WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
24 May 2024 | News

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: Border Act Fails, Migration Keeps Dropping, Texas Updates

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.

Due to an extended period of staff travel and commitments, we will produce Weekly Border Updates irregularly for the next two and a half months. We will resume a regular weekly schedule on July 26.

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For the second time this year, the U.S. Senate’s Democratic majority sought to bring to a vote a package of border legislation that would, among other provisions, implement Title 42-style suspensions of the right to seek asylum at the border when the number of migrants at the border exceeds certain thresholds. The “Border Act” failed by a 43-50 vote in the face of opposition from some Democrats uncomfortable with the asylum suspension, and nearly all Republicans, who argued that it was not aggressive enough. Media are reporting that the Biden administration plans to issue an executive order in June to enable a similar asylum “shutdown” mechanism at the border.

Although May is normally a peak month for migration, the daily average of Border Patrol migrant apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border had dropped to 3,700 so far in May, one of the lowest points of the entire Biden administration. Weekly data indicate that even border sectors that had seen migration increases in the first months of the year, like Tucson, Arizona and San Diego, California, are now experiencing reductions.

Migrants allege that Texas National Guard personnel beat a Honduran migrant so badly that he later died on the Rio Grande riverbank in Ciudad Juárez. Arizona, not Texas, has seen the sharpest migration declines in 2024 despite Gov. Abbott’s claims that his policies have shifted migrants westward. Those policies,some of which Pope Francis called “madness,” have included striking levels of racial profiling, according to an ACLU Texas report. State authorities’ razor wire in Eagle Pass has caused “an unusually high number” of hospitalizations in Eagle Pass, “including young children,” USA Today reported.



Senate Democrats Again Bring “Asylum Shutdown” to an Unsuccessful Vote, While Executive Order Looms

On May 23 the Democratic-majority Senate held a “test vote” on the Border Act, a series of border security and migration measures that resulted from bipartisan negotiations between November and February. The bill needed 60 votes to proceed to open debate and an eventual vote; it failed by a 43-50 margin, with all but 1 Republican voting “no,” along with 6 Democrats (or Democratic-caucusing independents).

The most controversial of the Border Act’s provisions was a measure that would cut off protection-seeking migrants’ access to asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, Title 42-style, when daily migrant encounters exceed an average of 4,000 (discretionary asylum shutdown) or 5,000 (mandatory asylum shutdown).

The Border Act was identical to legislation that failed to clear a procedural vote in the Senate on February 7, when—in response to Republican demands—it was attached to Ukraine and Israel aid (which ultimately passed, separately, in April). At the time, nearly all Republicans, led by Donald Trump, opposed it, arguing that it was not aggressive enough against migration at the border. They are also unwilling to hand Biden a legislative border-migration win in an election year.

Voted contrary to party/caucus majority (7):

Democrats (voted “Nay”) (4):

– Cory Booker (NJ)
– Laphonza Butler (CA)
– Ed Markey (MA)
– Alex Padilla (CA)

Democrat-caucusing Independents (voted “Nay”) (2):

– Bernie Sanders (VT)
– Kyrsten Sinema (AZ)

Republicans (voted “Yea”) (1):

– Lisa Murkowski (AK)

From “Yea” in February to “Nay” in May (6):

Democrats (2):

– Cory Booker (NJ)
– Laphonza Butler (CA)

Democrat-caucusing Independents (1):

– Kyrsten Sinema (AZ)

Republicans (3):

– Susan Collins (ME)
– James Lankford (OK)
– Mitt Romney (UT)

From “Nay” in February to “Yea” in May (1):

Democrats (1):

– Chuck Schumer (NY) – he had to vote “Nay” in February for procedural reasons

From “Yea” in February to “Not Voting” in May (1):

Democrats (1):

– Joe Manchin (WV)

From “Nay” in February to “Not Voting” in May (6):

Democrats (2):

– Bob Menendez (NJ)
– Elizabeth Warren (MA)

Republicans (2):

– Bill Hagerty (TN)
– Markwayne Mullin (OK)
– Pete Ricketts (NE)
– Tim Scott (SC)

From “Not Voting” in February to “Nay” in May (1):

Republicans (1):

– Cynthia Lummis (WY)


Republican opposition was even greater this time: Alaska moderate Lisa Murkowski was the only GOP senator to vote for it. Fewer Democrats voted for the bill on May 23 than in February, since Ukraine aid was no longer at stake. Two Democrats changed their votes from “yea” to “nay,” as did Democratic-caucusing independent Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona), who helped draft the original February compromise.

