Hi, this is Adam. If you're receiving this message, it means you signed up on my website to receive regular updates. If you'd like to stop getting these, just follow the instructions further down.
I'm writing a couple of days late because this is almost certainly my last e-mail of the year, and I wanted to include links to a couple more things that got published yesterday.
This one has some of those, including a great video from Colombia. Also, this week's Border Update, another Congressional testimony, some charts, links to stuff to read, and more. There are no links to Latin America-related events, because I couldn't find any announcements for events during the week before Christmas.
I look forward to being in touch again next year. Have a great holiday.
Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: December 15, 2023
Also, at this time of many fast-moving border events, see our archive of daily updates.
THIS WEEK IN BRIEF:
- White House giving ground on asylum in Senate negotiations
With more input from the White House and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a small group of senators continues to negotiate a deal that might water down the right to seek asylum at the border, a Republican demand for passage of a $110.5 billion Biden administration request for Ukraine and Israel aid, the border, and other priorities. Migrant rights defenders are alarmed by reports that the administration and Democratic legislators might agree to a provision that would expel asylum seekers, Title 42-style, if daily Border Patrol apprehensions exceed a certain threshold. Congress was set to adjourn on December 14; the House gaveled out, but the Senate remains in session in order to give negotiators more time.
- Migrant arrivals remain high, though perhaps not for long
With nearly 10,000 Border Patrol migrant apprehensions per day, December 1-7 was one of the busiest weeks ever at the U.S.-Mexico border. Arrivals of asylum seekers are heaviest in Border Patrol’s Tucson, Del Rio, and San Diego sectors, where Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has partially or fully closed three ports of entry. More recent data point to a modest slowdown in migrant arrivals compared to the first week of the month. So do reports of reduced, though still historically high, levels of northbound migration through Honduras and Panama.
Video of last Thursday’s Congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Hearing on “Organized Crime, Gangs and Human Rights in Latin America”
I was honored to be invited (as a last-minute substitution, but still) to cover Colombia at the final 2023 hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives' Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, covering the human rights impact of organized crime and government efforts to combat it.
Darién Gap Migration Fell in November
Panama has just posted statistics detailing migration through the treacherous Darién Gap region through November. They show the number of migrants passing through the Darién dropping for the third straight month, to less than half of August and September levels. November was 24 percent lighter than October.
Among major nationalities, the sharpest one-month declines were from Venezuela (-35%), Peru (-39%), Vietnam (-31%), and Benin (-38%). Migration from China increased 39 percent.
Venezuelan migrants may be delaying plans until they see what happens with the Biden administration’s announced resumption of deportation flights to Caracas. Colder weather and the end-of-year holidays may be part of the reason for the across-the-board decline.
Still, the barely governed jungle region finished the year’s first 11 months with nearly half a million migrants (495,459), which has never come close to happening before. A couple of weeks later, the count now stands at more than 506,000.
So far this year, 22 percent of Darién Gap migrants have been minors. (UNICEF has estimated that half of minors transiting the Darién are under five years old.) 52 percent have been men, 26 percent women, 12 percent boys, and 10 percent girls.
Video: Migrants in Colombia: Between Government Absence and Criminal Control
WOLA videographer Sergio Ortiz Borbolla was with us in northwestern Colombia at the end of October, and produced this brilliant 1:47 video depicting what we saw and heard. This is what Necoclí, and the gateway to the Darién Gap, looked and felt like.
(I'm hours away from a draft report on this trip. I'm running behind, in part, because of unexpectedly having to prepare two congressional testimonies in the space of two weeks 😎.)
Dismantling Legal Migration Pathways Won’t Secure the Border
Here’s WOLA’s December 11 statement about the migration negotiations happening right now in Congress. People accessing asylum are not the problem: the problem is our outdated, underfunded asylum system grappling with years-long backlogs. Appropriations should focus on that instead—and do no harm.
The White House is signaling support for life-threatening restrictions on asylum access, including raising the standard that asylum seekers must meet while being screened in U.S. custody. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) calls on Congress not to use the lives of tens of thousands of families and individuals as bargaining chips in exchange for assistance to Ukraine and Israel.
