With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. See past weekly updates here.
Agents shot and killed a Mexican migrant inside the Ysleta Border Patrol station in eastern El Paso, Texas on October 4. Manuel González Morán, a 33-year-old man from Ciudad Juárez, was shot twice and pronounced dead at an El Paso hospital.
According to an FBI statement reported by the Washington Post and a document seen by VICE, as agents opened his holding cell door to process him, González rushed out into the station’s office area. There, he reportedly grabbed a pair of scissors (which the FBI called an “edged weapon”) off of a desk, and menaced the agents with them.
Agents reportedly sought to subdue González by firing a taser at him, with no apparent result. An agent or agents then shot González at close range. One bullet grazed his arm, another pierced his temple.
“A security camera in the room was not functioning at the time of the incident,” a “person with knowledge of the investigation” told the Washington Post.
The FBI is investigating the incident, along with Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Office of Professional Responsibility. According to the Post, the FBI statement noted that González had a U.S. criminal record, a 2011 conviction for assault with a deadly weapon in Colorado.
Between October 2021 and September 14, Border Patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico border had been involved in 11 use-of-force incidents involving firearms, down from 14 in fiscal year 2021 but up from 8 in 2020 and 4 in 2019. Recent cases involving death or serious injury to migrants include:
Two 60-year-old Texas twin brothers were arrested and charged with manslaughter after allegedly shooting at a group of migrants in rural west Texas on September 27. They are accused of firing two shotgun rounds along a roadside near the town of Sierra Blanca, in Hudspeth County, killing a man and wounding a woman, both from Mexico.
The victims were part of a group of 13 Mexican migrants who had recently crossed into the United States. They had stopped to take a drink out of a reservoir when Mike and Mark Sheppard allegedly pulled over their pickup truck while the migrants hid in the desert brush. “Someone from the truck yelled out in Spanish, ‘Come out you sons of b****es, little a**es,’ the migrants told police later,” according to the Texas Tribune.
Surviving migrants claim that the brothers got out of the truck and fired at the group, then drove off, apparently to attend a local water commission meeting.
The Sheppard brothers were held in the Hudspeth County jail until October 3, when they were released on a bond of $250,000 each. While they have changed details of their story, they claim that they were hunting animals (first ducks, then a javelina) and did not realize that they had shot at people.
Reports quickly emerged that one of the brothers, Mike Sheppard, has a complicated history with migrants. Until his arrest, which resulted in his firing, Sheppard was the warden of the West Texas Detention Center in Sierra Blanca, a 1,053-capacity county jail that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) used as a migrant detention facility between 2007 and 2021. The Detention Center is operated by LaSalle Corrections, a private prison contractor.
“Everyone in town knows them,” Hudspeth County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Lazaro Salgado told the Washington Post, adding that he “had never heard the brothers making bigoted or hateful statements about migrants. ‘Nothing that I’m aware of,’ he said.”
This contradicts other accounts. The Texas Tribune and the Intercept reported that the West Texas Detention Center has faced serious complaints of abuse of migrants, some allegedly committed by the warden himself.
In 2018 RAICES, the Texas A&M University Law School Immigrant Rights Clinic, and the University of Texas Law School Immigration Clinic filed a complaint against the detention facility, alleging that 30 Somalian migrants held there had suffered a month of beatings, pepper-spraying, and racist taunts.
A detainee said that Warden Sheppard had hit him in the face, then had him sent to solitary confinement. There, he was “forced to lie face down on the floor with my hands handcuffed behind my back while I was kicked repeatedly in the ribs by the Warden.”
The Intercept reported:
The men described Sheppard routinely using racist language in addressing them, including: “Shut your Black a** up. You don’t deserve nothing. You belong at the back of that cage”; “Boy, I’m going to show you. You’re my b****”; and “Now you belong to me, boy.” …Some claimed they were tossed into solitary confinement for speaking too loudly to the West Texas warden.
Beyond these incidents, it was an eventful week in Texas.
