Updates from Adam Isacson (December 5, 2023)

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This one is a bit late because I got invited to testify about the border in the House Foreign Affairs Committee last Thursday (see below). That was a very worthwhile experience, but it pushed all of my work about 48 hours into the future. For instance, the Weekly Border Update, which usually goes out on Fridays, didn't get posted until yesterday (Monday).

This week I'm putting my head down and finishing a solid draft of the first of two reports about my October-November visit to Colombia. This one will be about migration. That work may mean less interesting content in next weekend's e-mail update, since I'm spending most unscheduled time writing something that won't be published until mid-December.

This week's e-mail has links to the border update, links to a few recommended articles, and links to upcoming events.

Next year, a crazed election year in which the border and migration are the number-three issue on voters' minds, will be unlike any other in my career. It's going to demand rapid response and constant communications on border and migration issues.

With that in mind, last week I started trying out a "daily links" format: one-sentence (approximately) explanations of key developments and analyses.

I probably won't post them to these e-mails, since they're out of date within 24 hours and we still have the WOLA Weekly Border Updates. The one I posted for today (Tuesday) is below, though.

If you do want a daily briefing, head over to the "Daily Border Update" tag on my site, or to the "News" tab at WOLA's "Border Oversight" resource.

Also: if the workflow of making these each weekday doesn’t stick, these updates will disappear and I’ll never speak of them again.

December 5, 2023


Talks continue, haltingly, in the U.S. Senate as Republicans demand legal changes tightening asylum and other migration pathways, in exchange for supporting a $106 billion emergency funding request for Ukraine, Israel, the border and other priorities. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said that negotiations between a small group of senators were “on ice.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who is not one of the negotiators, implied that the talks were more like blackmail terms than a search for a compromise: “This is not a traditional negotiation, where we expect to come up with a bipartisan compromise on the border. This is a price that has to be paid in order to get the supplemental.” The Democrats’ lead negotiator, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connectictut) replied, “Apparently I’ve wasted the last 3 weeks of my life since this was never a negotiation – just a take it or leave it demand. 🙃”

Semafor reported that Republicans triggered the current impasse in negotiations with a demand “to provide the president new authority to shut down the asylum system at will,” an authority similar to the pandemic-era Title 42 expulsions policy.

Some reports indicated that House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) would demand that the funding bill include all of H.R. 2: a draconian bill, passed by the House on a party-line vote in May, that would all but shut down asylum. Republican negotiator Sen. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) denied this: Johnson will “get what we send him.”

Sen. Schumer intends to put the appropriation bill up for a “test vote” on Wednesday; it is very likey to fail amid opposition from the chamber’s 49 Republicans, who only need 41 votes to filibuster the bill, keeping it from coming to a final vote.

Mexico’s migration agency (National Migration Institute, INM) is running out of money for the year, and has suspended migrant deportations and other activities involving transport of personnel, the Associated Press reported. Mexican authorities encountered a record 588,626 migrants during the first 10 months of 2023.

While it considers the case, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has prohibited Border Patrol from reaching asylum seekers on U.S. soil by cutting through concertina wire that Texas police and National Guardsmen have laid along the Rio Grande. This temporarily reverses a November 29 district court decision allowing federal agents to cut the razor-sharp wire. Texas’s state government had filed suit in late October seeking to stop Border Patrol from cutting the wire.

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs (D) voiced concern that large numbers of arriving asylum seekers could cause CBP to close other ports of entry in order to free up personnel to process migrants, as happened last week at the temporarily shuttered crossing in remote Lukeville. Hobbs did not rule out sending the state’s National Guard to the border, but is holding off for now.

Analyses and Feature Stories

The El Paso Times’ Lauren Villagrán visited Sololá, in Guatemala’s highlands, the home region of many of the 40 migrants who died in a horrific March 2023 fire in a Ciudad Juárez migrant detention facility.

“The average wait time for non-Mexicans is two months after making an account and requesting an appointment” with the CBP One app, a senior CBP official told Bloomberg. “For Mexicans, the wait time is currently a little over 3 months,” the official added, noting that Mexican citizens have daily limits to prevent them from crowding out other nationalities. This is curious, since the result is that Mexican asylum seekers are forced to wait in the same country where they face threats.

U.S.-Mexico Border Update: December 4, 2023

Read the whole update at WOLA's website.


