling.” The incident drew attention to the vital role played by non-profit respite centers along the border that receive migrants from Border Patrol custody and help connect them to their destinations in the U.S. interior. Those that depend on federal funding are in danger of cutting back services or shutting their doors, which would force Border Patrol to leave migrants on border cities’ streets. This is already happening in San Diego and appears imminent in Tucson.

THE FULL UPDATE:

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Daily Border Links: March 1, 2024

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Developments

President Joe Biden and ex-president and Republican candidate Donald Trump paid coinciding visits to the Texas-Mexico border yesterday.

Biden met with Border Patrol, law enforcement, and local political leaders in Brownsville, but did not reach out to the many nonprofits working with the migrant population in south Texas’s Rio Grande Valley.

In his public remarks, the President maintained a “triangulation” stance, moving rightward on border and migration issues in an attempt to reduce Trump’s apparent polling advantage on an issue that election-year voters have identified as a top concern.

In Brownsville, Biden seized on Republicans’ rejection of a compromise Senate bill that, much to migrant rights’ advocates alarm, would have suspended the right to asylum at the border. Among its new bars to asylum, the bill would have imposed Title 42-style migrant expulsions when daily arrivals average 4,000 or 5,000 people. With that legislation now far from passage, the President is considering executive actions that might do something similar.

“Join me—or I’ll join you—in telling the Congress to pass this bipartisan border security bill,” Biden said, addressing Trump. While he has moved toward Trump on the border issue, the New York Times’ Shane Goldmacher pointed out, Biden is trying to distinguish his position with an argument about democracy: he would pursue these hardline changes through the institutional process, not through the authoritarian means that Trump promises.

Trump met with Texas state government and law enforcement, along with Border Patrol union activists, in Eagle Pass. Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott (R) visited the city’s riverfront Shelby Park, where Abbott has ordered state forces to deny entry, under most circumstances, to the federal Border Patrol. “We have languages coming into our country, we have nobody that even speaks those languages” was one of the ex-president’s many warnings about cross-border migration.

In Austin, Federal District Judge David Ezra blocked implementation of Texas’s controversial new law empowering state law enforcement to arrest people who cross the border irregularly and imprison them if they do not return to Mexico. S.B. 4 was to go into effect on March 5.

Texas is appealing the decision of Judge Ezra, a Reagan appointee, but this is a victory for the Biden administration and non-governmental plaintiffs including the ACLU.

When President Biden told him, in a recent meeting, that Mexico’s government would not agree to a renewal of the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” program for asylum seekers, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) told reporters that he replied, “Mr. President. We’re the United States, Mexico will do what we say.”

Fact checks by the Washington Post and NBC News debunked the notion that migrants increase crime. This has been a frequent conservative talking point following the February 22 murder of a Georgia nursing student, allegedly committed by a man from Venezuela.

A Mexican government crackdown has left about 800 migrants stranded in a tent encampment along the Suchiate River, at Mexico’s border with Guatemala near Tapachula. “People are being forced to wait up to seven days to get answers from the INM [Mexico’s migration agency] and be transferred to Tapachula or Tuxtla Gutierrez,” the capital of Mexico’s southernmost state of Chiapas, read a statement from local human rights defenders. “During this time, they do not receive any type of assistance.”

Authorities in Tijuana count four migrant deaths along the border with San Diego so far in 2024: two drownings, a hypothermia case, and a February 27 fall from the border wall.

Migrants are filling up the Colombian beach town of Necoclí, across the Gulf of Urabá from the entrance of the Darién Gap route to Panama, reported the Associated Press and Financial Times following a story published on Wednesday in the New York Times. The boats that take migrants cross the Gulf are on strike following the Colombian Navy’s seizure of two of them last week, leaving thousands stranded in Necoclí.

The Times reported yesterday from Colombia‘s airport, where an increasing number of migrants, many from Africa, change planes en route to Nicaragua, which does not require visas for most nationalities, via El Salvador. This route, for which they pay more than $10,000 per person, allows migrants to bypass the treacherous Darién Gap jungles.

