ALGECIRAS, Spain — No one knew the man’s name when he washed ashore. His body had floated in the ocean for weeks, and it then sat much of the summer unidentified in a refrigerator in a Spanish morgue.
He was one among thousands lost at sea during what has been a record year for migrant drownings in Spain. And he might have been sent with the other unclaimed dead to an unmarked grave if Martín Zamora had not figured out that the body had a name, and a life.
He was Achraf Ameer, 27, a mechanic from Tangier. He had been missing for weeks when Mr. Zamora reached his family by WhatsApp. He had found their son’s body. He could bring it to them in Morocco, for a price.
“Sometimes, I get the feeling that some years ahead — in 30, 40, 50 years, I don’t know how many — they will look at us like monsters,” he said. “They’ll see us all as monsters because we just let people die this way.”
tracks the deaths. The International Organization for Migration, a United Nations body that keeps a more conservative count, has recorded more than 1,300 deaths so far this year.
Helena Maleno Garzón, who heads Caminando Fronteras, said Spain’s situation was especially perilous because it is the only European country with smuggling routes on both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. “These include some of the most dangerous routes which are now being used,” she said.
Dozens of boats have gone down this year near the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago off West Africa.
Migrant boats also are tempted by the narrowness of the Gibraltar Strait, only nine miles wide in one section, despite strong currents that sink many boats. Some migrants drown only hours after leaving Africa, their bodies later washing ashore on beaches in Spain’s southern region of Andalusia.
The Spanish media sometimes carry stories about the latest bodies. Then, when the headlines recede, Mr. Zamora’s work begins.
The World We Live In
The body is the mystery. The clothes are often the only clues.
“It can be hard to identify someone’s face,” Mr. Zamora said. “But a shoe, a jersey, a T-shirt — suddenly a family member will recognize it, because it once was a gift.”
His first clue came in 1999, when he found a note inside the clothes of a dead Moroccan man. Back then, the government was outsourcing to funeral homes the job of burying unclaimed remains in a field alongside the local cemetery.
Mr. Zamora was on call when that body and 15 others were discovered on the beaches. He brought the corpses back to his mortuary and discovered the damp note with a phone number in Spain.
He called and a man on the other end of the line claimed to know nothing. But a few days later, Mr. Zamora recalled, the same man called back and admitted he was the brother-in-law of the young man who had drowned.
“I told him, ‘I’ll make you a deal: I’ll charge you half the price to get the body home, but you have to help me look for the rest of the families,’” Mr. Zamora said.
The man agreed to guide him to the region in southeastern Morocco where his brother-in-law had lived. Mr. Zamora first took care of the body of the young man, embalming it and sending it back to Morocco. Then he got permission from a local judge to take the clothes of the other dead migrants to Morocco.
Mr. Zamora and the relative went from village to village, carrying a large rack on which they hung the clothes of the dead migrants, along with rings and other personal effects, which they took to markets where they knew people would go.
After two weeks they had identified the remaining 15 relatives and repatriated every body.
Mr. Zamora realized he had a solution to what had been seen as a lost cause in Spain. Yet it costs thousands of euros to repatriate the bodies. And the families that he was meeting had far less than he did.
“You find the family, you get the father and the mother, they take you to where they live and you see it’s a tin shack on the side of a mountain with two goats and a rooster, and they tell you they want their son back,” he said. “What do you do? Be a businessman or be sentimental?”
Mohammed El Mkaddem, an imam at the mosque in Algeciras which makes collections for the families of the dead, said he understood Mr. Zamora’s constraints. “In the end, they run a funeral home and it’s a business,” said the imam. “But they do what they can, and we’re thankful for it.”
José Manuel Castillo, the director of the city morgue in Algeciras, said Mr. Zamora filled a gap left by the authorities. “Someone has to take care of the paperwork and the repatriation of the bodies, and if it’s Martín Zamora, that is great,” he said.
Even in the heat of southern Spain, Mr. Zamora wears a tie and loafers, looking more like a lawyer than an undertaker. On a recent afternoon, he was working on a body with his son, Martín Jr., 17.
“They found him in his work clothes,” Martín Jr. said of the corpse. “Maybe he went straight from work into the boat.”
The boy wandered off for a moment, and Mr. Zamora began to speak, almost to himself. His son was 15 the first time they worked together, after a boat carrying 40 people capsized off the coast of Barbate, just north of Algeciras, leaving 22 dead.
He was afraid his son would have nightmares, but Martín Jr. wanted to work, he said.
“No father wants his son to see these things,” Mr. Zamora said. “But this is the world we live in.”
A Mechanic From Tangier
Just before the summer, Mr. Zamora said he received a WhatsApp message from a man who identified himself as Yusef and said he worked at a mosque in the city of La Linea, across the border from the Rock of Gibraltar.
“There were two boys we don’t know if they are alive or dead — surely they are dead,” began the voice message. “The family was looking everywhere and I said we would ask someone we know who is involved in this kind of thing.”
The next message contained a picture of three men in a dinghy with homemade life vests, taken moments before they left Morocco. One was Achraf Ameer, the illiterate mechanic from Tangier.
With that, Mr. Zamora contacted the local authorities, who had a body in the morgue. They gave Mr. Zamora photographs of the man’s clothes, and Mr. Zamora — helped by Yusef — located Mr. Ameer’s sister in Tangier and showed her a photo of the clothes. These days, Mr. Zamora rarely needs to make the trips to Morocco that he used to, making identifications from afar.
“The paint on his clothes was the paint he has on his clothes at work,” the sister, Soukaina Ameer, 28, said in a telephone interview from Tangier.
