Border Fact Check

Separating Rhetoric from Reality

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Are unaccompanied minors fleeing violence, or just poverty, in Central America?

“Most immigrants from Central America who are crossing illegally into the United States are driven by economic reasons, not fear of physical danger in their homeland.”

—Views of Rep. Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico), who visited Guatemala and Honduras in July, as reported in the Santa Fe New Mexican.

The Facts:

Crippling poverty and lack of economic opportunity are undeniably important push factors driving children as young as five to flee their Central American homes, and head to the United States border. Nonetheless, the most commonly cited reason for the recent surge of unaccompanied minors migrating to the U.S. is violence, especially gang violence at the local and community levels. Much of this violence is directed at young people, many of them of gang-recruitment age. By several accounts, it has worsened in the past few years, coinciding with the current wave of unaccompanied child migration.

1. Numerous mainstream media reports have been documenting the increased violence as a factor inducing young Central Americans to flee. A few examples:

  • In the July 9 New York Times, Frances Robles reported from the La Pradera neighborhood of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where seven children were murdered in April alone. “The first thing we can think of is to send our children to the United States,” a terrified mother of two in La Pradera told Robles.
  • In the July 9 Washington Post, Terrence McCoy profiled an anonymous girl who fled El Salvador because she feared sexual violence at the hands of gang members. She explained that a local gang member had decided that he “liked” her, which ultimately put her at risk for “sexualized killing,” something that has become all too common in the region. “In El Salvador, they take young girls, rape them and throw them in plastic bags,” she explained the United Nations refugee agency that has been helping her.
  • In a July 11 New York Times op-ed, author Sonia Nazario explained the correlation between the violence raging in Central America and the recent surge of unaccompanied minors migrating to the United States. She profiled several young children who stated that fear of gangs and localized violence were their primary reasons for coming to the United States. Milagro Noemi Martínez, a Honduran teenager who attempted the journey north last year, explained how grave the violence is in Honduras. “Here there is only evil … It’s better to leave than have them kill me here,” she said. Now she says she is ready to try the journey again because the violence has not improved, stating that “I hope God protects me. I am afraid to step outside.”
  • In the July 13 Washington Post, Pamela Constable profiled Allis Godoy, a Honduran mother living in Washington, D.C. “In the past two years, reports of gang violence have skyrocketed in Godoy’s homeland, where the per capita murder rate is one of the highest in the world,” Constable reports. “The growing danger made her determined to bring Madison to the United States before she reached adolescence and became a target for gangs and other predators.”
  • In the July 15 Washington Post, Joshua Partlow reported on why Honduran children migrate to the United States. The primary reason that he observed was violence. Alvin Rolando Baide, a resident of the Chamelecon neighborhood of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, explained to Partlow that “They [the two main gangs, 18th Street and MS-13] bleed you … They demand 80 or 90 percent of your salary … They go from house to house and threaten the residents. You have to pay them or you have a limited amount of time before they’ll occupy your house.”

2. Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world, and El Salvador and Guatemala are not far behind.

The homicide rates in these three countries support the many reasons parents and children cite for coming to the United States in such large recent numbers. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s 2013 Global Study on Homicide, Honduras has the world’s highest homicide rate of 90.4 per 100,000 people. El Salvador has the fifth highest homicide rate of 41.2 per 100,000 people, and Guatemala has the sixth highest at 39.9 per 100,000 people.

The map below, prepared by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in May [PDF], shows the towns of origin of unaccompanied children apprehended at the border during the first 4 ½ months of 2014. With the exception of the relatively peaceful Guatemalan highlands, the principal communities from where migrants leave are those suffering some of the worst of the violence. “Salvadoran and Honduran children,” the CBP document concludes, “come from extremely violent regions where they probably perceive the risk of traveling alone to the US preferable to remaining at home.”

3. Many Central American children coming to the United States might qualify for asylum or protection based on violence they have suffered, or face a credible threat of suffering, in their home countries.

According to a recent report by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees [PDF], 72 percent of unaccompanied migrant children the agency surveyed from El Salvador, 38 percent from Guatemala, and 57 percent from Honduras have potential international protection needs. This means that, upon further evaluation, there is some likelihood that they might qualify for asylum or some other protected status in the United States or third countries. Indeed, in the United States, “64.7 percent of the unaccompanied minors who applied for asylum this year got it,” according to a U.S. government document obtained by the New York Times.

It is abundantly clear that many unaccompanied minors are fleeing violence in their countries and seeking safety and protection in the United States. To claim that fear and violence play an insignificant or secondary role in the crisis, or that the unaccompanied children coming this year are mainly economic migrants, is at odds with the facts.

—Lesley Wellener

Filed under Central America Migration

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Are drugs the main “root cause” of the violence that has increased Central American migration?


  "There are some in officialdom who argue that not 100 percent of the violence today is due to the drug flow to the U.S., and I agree, but I would say that perhaps 80 percent of it is."


—Gen. John Kelly, commander, U.S. Southern Command, article in Military Times, July 8, 2014.

Gen. Kelly and some other prominent policymakers, most recently Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida), view the drug trade as the chief “root cause” of the violence pushing tens of thousands of unaccompanied Central American children to the United States. “The drug lords have completely taken over those countries,” Sen. Nelson said last week. “As a result, the violence is the highest. Honduras is the murder capital now of the world.”

From this, they conclude that the best way to stop the exodus of migrants is to aid Central American police and military forces and interdict more tons of U.S.-bound drugs.

The Facts:

These statements conflate two kinds of criminality that are neither allied nor have the same effect on the communities that migrants are fleeing. The groups moving tons of drugs through Central America are certainly violent, but the bloodshed sending most children and families to the U.S. border is mainly the work of street gangs that don’t manage large drug shipments.

The street gangs, or maras, get the most media attention, and are generating more violence. Groups like Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, along with many smaller structures, are carrying out a large share of the extortion, murder, rape, forced recruitment, and other high-profile crimes against the populations of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The larger groups originated in the United States in the 1980s, particularly among the Central American migrant community in Los Angeles.

Maras sell drugs within the areas they control. But little evidence indicates that they engage significantly in international cocaine transshipment.

Some of the most thorough work on gangs’ drug-trafficking activity has been done by Steven Dudley of the crime-monitoring group InsightCrime. In a 2010 investigation published by the Woodrow Wilson Center and the University of San Diego [PDF], Dudley found some variation across El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, but on the whole found almost no street-gang involvement in international drug transshipment. “There is no evidence the Guatemala-based maras have any organic connection with the DTOs [drug-trafficking organizations] in that country,” he found, while in Honduras drug traffickers mainly employ them as assassins against rivals. In El Salvador, Dudley cited a seven-kilogram seizure as evidence that the gangs may be trying to involve themselves more deeply in transshipment. “Seven kilos is very small, but police intelligence said it was much higher than what maras are used to managing,” he observed.

The large international shipments—involving hundreds of kilograms or even tons of cocaine—are handled not by gangs, but by lower-profile criminal groups or “cartels,” who usually obtain cocaine from Colombia and hand it off to Mexican organizations. These groups include Los Cachiros in Honduras, El Salvador’s Perrones and Texistepeque Cartel, and, in Guatemala, families with last names like Lorenzana, Overdick, León, and Mendoza. It is they, not the street gangs, who are sending tons of drugs to the United States.

Many readers may have heard of MS-13 and Barrio 18, but may not be familiar with these cartels’ names. That is because they are businesses that deliberately seek a lower profile. They prefer not to generate violence and the attention that comes with it—and when they do, it is usually directed at criminal competitors, not at the general population. Their default mode of operation is to corrupt politicians, security forces, and justice systems, rather than confront them. They maintain strong ties within Central American militaries and police. As Gen. Kelly correctly states in the Military Times article published in early July, this institutional rot and erosion is the main damage that cartels have done to Central American governments’ ability to protect their own people.

The desire to quietly move their illegal product means that the cartels mostly leave the general population alone. Instead, Central Americans are leaving because of community level violence, much of it from the gangs.

MS-13, Barrio 18, and others are much “poorer” criminal organizations than the cartels. Because they do not move tons of drugs to the United States, they make most of their money within the territories they control. Their main income streams are small-scale retail neighborhood drug dealing (narcomenudeo), extortion, robbery, contraband sales, prostitution and human trafficking, and kidnapping.

The gangs operate with a savagery that directly impacts the general population. It is they, not the cartels, who are extorting even the smallest informal businesses. It is they who are recruiting young people and forcing girls into prostitution. And it is they who are committing a larger share of homicides, many notorious for their brutality, in Central America’s “Northern Triangle” countries.

This is not to let the cartels off the hook; they generate some violence too. Central American governments badly need to dismantle the trafficking organizations that have done so much damage to their institutions, and the most promising way to do that is through evidence-based investigations, witness protection, systematic punishment of state corruption, and a functioning justice system.

But even if Central America’s cartels could be weakened, it is not clear what effect it would have on community-level, gang-related violence. A strategy that attacks one may have little effect on the other.

As with cartels, confronting the community-level violence displacing Central Americans will require sophisticated investigations, witness protection, anti-corruption measures, and more effective justice. It will also require police forces that understand, and have earned the trust of, communities. These steps must come with investments in education, job creation, and neighborhood livability to reduce the huge percentage of young Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans who are neither working nor studying today.

