WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
19 Apr 2024 | News

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: Migration declined in March, Mayorkas impeachment thwarted, Darién Gap, National Guard in Texas

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.

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Customs and Border Protection (CBP) revealed in an April 12 data release that migration at the border declined from February to March for only the second time this century. The drop owes largely to the Mexican government’s stepped-up efforts to interdict migrants so far this year. San Diego may be surpassing Tucson as migrants’ number-one destination along the border.

On a party-line vote, the Democratic-majority U.S. Senate dismissed impeachment charges that the House’s Republican majority brought against Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The Republicans had alleged that Mayorkas’s management of the border and migration merited the first impeachment of a cabinet secretary since 1876. The House may meanwhile consider a hardline border and migration bill, echoing provisions in H.R. 2, in coming days.

José Raúl Mulino, a conservative populist leading polls for Panama’s May presidential election, is promising to “close” the Darién Gap and repatriate migrants. This week a UNHCR survey (with a small sample), found one in five Darién migrants intending to settle somewhere other than the United States.

An Indiana National Guardsman serving under the Texas state government’s “Operation Lone Star” fired his weapon at an individual in El Paso who allegedly stabbed two people on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande riverbank. It was the third known event since January 2023 in which a National Guardsman working under Texas state authority has fired a weapon at, or in the presence of, migrants at the border.



CBP releases March migration data

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released data on April 12 about migration and border security metrics at the U.S.-Mexico border in March 2023. The numbers show an unusual pattern. Though migration usually increases in spring, U.S. authorities’ encounters with migrants at the border fell last month. This is only the second time this century that encounters declined from February to March.

CBP’s Border Patrol component reported apprehending 137,480 people at the border last month, a drop of 2.3 percent from February (140,638).

Data table


March was the seventh-lightest month of the Biden administration’s thirty-eight months in office.


The top three nationalities of Border Patrol’s apprehensions in March were Mexico (38%), Ecuador (11%), and Guatemala (11%). During the entire first six months of the 2024 fiscal year, the top three nationalities of Border Patrol’s apprehensions have been Mexico (30%), Guatemala (14%), and Venezuela (11%).

(This chart combines Border Patrol apprehensions with encounters at ports of entry.) Data table since FY2020


33 percent of March Border Patrol apprehensions were of family unit members, 6 percent were unaccompanied children, and the remaining 61 percent were single adults. During the first half of fiscal 2024, family unit members were a greater share: 39 percent of Border Patrol apprehensions, 6 percent were unaccompanied children, and the remaining 55 percent were single adults.

The top three sectors where Border Patrol apprehended migrants in March were Tucson Arizona (31%), San Diego, California (25%), and El Paso, Texas-New Mexico (22%). Over the first six months of fiscal 2024, The top three sectors were Tucson, (33%), Del Rio, Texas (19%), and San Diego (18%).

As of mid-April, San Diego may be surpassing Tucson be the number one destination for migrants coming to the border, according to a read of weekly data posted to Twitter by Border Patrol sector chiefs. San Diego saw the most migration during much of the 1990s, but has been surpassed by other parts of the border over the past quarter-century.


An increase in migrant arrivals there—8,959 Border Patrol apprehensions between April 10 and 16—had overwhelmed San Diego county efforts to receive released migrants, resulting in 24,000 CBP “street releases ” in San Diego after federal funding ran out in February. San Diego County has received $19.6 million in federal funding from the 2024 budget that Congress approved in March, but has not yet restarted migrant reception services, Border Report found.

Migration has been declining since December in Tucson, Arizona, which has been Border Patrol’s number-one sector for migrant apprehensions since July 2023. In mid-December, Border Patrol apprehended 19,400 migrants in Tucson in a single week; by April 5-11 that had dropped to 6,700.

Still, across the border in Nogales, Sonora, asylum seekers’ waits for CBP One appointments now often last seven or eight months, reported Christina Ascencio of Human Rights First. The Nogales port of entry, the only CBP One destination between Calexico, California, and El Paso, Texas, offers only 100 appointments per day.

CBP encountered 51,892 people at its land-border ports of entry in March, about 44,000 (85%) of them with CBP One appointments. That is similar to recent months. The top nationalities at the ports were Mexico (27%), Cuba (24%), and Haiti (18%). CBP persists in refusing to increase CBP One appointments further than the present level of about 1,450 per day.

