Welcome to IRTF’s March 2023 newsletter on Migrant Justice and the current situation at the US-Mexico border! After you’ve looked through the articles, we hope you can take a couple of minutes to see the TAKE ACTION items at the bottom.
In this newsletter, please read about
1) Immigration Court in Cleveland, OH: Update on New Deportation Proceedings and Immigration Cases
2) Removal Flights Title 42: Expelling Migrants in the Name of Health Measures. Update on Removal Flight Trends
3) Title 42 to End in May, but What Comes Next?
4) At the Border: Recent Incidents at and around the US-Mexico Border
5) Turn of Events: Buses Transporting Migrants Away From the Border, Initiated by Republican Governors, Has Turned into a Strategy of Democrats
TAKE ACTION NOW
Here is what you can do to take action this week and act in solidarity with migrants and their families.
1) Immigration Court in Cleveland, OH
Cleveland EOIR - Deportations proceedings filed
In February 2023, 85,020 new deportation cases were filed throughout the US. Compared to the 89,677 in January, that is 4,657 less, but still the second highest in the 2023 fiscal year. Since the beginning of fiscal year 2023 (in October 2022), 416,311 new deportation cases have been filed nationwide. As expected, the decline in the first month of this fiscal year did not hold. In fact, the opposite is true: the last two months showed the highest numbers this fiscal year.
In Ohio, 1,490 new deportation proceedings were filed in February, bringing the fiscal year total up to 6,525. And even though the number of new proceedings rose the highest in February compared to the first four months of this fiscal year, nationwide Ohio stays #17 in filing new deportation proceedings.
New Deportation proceedings:
New deportation proceedings filed
New cases filed this month in Cleveland
(total this fiscal year)
(total this fiscal year)
El Salvador (New)
Cleveland EOIR - Deportations Ordered
(data for FEB 2023 is not yet available)
(please see the chart below)
In Ohio, the immigration court ordered 427 new deportations in the month of January. That is 116 more than in December and brings the total up to 1,580.
January shows that the slower trend seen during the first three months of the fiscal years was a fluke. Nationwide, 16,256 new deportations were ordered in January, which is 3,934 more than December and the most deportations ordered in one month since the beginning of the fiscal year.. The total number of deportations ordered nationwide this fiscal year are now at 70,451. Nationwide Ohio still is #11 in deportations ordered.
New deporations ordered this month from Cleveland
(total this fiscal year)
(total this fiscal year)
Recent months, Cleveland, OH:
440: OCT 2022
402: NOV 2022
311: DEC 2022
427: JAN 2023
MINORS GIVEN DEPORTATION ORDERS
In the Juvenile Court Docket of Cleveland, 27 new minors received a deportation order in January 2023. This raises the total number of deportations ordered by the Juvenile Court to 121. 64 Guatemalans (a rise of 9 compared to December), 51 Hondurans (16 more than in December), 4 Salvadorans (1 more than in the prior month) and one Mexican and one Nicaraguan minor who is new since December.
JAN 2022 – 27 minors ordered deported from Cleveland
MINORS ordered deported from Cleveland EOIR (juvenile docket) in recent months:
161: JUL 2022
175: AUG 2022
190: SEP 2022
30: OCT 2022
57: NOV 2022
21: DEC 2022
27: JAN 2023
Source: TRAC at Syracuse University (Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse)
2) ICE Air Removal Flights: Update on Removal Flight Trends
The U.S. government’s COVID-19 public health emergency is set to end on May 11, 2023 — this includes the Title 42 order that has expelled over 2.5 million migrants from the US-Mexico border. If Title 42 indeed ends on May 11, the Biden Administration is rolling out plans that would continue to restrict many migrants’ access to asylum, including a “transit ban” and ultra-rapid adjudication of asylum cases under conditions of expedited removal.
Since President Biden’s inauguration there have been 15,072 likely ICE air flights, including 2,617 removal flights.
