A busload of at least 39 adult and child migrants were killed in Panama on a migration path created — and indirectly funded — by President Joe Biden’s homeland security chief, Alejandro Mayorkas.
“Accidents happen in Panama …, [but] his hand is on it,” said Todd Bensman, an immigration analyst who has traveled widely through Central America.
In 2021 and 2022, many migrants died on the Darien Gap jungle trail in Panama because they were trying to reach President Joe Biden’s welcome for migrants.
But once a few establishment media outlets sketched out the huge death toll, “Mayorkas did away with tacit, hands-off approval [by the United States], and overtly forced this [safer migration] policy on the Panamanians,” said Bensman, who works for the Center for Immigration Studies.
Mayorkas’ new boat, trail, and bus route reduced the death toll in the mountains among Venezuelan, Haitian, Columbians, Ecuadoreans, and many other national groups. But his pathway gets little publicity, even though it is extracting many more poor migrants for use in the U.S. service economy.
In April 2022, Mayorkas tweeted his inspection of the safer route that he persuaded the Panamanian government to build, despite its desire to minimize the number of migrants moving through its territory.
I am grateful to Panama’s Minister Pino and @Gozainesamira & their teams @MinSegPma @migracionpanama for providing our US delegation with an in-depth tour of the Darién Gap and the facilities they have built to provide relief to migrants who have survived the dangerous journey. pic.twitter.com/YXbqGIkBtl
— Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas (@SecMayorkas) April 19, 2022
American diplomacy with Panama followed these stories, culminating in the April signing of a Bilateral Arrangement on Migration and Protection agreement to “improve migration management” by DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The agreement is short on specifics, but during the preliminary shuttle diplomacy in February, Panama suddenly established a new sea route by allowing smuggling vessels from Colombia, full of U.S.-bound immigrants, to land much further northwest up the Caribbean coast on Panamanian territory, which Panamanian coast guard vessels had previously blocked. Immigrants landing make their way to the community of Canaan Membrillo. Another route opened up on the Pacific side of Panama to the community of Jaque.
The route to civilization in Panama from the new landings is only a two- or three-day trip over easier terrain through Kuna tribal territory, compared to the old 10-day trek through Embera tribal lands.
Title 42 will remain in effect. This video, provided to me today by a Venezuelan migrant, shows part of the journey through the Panamanian jungle.
For Venezuelans, they trekked up to nine days in these conditions, only to then learn they would be turned away at the border. pic.twitter.com/bZiMJGfK97
— Cody Weddle (@coweddle) December 28, 2022
The queue for the SENAFRONT (border patrol) truck to take migrants from the canoes to the camp commonly referred to as the ONU (UN camp) or locally referred to as San Vicente (October 2022). pic.twitter.com/HKRXyMiJ5G
— Caitlyn Yates (@yatescait) February 16, 2023
The Darien Gap stretch is just part of the U.S.-created, low-profile “Controlled Flow” pathway to the U.S. border that has been quietly operating for years.
The overall trek from South America to Mexico is maintained by numerous pro-migration groups, aid stations, and national border patrol agencies, many of whom get funding from the U.S.-funded Institute of Migrati0n and business donors.
Mayorkas’ 39 deaths on February 15 add more bodies to the record death toll created by Biden, Mayorkas, and their progressives deputies.
Mayorkas admits that many parents and children have died trying to reach the United States during Biden’s first two years in office — but he blames former President Trump, migrants, and federal law for the deaths.
“We have seen too much tragedy in the oceans of the Atlantic,” as people use boats to reach the United States from Haiti and Cuba, he told a press conference in Miami, Florida on January 30. “We have seen a loss of life — we’ve seen loved ones lose children and family members,” said Mayorkas.
“The movement of people around the hemisphere is extraordinary –everyone understands the challenge,” Mayorkas told CNN’s Chris Wallace on February 19. President Donald Trump and the coronavirus crash have caused “pent-up demand to leave a country,” he claimed, adding that dangled U.S. jobs and GOP criticism of his policies have also spurred migration.
When asked, migrants talk about Biden’s dead.
“There were two images of his treacherous journey north that he couldn’t get out of his head,” Albinson Linares from Telemundo.com said about a Venezuelan migrant named Johan Torres:
The first was how a [migrant] person who resisted a robbery in Mexico was killed with a machete; the other happened in the [Panama] jungle, when he saw a man leave behind his young daughter, waist-deep in mud.
“He left her there, lying in the mud and crying. And I couldn’t do anything because I was dying of exhaustion. But I can’t forget that,” he said with tears in his eyes.
“More than 1,238 lives have been lost during migration in the [north, central and south] Americas in 2021, among them at least 51 children,” said a 2022 statement by the Institute of Migration. “At least 728 of these deaths occurred on the United States-Mexico border crossing, making this the deadliest land crossing in the world,” said the IOM statement.
Mayorkas’ death toll is also playing a part in the GOP effort to impeach Mayorkas.
“The humanitarian crisis this administration created is killing people in record numbers,” said Tom Homan, a former acting chief of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, told Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) at the impeachment event on February 8. Homan continued:
It’s not just migrants but U.S. citizens. That needs to be the overshadow of why this administration needs to be held accountable and [why] the secretary needs to be impeached … Massive amounts of people are dying — not just migrants — but U.S. citizens too.
On February 16, House Speaker Rep. Kevin McCarthy cited Mayorkas’ death toll as he slammed the administration’s border policies.
A border rancher’s “family has found 14 dead bodies on his ranch in just the last couple of years. Those are human bodies. He tells the story of his grandson smelling the body that is different from a dead cow. Why is that happening? Because of the administration’s policies that is allowing it to happen.
The establishment U.S. media reported the 39 bus deaths, but downplayed Mayorkas’ role in creating this easier and wider pathway for more foreign migrants seeking to get into Americans’ workplaces and housing.
The Washington Post reported:
At least 39 people were killed early Wednesday when a bus carrying 66 migrants from the Darién Gap went off a cliff in Panama, local authorities said. The crash underscored the perils of the increasingly common journey through Central America toward the United States.
The Panamanian government requires migrants to take buses to continue their journey to Costa Rica, after crossing the Darién Gap and staying in a refugee camp on the Panama side, said Juan Pappier, acting deputy director for the Americas for Human Rights Watch, who traveled to the area last year.
“Nearly 250,000 people traversed the Darién [jungle trail] in 2022, according to the Panamanian government, nearly double the number during the previous year,” the Post reported.
Immigration advocates also want to divert the blame away from Mayorkas.
“If you are forcing people to take these buses, you are responsible for whatever happens in them,” said Juan Pappier, the acting deputy director at the migration advocacy and support group, Human Rights Watch. The bus deaths expose the “reckless and careless migration policies by Panamanian authorities who simply want the migrants to go away,” Pappier said.
Pappier knew the route was risky for migrants, yet did not blow the whistle on the semi-secret migration path. “When I visited this region, we saw that these buses carried more people than permitted and made long journeys without breaks. There have been similar accidents in the past, with numerous injured,” Pappier tweeted on February 15.
“Se han trasladado 23 personas heridas y 33 han fallecido tras el accidente de tránsito en Gualaca, Chiriquí”, informa Edilberto Armuelles, mayor del Cuerpo de Bomberos. #NoticiasTVN pic.twitter.com/YweR7kEGNx
— TVN Noticias (@tvnnoticias) February 15, 2023