Why 15,000 Migrants Ended Up in One Spot on the U.S.-Mexico Border

“In late August, Nephtalie and her husband, still waiting in Chiapas, began to hear a rumor spreading around the Haitian migrant population living across Mexico. From interviews this week with other migrants in Del Rio, and conversations with attorneys who have met with dozens more, it seems that many people had the same experience. The rumor went like this: First, information went around that, while most of the border was closed, U.S. immigration authorities were allowing people to cross and ask for asylum in Mexicali — on the border with Calexico, California — and in Acuña, the Mexican city across from Del Rio. (This was not true, but it spread like wildfire among people yearning for a glimmer of hope.) Second, the rumor said that Sept. 16 would be the best day to travel. That would be Mexico’s Independence Day, and migrants figured that the Mexican authorities, who have bowed to U.S. pressure to more stringently police immigrants in Mexico, would be preoccupied, allowing them to travel within the country unimpeded northward. Finally, the bus routes to Acuña were cheaper than to other spots along the border, like Mexicali. So, as el Día de la Independencia de México arrived, thousands of people who had heard the rumors — by word of mouth or on WhatsApp or on Haitian social media — began traveling to Acuña to cross into Del Rio.

When I asked one Haitian man at a gas station in Del Rio, “Why did you choose to cross from Acunã to Del Rio?” he replied: “Where is that?” Like many, he had probably simply followed others along what sounded like an opportunity to finally be accepted in the United States.

But the stakes of following such a rumor only to be faced with the reality of a closed border are tragic: Most of the Haitians in Del Rio today left Haiti years ago. Now, after traveling thousands of miles with the hope that they could eventually gain asylum in the U.S., many are instead being returned to the very island they fled.”

Biden’s vision for the border has gone bust. But what’s Plan B?

“The number of migrants apprehended at the border isn’t going down this summer, even as the heat makes the journey to the U.S. more dangerous. Instead, it has reached a 21-year high — and there’s a record number of unaccompanied children arriving, too.”

“Migrants for years have been pushed to seek refuge in the U.S. because of conditions in their home countries. But over the past 16 months, the numbers have increased as part of the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic and as migrants face even more dire economic circumstances.
“The pandemic probably is a big part of it,” said Andrew Rudman, director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, a non-partisan organization that engages in research on global issues. “You’ve got just a lot more people out of work and suffering because of the economic impact and that probably increases, surely increases, the pull factor.”

The Biden administration has continued to use the Trump-era public health order, known as Title 42, to expel migrants without allowing them to seek asylum. And experts and analysts say that this, too, is likely a major factor for the high number of apprehensions recorded each month. A large portion of migrants crossing the border are repeat crossers, who keep trying because there isn’t any real punishment when they get caught.

In June, for example, more than 188,000 migrants were apprehended at the border. Of those, 34 percent had tried to cross at least once before in the last 12 months, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures. That’s compared with an average recidivism rate of 14 percent for fiscal years 2014 to 2019.

Biden continues to turn away most of the migrants encountered at the border through Title 42, including single adults and many families, but has made exceptions for unaccompanied children to stay for humanitarian reasons. It has led some parents to send their children to the U.S. alone, knowing that the administration will allow them to stay, according to immigrant advocates.

Democratic lawmakers, immigrant advocates and public health experts for months have been urging the Biden administration to end its use of Title 42, arguing that it is unlawful, inhumane and not justified by public health. Biden officials were planning to begin phasing out Title 42, but those plans were derailed given the fast-spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus and the increase in apprehensions.”

Migrant Children Languished in Filthy Conditions Under Eye of Untrained Contractors, Whistleblowers Say

“Laurie Elkin and Justin Mulaire, two federal employees who were detailed to the Fort Bliss emergency intake shelter near El Paso, Texas, filed a whistleblower complaint to Congress alleging they witnessed intolerable noise, filth, and odors inside the large tents where children are housed; contractors who were unqualified to work with youths; and hostility, indifference, and resistance to providing medical treatment to sick kids.”