ICE Air Flights
While the end of the anti-immigrant policy Title 42 is still up in the air, the number of observed removal flights to ten different countries in Latin America and the Caribbean continues to rise. Over the last 12 months, there have been 8,079 ICE Air flights (up 1,789 from 2021); 1,402 of those have been removal flights (up 338 from 2021). With an estimated average of 100 passengers per flight, this means that over the past 12 months, as many as 140,200 people could have been returned to Latin America, the Caribbean and a small number to Africa by air by the U.S.
The continuation of Title 42 has passed the debate on whether the health order is still relevant and justified. It is threatening a person’s basic human right to seek refuge in the U.S. Furthermore, it bears life-threatening consequences to many who are coming to the U.S. border and are met with xenophobia and immediate removals.
Removal Flights, Lateral Flights, Domestic Shuffles:
In February 2023, there were 685 ICE Air flights (down from 729 in December), operated by six different charter carriers. This number is up significantly by 141 from January and slightly above the average for the past six months (677) by 8.
Shuffle flights increased by 26 to 366 as lateral flights increased by 5. In one month, the migrant detainee population grew 4,396 from 23,030 (Jan 23) to 27,426 Feb 27). Shuffle flights are domestic flights transporting migrants from either from one processing center along the border to another, or from one detention center to another. Shuffle flights include the lateral flights, listed below.
Lateral flights increased to 49 from 45 in January and were below the record 134 in December. Despite lateral flights from El Paso decreasing as described below, return flights from El Paso zoomed from a run rate of 1-2 per month to 22, of which 20 were to Guatemala, which increased by 14 return flights. Lateral originations shifted a bit from El Paso to Arizona. In February there were 21 lateral flights originating in El Paso, down 11 from the 32 flights in January. Flights originating in Yuma were up from 12 to 16, and Tucson was up from 1 to 12.
Lateral flights are from border city to border city. The destination cities include Harlingen (18), Laredo (31), and San Diego (0). Migrants are flown from one border city to another for processing, which leads to expulsion for at least half of them. There are also buses doing the same thing, but no data is available on the buses.
In addition to lateral flights, there are lateral buses which have no visibility, including for expulsions of Venezuelans. There are buses going to at least San Diego, Laredo, and to a lesser extent Tucson and the Rio Grande Valley for decompression and expulsions.
In February, removal flights were 127, up 44 from January 2023 and the highest level since August 2022 (140 removal flights).
In February 2023, removal flights to Guatemala increased (36), Colombia up 13 (9 to 22), with Honduras up 6 (16 to 22), and Peru up by 3 (1 to 4). There were also flights to El Salvador (4), the Dominican Republic (2), Nicaragua (2), and 1 flight each to Haiti and Jamaica.
Removal flights are a mix of migrants being sent back to their home countries under Title 42 (“expulsions”), Title 8 (“inadmissables”), and deportations. Countries now accepting T42 flights are: Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, and Peru.
Where are they being sent?
The countries from the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador) all continue to top the number of monthly removal flights, a trend that is both devastating and alarming. Flights to the Northern Triangle Countries of Guatemala (36), Honduras (22), and El Salvador (4) comprised 49% of all removal flights, a bit lower than January at 53%, and with Colombia (22) and Ecuador (28) they comprised 88% of removal flights, the same as January.
ICE Air flights to Guatemala increased to 36 in February, the highest month since July 2022 at 26. The 36 removal flights in February compared to a prior 6-month average of only 24 (up 12, or 50%), even though encounters have fallen steadily over that past six months.
With the twelve (12) Mexican government deportation flights to Guatemala added to the ICE flights, Guatemala received 48 flights, returning 5,995 citizens by air from the US and Mexico. Combined with the estimated 1,829 Guatemalans returned by land by Mexico at Tecún Únam, an estimated 7,824 Guatemalans were returned by the US and Mexico, 3,199 more than in January, but far below the 10,863 that were returned in June 2022. During the last six months of calendar year 2022, there was a 40% decline in US encounters of Guatemalans at the US southern border. .