Rather than putting people’s lives at risk, it is time to be realistic about the push and pull factors driving migration, guarantee due process to people who need protection, provide additional legal pathways to migration, and work with countries throughout the hemisphere that are also receiving record numbers of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Blocking asylum, a core human rights value adopted after World War II, has not and will not stop people from fleeing their homes and will worsen the humanitarian crisis.
The reasons forcing asylum seekers from Venezuela, Haiti, Ukraine, Cuba, and many other nations to flee their homes will remain, regardless of changes in U.S. immigration policies. Right now, thousands of families are waiting for days in the most secluded border regions, in harsh conditions, and without supplies, to be picked up by Border Patrol in hopes of seeking protection in the country.
The harsh measures that Texas’s state government is imposing aren’t deterring anyone: desperate people are crawling through razor wire with their children in El Paso, while over 3,000 per day are arriving in Border Patrol’s Del Rio Sector, the very heart of Gov. Abbott’s crackdown. People are coming even though a growing number do not survive the journey: the migrant death toll at the U.S.-Mexico border and throughout the region is the highest it has ever been. Further tightening access to asylum, which is a cornerstone of our legal system and an important reform of the post-World War II era, will only contribute to dysfunction at the border and the loss of lives.
Raising credible fear interview standards, capping numbers of asylum seekers, expanding expedited removal proceedings, and restricting humanitarian parole will place thousands of people in life-threatening situations.
These policies would increase the probability of U.S. authorities committing refoulement (returning people to their place of persecution), a serious violation of human rights and of international and U.S. law. It is bad enough that U.S. immigration law makes journeying to U.S. soil and asking for asylum the only viable pathway for most to achieve protection in the United States, and that U.S. policy restricts asylum seekers’ access to ports of entry.
After a harrowing journey, while still in CBP’s jail-like facilities without access to counsel, many people with urgent protection needs will not be able to effectively defend their cases over the phone with distant asylum officers—especially if the administration and Congress raise the standard of “fear” to something close to what they would eventually have to prove in an immigration court. This policy change will return thousands back to likely death, torture, or imprisonment. The expedited removal process already fast tracks asylum proceedings at the border. Expanding it into the U.S. interior, impeding their ability to get lawyers and effectively make their cases, would subject migrants and asylum seekers throughout the country to speedy deportations without due process.
Beyond a possible agreement on raising fear standards, Republicans are pushing for limits on the presidential authority, dating back to the 1950s, to offer migrants temporary humanitarian parole. A partial offer of parole to citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela increased order at the border by sharply reducing arrivals of most of those countries’ citizens. Restricting this program would overwhelm resources at the border.
These proposed policy changes directly contradict the United States’ commitments to racial equity, disproportionately impacting Black, Brown, and Indigenous migrants. The potential harm to these communities cannot be overlooked.
The standard for people to access asylum is not the problem; the problem is our outdated, underfunded asylum system grappling with years-long backlogs. Appropriations should focus on that, instead.
We urge Congress to not make permanent, harmful policy changes in exchange for a one-time funding package. The need for enduring, thoughtful solutions has never been more pressing.
There’s Empathy at Border Patrol, but it Depends on “What Agent You Get”
For a few months now, but especially in the past few weeks, large numbers of migrants have been arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona. A Border Patrol agent told the Los Angeles Times that about 90 percent of them are turning themselves in to ask for asylum.
It’s a humanitarian crisis, with hundreds forced to wait in the desert for long periods for overwhelmed Border Patrol agents to come and process them. Some of the crisis is self-inflicted, since there is only one port of entry in all of Arizona that allows asylum seekers to make “CBP One” appointments (Nogales), and it only takes 100 appointments per day, out of a border-wide 1,450. The scarcity of appointments pushes people into the desert.
Humanitarian volunteers from Arizona organizations like Tucson Samaritans and Humane Borders have been on scene providing food, water, and other help. These groups’ past relationships with the U.S. Border Patrol have been rocky. Some have denounced Border Patrol interference with humanitarian supplies, while agents have suspected volunteers of harboring migrants or incentivizing illegal crossings. During the Trump administration, agents twice raided a camp run by another group, No More Deaths.
