Migratory News 186

Elizabeth Aguilera
Migratory Notes
Published in
14 min readOct 22, 2020


Separated kids stranded in U.S., SCOTUS to review Remain in Mexico, Children learning & working in the fields

The number of college students coming from immigrant families has increased 20% in the past two decades to more than 5 million, reports The New York Times. Photos of graduates at California State University, Northridge by Daniela Gerson.

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One was a Guatemalan presidential candidate accused of drug trafficking, another an Ecuadorian politician implicated in a broad corruption scandal. They are two among myriad Latin American elites who used their wealth and connections to resettle in Miami, report Monique O. Madan and Romina Ruiz-Goiriena in a four-part Miami Herald investigation into loopholes in the immigration system. While those with money and political clout game the system, asylum seekers and poor immigrants are targeted for raids and locked in detention for months or years. (The project includes Gaming the System, a choose-your-own-adventure style interactive trip through this two-tiered system).

A 17-year-old from Honduras may be the minor who has spent the most time in U.S. immigration custody, reports Reveal in an emotional, deeply reported podcast that traces her family’s struggle to find her. After fleeing Honduras with extended family and presenting herself at the border in 2013 when she was 10, she drifted alone between shelters and foster homes for more than six years. “It’s challenging to be institutionalized in shelters for any period, but a whole adolescence…. all those awkward teen years? Gone,” writes Aura Bogado in a Twitter thread. Reveal sued the government for records on the length of stay in immigration custody and found that at least 1,000 kids had spent more than a year in custody from 2014 to 2020 — including under the Obama administration.

Of more than 260 calls reporting violence in California detention centers, only three resulted in charges, reports the LA Times in an investigation that documents a pattern of abuse and impunity in ICE detention. Some private detention centers even have agreements with law enforcement agencies to deter officers from properly investigating crimes. “Unlike in prisons and jails, people in ICE detention are not serving time for crimes — they are being held while immigration judges decide whether they should be deported. Many are asylum seekers, and most have no criminal history. The federal government is responsible for their safety,” write Andrea Castillo and Paloma Esquivel in a story supported by the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism’s Data Fellowship.

Family Separation
Lawyers are still looking for the parents of 545 children who were separated at the border, reports NBC News. Most were deported to Central America without their children in 2017 during a pilot program before zero tolerance officially went into action in 2018. Lawyers and human rights groups have to go door-to-door searching for these parents in Central America sometimes with just a name or outdated address, and strict pandemic lockdowns made it more difficult, reports KQED.

Remain in Mexico
The Supreme Court agreed Monday it will consider — in 2021 — the legality of the Trump administration program known as Remain in Mexico, which sends asylum seekers across the border to wait for a verdict. Migrants in the Matamoros tent camp had their hopes dashed that the case would end prolonged stays in the dangerous Mexican border town, reports Reuters. Others now rest their hopes on a Biden win to get them “out of this hell,” reports The New Republic. During the pandemic, the number of migrants at the camp has fallen to about 685 people, compared to the height of 2,500, reports BuzzFeed News. Many grew desperate after months of waiting, so they crossed the border, went back to their home countries, or moved to another part of Mexico.

Only 1% of migrants in the Remain in Mexico program have been granted asylum or another type of relief that would allow them to start new lives in the US. One of them is Francisco, a Honduran migrant who fled his country after seven family members were murdered. He is a “stunning example of someone finding refuge in the U.S. even after the Trump administration redesigned the immigration system, through relentless and confusing rules and policies, that made gaining protection even harder,” writes Adolfo Flores in BuzzFeed News.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear a case to exclude undocumented immigrants from census congressional counts, reports The Washington Post. The case was fast-tracked to be heard November 30. It is not clear how undocumented immigrants could be excluded from the 2020 census since legal status was not asked. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court allowed the government to end the census count two weeks early, despite fears that an undercount could affect congressional representation for the next decade.

