WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
29 Mar 2024 | News

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: Mexico crackdown, no spring migration increase, Texas, Guatemala

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.

Support ad-free, paywall-free Weekly Border Updates. Your donation to WOLA is crucial to sustain this effort. Please contribute now and support our work.


Migration at the U.S.-Mexico border usually increases in springtime. That is not happening in 2024, although numbers are up in Mexico and further south. Increased Mexican government operations to block or hinder migrants are a central reason. Especially striking is migration from Venezuela, which has plummeted at the U.S. border and moved largely to ports of entry. It is unclear why Venezuelan migration has dropped more steeply than that from other nations.

Migration at the U.S.-Mexico border increased by 8 percent from January to February; the portion that is Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants grew by 13 percent. February’s levels were still on the low end for the Biden administration. Preliminary March data indicate no further increases this month.

Texas’s governor, an immigration hardliner, is claiming credit for a westward shift of migration toward Arizona and California. Uncertainty over a harsh new law—currently blocked in the courts—could be leading some migrants to avoid Texas, but the overall picture is more complex. Migration declined slightly in Arizona in February and is still dropping there in March, while four out of five Texas border sectors saw some growth in February.

President Bernardo Arévalo of Guatemala, in his third month in office, paid his first official visit to Washington, meeting separately with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. The White House touted $170 million in new assistance to Guatemala and the operations of a U.S.-backed “Safe Mobility Office” that seeks to steer would-be migrants toward legal pathways. In 2023, Guatemala’s previous government expelled more than 23,000 U.S.-bound migrants, most of them from Venezuela, back across its border into Honduras.



Mexico’s intensified enforcement delays the United States’ expected spring migration increase

The spring migration increase is underway,” read WOLA’s March 8 Border Update. This statement reflected early reports of a 13 percent increase in Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border from January to February. (Those early reports were correct, as discussed below.)

However, this increase has leveled off or may even be reversing in March. That rarely happens in spring, a season when the border usually sees a jump in migration as temperatures warm, but not to extremes.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) encountered 6,307 migrants per day at the U.S.-Mexico border during the first 21 days of March, including the approximately 1,450 per day who made CBP One appointments at border ports of entry, according to slides posted by Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, at his March 26 morning press conference.

That preliminary March average is smaller than CBP’s daily average in February (6,549, more statistics below). If this holds—we’ll find out in the second half of April, when CBP releases final March numbers—then 2024 could be only the second year this century in which migration declined from February to March. (The other year was 2017, when migration dropped sharply in the three months after Donald Trump’s January inauguration.)

Meanwhile, on March 25 Mexico’s government published data through February showing that its migration authorities encountered almost exactly 120,000 migrants in both January and February. Before January, Mexico’s monthly record for migrant encounters was about 98,000. This is evidence that Mexico’s government has stepped up interdiction of migrants in its territory so far in 2024.

A New York Times analysis found that Mexico’s government’s ability and willingness to help control migration flows make it “a key player on an issue with the potential to sway the election” in the United States. However, “behind closed doors, some senior Biden officials have come to see López Obrador as an unpredictable partner, who they say isn’t doing enough to consistently control his own southern border or police routes being used by smugglers.”

Meanwhile, migration continues at high levels further south. Officials in Panama reported that the number of migrants crossing the Darién Gap so far in 2024 has now exceeded 101,000. At the end of February, the number stood at 73,167; this means that the March pace in the Darién Gap remains, as in January and February, at a bit over 1,200 people per day. Of this year’s migrants, nearly two thirds (64,307) are citizens of Venezuela.

The March data show that U.S. encounters with migrants from Venezuela continue to be far fewer than the past two years’ monthly averages. Venezuelan migrants’ numbers dropped sharply in January and have not recovered: they totaled 20,364 in January and February combined, just over one-third of what they were in December alone (57,850). Meanwhile, Mexico reported 56,312 encounters with Venezuelan citizens in January and February—almost 3 times the U.S. figure.