She said her brother had tried once before to cross into Spain, only to be deported. This time, he didn’t tell anyone but left cryptic hints when the family began making plans to move to a new home.
“He was always telling us: ‘I won’t be living with you in the new house,’” Ms. Ameer recalled.
He left on April 13, she said, his boat likely sinking the same night. His body floated in the sea for much of April before it came ashore around the end of the month. For the rest of the spring and part of the summer, it was placed in a morgue, where it deteriorated from not being frozen.
And so on a sweltering day, Mr. Zamora loaded Mr. Ameer’s body into his hearse and, with his son, drove past pines and sunflower fields. The body was wrapped in blankets from the Red Cross, which had found him. A hospital tag was affixed to one leg. At the mortuary, Mr. Zamora and his son arrived dressed in hazmat suits and began embalming.
Ten pumps from a long needle into Mr. Ameer’s shoulder. Another 10 into his chest. After an hour, Mr. Zamora wrapped the body in a shroud which he covered in a green cloak and sprinkled it with dried flowers, recreating a Muslim rite that an imam had once shown him. Then he shut the lid on the coffin and he and his son took off their hazmat suits. The two were covered in sweat.
Yet the work hardly felt finished. In the adjoining room sat stacks of case files, people whose bodies Mr. Zamora was still trying to locate after their relatives had gotten in touch with him. There was an Algerian man, born in 1986. There were two Moroccans who had been lost at sea; and a Syrian man, who once had a wife and lived in Aleppo.
And there was a ringing from the other room, and with it, another possible lead.
“Martín, go get my phone,” Mr. Zamora said to his son, taking off his gloves.
Aida Alami contributed reporting from Rabat, Morocco, and José Bautista from Madrid.
NECOCLÍ, Colombia — For decades, the Darién Gap, a roadless, lawless stretch of jungle linking South America to the north, was considered so dangerous that only a few thousand people a year were daring, or desperate, enough to try to cross it.
But the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic in South America was such that in the first nine months of this year, Panamanian officials say, an estimated 95,000 migrants, most of whom are Haitian, attempted the passage on their way to the United States.
They made the journey in shorts and flip-flops, their possessions stuffed in plastic bags, their babies in arms and their children by the hand. It’s uncertain how many made it — and how many didn’t. And yet tens of thousands more are gathered in Colombia, eager for their turn to try.
Del Rio and thrusting the Biden administration into a crisis, were just the leading edge of a much larger movement of migrants heading for the jungle and then the United States. People who had fled their troubled Caribbean nation for places as far south as Chile and Brazil began moving north months ago, hoping they would be welcomed by President Biden.
“We very well could be on the precipice of a historic displacement of people in the Americas toward the United States,” said Dan Restrepo, the former national security adviser for Latin America under President Barack Obama. “When one of the most impenetrable stretches of jungle in the world is no longer stopping people, it underscores that political borders, however enforced, won’t either.”
The Darién, also known as the Isthmus of Panama, is a narrow swath of land dividing the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Parts are so inaccessible that when engineers built the Pan-American Highway in the 1930s, linking Alaska to Argentina, only one section was left unfinished. That piece — 66 roadless miles of turbulent rivers, rugged mountains and venomous snakes — became known as the Darién Gap. Today, the journey through the gap is made more perilous by a criminal group and human traffickers who control the region, often extorting and sometimes sexually assaulting migrants.
a growing number of migrants had begun to brave the corridor, a journey that can take a week or more on foot. But after the pandemic, which hit South America particularly hard, that surge has become a flood of desperate families. At least one in five of those who crossed this year were children, Panamanian officials said.
As the number of migrants arriving at the U.S. border grew, the Biden administration retreated from a more open approach to migration embraced in the president’s first days in office to a tougher stance with a singular goal: deterring people from even attempting to enter the United States.
said in September. “Your journey will not succeed, and you will be endangering your life and your family’s lives.”
But the warning is unlikely to turn back the tens of thousands of Haitians who are already on the road.
On a recent day, there were about 20,000 migrants in Necoclí, in Colombia. And there are up to 30,000 Haitian migrants already in Mexico, according to a senior official in the Mexican foreign ministry who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“They’ve already started the journey, they’ve already started to think about the U.S.,” said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute. “It’s not that easy to turn that off.”
On a recent morning, Ms. Alix and Mr. Damier woke their children before dawn in the small home they’d been sharing with a dozen other migrants. Their turn had come to board the boat that would take them to the edge of the jungle.
In the darkness, Ms. Alix threw her backpack over her shoulders and strapped Vladensky to her chest. In one hand she carried a pot of spaghetti, meant to sustain them while it lasted. Her other hand reached out to her toddler, Farline.
On the beach the family joined a crowd of others. A dockworker handed a large life vest to Ms. Alix. She draped it over Farline’s small body and climbed into the boat. Aboard: 47 adults, 13 children, seven infants, all migrants.
“Goodbye!” yelled a man from the boat company. “Have a good trip!”
Government officials are largely absent from the Darién. The area is controlled by a criminal group known as the Clan del Golfo, whose members view migrants much as they view drugs: goods they can tax and control.
Once the migrants step off the boats, they are met by smugglers — typically poor men in the area who offer to take them into the jungle, starting at $250 a person. For an extra $10 they will carry a backpack. For another $30, a child.
Farline and her family spent the night in a tent at the edge of the jungle. In the morning, they set out before sunrise, alongside hundreds of others.
