Updates from Adam Isacson (March 19, 2024)

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Sorry I missed an email last week: a little side project threw me off. I have several little online projects scattered around the web in various states of half-built-ness, and for months I’ve been wanting to consolidate them all as subdomains of adamisacson.com. For reasons I can't explain (other than a big bill from the hosting service I'm leaving), I decided that last week would be a good time to do that, despite everything else that’s going on.

Long story short, it took a long time to do, and my site was either horribly laid out or totally broken for a couple of days last week—bad enough to make it impossible to move things from there into an email format. And any time that I would’ve spent on an email, I spent fixing the site instead.

The results, though, are great so far. adamisacson.com now runs faster than ever and is more secure. And so far, I’ve added two useful subdomains:

  • cbpdata.adamisacson.com, which I describe more fully below, gives you far better access to U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) dataset about migration at the U.S.-Mexico border since 2020.
  • defenseoversight.adamisacson.com, which isn’t quite ready to share yet, although it builds on a resource I built in 2015. I’ve done a lousy job maintaining some parts of it, with a big exception: the “news database” section is essential: it has links to over 60,000 Latin America-related articles and reports that I’ve found useful and saved over the past 8 1/2 years, and it’s really easy to find things by categories and searches. I just dug into the code over the weekend and sped it up enormously. But I'm not going to mention it elsewhere yet, because if you play around with it, you’re going to find bugs.

I’ll be improving these, and at least two other sections, in the middle of the year when I get a two-month sabbatical. More on that later.

In the meantime, for this week’s e-mail I’ve managed to cobble together the last two weeks’ Border Updates, a really lively podcast about El Salvador, and an explanation of the "cbpdata" tool I just mentioned. Also, links to some really good readings, and to 14 Latin America-related events that I know of in Washington or online this week.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: Darién Gap, 2025 budget, Texas litigation, State of the Union

  • Read the whole thing here. See past weekly updates here.
  • For 2024 - read our daily border links posts here. You can subscribe to the daily border links list here.


  • A busy start to the year in the Darién Gap

73,167 people made the treacherous northbound journey through the Darién Gap region straddling Colombia and Panama during the first two months of 2024. That is 47 percent ahead of the same period in 2023, a year that ended with over 520,000 people migrating through. Panama’s government suspended Doctors Without Borders’ permission to provide health services at posts where the Darién trail ends; the announcement’s timing is curious because the organization had been denouncing rapidly increasing cases of sexual violence committed against the people whom their personnel were treating.

  • Biden administration submits 2025 Homeland Security budget request

The White House sent Congress a $62 billion budget request to fund the Department of Homeland Security in 2025. The base budget for Customs and Border Protection would decrease slightly, though the agency would share in a $4.7 billion contingency fund for responding to surges in migration. The administration proposes to hire 1,300 Border Patrol agents, 1,000 CBP officers, 1,600 USCIS asylum officers, and 375 new immigration judge teams. The budget request stands almost no chance of passing this year, as Congress has not even passed the Department’s 2024 budget.

  • Texas litigation updates

For at least a few more days, the Supreme Court has kept on hold Texas’s controversial S.B. 4 law, which allows state authorities to jail and deport migrants, while lower-court appeals continue. A federal judge threw out Texas’s and other Republican states’ challenge to the Biden administration program offering humanitarian parole to citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. A state judge blocked Texas’s legal offensive against El Paso’s Annunciation House shelter.

  • State of the Union Address fallout

The Republican response to President Biden’s March 7 State of the Union address included a graphic, harrowing story of a woman being subjected to years of sexual violence at the border. Further scrutiny revealed that Sen. Katie Britt’s (R-Alabama) account described crimes committed in Mexico during the Bush administration. President Biden voiced regret for using the term “an illegal” to refer to a migrant who allegedly killed a Georgia nursing student in February, in an off-the-cuff response to Republican hecklers during his address.

Read the whole thing 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.

A New Tool for Migration Data

Updates were slow over the past two weeks because I’ve moved my site and domain to a new service provider. I’m now using a virtual server that can host not just adamisacson.com, but other little projects as sub-domains of adamisacson.com.

One of those little projects is live now: cbpdata.adamisacson.com. It’s a tool that lets you search Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) migration data since 2020.

Every month, CBP updates and publishes a dataset of its encounters with migrants since fiscal year 2020 (October 2019). We may get February’s data any moment now.

But that data is basically a table that right now has 58,866 rows. This site makes it usable.