“Elkin and Mulaire say they were repeatedly ignored or discouraged by Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) superiors when they tried to report the substandard conditions and care children were living under.
The allegations track closely with reporting from Reason and other outlets from earlier this year describing unsanitary conditions and poor care for children housed in the shelter.”

“The total number of migrant minors being held by the U.S. government has waned, from more than 20,000 to roughly 14,500, according to the latest numbers from HHS.”

The Texas GOP’s border wall fantasy

“It’s also not clear whether Abbott can use disaster funds to pay for the wall under Texas state law. He declared a disaster for 34 counties in the state last month due to a recent increase in unauthorized immigration at the border, freeing up resources to deal with the problem and allowing him to suspend state laws and regulations that would impede any solutions.”

“the current levels of unauthorized immigration might not truly constitute a “disaster.” While officials reported that the number of migrant apprehensions at the border in May was nearly eight times the total in the same month last year, that doesn’t necessarily mean the actual number of migrants trying to cross the border is higher.
Those numbers don’t account for the fact that there has been a surge in adults who have been caught trying to cross the border multiple times due to policies enacted during the pandemic. In 2020, 26 percent of migrants apprehended by Border Patrol had been caught more than once, compared to 7 percent the previous year.”

““A governor should not be able to circumvent the legislative process by declaring such matters to be emergencies and then implementing whatever measures he wishes,” state Rep. John Turner (D-Dallas), told the Texas Tribune. “If a governor can commence such a long-term, multi-hundred-million-dollar public works project under the cover of emergency powers, it is difficult to know what the limits of those powers are.””

“Abbott’s plans to arrest migrants at the border on various criminal charges, including trespassing and vandalism, would also likely face legal challenges if implemented.

Abbott has threatened to put such migrants “in jail for a long time,” but legal precedent isn’t on his side: The Supreme Court prevented Arizona Republicans in 2012 from similarly arresting migrants on trespassing charges, on the basis that states cannot enforce immigration law. It’s possible, however, that the 2012 ruling could be overturned with several new Trump-appointed justices on the Court.”

“Abbott and the Texas GOP’s embrace of a border wall seems to be part of their strategy for the 2022 midterm elections. Abbott is also up for reelection in 2022, but some have also suggested he could be setting up a run for president in 2024.

The Texas Republicans appear to be trying to appeal to their right-wing base in order to fend off potential primary challengers. There isn’t much concern about Democrats launching a serious offense in the general given that the party’s promises of Texas turning blue didn’t come to fruition in 2020.

Republicans in the state have also recently passed legislation aiming to fire up their base that removed the requirement of a permit to carry a handgun and established an effective ban on abortion. And Abbott’s agenda for an upcoming special session of the state legislature involves more items related to border security, restrictions on voting, and preventing the teaching of critical race theory in schools.”

“while there has been pushback from border counties and Democratic officials, the majority of Republican voters in Texas do support building the wall: about 74 percent, according to a recent survey by the Dallas Morning News and UT Tyler.”

Lawsuit: Immigrant Kids Are Suicidal, Eating Rotten Food in Secretive Detention Facilities

“Over 14,000 unaccompanied minors are now in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Detained minors in their testimonials for the case described limited time outside, sporadic showers, and being served inadequate or unsafe food, including raw chicken and foul-smelling hamburgers. A 13-year-old Honduran recounted being “locked up all day” during five days in Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) custody. A 14-year-old Guatemalan girl said that detainees at a facility in Houston had to drink expired milk when they ran out of water. “I was never allowed to make a phone call while I was there,” said a 17-year-old Honduran who was in CBP custody for 11 days. Minors reported receiving few details about how long they would be in custody and many were transferred to other facilities with little notice or explanation.

Those conditions have left detained minors despondent. “I used to be able to cope with my anxiety and breathe through it, but now I feel like I’ve given up,” said a 17-year-old from Guatemala. “I feel like I’ll never get out of here.” One child was placed on suicide watch and another described how difficult it was to get an appointment with a counselor, though many girls in detention “have thoughts of cutting themselves.” Teens have resorted to cutting themselves with their identification cards since employees at one facility banned pencils, pens, toothbrushes, and even the metal nose clips of N95 face masks over concerns of self-harm, according to testimony and worker accounts.

