Updates from Adam Isacson (October 15, 2023)

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This past week, the issues I work on were eclipsed by the horrific attack in Israel and the bloody response in Gaza. I can't offer any expert analysis or current information on this.

In Latin America, though, we've seen U.S. military aid go to states fighting internal adversaries, like Colombia's FARC, that broke the laws of warfare every day. The FARC targeted civilians brutally and deliberately. Its cruelty was enraging, but that didn't give the Colombian state any right to have its forces (or allied paramilitaries) deliberately attack non-combatants. Still, the Colombian state attacked civilians often, as the Truth Commission and the transitional justice system have been detailing.

That was gravely wrong, and Colombia is still struggling to deal with the consequences. And it is wrong, too, when Israel's responses elide international humanitarian law. When states viewed as legitimate and accountable violate it, or treat it like an obstacle to be gotten around, then we're in a dark age.

This will be the last full-length email until mid-November. I'm putting together a two-week field research trip, leaving Washington next weekend. (Because it's a good security practice, I'll write about where I've been after I've been there, but not where I'll be or where I plan to be.) Dispatches will be sparser, but more graphical and journal-ish, when I send them from the road.

This week's e-mail has links to the border update; a statement about basic values at a time of record protection-seeking migration; current migration numbers from the U.S. border and the Darién Gap; links to a few recommended articles; and some upcoming events.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: October 13, 2023

Read the whole update at WOLA's website. This will be the last update until November 10, due to upcoming travel.

  • Fallout over Biden administration’s decisions to green-light border wall and deport Venezuelans

The Biden administration’s October 5 announcements of new border wall construction and renewed deportations to Venezuela reverberated at the border, along the migration route, and in policy discussions. Many Democratic Party political leaders and non-governmental organizations voiced criticism. Analysts suggested that the moves pointed to a grim political reality for the administration at a time of near-record migrant arrivals at the border.

  • Migration since mid-September may be leveling off at the border and the Darién Gap, but increases continue in Honduras

After three months of sharp growth, migration may be leveling off or even declining since mid-September, according to partial data and anecdotal evidence. September data show a very slight August-to-September reduction in near-record migration through Panama’s Darién Gap Region, and a sharp rise in the number of people traveling through Honduras.

  • Texas updates

Videos show asylum seekers forced to get past a gauntlet of Texas state police, soldiers, and razor wire in order to access Border Patrol agents further from the river’s edge. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has snarled cargo traffic in northern Mexican border cities by ordering “safety” checkpoints for trucks exiting border bridges. An appeals court heard arguments about Gov. Abbott’s “buoy wall” in Eagle Pass.

Continue here to read the whole thing.

Migration Can’t and Shouldn’t Be Blocked. But it Can be Managed.

Here’s an 1,100-word statement recalling and highlighting some of the basic principles underlying our border and migration work. Backed up with lots of numbers and data, of course.

The main points:

  1. Most migrants arriving in the United States are exercising their right to seek asylum.
  2. The United States needs to invest in managing, in a humane and timely manner, migrants and asylum seekers—NOT in more border security.
  3. Legislative proposals from “border hawks,” like the “Secure the Border Act” (H.R2), would endanger thousands of lives.

Read it here. It comes with an embedded video, which I won't include because I sent a very similar video in the October 1 email.

As I processed new data from the U.S. border, Honduras, and Panama, I posted charts and analyses over the course of the week. I re-presented that information in the text of this week's Border Update, but here are links to the original postings:

"It seems like the rapid July-September increase in the number of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border has leveled off, or could even be receding slightly."

September was the 2nd busiest month ever (after August) for migration through the Darién Gap jungle region straddling Colombia and Panama, according to data just published by Panama’s government.

Blue is Venezuela, green is Haiti, brown is Ecuador.

Data table
Data table

Just over five months ago, we visited what is by far the most-used border crossing from Nicaragua (Trojes-Danlí) and were amazed by the number of people we saw on the move. Now, it’s more than three times as many people.

Really Disturbing Videos from El Paso, Texas

Over a period of 10 days in late September and early October, New York Times video journalists filmed the El Paso bank of the Rio Grande from across the river in Mexico. It’s important to view the footage they came up with.

Between the river’s edge and the border wall is a concrete embankment. Once on U.S. soil, migrants have the legal right to petition for asylum. They are seeking to line up along the border wall, near a gate, to be processed by the federal Border Patrol.