(CBP has a “dashboard” that shows this data since 2021, and unlike mine, it includes encounters beyond the U.S.-Mexico border, including the Canada border and airports. But it doesn’t let you, for instance, just see how many people came from every country—you have to select each country one by one—and it’s really hard to get data out of it.)

I think the page is self-explanatory. If you visit it, do nothing, and click “Show the Data,” you’ll get a table showing how many migrants CBP encountered—both Border Patrol and ports of entry combined—by country for each year since 2020.

Hover your mouse over any number in the table, and a pop-up will show you the percentage of the total (so in the picture, 27% of 2024’s migrants so far have come from Mexico).

Click the “select table” button, and the entire thing is selected, letting you copy-and-paste it into a spreadsheet or anywhere else.

I encourage you to play around with the options on the main page letting you refine your search. Checking the various boxes lets you see, for instance, “How many family members and accompanied/unaccompanied children from Cuba and Haiti arrived in Texas’s five Border Patrol sectors and two CBP field offices, by month since 2023, listed by whether they came to ports of entry or to areas between them.” Just to give an idea of all the variables.

Search result: Monthly Migration at the U.S.-Mexico Border, Presented by “Whether Encountered At or Between Ports of Entry” at “Big Bend Sector, Del Rio Sector, El Paso Sector, Laredo Sector, and Rio Grande Valley Sector” at “El Paso Field Office and Laredo Field Office” for migrants from “Cuba and Haiti” who are “Accompanied Minors, Family Unit Members, and Unaccompanied Children / Single Minors” Between 2023 and 2024
Whether Encountered At or Between Ports of Entry	Oct 2022	Nov 2022	Dec 2022	Jan 2023	Feb 2023	Mar 2023	Apr 2023	May 2023	Jun 2023	Jul 2023	Aug 2023	Sep 2023	Oct 2023	Nov 2023	Dec 2023	Jan 2024	Total
At the Ports of Entry (CBP Office of Field Operations)	2,085	1,699	1,845	1,055	1,551	1,804	2,288	2,110	3,413	4,366	3,607	2,806	2,943	3,372	3,979	4,627	43,550
Between the Ports of Entry (Border Patrol)	4,085	6,001	7,786	1,351	17	109	180	408	79	122	124	174	220	397	1,464	314	22,831
Total	6,170	7,700	9,631	2,406	1,568	1,913	2,468	2,518	3,492	4,488	3,731	2,980	3,163	3,769	5,443	4,941	66,381

Also, every search result, including a really long one like that example, has its own unique link.

I hope you find it useful. I’m using it constantly. When CBP releases its February data, I’ll be able to update this within about 10 minutes of obtaining it.

And finally: all the source code is on GitHub if you want to see how it works or have the skills to improve it.

WOLA Podcast: Flooding the Zone—the “Bukele Model,” Security and Democracy in El Salvador

From March 6: It’s been too long since I’ve done a podcast focused on El Salvador. Nayib Bukele’s re-election made it even more timely. Here’s a fast-moving and hard-hitting conversation with Douglas Farah, a veteran journalist and consultant who has been following the situation closely and gives us a lot to worry about. Not just about El Salvador, but about what the so-called “Bukele Model” means for democracy region-wide.

Here’s the text from the podcast landing page at wola.org:

It has been almost a month since Nayib Bukele was reelected as President of El Salvador by a very wide margin, despite a constitutional prohibition on reelection. While security gains and a constant communications blitz have made Bukele popular, our guest, Douglas Farah of IBI Consultants, highlights some grave concerns about the “Bukele Model” and where it is headed.

Among these: pursuit of an “authoritarian playbook” common to many 21st century political movements, with eroding checks and balances; vastly weakened transparency over government activities; a complicated relationship with gangs and their integration into the political structure; an unsustainable reliance on mass incarceration; and erosion of the independence and professionalism of the police, military, and judiciary.

In this episode, Farah argues:

  • The success of Bukele’s security model may not be as pronounced as is publicly accepted.
  • The human rights cost is very high, with about 75,000 people arrested, far more than earlier estimates of gang membership.
  • Bukele’s model uses elements from the “authoritarian playbook,” including undoing public access laws, eliminating accountability for government spending, consolidating media control, threatening independent media, and relying on armies of social media accounts and traditional media outlets to dominate the political conversation.
  • Toleration of human rights abuse and corruption have undone a police reform that was a key element of the country’s 1992 peace accords.
  • MS-13 is not defeated: its leaders avoid extradition while maintaining close relationships with authorities, while some of its affiliates serve as legislative “alternates.”
  • The influence of China is real but probably overstated, as the country offers few resources and little overall strategic value.
  • While it does not make strategic sense to criticize the popular president frontally, the Biden administration needs to be more consistent and less timid in its critique of specific policies and anti-democratic trends.

