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.
Preliminary data revealed by the Washington Post point to Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants increasing from just under 100,000 to about 130,000 from June to July. The lull in migration that followed the end of the Title 42 policy has ended. This erodes the narrative that the Biden administration’s tough new asylum rule—recently struck down by a federal court but still in place for now—has deterred migration. Rights groups filed a new legal challenge to CBP’s use of its “CBP One” app to limit asylum seekers’ access to ports of entry. Meanwhile, data from Panama, Honduras, and elsewhere point to continued increases in migration.
The past week’s developments in Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) “Operation Lone Star” include revelations that Texas police are arresting migrant fathers for “trespassing” and separating them from their families; the discovery of two deceased people’s remains in or near the “buoy wall” that Abbott ordered built in the Rio Grande at Eagle Pass in July; the Eagle Pass City Council’s revocation of a legal document that Operation Lone Star has used to carry out its activities there; and the Biden administration’s imminent drawdown of active-duty troops deployed border-wide in May.
As of July 27, the appropriations committees of the Democratic-majority Senate and the Republican-majority House of Representatives have both approved draft legislation funding the Department of Homeland Security in 2024. The bills, which Congress must reconcile into a single budget, differ widely in overall amounts, and in border-relevant items like funding for wall construction, Border Patrol hiring, shelter funds, and ICE detention beds.
Citing preliminary data from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Washington Post reported that Border Patrol’s apprehensions of migrants between the U.S.-Mexico border’s ports of entry jumped by more than 30 percent from June to July. “U.S. agents made more than 130,000 arrests along the Mexico border last month, preliminary figures show, up from 99,545 in June,” reporters Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti revealed.
The fastest growth was in Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, which comprises most of Arizona, despite a long string of days there with temperatures exceeding 110 degrees. The 40,000 apprehensions in July were the most that the Tucson sector has measured since April 2008. As recently as December 2022, Tucson was in 5th place for migrant apprehensions among Border Patrol’s 9 U.S.-Mexico border sectors. Unnamed CBP officials told the Post that migrant smugglers have shifted to desert areas west of Nogales “because they know U.S. authorities have limited detention space and migrants who cross into Arizona are more likely to be quickly released.”
NBC News, also citing preliminary data, reported that Border Patrol’s daily average apprehensions of family-unit members (parents traveling with children) tripled from early June to late July, from 790 to 2,230 per day. An unnamed CBP official told the Washington Post that “parents with children comprise about half of the migrants currently held in CBP custody.”
Based on current trends, NBC predicted that August’s Border Patrol migrant apprehensions could increase to 160,000. If that happens, migration will have recovered to the high levels last seen in May (171,387), the last month before the Biden administration replaced the Title 42 pandemic policy with a restrictive new asylum rule. Migration dropped sharply in the weeks after Title 42’s termination, but as WOLA’s recent Border Updates have noted, that lull is now ending.
As covered in many recent updates, the Biden administration had replaced Title 42 with an administrative rule that blocks access to asylum, with some exceptions, to all non-Mexican migrants who (a) come to the border between ports of entry (land border crossings), instead of making an appointment using Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) “CBP One” smartphone app; and (b) did not try and fail to seek asylum in at least one other country along their route. People subjected to the rule are deported—and deported into Mexico if they are citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, or Venezuela—and banned from entry into the United States for five years.
In a July 27 exchange with Spanish-language journalists, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) assistant secretary for border and immigration policy, Blas Núñez-Neto, revealed that since the rule went into effect on May 11, his Department has deported more than 85,000 people to 115 countries (not all of them asylum seekers). Of that total, 4,000 of the deportees were citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela returned back into Mexico, as the Mexican government agreed when Title 42 ended. The rest are Mexican citizens sent back to Mexico, or other countries’ citizens placed aboard deportation flights, which total about 120 per month.
The emerging July apprehension totals indicate that this asylum rule is not deterring desperate migrants. “Each crackdown is followed by a short-term drop in apprehensions, as migrants adopt a “wait and see” approach,” Dara Lind observed in a July 28 analysis for the American Immigration Council’s Immigration Impact site. “But as it becomes clear that at least some people are successfully getting into the U.S. – and as situations in migrants’ home countries, or the countries they’re waiting in, may become harder to bear – border apprehensions start to increase again.”
As noted in WOLA’s July 28 Border Update, the asylum ban is in legal peril anyway. A U.S. district judge struck it down on July 25, agreeing with migrant rights defenders who argued that it is contrary to existing law guaranteeing the right to seek asylum. The Biden administration is appealing this decision, and on August 3 the federal judiciary’s Ninth Circuit kept the asylum rule in place while deliberations continue. Should the Ninth Circuit’s eventual decision concur with the district court and strike the rule down, the administration may go to the Supreme Court.