Analyses and Feature Stories

Federal funding will run out on March 31 for Tucson’s Casa Alitas migrant shelter, which received more than 195,000 people released from CBP custody in 2023 in what is now Border Patrol’s busiest sector, wrote John Washington at Arizona Luminaria.

At the Texas Tribune, Uriel García and William Melhado talked to Texas migrant shelters and local leaders resisting the state government’s legal attacks on El Paso’s Annunciation House and conservatives’ rhetorical attacks on other charities helping migrants.

The Biden and Trump visits “were but another reminder of how the border is used for political theater,” wrote journalist Michelle García in a column at the New York Times, contending that much of today’s border debate recalls violence in Texas’s past.

In the Houston Chronicle, Mark P. Jones of Rice University looked at how the Texas state government’s hardline border and migration stances overlap with exceptionalist and even secessionist currents in the state’s politics.

On the Right

Daily Border Links: February 29, 2024

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Developments

President Joe Biden will be in Brownsville, Texas today for the second U.S.-Mexico border visit of his presidency. About 300 miles upriver along the Rio Grande, Donald Trump will be in Eagle Pass.

We can expect Trump to attack Biden’s border policies, and immigration in general, which is one of his campaign’s principal themes and, according to polls, an electoral vulnerability for the President. We can expect Biden to blame Trump and Republicans for blocking reforms, including a “border deal” that died in the Senate earlier this month even though it conceded significant parts of the Republican agenda by curbing migrants’ right to seek asylum.

We do not expect Biden to announce any new executive actions to implement new curbs on asylum, a step that the White House continues to consider.

The dual visits highlight the deadlock in Washington on any decisions regarding the border and migration: no change—whether a reform or a crackdown, or even a new budget—has passed the 118th Congress, which began in January 2023.

Budget shortfalls have limited the Biden administration’s effort to subject more asylum seekers to rapid screening interviews shortly after apprehension, in a process called “expedited removal,” the Associated Press reported. Asylum officers carrying out the credible-fear interviews “are too understaffed to have much impact,” able to interview a number of migrants equal to about 15 percent of those who were instead released with “notices to appear” in immigration court.

Colombia’s navy last week seized two of the many boats that take migrants—with the permission of local organized crime—across the Gulf of Urabá from the town of Necoclí to Acandí, where the treacherous Darién Gap route into Panama begins. As a result, the New York Times reported, all boat transportation has halted and Necoclí, a small beach resort, is filling up with hundreds of migrants arriving each day, who are now stranded there.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, accompanied by Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, met in Washington to discuss migration approaches with the foreign ministers of Mexico and Guatemala. They discussed addressing migration’s root causes and expanding legal pathways, and agreed to form a trilateral “operational cell” to share information and coordinate strategies.

The three governments agreed to launch a new “dashboard” of migration flows data, “which will enhance data-driven decision-making and coordination.”

U.S. officials praised Mexico’s recent increase in operations to control U.S.-bound migration flows, crediting them for some of the recent drop in migrant arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border, though some of the cause is seasonal.

Guatemala will host the next ministerial-level meeting of the 22 signatory nations of the 2022 Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection. There is no date yet for that meeting.

A tweet from Border Patrol’s chief indicates that the agency apprehended about 136,000 migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border during the first 27 days of February. At that pace, the month-long apprehensions number will be about 146,000: 22,000 more than January, but the 7th-fewest of the Biden administration’s 37 full months in office.

Republican politicians, and a dramatic spike in Fox News stories, are promoting the idea of “migrant crime” as a Venezuelan man who arrived at the border in 2022 stands accused of murdering a nursing student in Georgia last week.

Analyses continue to point out that “migrant crime” is a myth, as migrants proportionally commit less violent crime than do U.S. citizens. The alleged perpetrator of the Georgia murder, meanwhile, arrived at the border during the height of the Title 42 expulsions policy, showing the irrelevance or futility of harsh curbs on asylum.

A 29-year-old Mexican man died after falling from a 30-foot-tall Trump-era segment of border wall east of San Diego on February 27. Mexico’s consulate, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, recorded 29 deaths and 120 injuries at the San Diego-area border in 2023 alone, down slightly from 42 and 124 in 2022 (not all were wall-related).