“There is no one here I can talk to about my case,” said a 17-year-old Honduran detainee. “There’s also no one here I can talk to when I’m feeling sad. There’s no one here; I just talk to God. It helps me and I cry. It would help if I could have a Bible.””

Greg Abbott’s Border Wall Plan Is Doomed To Fail

“Abbott has so far provided little information about how he will finance the project, which will undoubtedly carry a hefty price tag. In Texas, one section of Trump’s border wall came out to be $27 million a mile. Abbott intends to provide $250 million in state revenues as a “down payment.” Those funds will come from a disaster account, a transfer made possible because he issued a disaster declaration in order to take a number of executive actions against migration. Abbott also expects that crowdfunding will help supplement state funds. So far, that effort has collected roughly $450,000.

David Donatti, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas who specializes in border issues, has concerns about Abbott’s financial approach.

“He has declared a disaster, and by that authority, he’s moving $250 million into an account that allows him to” build a border wall, says Donatti. “For a state like Texas,” $250 million “is a lot of money…that could be used for hurricane recovery, toward recovery from something like the freeze that we experienced.” Donatti calls it “an absurd abuse of power if nothing else,” even though the result of that abuse would provide “an ineffective solution to people coming to the United States.”

According to the governor, construction would also hinge on voluntary land concessions from borderlands residents. In Texas, most land along the border with Mexico is privately owned. That gives Abbott two options: either entice landowners to donate their property or seize it from the unwilling. To build his wall, Trump chose to initiate land grabs in the borderlands through eminent domain, which is a legal doctrine that allows the government to seize private property for public use. Affected landowners nominally must receive just compensation, though practically the process is rife with abuse.”

“Regardless of the wall’s future, Abbott is already implementing policies beyond a physical barrier to keep migrants out. As Reason’s Billy Binion reported, Abbott “has directed the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDJC) to clear out the Dolph Biscoe Unit, a state prison in Dilley, Texas, so that law enforcement can arrest and detain some undocumented migrants there.” He’s made it so that migrants are subject to “aggravated trespassing” charges, a misdemeanor, giving the state the authority to arrest migrants who are otherwise governed by federal immigration frameworks. As Donatti points out, that “quite clearly tramples on the federal government’s prerogative to immigration control.” Abbott has also revoked licenses for child care services found to be looking after undocumented migrant kids, which might lead to those minors being shuttled into inadequate emergency detention facilities.”

The false promises of more immigration enforcement

“The US started dramatically ramping up immigration enforcement in the 1990s with bipartisan support. The line of thinking was that making it more expensive and arduous to cross the border would dissuade more people from making the journey in the first place. It became the preferred strategy for policymakers because it was easy to sell to constituents, even though it wasn’t necessarily grounded in a deep understanding of the factors driving unauthorized immigration.

But a growing body of research shows that the threat of immigration enforcement isn’t an effective deterrent for migrants in the long run. Emily Ryo, a professor of law and sociology at the USC Gould School of Law, found in a paper published earlier this month that it has no significant effect on people’s decision to migrate from Mexico and Central America’s “Northern Triangle”: Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

In cooperation with Vanderbilt University and the Latin American Public Opinion Project, she designed an experiment that was included in the 2018-’19 AmericasBarometer survey of nearly 11,000 voting-age adults across the four countries. She divided the respondents into three groups and provided them with different prompts offering information about how many migrants are apprehended by US officials when trying to cross the border, subject to detention for an indefinite period of time, and face a lack of judicial process when it comes to their deportation. They were then asked how likely it would be that they would choose to live and work in the US in the next three years.

The patterns in responses across the groups were strikingly similar, though they were provided with different information about US immigration enforcement policy. Most said they weren’t likely to go to the US, but in all three groups, about 21 percent said they were “a little likely to go,” 10 percent said they were “somewhat likely,” and roughly another 10 percent said “very likely.”

Knowledge about US deportation and detention policy didn’t have any significant effect on their intentions to migrate.”

“Another study, conducted by Vanderbilt University political science professor Jonathan Hiskey and co-authors, similarly found that knowledge of heightened US deterrence efforts didn’t influence people’s decision to migrate.”