4,680 Hondurans were returned to Honduras, double the number from Jan 2023.
To Honduras, flights in February 2023 increased from 16 (January) to 22 (February), more in line with the prior 6-month average of 24, and 12 below February 2022.
In January, estimated returns by ICE Air to Honduras of 1,980 represented 18% of December encounters and 31% of those subjected to T42, quite similar to Guatemala.
In addition to the 12 removal flights originating in Mexico, Honduras received 34 return flights in February, up 18 from January. Air returns from Mexico and the US totaled an estimated 3,330. Combined with land returns from Mexico of 1,379, there were total returns to Honduras from Mexico and the US of 4,680, up from about 2,350 in January.
Ice Air Flights to Ecuador increased significantly again from 20 in January to 28 in February. The increase is no doubt related to the number of encounters by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) from February 2022 of 683 to 16,204 in December 2022, before falling to 9,012 in January.
ICE Air Flights to Colombia increased by 13 from 9 to 22, after five consecutive months of decreases from the 3-year high of 23 in August 2022.
Flights to El Salvador decreased 2 in February from 6 to 4.
Special Note: There has long been uncertainty as to whether El Salvador accepted returns of those subject to T42. According to a court declaration in November, El Salvador DOES NOT accept T42 flights, which means these are mostly T8 returns (some of which could be expedited) and deportations.
Flights returned to 4 in February, 1 flight per week, from 1 flight each in December and January.
Experienced 1 flight in what now seems to be a monthly pattern. There were reportedly 26 deportees on December 13 and another flight on January 31. On February 28, there was a flight with 22 people deported.
Small Jet Removals
Observations included two flights on a Gryphon Air Gulfstream that carries 12-15 passengers as a maximum. Deportations on this route included Ghana, Nigeria, Mauritania, Cote D’Ivoire and Liberia.
Other destinations for ICE Air flights this month were:
Dominican Republic (2)
Mexico Operated Removal
Flights to all countries increased with Guatemala up 9 (from 3 to 12), Honduras up 10 (from 2 to 12), Ecuador up 2 (from1 to 3), El Salvador up 3 (1 to 4), Nicaragua up 1 (from 1 to 2) and Cuba unchanged at 2.
Departure cities in Mexico include Mexico City, Tapachula, Saltillo, Villahermosa, and San Luis Potosi.
Deportation flights were widely reported to be approved by Cuba now. However, it does not seem that T42 flights have been approved.
Sources: Witness At the Border, Wola
3) Title 42 runs out in May, but what comes next?
After a number of court delays, Title 42 is now scheduled to finally run out on May 11. But the future looks like anything but glorious.
For years, activists and migrant advocacy groups have called for an end to the inhumane Title 42 which aims to block migration from South and Central America in the name of Covid 19 prevention. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Title 42, which was enacted on March 20, 2020, was a tool to stop “the introduction of (a communicable) disease into the United States.”
This was completely irrational as Covid had already reached the United States months earlier.
This mendacious excuse was and still is nothing but an effort by the Biden Administration to legitimize a policy which restricts immigrants seeking to live a safe and secure life from approaching this dream.
Now that this policy is expected to run out on May 11, the US government has presented its new strategy to keep migrants out of its borders.
On February 21, the Biden Administration proposed a new temporary rule, which is set to stay active for two years. The new migration system aims to penalize immigrants who cross the border unauthorized while allegedly providing a safe and legal pathway into the United States. The program for now requires all migrants striving to immigrate into the United States to schedule an appointment to request an asylum screening.
Another program announced is the two-year humanitarian parole for 30,000 immigrants from Haiti, Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua to enter the United States each month, through a digital application system. The system is unapproachable for many, as it requires a number of conditions to apply. The applying individual not only needs to have access to a smartphone and online service, but is required to be able to speak English, Spanish or Creole. Furthermore, because of the limited slots, the individual needs the time to check for opening appointments on a daily basis.