Data table


The total number of migrant encounters in March was 189,372, combining Border Patrol apprehensions and port of entry arrivals.

Migration continues to decline in April. Border Patrol has averaged 3,800 apprehensions per day over the past three weeks, Rep. Henry Cuéllar (D-Texas), the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, said at a hearing last week reported in the Washington Examiner. That would set April on pace to be the third-lightest month of the Biden administration’s 39 full months.

An April 18 WOLA analysis looked at the sharp drop in migration at the U.S.-Mexico border so far in 2024. Rather than U.S. policy changes or the Texas government’s crackdown, the main reason appears to be Mexico’s stepped-up interdiction of migrants, at U.S. urging. This interdiction includes a record 120,000 migrant apprehensions in each of January and February.

  • CNN reported on one example: greatly increased Mexican Army and National Guard patrols along the borderline east of San Diego, especially south of Jacumba Springs, California, where many asylum seekers had been turning themselves in to Border Patrol.
  • A migrant encampment near railroad tracks in Chihuahua, the capital of the Mexican border state of the same name, has grown to about 600 people, La Jornada reported, as a result of Mexican forces’ operations to prevent migrants from boarding railroad freight cars. Chihuahua is more than 200 miles south of the state’s largest border city, Ciudad Juárez.
  • NGOs cited by La Jornada “pointed out that INM [Mexican government National Migration Institute] operations began last April 1, in Ciudad Juárez, and extended to the south of the state, registering dozens of aggressions against people in conditions of mobility.”
  • The migrant population in Mexico City is swelling, as Mexico’s 2024 crackdown is forcing more people to wait in the capital and arrange their documentation and CBP One appointments, reported David Agren at OSV News. At least 2,500 migrants are waiting in the capital, most of them in six tent encampments.

Mexico’s efforts to contain U.S.-bound migration may falter as flows of new migrants into the country’s south remain robust. If that happens and migration increases, WOLA’s analysis noted, the Biden administration will likely consider means to “shut down” asylum access. The study concluded that those steps, too, would only have a short-term impact.

The Biden administration has not yet taken legally dubious executive action to restrict the right to asylum at the border because it “has been trying to find the right language to impose a crackdown without getting instantly shut down by courts—or facing an open revolt by his progressive base,” read an Axios report, following up on an April 10 “ scoop.” An executive order is “now expected within weeks,” Axios added.


Mayorkas impeachment thwarted, House considers another hard-line bill

As expected, the U.S. Senate voted to dismiss the House of Representatives’ effort to impeach Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The impeachment—spearheaded by House Republicans who oppose Mayorkas’s management of the border and migration—will not go to a Senate trial.

The dismissal passed by a 51-49 party-line vote in the Democratic-majority Senate. The most moderate Republicans voted to continue the impeachment, while the most conservative Democrats (or independents who caucus with Democrats) voted to dismiss it.

The formal delivery of articles of impeachment came on April 16, more than two months after House Republicans approved them by a single vote on their second attempt. The Republican legislators’ lengthy reporting contended that Mayorkas’s management of the border and migration is grounds for impeachment.

Mayorkas meanwhile testified on April 16 in the House Homeland Security Committee, which originated his impeachment process in January. “With the authorities and the funding that we have, it [the border] is as secure as it can be,” Mayorkas told a Republican questioner.

Mayorkas said he did not recall telling Border Patrol agents that “higher than 85 percent” of encountered migrants were being released into the United States. (Judging from CBP custody statistics, more than 70 percent of encountered migrants received “notices to appear” in the U.S. immigration system during the first six months of fiscal 2024.)

At the hearing, Republican legislators presented a flier, first promoted on Twitter by the Heritage Foundation, supposedly produced by a migrant aid organization in Matamoros, Mexico. The document, which mentions the Jewish humanitarian organization HIAS and urges migrants to vote for Joe Biden in November, was an obvious fake.

Meanwhile, in an effort to pacify conservatives angry that a Ukraine aid bill appears headed to a vote this weekend, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) introduced a new hard-line border bill. H.R. 3602, currently on the Rules Committee’s docket, includes most of the provisions of H.R. 2, which passed the House on a party-line vote in May 2023. Among other provisions, H.R. 2 would make it virtually impossible to access the U.S. asylum system at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The bill might come to a vote this week—or it may die a quiet death, as Republican hardliners are unhappy with the process.