Latino farmworkers have long been denied basic rights; COVID exposed just how deadly racism can be, USA Today reports as part of a six-part series into discrimination and its role in deaths. The project hones in on California’s Imperial County, one of the unhealthiest places in the country: “Imperial County’s suffering mirrors the struggles of many Latinos across the nation, who are more likely than non-Hispanic white Americans to face poverty and poor nutrition after centuries of being pushed into low-paying jobs and segregated communities. Now, they are also more likely to die from COVID-19.”

With schools closed and no childcare, immigrant farmworkers have had to bring their children to the fields with them, leading to an increase in child labor for some children as young as 8, and where they create makeshift virtual classrooms, reports The Washington Post.

Sanctuary Cities
The Trump campaign has launched an attack on sanctuary cities through billboards and emphasized its immigration enforcement record in an attempt to secure a strong lead in Pennsylvania, where Trump beat Clinton in 2016 by a narrow margin, reports CNN. As part of this messaging campaign, ICE announced last week it arrested 170 immigrants in raids targeting sanctuary cities, reports The Washington Post.

The suspect in the killing of a Houston police sergeant is a “convicted criminal alien who is unlawfully present in the U.S.,” ICE said in a statement, noting that the agency has placed a detainer with county authorities seeking to take him into federal custody, reports The Washington Post. While Houston is not a sanctuary city, the administration blamed the failure to deport him for the crime and is expected to use this case as part of the campaign. Meanwhile, one of the first studies on sanctuary cities did not find an increase in crime.

Elections 2020
Spanish-language misinformation about Black Lives Matter protests, the pandemic, and more is pitting Black and Latino voters in Florida against each other in a key battleground state, reports The New York Times. Most false information comes from conservatives, according to researchers. Experts believe this could lead to low voter turnout and suppress support for Biden.

  • In Florida, of the 75,000 Venezuelans who are eligible voters in Florida, the majority favor Trump, likely because of his harsh policy towards Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, reports Politico Magazine. These fervent supporters called themselves magazolanos, a combination of MAGA and venezolanos.
  • In Georgia, the growing Latino electorate plan to vote blue in the Republican stronghold to push back against Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda, reports Foreign Policy. There are now more than 250,000 Latino voters in the Atlanta area and they have a high voter turnout that could affect the presidential and senate elections.

Not sure where Trump or Biden stand on immigration? Check out this handy guide from NPR to their positions on the border wall, family separations, DACA and more.

Refugee agencies are preparing a Trump plan and a Biden plan depending on the outcome of the elections, reports Christianity Today. For communities like Clarkson, Georgia, a small town that has welcomed thousands of refugees in recent decades, the Trump plan could mean shutting down operations entirely.

Only 161 Iraqi refugees were admitted to the U.S. in fiscal year 2020, even though the Trump administration designated 4,000 slots for these nationals, including some who risked their lives to help the U.S. military, reports The New York Times. With the number of refugees accepted under the Trump administration drastically shrinking –from at least 70,000 per year under Obama to 15,000 this year — lawyers say these low numbers reflect a broader trend in Trump’s refugee policy.

Courts across the country are starting to open with reduced case numbers, adding to the immigration backlog of more than 1.2 million cases, reports the Fresno Bee. In California, some lawyers report court dates moved back to 2024.

Rapid Expulsions
A class-action lawsuit in Washington D.C. is challenging Title 42, the 1944 public health law that allows the U.S. to rapidly expel migrants without going through immigration courts, reports The Dallas Morning News. Lawyers say it is the most extreme Trump administration immigration policy to date. The rule has been used at least 200,000 times to return migrants during the pandemic without due process.


Immigration Resources & Opportunities

Coronavirus Resources

Recently released immigration books and films(got one, send it over)

Reporting Initiatives about Immigrant Communities

  • Borderless: a non-profit online magazine reimagining coverage of the immigration system.
  • Documented: a non-profit news site covering immigrants in New York.
  • Ethnic Media Services: organization that works with ethnic media organizations to improve coverage and reach.
  • Feet In Two Worlds: project that tells immigrant stories and provides fellowships for immigrant journalists.
  • Finding American: a collaboration between documentary photographer Colin Boyd Shafer and immigrants to feature their stories.
  • The Immigrant Story: a project between journalists, photographers, graphic designers and developers to document and archive immigrants’ stories.
  • ImmPrint: an online publication by and for people affected by immigrant detention.
  • New Michigan Media: a network of ethnic and minority media across the state of Michigan.
  • Newest Americans: a multimedia collaboration between journalists, media-makers, artists, faculty and students telling the stories of the immigrant and immigrant communities in Newark, NJ.
  • Refugees (Santa Fe Dreamers Project): a collection of testimonies from asylum seekers in partnership with the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center.