In 2009, Canada imposed visa requirements on arriving Mexican citizens, amid an increase in asylum applications. In 2016, Canada lifted those requirements. Yesterday, Canada reimposed those visa requirements; more than 25,000 Mexican citizens sought asylum there last year.

Analyses and Feature Stories

Bloomberg mapped out where asylum seekers are settling after they reach the United States, finding a remarkable dispersal to both urban and rural areas. On a per capita basis, states experiencing the largest numbers of migrant arrivals in 2023 were probably New York, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, Colorado, and Illinois.

The Washington Post published a series of maps detailing Texas’s security buildup along the Rio Grande in the Eagle Pass area.

At the New York Times, Jack Healy visited the border near Sásabe, Arizona, where asylum seekers continue to turn themselves in to Border Patrol in large numbers, though they are fewer than they were in the record-setting month of December.

Diego Piña Lopez, the director of Tucson’s Casa Alitas network of migrant shelters, worried that federal funding is running out for non-profit facilities receiving migrants released from Border Patrol custody, which means street releases may come to Tucson next month. “It’s not going to be a trickle. You broke the faucet completely off.”

El Toque counted the deaths or disappearances of more than 800 Cuban migrants over the past 10 years at the U.S.-Mexico border, at sea, in Mexico and Central America, and in the Bahamas and Cayman Islands.

On the Right

Deterring Asylum Seekers: an Increasingly Bipartisan Idea that Won’t Work

I felt a need to write something, without feeling constrained by word count, responding to today’s bipartisan wave of calls to “get tough” on asylum seekers coming to the U.S.-Mexico border. So buckle in.

tl;dr: This piece doesn’t make a human rights argument about asylum access, though it does acknowledge cruelty and human cost. Instead, the argument here is cold, analytical, and practical: the past 10 years’ numbers and experience show that trying to deter protection-seeking migrants just doesn’t work. All it does is push their numbers down temporarily.

I wrote this in a hurry and would like it to coincide with Joe Biden’s and Donald Trump’s February 29 visits to the border, so this document is by me, not my employer. (If I gave my WOLA colleagues a few days’ advance notice to look it over, this would be a much better, tighter document with fewer unfortunate word choices. But it’s a busy week at WOLA.)


As President Biden and candidate Trump head to the Texas-Mexico border, immigration opponents are blaming the President’s border policies for the horrific, tragic February 22 murder of a nursing student in Georgia. But the case of the alleged killer, a 26-year-old Venezuelan man named José Ibarra, shows the futility of trying to put asylum out of reach at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Title 42 was a “nuclear option” for denying asylum—yet it didn’t deter people from coming

Since 1980, U.S. law has clearly stated that any non-citizens on U.S. soil have the right to apply for asylum, regardless of how they arrived, if they fear for their lives or freedom upon return to their country for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Once here, they are entitled to due process, and even Donald Trump’s administration had to honor that, hundreds of thousands of times (though they constantly sought to cut corners).

That is presumably what José Ibarra sought to do when he arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso in September 2022. But in fact, Ibarra came to the U.S.-Mexico border at a time when the U.S. government was going to extreme lengths to make asylum unavailable.

Between March 2020 and May 2023, the “Title 42” pandemic policy—begun by Donald Trump and continued by Joe Biden—used public health as a pretext for carrying out the toughest restriction on asylum seekers since 1980. Title 42 empowered U.S. border officials to expel—not even to properly process—all undocumented migrants they encountered.

If they said “I fear for my life if you expel me,” in most cases migrants still didn’t get hearings: they were expelled from the United States as quickly as possible. If they were Salvadoran, Guatemalan, or Honduran—and later Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, or Venezuelan—Mexico agreed to take many of them back across the land border.

In September 2022, when Ibarra turned himself in to Border Patrol, Title 42 was in full effect. But “expelled as quickly as possible” was often complicated.

In September 2022 alone, 33,804 Venezuelans—fleeing authoritarianism, corrupt misrule, violence, social collapse, and cratering living standards—arrived at the border.