That points to a strong likelihood that the Venezuelan population is increasing sharply within Mexico right now. The Associated Press confirmed that Mexico’s increased operations to block migrants have many Venezuelan citizens stranded in the country’s south, including in Mexico City, which is within the geographic range of the CBP One app and its limited number of available appointments.

U.S. authorities’ encounters with Venezuelan migrants haven’t just dropped in aggregate terms. The percentage of Venezuelans crossing between ports of entry has also fallen, from a strong majority to just 37 percent since January. This means that a majority of Venezuelan migrants are now making CBP One appointments.

Meanwhile, this week Mexico’s government reached an agreement with Venezuela’s government to facilitate aerial deportations to Caracas. As part of the deal, some of Mexico’s largest corporations with presences in South America would employ Venezuelan deportees, paying them a “stipend” of US$110 per month for a six-month period. “We’re sending Venezuelans back to their country because we really cannot handle these quantities,” said Foreign Minister Alicia Bárcena.

At his March 26 press conference, López Obrador added that he is seeking to expand this program to citizens of Colombia and Ecuador. Participants in a “Migrant Via Crucis” march through Mexico’s southernmost state, Chiapas, told EFE that they had no interest in this offer.

That annual Easter week march of migrants near Mexico’s southern border—not exactly a “caravan,” but an organized protest to urge the Mexican government to allow them to keep moving northward—has walked about 20 miles through Chiapas, the country’s southernmost state. By March 26, its numbers had reportedly dwindled to about half of the approximately 3,000 participants with which it began.


Insights from CBP’s February reporting about the border

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) provided updated data late on March 22 about migration through February at the U.S.-Mexico border. (Search this data at cbpdata.adamisacson.com.)

It revealed that

  • Border Patrol apprehended 140,644 migrants in February, up 13 percent from January but still the 7th-fewest apprehensions of the Biden administration’s 37 full months.
  • 49,278 migrants came to ports of entry, 42,100 of them (1,452 per day) with CBP One appointments. This is similar to every month since July 2023, as CBP officers tightly control the flow at ports of entry.
  • Combining Border Patrol and port-of-entry encounters, CBP encountered 189,922 migrants at the border in February, an 8 percent increase over January.

Data table


In late February, press reports indicated that the Biden administration was considering new executive actions at the border, like limits on access to asylum or a ban on crossings between ports of entry. (See WOLA’s February 23 Border Update.) But then nothing happened: Politico reported on March 25 that the White House has stood down “in part, [due] to the downtick in migration numbers” so far this year. (Executive actions are not off the table, however. Axios reported that “President Biden is still considering harsh executive actions at the border before November’s election.”)

The top nationalities of migrants arriving at the border in February were:

  • Mexico (33 percent of the month’s total; 28 percent during the first 5 months of fiscal 2024)
  • Guatemala (13 percent; 11 percent during 2024)
  • Cuba (7 percent; 6 percent during 2024)
  • Colombia (6 percent; 6 percent during 2024)
  • Ecuador (6 percent; 5 percent during 2024)
  • Haiti (6 percent; 4 percent during 2024)

The nationalities for which encounters increased the most were chiefly South American:

  • Brazil (87 percent more than January)
  • Peru (67 percent)
  • Colombia (65 percent)
  • Ecuador (50 percent)
  • El Salvador (31 percent)

The nationalities for which encounters decreased the most were:

  • Turkey (72 percent fewer than February)
  • India (56 percent fewer)
  • Venezuela (24 percent fewer—and 85 percent fewer than in December)
  • Russia (15 percent fewer)
  • Cuba (7 percent fewer)

The top nationalities crossing between ports of entry and ending up in Border Patrol custody were:

  • Mexico (35 percent of the total; 28 percent during the first 5 months of fiscal 2024)
  • Guatemala (17 percent; 14 percent during 2024)
  • Ecuador (8 percent; 7 percent during 2024)
  • Colombia (8 percent; 7 percent during 2024)
  • Honduras (6 percent; 8 percent during 2024)

The top nationalities reporting to ports of entry were:

  • Mexico (27 percent; 26 percent during the first 5 months of fiscal 2024)
  • Cuba (26 percent; 24 percent during 2024)
  • Haiti (23 percent; 16 percent during 2024)
  • Venezuela (11 percent; 18 percent during 2024)
  • Honduras (4 percent; 5 percent during 2024)

Of February’s encountered migrants, combining Border Patrol and ports of entry:

  • 60 percent were single adults (55 percent during the first 5 months of fiscal 2024), principally from Mexico, Guatemala, Cuba, Haiti, Ecuador, and Colombia
  • 34 percent were members of family units (40 percent), principally from Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Honduras, Ecuador, and Cuba
  • 5 percent were unaccompanied children (5 percent), principally from Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and Haiti

Data table


Border-zone seizures of fentanyl totaled 1,186 pounds in February, the fewest fentanyl seizures at the border in any month since June 2022. After five months, fiscal year 2024 fentanyl seizures total 8,021 pounds, 27 percent fewer than the same point in fiscal year 2023. This is the first time that fentanyl seizures have declined since the drug began to appear in the mid-2010s. Ports of entry account for 85 percent of this year’s fentanyl seizures. (See WOLA’s March 8 Border Update for a more thorough exploration of drug seizure data through January.)


Is Texas’s crackdown pushing migrants to other states?

Border Patrol divides the U.S.-Mexico border into nine geographic sectors. Between March 2013 and June 2023, the sectors with the largest number of arriving migrants were consistently in Texas. That changed in July of last year, shortly after the end of the Title 42 policy.

Since then Tucson, Arizona, has been the Border Patrol’s busiest sector. The principal nationalities arriving there so far in fiscal 2024 have been Mexico, Guatemala, “Other Countries,” Ecuador, India, and Colombia.

Data table


As of January, San Diego, California has been the number-two sector. The principal nationalities arriving there in fiscal 2024 have been “Other Countries,” Colombia, China, Mexico, Brazil, and Ecuador. (The prominence of “Other Countries” points to a need for CBP to add more detail to its public dataset.)

Weekly data from the Twitter accounts of Border Patrol’s sector chiefs indicate that while Tucson is experiencing decreases in migration this year, San Diego has remained largely steady.

The New York Times reported on the movement of migration away from the Texas border. Though the picture is complex, it concluded, the Texas state government’s high-profile crackdown on migration is a factor. Gov. Greg Abbott (R), a pro-Trump critic of the Biden administration’s border and migration policies, has been claiming credit for the geographic shift.

In less than three years, under a framework called “Operation Lone Star,” Texas state law enforcement has carried out the following measures using state funds. Most of these face challenges in federal and state courts.

  • arrested and jailed 13,000 migrants, mainly for misdemeanor trespassing
  • placed 107,800 migrants released from CBP custody on buses bound for six Democratic Party-governed cities
  • deployed thousands of police and national guardsmen to the border
  • built dozens of miles of fencing, while placing sharp concertina wire along the Rio Grande to block asylum seekers from turning themselves in to Border Patrol
  • placed a “wall of buoys” in the middle of the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass
  • sought to forbid Border Patrol agents from cutting the concertina wire, and denied agents’ access to the riverfront park in Eagle Pass
  • pursued legal actions against El Paso’s four-decade-old Annunciation House migrant shelter

In December, Abbott secured passage of S.B. 4, a law that would empower Texas police and guardsmen to arrest people anywhere in the state on suspicion of having crossed the border improperly. If found guilty, defendants would have the choice of prison or deportation into Mexico.

Early in the morning of March 27, a federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals panel decided, by a two-to-one margin, to maintain a stay on S.B. 4, preventing it from going into effect while the Court considers legal challenges from the Biden administration Justice Department and from the ACLU and partner organizations.

The court will hear arguments on S.B. 4’s constitutionality on April 3. At stake is whether states can devise and implement their own independent immigration policies, and whether there is any validity to the claims of politicians, like Abbott, that asylum seekers and other migrants meet the constitutional definition of an “invasion.”