If the goal is to stop the violence forcing so many Central Americans to migrate northward, the best intermediate measures of success include public opinion of police, response times to crimes, judicial clearance of cases especially against gang leadership, and changes in school attendance and youth unemployment. The number of tons of seized U.S.-bound cocaine affects the cartels more than the gangs, and is thus less central to curbing community-level violence.

—Adam Isacson

Are drugs the main “root cause” of the violence that has increased Central American migration?

"There are some in officialdom who argue that not 100 percent of the violence today is due to the drug flow to the U.S., and I agree, but I would say that perhaps 80 percent of it is."

—Gen. John Kelly, commander, U.S. Southern Command, article in Military Times, July 8, 2014.

Gen. Kelly and some other prominent policymakers, most recently Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida), view the drug trade as the chief “root cause” of the violence pushing tens of thousands of unaccompanied Central American children to the United States. “The drug lords have completely taken over those countries,” Sen. Nelson said last week. “As a result, the violence is the highest. Honduras is the murder capital now of the world.”

From this, they conclude that the best way to stop the exodus of migrants is to aid Central American police and military forces and interdict more tons of U.S.-bound drugs.

The Facts:

These statements conflate two kinds of criminality that are neither allied nor have the same effect on the communities that migrants are fleeing. The groups moving tons of drugs through Central America are certainly violent, but the bloodshed sending most children and families to the U.S. border is mainly the work of street gangs that don’t manage large drug shipments.

The street gangs, or maras, get the most media attention, and are generating more violence. Groups like Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, along with many smaller structures, are carrying out a large share of the extortion, murder, rape, forced recruitment, and other high-profile crimes against the populations of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The larger groups originated in the United States in the 1980s, particularly among the Central American migrant community in Los Angeles.

Maras sell drugs within the areas they control. But little evidence indicates that they engage significantly in international cocaine transshipment.

Some of the most thorough work on gangs’ drug-trafficking activity has been done by Steven Dudley of the crime-monitoring group InsightCrime. In a 2010 investigation published by the Woodrow Wilson Center and the University of San Diego [PDF], Dudley found some variation across El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, but on the whole found almost no street-gang involvement in international drug transshipment. “There is no evidence the Guatemala-based maras have any organic connection with the DTOs [drug-trafficking organizations] in that country,” he found, while in Honduras drug traffickers mainly employ them as assassins against rivals. In El Salvador, Dudley cited a seven-kilogram seizure as evidence that the gangs may be trying to involve themselves more deeply in transshipment. “Seven kilos is very small, but police intelligence said it was much higher than what maras are used to managing,” he observed.

The large international shipments—involving hundreds of kilograms or even tons of cocaine—are handled not by gangs, but by lower-profile criminal groups or “cartels,” who usually obtain cocaine from Colombia and hand it off to Mexican organizations. These groups include Los Cachiros in Honduras, El Salvador’s Perrones and Texistepeque Cartel, and, in Guatemala, families with last names like Lorenzana, Overdick, León, and Mendoza. It is they, not the street gangs, who are sending tons of drugs to the United States.

Many readers may have heard of MS-13 and Barrio 18, but may not be familiar with these cartels’ names. That is because they are businesses that deliberately seek a lower profile. They prefer not to generate violence and the attention that comes with it—and when they do, it is usually directed at criminal competitors, not at the general population. Their default mode of operation is to corrupt politicians, security forces, and justice systems, rather than confront them. They maintain strong ties within Central American militaries and police. As Gen. Kelly correctly states in the Military Times article published in early July, this institutional rot and erosion is the main damage that cartels have done to Central American governments’ ability to protect their own people.

The desire to quietly move their illegal product means that the cartels mostly leave the general population alone. Instead, Central Americans are leaving because of community level violence, much of it from the gangs.

MS-13, Barrio 18, and others are much “poorer” criminal organizations than the cartels. Because they do not move tons of drugs to the United States, they make most of their money within the territories they control. Their main income streams are small-scale retail neighborhood drug dealing (narcomenudeo), extortion, robbery, contraband sales, prostitution and human trafficking, and kidnapping.

The gangs operate with a savagery that directly impacts the general population. It is they, not the cartels, who are extorting even the smallest informal businesses. It is they who are recruiting young people and forcing girls into prostitution. And it is they who are committing a larger share of homicides, many notorious for their brutality, in Central America’s “Northern Triangle” countries.

This is not to let the cartels off the hook; they generate some violence too. Central American governments badly need to dismantle the trafficking organizations that have done so much damage to their institutions, and the most promising way to do that is through evidence-based investigations, witness protection, systematic punishment of state corruption, and a functioning justice system.

But even if Central America’s cartels could be weakened, it is not clear what effect it would have on community-level, gang-related violence. A strategy that attacks one may have little effect on the other.

As with cartels, confronting the community-level violence displacing Central Americans will require sophisticated investigations, witness protection, anti-corruption measures, and more effective justice. It will also require police forces that understand, and have earned the trust of, communities. These steps must come with investments in education, job creation, and neighborhood livability to reduce the huge percentage of young Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans who are neither working nor studying today.

If the goal is to stop the violence forcing so many Central Americans to migrate northward, the best intermediate measures of success include public opinion of police, response times to crimes, judicial clearance of cases especially against gang leadership, and changes in school attendance and youth unemployment. The number of tons of seized U.S.-bound cocaine affects the cartels more than the gangs, and is thus less central to curbing community-level violence.

—Adam Isacson

Filed under Central America Migration Public Security Drug Policy U.S. Policy

62 notes

Are “failed U.S. policies” to blame for the rise in unaccompanied Central American migrant children?


“[T]he current surge is far more than a humanitarian crisis resulting from violence and economic failures in Central America. The perception of eventual legal status has been generated through your Administrative actions.”


— Letter to President Obama from 34 Republican members of Congress, July 2, 2014

The border between Texas and Mexico has seen a big recent increase in arrivals of unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. This July 2 letter, circulated by House Government Reform and Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California), seeks to blame the Obama administration for the crisis, citing “failed policies that encourage young individuals to put themselves in peril, leave their home countries, and make a long and dangerous journey to enter our country illegally.”

This letter does not provide any substantial evidence to back up what have become immigration hardliners’ talking points on the failures of U.S. policies. Though evidence strongly suggests that violence is a major “push factor,” the 34 legislators’ letter instead insists that the policies spurring Central Americans to send children northward are:

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an administrative change that President Barack Obama implemented in June 2012. DACA came after Congress failed to pass the “Dream Act,” legislation that would have given permanent residency to children who arrived in the United States as minors and received college degrees or performed military service. Under DACA, young undocumented people who have lived in the United States since 2007 and meet the “Dream Act” standards may live and work in the United States, although they do not get permanent resident status.
The Obama administration’s expressed support for immigration reform legislation that passed the Senate in June 2013, but has stalled in the House. The bill would have created a “path to citizenship” for some undocumented people in the United States.
The March 2014 White House announcement that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would review its deportation procedures. In this announcement, President Obama “emphasized his deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system.”
The Facts:

It’s unlikely that Central American families are paying such close attention to discussions of administrative changes within the U.S. executive branch. Even leaving this aside, there are at least four reasons why the House members’ letter’s claims are inaccurate.

The administrative changes cited in the letter had not yet occurred when the so-called “surge” of unaccompanied minors began.
Border Patrol statistics, depicted above, show that arrivals of unaccompanied Central American children began increasing during U.S. fiscal year 2012, which ran from October 2011 to September 2012. DACA was not announced until June 2012. Immigration reform legislation had not yet been proposed, and the review of deportation procedures was far off. In fact, in 2012 the Obama administration broke the United States’ single-year record for deportations of undocumented foreign citizens (409,849 people): hardly a welcoming message for would-be migrants.

It’s not just minors. Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Honduran adults are leaving too. And the exodus is going to other countries.
In 2011, Border Patrol apprehended 46,997 citizens of countries “other than Mexico”—the vast majority from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—near the Mexico border. So far this year (as of June 15), it has apprehended 181,724: on pace to register a three-year increase of 450 percent.

The United States may be the main destination, but several countries are seeing a similar rise in fleeing Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans. Between 2008 and 2013, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports, the number of those countries’ citizens applying for asylum in nearby Belize, Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama rose by 712 percent.

The post-2011 rise in Central American migration, and the rise in asylum claims elsewhere, indicate that violence is the preponderant factor. Central America’s three “Northern Triangle” countries, especially Honduras, saw big increases in violent crime during the second half of the 2000s; by the 2010s these had reached levels higher than those of pre-“surge” Iraq. Gang and organized crime activity—assaults, kidnapping, extortion, rape, forced recruitment—touches nearly all the population, particularly youth. With police and justice systems near collapse amid resource scarcity and unpunished corruption, these countries’ citizens are left utterly unprotected by their states.



There is no “surge” of unaccompanied Mexican minors.
In 2009, Border Patrol apprehended 16,114 unaccompanied Mexican children, a figure that dwarfed the 3,304 Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Honduran children it reported that year. Even as the number of Central American children shot upward in 2012, the number of Mexican children did not. In 2014, apprehensions of Mexican minors are on pace to match 2013 levels (about 17,250), a 7 percent increase over 2009. By contrast, 2014 apprehensions of Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Honduran minors are on pace to nearly triple 2013 levels, and to exceed 2009 apprehensions by over 1,500 percent.

