The U.S. Mexico border between Tijuana and Mexicali, Mexico. Photo by Todd Bensman.
AUSTIN, Texas – In a “social phenomenon never seen before in the history of the region”, according to one media account, indigenous Miskitos, Tawhkas, Perch, and Garifunas peoples in Honduras began vacating their traditional subsistence lifestyles in December and heading for the American border.
Also in December, U.S.-bound migrants from 40 countries so overwhelmed the small southern Mexican town of San Pedro Tapanatepec in Oaxaca State that it declared bankruptcy and was forced to shutter a massive government shelter on December 17 and expel more than 15,000 immigrants onto a desolate highway with no food or water. All headed north.
In Nicaragua, tens of thousands of young men and women in December began forming lines three-days long to get the passports necessary to exit the country and head for the U.S. border. The Managua scenes indicated a mass exodus so significant that one prominent Nicaraguan economist lamented in a local newspaper that “It breaks the soul to see the children with their backpacks … to see how the country bleeds to death. We are losing the best. They are leaving by the thousands.”
Near the Central Mexico city of Camargo, a freight train traveling north with more than 1,000 immigrants on its rooftops smashed into a dairy farm trailer crossing the tracks. No matter. Four hours after cleaning up the spilled milk and patching up six injured immigrants, police let all thousand get back on the train tops to continue their journey to the U.S. border.
These and other anecdotes from a random CIS survey of Spanish-language media reports from throughout Latin America validate intelligence community predictions that President Joe Biden’s already historic two-year mass migration crisis is indeed entering a next-level phase, increasing from today's roughly 7,000 Border Patrol apprehensions a day — the most in U.S. history by far already — to as high as 18,000 a day.
Democratic politicians, the Biden administration, and migrant advocate organizations have begun blaming the influx on “smuggler disinformation”, global migration patterns, and even on Republican lawmakers for saying aloud that Biden policies created an open border.
However, the Spanish-language media reports quote migrants in the new wave, as well as government officials, citing the originally scheduled December 21 end of the Title 42 pandemic-control instant-expulsion measure as their main calculation in decisions to uproot and travel north. The reason for its powerful pull is that the U.S. Border Patrol has used the health measure since March 2020 to quickly expel about half of the illegal migrants they catch and, in doing so, denied expellees access to America’s entrance-guaranteeing asylum system.
Although the Biden administration spurred phase one of the mass migration crisis by sharply reducing Title 42’s use immediately upon taking office in favor of admitting a majority of illegal border crossers, it still subjected about 40 percent to Title 42 expulsions under court order, among them Venezuelans, Ukrainians, and especially Central Americans.
Those nationalities seem to be the ones pooling up at the border with many more on the way.
The original December 21 end date is now embroiled in legal maneuvering that likely will delay the measure’s final demise past the Christmas holidays. But Title 42’s end is inevitable and when it is lifted, those nationalities that were subject to it — especially Central Americans — will finally be able to claim political persecution at the border under the asylum law’s lax provisions, which allow the overwhelming majority of claimants to enter the country and to live and work here indefinitely, even if they're ultimately denied asylum status (even though by law they're supposed to be detained during the entire course of their cases).
“Here we stay in the river. Then we cross to the other side and there we will stay. ... There are many of us who are waiting for the 21st.”
While Biden partisans seek to confuse the cause of this new phase of the crisis, Latin American reporters interviewing migrants and shelter managers seemed universally clear about its cause: They’re coming to get access to the U.S. asylum system’s guaranteed quick and de facto permanent entry for border crossers.
The enticement has reached the seven million displaced Venezuelans in South America, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and Haitians, and millions of Central Americans, like a 22-year-old Guatemalan named Luis who’d made it to Juarez and was waiting for the starting gun when a reporter quoted him.
“I don’t know what that is (Title 42) but they say yes, that you have to wait for it to end,” Luis said in Spanish to El Dario de Juarez, in a December 19 article titled, ”They wait in the river for the end of Title 42”. “Here we stay in the river. Then we cross to the other side and there we will stay. ... There are many of us who are waiting for the 21st.”
The paper El Sol de Tampico explained the obvious in an article published December 18 about how every migrant shelter in northern Mexico was saturated: “The arrival of thousands of foreign migrants to the cities of the northern border has increased in recent weeks due to the announcement that Title 42 will no longer be applied next Wednesday.”
The prospect of Title 42’s demise seemed to be working like a battery of steroid shots on a mass migration crisis that already registered as the largest in American history and as one of the largest in world experience.
The Overflowing Northern Border Reservoir
Estimates of how many are already pooled up are hard to come by. But judging from Mexican media reporting, at least 75,000 are in Mexico now waiting for Title 42’s final demise along Mexico’s northern border or coming toward it, and many thousands more are headed toward Mexico through South and Central America, media reporting in those countries shows.