Data table

That month was an especially busy time for Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector (one of the agency’s nine U.S.-Mexico border sectors, comprised of far west Texas and New Mexico). Agents there encountered 49,030 migrants over those 30 days, 20,169 of them from Venezuela, including José Ibarra.

(Let’s recall, too, that the vast majority of those people were seeking to step on U.S. soil and turn themselves in to Border Patrol. They weren’t trying to get away. The presence of a border wall near the riverbank is irrelevant: they just want to set foot on the riverbank.)

Of those 20,169 Venezuelan migrants in El Paso that month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) used Title 42 to expel… 2.

Why so few? Because U.S. authorities had nowhere to “put” expelled citizens of Venezuela and many other countries. At the time, Mexico was accepting Title 42 expulsions of three non-Mexican nationalities, but not Venezuelans. (That came later, in October 2023, bringing a temporary drop in Venezuelan migration. But despite the threat of expulsion, by the last full month of Title 42—April 2023—the number of Venezuelan migrants had recovered to 34,633, at the time a record.)

In 2022—and again, now—Venezuela’s government, which has no diplomatic relations with the United States, was refusing deportations or expulsions by air. Those flights are very expensive anyway for a country thousands of miles away.

At that pandemic moment, but still today, the sheer number of arrivals at the border—often more than 200,000 per month, at a moment of more worldwide migration than at any time since World War II—often makes detaining asylum seekers impossible, for lack of space and budget. So then, and still now, U.S. authorities release many into the U.S. interior with a date to appear before ICE or immigration courts in their destination cities. (The vast majority show up for those appointments.)

This was the reality even during the draconian Title 42 period, when U.S. authorities did expel people—many of them asylum seekers—2,912,294 times. But even as Mexico took back land-border expulsions of many Mexican and Central American people with urgent protection needs, U.S. officials, unable to expel, released José Ibarra and many others into the United States.

Why cracking down on asylum doesn’t work

Let’s repeat: this is what was happening when it was U.S. government policy to expel as many asylum seekers as it could, as quickly as it could. Washington tried a massive crackdown on asylum, and it failed to deter people. This is what happened to Border Patrol’s migrant encounters during the Title 42 period:

Data table

Right now, though, curbing the ability to ask for asylum at the border is in vogue again. Language in a “border deal” negotiated by Senate Republicans and Democrats—defeated in early February because Republicans didn’t think it went far enough—would have switched on a Title 42-like expulsion authority whenever daily migrant encounters averaged more than 4,000 or 5,000 per day.

Read More

Daily Border Links: February 28, 2024

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Developments

President Biden will visit Brownsville, Texas tomorrow, the second U.S.-Mexico border visit of his administration. Republican candidate Donald Trump will be several hours’ drive west, at the border in Eagle Pass.

The President will not announce any new executive actions tomorrow, like new limits on asylum seekers’ ability to seek protection at the border, said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. Media reports last week indicated that the White House is considering such a step, despite a lack of firm legal footing for curbing asylum access.

Border visits, the New York Times noted, have “become a compulsory bit of political theater for leaders who want to show they care about immigration.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas are meeting today with counterparts from Guatemala and Mexico to discuss “actions to strengthen humane migration management, joint collaboration to address the root causes of irregular migration and displacement, and ways to expand lawful pathways in the Western Hemisphere.”

For the first time since 2019, a Gallup Poll found that immigration is what Americans regard to be “the most important issue facing the country.” 28 percent of respondents cited immigration, up from 20 percent a month ago.

PBS NewsHour analyzed the February 22 murder of a Georgia nursing student, allegedly committed by a Venezuelan man whom Border Patrol released from custody in September 2022, when the Title 42 policy was still in place. Charis Kubrin, a professor of criminology, law and society at U.C. Irvine, recalled: “across all this research, by and large, we find that immigrants do not engage in more crime than native-born counterparts, and immigration actually can cause crime to go down, rather than up.”