203 civil, human rights, and immigrant rights organizations (including WOLA) signed an August 2 letter to President Joe Biden asking him to desist from appealing the district judge’s July 25 decision and “redouble your focus on effective, humane, and legal solutions.” A letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland from 13 U.S. senators and 53 representatives, all Democrats, called for an end to application of “expedited removal” to asylum seekers, a process requiring people to defend their cases within days of apprehension while still in CBP’s austere custody conditions, usually with no access to counsel.
Along with its tough asylum rule, the Biden administration has sought to keep post-Title 42 Border Patrol apprehensions low by steering asylum seekers to the ports of entry (official border crossings), creating a system of appointments accessible from northern Mexico using CBP One, a smartphone app. CBP One appointments now total 1,450 per day, leading in recent months to record numbers of migrants able to access the ports of entry instead of crossing rivers, climbing border fencing, or otherwise ending up in Border Patrol custody.
That number of appointments still means migrants must wait, usually unemployed and insecure, for weeks or months in Mexican border cities before they get a chance to approach the ports of entry. In Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas, that has spurred the formation of a massive encampment of migrants along a mile-long stretch of the Rio Grande, despite a recent reported increase—from 350 to 600 per day—in CBP One appointments at the Brownsville port of entry.
In the midst of a deadly, historic heat wave in much of the border zone, this has been intolerable for many migrants, Sister Norma Pimentel, who runs Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and its migrant shelter services in south Texas, told NBC News. “She said many of the families who come to her shelter are there because they can no longer wait in the ‘merciless heat’ and live under the threat of violence in Mexico.”
In the organized crime-dominated border city of Nuevo Laredo, hundreds of migrants staged a protest at the Mexican end of one of the border bridges. They were “complaining about scheduling asylum interviews in the United States,” Border Report noted. “Some were part of the 2,000 asylum-seekers who had arrived in Nuevo Laredo a few weeks ago after inaccurate rumors circulated in Mexico that no appointment was needed to cross the international bridge.”
By making CBP One the only certain path to the asylum process, advocates argue that CBP has effectively reinstated “metering”—the practice of limiting asylum seekers’ access to ports of entry—which was struck down by a federal court in 2021. Many of the same organizations involved in the earlier case filed a new lawsuit on July 27. “People arriving at POEs [ports of entry] have the right to seek asylum without artificial caps or technological barriers,” stated the American Immigration Council, which is among groups representing the organizations Al Otro Lado and Haitian Bridge Alliance, along with 10 individuals turned away at ports of entry.
In addition to asylum appointments, the Biden administration continues to implement other new programs that aim to steer migrants away from crossing between ports of entry.
A July 25 DHS fact sheet provided the first public number of citizens of four countries granted a two-year humanitarian parole status, which permits up to 30,000 applicants per month to enter the United States via airports if they possess passports and have U.S.-based sponsors. Nearly 160,000 people have arrived in the United States under this program since it was made available to Venezuelans in October 2022 and to the other 3 countries in January 2023:
Republican states have sued to stop the humanitarian parole program, which relies on a presidential parole authority dating back to a 1950s law. The case goes before a Texas district court judge for arguments on August 24.
At the July 27 briefing with DHS’s Núñez-Neto, the State Department’s principal deputy assistant secretary of population, refugees, and migration, Martha Youth, gave an update about the U.S. government’s effort to set up “Secure Mobility Offices” around Latin America (covered in depth in WOLA’s June 30 Border Update). “To date,” Youth stated, “we have registered about 18,000 people in Guatemala and Colombia through the movilidadsegura.org website. In Guatemala, more than 650 people have already been referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. In Costa Rica, more than 250 people have been referred to the Program and about 200 people have been admitted to settlement in Spain.” Data are not yet available for Colombia.
Some migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela who are already in Mexico will be able to apply, from “an international multipurpose space” in southern Mexico, for the U.S. government’s refugee resettlement program, according to a brief July 28 announcement from the White House National Security Council. In January, the White House had announced its intention to increase refugee admissions from Latin America and the Caribbean to 20,000 per year. While relatively small, this program provides some government benefits to assist resettlement; the U.S. asylum program, by contrast, provides none and does not even allow application for work permits until an application is six months old.
The end of the post-Title 42 drop in migration, which is challenging the Biden administration’s “carrot and stick” approach, is very much in evidence further south along the U.S.-bound migration route.