  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), who voted for the bill in February, declared his opposition.
  • A statement from leadership of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus warned that “if this bill passes, it will set back real comprehensive immigration reform by years.”
  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), the lead Republican in November-February negotiations that appeared to have brought a bipartisan deal on the legislation, said that he would vote “no” this time, as he ultimately did in February. The Border Act, Lankford told CNN, “is no longer a bill, now it’s a prop.”
  • Two other moderate Republican senators who voted for the bill in February (Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah) changed their votes to “no.”

The Biden administration and Senate Democratic leaders view this defeat as good 2024 electoral strategy: they believe that it undermines Republican arguments that Democrats are insufficiently aggressive about border security, and that it reveals Republicans to be uncooperative.

The White House issued a statement of “strong support” for the bill, and President Joe Biden called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) to urge them to support the bill.

Even in defeat, the result was that for the second time in four months, most Senate Democrats went on the record as supporting a historic rollback of threatened people’s right to seek asylum on U.S. soil: a right that emerged in the years after World War II and was cemented into U.S. law in 1980.

Adding to a Politico report from last Friday, NBC News reported on May 23 that, faced with an inability to pass legislation to enable an asylum “shutdown,” the Biden administration plans to introduce an executive order in June with provisions similar to those foreseen in the “Border Act.”

The report notes that this legally dubious measure would require much cooperation from Mexico’s government, which would have to accept a large number of non-Mexican migrants deported back across the border after being refused asylum. (That many deportees would greatly exceed ICE’s capacity to deport people back to their often distant countries by air.) Administration officials are “in talks with Mexican leaders to get their crucial buy-in before proceeding” with the executive order, NBC noted.


The 2024 Migration Decline Continues into May

Border Patrol recorded about 3,000 migrant apprehensions on May 20, and an average of 3,700 per day during the first 21 days of May, according to data obtained by CBS News.

That is a more than 50 percent drop from migration levels during the record-setting month of December 2023. And the 3,700 per day average sets May 2024 on pace to be the third-lightest month for migration at the border, out of the Biden administration’s 40 full months in office.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters that “the drop stems from several factors, including the administration’s efforts to expand legal migration channels and increase deportations of those who enter illegally, as well as more immigration enforcement by Mexico.” This appears to acknowledge that Mexico’s government is accepting a larger number of deportations of Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan citizens into its territory, as it agreed to do under the Biden administration’s post-Title 42 “asylum ban” rule. Hard numbers for non-Mexican deportations into Mexico have been difficult to obtain.

Of the nine sectors into which Border Patrol divides the U.S.-Mexico border, the two that have seen the most migration since January are Tucson, Arizona and San Diego, California. Both sectors have seen two weeks of declining migrant encounters, according to Twitter posts from their chiefs.


The San Diego Sector chief reported that agents there apprehended 6,157 migrants during the week of May 15-21. That represents a 39 percent drop in migration over the past 3 weeks in San Diego, which led all 9 U.S.-Mexico border sectors in apprehensions in April. It is possible that San Diego may have dropped from the number-one spot among border sectors; available data, however, do not yet show migration increasing elsewhere along the border.


Texas Updates

  • Local media reported—but no U.S. outlet has confirmed—that a Honduran migrant died just south of the borderline between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez after being severely beaten in the early hours of May 17. Other migrants allege that the victim’s assailants were members of the Texas National Guard, who prevented them from crossing to the U.S. side to turn themselves in to U.S. federal authorities. The man was allegedly pushed across the borderline from El Paso to Ciudad Juárez, where he succumbed to his injuries on the riverbank. If accurate, the incident would be the first time in decades that a U.S. soldier purposefully killed a civilian on U.S. soil. (Guardsmen have U.S. military training and wear “U.S. Army” patches on their uniforms.)
  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has been claiming that his state government’s border crackdown has reduced migration there and pushed it to states further west. In fact, though, Arizona—not Texas—has seen the steepest declines in migration since the record-setting month of December 2023, according to data released last week by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Migrant encounters have in fact risen 5 percent in Texas since January as they declined 30 percent in Arizona.
  • The Texas state government’s “Operation Lone Star” has spent more than $11.2 billion on a border crackdown that has racially profiled people (“More than 96% of arrests for alleged trespassing were Latine people”) and principally ended up charging “people who pose no threat to public safety” for misdemeanor offenses, according to a new report from the ACLU of Texas.
  • Asked by CBS News’ 60 Minutes about the state of Texas’s legal attacks on Annunciation House, a Catholic migrant shelter in El Paso, Pope Francis replied: “That is madness. Sheer madness. To close the border and leave them there, that is madness. The migrant has to be received. Thereafter you see how you are going to deal with him. Maybe you have to send him back, I don’t know, but each case ought to be considered humanely. Right?”
  • “There have been an unusually high number of migrants hospitalized, including young children, in Eagle Pass after coming into contact with the razor wire” that Texas state authorities have laid down along the Rio Grande, noted a USA Today report from the mid-Texas border city.