Soon, a vast plain became a towering forest. Farline clambered between trees, following her parents. Vladensky slept on his mother’s chest. Other children cried, the first to show signs of exhaustion.
As the group crossed river after river, tired adults began to abandon their bags. They clambered up and then down a steep, muddy slope, only to stare up at the next one. Faces that were hopeful, even excited, that morning went slack with exhaustion.
A woman in a leopard-print dress fainted. A crowd formed. A man gave her water. Then they all rose, picked up their bags and began to walk.
Today, after all, was just day one in the Darién, and they had a long journey ahead.
Julie Turkewitz reported from Necoclí, Colombia; Natalie Kitroeff from Mexico City; and Sofía Villamil from Necoclí and Bajo Chiquito, Panama. Oscar Lopez contributed reporting from Mexico City, and Mary Triny Zea from Panama City.
SAN ANTONIO HUISTA, Guatemala — An American contractor went to a small town in the Guatemalan mountains with an ambitious goal: to ignite the local economy, and hopefully even persuade people not to migrate north to the United States.
Half an hour into his meeting with coffee growers, the contractor excitedly revealed the tool he had brought to change their lives: a pamphlet inviting the farmers to download an app to check coffee prices and “be a part of modern agriculture.”
Pedro Aguilar, a coffee farmer who hadn’t asked for the training and didn’t see how it would keep anyone from heading for the border, looked confused. Eyeing the U.S. government logo on the pamphlet, he began waving it around, asking if anyone had a phone number to call the Americans “and tell them what our needs really are.”
soared in 2019 and is on the upswing once more.
have risen, malnutrition has become a national crisis, corruption is unbridled and the country is sending more unaccompanied children to the United States than anywhere else in the world.
That is the stark reality facing Ms. Harris as she assumes responsibility for expanding the same kind of aid programs that have struggled to stem migration in the past. It is a challenge that initially frustrated her top political aides, some of whom viewed the assignment from Mr. Biden as one that would inevitably set her up for failure in the first months of her tenure.
Her allies worried that she would be expected to solve the entire immigration crisis, irked that the early reports of her new duties appeared to hold her responsible for juggling the recent surge of children crossing the border without adults.
linked to drug traffickers and accused of embezzling American aid money, the leader of El Salvador has been denounced for trampling democratic norms and the government of Guatemala has been criticized for persecuting officials fighting corruption.
Even so, Ms. Harris and her advisers have warmed to the task, according to several people familiar with her thinking in the White House. They say it will give her a chance to dive squarely into foreign policy and prove that she can pass the commander-in-chief test, negotiating with world leaders on a global stage to confront one of America’s most intractable issues.
critics denounced as unlawful and inhumane. Moreover, members of the current administration contend that Mr. Trump’s decision to freeze a portion of the aid to the region in 2019 ended up blunting the impact of the work being done to improve conditions there.
But experts say the reasons that years of aid have not curbed migration run far deeper than that. In particular, they note that much of the money is handed over to American companies, which swallow a lot of it for salaries, expenses and profits, often before any services are delivered.
Record numbers of Central American children and families were crossing, fleeing gang violence and widespread hunger.
independent studies have found.
“All activities funded with U.S.A.I.D.’s foreign assistance benefit countries and people overseas, even if managed through agreements with U.S.-based organizations,” said Mileydi Guilarte, a deputy assistant administrator at U.S.A.I.D. working on Latin America funding.
But the government’s own assessments don’t always agree. After evaluating five years of aid spending in Central America, the Government Accountability Office rendered a blunt assessment in 2019: “Limited information is available about how U.S. assistance improved prosperity, governance, and security.”
One U.S.A.I.D. evaluation of programs intended to help Guatemalan farmers found that from 2006 to 2011, incomes rose less in the places that benefited from U.S. aid than in similar areas where there was no intervention.
Mexico has pushed for a more radical approach, urging the United States to give cash directly to Central Americans affected by two brutal hurricanes last year. But there’s also a clear possibility — that some may simply use the money to pay a smuggler for the trip across the border.
The farmers of San Antonio Huista say they know quite well what will keep their children from migrating. Right now, the vast majority of people here make their money by selling green, unprocessed coffee beans to a few giant Guatemalan companies. This is a fine way to put food on the table — assuming the weather cooperates — but it doesn’t offer much more than subsistence living.
Farmers here have long dreamed of escaping that cycle by roasting their own coffee and selling brown beans in bags to American businesses and consumers, which brings in more money.
“Instead of sending my brother, my father, my son to the United States, why not send my coffee there, and get paid in dollars?” said Esteban Lara, the leader of a local coffee cooperative.
But when they begged a U.S. government program for funding to help develop such a business, Ms. Monzón said, they were told “the money is not designed to be invested in projects like that.”
These days, groups of her neighbors are leaving for the United States every month or two. So many workers have abandoned this town that farmers are scrambling to find laborers to harvest their coffee.
One of Ms. Monzón’s oldest employees, Javier López Pérez, left with his 14-year-old son in 2019, during the last big wave of Central American migration to the United States. Mr. López said he was scaling the border wall with his son when he fell and broke his ankle.
“My son screamed, ‘Papi, no!’ and I said to him, ‘Keep going, my son,’” Mr. López said. He said his son made it to the United States, while he returned to San Antonio Huista alone.
His family was then kicked out of their home, which Mr. López had given as collateral to the person who smuggled him to the border. The house they moved into was destroyed by the two hurricanes that hit Guatemala late last year.
Ms. Monzón put Mr. López in one of her relatives’ houses, then got the community to cobble together money to pay for enough cinder blocks to build the family a place to live.
