Migratory Notes 86

Binary choice could be the new zero tolerance, caravan redux, Democrats’ immigration ambivalence

A new caravan of migrants has set off from Central America headed for the US. President Trump responded by threatening to cut off foreign aid and to send the military to the southern border. Journalist Pedro René González captured this video of the caravan at the Honduran Guatemalan border.

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The Democrats have a clear enemy in Trump, but what they offer to immigrant communities, and what they can get from them, is less clear. The New York Times explores the party’s history on immigration, and profiles a new group of more liberal Democrats trying to push the party past its ambivalence, drawing the ire of the established leaders on the issue. “While Republicans have reacted to the question of whether immigrants strengthen the United States in a mostly static way over time — 30 percent responding positively in 1994 and 35 percent doing so in 2016, according to a Pew Research study — the favorable view among Democrats has risen sharply over the same period, to 78 percent from 32 percent,” Robert Draper writes. “Today the Democratic Party is generally pro-immigration. And yet many of its elected officeholders remain deeply wary of saying so and especially conflicted about how to address the flaws in the country’s immigration system — or whether to address them at all.”

Trump’s efforts to thwart the latest Central American caravan will likely be futile since they ignore the root causes driving people to move, Priscilla Alvarez argues in the Atlantic. The threat of gangs, violence or poverty is so dire that deterrents like cutting aid payments simply cannot work. “As happened earlier this year, it’s possible that the number of people in the caravan making its way north will dwindle, but by happening again, it demonstrates that severe detention and separation policies simply don’t deter immigrants fleeing murder and mayhem from crossing the U.S. border,” Alvarez writes.

Caravan Deja Vu
The president threatened to cut aid to close the US-Mexico border and cut aid to Central American countries as a new migrant caravan makes its way north from Honduras. On Tuesday, the Guatemalan government detained the caravan organizer, according to Reuters. His wife said the threat “does not alarm the people who are fleeing because that aid never makes it way into their hands.” The caravan had grown to 4,000 people as of Wednesday, reports NBC News.

More than 300 Central Americans entered the US as part of a migrant caravan last spring. When they waited at the San Diego port of entry, according to an Amnesty International report recently released, they were met with violence from Mexican municipal police, homophobic attacks and efforts to disperse them as they waited to seek asylum, reports Vox.

In the months since then, they have gone their different ways — back to Mexico, fighting their cases from detention — but remain united by the mission that originally brought them together, reports the Voice of San Diego.

Family Separation
The White House is considering a new family separation policy called “binary choice” in an effort to keep migrant families from crossing the border, reports The Washington Post. The policy would offer families two options: Stay in detention together while seeing through an immigration case that could take months or even years, or let other relatives take guardianship of the children. The plan could still be stymied by legal restrictions, but Judge Sabraw was in favor of the binary approach in one of his rulings.

More than 200 children are still in government custody — 175 of the children’s parents were deported, and 18 of those children are soon to be reunited with their parents in their home country, reports CNN.

While separated from her family, 5-year-old Helen signed away her rights to a bond hearing, according to documents obtained by The New Yorker. She would spend two months in detention before her family was able to untangle the legal issues created by ICE officials. After she was released, the shelter sent her tiny backpack. “It held Helen’s legal paperwork, including the document that the five-year-old had been told to sign, withdrawing her request to see a judge,” Sarah Stillman writes. “The backpack also held Helen’s colored sketch of Lady Liberty. Beneath the statue’s image, a lesson summary, in Spanish, read, “Objective: That the students draw one of the most representative symbols of the United States.”

Melania Trump told CNN that she disagreed with family separation, and had let her husband know. “I didn’t know that that policy would come out. I was blindsided by it. I told him at home, and I said to him that I feel that’s unacceptable, and he felt the same.”

Advocates say the Trump administration is manipulating the mission of the Office of Refugee Resettlement from child welfare to immigrant enforcement, reports The New Yorker in a deep dive into what one immigrant family is risking to free a detained child.

PRI asked one Guatemalan child who was separated from her father at the border what she remembered: “They took my dad and locked him up.”

Politics of Immigration
Republicans going into the midterm elections are painting Democrats as pushing an extreme immigration agenda, a strategy that relies on misleading claims and overblown language but may still be working, reports The New York Times. Democrats, meanwhile, have been advised to avoid talking about immigration in states that have gone for Trump in the past, though a memo sent to candidates excluded districts that were heavily Latino or very diverse, reports The Hill.

North of the Border
Canadians who are honest about having ever smoked pot, which the country legalized Wednesday, could be banned from entering the US, reports the Los Angeles Times. That’s because cannabis is still viewed as comparable to heroin by Border Patrol, despite its legalization in some parts of the US.

Canada’s state pension fund’s investment in American private prisons increased 1100 percent during the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigrants, reports Documented in partnership with The Guardian. The fund, of some 20 million Canadian retirees, holds $5.9 million of stock in GEO Group and CoreCivic, the two main private prison companies the U.S. government contracts with to detain immigrants. Following the report, a Canadian member of parliament is calling for new investment protocols.