CalMatters covered the resumption of “street releases” of asylum seekers released from CBP custody in San Diego, where elevated numbers of migrant arrivals exhausted resources for a county-funded “welcome center,” which closed its doors last week. Confused migrants are now being left at a trolley station, as volunteers struggle to orient them. Advocates allege that the county’s money was not spent sustainably.

San Diego County supervisors voted down a motion asking the federal government to shut down the border temporarily at moments of large-scale arrivals of asylum seekers. (“Shutting down” the border would make little difference, as asylum seekers have already crossed the border onto U.S. soil where they have a legal right to petition for protection.)

Analyses and Feature Stories

A harrowing, in-depth report from Quinto Elemento Lab described criminal organizations’ trafficking of Honduran women in the dangerous southern Mexican border town of Frontera Comalapa, Chiapas, and the complicity of Mexican and Honduran government officials.

A judicial settlement for victims of the Trump administration’s family separations allows them to apply for temporary legal status, work authorization, and some services in the United States, but does not guarantee them legal representation for their applications, reported Isabela Dias at Mother Jones.

At the Guardian, Luke Taylor covered studies from the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the UN Refugee Agency indicating that in South America, integrating Venezuelan migrants and refugees will contribute 0.1 to 0.25 percentage points to host countries’ economic growth every year between 2017 and 2030.

Daily Border Links: February 27, 2024

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Developments

On Thursday the 29th, President Joe Biden plans to visit Brownsville, Texas. It will be the second visit to the U.S.-Mexico border of Biden’s presidency. Former president and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump plans to be elsewhere at the Texas border, in Eagle Pass, on the same day. “We welcome that split screen,” a senior administration official told NBC News.

Biden plans to meet with Border Patrol agents and other law enforcement, and to call on Congress to pass border and migration legislation and funding. He is not expected to announce executive actions imposing new limits on asylum seekers’ ability to seek protection at the border, a step that the White House is considering and might announce ahead of the March 7 State of the Union presidential address.

“Immigration was by far the most dominant topic of discussion” during a February 23 White House meeting with state governors, NBC News reported.

Senate Democrats appear likely to dismiss the Republican-majority House’s impeachment of DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas without holding an actual trial, a move that would require just a simple majority vote.

Republicans, including Trump, are blaming Biden for the February 22 murder, allegedly committed by a Venezuelan man, of a 22-year-old nursing student in Georgia.

Border Patrol had released José Ibarra from custody in El Paso in September 2022, at a time when the El Paso sector was the second-busiest of the agency’s nine U.S.-Mexico border sectors. It is not clear whether Ibarra applied for asylum. ICE claims that he was arrested in New York City in August 2023 but released without a transfer to ICE custody; New York officials say they have no record of an arrest.

Progressive Democratic Reps. Adriano Espaillat (D-New York) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) introduced legislation that would provide Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to over 300,000 Ecuadorians in the United States fleeing “unspeakable violence.”

A Monmouth University poll found a majority of U.S. respondents (53 percent), for the first time, favoring border wall construction.

Analyses and Feature Stories

Curbed visited St. Brigid, a former Catholic school in New York City, which has become a “reticketing center” for migrants seeking new shelter. Many endured harrowing journeys and are now struggling with the city’s shelter system and often ending up living on the streets; some voice a desire to return home.

Of more than 100 ancient saguaro cacti that construction crews dug up and transplanted while building Trump-era border wall in Arizona, “dozens” have died.

On the Right

Daily Border Links: February 26, 2024

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Developments

In a February 23 White House meeting with state governors, President Joe Biden confirmed that he is considering executive actions to make asylum harder to obtain at the U.S.-Mexico border, but added that existing laws and budgets leave him with few options.

Migrant rights defense groups and progressive legislators continue to voice outrage about the possible executive actions, which came to light in news reporting on February 21.

As of February 25, year-to-date migration through the Darién Gap totaled over 68,400 people, about 22,700 more than the same period in 2023, EFE reported.

So far this year, the U.S. government has returned 12,144 Guatemalan citizens to their country on deportation flights.

The Texas Newsroom obtained invoices for four flights that Texas’s state government chartered to fly asylum-seeking migrants to New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. The total price tag of $845,000 was well over $1,000 per passenger.