“Another unintended effect of US immigration enforcement has been the increase in the number of undocumented immigrants living in the US from roughly 3 million in 1986 to over 11 million today. Princeton sociologist Doug Massey and his co-authors found in a 2016 paper that the rapid expansion of immigration enforcement in the years following 1986, the last time that a major immigration law was passed, actually caused more migrants to decide to settle in the US permanently.

Before then, Mexican men had moved back and forth across the border, usually looking for opportunities for temporary work and crossing in El Paso and San Diego. The US’s decision to expand immigration enforcement didn’t really alter their ability to cross the border. They weren’t much more likely to be apprehended when they attempted to cross, and even if they were discovered by US immigration officials and swiftly returned to Mexico, they could still succeed after multiple attempts.

What changed, however, was the costs and risks associated with returning to their home country and then attempting to reenter the US. Migrants had to start crossing in more dangerous regions of the border, going through the Sonoran Desert and Arizona, and came to rely more heavily on the services of paid smugglers, which became more expensive. Between 1980 and 2010, the probability that a migrant would return after their first trip to the US consequently dropped from 48 percent to zero, according to Massey’s paper.

“The combination of increasingly costly and risky trips and the near certainty of getting into the United States created a decision-making contest in which it still made economic sense to migrate but not to return home to face the high costs and risks of subsequent entry attempts,” the authors write in the paper.

In this way, immigration enforcement had the opposite of the intended effect. And the authors write that if policymakers had never increased border patrol’s funding beyond accounting for inflation, the population of undocumented immigrants living in the US likely would have “grown substantially less.””

Kinder, Gentler Family Separation?

“It would be a false equivalence to say that all approaches to family separation are equally illiberal. “Obama did absolutely separate children,” Nowrasteh says. “That’s absolutely true, and Biden’s going to do it too. He’s probably already doing it in some cases that are unjust. But the difference was that the Trump administration did it systematically to basically everyone.”

Still, a return to the status quo ante is only an improvement when compared to a policy like zero tolerance. Biden promised he’d be better on immigration—not just better than Trump but also better than his former boss. In many ways, he has yet to deliver on that promise.”

Biden Keeps Another Trump Border Policy in Place

“Biden has continued much of the Trump administration’s approach to immigration: separating families, overfilling detention facilities, and plainly telling people to stay away. One such holdover policy is Title 42.

Invoked by Trump in March 2020, Title 42 is a section of the Public Health Service Act that grants federal health officials broad discretion to enact disease mitigation measures. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) used it to issue an order barring certain kinds of arrivals to the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada while permitting other forms of international movement to continue. It allows Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officials to expel migrants immediately upon arrival.”

“Migrants expelled from the U.S. under Title 42 face hostile conditions similar to those subjected to another Trump policy, the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). Known as “Remain in Mexico,” MPP relegated asylum seekers south of the border while they awaited decisions in their immigration cases. There, many faced murder, rape, and torture. Biden did away with the policy just weeks ago, but his continued operation of Title 42 contradicts his campaign promise to “restore our asylum laws so that they do what they should be designed to do.”

Those dangers to migrants continue under Biden. “These individuals are being pushed back into very dangerous environments in northern Mexico,” says Zak. “Migrants are at very serious risk of being exploited by gangs and traffickers.” He adds that “Human Rights First has documented 492 instances of publicly reported attacks and kidnappings against asylum seekers in Mexico since Biden took office,” many against those expelled under Title 42.

In spite of this harsh approach, Title 42 has likely exacerbated the very issue it sought to tackle: the high volume of asylum seekers crossing the border. Zak says that the recidivism rate—individuals who were apprehended, expelled, and apprehended again by CBP—has “skyrocketed.” That rate “tended to hover around 10 percent” prior to Title 42 and has hit 38 percent as of May 2021. Zak says this is partially because “individuals (particularly single adults) are expelled extremely quickly,” thus encouraging multiple crossings. There is also no formal penalty for repeat crossings under Title 42. With that uptick in mind, the reasons for increased apprehensions at the border become clearer—and Biden’s approach to immigration less so.”