Mexico’s government filed an amicus curiae brief in federal court in support of the ongoing challenge to S.B. 4. Mexican Foreign Minister Alicia Bárcena told the Washington Post that her government would place “increased vigilance and controls” along the Texas border to prevent Texas state authorities from carrying out their own deportations without Mexico’s permission.

Very high levels of migration into Texas through December appeared to indicate that Operation Lone Star was having no deterrent effect. It is possible, though, that the more recent shift to western states could reflect migrants and smugglers entering a “wait and see mode” amid uncertainty over S.B. 4., a law that has been “on again, off again” as courts have lifted and reimposed stays in recent weeks.

February data, and an El Paso municipal government “ dashboard,” do show increases in migration in four out of five Texas sectors, so the lull may be fleeting.

Across from El Paso In Ciudad Juárez, the Casa del Migrante, one of the city’s principal migrant shelters, “has been filling up in recent days as families and single adults looking for an opportunity to seek asylum in the United States are again arriving in Juarez in large numbers,” according to Border Report. Rev. Francisco Bueno Guillen, the shelter’s director, said it “went from being 20 percent full a couple of weeks ago to 75 percent capacity as of Monday.” The city’s municipal shelter is also three-quarters full.

In El Paso on March 21, a group of migrants on the U.S. bank of the Rio Grande pushed their way past Texas state National Guard personnel blocking access to the border wall, where they hoped to turn themselves in to federal Border Patrol agents. Video showed a chaotic scene.

A Texas law enforcement spokesman told the New York Times that the increase in migration to Border Patrol’s El Paso sector reflects more migrants crossing into New Mexico, which is part of that sector—not Texas. There is no way to verify that with available data.


Migration on the agenda of Guatemalan President’s visit to Washington

Guatemala’s reformist new president, Bernardo Arévalo, visited the White House on March 25, where he met separately with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Migration—of Guatemalans, and of other nations’ citizens transiting Guatemala—was a central topic in both of Arévalo’s conversations.

This is the first presidential visit for Arévalo, who took office on January 14. He and Vice President Harris reportedly discussed “providing lawful pathways to migrants, increasing cooperation on border enforcement, and…U.S. support for Guatemala’s migration management efforts.” A White House release stated that the Biden administration plans to provide Guatemala with an additional $170 million in security and development assistance, pending congressional notification.

Vice President Harris touted the administration’s “Root Causes Strategy,” which she claimed has created 70,000 new jobs, helped up to 63,000 farmers, supported 3 million students’ education, and trained more than 18,000 police officers and 27,000 judicial operators in all of Central America.

The leaders announced no changes to the U.S.-backed “Safe Mobility Office” (SMO) in Guatemala that links some would-be migrants to legal pathways. The prior administration of President Alejandro Giammattei (whose U.S. visa has since been revoked amid corruption allegations) had reduced the SMO’s scope to serve only citizens of Guatemala. On a visit to Guatemala the week before, Mayorkas noted that the Guatemala SMO has “already helped more than 1,500 Guatemalans safely and lawfully enter the United States” via existing programs, principally refugee admissions.

The head of Guatemala’s migration agency, who worked in the government that left power in January, resigned on March 26. The reason for Stuard Rodríguez’s departure is not known. “Rodriguez made several reports during his administration of the increase of migrant expulsions, especially of Cubans and Venezuelans,” noted the Guatemalan daily Prensa Libre.

In 2023, under the Giammattei administration, Guatemalan authorities reported pushing back into Honduras more than 23,000 migrants, more than 70 percent of them Venezuelan. As of February 13, Guatemala’s 2024 expulsions count stood at 1,754.

So far in 2024, the U.S. and Mexican governments have deported20,018 citizens of Guatemala back to their country by air, more than 5,000 above the total at the same time in 2023. The United States has returned 18,437 people on 154 flights, while Mexico has returned 1,632 on 15 flights.

Asked during his visit to Washington whether he believes that border walls work, Arévalo told CBS News, “I think that history shows they don’t. What we need to look for is integrated solutions to a problem that is far more complex than just putting a wall to try to contain.”