Why are arrivals of unaccompanied Mexican minors relatively flat? One is less intense violence: Mexico saw a sharp increase in violent crime since the mid-2000s, but it is concentrated in a few areas. The country’s overall homicide rate today is only about a quarter as high as Honduras’s. Another is that the United States has repatriation agreements with Mexico, which include Mexican government security guarantees, that make returning unaccompanied minors a very rapid process.

While violence and poverty are the main drivers, something did happen in late 2013 and early 2014 to increase still further the rate of unaccompanied minors arriving in the United States.
In a sense, there have been two increases in arrivals of unaccompanied children. One increase began at the beginning of 2012, most likely driven by the sharp rise in violent crime in the Northern Triangle. The next, even sharper, increase began early this year.

The two trendlines are evident in this graph depicting month-by-month numbers of unaccompanied minors in the custody of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), to which other U.S. authorities must turn over apprehended minors within 72 hours. It appears in a June 23 Congressional Research Service report.



2013, like 2012, saw an accelerating increase in arrivals of unaccompanied children. Flight from violence, including specific threats from MS-13, Barrio 18, and other criminal organizations, was likely the most significant cause. There were larger-than-normal seasonal increases in migration (and thus apprehensions) after January 2012 and January 2013. But the increase after January 2014 was even steeper. The trendline took an entirely different shape: that of a hockey stick.

Nobody knows what happened about six months ago to cause this sharp increase. There was no dramatic reported worsening of Central America’s already severe violent crime or poverty rates. There is no evidence that Central Americans suddenly came to view DACA (which only benefits people in the United States before 2007) or the stalled U.S. immigration reform debate as “green lights” to send their children northward.

One possibility is that the “hockey stick” was triggered by word spreading among the Central American population that the children who arrived since 2012 were not being detained and quickly deported. (Smugglers looking for customers may have helped spread this information.) Instead, after receiving “notices to appear” in immigration court, they were being released to—and thus reunited with—family members.

This has happened not because of DACA or immigration reform, but in accordance with an anti-human trafficking law that the U.S. Congress unanimously approved, and President George W. Bush signed into law, in December 2008. Section 235(b) of the “William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act” states that:

Unaccompanied children from “non-contiguous countries” (that is, all countries other than Canada and Mexico) must be transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services. The HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement must see that they are “promptly placed in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child.”
Placing a child in a “secure facility” is only called for “if a suitable family member is not available to provide care.”
“To the greatest extent practicable,” children are to have counsel represent them in legal proceedings, which may include applications for protected status. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has noted that many Central American children fleeing violence may meet the criteria for refugee status.
These legal proceedings take time, especially now that the system adjudicating such cases is overwhelmed. As a result, even if their status is never legalized and they end up eventually being deported, migrant children may end up spending a year or two living with parents or other close relatives who had come to the United States earlier. 

That would mean a year or two in which parents need not worry about their child being killed, raped, or recruited by gangs. A year or two in which the child can eat three meals per day, attend school, and face at least a slim possibility of remaining in the United States. It is easy to imagine why a parent or other close relative would find this attractive enough to scrape together as much as US$10,000 to pay a smuggler’s fee.

That so many parents would leave children behind in the first place is a direct result of U.S. policy. Crossing the U.S.-Mexico border is now difficult and dangerous, after a large border security buildup that began in the 1990s and intensified in the 2000s. Before then, parents who migrated to the United States to earn money as undocumented workers could expect to go home periodically and see their children. Now, they do not attempt it because the likelihood of returning to the United States afterward is so slim. As a result, migrant parents in the United States go many years without seeing their children.

A child who was left behind while an infant or toddler 10-15 years ago is of prime gang recruitment age today, and parents’ desperation to be reunited is probably greater. The promise of doing so through the Section 235(b) process, even if temporarily while a child’s case is being adjudicated, may be a strong pull.

The research does not yet exist to confirm that the Section 235(b) provision has caused the 2014 acceleration in unaccompanied Central American minors’ migration. WOLA researchers did not hear it mentioned in interviews with migrants, migrant defenders, or shelter personnel during a February visit to Mexico’s southern border. 

On the other hand, some press reports and comments from U.S. officials have mentioned Central Americans’ belief that the U.S. government is granting special permits (“permisos”) for children. This may be a mistaken reference to the “notices to appear” issued to those being released into relatives’ custody. We do not know how widespread this belief is in Central America, or when it began to spread. But if it did, it explains some of the sharp 2014 increase in unaccompanied children arriving in the United States.

Whatever the reason, the U.S. government must take seriously all unaccompanied minors’ claims for protection, even if many are ultimately found to lack sufficient merit. The criminal gangs and organized crime groups driving Central America’s out-of-control violence do target young people. A significant portion of the children here probably face a credible and specific threat of death or other harm. They can also credibly claim that their own governments are unwilling or unable to protect them.

Identifying these threatened individual minors, and evaluating their cases, will take time. An expedited effort to process and deport them must not put them in harm’s way. U.S. authorities must consider each case separately.

The Obama administration is promising to “fix” the procedure for unaccompanied minors set out in the 2008 law. A funding request that the White House submitted to Congress on July 8 calls for “increased detainment and removal of adults with children and increased immigration court capacity to speed cases.” A June 30 letter to Congress from President Obama promises administrative measures “providing the DHS Secretary additional authority to exercise discretion in processing the return and removal of unaccompanied minor children.”

These measures may be necessary to deal with an overwhelmed system, but the imperative to “speed cases” must not weaken Central American children’s right to due process. Procedural changes must not mean the kind of haste that leads to deporting children who face a high probability of being killed or otherwise harmed.



As for the claims in the 34 House members’ letter? They are patently false. They ignore the timing of the wave of unaccompanied children’s arrivals. They ignore the region-wide nature of the trend. They ignore the impact of the 2008 law—the letter doesn’t even mention it—and propose no way to protect thousands of children who may face grave threats to their lives if forcibly returned. 

Instead, the letter pins the blame for the crisis on a modest measure, and two unfinished proposals, made during the Obama administration’s tenure. This leaves the unpleasant impression that its signers are comfortable using a genuine humanitarian emergency to score political points.

— Adam Isacson

Are “failed U.S. policies” to blame for the rise in unaccompanied Central American migrant children?

“[T]he current surge is far more than a humanitarian crisis resulting from violence and economic failures in Central America. The perception of eventual legal status has been generated through your Administrative actions.”

Letter to President Obama from 34 Republican members of Congress, July 2, 2014

The border between Texas and Mexico has seen a big recent increase in arrivals of unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. This July 2 letter, circulated by House Government Reform and Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California), seeks to blame the Obama administration for the crisis, citing “failed policies that encourage young individuals to put themselves in peril, leave their home countries, and make a long and dangerous journey to enter our country illegally.”

This letter does not provide any substantial evidence to back up what have become immigration hardliners’ talking points on the failures of U.S. policies. Though evidence strongly suggests that violence is a major “push factor,” the 34 legislators’ letter instead insists that the policies spurring Central Americans to send children northward are:

  • Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an administrative change that President Barack Obama implemented in June 2012. DACA came after Congress failed to pass the “Dream Act,” legislation that would have given permanent residency to children who arrived in the United States as minors and received college degrees or performed military service. Under DACA, young undocumented people who have lived in the United States since 2007 and meet the “Dream Act” standards may live and work in the United States, although they do not get permanent resident status.
  • The Obama administration’s expressed support for immigration reform legislation that passed the Senate in June 2013, but has stalled in the House. The bill would have created a “path to citizenship” for some undocumented people in the United States.
  • The March 2014 White House announcement that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would review its deportation procedures. In this announcement, President Obama “emphasized his deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system.”

The Facts:

It’s unlikely that Central American families are paying such close attention to discussions of administrative changes within the U.S. executive branch. Even leaving this aside, there are at least four reasons why the House members’ letter’s claims are inaccurate.

  1. The administrative changes cited in the letter had not yet occurred when the so-called “surge” of unaccompanied minors began.

Border Patrol statistics, depicted above, show that arrivals of unaccompanied Central American children began increasing during U.S. fiscal year 2012, which ran from October 2011 to September 2012. DACA was not announced until June 2012. Immigration reform legislation had not yet been proposed, and the review of deportation procedures was far off. In fact, in 2012 the Obama administration broke the United States’ single-year record for deportations of undocumented foreign citizens (409,849 people): hardly a welcoming message for would-be migrants.

  1. It’s not just minors. Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Honduran adults are leaving too. And the exodus is going to other countries.

In 2011, Border Patrol apprehended 46,997 citizens of countries “other than Mexico”—the vast majority from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—near the Mexico border. So far this year (as of June 15), it has apprehended 181,724: on pace to register a three-year increase of 450 percent.

The United States may be the main destination, but several countries are seeing a similar rise in fleeing Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans. Between 2008 and 2013, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports, the number of those countries’ citizens applying for asylum in nearby Belize, Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama rose by 712 percent.

The post-2011 rise in Central American migration, and the rise in asylum claims elsewhere, indicate that violence is the preponderant factor. Central America’s three “Northern Triangle” countries, especially Honduras, saw big increases in violent crime during the second half of the 2000s; by the 2010s these had reached levels higher than those of pre-“surge” Iraq. Gang and organized crime activity—assaults, kidnapping, extortion, rape, forced recruitment—touches nearly all the population, particularly youth. With police and justice systems near collapse amid resource scarcity and unpunished corruption, these countries’ citizens are left utterly unprotected by their states.

