January 16, 2024

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On Friday January 12, two days after Texas’s state government started blocking Border Patrol from a 2.5-mile stretch of the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, three migrants—a woman and two children—drowned to death. The Department of Homeland Security stated that Border Patrol agents were aware that the migrants were in distress in the river, but were prevented from acting because Texas national guardsmen “physically barred” them from entering the area.

Texas is denying DHS’s account, claiming that the drownings had already occurred when Border Patrol sought to access the area. A Justice Department filing before the Supreme Court stated that the drownings had already happened when Border Patrol was blocked, but that it is “impossible to say what might have happened if Border Patrol had had its former access to the area.”

DHS sent a January 14 letter to Texas’s state attorney-general giving the state until Wednesday to reinstate Border Patrol’s access to Shelby Park in Eagle Pass. If Texas refuses, the letter promises “appropriate action,” including referring the matter to the Department of Justice. DOJ is already litigating Texas’s placement of buoys in the river in Eagle Pass; Texas’s ban on Border Patrol agents cutting concertina wire along the river; and Texas’s controversial anti-migrant law known as S.B.4.

“I think it’s not an exaggeration that this is as direct a confrontation between a state and the federal government as we’ve seen since desegregation,” Steve Vladeck, a constitutional law expert at the University of Texas School of Law, told the Washington Post.

“I’m glad for what Gov. Abbott is doing,” the president of the Border Patrol agents’ union, Brandon Judd, told Fox Business, calling DHS’s statements “propaganda.”

Migrant encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border continue to be well below December’s record-setting levels, hovering above 3,000 per day after exceeding 10,000 per day in December.

In Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, which is currently the busiest of the agency’s nine U.S.-Mexico border sectors, Chief John Modlin reported 9,200 migrant apprehensions in the week ending January 11, down from 18,400-19,400 during each of the first three weeks of December.

In Jacumba Springs, California, Mexican authorities claim that daily arrivals have dropped to about 380 per day, from up to 1,200 last month.

“After a significant decrease in migrant encounters earlier this month, migrant apprehensions in the Del Rio Border Patrol Sector have increased since last week,” CNN reported. “About 1,000 migrant apprehensions took place Sunday in the Del Rio Sector, compared to between 500 and 600 earlier in the week.”

Temperatures are below freezing along the south Texas-Mexico border. On the Mexican side, Texas Public Radio reported, “Some migrants, more than 300 in Matamoros, still remain outdoors after authorities displaced more than a thousand individuals from encampments last month on the day after Christmas.”

A small group of senators continues to negotiate limits on asylum and other legal migration pathways, as a way to win Republican support for a budget package including aid to Ukraine and Israel and resources for border operations. It is possible, though far from certain, that legislative language could emerge this week. Negotiators appear to have agreed on a higher standard in asylum seekers’ “credible fear” interviews and Title 42-style expulsions of asylum seekers when migrant arrivals rise above a certain threshold. Republicans continue to insist on curbing the presidential authority to issue humanitarian parole, in particular to asylum seekers released at the border following “CBP One” appointments at ports of entry.

House Republican leaders are signaling that a deal coming out of the Senate could be “dead on arrival” (a phrase from Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana)) if it doesn’t include items that Democrats are very unlikely to agree to, like hundreds of miles more border wall and a revived “Remain in Mexico” program. At Semafor, Joseph Zeballos-Roig pointed out that any harsh new measures involving more deportations would require Mexico to be willing to accept many of them.

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) posted a screenshot of what Fox News claimed were elements of a border deal with the words, “Absolutely not.” These included an increase in green card approvals and a threshold of 5,000 migrant arrivals per day that might trigger expulsions. Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), the Republicans’ lead negotiator, replied that the screenshot was false.

Lankford told Politico’s Burgess Everett that “If he can get 25 or more of the 49 GOP senators to sign onto something, he’s betting that it might be enough to get Speaker Mike Johnson to take up a big emergency spending bill with Ukraine aid—without losing the gavel to a conservative rebellion.”

Panama has acquired eight helicopters, among other measures to step up its patrolling of the treacherous Darién Gap migration corridor. The Panamanian government is calling the effort “Operation Chocó II,” and it is to last for at least six months.

Mexico’s foreign minister “ordered the 53 consulates in the United States and five in Canada to reinforce their media activity to defend the name of Mexico in the face of hate and fear speeches” during the upcoming 2024 U.S. electoral campaign, Milenio reported.

In 2022 and 2023, Mexico issued ‘oficios de salida’ to 33,695 citizens of Cuba. These “formally oblige them to leave the national territory, but in practice allow them to continue on their way to the northern border. …Meanwhile, 49,978 were granted visitor’s cards for humanitarian reasons, which allow them to remain in the country, travel freely and obtain employment for up to one year,” Reforma reported.

The state commission on missing persons in Baja California, Mexico reported that 30 migrants went missing in the Tijuana-San Diego area in 2023, but immigration officials and advocates assert that the true number of disappeared is much higher.

Homicides in Tijuana (pop. 1.7 million) dropped by 8 percent from 2022 to 2023, to a still very-high 1,884.

Analyses and Feature Stories

Policy changes that might come from a deal in the Senate, like enabling asylum seeker expulsions and weakening humanitarian parole, “are likely to drive more unauthorized migration to the border and make President Biden’s immigration challenges even worse,” wrote Andrea Flores of fwd.us, a former Biden White House official, at the New York Times.

“David J. Peters, a sociologist at Iowa State University who studies opioid addiction in rural areas, argued that the campaigns focusing on Mexico and border security are an easier sell than focusing on the underlying reason people take drugs, whether it’s unequal economic opportunities, family instability or mental health woes,” reported the Washington Post.

San Diego’s inewsource reported back after “reporters spent 48 straight hours, starting noon Jan. 2, in and around the encampments” where migrants are awaiting Border Patrol processing near Jacumba Springs, California.

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