A poll of Venezuelan citizens living in the United States found that more than 65 percent would return to Venezuela if the political opposition were to win this year’s presidential elections, a dim possibility amid rising political repression.

Analyses and Feature Stories

Analyses at the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times examined why migrant apprehensions are up (though leveling off) at the Arizona and California borders and declining in Texas. “Stepped-up enforcement efforts by the governments of Mexico, Panama and Colombia, and heightened violence by cartels on the Mexican side of the Texas border have likely slowed expected migration into that state,” wrote Andrea Castillo at the LA Times.

Asylum-seeker arrivals, and resulting Border Patrol releases, into San Diego have increased so rapidly that they have exhausted a county budget for a short-term migrant welcome center. As a result, CBP is leaving migrants outside a bus station.

The New Yorker, profiling El Paso’s Annunciation House, and the Arizona Daily Star, profiling Casa Alitas, pointed to the key role that migrant shelters play in receiving asylum seekers released from CBP custody. Shelters are facing a rising wave of rhetorical and legal attacks from right-wing politicians.

The Center for Public Integrity revealed that the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which receives and finds sponsors for migrant children who arrive unaccompanied, handled 2,724 reports of missing migrant children in the United States in 2022, many more than in previous years. Federal efforts to locate the missing children are insufficient.

In Eagle Pass, Texas, first responders are “overwhelmed and increasingly traumatized” by the frequency with which they rescue migrants—or recover their bodies—from the Rio Grande, NBC News reported. “On some shifts, firefighters with the Eagle Pass Fire Department can spend three to five hours in the water.”

A Rolling Stone feature looked at the impact that the Texas state government’s border security and migration crackdown is having on daily life in Eagle Pass.

In Arizona, younger Democratic voters are voicing frustration at the Biden administration’s rightward turn on border and migration policy, the Washington Post reported.

Congressional Republicans often urge President Biden to revive the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy despite its human rights impact, even though “it’s not clear Mexico’s government would play along,” Joseph Zeballos-Roig wrote at Semafor.

Voice of America and Mexico’s Milenio both published articles about Haitian migrants who have decided to settle in Mexico instead of pushing on to the United States.

On the Right

Email Update is Out

Here’s a new “weekly” e-mail about stuff I’ve been working on, for those who’ve signed up to receive them.

This one has a Weekly Border Update; a new mini-report plus a podcast about security in Ecuador; and a breakdown with links explaining the past month in Colombia’s peace process. Also, links to some good readings, and to an incredible 46 Latin America-related events that I know of in Washington or online this week (counting Inter-American Human Rights Commission hearings). It’s going to be a busy week.

If you visit this site a lot, you probably don’t need an e-mail, too. But if you’d like to get more-or-less regular e-mail updates, scroll to the bottom of this page or click here.

Latin America-Related Events in Washington and Online This Week

(Events that I know of, anyway. All times are U.S. Eastern.)

Monday, February 26, 2024

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Friday, March 1, 2024

Colombia’s Peace Process: Some Links from the Past Month

Colombia’s government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group completed a sixth round of peace talks in Cuba on February 6. They agreed to renew a six-month-old ceasefire for another six months, through August 4.

The ceasefire is to include a halt in guerrilla kidnappings. As of February 7, according to lead government negotiator Vera Grabe, the ELN had released 23 of 26 people it had been holding. On February 18 the group released a dentist whom it had kidnapped in Magdalena.

Negotiators also agreed to create an international multi-color fund to support peace activities. The next round of talks is to take place in Venezuela.

Despite the ceasefire, ELN units in the southern region of the northwestern department of Chocó declared an “armed strike,” prohibiting people from transiting on roads and rivers for about a week in mid-February. It was the ELN’s third armed strike in this area in seven months. The ELN and the Gulf Clan have been fighting in southern Chocó for years, and the humanitarian crisis—especially forced displacements and confinements—is worsening for communities along the San Juan and Baudó rivers, which are busy smuggling corridors.

The ceasefire, which is limited to stopping fighting between the ELN and the government, is “incomplete” and does not specifically prohibit confinements of populations, said negotiating team member Sen. Iván Cepeda.