Other News

  • After U.S. authorities sent another deportation flight to Haiti on May 16, UNHCR’s U.S. office urged them to refrain from doing that again while the Caribbean nation’s public security emergency persists.
  • CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating whether top Border Patrol officials, including Chief Jason Owens and Rio Grande Valley Sector Chief Gloria Chavez, properly disclosed their contacts with Eduardo Garza, owner of a prominent Laredo-based customs brokerage company. NBC News broke that story, adding to an earlier report that “Owens and Chavez are already under investigation by CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility for their contacts with [tequila maker Francisco Javier] González, who wanted to make a Border Patrol-branded tequila to celebrate the agency’s 100th anniversary this month.”
  • Since 2014, U.S. immigration courts have heard 1,047,134 asylum cases, and granted asylum or other deportation relief in 685,956 of them (66%), according to Syracuse University’s TRAC Immigration data project.
  • CBP reported seizing 11,469 pounds of methamphetamine at the Otay Mesa port of entry near San Diego on Monday. As the agency had seized 93,881 pounds of the drug during the first 7 months of fiscal 2024, this single seizure would increase CBP’s yearly meth haul by as much as 12 percent.
  • As Mexico continues stepped-up efforts to make it more difficult for migrants to access the U.S.-Mexico border, Border Report reported that a “caravan” of about 1,000-1,200 migrants arrived in Puebla, southeast of Mexico City, while smaller groupings have been departing Mexico’s southern border-zone city of Tapachula, Chiapas. (Puebla is nearly 600 miles south of the nearest U.S.-Mexico border crossing.)
  • The presidents of Mexico and Guatemala met in the border-zone city of Tapachula, Chiapas, on May 17. Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Bernardo Arévalo agreed to deepen collaboration on border and migration management and to improve official border crossing infrastructure.
  • The director of Panama’s migration agency, Samira Gozaine, told the Associated Press that high costs and coordination challenges would make it impossible for incoming President-Elect José Raúl Mulino to carry out his campaign pledge to deport migrants passing through the treacherous Darién Gap region.
  • Of the more than 500,000 Nicaraguan people who have migrated to the United States since a 2018 crackdown on dissent, many have not applied for asylum, leaving their documented status uncertain, the Inter-American Dialogue’s Manuel Orozco told the independent media outlet Confidencial.
  • The Guardian reported San Diego-area aid workers’ struggle to help newly arrived asylum seekers navigate the complicated U.S. system, and to provide supplies to people seeking to turn themselves in to Border Patrol in increasingly remote border areas. “The philanthropic funding, I think due to a lot of the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from both sides of the aisle, has really dried up,” said Erika Pinheiro, director of local aid and advocacy group Al Otro Lado.
  • The Texas Observer profiled Laredo environmental advocate Tricia Cortez, who has led forceful local opposition to federal and state attempts to build border walls in and near her city.
  • On May 22, as the House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing on the use of AI for border and other domestic security missions, Faiza Patel and Spencer Reynolds of the Brennan Center for Justice published policy recommendations at Just Security for breaking DHS’s reliance on “unproven programs that rely on algorithms and risk the rights of the tens of millions of Americans.”
  • Despite concerns about the Salvadoran security forces’ human rights record and democratic backsliding, the U.S. government has granted them drone equipment valued at $4.5 million, which “will be employed along the border regions to reinforce El Salvador’s security against illegal smuggling and migrant crossings,” EFE reported, citing a U.S. embassy statement. The recipient unit is the armed forces’ Sumpul Task Force, a unit that focuses primarily on borders.
  • A UNHCR factsheet noted that 2024 financial requirements for integrating Venezuelan migrants in Latin American countries are only 15 percent fulfilled, increasing the likelihood that some may fail to integrate and move on to the United States.