  1. There is no “surge” of unaccompanied Mexican minors.

In 2009, Border Patrol apprehended 16,114 unaccompanied Mexican children, a figure that dwarfed the 3,304 Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Honduran children it reported that year. Even as the number of Central American children shot upward in 2012, the number of Mexican children did not. In 2014, apprehensions of Mexican minors are on pace to match 2013 levels (about 17,250), a 7 percent increase over 2009. By contrast, 2014 apprehensions of Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Honduran minors are on pace to nearly triple 2013 levels, and to exceed 2009 apprehensions by over 1,500 percent.

Why are arrivals of unaccompanied Mexican minors relatively flat? One is less intense violence: Mexico saw a sharp increase in violent crime since the mid-2000s, but it is concentrated in a few areas. The country’s overall homicide rate today is only about a quarter as high as Honduras’s. Another is that the United States has repatriation agreements with Mexico, which include Mexican government security guarantees, that make returning unaccompanied minors a very rapid process.

  1. While violence and poverty are the main drivers, something did happen in late 2013 and early 2014 to increase still further the rate of unaccompanied minors arriving in the United States.

In a sense, there have been two increases in arrivals of unaccompanied children. One increase began at the beginning of 2012, most likely driven by the sharp rise in violent crime in the Northern Triangle. The next, even sharper, increase began early this year.

The two trendlines are evident in this graph depicting month-by-month numbers of unaccompanied minors in the custody of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), to which other U.S. authorities must turn over apprehended minors within 72 hours. It appears in a June 23 Congressional Research Service report.

2013, like 2012, saw an accelerating increase in arrivals of unaccompanied children. Flight from violence, including specific threats from MS-13, Barrio 18, and other criminal organizations, was likely the most significant cause. There were larger-than-normal seasonal increases in migration (and thus apprehensions) after January 2012 and January 2013. But the increase after January 2014 was even steeper. The trendline took an entirely different shape: that of a hockey stick.

Nobody knows what happened about six months ago to cause this sharp increase. There was no dramatic reported worsening of Central America’s already severe violent crime or poverty rates. There is no evidence that Central Americans suddenly came to view DACA (which only benefits people in the United States before 2007) or the stalled U.S. immigration reform debate as “green lights” to send their children northward.

One possibility is that the “hockey stick” was triggered by word spreading among the Central American population that the children who arrived since 2012 were not being detained and quickly deported. (Smugglers looking for customers may have helped spread this information.) Instead, after receiving “notices to appear” in immigration court, they were being released to—and thus reunited with—family members.

This has happened not because of DACA or immigration reform, but in accordance with an anti-human trafficking law that the U.S. Congress unanimously approved, and President George W. Bush signed into law, in December 2008. Section 235(b) of the “William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act” states that:

  • Unaccompanied children from “non-contiguous countries” (that is, all countries other than Canada and Mexico) must be transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services. The HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement must see that they are “promptly placed in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child.”
  • Placing a child in a “secure facility” is only called for “if a suitable family member is not available to provide care.”
  • “To the greatest extent practicable,” children are to have counsel represent them in legal proceedings, which may include applications for protected status. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has noted that many Central American children fleeing violence may meet the criteria for refugee status.

These legal proceedings take time, especially now that the system adjudicating such cases is overwhelmed. As a result, even if their status is never legalized and they end up eventually being deported, migrant children may end up spending a year or two living with parents or other close relatives who had come to the United States earlier.

That would mean a year or two in which parents need not worry about their child being killed, raped, or recruited by gangs. A year or two in which the child can eat three meals per day, attend school, and face at least a slim possibility of remaining in the United States. It is easy to imagine why a parent or other close relative would find this attractive enough to scrape together as much as US$10,000 to pay a smuggler’s fee.

That so many parents would leave children behind in the first place is a direct result of U.S. policy. Crossing the U.S.-Mexico border is now difficult and dangerous, after a large border security buildup that began in the 1990s and intensified in the 2000s. Before then, parents who migrated to the United States to earn money as undocumented workers could expect to go home periodically and see their children. Now, they do not attempt it because the likelihood of returning to the United States afterward is so slim. As a result, migrant parents in the United States go many years without seeing their children.

A child who was left behind while an infant or toddler 10-15 years ago is of prime gang recruitment age today, and parents’ desperation to be reunited is probably greater. The promise of doing so through the Section 235(b) process, even if temporarily while a child’s case is being adjudicated, may be a strong pull.

The research does not yet exist to confirm that the Section 235(b) provision has caused the 2014 acceleration in unaccompanied Central American minors’ migration. WOLA researchers did not hear it mentioned in interviews with migrants, migrant defenders, or shelter personnel during a February visit to Mexico’s southern border.

On the other hand, some press reports and comments from U.S. officials have mentioned Central Americans’ belief that the U.S. government is granting special permits (“permisos”) for children. This may be a mistaken reference to the “notices to appear” issued to those being released into relatives’ custody. We do not know how widespread this belief is in Central America, or when it began to spread. But if it did, it explains some of the sharp 2014 increase in unaccompanied children arriving in the United States.

Whatever the reason, the U.S. government must take seriously all unaccompanied minors’ claims for protection, even if many are ultimately found to lack sufficient merit. The criminal gangs and organized crime groups driving Central America’s out-of-control violence do target young people. A significant portion of the children here probably face a credible and specific threat of death or other harm. They can also credibly claim that their own governments are unwilling or unable to protect them.

Identifying these threatened individual minors, and evaluating their cases, will take time. An expedited effort to process and deport them must not put them in harm’s way. U.S. authorities must consider each case separately.

The Obama administration is promising to “fix” the procedure for unaccompanied minors set out in the 2008 law. A funding request that the White House submitted to Congress on July 8 calls for “increased detainment and removal of adults with children and increased immigration court capacity to speed cases.” A June 30 letter to Congress from President Obama promises administrative measures “providing the DHS Secretary additional authority to exercise discretion in processing the return and removal of unaccompanied minor children.”

These measures may be necessary to deal with an overwhelmed system, but the imperative to “speed cases” must not weaken Central American children’s right to due process. Procedural changes must not mean the kind of haste that leads to deporting children who face a high probability of being killed or otherwise harmed.

As for the claims in the 34 House members’ letter? They are patently false. They ignore the timing of the wave of unaccompanied children’s arrivals. They ignore the region-wide nature of the trend. They ignore the impact of the 2008 law—the letter doesn’t even mention it—and propose no way to protect thousands of children who may face grave threats to their lives if forcibly returned.

Instead, the letter pins the blame for the crisis on a modest measure, and two unfinished proposals, made during the Obama administration’s tenure. This leaves the unpleasant impression that its signers are comfortable using a genuine humanitarian emergency to score political points.

— Adam Isacson

Filed under Central America Migration Unaccompanied Minors Border Security U.S. Congress

0 notes

Do we need more drones at the border?


  “Q: So McCaul’s [Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas)] proposal would expand the Department for Homeland Security’s drone fleet?”
  
  “A: We probably need more. Our border has over 1,200 miles, so we will definitely need more of them to provide more coverage there.”


— Translated from a September 27, 2013 Univisión Noticias interview with Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), co-chair of the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus

The notion that the U.S.-Mexico border needs to increase the size of its drone fleet is a claim that has been echoed in both the House and Senate. But a 2012 audit of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) drone program found just the opposite to be true: CBP does not, in fact, need more drones.

The Facts:

According to the report by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), CBP already owns more drones than it can afford to operate. In 2012, the agency had a fleet of seven unmanned aircraft. Just to meet the “mission availability threshold” (minimum capacity), each drone would need to log 10,662 flight hours per year. To reach the operational level actually desired by CBP, the drones would need to fly 13,328 hours per year.

But the drones flew just 3,909 hours—a mere 29 percent of desired capacity.

Although bad weather was one of the listed causes for falling so short of expectations, the main reason was that CBP had vastly underestimated the amount of resources necessary to support the drone fleet.

In addition to their steep price tag, unmanned aircraft cost approximately US$3,234 to operate per flight hour and require an hour of maintenance for every hour of flight. Not having anticipated, nor planned, for these high operational costs, CBP faced a budget shortfall and was forced to shuffle $25 million from other programs just to fly the drones at a third of their capacity. The program lacks qualified staff, ground control stations and equipment, cameras, and navigation systems, among other things. Because of this, the report concluded that until CBP develops plans to meet the desired operational capacity, it recommends the postponement of additional drone purchases.

Of course, achieving this goal would come at a cost; just to increase the flight time of the current fleet to desired levels would require $43.1 million per year—or 9 percent of the entire operations, maintenance, and procurement budget for CBP’s Air and Marine Branch ($504 million).

The Department of Homeland Security plans to increase the size of its fleet to 11 by 2016, and the Senate immigration bill (S.744), were it to pass the House, would authorize yet another four drones to be used on the border. At the rate cited above, these proposals would raise the annual cost to $92.4 million.

The question of whether to purchase more drones goes beyond purely economic considerations and stretches into the territory of civil liberty concerns. The constant use of drones over U.S. soil increases the likelihood of federal government spying on the activities of U.S. citizens. Not only has CBP yet to establish explicit rules that would protect the privacy rights of citizens, but it has also flown its Predator drones on behalf of other agencies, such as the FBI, DEA, and several County Sheriff’s Offices (the names of which have been withheld from the public) over 500 times in the past three years. Although the Inspector General has severely reprimanded CBP for failing to regulate who uses the drones, and how they are used, an explicit, overarching policy has not been implemented.