While mixing cement to bind the blocks together, one of Mr. López’s sons, Vidal, 19, confessed that he had been talking to a smuggler about making the same journey that felled his father, who was realistic at the prospect.
“I told him, ‘Son, we suffered hunger and thirst along the way, and then look at what happened to me, look at what I lost,’” Mr. López said, touching his still-mangled ankle. “But I can’t tell him what to do with his life — he’s a man now.”
The Biden administration on Saturday extended special protections to Haitians living temporarily in the United States after being displaced by a devastating 2010 earthquake, reversing efforts by the previous administration to force them to leave the country.
The decision, announced by the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, makes good on President Biden’s campaign promise to restore a program that shields thousands of Haitian migrants from the threat of deportation under the restrictive policies put in place under President Donald J. Trump.
Mr. Mayorkas said the new 18-month designation, known as temporary protected status, would apply to Haitians already living in the United States as of Friday.
“Haiti is currently experiencing serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Mr. Mayorkas said in a statement on Saturday.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The Obama administration granted the temporary protected status to Haitians living in the United States illegally after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake in January 2010.
Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the new designation could protect as many as 150,000 Haitians from having to return to the political and security crisis in their home country.
“The last thing our country should be doing is forcing an entire community in the U.S. to decide between packing up their lives and tearing their families apart by self-deporting, or becoming undocumented and forced into the shadows of our society,” Mr. Menendez said in a statement on Saturday.
As part of its hard-line efforts to curb legal and illegal immigration, the Trump administration sought to end protections for about 400,000 immigrants living in the United States, including Haitians. Officials at the time said that the emergency conditions that had compelled the immigrants to flee their countries — earthquakes, hurricanes, civil war — had occurred long ago and that most of the immigrants no longer needed the haven provided by the United States.
Lawsuits blocked the cancellations, but in September a federal appeals court sided with the Trump administration, putting hundreds of thousands of immigrants on notice that they would have to leave the country or face deportation. Many of the people affected had been living in the United States for years. The Trump administration agreed to keep the protections in place at least through early 2021, meaning a new administration could decide to continue the policy.
wrote on Twitter.
In March, the Biden administration issued special protections for as many as 320,000 Venezuelans living in the United States, citing the extraordinary humanitarian crisis in the country under the leadership of President Nicolás Maduro.
But some said more needed to be done to give many of those immigrants permission to live in the United States permanently.
“Haitians have been living in uncertainty for the past several months,” Erika Andiola, the chief advocacy officer for the nonprofit organization Raices, said in a statement. “In the future, that uncertainly could be solved by a permanent fix through legislation that puts T.P.S. holders on the path to citizenship,” she added, using the abbreviation for the program.
This month, the House passed a bill that would create a path to citizenship for an estimated four million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, including those granted temporary protected status for humanitarian reasons. The bill passed mostly along party lines, and getting it through the more evenly divided Senate is likely to be a challenge.
Spain deployed troops, military trucks and helicopters in its North African enclave of Ceuta on Tuesday after thousands of people crossed over from Morocco, one of the largest movements of migrants reported in the area in recent years.
More than 6,000 migrants, including 1,500 minors, arrived on the beaches of Ceuta on Monday and Tuesday, mostly swimming or aboard inflatable boats, according to the Spanish authorities, who said that Spain had already sent back 2,700 people.
The sudden arrival of thousands of people in Ceuta — more than had attempted the crossing in all the rest of the year so far — comes amid a deepening diplomatic spat between Spain and Morocco over the hospitalization in Spain of the leader of a rebel group that has fought for the independence of Western Sahara from Morocco.
Videos broadcast on Spanish television on Tuesday appeared to show Moroccan border guards opening fences to the Spanish enclave. While Morocco has warned of “consequences” for harboring the rebel leader, it was not immediately clear if the spike in migration was linked to the diplomatic dispute.
International Organization for Migration with the coronavirus pandemic having likely forced more migrants to migrate through that route.
“Many of those trying to reach the Canary Islands came from Senegal and were forced to leave because of the impact of the pandemic on fishing in particular,” said Julia Black, a project officer at the organization’s Global Migration Data Analysis Center and the report’s author.
Polisario Front, a separatist movement that has been fighting for Western Sahara’s independence from Morocco.
Moroccan officials have reacted with anger over the news that the leader, Brahim Ghali, had been hospitalized with Covid-19 in Spain under an alias. The Moroccan foreign ministry said this month that the authorities would “draw all consequences” from Spain’s “premeditated” decision to treat Mr. Ghali.
Spain’s foreign minister, Arancha González Laya, said in a radio interview on Monday that Mr. Ghali’s hospitalization was a humanitarian response to “a person who was in a very, very fragile health situation.”
She added that Moroccan officials had told their Spanish counterparts that the sudden rise in migrant crossings was not the result of a disagreement over the hospitalization.
Estrella Galán, the director general of CEAR, a Spanish group that helps asylum seekers and refugees, said Morocco was using migration as leverage against Spain.
But she added that Morocco’s move was the consequence of the European Union’s decision after the refugee crisis of 2015 to rely on greater control of migration by countries outside the bloc.
“This is what happens when we convert other countries into gendarmes of our own borders,” Ms. Galán said.
NAGOYA, Japan — First came a high fever. Then her face and limbs turned numb. Soon, she could keep down little more than water, sugar and bites of bread as she wasted away in her cell in a Japanese detention center.