ELN negotiators announced on February 20 that they are putting the dialogues on hold. They were reportedly unhappy with the government’s approval of separate dialogues between a single ELN structure and the government of the southwestern department of Nariño (which shares a party affiliation with President Gustavo Petro). The ELN is contesting territory in Nariño with the Central General Staff (EMC) ex-FARC dissident network.

The ELN’s Comuneros del Sur front appears to be more disposed to a faster-paced dialogue; conversations began informally in September 2023. While the Petro government supports the idea of “regional dialogues,” ELN’s national leadership prefers that it negotiate with the group as a whole.

The government has a strong incentive to seek talks with individual ELN units, as the guerrilla group has a loose central command structure with very autonomous units. “The Eastern and Western War fronts, due to their operability and lethality, represent more or less 70 percent of the ELN and these structures are not at the table,” Carlos Velandia, a former ELN leader who is now a frequently cited analyst, told El Tiempo.

The EMC staged a 27-day “armed strike” in parts of southern Caquetá department.

Following recent ELN and EMC armed actions against civilians in Antioquia, Cauca, Chocó, Nariño, Valle del Cauca, and elsewhere, High Commissioner for Peace Otty Patiño warned that “The ceasefire is not a permit to commit crimes.” Analysts viewed this as a hardening of the Petro government’s tone toward armed groups participating in negotiations, and a break with the approach of former High Commissioner Danilo Rueda.

Peace talks officially launched between the government and the Segunda Marquetalia ex-FARC dissident network. Nominally headed by Iván Márquez, the FARC’s chief negotiator for the 2016 peace accord who rearmed in 2019, the Segunda Marquetalia is mainly active in Putumayo and Nariño departments in southwest Colombia.

This is the only negotiation with a group led by people who had already agreed to an earlier peace accord. Along with the ELN and EMC, the Petro government is now in active peace talks with three national groups.

Representatives of the 15 UN Security Council member states visited Colombia on February 7-11. The Council is considering expanding the scope of the UN Verification Mission’s mandate to include the Petro government’s new peace negotiations with additional armed groups; the U.S. government has been reluctant to approve a quick mandate expansion. In a press conference with Council members, President Petro acknowledged that aspects of the 2016 peace accord’s implementation, like land distribution, are running behind.

During their visit, UN diplomats traveled to Buenaventura and Cartagena, and to the former FARC demobilization and reincorporation site in La Montañita, Caquetá, which is now a fair-sized rural town.

Twenty-four of these reincorporation sites, in thirteen departments, continue to exist. As of October 31, the government recognized 11,269 people as ex-FARC, down from 13,394 in 2020, according to El Espectador.

Colombia’s Human Rights Ombudsman’s office noted that the Petro government has increased budgets and resources for implementing the 2016 peace accord, especially its provisions on land and rural reform. In a new monitoring report, though, the Office voiced strong concern about how these resources are being allocated, and about armed groups’ continuing power to undermine people’s access to land, especially when landholders are women.

Of the Territorially Focused Development Programs (PDET), a big peace accord commitment to bring state services to long-abandoned areas, less than 50 percent have even been launched, 7 years after accord implementation began.

Former FARC leaders sent an angry letter to President Petro complaining that the post-conflict transitional justice tribunal currently trying their war crimes cases is “moving away from the spirit and letter of the peace accord.” They are upset that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), in their view, is resolving cases separately instead of all together, moving slow on amnesties for political crimes, and focusing too much on mid-level ex-commanders. The JEP appeared to resolve the amnesty issue on February 21.

68 bills before Colombia’s Congress whose passage is necessary to comply with 2016 peace accord commitments are in danger of failing because they must be approved in the legislative session that ends on June 20, according to the Bogotá-based Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP).

A FIP report found that Colombia’s armed groups increased their strength and reach in 2023, even as some negotiated with the government and some humanitarian indicators improved. “Disputes between the groups for territorial control increased 54% in 2023. Total armed actions by the groups also increased 11%. Disputed zones between groups increased from five to nine,” said FIP Director María Victoria Llorente.