According to numerous testimonies from the migrants, Huerta convinced them to board the flight by paying for hotel rooms in San Antonio and falsely promising jobs and housing assistance in “Boston.” Her clandestine operation, paid for with a $12 million Florida state appropriation for transporting migrants out of the state, took place without the knowledge of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who like DeSantis is also a prominent Republican politician.
Lawyers representing the mostly Venezuelan migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard say that they expect to name Huerta as a defendant. They told the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent that “this could pave the way to deposing her for details about the DeSantis administration’s potential involvement in deceiving the migrants.”
Many recent buses have departed El Paso, which appears to have become the top destination for Venezuelan asylum-seekers over the past month. The city’s Democratic mayor has facilitated these buses to other cities, in part because many of the Venezuelan migrants lack U.S.-based relatives or contacts who can fund their travel to destinations in the U.S. interior.
Luis Chaparro of VICE accompanied one of these buses from El Paso to New York, about 40 hours of driving. He discovered that, upon reaching Dallas, the migrants get transferred onto old, second-class buses with faulty plumbing and air conditioning, subject to breakdowns. No food is provided to the migrants and their children, many of whom have no cash. Bus drivers have ended up buying migrants sandwiches out of their own pockets. A driver told Chaparro that by the time the buses reach New York, half the passengers have abandoned the trip, remaining in other cities along the way.
Much of it would be built using panels originally intended for Donald Trump’s border wall, which became surplus after Joe Biden halted construction in January 2021. Construction won’t start right away because most land along Texas’s border is private property. “We’re still negotiating for the land,” a Texas Facilities Commission official told Border Report.
The first four suicides occurred during an eight-week period in late 2021, amid rapid and chaotic callups and reports of miserable living conditions for the soldiers hastily assigned to the mission. Two other soldiers died in accidental shootings; one died of a blood clot after working a long shift in July heat; one died in a motorcycle accident; and Specialist Bishop Evans drowned in April while trying to rescue migrants from the Rio Grande, despite not being equipped with a flotation device.
“Though officials won’t confirm a number,” the Dallas Morning News reported, “the mission currently involves closer to 5,000 Guard personnel than 10,000 at peak deployment a few months ago.” The Morning News adds that the military and police mission may run out of funding by the end of November.
In late September Mexico’s migration authority (Instituto Nacional de Migración or INM) released data about migrant apprehensions in August. The agency apprehended 42,408 migrants transiting Mexico that month, a number it has only exceeded twice before (in July and August 2021).
For the first time, citizens of Venezuela were the number-one nationality apprehended: 16,881 people, or 40 percent of Mexico’s August apprehension total. The second-place country of citizenship in August, Honduras, saw one-third as many apprehensions (5,602).
Until September 2021, citizens of Central America’s so-called “Northern Triangle” (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) had consistently made up at least 75 percent of Mexico’s migrant apprehensions. Due to the large increase in Venezuelan migration, “Northern Triangle” migrants dropped in August to just 31 percent of the total.
While Mexico’s migration data for September are unlikely to be available for a few weeks, It appears that apprehensions are continuing to increase. According to Proceso, the INM apprehended 3,263 migrants from 50 countries in a single day, September 22. Even if the INM were to average half that daily amount over the course of the month, September would still break Mexico’s monthly apprehensions record.
Mexico’s refugee agency (Comisión Mexicana de Atención a Refugiados, or COMAR) reported receiving 8,954 asylum requests during September, pushing its 2022 year-to-date total to 86,621 asylum applications. While the beleaguered agency is not on track to break its 2021 asylum-requests record (129,844), COMAR had never received more than 10,000 requests before 2017.
One reason 2022 is running behind 2021 for COMAR is the relatively small number of asylum applicants from Venezuela, which is now the number-one country of origin of apprehended migrants. Even as the INM apprehended nearly 17,000 Venezuelans in August, COMAR received just 632 asylum applications from Venezuelans that month. Mexican authorities appear to be giving many Venezuelan migrants “Multiple Migration Forms” (FMM) that allow them to remain in the country for a month; this often (but not always) enables travel to the U.S. border.