But the crisis has brought a new level of cooperation, or at least friendliness, between Border Patrol and humanitarian groups. Emily Bregel of the Arizona Daily Star has commented on this side of Border Patrol a few times in her recent reporting from rural Arizona.
Aid workers and the Border Patrol have historically had a tense relationship, Abbott [Humane Borders volunteer Dan Abbott] said. But the recent surge has brought out some camaraderie between the two groups, who share the same goal, he said.
“For years, Border Patrol and aid organizations have been kind of on opposite sides,” he said. “What’s happening now is that, we’re both invested in keeping people alive.”
Relations have almost become amicable, he said.
“We’re not buddies, but we’re not getting in each others’ way,” he said. “Our basic understanding of immigration is different from theirs, but so be it. We can still work together and care for people in the meantime.”
Kocourek [Gail Kocourek of Salvavision and Tucson Samaritans] said agents seem to increasingly tolerate, and even welcome, aid workers’ presence and their reports of migrants with medical needs…
As he passed, one agent advised the Samaritans that 25 migrants were still left behind, at a nearby spot along the border wall.
…multiple Border Patrol trucks came roaring down the road, headed back to retrieve the waiting asylum seekers who would at least have shelter for the night.
An agent leaned out the window and grinned as the Samaritans waved happily, calling, “Thank you!”
Kocourek said she and other aid workers sat with the families near the wall until the Border Patrol picked them up. The agents were kind, she said.
“They had empathy. They understood these people were caught in the crossfire,” she said. “Most are in Tucson now. At least they’re alive and we’re helping them as much as we can.”
My WOLA colleagues Stephanie Brewer and Ana Lucía Verduzco were just in southern Arizona and published a brief memo today about what they saw. They heard similar news about positive interactions with Border Patrol agents, though with a key caveat.
Local aid groups alert Border Patrol to remote locations where asylum seekers are waiting. “Border Patrol is leaning on us,” a volunteer told us. But how quickly or humanely Border Patrol responds to migrants in distress or waiting asylum seekers often depends on “what agent you get”.
They say that individual agents continue to vary widely. Some are empathetic and helpful. Others are disdainful and indifferent to suffering. Who you get, it seems, depends on the shift.
It would be important to have a better idea of whether Border Patrol today offers any incentives for the empathetic, helpful agents. Are they more likely to get bonuses and promotions? Or does the Tucson Sector tend to reward “Old Patrol” types who treat even protection-seeking families as likely criminals?
Links from the Past Week
Keegan Hamilton, As Border Extremism Goes Mainstream, Vigilante Groups Take a Starring Role (The Los Angeles Times, Monday, December 18, 2023).
Arizona Border Recon and other groups that patrol the border for migrants and drug smugglers are gaining followers and prominence, fueling far-right rhetoric and misinformation in national politics
Daniel Gonzalez, In Southern Mexico, the Cost for Migrants to Reach the Us Is Increasingly Death (The Austin American-Statesman, Thursday, December 14, 2023).
A rising death toll of migrants in southern Mexico, fueled in part by US-backed policies, has been largely overlooked, human rights groups say
Policia de Honduras se Alio Con Seguridad Privada de Transnacional para Desalojar Violentamente a Campesinos en el Aguan (Contra Corriente, Monday, December 11, 2023).
La violencia contra las familias campesinas y la persecución judicial contra sus liderazgos en el Bajo Aguán, en el norte de Honduras, se agudiza a pocos meses para que se cumplan dos años desde la firma del acuerdo tripartito
David Tarazona, Jose Guarnizo, Coltan, Oro y Pistas Clandestinas: El Botin Con el Que Grupos Armados Desangran al Guainia (Voragine (Colombia), Monday, December 11, 2023).
La reserva Puinawai, en el suroriente de Colombia y parte de la Amazonía, es impactada por la minería ilegal de oro y de coltán. Imágenes satelitales de 2023 muestran mordiscos en la selva causados por la actividad
Cbp Violations of Custody Standards and Human Rights of Individuals Detained in Open-Air Detention Sites in the San Diego Sector Require Immediate Attention to Save Lives (Several organizations, Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, Monday, December 11, 2023).
Border Patrol agents are still detaining asylum seekers in dangerous, exposed conditions, and are failing to provide the adequate food, water, sanitation, shelter, and medical care required under the law