In countries in which many live in extreme poverty, and where that is a major push factor for migration, this system is only accessible for the more wealthy, while the needs of those most vulnerable are being ignored. Furthermore, once the application for humanitarian parole is approved, immigrants are required to have a sponsor in the United States to pay for their stay and any upcoming costs; they also have to pay for their own flight and own a passport. All of this keeps many poor individuals from being able to use this legal admission. For those who don’t have the means to apply officially, the future looks grim.
The transit ban is another controversial piece of Biden’s new plan. In an effort to block anyone from entering the United States without permission, the new policy takes an example of the European Dublin System. This means that migrants hoping to enter the United States from a country not included in the humanitarian parole, as well as those who can’t fulfill all requirements, now first have to apply for asylum in a travel-through country and be rejected. Only then, immigrants with proof of a denied asylum application will be allowed to enter the United States and be granted the right to apply for political asylum. But this possibility is a hoax, as for most a denied asylum application is more likely to harm their chances to be granted asylum in the United States than helping it. Additionally, many of the countries immigrants cross through, have weak or even completely non-functional asylum systems, forcing migrants to wait in those countries or at the US-Mexican border for weeks or even months.
Finally, the last option to legally enter the United States is an application for a case of exception. For this to be granted, the individual first has to prove “imminent and extreme danger.” One should think that this case of exception should be granted to anyone fleeing from war and strife, but the opposite is true. In recent years, the standards to be accepted as a case of exception were extended so immensely that it is now unapproachable for most.
To many immigrant support networks and advocates, these plans amount to nothing but an asylum ban. The Florence (Arizona) Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project and the Kino Border Initiative even noted that they “…know from previous attempts to implement similar policies that bans on asylum will turn people back to danger and even death. This plan would disintegrate the very fibers of our asylum system by barring asylum for all but a select few…” Similarly, the senior director for refugee protection at Human Rights First criticizes that the new system "will inflict devastating harms on refugees while violating U.S. law and treaty obligations.” Furthermore, it was stated that the new plans allow each administration to decide which nationalities to favor, allowing for political and ideological bias.
In opposition, immigrant supporters as well as Republican elected officials have already filed lawsuits against Biden’s plans, so the future of the system is in the stars. Overall, it is more than obvious that this new system the Biden Administration has presented is a direct effort to control migration until the next election in late 2024. This ideological campaigning on the backs of human beings stands against any humanitarian principles. We can only hope that immigrant advocates are able to stop these plans in court, before it is too late!
IRTF stands in solidarity with all immigrants being discriminated against by the United States for seeking a safe and secure life!
4) At the Border: Recent Incidents at and around the US-Mexico Border
This is a space where we share current incidents from the US southern border to show that these issues that we write about do, in fact, immediately affect people at the border and in detention, and the horrible things many migrants have to experience while seeking refuge in the U.S.
February 25, Laredo: Three migrants and a U.S. citizen died in the pre-dawn hours of February 25 in a crash following a Border Patrol chase in Rio Bravo, near Laredo, Texas. A Border Patrol agent sought to stop a sedan near the site where a remote camera had detected a suspected group of undocumented migrants. The agent “activated his vehicle’s emergency equipment to conduct a vehicle stop,” according to a CBP release. The agent gave chase, but “reportedly lost sight of the vehicle,” which then hit a speed bump, lost control, and crashed in front of a residence. The car “was airborne when six people were ejected and the car landed on its roof,” according to Rio Bravo Fire Chief Juan González.
The driver, a 19-year-old male U.S. citizen, and an unidentified passenger were declared deceased at the scene. A male citizen of Guatemala was declared dead at the Laredo Medical Center. An unidentified passenger was declared dead at Laredo’s Doctors Hospital. Border Report reported that the sedan had a total of six migrants aboard. CBP’s release noted that the incident was “under investigation by Webb County Sheriff’s Office, Texas Department of Public Safety, and CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility.” The DHS Office of Inspector General was notified.