Beyond economics and efficiency, the use of new surveillance technologies at the border raises a host of new concerns. Rushing to increase the number of surveillance drones over U.S. territory without first addressing the issue of privacy and civil liberty concerns puts the government at risk of encroaching on U.S. citizens’ constitutional rights yet again.

— Ashley Davis

Do we need more drones at the border?

“Q: So McCaul’s [Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas)] proposal would expand the Department for Homeland Security’s drone fleet?”

“A: We probably need more. Our border has over 1,200 miles, so we will definitely need more of them to provide more coverage there.”

Translated from a September 27, 2013 Univisión Noticias interview with Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), co-chair of the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus

The notion that the U.S.-Mexico border needs to increase the size of its drone fleet is a claim that has been echoed in both the House and Senate. But a 2012 audit of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) drone program found just the opposite to be true: CBP does not, in fact, need more drones.

The Facts:

According to the report by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), CBP already owns more drones than it can afford to operate. In 2012, the agency had a fleet of seven unmanned aircraft. Just to meet the “mission availability threshold” (minimum capacity), each drone would need to log 10,662 flight hours per year. To reach the operational level actually desired by CBP, the drones would need to fly 13,328 hours per year.

But the drones flew just 3,909 hours—a mere 29 percent of desired capacity.

Although bad weather was one of the listed causes for falling so short of expectations, the main reason was that CBP had vastly underestimated the amount of resources necessary to support the drone fleet.

In addition to their steep price tag, unmanned aircraft cost approximately US$3,234 to operate per flight hour and require an hour of maintenance for every hour of flight. Not having anticipated, nor planned, for these high operational costs, CBP faced a budget shortfall and was forced to shuffle $25 million from other programs just to fly the drones at a third of their capacity. The program lacks qualified staff, ground control stations and equipment, cameras, and navigation systems, among other things. Because of this, the report concluded that until CBP develops plans to meet the desired operational capacity, it recommends the postponement of additional drone purchases.

Of course, achieving this goal would come at a cost; just to increase the flight time of the current fleet to desired levels would require $43.1 million per year—or 9 percent of the entire operations, maintenance, and procurement budget for CBP’s Air and Marine Branch ($504 million).

The Department of Homeland Security plans to increase the size of its fleet to 11 by 2016, and the Senate immigration bill (S.744), were it to pass the House, would authorize yet another four drones to be used on the border. At the rate cited above, these proposals would raise the annual cost to $92.4 million.

The question of whether to purchase more drones goes beyond purely economic considerations and stretches into the territory of civil liberty concerns. The constant use of drones over U.S. soil increases the likelihood of federal government spying on the activities of U.S. citizens. Not only has CBP yet to establish explicit rules that would protect the privacy rights of citizens, but it has also flown its Predator drones on behalf of other agencies, such as the FBI, DEA, and several County Sheriff’s Offices (the names of which have been withheld from the public) over 500 times in the past three years. Although the Inspector General has severely reprimanded CBP for failing to regulate who uses the drones, and how they are used, an explicit, overarching policy has not been implemented.

Beyond economics and efficiency, the use of new surveillance technologies at the border raises a host of new concerns. Rushing to increase the number of surveillance drones over U.S. territory without first addressing the issue of privacy and civil liberty concerns puts the government at risk of encroaching on U.S. citizens’ constitutional rights yet again.

— Ashley Davis

Filed under drones border security

3 notes

Is the border really “leaking?”

“I see the engine of this immigration ship not working. The bureaucracy is failing. But I also see on the ship that we’ve got a leak — we don’t know who is coming in and out across our borders. If you have a ship that has an engine that is not working and a leak in the bottom, what do you fix first? You fix the leak. My fear is we’re not really enforcing (immigration laws) right now.”

Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Illinois), quoted August 31, 2013.

The Facts:

In fact, we do have a good idea of who is coming in and out across our borders — or at least, a better idea than we have ever had.

1. Who is coming in:

In 2011, Border Patrol estimated that 533,571 people crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. Of these, 84 percent (448,104) were either apprehended or turned back into Mexico.

It is true that Border Patrol has not regularly reported the number of migrants it estimates to have turned back or eluded capture, and no such estimates are yet publicly available for 2012. But the agency publishes decades of data on its apprehensions of migrants, a decent indicator of the overall flow of “who is coming in.”

In 2012, Border Patrol apprehended 356,873 undocumented migrants near the U.S.-Mexico border. That was up slightly from 2011, but still the second-smallest number measured since 1973. According to this indicator (as well as others like migrant surveys and testimonies from shelters), undocumented migration has plummeted rapidly. As recently as 2006, Border Patrol was routinely apprehending a million or more migrants.

image

Better technologies may reveal a larger number of migrants who evade capture, especially in remote areas. But still, using current methods the percentage of those who are apprehended appears to be growing, as a December 2012 Government Accountability Office report attests. And recidivism rates — the number of apprehended migrants who had been apprehended before — are lower than they have been since measurements began, notes the Congressional Research Service [PDF].

2. Who is coming out:

In eight of the past ten years, including 2012, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) set a new record for the number of undocumented individuals removed [PDF] from the United States. Last year ICE totaled 409,849 removals, up from 165,168 a decade earlier and 43,671 in 1992.

If past years’ proportions are a guide, about two-thirds (perhaps 275,000) of these removed individuals came from Mexico and Central America. Add the number of individuals returned by Border Patrol last year (likely between 250,000 and 300,000), and you get over 525,000 undocumented migrants from Mexico and Central America “coming out” of the United States.

That is quite similar to the 533,571 people whom Border Patrol estimated to have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally in 2011. With almost the same numbers going “out” as are going “in,” the “leak” to which Rep. Hultgren refers is actually a net of about zero migrants. In fact, after reaching a 40-year low, it could even be seeping outward.

Estimates of the population living here illegally bear that out. It has been declining, from a high of 12.4 million people in 2007 to 11.1 million in 2011.

3. We are “enforcing immigration laws right now.”

In fact, immigration laws are being enforced far more strongly than they ever have. In 2012, CRS reports [PDF], 86 percent of apprehended migrants had to go through some sort of “consequence delivery” (criminal trial, lateral repatriation, formal deportation proceeding, or others) instead of being voluntarily returned. Only 14 percent were voluntarily returned. As recently as 2005, 77 percent were voluntarily returned.

Source: Congressional Research Service (PDF)

We can and should debate the effectiveness, and the humaneness, of these “consequence delivery” measures. But it’s impossible to dispute that they — and “immigration laws” in general — are not being “enforced right now.”

— Adam Isacson

Filed under migration border security statistics

2 notes

Is a “surge” in National Guard troops an effective way to secure the border?

“…There’s also another resource that’s coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and that’s our men and women in uniform, specifically our members of the National Guard. There’s already been reports of them being engaged working along the border in several areas… the ‘surge’ concept is exactly what we were thinking—it was successful in Iraq, Afghanistan, apparently it’s been successful on the border.”

-Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Mississippi), July 23, 2013

During a recent hearing on border security, Rep. Palazzo of Mississippi floated the idea of deploying members of the National Guard to secure the border. But have these types of “surges” along the border been successful?

The facts:

While it’s true that National Guard troops have been sent to the U.S.-Mexico border to assist Customs and Border Protection personnel, experience tells us that such deployments are an inefficient use of resources.

From 2006 to 2008, the Bush administration deployed 6,000 National Guard troops to the border in Operation Jump Start. In 2010, 1,200 National Guardsmen were deployed to the border under the auspices of Operation Phalanx. It’s important to note that Operation Jump Start and Operation Phalanx were not meant to be border security game-changers. Rather, both were considered stopgap measures to provide temporary personnel “bridges” until the Border Patrol could complete the training of thousands of new agents.

In fact, Guardsmen along the border were (and continue to be) limited in their duties: by order of the Department of Defense, they are not allowed to be involved in the direct detention, search, or arrest of individuals. A September 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office voiced concern over citizens’ perceptions of increased border militarization; the fact that temporary National Guard deployments make it difficult to formulate a long-term border security strategy; and the cost effectiveness of the deployments. The Washington Post noted that as of December 2011,

"The 1,200 National Guard troops have helped Border Patrol agents apprehend 25,514 illegal immigrants at a cost of $160 million — or $6,271 for each person caught… [T]he National Guard is credited with helping law enforcement seize 83,629 pounds of marijuana in the past 16 months. That is about 2.6 percent of the tons of pot seized each year along the southwestern border."

As criticism of Operation Phalanx mounted and budget pressures increased, in March 2012 the Obama administration reduced the number of National Guard troops on the border from 1,200 to 300. Under Operation Nimbus, the remaining troops’ mission shifted from ground surveillance to aerial surveillance – “boots in the sky” instead of “boots on the ground.”

While talk of “surges” may play well to certain political audiences, the high price tags and relative lack of results of Operations Jump Start and Phalanx make it clear that the National Guard is not a silver bullet for border security.

-Ana Goerdt

1 note

What is the real cost of an additional 20,000 Border Patrol agents?

"This proposal is a realistic and measured approach that will finally solve one of the most difficult problems facing our broken immigration system."

— Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nevada), June 21, 2013

The Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate for the immigration bill calculates that adding 3,500 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents as proposed in the current version of the legislation would exceed $600 million annually – that’s around $171,400 per agent per year. Assuming Border Patrol agents cost about the same as all CBP officers, increasing the number of agents by 20,000, as is proposed in the Corker-Hoeven amendment, would cost over $3.4 billion a year. Over the next decade, this increase would amount to over $34 billion. This yearly cost for additional agents is close to the Border Patrol’s current annual budget and far exceeds the $6 billion the CBO calculated for the 10-year cost of a much smaller staff increase.

In a time of sequester, where $85 billion in automatic budget cuts are dramatically reducing afterschool programs, food pantries, and meal programs for the sick and elderly; eliminating thousands of jobs for teachers and emergency response personnel; and even limiting the Border Patrol’s capacity to deploy agents for road patrols, we question whether such a dramatic increase in border security spending, with questionable endgame results, is a good use of the U.S. budget.

—Maureen Meyer

0 notes

Is Doubling Border Patrol (Again) a Wise Use of Border Security Resources?


  "This is border security on steroids."


— Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), remarking on an amendment to immigration reform legislation (S. 744) that he and Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota) are introducing in the U.S. Senate.

The Corker amendment would roughly double the size of U.S. Border Patrol to about 40,000 members. Is that a wise use of funds?

The Facts:

Border Patrol has already doubled in size [PDF] since 2005, and quintupled in size since 1993. There were 9,891 agents stationed at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2005; by the end of 2012 there were 18,516.

Meanwhile, border crossings are way down. In 2000, Border Patrol agents apprehended [PDF] 1,643,679 people near the U.S.-Mexico border. By last year, that number had dropped to 356,873.

As the agency grew and border-crossers dropped, the number of “apprehensions per agent” has fallen to historic lows. In 2000 each Border Patrol agent at the U.S.-Mexico border apprehended an average of 192 border-crossers. By 2012 the average was 19 apprehensions per agent.

Given this remarkable drop, is not clear how much more a further doubling of Border Patrol would achieve. Dropping the ratio to 10 apprehensions per agent per year would be a small gain for such a great expense.

That expense would be immense. If we very conservatively estimate the cost of maintaining a Border Patrol officer (salary, benefits, training, vehicles, fuel, uniforms, etc.) at US$100,000 per year, then 20,000 new agents would cost the U.S. Treasury US$2 billion per year. (The agency’s current budget [PDF] is about US$3.5 billion.)

An additional US$2 billion per year is far more money than the current Senate immigration reform bill contemplates spending. S.744 foresees up to US$6.5 billion total, to be spent over five-plus years, in new border security funds.

Given these apprehension and staffing trends, doubling Border Patrol does not appear to be the most efficient use of an additional US$2 billion per year.

"For people who are concerned about border security, once they see what’s in this bill, it’s almost overkill," Sen. Corker said today. We agree with that, except for the “almost.”

—Adam Isacson

Is Doubling Border Patrol (Again) a Wise Use of Border Security Resources?

"This is border security on steroids."

— Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), remarking on an amendment to immigration reform legislation (S. 744) that he and Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota) are introducing in the U.S. Senate.

The Corker amendment would roughly double the size of U.S. Border Patrol to about 40,000 members. Is that a wise use of funds?

The Facts:

Border Patrol has already doubled in size [PDF] since 2005, and quintupled in size since 1993. There were 9,891 agents stationed at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2005; by the end of 2012 there were 18,516.

Meanwhile, border crossings are way down. In 2000, Border Patrol agents apprehended [PDF] 1,643,679 people near the U.S.-Mexico border. By last year, that number had dropped to 356,873.

As the agency grew and border-crossers dropped, the number of “apprehensions per agent” has fallen to historic lows. In 2000 each Border Patrol agent at the U.S.-Mexico border apprehended an average of 192 border-crossers. By 2012 the average was 19 apprehensions per agent.

Given this remarkable drop, is not clear how much more a further doubling of Border Patrol would achieve. Dropping the ratio to 10 apprehensions per agent per year would be a small gain for such a great expense.

That expense would be immense. If we very conservatively estimate the cost of maintaining a Border Patrol officer (salary, benefits, training, vehicles, fuel, uniforms, etc.) at US$100,000 per year, then 20,000 new agents would cost the U.S. Treasury US$2 billion per year. (The agency’s current budget [PDF] is about US$3.5 billion.)

An additional US$2 billion per year is far more money than the current Senate immigration reform bill contemplates spending. S.744 foresees up to US$6.5 billion total, to be spent over five-plus years, in new border security funds.

Given these apprehension and staffing trends, doubling Border Patrol does not appear to be the most efficient use of an additional US$2 billion per year.

"For people who are concerned about border security, once they see what’s in this bill, it’s almost overkill," Sen. Corker said today. We agree with that, except for the “almost.”

—Adam Isacson

Filed under Border Security U.S. Congress

0 notes

Is the Cornyn Amendment’s Border Security Standard a “Poison Pill” for Immigration Reform?

"The Secretary [of Homeland Security] may not adjust the status of aliens who have been granted registered provisional immigrant status… until … the Secretary has achieved and maintained operational control of the Southern border for the 12-month period immediately preceding such certification. …

"The term 'operational control' means that, within each and every sector of the Southern border, a condition exists in which there is an effectiveness rate, informed by situational awareness, of not lower than 90 percent. …

"The term 'effectiveness rate' means a metric, informed by situational awareness, that measures the percentage calculated by dividing—
(A) the number of illegal border crossers who are apprehended or turned back during a fiscal year … by
(B) the total number of illegal entries in the sector during such fiscal year.”

—From the text of Senate Amendment 1251 to S.744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, proposed yesterday by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and 15 other Republican Party senators.

As it considers a sweeping immigration reform, the full U.S. Senate is expected to debate and vote on the Cornyn amendment today. Known as the “Requiring Enforcement, Security and safety while Upgrading Lawful Trade and travel Simultaneously (RESULTS)” provision, this amendment would tighten the so-called “trigger”: a border security threshold that must first be met in order for undocumented migrants to attain legal status.

In plain English: both the existing immigration reform bill and the Cornyn amendment are gauging border security using a measure that they call an “effectiveness rate.” To calculate it, they look at the number of border-crossers that U.S. authorities apprehend, the number who they “turn back” across the border, and the number whom they believe “got away.” Both the bill and the amendment call for a 90 percent effectiveness rate. To achieve this threshold, the number of “got aways” would have to be less than 10 percent of the total number of detected border-crossers.

If this 90 percent threshold is not met within five years, the current Senate bill would require a special Southern Border Security Commission to make recommendations for policy changes. An additional US$2 billion in border security funds (over an initial US$4.5 billion) would be available to implement the commission’s recommendations. If the 90 percent goal is not met, immigrants seeking to legalize their status would not be affected.

Under the Cornyn amendment, if the 90 percent threshold is not met, immigrants will not be allowed to exit their temporary “provisional immigrant” status and embark on the “path to citizenship.”

Some Democrats call this amendment a “poison pill" — a requirement that sets such a high border-security standard that it achieves what they believe to be the amendment’s authors’ real goal: blocking the "path to citizenship" for currently undocumented migrants.

The Facts:

The border security “trigger” argument hinges on whether the 90 percent “effectiveness rate” is a reasonable standard.

In 2011, statistics from a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report reveal, the effectiveness rate was 84 percent. The illustration shows where the Border Patrol’s nine sectors stood that year (click to enlarge).

The Senate bill would increase spending on border security. Even more law enforcement presence along the border could increase apprehensions, which might appear to bring the 90 percent “effectiveness” goal within reach.

But the new security spending will also include investment in new technologies that, ironically, could make the 90 percent goal more elusive than ever.

A host of new sensors, cameras, drones, radars, and other imagery and detection equipment — some of it developed for Defense Department use in Iraq and Afghanistan — could find a great deal more border crossers who currently go undetected, especially in remote, rural areas. U.S. agencies’ new gadgets may tell them that the number of “got aways” is greater than they thought. That was the experience of an early 2013 test run of VADER, a Defense Department radar system, in Arizona. According to a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting, VADER revealed an “effectiveness rate” in Tucson many percentage points lower than the official number.

With technology revealing more “got-aways” than previously thought, the 90 percent threshold could be farther off, not closer. Meanwhile, heightened border security may drive border-crossers to even more remote areas, where actually being on the scene and apprehending people is hardest. Note the conditions right now in the massive Big Bend sector of west Texas, which registered a small number of migrants but the lowest “effectiveness rate” — 68 percent — of all sectors in 2011. Because Big Bend is far from any population centers, it may never become the number-one destination for migrants. But because it is so empty and difficult to patrol, there is still room for massive growth here, and in the neighboring Del Rio sector, if a crackdown succeeds elsewhere.

A look at the numbers, recent geographical migration trends, and the likely impact of better detection technologies leads us to conclude that the 90 percent threshold is unlikely to be met across the entire U.S.-Mexico border. As a result, the Cornyn amendment would probably put the “path to citizenship” out of reach.

— Adam Isacson

Filed under Border Security Migration immigration reform U.S. Congress

1 note

Has “lacking border security” led to a halt in commerce or a spillover of violence at the border?