Other news

  • The six construction workers presumed dead in the collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge were people who had migrated from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. CASA of Maryland is collecting donations to support their families.
  • 481 organizations (including WOLA) sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking him to extend Temporary Protected Status for Haitian migrants in the United States, to halt deportation flights and maritime returns to Haiti, and to increase the monthly cap on access to humanitarian parole for people still in the country, where governance is near collapse.
  • At the London Review of Books, Pooja Bhatia combined a narrative of Haiti’s deteriorating security situation with an account of the challenges that Haitian asylum seekers face at the U.S.-Mexico border. Bhatia reported from the dangerous border in Tamaulipas, Mexico, and highlighted the role of humanitarian workers and service providers, including staff of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, the principal author of the above-cited letter.
  • NBC News highlighted the dilemma of migrant women who were raped by criminals in Mexico while en route to the United States, and now find themselves in states like Texas where, following the 2022 Supreme Court Dobbs decision, it is illegal to obtain an abortion. Often, the rapes occur while migrants are stranded—usually for months—in Mexican border cities as they await CBP One appointments.
  • Despite a crushing backlog of cases, the number of U.S. immigration judges declined in the first quarter of fiscal 2024, from 734 to 725. That means “each judge has 3,836 cases on average,” pointed out Kathleen Bush-Joseph of the Migration Policy Institute. (That number is greater if one uses TRAC Immigration’s higher estimate of the immigration court backlog.)
  • The International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Missing Migrants Project now has 10 years of data about deaths of migrants: 63,285 known cases worldwide between 2014 and 2023, including a high of 8,542 in 2023. In its 10-year report, IOM counted more deaths in the Mediterranean (28,854 deaths), Africa (14,385), and Asia (9,956) than in the Americas (8,984).
  • CBP released body-worn camera footage of the February 17 death, apparently by suicide, of a man in a holding cell at a Laredo, Texas checkpoint. The footage does not show the exact circumstances of how the man died because “the video recording system at the Border Patrol checkpoint was not fully functioning at the time of the incident.”
  • In Tucson, Arizona, local authorities now believe that federal funds—made possible by Congress passing a budget over the weekend—will arrive in time to prevent the closure of shelters that receive migrants released from CBP custody. The prospect of “street releases” in Tucson and other Arizona border towns is now unlikely.
  • Colleen Putzel-Kavanaugh and Muzaffar Chishti of the Migration Policy Institute explained that many of today’s proposals to restrict asylum access and otherwise crack down on migration will not work because the U.S. government can no longer “go it alone.” Reasons include the diversity of countries migrants are coming from and the policies of other governments, such as varying visa requirements, refusals to accept repatriations, and the Mexican government’s unwillingness to receive expelled migrants from third countries.
  • At Lawfare, Ilya Somin of the Cato Institute dismantled an argument that has become increasingly mainstream among Republican politicians: that asylum seekers and other migrants crossing the border constitute an “invasion” and that states have a constitutional right to confront them with their own security forces. Somin warns that the “invasion” idea, if upheld, could allow border states “to initiate war anytime they want,” and permit the federal government to suspend habeas corpus rights.
  • Conservative politicians and media outlets are going after the non-profit shelters that receive migrants released from CBP custody in U.S. border cities, along with other humanitarian groups, noted Miriam Davidson at The Progressive. Tucson’s Casa Alitas and El Paso’s Annunciation House have been subject to aggressive misinformation and legal attacks so far this year.
  • “I think the migrants that we encounter, that are turning themselves in, yes, I think they absolutely are, by and large, good people,” Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens told CBS News’s Face the Nation. But “what’s keeping me up at night is the 140,000 known ‘got-aways’” so far this fiscal year.
  • At the New York Review of Books, Caroline Tracey documented an abandoned, unpopular plan to construct a massive Border Patrol checkpoint on I-19, the highway between Tucson and the border at Nogales, Arizona. The case highlighted the tension between security concerns and economic and human rights considerations.
  • As Mexican farmworkers migrate to the United States, often on temporary work visas, Mexico is facing its own farm labor shortages and is considering setting up its own guest-worker program for citizens of countries to Mexico’s south, the Washington Post reported.