By early March, Wishma Rathnayake — a migrant from Sri Lanka who was being held for overstaying her visa — could barely make a fist and was having trouble speaking, according to government records detailing her care. Yet week after week, as she begged to be released to a hospital for treatment, her jailers refused. She and her supporters believed the authorities had already made their own diagnosis: that she was faking her illness to avoid deportation.
On March 6, at the age of 33, Ms. Rathnayake died alone in her cell.
Her case has become a source of outrage for critics of Japan’s immigration system, who say that Ms. Rathnayake was the victim of an opaque and capricious bureaucracy that has nearly unchecked power over foreigners who run afoul of it.
The tragedy has spurred a national reckoning. Japan, a country with a long history of hostility toward immigration, is now grappling with its at-times inhumane treatment of foreigners, especially people of color, and many are calling for change.
They point to a system in which most immigration decisions are made in secret, offering migrants little recourse to the courts. Those who overstay their visas or who have entered the country illegally can be held indefinitely, sometimes for years. And migrants who file asylum claims, as Ms. Rathnayake once did, are particularly unwelcome.
Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, settles less than 1 percent of applicants seeking asylum, including just 47 last year — a point of contention among other countries that have called on Tokyo to do more.
Immigration officials are “police, prosecutors, judges and jailers,” said Yoichi Kinoshita, who left the government’s immigration bureau over its lack of clear standards to guide its sometimes life-or-death decisions. He now runs an advocacy group focused on fixing the system.
On Tuesday, the Japanese government, facing growing pressure over Ms. Rathnayake’s death, made two major concessions.
The governing Liberal Democratic Party abandoned an effort to revise Japan’s immigration law, as opposition lawmakers said they would not start debate over the changes unless the government released video footage of Ms. Rathnayake taken in the detention center just before she died.
The government had argued that the revisions would improve treatment of detainees, in part by stopping lengthy detentions, which have drawn sharp criticism from human rights groups for decades. But critics took particular issue with changes that would have allowed Japan to forcefully repatriate asylum seekers, potentially returning them to dangerous situations in their home countries.
Also on Tuesday, the justice minister, Yoko Kamikawa, agreed to meet with Ms. Rathnayake’s two sisters in order to “express my condolence.” Ms. Kamikawa has repeatedly declined to address the specifics of Ms. Rathnayake’s death, whose cause has yet to be officially determined. She has said she will withhold comment until the immigration bureau has completed an inquiry into the case. The bureau, in a statement, reiterated her remarks.
Ms. Kamikawa announced the meeting as her ministry, which administers the immigration bureau, has come under regular attack in the news media for its role in Ms. Rathnayake’s death and its evasiveness about the causes. Protesters have gathered nearly every day in front of Parliament, and objections lodged by opposition lawmakers have been unusually fierce.
These lawmakers want to overhaul an immigration system in which the outcomes for those caught inside can be bleak. At least 24 detainees have died since 1997, according to the Japan Lawyers Network for Refugees. Activists have alleged government negligence in some cases, most recently the deaths in 2020 of an Indonesian man and in 2019 of a Nigerian man on a hunger strike. Official inquiries have not supported the accusations.
None of those cases have inspired the public anger engendered by the death of Ms. Rathnayake, a hopeful young woman who had come to Japan with dreams of teaching English.
In the summer of 2017, she began studying Japanese at a school in the Tokyo suburbs. On her Facebook page, she shared photos of trips to Buddhist temples and to the mountains, where she delighted in snow.
Around six months into her program, she began skipping class, said Yuhi Yokota, the school’s vice principal. Before long, she moved into an apartment with her boyfriend, another Sri Lankan student she met in Japan. The couple then disappeared, a development that school officials reported to immigration authorities, Mr. Yokota said.
Hoping to stay in Japan, Ms. Rathnayake applied for asylum status, but the government denied a request to renew her residence permit, and she withdrew her application. Officials soon lost track of her.
Then, last August, she appeared at a police station in Shizuoka, on the Pacific coast of central Japan, asking for protection from her boyfriend, who she said had abused her. She said she wanted to go home, but had less than $20 to her name.
The authorities were more interested in another problem: Her residence permit had expired and she was in Japan illegally. They sent her to a detention center in Nagoya, a few hours southwest of Tokyo, to await deportation.
Several months later, she received a letter from her ex-boyfriend. He knew that she had reported him to the police, he wrote, adding that he would seek revenge if she returned to Sri Lanka.
Ms. Rathnayake decided she would be safer in Japan. With the encouragement of a local nonprofit organization, START, she decided to try to stay.
The move irritated officials at the detention center, said Yasunori Matsui, the group’s adviser. They demanded that she change her mind, she told him during one of his frequent visits.
In late December, Ms. Rathnayake fell ill with a fever, and within weeks she was having trouble eating, according to the nonprofit.
She tried to pass the time by watching television, but the commercials for food made her unbearably hungry.
Ms. Rathnayake was suffering from extreme anxiety, doctors found. A nurse suggested dealing with it by writing a diary with all of the things she was thankful for. In late January, a doctor prescribed her vitamins and painkillers. After they made her vomit, she resisted taking more.
Care was limited at the detention center’s medical facility, which was more like an infirmary than a clinic.
Officials said her problems were caused by “stress,” she wrote in a letter to Akemi Mano, a local activist, adding that “they don’t take me to the hospital.”
The authorities took Ms. Rathnayake to a gastroenterologist in early February. The exam was inconclusive, but if she could not keep down her medicine, she should be hospitalized, the doctor wrote in a medical report reviewed by The New York Times. The comment conflicts with the official government account of the visit, which says no recommendation for hospitalization was made.