Elsewhere in the House, six moderate Democratic House members— led by Rep. Gabe Vasquez, who represents a New Mexico border district— introduced a resolution last week “Condemning Republican inaction to address comprehensive immigration reform and border security.”


Leading Panama candidate vows to “close” the Darién Gap

The populist candidate leading polls for Panama’s May 5 presidential elections is promising to block migration through the Darién Gap, the treacherous jungle region straddling Colombia and Panama through which over 520,000 people migrated in 2023.

We are going to close Darien and we are going to repatriate all these people as appropriate, respecting human rights,” José Raúl Mulino told reporters. Mulino did not specify how he would manage to close to migrants a 2,200-square-mile region of dense jungle. “Experts criticized the idea as unworkable and potentially dangerous,” the Guardian reported, due to the difficulty of the terrain, the likelihood of diverting people to more dangerous paths, and the logistical impossibility and cost of deporting such a large number of people.

The UN Refugee Agency published an April 4 update about Darién Gap migration, with the results of 109 interviews with migrants. 20 percent of them, it turns out, do not have the United States as their intended destination. 70 percent of respondents were Venezuelan, but only 44 percent of them came directly from Venezuela—the rest had already left their native country and had been living elsewhere in South America.

In the Darién Gap, Colombia reports capturing “98 members of different criminal organizations between August 7, 2022 and March 12, 2024,” read an item at the U.S. Southern Command’s Diálogo website. It did not state whether any of those captured held positions of importance in criminal organizations, or whether they were mainly low-ranking smugglers or bandits.

An April 17 update from the UN Refugee Agency noted that since September, Honduras has measured more in-transit migration than Panama has. “This trend is explained by air transit to Nicaragua, which allows people coming mainly from Haiti, Cuba, Guinea, and other extra-continental nationalities to subsequently take the route through Honduras without passing through the Darién. In addition, there is maritime transit from Colombia to Nicaragua.”


A Guardsman fires his weapon, again, in El Paso

An Indiana National Guardsman in El Paso, part of the Texas state government’s “Operation Lone Star” troop deployment, shot his weapon at an individual on the U.S. side of the border who had allegedly stabbed two people on Sunday afternoon.

The incident occurred along the edge of the Rio Grande. The alleged stabbing took place on the U.S. side of the river, which is very narrow in El Paso; the attacker ran back into Mexico. Two migrants were treated for “superficial wounds.”

There is little other information. The Texas Military Department confirmed that a guardsman “discharged a weapon in a border-related incident.”

This is the third known time since January 2023 that a National Guardsman working under Texas state authority has fired a weapon at, or in the presence of, migrants.

  • On January 13, 2023 near McAllen, Spc. Angel Gallegos shot migrant Ricardo Rodríguez Nieto in the shoulder with his pistol, wounding him. The Texas Guardsman claimed that the shooting happened during a scuffle, which Rodríguez Nieto and other migrants dispute; Hidalgo County prosecutors nonetheless declined to seek an indictment.
  • On August 26, 2023, in another incident involving an individual allegedly wielding a knife, a Texas Guardsman stationed near the El Paso side of the Paso del Norte bridge fired a shot into Ciudad Juárez, wounding the leg of a Mexican man on the opposite riverbank. The shooting occurred “after three men on the Mexican side of the border started attacking a group of migrants with a knife as the migrants attempted to cross the river,” the Washington Post reported at the time, citing a CBP official’s account.