Newsletters, Podcasts, & Facebook Groups

  • Immigrant & Democracy from Harvard University’s immigration initiative.
  • Detention Dispatches by Capital & Main follows the conditions in ICE detention centers during the pandemic.
  • In The Thick podcast covers the coronavirus impact on immigrant communities from Chelsea, MA to the Bronx, New York.
  • Only Here is a podcast about the “subcultures, creativity and struggles” at the US-Mexico border from KPBS
  • Nuestro South is a podcast exploring the experiences of Latinx people in the U.S. south.
  • Salvadoran investigative media outlet El Faro has launched an English-language newsletter with reporting from Central America.
  • ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest? Podcast tells stories of Latino life “from the homeland to the heartland.”
  • Frontera Dispatch is a weekly newsletter by the Hope Border Institute on news and analysis from the border.
  • BIB Daily Edition is a free aggregation of “inside immigration news” (court cases, new regulations and the like) and “outside news” (culled from the mainstream and not-so-mainstream media).
  • Center for Migration Studies Migration Update is a weekly digest of news, faith reflections, and analysis of international migration and refugee protection.
  • Migration Information Source from the Migration Policy Institute offers a series of newsletters.
  • Documented NY’s Early Arrival newsletter aggregates information on immigration in New York and nationally.
  • Politico’s Morning Shift newsletter: a daily read on employment and immigration.
  • Tempest Tossed, a podcast with “conversations on immigration and refugees that go beyond the predictable soundbites.”
  • Displaced, a podcast from the International Rescue Committee.
  • A is for America America’s Voice discusses immigrant politics and organizing.
  • Only in America National Immigration Forum’s podcast about the people behind immigration issues.

Curriculum & Campaigns

Reporting resources, tools and tips

If there’s a story or immigration-related opportunity you think we should consider, please send us an email.

*Daniela Gerson is a co-founder and the editor of Migratory Notes. She is an assistant professor of Journalism at California State University, Northridge and senior fellow at the Center for Community Media (CCM) at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at City University of New York (CUNY). Previously she was a community engagement editor at the LA Times; 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 published Digital First Responders: How innovative news outlets are meeting the needs of immigrant communities, a report for the Center for Community Media. You can find her on Twitter @dhgerson

*Elizabeth Aguilera is co-founder and executive editor of Migratory Notes. She is a multimedia reporter for CalMatters where she covers the health and welfare of California’s next generation after covering health care and social services, including immigration, for several years for the digital outlet. 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 worked for the Denver Post covering urban affairs and immigration. Her most recent story was
For some California teens, school closures led to work in the fields. You can find her on Twitter @1eaguilera

*Anna-Cat Brigida is a staff writer for Migratory Notes. She is a freelance reporter covering immigration and human rights in Mexico and Central America. She began covering immigration as a journalism student at USC Annenberg and later moved to Central America to work as a reporter. She has covered the region since 2015 and has been based in El Salvador since January 2018. She has also worked as a Spanish-language writer for Fusion out of the Mexico City office. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, The Guardian, Univision, LA Times, and Al Jazeera, among others. You can find her on Twitter @AnnaCat_Brigida

*Yana Kunichoff is a special projects editor for Migratory Notes. She currently covers public education for Chalkbeat Chicago. 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, Mirta Ojito, Roberto Suro, Phuong Ly, Fernanda Santos



Elizabeth Aguilera
Migratory Notes

Health/Social Services reporter @CALmatters, co-founder of #MigratoryNotes. I carry a mic & a pen. Prev: @KPCC @SDUT, @DenverPost. elizabeth@calmatters.org