Ms. Rathnayake was returned to the detention center. Soon, she could no longer walk. When she met with her representatives of START, she was rolled out in a wheelchair with a bucket in her lap.
She had filed for a provisional release in January, citing anxiety. Detention centers had already released hundreds of healthy detainees because of concerns about the coronavirus, but in mid-February, her application was denied without explanation. Soon after, she submitted a second one on medical grounds. She was so weak she could barely sign the form, Mr. Matsui said.
Despite the severity of her symptoms, officials waited until March 4 to take Ms. Rathnayake to a hospital. A psychiatrist who examined her wrote that her sponsors had told her that being sick would improve her chances of being released, according to a medical record reviewed by The Times and first reported by TBS, a Japanese broadcaster. START denies the allegation.
The cause of Ms. Rathnayake’s illness was unclear, the doctor noted. While it was possible that she was faking, he wrote, there would be no harm in granting her request for medical release, adding that “if you think about the patient’s benefit, that’s probably best.”
Two days later, Ms. Rathnayake was dead.
At the end of April, a group of opposition lawmakers held a video meeting with Ms. Rathnayake’s mother and sisters. One after another, they conveyed their deepest apologies and asked what they could do to help assuage the family’s grief.
“I want to know why they let her suffer,” her mother said. “Why didn’t they take her to the hospital as soon as possible?”
For now, the family can only speculate. An interim report on Ms. Rathnayake’s death, released by immigration officials last month, is filled with minute detail, like blood pressure and oxygen saturation readings during each checkup, the exact time she was administered medicine for her headaches or chest pain, every bite of food she ate or rejected.
But it omits the most important information: an answer for Ms. Rathnayake’s mother.
LA TRINITÉ-SUR-MER, France — It was the setting for a straightforward origin story, or so it seemed. Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader aiming to be France’s next president, came to launch her latest campaign in the seaside resort where her firebrand father once announced his own bid for the presidency from the family home.
But the recent trip to the family base at La Trinité-sur-Mer in western France, where Ms. Le Pen posed for selfies with admirers, schmoozed with oystermen and took TV journalists on boat rides, was a critical part of a rebranding effort toward respectability.
Steering the motorboat was Florent de Kersauson, a prominent businessman who, after decades of backing center-right candidates, was switching to Ms. Le Pen’s National Rally. By embracing Mr. de Kersauson, a former senior executive at the telecommunications giant Alcatel, Ms. Le Pen latched on to the kind of establishment figure who could help persuade voters that her party was more than a scrappy, family business. And maybe even assuage doubts about her competence to move into the Élysée Palace.
“The National Rally, formerly the National Front, has gone from being a protest movement to an opposition movement, and is now a government movement,” Ms. Le Pen said.
poor campaign that was marred by an incoherent message and punctuated by a disastrous debate against Mr. Macron.
un-demonize” her party, which has long been associated with the anti-Semitism, xenophobia, Holocaust denialism and colonial nostalgia of Jean-Marie Le Pen, her father and the party’s founder.
Part of that has been an effort to humanize her. A flurry of recent news reports revealed that she loved cats so much she had become a certified breeder, specializing in Bengals and Somalis. The photos of her posing with the cuddly felines were visual evidence that the party no longer belonged to her father, known for his fondness of menacing Dobermans.
general national decline, Mr. Lebourg said.
Mr. Macron has also been bogged down in a series of crises, including the Yellow Vest movement. Attacks in recent months have also heightened fears of terrorism and accelerated Mr. Macron’s shift to the right to fend off Ms. Le Pen.
“I think I can win,” Ms. Le Pen said in an hourlong interview inside her office at the National Assembly in Paris, where copies of “The Philosopher Cat,” an illustrated volume of feline-themed aphorisms, and a blue binder marked “immigration” and “security” lay on her desk.
local governments that her party controls, mostly in depressed areas in the north and south of France.
In La Trinité-sur-Mer, she introduced Mr. de Kersauson, the former Alcatel executive, as the head of her party’s ticket in next month’s regional elections. Getting more defectors from the center-right — who are financially better off than the National Rally’s traditional backers, but who are also feeling unsettled by the social changes rippling through France — is one key to victory next year.
reported — killed one of her cats.
Ms. Le Pen said that dog was gentle, as had been her father’s Dobermans. “We shouldn’t indulge in caricatures,” she said. “Dobermans have a vicious image, but, in fact, they’re very gentle dogs.”
