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Migrants bound for United States surging in Panama

By Sarah May on
 March 19, 2023

Creating the conditions for additional challenges at the U.S. southern border, record levels of migrants hoping to reach America have crossed into Panama since the start of this year, with nearly 60,000 individuals hailing largely from Haiti, Ecuador, and Venezuela embarking on the treacherous journey, as the Wall Street Journal reports.

The staggering numbers represent fivefold growth as compared to the same time frame last year, and the willingness of so many to traverse the Darien Gap – an especially dangerous stretch of rainforest that divides Panama and Columbia – is indicative of the sort of determination needed to make it all the way to the final intended destination.

Arduous journey, detailed

As a report from the Council on Foreign Relations explains, the typical route taken by migrants deposits them out of the jungle in a small village in eastern Panama, where they are received by international welfare organizations.

There they may receive temporary housing and basic types of services and are registered as migrants and biometrically screened, at which point the travelers resume the northward journey.

Making matters difficult for the migrants is the fact that they must still traverse a series of additional national borders, where they face apprehension and sometimes deportation.

Compounding the predicaments faced by migrants on the way north is the onslaught of hundreds of thousands of people leaving El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, all of whom share their determination to reach the United States.

Unsustainable surge

While the unimaginable hardships faced by those endeavoring to complete the trek north from the Darien Gap all the way to America's southern border are indisputable, that is not to say that the U.S. has the capacity – or indeed the national interest – necessary to welcome the new arrivals at current volumes.

With the country's southern border already overrun with record levels of illegal crossers, communities in the impacted areas – such as El Paso, Texas – complain that they have reached their breaking point, and their resources have already been stretched far beyond capacity.

Last fall, an influx of Venezuelan migrants exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in El Paso, resulting in roughly 1,000 arrivals sleeping on the streets and turning the town into “a scene that you would see in a third-world country,” as Republican Rep. Tony Gonzalez (TX-23) observed.

Expanding on what he views as the intractable dilemma being foisted on citizens though a policy of unchecked illegal immigration, Gonzales added, “There's nothing safe about having people roaming the streets, it's almost apocalyptic. I'd argue that we're very compassionate people, people who want to give the shirt off their back, but when there's no end in sight, it's just not fair.”

No operational control

Now, with yet another massive wave of migrants heading north from Panama, Gonzales' notion of “no end in sight” seems far more plausible than many might have ever expected.

A key reason for that was highlighted last week by U.S. Border Patrol chief Raul Ortiz, who appeared at a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee to answer questions from concerned lawmakers, as The Hill reported.

Republican panel chair Mark Green (TN-07) asked Ortiz whether the agency he controls has operational control of the border under the statutory definition requiring the “prevention of all unlawful entries.”

Ortiz did not mince words, replying, “Based upon the definition you have, sir, up there, no.”

Conflicting representations

The Border Patrol chief's assessment of where things stand at the border stands in contrast to the one repeatedly offered by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, whose repeated claims that the border is secure have drawn not only scorn from a number of Republicans, but also calls for his impeachment.

When given a chance last month to clarify his characterization of the border during an interview with CNN host Chris Wallace, Mayorkas asserted that there is “not a common definition” of operational control and questioned the practicality of the statutory language declaring that if even one person evades law enforcement, border security is breached.

“Our goal is to achieve operational control of the border, to do everything that we can to support our personnel with the resources, the technology, the policies, that really advance the security of the border and do not come at the cost of the values of our country,” Mayorkas maintained, adding that ours is a “nation of immigrants.”

In light of recent reports suggesting that the Biden administration may reinstate a policy of family detention of migrants and amid indications that record numbers continue to make their way north – including those leaving Panama – the ideological preferences of the left appear to be on a collision course with the reality on the ground, and precisely how that conflict ends is something that remains to be seen.