More than 35,000 have collected in northern Mexican border cities ready to cross December 21, in Tijuana (across from San Diego), Reynosa (across from McAllen), Matamoros (across from Brownsville), Juarez (across from El Paso), Piedras Negras (across from Eagle Pass), and Mexicali (across from Calexico), according to El Sol de Tampico on December 18.
But those are just the ones who can be counted in church and government shelters.
All shelters in all of those cities are far past capacity, but untold thousands more are camping in tents, staying in hotels, or sleeping on building rooftops. Other media accounts say another 40,000 are on their way to join them in these cities from southern Mexico.
Juarez, across from El Paso, is a major obvious hot spot, with unprecedented thousands a week crossing and attracting international media attention.
But most of those crossers likely were not previously subject to Title 42 because of Biden administration exemptions to it. Juarez media reports that 2,500 are arriving each day now, or 17,000 a week, many of them nationalities that have been subject to Title 42’s denial of asylum. So when the day comes, the El Paso flood is poised to spike in an extreme way with those who would have been targeted for Title 42 expulsion.
“Venezuelan migrants who previously considered returning to Venezuela or remaining in third countries to apply for legal pathways to enter the United States will likely recalculate their decision and transit north to the southwest border of the United States.”
That number would include tens of thousands of Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans who were flown by ICE Air to their home countries under title 42, at vast U.S. taxpayer expense, and are expected to now return to the U.S. border. Among them, for instance, would be 88,287 Guatemalans from just January through November 30, according to the Guatemalan Institute of Migration. (CIS has reported extensively about these secretive ICE Air repatriation flights as well as other flight operations targeting Haitians).
A bulletin from the Department of Homeland Security, obtained by U.S. media but widely disseminated in the Spanish-language press, warned that once Title 42 ends, nationalities previously returned under it will come flooding back in.
“Venezuelan migrants who previously considered returning to Venezuela or remaining in third countries to apply for legal pathways to enter the United States will likely recalculate their decision and transit north to the southwest border of the United States,” the bulletin said.
Plenty of hotspots besides Juarez are developing as previously expelled Venezuelans, Ukrainians, Haitians, and Central Americans return. After they cross, many will know to say they’re fleeing political persecution to get the quick asylum law entry, but almost everyone interviewed in these stories said they were coming for jobs and money, which suggests that many will commit asylum fraud by lying under oath that they were fleeing persecution.
In Reynosa, across from South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, the Casa del Migrante Senda de Vida (which CIS visited in November 2021) was at maximum capacity with 4,000 migrants with another 7,000 elsewhere in the city, El Sol de Tampico reported. In Matamoros, 5,000 are sleeping under tents and makeshift shelters “waiting to continue on their way to the United States”, the paper reported.
In Tijuana, 9,000 migrants “waiting for Title 42 to conclude” are in town, Enrique Lucero Vazqez, director of the city’s migrant services, told local press, exceeding the capacity of that city’s 32 shelters, which can serve 6,000. Tijuana city officials plan to establish camp areas at the San Ysidro and El Chaparral ports of entry for the repeal of Title 42, Enrique Lucero, director of Attention to Migrants in Tijuana told El Mexicano. He said he hopes the lines will be “regularized as the months go by”.
Shelter manager Albert Rivera sees Title 42’s demise as the reason for the Tijuana surge as great news, UDG TV reported.
“Now that Title 42 is about to be removed in the coming days, we hope that another wave of migrants will be allowed to come.”
More than 100 miles to the east, the city of Mexicali noted a record of “at least” 1,700 immigrants exceeding capacity of that city’s half dozen shelters “due to Title 42” but expected to quickly exceed it by 100 percent and forcing untold numbers to sleep outside or find private lodging, according to La Voz del la Frontera.
The paper quoted Adriana Minerva Espinoza Nolasco, undersecretary of migratory affairs for the state of Baja California, attributing the Mexicali increase to the “Title 42 program by the United States”, which “has caused more people to register in shelter in the belief that this could benefit their request for asylum in the neighboring country.”
Exodus Bankrupts a Mexican Town and Is Emptying Home Countries
Farther south, from Mexico to the southern cone of South America, a march is on for the new asylum access, although Latin American media is unclear about total numbers. But all indications point to migrants leaving home countries in numbers never seen before, and causing unusual problems.
Mexican press reports show that an overwhelmed Mexican central government seems unable to do much more than awkwardly facilitate northward flows entering from its southern border with Guatemala. Earlier in the year, it set up an overflow camp in the southern town of Tanapatepec where migrants were to wait a few days or a week to receive “multi-purpose visas” enabling them to move north legally.