For the past three years, David and his son, Adelso, have communicated only by phone. Adelso is just one of about 5,500 children who was taken from a parent, as a result of the Trump administration’s family separation policy. They’re among more than 1,000 families who have been waiting for the Biden administration to follow through on a promise to reunify them. Now there is a new sense of hope as the Biden government starts to reunite a handful of families. But David and Adelso’s story — split between Guatemala and Florida — offers a firsthand look at the continuing psychological effects of separation … … and how the delay in reuniting families has in some cases encouraged people to make a desperate trek back to the U.S. David and his son spoke with us on condition that we not use their full names and conceal their identities. Since he was jailed and deported, David has kept a low profile in the countryside, evading the gangs he says extorted the trucking business he worked for and threatened his family before they fled to the U.S. David was deported to Guatemala after serving 30 days in U.S. prison for the crime of illegal reentry. Neither David, his wife or their other children have seen Adelso since. “We can make America, once again, the leading force for good in the world.” Days after he took office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to reunify families separated under the Trump administration. “The re-establishment of the interagency task force and the reunification of families.” This week, as migrant apprehensions approached the highest level in 20 years, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would bring four mothers to the U.S. to reunite with their children. The U.S. will reunify another 35 or so families in the coming weeks as part of a pilot project, which David and Adelso might be a part of. But this is just a start, and the process for reunifying all families could take months, and even years. In David’s town of several thousand people, I found three other parents who were forcibly separated from their children under “zero tolerance.” Melvin Jacinto and his 14-year-old son tried to enter the U.S. to look for work that would pay for, among other things, his daughter’s hip surgery. Melvin and his wife, Marta’s son Rosendo, now lives with a relative in Minneapolis. They, too, rely on video calls to stay connected. The reality is that work is really scarce here. Melvin takes what jobs he can find, but the family relies on money sent from Rosendo, their teenage son, who’s now working in the U.S. We visited the homes of two other fathers who were separated from their kids at the border and were told they’d already made the return trip to reunite with them. She allowed me to speak with her husband on her phone. He said he reunited with his son in Fort Lauderdale, and was staying in a house with other migrants. We heard of other parents as well, deported to Guatemala and Honduras, who’d already made the perilous journey to reunite with their children. According to immigration lawyers, about 1,000 separated kids have yet to see their parents again. They’ve had to grow up fast, placed in the care of foster families or relatives. For the last three years, Adelso has been living with his aunt, Teresa Quiñónez, in Boca Raton, Fla. He’s been attending school, and plays soccer in his spare time, but he still struggles with the trauma of what happened in Guatemala and at the border. Unlike some of the separated kids, Adelso does have support. “Yes, definitely, I would go there in the morning, too Yeah —” His aunt Teresa came to the U.S. as an unaccompanied minor, and later became a legal resident. She stepped in to give Adelso the care she didn’t have when she came to the U.S. as a teenager. “I can say that I understand his pain, not being with mom and dad. Living with someone familiar, somehow — still, it’s not the same.” Once a month, Adelso talks with a child psychologist at Florida State University’s Center for Child Stress and Health. The service is paid through a government settlement for families separated under the “zero tolerance” policy. Adelso is one of several children affected by “zero tolerance” that Natalia Falcon now works with in South Florida. “I’ve been working with Adelso and his family for a little bit over six months. We see a lot of sleeping issues. You know, they can’t sleep, they can’t fall asleep or the nightmares, right. We have to look at nightmares very delicately, Those recurring memories, flashbacks of that traumatic event as one of the main symptoms of P.T.S.D. Studies show that childhood trauma, left unaddressed, can negatively affect health and relationships long into adulthood. “I don’t want him to get depressed, taking him to that place, like, ‘Oh, I just want to be alone.’ That’s why I try to bring him out and do things with him.” After being separated from his dad, Adelso spent two months in a New York shelter with other separated kids before Teresa finally won his release. “I still remember seeing him coming out of the airport. His little face, like — it’s heartbreaking, and sometimes I see him now, he has grown so much in this, in this time that he came here, he has become so mature and that’s hard to see too because it’s like life pushing you to be that mature. You are not enjoying your being a child.” For now, Adelso and David continue to work with their lawyers and hope to be part of the first wave of reunions. As for David, he told us that he can only wait so long, and that he has also considered paying a smuggler to cross back into the U.S. and claim asylum again.
The U.S. population grew by only 7.4 percent over the past decade, the smallest increase since the 1930s, the Census Bureau reported yesterday. This morning, I want to explain why and talk about both the upsides and downsides of slower population growth.
17 percent fewer children than in 1990 — and about 50 percent fewer than in 1960. The U.S. still has a higher fertility rate than Japan and Germany, but it is in the same range as Britain and Sweden and below France and Ireland. There are now more Americans 80 and older than 2 or younger.
The second factor behind the slow population growth is a decline in legal immigration during Donald Trump’s presidency. (Illegal immigration does not appear to have changed significantly.)
relatively flimsy child care programs. Historically, birthrates have declined as societies become more educated and wealthier.
Lower levels of immigration can also have upsides. The big wage gains for American workers during the mid-20th century had many causes, including strong labor unions, rising educational attainment and high tax rates on top incomes. But the tight immigration restrictions of that period also played a role.
“Immigration restriction, by making unskilled labor more scarce, tended to shore up wage rates,” the labor historian Irving Bernstein wrote in a 1960 book. The economists Peter Lindert and Jeffrey Williamson have noted that economic inequality declined more during the mid-20th century in countries with slower labor force growth.
And the big downsides
Over all, though, the slowdown in population growth is probably a net negative for the U.S. — as both conservatives (like Ross Douthat) and liberals (like Michelle Goldberg) have argued.
For one thing, polls show that many Americans want more children than they are having, as The Times’s Claire Cain Miller has noted. But the slow-growing incomes and a shortage of good child care options have led some people to decide that they cannot afford to have as many children as they would like. The decline in the birthrate, in other words, is partly a reflection of American society’s failure to support families.
will be part of his speech to Congress tomorrow night.)
A second problem with slow population growth involves global affairs. The U.S. now faces the most serious challenge to its supremacy since the Cold War — from China. The future path of the two countries’ economic growth will help determine their relative strength. And population growth, in turn, helps determine economic growth, especially in an advanced economy. To have any hope of keeping up with China and its vastly larger population, the U.S. will probably need bigger population increases than it has recently had.
Viewed in these terms, the population slowdown is a threat to national security. “I don’t know of a precedent for a dynamic country that has basically stopped growing,” The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson has written.