Other news

  • DHS returned a planeload of 52 Haitian citizens to their country on April 18, even though governance has collapsed and violence is rampant there. The plane landed in the northern city of Cap-Haïtien because the airport in the capital, Port-au-Prince, is too unsafe. During the first six months of fiscal 2024, Haiti was the number-fifteen nationality of migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border between ports of entry, well behind even China, India, and Turkey. 97 percent of Haitians seeking protection at the border in 2024 have instead reported to ports of entry, in nearly all cases using the CBP One smartphone app. In March, a letter from 481 organizations (including WOLA) had urged the Biden administration to suspend deportation flights to Haiti.
  • A Washington Post feature reported on the sharp rise in migrant deaths, especially by drowning in the Rio Grande, in Maverick County, Texas, which includes Eagle Pass. Local authorities cannot keep up with the need for body bags, burial plots, and DNA collection capabilities. Bodies often get buried without being identified.
  • “Realistically speaking, having this [Biden administration] asylum ban applied to 100 percent could mean only a few hundred people more a month being ordered removed. Not a huge shift,” pointed out the American Immigration Council’s Aaron Reichlin-Melnick in a factually dense interview with the Border Chronicle’s Melissa del Bosque.
  • A Bloomberg analysis examined the drift of the Biden administration’s border and migration policies, noting inconsistencies and failures to anticipate new challenges. “The first year of Biden’s term felt like it was a series of good plans getting halted, with frequent leadership changes on the issue,” a former official noted.
  • Mexican Foreign Secretary Alicia Bárcena is on a tour of Texas border cities, visiting consulates to help them prepare for—and to send a strong message of opposition to—Texas’s S.B. 4 state immigration law. The controversial measure is currently suspended as federal courts consider appeals. Bárcena reiterated that Mexico will not accept any deportations, including of Mexican citizens, carried out by Texas state—not federal—authorities.
  • More than 20 migrants, about half from Ecuador, were kidnapped by criminals in Ciudad Juárez last week after flying to the city. The captors reportedly released five of them for ransoms of $8,000 each.
  • The UN Refugee Agency released a report summarizing its surveys of migrants transiting Guatemala in 2023. It found 42 percent of them were leaving their countries for reasons of “violence or conflict,” with 72 percent of Ecuadorian people giving that response. 65 percent said that they had suffered mistreatment or abuse on their journey, usually robberies, extortions, fraud, or threats.
  • The Central American online outlet Expediente Público looked at a non-governmental study examining why citizens of El Salvador continue to migrate in large numbers despite reduced insecurity and a popular, if authoritarian-trending, president. The reasons remain the same as before Nayib Bukele’s presidency: violence in society and economic need. El Salvador has been the number-four nationality of migrants seeking asylum in Mexico’s system in 2023 and so far in 2024.
  • A Meganálisis poll of Venezuelans living in Venezuela showed that 40 percent would consider migrating if Nicolás Maduro wins another term in what is expected to be an unfree, unfair election on July 28. Only 16 percent said they were certain that they would not consider leaving their country.
  • Texas’s state government has begun construction of a segment of state-funded border wall near the Rio Grande in Zapata county, on private land whose owner approved of it, Border Report reported. It is the first state border wall to go up in south Texas.
  • Monday is the deadline for public comment on CBP’s plan to install 25 miles of bright stadium-style lighting along the Rio Grande in west and south Texas. As the proposed lighting is “a major stressor to wildlife” and creates light pollution, the plan alarms environmental defenders.
  • Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the “customs enforcement” arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is launching an effort this week to build a separate identity from ICE, an agency more frequently associated with arresting and deporting migrants from the U.S. interior. “The makeover partly aims to appease senior HSI agents who have sought a breakaway because so many major U.S. cities have adopted policies limiting cooperation with ICE,” reported the Washington Post’s Nick Miroff. The 2022 Homeland Security Act lashed HSI together with ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) branch, which detains and deports migrants. While it would take an act of law to separate HSI from ICE, agents will henceforth carry a separate badge, and “independent branding” will de-emphasize the ICE affiliation.
  • House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Green (R-Tennessee) is to introduce legislation that would make it impossible for asylum seekers released into the United States to board commercial aircraft for domestic flights, unless they have the same identity documents that the general traveling public must present. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is sponsoring similar Senate legislation, the Washington Examiner reported. The measure, which is certain not to become law this year, would increase the number of released asylum seekers stranded in U.S. border cities, as it would complicate their departures to destination cities in the U.S. interior.
  • A Migration Policy Institute article examined South American countries’ citizens’ migration to the United States, which has risen sharply since the pandemic. It noted that South American immigrants are generally more educated and participate more in the U.S. labor force than other nationalities.
  • A report from Jesuit Refugee Service USA and the Boston College School of Social Work looked at how digital tools are changing the migration experience, from the spread of misinformation to the challenges of using the CBP One app.