A Texas Guardsman (rear) waves his weapon at a man trying to get past him to the wall behind him, as another grabs his shirt.
A Texas Guardsman (rear) waves his weapon at a man trying to get past him to the wall behind him, as another grabs his shirt.

In order to get that far up the embankment, though, asylum seekers have to get past the state of Texas. As part of his “Operation Lone Star,” Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has posted National Guardsmen—soldiers with U.S. Army training and equipment, in a highly unusual role for U.S. military personnel on U.S. soil—and miles of coils of razor-sharp concertina wire.

A woman's arm bleeds after she passed through coils of concertina wire.
A woman’s arm bleeds after she passed through coils of concertina wire.

So now you’ve got a situation where soldiers operating under a state governor’s command are trying to prevent people, including families and children, from accessing law enforcement personnel under federal authority. This is happening elsewhere along the Texas border, too.

Passing a baby under the coils of wire. This is madness.
Passing a baby under the coils of wire. This is madness.

It’s bizarre, it’s dangerous, it violates U.S. law and international law, and the footage is hideous.

Ryan Devereaux, Justice Department Won't Charge Border Patrol Agents Who Killed Native Man (The Intercept, Wednesday, October 11, 2023).

The Justice Department won’t charge the Border Patrol agents who killed Raymond Mattia, a Tohono O’odham man. The family can’t get answers

Brent Mcdonald, David Peinado, Meg Felling, Migrants Chased and Snared in Razor Wire: A Rare Look at Texas' Border Tactics (The New York Times, Saturday, October 7, 2023).

Videos reveal increasing militarization as Gov. Greg Abbott orders more troops and concertina wire to try to stop illegal border crossings

Maria Sacchetti, Nick Miroff, Biden Border Plan Faces Breakdown Amid Record Influx of Families (The Washington Post, Friday, October 6, 2023).

The border plan President Biden put in place months ago is at risk of collapse amid a new wave of illegal crossings, intensifying strains on U.S. cities

The Secretary General Acknowledges Progress Towards the Implementation of the Final Peace Agreement and the Set in Motion of Initiatives to Consolidate Peace in Colombia (Mision de la ONU en Colombia, Thursday, October 5, 2023).

Despite the Government’s reiterated commitment to advancing the ethnic provisions of the Final Peace Agreement, most efforts continue to be in the planning stage (includes Security Council's quarterly report on peace implementation)

Colombia: Is "Total Peace" Back on Track? (International Crisis Group, Wednesday, October 4, 2023).

Crisis Group outlines how the EU can promote negotiations and encourage inclusiveness therein

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

Tuesday, October 17

  • 2:00-5:00 at the Wilson Center and online: Building a High Quality US-Mexico Pharmaceutical Supply Chain (RSVP required).
  • 5:00 at CINEP Facebook Live: Entre la continuidad y el cambio: creencias y comportamientos sociales que condicionan el derecho a la tierra y el territorio de las mujeres (RSVP required).
  • 7:00-8:30 at IPS and online: The Rising Latin American Left: México and Beyond (RSVP required).

Wednesday, October 18

  • 2:00-3:15 online: Organized crime in Latin America (RSVP required).
  • 3:00-4:00 at Fordham University Zoom: The FERM Program: A Three-Month Assessment Highlighting the Need for a More Family-Centered Approach (RSVP required).
  • 3:00-5:00 at American University Washington College of Law: Book Conversation: Mexico, A Challenging Assignment.
  • 4:30-5:15 at the Atlantic Council and online: Addressing inequality in Colombia: A conversation with Vice President Francia Márquez (RSVP required).

Thursday, October 19

  • 1:00-6:00 at Georgetown University: Brazil in Transition Conference (RSVP required).
  • 6:00 at the National Press Club: In the Mouth of the Wolf: A Conversation about Press Freedom in Mexico (RSVP required).

Friday, October 20

  • 9:00-6:00 at Georgetown University: Brazil in Transition Conference (RSVP required).
  • 10:00-11:15 at the University of Chicago and online: Disparity: Origin and Consequence of the Latin American Pre-Development Trap (RSVP required).
  • 10:30-11:30 at Georgetown University: Frontlines of Freedom: Conversations on Democracy, Activism, and Anti-Authoritarian Efforts (RSVP required).

And Finally

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Jamie Larson