February 21, Laredo Field Office: Media and NGO reporting indicated that CBP began forcing asylum-seeking families to separate at the borderline when only some family members were able to secure appointments, via the “CBP One” smartphone app, at ports of entry. Due to a very limited number of exemptions to the Title 42 expulsions policy, these appointments are scarce, and difficult to obtain for parents and children all together. In February 2023 CBP officers on the border line reportedly began more strictly enforcing appointments, refusing entry to family members who had not managed to secure appointments with the app, even as they accompanied spouses or parents with appointments.
On February 24, 2023, the Los Angeles Times cited a Venezuelan migrant who went through this experience in Matamoros, Tamaulipas: “The 25-year-old from Venezuela eventually secured appointments for himself and his wife, but the slots filled up so quickly that he couldn’t get two more for their children. They weren’t worried though — they had heard about families in similar situations being waved through by border officials. Instead, he said, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent told them last week that because each member of the family did not have an appointment: ‘You two can enter, but not your children.’”
March 27, 2023: Smoke began billowing out of a migrant detention center in Ciudad Juarez after a group of detained migrants set fire to foam mattresses, to protest what they thought were plans to move or deport them. In a surveillance video, later confirmed by the government, two people dressed as guards rush into the camera frame, and at least one migrant appears by the metal gate on the other side. But the guards don't appear to make any effort to open the cell doors and instead hurry away as billowing clouds of smoke fill the structure within seconds. The migrants were stuck in Ciudad Jaurez because U.S. immigration policies don't allow them to cross the border to file asylum claims. But they were rounded up because Ciudad Juarez residents were tired of migrants blocking border crossings or asking for money. The fire took the lives of 39 detained men.
Source: WOLA Border Oversight and National Public Radio
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5) Turn of events: Buses transporting migrants away from the border, initiated by Republican governors, has turned into a strategy of Democrats
Migrant buses from the southern border
Starting in the spring of 2022, Republican governors of Texas, and later Arizona, began busing thousands of migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border to Vice President Kamala Harris’ home in Washington, D.C., as well as other cities as a political act protesting the Biden administration’s immigration policies. Back then this created a humanitarian crisis in cities like Washington, New York, and Philadelphia as migrants were put on buses without knowing their destination and local shelters and humanitarian aid organizations could not keep up with the sudden flow of migrants arriving from the border.
But since then, mutual aid networks as well as the migrants themselves realized that this could be seen as a positive development too, as migrants received a free bus ticket away from the border, paid for by the state, and mostly landed in primarily Democratic cities that were able to provide shelter and assistance with further travel. With Arizona’s new governor Katie Hobbs, the migrant buses have been used strategically by several Democrats, helping migrants arrive at their final destination. This is the progression of migrant buses at the U.S. southern border:
In April 2022, Governor Abbott of Texas started sending migrants from the border to Washington, D.C., protesting the Democrats’ immigration policies. Since then, tens of thousands of migrants have arrived in larger northern cities, including 42,000 alone in New York City. Many of the asylum seekers who were put on these buses were not informed of their final destination and received no support by the state to make it to their final destination. Despite the efforts of local mutual aid groups to assist the migrants that were coming in, Democrats were put under a lot of pressure by the Republicans, forcing the public debate around the U.S.’s border policies back into the foreground.
Along with Katie Hobbs, newly elected governor of Arizona, Democrats started realizing that this Republican-led practice of busing migrants to larger cities in the country’s north could be turned into a positive action. One way or another, the majority of migrants at the southern border are trying to get to other cities to meet up with relatives or because of the state’s more liberal policies. Often times, they can not afford to pay for transport to cities like New York or Philadelphia. US southern border towns often lack long-distance transportation methods such as buses, airports or trains. In this case, the state-run buses from border states such as Texas or Arizona can actually provide a huge relief for asylum seekers trying to move away from the border.