But recently the numbers of previously targeted Title 42 migrants — Central Americans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans — overwhelmed the weeklong bureaucracy for the visa giveaways; as reported by the EFE wire service and Excelsior newspaper.
Town officials were forced to empty their small treasury to manage 45 tons of garbage from the camp, on double shifts for policing, on doctors, and on high utility costs. More than 300,000 migrants have passed through since July, moving through too slowly, 15,000 staying at any one time, doubling the town's population.
Finally, the town’s economic solvency “collapsed”, city Mayor Perez Parrazales said, and left it with no resources for the first part of 2023. On December 16, the town had no choice but to end its servicing of the camp, which led to its abrupt closure and roughly 15,000 temporary inhabitants forced to strike out on their own without visas, food, water, or shelter.
A significant population exodus down trail from Central and South America appears to have fed the pressure hose that bankrupted Tanapatepec, as detailed in a December 18 EFE dispatch titled “Migrants in Mexico rush their journey to the US for the end of Title 42”. A large multinational migrant caravan (those previously expellable under Title 42) had organized to reach the U.S. border in time for December 21, with its participants feeling heightened urgency for fear the open border might not last for long.
“We want to reach our destination before December 21 because the border with the United States is going to be closed and we need to pass with our children who are small,” Venezuelan Keyson Castillo told the paper. “We are worried because that period is going to end and the idea is to be able to arrive as quickly as possible.”
In Nicaragua, the opportunity bell began ringing as soon as the Americans announced December 21 as the final day of Title 42.
Tens of thousands of young Nicaraguan citizens are now waiting in days-long lines to get passports for the first time, enabling them to leave and enter other countries on their way to the U.S. border so they can work and earn money to send home, according to an account in the 100% Noticias newspaper. Few mentioned anything about political persecution that they will almost all surely claim at some point.
As one man in line told the paper, “The goal is to work and send money for food, fix the house and above all for the kids to study.”
“The goal is to work and send money for food, fix the house and above all for the kids to study.”
Established Nicaraguan travel agencies are cashing in, offering tourist “excursions to Guatemala and Mexico” that deliver them to smugglers “who cross them into the US”, the same newspaper reported on October 29.
"You have to leave to be able to work,” the newspaper quoted one man who bought a tourist excursion package to reach a smuggler. “My family needs to eat. There are debts in the house, here (in Nicaragua). The salaries are more than lousy. I hope to return when things improve in Nicaragua.”
During 2022, Honduras counted more than 178,300 non-Honduran immigrants crossing through its territory from Nicaragua to its south, Processo reported, which local authorities described as “massive” and historically unprecedented.
But Hondurans subject to Title 42 are now joining the 80,000 Hondurans the U.S. expelled from January 1 to November 13, 2022, under Title 42, according to the Processo. Those 80,000 would almost certainly be tempted to return now, along with untold thousands who’d seen their expulsions fate and decided not to spend the smuggling money.
But that has all changed. Local media is reporting that indigenous peoples are selling land and houses in six different territories to pay smugglers.
“Entire families have left. Many work in Mexico and hope to pass,” Blanca Salinas, treasurer of the Wampusirpi Municipality, told La Prensa in a December 12 story. Sociologist Cesar Ramos did not cite political persecution or violence of any sort, but rather “low income, limited sources of work, the absence of programs that stimulate the economy”.
Latin America media even farther south is reporting massive human swells as well.
The huge numbers moving through Honduras should come as no surprise since more than 239,000 immigrants passed through Panama’s Darien Jungle from Colombia in 2022, smashing all known previous records, 60,000 in just the month of October, according to Panama’s La Prensa and CNN Espanol. They represented 70 different nationalities. The Panamanian government just established a large shelter in San Vicente, in the Darien province next to Colombia, with 544 beds at a cost of $2.2 million.
Meanwhile, the United Nations is gearing up to provide cash assistance to immigrants heading north, especially among the more than seven million expatriate Venezuelans who fled Venezuela’s economic collapse in 2018 to nine Latin American and Caribbean countries.
The UN is collecting $1.7 billion for plans that will include providing more than $500 million in direct cash assistance to keep immigrants moving north all along the route and is working with 192 non-profit agencies to keep the flow moving.
But once the Venezuelans cross the U.S. border and claim asylum based on political persecution, they’ll likely be committing criminal fraud.
A recent United Nations survey of 950 Venezuelans living in Juarez showed that their main reasons for coming to the U.S. border was to escape poverty, unemployment, low wages, and the desire to improve their living situations, the newspaper La Verdad reported. None of which are grounds for asylum, the narcotic enticement that lays beyond the end of Title 42.