Douglas Farah is President of IBI Consultants, a research consultancy that offers many of its products online. He was formerly bureau chief of United Press International in El Salvador, a staff correspondent for The Washington Post, and a senior visiting fellow at the National Defense University’s Center for Strategic Research. He is a 1995 recipient of the Columbia Journalism School’s Maria Moors Cabot Prize for outstanding coverage of Latin America.

Download the podcast .mp3 file here. Listen to WOLA’s Latin America Today podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. The main feed is here.

The March 8 Border Update

  • Read the whole thing here. See past weekly updates here.
  • For 2024 - read our daily border links posts here. You can subscribe to the daily border links list here.


  • The spring migration increase is underway

Leaked data points to a 13 percent increase in Border Patrol migrant apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border from January to February. Last month’s unofficial total is high for a typical February, but lower than most months during the past three years. The top two sectors for migrant arrivals were in Arizona and California. Mexico broke its single-month migrant apprehensions record in January, capturing nearly as many people that month as the U.S. Border Patrol did. Migration through Honduras illustrates many migrants’ use of a route that involves flights to Nicaragua.

  • Boats stop, then resume, at the entrance to the Darién Gap

Boats ferrying people to the beginning of the Darién Gap migration trail halted for five days at the end of February. The transport companies called a strike to protest the Colombian Navy’s seizure of two vessels. Ferries restarted after an agreement with the Colombian government, at a meeting that included the presence of a U.S. embassy official. The Darién route into Panama is growing more treacherous, as Doctors Without Borders is reporting an alarming increase in sexual assaults committed against migrants in the jungle so far this year.

  • Drug seizure data through January shows drop in fentanyl

As Democratic senators call on the Biden administration to increase funding for fentanyl interdiction at the border, CBP is reporting fewer seizures so far in fiscal year 2024. The agency is on pace to seize 25 percent less of the synthetic opioid than it did in 2023. This would be the first year-on-year decline after several years of very rapid growth. WOLA charts also depict a reduced pace of heroin and marijuana seizures, and an increased pace of cocaine and (less sharply) methamphetamine seizures.

Read the whole thing 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.

Because of my website side-project, I still have several dozen items I'd like to add to my database but haven't yet—so this list may be missing some amazing writing and reporting. But there's some very good stuff here as always.

Informe Militarizacion del Inm (Universidad Ibero (Mexico), Thursday, March 14, 2024).

Informe sobre las implicaciones de la militarización del INM en las violaciones a derechos humanos de las personas migrantes

Mariano Aguirre, Sabina Frederic, Tendencias de la Seguridad en America del Sur (Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Wednesday, March 6, 2024).

Las políticas vigentes de seguridad interior muestran convergencias resultado de la identificación de problemas similares y de herramientas semejantes para enfrentarlos. El narcotráfico y el crimen organizado son las amenazas principales

Fernando Silva, Jennifer Ávila, Vienna Herrera, Amistad, Empresas y Encubrimientos: Asi Es el Circulo de Generales Leales a Joh (Contra Corriente, Wednesday, March 6, 2024).

Los dos primeros fueron compañeros de Hernández en el Liceo Militar, y el último su mano derecha en las Fuerzas Especiales de Honduras. Pero estos generales tienen más vínculos que explican su rápido ascenso en las Fuerzas Armadas, su poder y lealtad militar hacia el expresidente

Gabriela Barzallo, A Toxic Trail (Palabra, Wednesday, March 6, 2024).

In Ecuador, Indigenous communities cope with pollution and illness

Alma Guillermoprieto, Forty-Three Mexican Students Went Missing. What Really Happened to Them? (The New Yorker, Monday, March 4, 2024).

One night in 2014, a group of young men from a rural teachers’ college vanished. Since then, their families have fought for answers

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

Monday, March 18, 2024

  • 9:00-10:30 at csis.org: USAID/MujerProspera: Advancing Gender Equality in Northern Central America (RSVP required).
  • 2:00-5:00 at CSIS and csis.org: From Terrestrial to Celestial: Unlocking the Potential to Enhance U.S.-Latin American B2B Collaboration (RSVP required).

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Thursday, March 21, 2024

And Finally

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Jamie Larson