  “Less than 10 years ago, a trip from my home state across the border to Nuevo Laredo, one of several Mexican border cities, was routine. As a result, commerce and culture flowed across the border, benefiting both countries. Today, after years of lacking border security efforts, such travel is almost unthinkable. Sadly, the border has turned into a magnet for spillover violence from Central American drug cartels.”


— Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, in an April 23 op-ed published in Roll Call.

Rep. McCaul is correct that organized crime-related violence in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, has diminished travel to that city. Our own interviews with business, social and law enforcement leaders in Laredo, Texas found that it had been years since most had crossed the river into Nuevo Laredo.

But the Congressman, whose Austin-area district lies 250 miles from the border, leaves an incorrect impression that cross-border commerce has stopped, and that Nuevo Laredo’s violence is spilling over the border into the United States.

The Facts:

Cross-border commerce is busier than ever. According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, in fiscal year 2011 U.S. goods and services trade with Mexico totaled $500 billion. U.S. exports across the border are up 77.6 percent since 2000, while imports are up 93.4 percent.

According to the Department of Justice, Laredo-Nuevo Laredo is the busiest inland port in the nation, “handling more freight than all the U.S. ports of entry to its west combined.” More than 700 of the Fortune 1,000 companies do international business via Laredo and “more than 9,000 trucks cross through town per day along with 1,800 loaded rail cars.”

The violence in Nuevo Laredo, meanwhile, is not spilling over, according to national crime statistics and local law enforcement.

According to police in Laredo, “violent crime is down and spillover from drug-war violence in Mexico is minimal.” Laredo (population 241,000) experienced 10 homicides in 2012.

Its violent crime rate in 2011, the last year for which full data were available (464.6 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants), while higher than the national average, is less than half that of Houston, and lower than San Antonio or Dallas. Laredo’s violent crime rate is only a shade higher than Austin (430.1 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants), the largest city within Rep. McCaul’s district. In fact, of the 32 Texas cities with 100,000-plus population in 2011, none of the four border cities was among the top 10 most violent (see graphic above).

Statistics show a similar lack of spillover along the border. Throughout the United States, the FBI Uniform Crime Report estimated a violent crime rate of 386.3 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011. The same data available that year for counties touching the border showed an average of 268.3 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants. Border counties experienced 118 fewer violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants than the country as a whole.

— Adam Isacson (with research assistance from WOLA Intern Elizabeth Glusman)
 

Has “lacking border security” led to a halt in commerce or a spillover of violence at the border?

“Less than 10 years ago, a trip from my home state across the border to Nuevo Laredo, one of several Mexican border cities, was routine. As a result, commerce and culture flowed across the border, benefiting both countries. Today, after years of lacking border security efforts, such travel is almost unthinkable. Sadly, the border has turned into a magnet for spillover violence from Central American drug cartels.”

— Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, in an April 23 op-ed published in Roll Call.

Rep. McCaul is correct that organized crime-related violence in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, has diminished travel to that city. Our own interviews with business, social and law enforcement leaders in Laredo, Texas found that it had been years since most had crossed the river into Nuevo Laredo.

But the Congressman, whose Austin-area district lies 250 miles from the border, leaves an incorrect impression that cross-border commerce has stopped, and that Nuevo Laredo’s violence is spilling over the border into the United States.

The Facts:

Cross-border commerce is busier than ever. According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, in fiscal year 2011 U.S. goods and services trade with Mexico totaled $500 billion. U.S. exports across the border are up 77.6 percent since 2000, while imports are up 93.4 percent.

According to the Department of Justice, Laredo-Nuevo Laredo is the busiest inland port in the nation, “handling more freight than all the U.S. ports of entry to its west combined.” More than 700 of the Fortune 1,000 companies do international business via Laredo and “more than 9,000 trucks cross through town per day along with 1,800 loaded rail cars.”

The violence in Nuevo Laredo, meanwhile, is not spilling over, according to national crime statistics and local law enforcement.

According to police in Laredo, “violent crime is down and spillover from drug-war violence in Mexico is minimal.” Laredo (population 241,000) experienced 10 homicides in 2012.

Its violent crime rate in 2011, the last year for which full data were available (464.6 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants), while higher than the national average, is less than half that of Houston, and lower than San Antonio or Dallas. Laredo’s violent crime rate is only a shade higher than Austin (430.1 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants), the largest city within Rep. McCaul’s district. In fact, of the 32 Texas cities with 100,000-plus population in 2011, none of the four border cities was among the top 10 most violent (see graphic above).

Statistics show a similar lack of spillover along the border. Throughout the United States, the FBI Uniform Crime Report estimated a violent crime rate of 386.3 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011. The same data available that year for counties touching the border showed an average of 268.3 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants. Border counties experienced 118 fewer violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants than the country as a whole.

— Adam Isacson (with research assistance from WOLA Intern Elizabeth Glusman)  

Filed under Border Security Spillover U.S. Congress

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Would more technology make the border more secure than it is today?

“Many of my colleagues say, ‘Why do we need to do anything more on the border?’ and we do. We should do more. … What I learned today is we have adequate manpower, but not adequate technology.”

– Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, while visiting the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona on March 27.

Sen. Schumer is one of the “gang of eight” senators who are expected to be submitting legislation within the next several days for a sweeping proposed immigration reform.

That proposal may delay changes to U.S. immigration procedures – such as a “path to citizenship” for currently undocumented migrants – until something is first done on border security. That “something” is likely to be a commitment to intensify the past ten years’ large-scale buildup in the U.S. border security apparatus.

Sen. Schumer’s comments indicate that instead of further increasing manpower – the Border Patrol has doubled since 2005, and quintupled since 1993 [PDF] – this new proposed buildup may focus on technology: sensors, drones, imagery, radar, cameras, communications and similar items along the border.

The Facts:

More technology would give U.S. border security personnel a fuller picture of what is happening at the border, in particular who is crossing. But it will also reveal, in sharp focus, how remarkably difficult the border is to secure.

The challenge is what law-enforcement officials often call the “endgame”: the act of bringing personnel to the place where something illegal is happening, and arresting those responsible. On its own, better technology will not ease the endgame.

An analogy is Central America, where U.S. military and Coast Guard assets use radars, aircraft and imagery to follow boats or aircraft suspected of trafficking drugs. Too often, the U.S. technology gets used simply to film traffickers calmly unloading bales of cargo in remote areas of places like eastern Honduras, where there is almost no government presence and little likelihood that authorities will confront them. The remarkable U.S. technology can capture this on video, but with no personnel on the ground, it can do little more than film it.

At the U.S.-Mexico border, something similar may happen in the vast stretches of desert and scrubland that improved U.S. technology would monitor. The new gadgets may find far more border crossers than were previously believed to exist. But they would do little to ease apprehensions.

A very illustrative example comes from an April 4 report by the Center for Investigative Reporting, which obtained documents about a new radar system, used by the Defense Department in Afghanistan, that U.S. Customs and Border Protection began testing along the border in Arizona late last year.

The VADER (Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar) system gave U.S. authorities a troubling result: they found that they have been missing many more crossings than they thought.

“Between October and December, records show, the remotely operated aircraft detected 7,333 border crossers during its Arizona missions. Border Patrol agents, however, reported 410 apprehensions during that time, according to an internal agency report.” …

“Another report that highlights what the radar system detected from October to mid-January underscores the agency’s struggle to measure results and shows conflicting numbers. Border Patrol agents apprehended 1,874 crossers that the sensor identified, but 1,962 more escaped capture.”

The VADER data showed Border Patrol apprehending well under half of the total number of illegal border crossers. This is much poorer than the pre-VADER results Border Patrol had claimed in a February U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, which found a 5-to-1 ratio of apprehensions to “got-aways” in the Tuscon sector in 2011.

It is not clear, then, whether more technology would help to secure the border, or whether it would merely show authorities more of what they are missing.

High-tech equipment can monitor remote zones that are hours from the nearest Border Patrol stations and miles from the nearest roads. But even if Border Patrol were to double its staffing levels again, it would still not have enough manpower to carry out endgame operations in all of these rugged, inaccessible areas along the 1,969-mile U.S.-Mexico border. Especially since, in many cases, pursuit would have to happen on foot and in conditions of poor ground visibility, especially at night.

In the best of cases, improved technology would help Border Patrol and other U.S. law enforcement agencies respond more quickly to increased crossings in new areas. This would require it to transfer its personnel across sectors much more frequently, a significant hardship to agents with families and roots in their current communities. (Right now, Border Patrol is slow to redeploy personnel. Among its nine Mexico border sectors, its very quiet El Paso sector continues to have the second-highest number of agents.) It would also mean a far greater number of agents spending longer periods in rustic “forward operating bases” in the wilderness, closer to the suspicious activity detected by high-tech sensors.

More technology might help U.S. agencies reorient their resources more nimbly than they do now. But it would not be a panacea for border security. If anything, it would highlight the extreme difficulty of the “endgame.”

– Adam Isacson

Filed under border security border patrol

0 notes

Is the prospect of immigration reform doubling the rate of migrant border crossings?

“We’ve seen the number of illegal aliens double, maybe even triple since amnesty talk started happening.”

— Unnamed Border Patrol agent to Townhall, July 20, 2012

The past few months have seen several claims that the possibility of immigration reform providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented migrants would result in a significant increase in migrants seeking to enter the United States illegally.