Additionally, since the migrant buses started out as a tactic by Republicans to provoke Democrats and their immigration policies, most of the buses’ destinations were larger cities with a Democratic stronghold, where humanitarian aid organizations and other mutual aid networks are usually larger in size and resources. As a result, a majority of asylum seekers who were being transported via bus were able to find shelter and receive help in reaching their final destination.
Since realizing the potential in these state-run migrant transports, many cities and states led by Democrats have adopted the Republican strategy and started busing migrants to larger US cities in an improved manner, coordinating with officials in the receiving cities and bringing migrants directly to their final destination. This new practice of Democratic officials has another positive effect: nationwide, but especially in the southern border states, Republicans almost hold a monopoly on the issue of immigration, steering the public debate and calling for stricter border policies. With this more direct action of busing migrants out of border states, Democrats have an opportunity to reclaim the immigration issue and turn around the discussions around it.
While there are still some challenges in organizing bus transports for the large amounts of asylum seekers at the U.S. southern border, as well as ensuring enough support for every one of them in the receiving cities, this new promise by many Democratic leaders to bring migrants to their final destination via state-run buses could be a positive development in many aspects of the immigration issue.
If you live near or in one of these cities, you can find out here how to help support asylum seekers in their new city: Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago
Sources: Quixote Center, NPR, The Dallas Morning News
TAKE ACTION NOW
Now that you are up to date on the issues at and around the southern border of the U.S., here is what you can do to take action this week and act in solidarity with migrants and their families.
The Biden administration has proposed a rule that would unlawfully deny asylum to people seeking protection at the southern border who don't first wait to apply for asylum in Mexico or other countries they passed through. In doing so, President Biden broke a direct campaign promise.
This new asylum ban will leave the most vulnerable people in much the same position as Trump's policy did – at risk and unfairly denied the protection of asylum for reasons that have nothing to do with their need for refuge. Whether from President Trump or President Biden, these asylum bans are illegal. Sign this petition to tell President Biden to not move forward with this asylum ban.
See these resources:
The humanitarian parole program allows up to 30,000 people a month from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Cuba to apply to live and work in the United States for up to two years. For those who are eligible, it eliminates the harrowing journey to the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum and, under Title 42, is the only option that many have to seek safety.
Ohio is among 20 states suing the federal government over the humanitarian parole program.
We urge you to call or email your governor and attorney general to let them know that you support policies that welcome migrants. Click here to find your governor's contact info, and here to find your attorney general.
I understand that your government is suing the Biden administration to end the new humanitarian parole program. As a state resident, I completely disagree with this decision.
Our country has historically welcomed people fleeing persecution. If you truly wish to mitigate confusion and disorder at the border, destroying legal pathways will only do the opposite. I do not blame local problems, such as the opioid epidemic and crime, on migrants who largely have nothing to do with these issues. I believe that migrants make our country stronger, and accepting those fleeing violence and chaos in their country of origin is part of what it means to be American.
Optional: Reference your state's long history of welcoming immigrants, and/or describe what immigration means to you.
The people of [your state] do not wish to inflict additional needless suffering on migrant families. I urge you to instead focus your resources on making us more welcoming.
On Feb. 17, 2023, 77 people detained at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield and the Golden State Annex in McFarland launched a joint hunger strike demanding the shutdown of both facilities, and the immediate release of all people in custody at those facilities, which are owned and operated by The GEO Group. As of March 29, the detainees have put a pause on a month-long hunger strike protesting inhumane conditions at the two immigration detention facilities, as a result of being subjected to weeks of retaliation from ICE and GEO Group, the for-profit prison company that owns and operates the facilities. Strikers asserted their right to protest for a total of 35 days—from Feb. 17 to March 24, 2023—persisting even as detention center officials engaged in violent tactics to break the strike.
Click here to send a pre-written message or make a phone call to Senator Padilla of California and demand that Mesa Verde and the Golden State Annex be shuttered today and that those held there are returned to their families and communities. You can find more information about the campaign here.
Thank you for reading IRTF’s Migrant Justice Newsletter!