March 12, 2024

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The Biden administration sent its 2025 budget request to Congress yesterday. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) submission repeats many items that appeared in a supplemental funding request that failed to pass the Senate in early February. These include the hiring of 1,300 Border Patrol agents, 1,000 CBP officers, 1,600 USCIS asylum officers, and 375 new immigration judge teams, along with “$849 million for cutting-edge [fentanyl and other contraband] detection technology at ports of entry.”

The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) request foresees a reduction in the agency’s overall budget, from an enacted level of $20,968,070 in 2023 to a requested level of $19,764,120 in 2025.

As in the 2024 budget request—which Congress still has not passed, with the next deadline coming up on March 22—the administration is seeking a flexible $4.7 billion “emergency fund” to deal with migration surges. Republican legislators refused to support the idea last year, calling it a “slush fund.”

A close read of the CBP request finds some notable performance metrics:

  • 11.8 percent of Border Patrol’s apprehended migrants made “at least a second attempt” to enter in fiscal 2023, down from 16.6 percent in 2022. The decline owes mainly to the end of the Title 42 policy, when re-entries followed large numbers of rapid, consequence-free expulsions.
  • Border Patrol estimated that agents interdicted 75.6 percent of illegal entries in 2023, similar to 75.9 percent in 2022 but down from 82.6 percent in 2021 and 86.3 percent in 2019.
  • Border Patrol carried out 26 joint operations with Mexican “law enforcement partners” in 2023, up from 23 in 2022 but down from 39 in 2019.

President Biden told reporters that he is no longer considering executive action on migration at the border, like a legally dubious order to expel asylum seekers when daily migration exceeds a particular amount. On February 21, several media outlets had reported that the White House was considering such an action. Yesterday, Biden instead called on Congress to change the law.

If the Supreme Court does not act, a controversial Texas state law will go into effect tomorrow (March 13). S.B. 4 would allow authorities to imprison and deport people who cross the border irregularly, which may imply authorities in Texas’s interior demanding that people they encounter prove that they did not enter the United States that way. A federal judge blocked S.B. 4 on February 29, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals un-blocked it while deliberations continue.

Texas and other Republican states will appeal a federal judge’s March 8 ruling throwing out their effort to end the Biden administration’s use of humanitarian parole authority to permit the entry of some citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

In El Paso, a Texas state judge blocked the conservative state government’s legal attacks on Annunciation House, a decades-old shelter that receives migrants released from CBP custody. In early February Texas Attorney-General Ken Paxton (R) demanded that the shelter turn over a large amount of records on very short notice or risk revocation of its operating license. In a hearing last week, State District Court Judge Francisco Dominguez’s written opinion called out “the Attorney General’s efforts to run roughshod over Annunciation House, without regard to due process or fair play,” alleging politicized motives.

“When an organization leaves there is always a concern for the organizations to be able to meet those needs,” said Panama-based UNICEF official Margarita Sánchez, about Doctors Without Borders’ (MSF) forced departure from the Darién Gap. ” So, in this case, we hope that, surely, the Panamanian state can respond to that need.” Last week, MSF revealed that Panama’s government had revoked the organization’s permission to provide medical care to migrants arriving at posts where the dangerous Darién trail ends.

MSF had been denouncing a sharp recent rise in cases of sexual abuse, which raises questions about the motives and timing of the Panamanian government’s decision to suspend the group’s activities. “Blocking the operations of MSF sends a chilling message to the international aid community to censor their communications,” International Crisis Group investigator Bram Ebus told the New Humanitarian. There is no word yet on whether Panama might be persuaded to reconsider.

The State Department announced that it has begun denying visas of executives of charter airline companies that offer flights to Nicaragua, which requires visas of few arriving nationalities, to people who intend to migrate from there to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Analyses and Feature Stories

Deaths of migrants by drowning are worsening in the Rio Grande, which is swollen by recent rains, Aaron Nelsen reported at Texas Monthly. “No U.S. or Mexican agency, however, keeps a comprehensive count of migrant deaths,” and there is little coordination between local and national agencies on either side of the border.

Though the actual policy is “murky,” Mexico is busing apprehended people to the country’s south at an increased pace in order to slow U.S.-bound migration, the Guardian reported. The PBS NewsHour spoke to migrants stranded in Mexico’s southern border-zone city of Tapachula.

President Biden’s off-the-cuff State of the Union remark referring to a migrant as an “illegal,” Jose Antonio Vargas wrote at CNN, “does underscore the political reality that, in the Trump era, the country has veered right on immigration, and the language that shapes the anti-immigrant policies being pushed at almost all governmental levels reflects it.”

At the New Republic, a lengthy analysis by Luisita Lopez Torregrosa looked at recent Republican gains in south Texas’s Latino-majority Rio Grande Valley border region.

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