The Facts:

The Border Patrol does not release its statistics about undocumented migrants it has apprehended—which the agency is currently using as its main border security indicator—until after the end of each fiscal year. Without this data, it is difficult assess whether or not there has been a spike in border crossings in recent months due to the possibility of immigration reform.

While U.S. agencies do not release monthly statistics, the Mexican government’s National Institute for Migration (Instituto Nacional de Migración, INM) does release monthly reports on the number of Mexicans whom U.S. authorities have repatriated back to their home country. During January and February 2013, INM received 54,818 Mexican nationals at its ports of entry in Mexico’s five border states. For the same two months in 2012, INM received 60,804, almost 6,000 more migrants than the current year. The number of Mexicans repatriated so far in 2013 is also significantly lower than the 66,711 reported for the first two months of 2011.

This drop in the number of repatriated Mexicans is also in line with the downward trend in Border Patrol apprehensions of Mexican nationals that we have seen since FY2006.

While fewer Mexican migrants are attempting to cross the border, the same cannot be said for Central American migrants, who continue to be willing to face multiple dangers, such as extortion and kidnapping, while crossing through Mexico in search of a better life in the United States. Border Patrol apprehensions of “other than Mexicans” (OTMs, the vast majority of which are Central Americans) doubled between FY 2011 and FY2012, when 94,532 OTMs were apprehended. INM statistics on Central Americans repatriated out of Mexico also show a slight increase in the first two months of 2013 compared to the same period for 2012.

Based on this information, if the number of Mexican migrants remained the same, there would have to be a staggering increase in Central Americans for border crossings to have doubled. U.S. authorities would need to have apprehended as many Central Americans as Mexicans in January and February of this year—around 55,000—something that has never happened. 55,000 apprehensions of Central Americans in two months would be equal to more than half of all of the OTMs the Border Patrol apprehended in all twelve months of FY2012, and it would mean that the FY2013 total would be on track to reach 330,000 apprehensions of OTMs—a 349 percent increase over last year. It is extremely unlikely that there has been such a dramatic increase in crossings by Central American migrants in the space of a few months. Thus, it is most unlikely that claims of a “doubling” of undocumented migration are true.

— Maureen Meyer

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Are citizens who leave water in the desert encouraging migrants or meeting a humanitarian need?

“[Tucson Sector Border Patrol Agent Colleen] Agle said smugglers often lie to immigrants, telling them they’ll only walk a couple of hours when they actually walk for days. Even so, the agency discourages water stations for crossers because authorities say it encourages people to risk the journey.”

— Amanda Lee Myers and Julie Watson, “Migrants say Arizona worth risk of crossing,” Associated Press, August 31, 2010

Border Patrol agents in south Texas have welcomed efforts to leave water out for migrants, in order to stem a rapid increase in the number of people dying on U.S. soil from dehydration. “Anytime someone can do something proactively like this it is great, Border Patrol Rio Grande Valley sector spokesman Henry Mendiola told Fox News Latino in January. “These are human lives we’re talking about.”

In Arizona, however, things are very different. Border Patrol agents interviewed by WOLA echoed the arguments in the quotes above. They contend that leaving water for migrants increases incentives for migration, and that much of the water ends up being used by smugglers. Arizona activist groups have resorted to leaving hidden cameras near their water stations, which have captured Border Patrol agents destroying water jugs.

The Facts:

A team from the University of Arizona published an extensive study last week that shows migrants’ need for water is desperate.

image

To produce In the Shadow of the Wall (PDF), Jeremy Slack, Daniel Martínez, Scott Whiteford, and Emily Peiffer led a team that surveyed 1,113 recent deportees in five Mexican border cities, as well as in Mexico City, between 2010 and 2012.

They found that dangerous journeys, with a very real risk of death from dehydration, are exceedingly common in places like southern Arizona and south Texas.

“Three quarters [of those surveyed - 72%] relied on a ‘coyote’ or human smuggler to get into the United States, agreeing to pay a median of 2,500 USD for their services. They walked for more than two days through the harsh conditions along the border. Thirty-nine percent ran out of water during their trip and 31% ran out of food. The extreme heat and harsh terrain where people cross has killed thousands of people.”

With two out of five migrants running out of water in the desert, the volunteers who leave it for them may be keeping many human beings from avoiding the fate of the 463 migrants whose remains Border Patrol counted [PDF] on the U.S. side of the border in 2012.

Dehydration and hunger are not the only dangers that the University of Arizona study revealed to be alarmingly common. Of those surveyed:

  • 12 percent were robbed by bandits during their last crossing.
  • 7 percent were kidnapped (83 out of 1,113; of these, 29 were kidnapped in the United States).
  • 6 people witnessed rape.
  • 2 people witnessed murders.
  • 12 percent witnessed some form of violence against female migrants.
  • 17 percent were victims of “cyber kidnappings,” defined as “where people call with false claims about having kidnapped a family member to extort a ransom.”

— Adam Isacson

Filed under Mexico Migration Border Patrol

0 notes

Is “Operation Streamline” being carried out in a way that respects due process?

“Operation Streamline, a fast-track program, resolves a federal criminal case with prison and deportation consequences in approximately two days or less. This program can serve as a deterrent against future illegal immigration in existing Border Patrol sectors.” — Sen. Chuck Grassley, May 17 2011.

Captured migrants who are sent to “Operation Streamline” enter the federal criminal court system, where they are processed very quickly. Normally about 40-80 migrants stand trial at a time, with guilty verdicts rapidly issued. Many receive prison sentences, usually of a few months’ duration. Supporters of the program, which began in 2005, dismiss charges that these speedy mass trials violate due process rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The Facts:

A team from the University of Arizona published an extensive study last week raising important concerns about due process in Operation Streamline. They find defendants are rarely informed about their rights, and are often advised by their own court-appointed defense lawyers to accept the charges against them.

image

To produce In the Shadow of the Wall (PDF), Jeremy Slack, Daniel Martínez, Scott Whiteford, and Emily Peiffer led a team that surveyed 1,113 recent deportees in five Mexican border cities, as well as in Mexico City, between 2010 and 2012.

They found that “Streamlined” deportees — 32 percent of those surveyed — were usually left in the dark about their legal rights.

“When asked ‘what did your lawyer inform you about your rights?’ only 40% mentioned some sort of basic legal right such as the right to silence or a fair trial. Forty percent stated that their lawyer simply informed them they needed to sign their deportation and plead guilty. Nine percent reported that their lawyers did not tell them anything. Only 2% reported being informed that they could denounce abuses and 1% (3 people) stated that the lawyer checked for legal migration options due to family connections, which is generally the first and most important duty of any immigration attorney.”

In addition, of “Streamlined” deportees, 92 percent said they were shackled at the wrists, waist, and ankles during the Operation Streamline process. Their median time spent in shackles was six hours. Thirty-eight percent of them were sent to a detention center. Eight percent reported being threatened by other inmates.

The University of Arizona study recommends ending Operation Streamline. It says Streamline “represents a violation of the U.S. Constitution by trying people in masse rather than as individuals.”

— Adam Isacson

Filed under Mexico Migration Immigration

16 notes

How common or rare is abuse of migrants in U.S. custody?

How common or rare is abuse of migrants in U.S. custody?

“The Department of Homeland Security claims that only three complaints were lodged against Border Patrol detention conditions for the entirety of 2010 (the most current data), a year when agents apprehended more than 463,000 individuals. Only 10 complaints were filed for ‘abuse of authority’ that year and 13 for ‘discrimination.’ … Customs and Border Patrol in Washington responded in even more general terms: ‘CBP stresses honor and integrity in every aspect of our mission,’ an agency spokesperson said by email. ‘We do not tolerate abuse within our ranks, and … we are fully committed to protecting the health, safety and human rights of all individuals with whom we interact.’” — John Carlos Frey, “Cruelty on the Border,” Salon.com, July 20, 2012

The Facts:

Non-governmental groups have already documented what appears to be a far more widespread problem of migrant abuse while in the custody of U.S. authorities. Last week, a team from the University of Arizona published an extensive study adding new evidence.

image

To produce In the Shadow of the Wall (PDF), Jeremy Slack, Daniel Martínez, Scott Whiteford, and Emily Peiffer led a team that surveyed 1,113 recent deportees in five Mexican border cities, as well as in Mexico City, between 2010 and 2012.

Of those surveyed:

  • 11 percent reported physical abuse by U.S. authorities.
  • 23 percent reported verbal abuse by U.S. authorities.
  • 45 percent did not receive sufficient food while in U.S. custody.
  • 39 percent had possessions taken and not returned by U.S. authorities.
  • 26 percent were carrying Mexican identifying documents and had at least one document taken and not returned.

On the other hand, 57 percent of deportees surveyed said that “everyone” or “the majority” of Border Patrol agents “treated me with respect” Twenty-nine percent said “about half of them treated me with respect.” Still, these numbers are indicative of more than just a few “bad apples.”

The University of Arizona study recommends a series of measures that Border Patrol and other agencies should take to review their use-of-force guidelines and to improve mechanisms for transparency and dealing with abuse complaints. These include reexamining internal affairs procedures, improving training programs, establishing a chain of custody for migrants’ possessions, and reevaluating legal procedures to ensure migrants know what they are signing.

— Adam Isacson

Filed under Mexico Migration Border security Border Patrol human rights