FIP cited data from Colombia’s security forces pointing to an increase in the combined membership of the ELN, ex-FARC dissidents, and the Gulf Clan in 2023: from about 15,000 to about 16,700.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: February 23, 2024

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.

Support ad-free, paywall-free Weekly Border Updates. Your donation to WOLA is crucial to sustain this effort. Please contribute now and support our work.

THIS WEEK IN BRIEF:

Media reports indicate that the White House is considering executive orders that would restrict asylum access. Possibilities include a new expulsion authority and a higher bar in credible fear screening interviews, though those could run counter to existing law or duplicate current policies. Meanwhile, a group of 10 moderate Republicans and centrist Democrats is sponsoring a bill that would mandate expulsions and “Remain in Mexico” along with Ukraine and Israel aid.

On March 5, depending on what a federal judge decides, Texas will begin enforcing a law making it a state crime, punishable by imprisonment, to cross the border without inspection. Texas is also accusing a respected El Paso migrant shelter of “harboring” and “smuggling” migrants and threatening to shut it down. The state’s governor is building a giant National Guard base near Eagle Pass.

The week of February 9-16 saw nine known examples of alleged human rights abuse, misconduct, or other reasons for concern about the organizational culture at U.S. border law enforcement agencies. Two senior Border Patrol officials were suspended, emails revealed widespread use of a slur to describe migrants, a new report detailed seizures of migrants’ belongings, and a whistleblower complaint revealed a bizarre incident involving “fentanyl lollipops.”

THE FULL UPDATE:

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Daily Border Links: February 23, 2024

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Developments

Yesterday saw few new developments after Wednesday’s multiple media reports indicating that the Biden administration is considering drastic limits, via executive order, on the right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. (See yesterday’s Daily Border Links.) According to some reporting, these limits could include expulsions of asylum seekers when daily migrant encounters reach a certain level.

Progressive Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) voiced firm opposition to the proposal: “Doing Trump impressions isn’t how we beat Trump,” tweeted Ocasio-Cortez.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) wrote that a Biden executive order or similar actions would be “election year gimmicks.”

The El Paso Times covered the Texas government’s legal attack on the city’s Annunciation House migrant shelter. “Annunciation House isn’t a place, per se. It’s a community of like-minded people, driven by their faith to help the most vulnerable regardless of circumstance,” wrote reporter Lauren Villagrán.

“We are now witnessing an escalating campaign of intimidation, fear and dehumanization in the state of Texas,” Bishop Mark Seitz of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso wrote in a statement. Further support for the shelter came from a group of Catholic and El Paso and Ciudad Juárez-based humanitarian and human rights groups.

A U.S. deportation flight brought 51 Cuban citizens to Havana yesterday. This is the 11th removal flight to Cuba since they resumed last April: 1 each month.

The Wall Street Journal confirmed that deportation flights to Venezuela stopped in late January. Between October and then, 15 planes had sent 1,800 Venezuelan migrants back to Caracas.

The director of Mexico‘s migration agency (National Migration Institute, INM) in Baja California called for the provision of bulletproof vests for agents in the face of attacks from smugglers. INM agents don’t carry lethal weapons, “but that could change,” though not soon, David Tejada Padilla told Border Report.

13,101 pounds of methamphetamine aboard a tractor trailer at Laredo’s Camino Real bridge on February 18 were CBP’s largest-ever meth seizure at a port of entry.

Analyses and Feature Stories

“I went through dozens of reports, scores of articles, on the discussion of this migration bill, and the reporters talked to zero migrants and zero migrant rights groups. At all. None. Zero,” media analyst Adam Johnson told Todd Miller at the Border Chronicle.

At the Washington Post, Philip Bump tried to envision Trump advisor Stephen Miller’s plan to use “red-state” National Guard soldiers to round up undocumented immigrants in Democratic-majority states. Bump’s conclusion: “It’s cosplay.”

By busing migrants to Democratic-governed cities, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has “played into the idea of pitting immigrants against the American people in general and against immigrants who have been here for years,” a Democratic political strategist told CNN, noting that “it’s working” politically.

On the Right

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