A group of six or seven senators is negotiating Republican demands for tighter border and migration measures in exchange for aid to Ukraine, Israel and more in a Biden administration request for additional 2024 funds. The senators may be close to requiring asylum seekers to meet a much higher standard of fear in initial interviews at the border, a possibility that has progressive members of Congress and migrants’ rights advocates, including WOLA, on edge. Republicans are also demanding Democratic concessions on “safe third country” agreements and the presidential humanitarian parole authority.

Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector, which includes far west Texas and New Mexico, experienced a very sharp increase in the number of migrant remains recovered during fiscal 2023. The agency reported that 15 people died by drowning in the Rio Grande in its Del Rio, Texas Sector between October 1 and November 20. Medical providers in San Diego report a sharp increase in deaths and serious injuries from falls off of the border wall. On the Mexican side of the border, a mass kidnapping in Tamaulipas and cartel battles in Sonora underscored the dangers migrants face in the border zone.

The federal judiciary’s Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered Texas to remove the “buoy wall” that Gov. Greg Abbott (R) had ordered built in the middle of the Rio Grande in June near Eagle Pass. Abbott said he would appeal to the Supreme Court. A Fifth Circuit district court also blocked a Texas state government suit seeking to prohibit Border Patrol agents from cutting through the razor-sharp concertina wire that Texas authorities have strung along the river’s banks, in an effort to block asylum seekers.

Read the whole update at WOLA's website.

November 30 Hearing Testimonies

I enjoyed testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on November 30. As the hearing, about the U.S.-Mexico border and migration, lasted nearly four hours, I may have been the only person in the room enjoying it.

WOLA has created a page with video excerpts and links.

Infographics Reflecting Data that Mexico Released Last Week

Mexico's Migration Policy Unit released data about migration in the country through October. And Mexico's presidency published a new "security update" to its website. These charts, and corresponding data tables, reflect that information.

Data table - Page where this chart "lives"

Data table - Page where this chart "lives"

Daniel Politi, Patricia Luna, Henry Kissinger's Unwavering Support for Brutal Regimes Still Haunts Latin America (Associated Press, Associated Press, Sunday, December 3, 2023).

Decades later, the effects of that policy are still being felt in a region that feels the U.S. would go to any lengths to support its interests

The Moskitia: The Honduran Jungle Drowning in Cocaine (InsightCrime, Friday, December 1, 2023).

The Honduras' region of the Moskitia is one of the last great wildernesses. But its jungles are being destroyed by organized crime

Mary Beth Sheridan, How Tiktokers and Swifties Became Political Power Brokers in Guatemala (The Washington Post, Friday, December 1, 2023).

They helped get an anti-corruption reformer elected president. But with weeks still to go before the inauguration, some of them are getting arrested

Ken Silverstein, The Colombian Murder Case That Refuses to Die (The New Republic, Thursday, November 30, 2023).

Important evidence continues to come to light about the murders of the labor leaders, the subjects of a lengthy, often delayed investigation in Colombia that recently picked up steam

Martha Guerrero Ble, A Forgotten Response and an Uncertain Future: Venezuelans' Economic Inclusion in Colombia (Refugees International, Thursday, November 30, 2023).

Venezuelans were once given a generous welcome in neighboring Colombia. That welcome has frozen under the leadership of President Petro

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

Monday, December 4

  • 8:30-10:00 at csis.org: Prospects and Pitfalls for Security Assistance in Haiti (RSVP required).

Tuesday, December 5

Wednesday, December 6

  • 9:00-10:30 at the Inter-American Dialogue: La agenda ambiental y climática en Colombia: autoridades locales hablan (RSVP required).
  • 9:30-11:00 at the Brookings Institution and online: Tackling global corruption to strengthen democracy and security (RSVP required).
  • 10:00 at Race and Equality: Challenges And Lessons Of The Brazilian Trans Movement (RSVP required).
  • 11:30-12:45 at the Inter-American Dialogue: Mobilizing Youth for Democracy and Human Rights (RSVP required).
  • 2:00-3:00 at carnegieendowment.org: Pivotal States: Is the United States Overlooking Mexico’s Potential? (RSVP required).
  • 2:00-5:30 at CSIS and online: Progress and Possibility: Reflecting on 75 Years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (RSVP required).
  • 3:00-5:00 at the Atlantic Council and online: Elections everywhere all at once (RSVP required).
  • 6:30 at cuny.edu: How Can We Solve The Border Crisis? (RSVP required).

And Finally

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Jamie Larson