Weekly adamisacson.com - Issue #20

This was a week of government data dumps.

  • U.S customs and Border Protection (CBP) released its January border apprehension numbers. It shows another decline in the number of children and families—most of them asylum seekers—detained at the border last month. And why would they come, when the right to seek asylum has practically been abrogated at the border. Apprehensions of single adults, however, crept slightly upward.
  • Border Patrol released a series of statistics from fiscal 2019: apprehensions by nationality, family unit and child apprehensions, apprehensions from Mexico and “other than Mexico,” Border Patrol staffing statistics, migrant deaths, apprehensions by sector, apprehensions since 1925, and others.
  • The State Department issued its foreign aid request to Congress for 2021. While Congress is sure to reject this request, which calls for deep foreign aid cuts worldwide, the document still has a lot of numbers that tell us how much went to each country in 2019.
  • CBP sent its 2021 budget request to Congress with a lot of data about wall-building, border technology, border patrol staffing, and much else
  • Immigration and Customs enforcement (ICE) sent its request to Congress with a lot of information about migrant detention.
  • The Defense Department sent Congress its annual budget justification for security assistance programs worldwide. This document indicates a plan to spend about $50 million in Defense Department funds on security assistance in the U.S. Southern Command’s area of operations (South and Central America plus the Caribbean) in 2021. That’s odd, because last year’s report gave a figure over $200 million. Not sure what’s going on there.
  • The Defense Department told Congress how it plans to take $3.8 billion out of its weapons programs and give it to the Homeland Security Department to build border walls.

Border and migration graphics

We processed some of this information this week. Here is a collection of graphics about border security and migration, using official data. We keep this big PDF file updated regularly at bit.ly/wola_border.

Updated data about U.S. aid to Colombia

Here, from that State Department document and earlier sources, is what U.S. aid to Colombia looks like right now.

Raiding the Pentagon to build the wall

Here is an explanation of Trump’s raiding of Defense budget money to pay for border wall-building, as notified in that Defense Department doc. It’s made possible by an obscure law, a drug-war measure from 1990. That law not only allows Pentagon money to build walls if it’s “counter-drug”—it has also made the Defense budget the number-two source of military aid to Latin America.

The Costs of Restarting Aerial Coca Spraying in Colombia

I did another data dump last week: a fact-filled explanation of why it’s such a bad idea for Colombia to re-start aerial fumigation of herbicides over ungoverned, abandoned parts of the country where households grow the coca bush. This analysis looks at fumigation from six vantage points: the possibility of short-term success, long-term success, cost, health and environmental risk, risk of social discord, and the risk to the eradicators.

Podcast: How Corruption Continues to Erode Citizen Security in Central America

We also posted a podcast episode about Central America, recorded with Adriana Beltran and Austin Robles from WOLA’s Central America / Citizen Security program. We talk mostly about setbacks to the anti-corruption fight in Guatemala and Honduras. Good thing we didn’t talk about El Salvador too much, because two days after we recorded this conversation, on February 9, President Nayib Bukele set everything on fire there by bringing armed soldiers into the legislative chamber with an aggressive display.

  • Some Latin American militaries have a particular clique, usually an academy graduating class, that rises to leadership and leaves a mark on the institution—often for the worse. At ProPublica, Melissa del Bosque identifies a ”tanda” in the U.S. Border Patrol: a group of agents who served in Douglas, Arizona in the 1990s and rose to top management, “leaving corruption, misconduct and a toxic culture in their wake.”
  • In El Salvador last Sunday, popular populist President Nayib Bukele shocked the region by sending helmeted, rifle-bearing soldiers into the National Assembly’s chambers because legislators weren’t approving a loan fast enough. The best commentary I’ve seen on this huge step back for civil-military relations comes in an editorial from El Faro, in English and Spanish.
  • Keegan Hamilton at Vice looks at the state of Mexican organized crime a year after “Chapo” Guzmán’s guilty verdict in a New York court. For me, the most interesting part is in the article’s second half, where we get a glimpse into the mindset of a veteran narcotics prosecutor who insists on staying the course with a policy that doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere. “Is there futility in what we do? Are we playing whack-a-mole?” she asked rhetorically. “I think it’s showing the strength of what our system does; there’s a purpose for it.”
  • At Nieman Reports, Tim Rogers talks to independent journalists from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Chile about how they’re staying a step ahead in this era of authoritarians, populists, Twitter warriors, and street protests.
  • This exploration of the current state of democracy and civil-military relations in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, by Otto Argueta and Knut Walter at Contra Corriente, could use a bit of editorial tightening up—but it strikes some important and timely notes. “The greatest risk for democracy in these countries is the paradoxical combination of democratically elected governments that lack legitimacy, and the existence of powerful armed forces.…That combination in our contexts can wake the sleeping dragon, the one that leads to authoritarian and undemocratic solutions.”

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Jamie Larson