March 18, 2024

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Friday is the deadline Congress has set to approve the 2024 Homeland Security appropriations bill, among other long-delayed budget legislation for a fiscal year that is nearly halfway over. Congressional negotiators have yet to publicize the text of any agreed legislation.

Failure to pass this and five other budget bills could cause a partial government shutdown unless Congress passes another “continuing resolution” keeping federal departments running at 2023 levels for a fixed period of time.

A shutdown would not immediately impact the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), most of whose employees are considered “essential” or are funded by fees.

Congress may decide to fund DHS with a continuing resolution all the way to the end of fiscal year 2024, as border programs are proving too controversial to permit bipartisan agreement during an election year. A full-year continuing resolution could fund DHS at levels approved at the end of 2022, by what was then a Democratic-majority Congress.

The Supreme Court is to decide today whether to allow Texas to start implementing a controversial migration-restriction law while appeals continue in lower courts. The law, S.B. 4, allows Texas state law enforcement anywhere in the state to arrest migrants whom they believe crossed the border irregularly, then jail them or deport them to Mexico. Critics “have said the law could lead to racial profiling and family separation,” the Associated Press observed. The Supreme Court stayed the law until March 18. It is currently before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals after a district court judge struck it down.

The Biden administration’s Family Expedited Removal Management program, a very strict “alternatives to detention” program that closely monitors some family asylum seekers after release into the United States, has been applied to 19,000 people since May, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) data obtained by the New York Times. “More than 1,500 of them have been deported and around 1,000 have absconded by prying off their ankle monitors.”

Pima County, Arizona, which includes Tucson, is running out of federal funds to provide short-term shelter for asylum-seeking migrants released from CBP custody. As is already happening in San Diego, where funds ran out last month, this could mean daily drop-offs of hundreds of homeless migrants on Tucson’s streets, Reuters reported.

Al Otro Lado and the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS), groups based in California and Baja California, have filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit to get information about Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP)’s policies for “open-air detention sites.” The term refers to the austere outdoor encampments on the borderline where Border Patrol agents have been making asylum seekers wait to turn themselves in, often for days.

An upsurge in organized crime violence along the border between Mexico’s violent northern-border state of Tamaulipas and adjacent Nuevo León, south of southern Texas, is displacing thousands of people, some of whom are seeking to cross the U.S. border. Some towns in the area have lost 80 percent of their population.

Kidnappers in Tamaulipas released a Russian migrant without forcing her to pay ransom, handing her over at a police station in Reynosa, the city across the river from McAllen, Texas.

Though violence in Haiti has reached emergency levels, the U.S. Coast Guard continues to return Haitians encountered at sea to the island. “There is a specific disdain when it comes to Haitian asylum-seekers,” Guerline Jozef of the Haitian Bridge Alliance told NBC News. “The first [U.S.] act is not ‘How do we protect the people?’ it is ‘How do we deter them and how do we make sure they don’t make it to our shores?’”

U.S. diplomats met with counterparts from Ecuador on March 13-14. Ecuador committed to extend the “Safe Mobility Office” operating in its territory through the end of 2024, and U.S. diplomats agreed to “facilitate access to lawful pathways, such as H2 visas, for Ecuadorian citizens.” The State Department “confirmed receipt” of an Ecuadorian request for Temporary Protected Status for citizens of Ecuador who have migrated to the United States.

The government of Honduras has done away with a seven-day “pre-check” requirement for visiting Nicaraguans, a policy that had been in place since 2017. That eases travel through Central America for Nicaraguan citizens; under a 33-year-old arrangement, citizens of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua may visit each others’ countries without use of passports.

Analyses and Feature Stories

The Washington Post’s Nick Miroff reported that the Biden administration has doubled last year’s pace of the credible fear screening interviews that asylum officers administer to some protection-seeking migrants at the border. However, as the DHS workforce includes only about 1,000 asylum officers, “the number of people screened remains a small fraction of the number who cross the border illegally. And the government does not have the detention capacity to hold others long enough to interview them.”

Of those subjected to the interviews—about 24,500 in January—59 percent are passing, Miroff reported. This is down from about 85 percent between 2014 and 2019, before the Biden administration raised the “fear” standard that interviewees must meet.

A new memo from Human Rights First cited several cases of migrants, from China, Venezuela, Egypt, and Ecuador, who faced strong examples of persecution but, now that credible fear standards have been raised, failed to clear the screening and were ordered deported.

Smuggler use among migrants in Latin America and the Caribbean is not as common as perceived, with two out of every five respondents hiring smugglers, according to a new report from the Mixed Migration Center, based on over 3,000 surveys of migrants in Costa Rica, Honduras, and Mexico. It found that use of smugglers declined from 49 percent of respondents in 2022 to 34 percent in 2023.

The San Diego Union-Tribune covered muralists’ work on newly rebuilt, taller segments of border wall near the Pacific Ocean in Tijuana.

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