Texas’s state government continues to draw national attention for its punitive approach to border security and migration, and for its sharp criticism of the Biden administration. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) plans to spend $9.5 billion in state funds between 2021 and 2025 on fence construction, police and national guard deployments, arrests of migrants on state trespassing charges, busing of asylum seekers to Democratic-governed cities, and other measures that he calls “Operation Lone Star” (OLS).
Abbott’s policies drew an outcry in July when a state police whistleblower revealed that OLS was causing asylum seekers to be wounded by razor wire, placed at risk of drowning, and denied requests for water (see WOLA’s July 21 Border Update).
New developments in Texas have emerged in the past few days.
The Appropriations Committee of the Democratic-majority Senate met on August 27 to approve its version of the 2024 DHS budget. The hearing web page includes links to the bill, the Committee’s narrative report, and a summary. In the Republican-majority House of Representatives, the Appropriations Committee had approved a much different 2024 DHS funding bill on June 21 (see WOLA’s June 23 Border Update). The two houses will have to reconcile their diverging versions of the measure when the U.S. Congress returns from a month-long August recess.
The Senate appropriators provide $61.3 billion in discretionary funding for DHS, about $600 million more than the Department’s 2023 budget, $900 million more than the Biden administration had requested in March (see WOLA’s March 17 Border Update), and $1.5 billion less than the House appropriators approved in June.
The Senate bill would provide CBP $18.1 billion in 2024, very close to the 2023 level, $1.6 billion more than the Biden administration request, and $1.8 billion less than the House.
The Senate bill, like the Biden administration’s request, includes no new money for building border walls and barriers in 2024. The House bill provides $2.2 billion for that purpose.
The Senate bill provides $11 million “to hire an additional 145 Border Patrol agents, bringing the funded level to 20,000 agents.” The House bill would dedicate $496 million to increase Border Patrol’s authorized staffing level to 22,000, funding 1,795 more additional agents than the 350 that the Biden administration had requested.
The Senate bill would hire 700 new CBP officers at ports of entry throughout the country, more than the 150 the administration had requested; the House did not appear to specify a number.
The Senate bill would provide $719 million to CBP “to improve the detection and seizure of fentanyl and other narcotics at ports of entry,” enough to increase the number of passenger vehicles scanned at the POEs from 40 to 65 percent. The administration request had sought $305 million for “Non-Intrusive Inspection Systems, with a primary focus on fentanyl detection at ports of entry.”
The Senate bill would provide $752 million to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Shelter and Services Program, which provides short-term services to migrants released into the United States. That is slightly decreased from 2023 levels, the National Immigrant Justice Center observed in a statement that was quite critical of the Senate bill. The House had cut this program entirely, and neither house funded an administration request for a $4.7 billion contingency fund to respond flexibly to large migration increases at the border.
The Senate bill would increase the budget of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) beyond the administration’s request. This would include funding for 34,000 detention beds. The administration had requested funding for 25,000 beds, and the House bill would fund 41,000.
Senate appropriators’ narrative report voiced concern about the independence and autonomy of the Office of the Immigration Detention Ombudsman (OIDO), a new oversight body created in 2020. The House bill would defund OIDO completely.
The House bill would prohibit funding for use of the CBP One app to manage the entry of migrants. The Senate bill included no such provision.
Selected border-related items in the DHS budget
|2023 level||2024 Biden administration request||2024 House Appropriations Committee||2024 Senate Appropriations Committee|
|Total discretionary funding for DHS||$60.7 billion||$60.4 billion||$62.8 billion||$61.3 billion|
|CBP budget||$18.0 billion||$16.4 billion||$19.9 billion||$18.1 billion|
|New walls and barriers||None||None||$2.2 billion||None|
|Border Patrol hiring||300 new agents||350 new agents||2,145 new agents||145 new agents|
|CBP Officer hiring||125 new officers||150 new officers||Not specified||700 new officers|
|FEMA Shelter and Services program||$800 million||$83 million, plus parts of a $4.7 billion contingency fund for “surge” response||None||$752 million|
|ICE detention beds||34,000||25,000||41,000||34,000|
When the divided Congress returns from recess in September, it will have to reconcile these two very different versions of the Homeland Security appropriation, whether as separate bills passed by each house or a single “omnibus” bill combining other federal departments’ budgets. The 2024 fiscal year starts on October 1, though Congress could keep the government running after that date by passing a “continuing resolution” keeping funding temporarily at 2023 levels.
Axios reported on July 27 that DHS is facing a severe budget shortfall well before October 1. The reason is costs incurred this year by “efforts to manage large numbers of migrants and asylum seekers illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border” and “anti-drug trafficking measures.” The Department has already notified Congress of plans to move about $1 billion among categories within its existing 2023 budget, but it may ask Congress for about $2 billion in supplemental funds just to get to the end of the fiscal year.