South of the Border
U.S. and Mexican officials are conspiring to prevent migrants from crossing a border bridge to ask for asylum at American ports of entry, a petition from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights alleges, reports The Texas Observer.

Detention
At least 79 dental assessments have been performed this year to determine whether migrants will be placed in adult detention centers, reports Vice News. The practice of using these assessments to determine migrants’ age was first reported by Reveal in May. Vice News spoke to David Senn, director of the Center for Education and Research in Forensics at the University of Texas San Antonio, who said he has performed these assessments since the 1990s. “What they do with that information is with them [immigration authorities]. They have the legal responsibility for doing that. We’re just reporting data based on the development of the teeth,” Senn said.

ICE gave a private company a new $20 million contract while the company was under investigation for housing migrant children in vacant office buildings that didn’t meet minimum health or safety standards, reports Reveal.

Immigration Centers of America was the only bidder to buy a closed state prison in Ionia, Michigan, reports the Detroit Free Press. The facility would hold between 500 and 600 immigrant detainees who have not been charged with criminal offenses. The private company runs a similar facility in Virginia. The sale has not yet been approved.

Justice
The U.S. tossed 9,000 deportation cases after the Supreme Court ruled that a notice to appear in court without a time and place wasn’t valid, reports Reuters. Many immigrants who had received notices without dates or times and didn’t appear in court had been ordered deported. The figure is the highest number of terminations ever in one month.

The Trump administration has subpoenaed immigration lawyer and Migratory Notes board member Daniel Kowalski in an effort to find out who leaked a memo about Sessions’ efforts to restrict asylum for domestic violence victims, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Proving Border Patrol abuse is difficult, and made more so by government investigators’ tendencies to side with agents, reports the AP. Between January 2010 and July 2016, the inspector general received 84 complaints about unwanted sexual contact by border officers to immigrants, but opened only seven investigations, none of which led to charges.

Deportation
Trump is drastically increasing deportations to Mauritania, where deportees chances of being subject to imprisonment, torture or human trafficking are high,reports USA Today.

Asylum 
Some immigrants seeking asylum are heading to psychologists to prove that they’ve experienced trauma, a claim that is proven to significantly bolster applications success rates. Pro bono mental health professionals have stepped up to fill the demand, reports WNYC.

Visas 
Cubans without family in the U.S. can obtain 200,000 visas annually, but the number of people being issued visas from the U.S. consulate in Havana falls far below that number, reports the Miami Herald. The U.S. has also not accepted, or processed, any applications from Cuban refugees since the start of the fiscal year.

Sanctuary 
An undocumented mother left 10 months of sanctuary at a church in Philadelphia to confront a local senator and demand that he help her family, but left with few answers and narrowly avoiding arrest, reports The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Popular Culture
Immigrant characters on television are often depicted as law-breaking and less educated than other characters, exacerbating the effect of negative stereotypes, according to a study reviewed by The Hollywood Reporter.

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Resources & Opportunities

Immigration-Based Projects and Investigations
Do you know of deportees to El Salvador facing harm? Human Rights Watch researcher Elizabeth Kennedy is asking for assistance in concluding a multi-year investigation on harm to Salvadoran deportees from the US, including disappearance, rape and murder. If you know of any cases, she asks that you please email her at kennede@hrw.org.

Asylum City is a storytelling project exploring the life and death consequences of seeking sanctuary in Chicago. Chicago-based journalism project 90 Days, 90 Voices has launched a Kickstarter to support six months of reporting on asylum.

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*Daniela Gerson is an assistant professor at California State University, Northridge with a focus on community, ethnic, and participatory media. She is also a senior fellow at the Democracy Fund. Before that she was a community engagement editor at the LA Times; founding editor of a trilingual hyperlocal publication, Alhambra Source; staff immigration reporter for the New York Sun; and a contributor to outlets including WNYC: New York Public Radio, The World, Der Spiegel, Financial Times, CNN, and The New York Times. She recently wrote The Grand Refugee Hotel: The Sequel to My Grandfather’s Germany for Refugees Deeply. You can find her on Twitter @dhgerson

*Elizabeth Aguilera is a multimedia reporter for CALmatters covering health and social services, including immigration. Previously she reported on community health, for Southern California Public Radio. She’s also reported on immigration for the San Diego Union-Tribune, where she won a Best of the West award for her work on sex trafficking between the U.S. and Mexico; and before that she covered a variety of beats and issues for the Denver Post including urban affairs and immigration. Her latest story is What ice cream flavors can teach us about the changing California Dream. You can find her on Twitter @1eaguilera

*Yana Kunichoff is an independent journalist and documentary producer who covers immigration, policing, education and social movements. She was project manager for Migrahack 2016 in Chicago. She has also produced feature-length documentaries and a pop-culture web series for Scrappers Film Group; worked as a fellow with City Bureau, where she won a March 2016 Sidney Hillman award for an investigation into fatal police shootings; and covered race and poverty issues for the Chicago Reporter. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, Pacific Standard and Chicago magazine among others. You can find her on Twitter @yanazure

*Migratory Notes Advisory Board: Daniel Connolly, Maria Kari, Dan Kowalski, Paola Marizán, Roberto Suro, Phuong Ly, Fernanda Santos