In Matthew Yglesias’s recent book “One Billion Americans,” he argues that the U.S. should rapidly increase legal immigration to lift economic output. “America should aspire to be the greatest nation on earth,” Yglesias, the author of a Substack newsletter, writes. The only realistic alternative for that role is China, an authoritarian country that is jailing critics and committing egregious human rights abuses.
Higher levels of immigration also have a direct benefit: More of the millions of people around the world who want to move to the U.S. get the chance to do so.
More from the census report:
The population continued to shift from the Northeast and the Midwest to the Sun Belt, and California will lose a congressional seat for the first time in history.
See for yourself.
Lives Lived: Helen Weaver fell in love with Jack Kerouac months before “On the Road” rocketed him to literary fame, and recorded their romance in an enduring book of her own decades later. She died at 89.
the first player since Babe Ruth to start a game as a pitcher while also leading Major League Baseball in home runs. Nearly every other modern player is either a hitter or a pitcher. Ohtani is simultaneously one of the world’s hardest-throwing pitchers and best sluggers — and a fleet base runner. He is “a unicorn, a miracle, a revelation unto himself,” Sports Illustrated’s Emma Baccellieri has written.
There is a problem, though. Since moving from Japan in 2018 to join the Los Angeles Angels, Ohtani has often been injured. He has needed arm surgery, and has had knee problems and blisters. Many people have begun to wonder if Ohtani should avoid extra strain and stick to only hitting.
“Everybody’s rooting for him, but if he continues to struggle with regular pitching duties, it’s almost like a Bo Jackson kind of career — we know he’s capable of being a two-way star (in Bo’s case, football and baseball),” our colleague Tyler Kepner told us. “But we only get a taste of it, and we’re always left hungry for more.”
In his appearance last night, Ohtani gave up four runs in five innings — and had two RBIs — as the Angels beat the Texas Rangers, 9 to 4.
MEXICO CITY — Record numbers of asylum seekers are applying for sanctuary in Mexico — some after arriving at the southwest border of the United States hoping to find a safe haven under President Biden, but hitting a closed door.
In March, the Mexican government received asylum petitions from more than 9,000 people, the highest monthly tally ever, officials said. And they predicted that the surging demand, evident in recent month, would continue, possibly reaching a total of 90,000 asylum requests by the end of the year, which would also be an all-time high.
The soaring numbers of asylum petitions in Mexico are in part a reflection of the turmoil at the American border, where the Biden administration is struggling to deal with a surge in undocumented migration and has prevented many asylum seekers from presenting their cases to immigration officials.
Mexico has also become an increasingly attractive destination in its own right for refugees, who have generally found asylum easier to achieve in Mexico than in the United States. Some have also been drawn by the opportunity to reunite with family and friends, and by possibilities of work and a degree of safety that they lacked at home.
has become a more attractive destination for migrants.
Mr. Trump accelerated this process with aggressive efforts to restrict both legal and illegal immigration, including strategies to discourage asylum seekers by making it more difficult for them to secure sanctuary. Among those efforts was a widely criticized policy called Migration Protection Protocols, or M.P.P., that forced those seeking asylum in the United States to wait in Mexico while their cases were processed in American courts.
slowdown in global migration, the number of asylum petitioners dropped to about 41,200 last year. But in the past several months, the volume has risen sharply once again.
This spike has dovetailed with a surge of migrants to the southwest border of the United States driven in part by economic misery that has deepened during the pandemic, two devastating hurricanes that wrecked swaths of Central America and an abiding hope, sometimes fostered by smugglers, that the new administration in Washington would loosen restrictions at the border.
But many migrants and refugees have arrived in Mexico only to find that access to the United States is not as easy as they were led to believe.
are being detained, processed and released into the U.S.
But American officials have continued to use an emergency rule, implemented by the Trump administration, to rapidly expel single adults, who have made up the majority of those caught at the border. Migrants’ advocates say the use of the rule has blocked many asylum seekers from applying for sanctuary.
Once again a tent encampment has cropped up near an official crossing in Tijuana, sheltering migrants hoping for a chance to present their cases to the American authorities.
Fray Matías Human Rights Center, a migrants’ advocacy group in the southern city of Tapachula. “It’s not a second option.”
Some refugees inclined to stay in Mexico are seeking to reunify with relatives and friends who arrived earlier and put down roots, said Mr. Ramírez, director of the Mexican asylum agency, the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance, or Comar.
Some are also drawn by Mexico’s enormous demand for low-income labor, a need that the government has advertised.
“If they compare the type of life they have in their own countries, at the end of the day they have it better here,” in Mexico, Mr. Ramírez said.
And the country’s approval rate for asylum is high: During the first three months of this year it reached 73 percent, with another 7 percent receiving other sorts of humanitarian protection.
Hondurans — fleeing a toxic mixture of economic distress, government corruption and ineptitude, violence and natural disasters — have been far and away the single largest population of asylum seekers in Mexico since 2019. Approval rates for Honduran petitions concluded during the first three months of this year hit 86 percent.
“We don’t know if it’s their first or their second intention” to remain in Mexico, Mr. Ramírez said of asylum petitioners. “What we can tell you is that more and more people are coming to us.”
The historic number of people filing new asylum petitions in March came despite a decision by the Mexican government last month to close the nation’s southern border to nonessential traffic. The continuing flows of refugees arriving from the south has further exposed the extreme porousness of that border and, migration experts say, the weakness of Mexico’s immigration enforcement efforts.
“These are people who clearly don’t want to go back home,” said Cris Ramón, an immigration consultant based in Washington. “And they’re going to find a mechanism to stay in Mexico or in the United States.”
Oscar Lopez and Natalie Kitroeff contributed reporting