Elizabeth Aguilera
Feb 21 · 12 min read

National emergency, Salvadoran war reverberations, detention profiteers

Sketches of journalist Adriana Gallardo’s tattoos. She wrote about their significance to her immigration story in a story for Guernica Magazine’s Rewriting the West series. Credit: Adriana Gallardo

Know someone who might like Migratory Notes? Please help us spread the word: Here’s the subscribe form and here’s an archive on Medium. Got a story or an immigration-related resource or opportunity we should know about? Send it on!

ProPublica engagement reporter Adriana Gallardo shares her own immigration story through her tattoos: a garbage can with flowers inside, an ear of corn, three words in the indigenous language Nahautl, and a tree, in a piece co-published with Guernica. The tattoos helped her understand her own experience, which she was recently forced to confront on a reporting trip to the border. What she had previously thought to be pure luck started to have more meaning. “I had cheated myself out of hard-earned truths, obstructing wisdom worth putting down in black and red, in Tlilli [wisdom], in Tlapalli [writing]. I stand by my luck, but the weight of healing is heavy, even for the lucky ones,” she writes. The story is part of Guernica’s Rewriting the West series, which it describes as “reports and essays that upend our current understandings of citizenship and allow us to reconsider the origin stories and mythologies of Los Angeles, Arizona, the Alamo, and other places we consider part of the U.S. West.” (Migratory Notes board member Fernanda Santos also contributed to the series with the story “The Best Kind of People”: Shifting Definitions of Citizenship and the Making of Arizona.)

Rufina Amaya was one of the only witnesses to El Salvador’s most brutal massacre in El Mozote, where nearly 1,000 people were killed by U.S.-backed Salvadoran military during the civil war. Amaya’s daughter Marta received a survivor’s settlement from the government, making her a target for extortion and eventually causing her to flee the country for the U.S. in spring 2018. Her story signifies how the lack of healing for cycles of violence in the past is triggering Salvadoran migration today. “In fact, you could point to Rufina and Marta’s story to explain the history that many Salvadorans have lived for the last 40 years. It’s like history is in a loop in this violent country,” writes Salvadoran reporter Nelson Rauda for The Daily Beast.

National Emergency
By declaring a national emergency on Friday, Trump plans to amass $8 billion to build a border wall by redirecting funds from various agency budgets, including the Treasury Department, Department of Defense, and Homeland Security. As one lawyer explains, the situation is a result of a precedent set by Congress of appropriating billions of dollars with few conditions, reports NPR. It now falls on Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan to decide if redirecting the funds is necessary from a military standpoint. He has yet to make a decision, reports Vox.

The decision triggered almost immediate legal action, including:

Asylum & Refugees
A makeshift “shelter” housing an estimated 1,800 migrants in Piedras Negras, Mexico across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas was closed by Mexican officials on Tuesday after questions about the grounds for holding them and the conditions of the facility, a warehouse where families allege being separated by gender and never being told when they could leave, reports The Daily Beast. “Journalists, almost without exception, were not allowed to enter the factory, see conditions, and interview migrants. So we talked through the fence,” writes Alice Driver. “And then, on Tuesday, they were gone, shipped off to places harder for the press to find.”

The migrants, mainly from Central America, were guarded by Mexican police and military, who allegedly barred them from crossing the U.S. border and requesting asylum, a right under U.S. and international law, reports the Houston Chronicle. The relocation of the migrants began last week after Mexican officials reported a riot in the facility and feared that the migrants would rush the border, reports The Wall Street Journal. Eighteen migrants stayed behind and were allowed to cross the border and seek asylum, reports the LA Times.

The ACLU sued the Trump administration last week for returning asylum seekers to Mexico, alleging it is against the law and that it puts migrants in harm’s way, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 11 migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who reported being victims of violence in Tijuana. Among those who have been returned to Mexico under the program, 13 are minors, reports the Washington Post. (The LA Times recently published a major series investigating how Tijuana has become one of the deadliest cities in the world. The situation is growing more dire as returned migrants put an added stress on already struggling shelters and NGOs in the city, reports Arizona Republic.)

ICE has systematically relocated asylum seekers to jails and prisons located in places with weak support networks for migrants, making it more difficult for them to access legal services, reports Mother Jones. One such place is Tallahatchie, Mississippi, 90 miles from the nearest city.

For asylum seekers who are distrustful of authorities, a Honduran immigrant who went through the same experience before becoming a lawyer puts them at ease and helps them win protection in the U.S., reports The Inquirer.

A 45-year-old Mexican migrant died in Border Patrol custody this week after being diagnosed with severe liver and heart problems, further drawing attention to the need for improved medical care for migrants in U.S. custody, reports USA Today. More medical teams and Border Patrol agents trained as paramedics have been attending migrants at the border and expanding their coverage to more remote areas since the deaths of two Guatemalan children in December, reports the Washington Post.

The governor of Michigan refused to sell a former state prison to a private immigration detention company, given that the company could not ensure that they would not house adults separated from their children, reports Detroit Free Press. Her decision was met by a combination of praise and criticism. The company may now look to buy private land and sidestep the governor’s authority, reports Michigan Advance.

The CEO of private prison company GEO Group, George Zoley, told shareholders last week to expect increased profits given the provisions agreed upon in the recently passed budget proposal, reports Mother Jones.

The recently elected L.A. County Sheriff, who ran on an anti-ICE platform, now faces the challenge of putting his platform into action, reports the LA Times. He is considering steps such as ending the practice of publishing release dates of detainees and removing some misdemeanors from a list of crimes that could lead to deportation. The sheriff is part of a growing number of local law enforcement officials pushing back against policies that require they work with immigration officials because they believe it harms public safety. A judge issued a permanent injunction last week against a Trump administration policy that would have forced law enforcement agencies to cooperate with immigration enforcement in order to receive anti-gang police grants, reports the LA Times.

Mexican officials report that 1,000 Central American migrants from a caravan that arrived in Tijuana in October volunteered to be returned to their home countries and another 1,000 people have decided to stay in Mexico, reports the New York Times.

Mexican officials detained 200 Central Americans who crossed the border from Guatemala on Sunday, but promised to help them obtain humanitarian visas, reports Univision.

TPS & Special Visas
The Trump administration is considering granting Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans, a plan supported by some Republican legislators including Marco Rubio, even though the administration has rolled back TPS protections for other nationalities, reports The Daily Beast. The proposal has received criticism from immigration hawks who are against providing any legal status and immigration lawyers who say that it will deter Venezuelan migrants from seeking asylum, a more permanent option for staying in the U.S.

Ensuring that an estimated 200,000 Salvadorans in the U.S. with TPS can avoid deportation is one of the top concerns of El Salvador’s president-elect Nayib Bukele. He hopes to improve relations with Washington to try to influence the issue, reports AP.

The Supreme Court decided on Friday that it will hear a case about whether to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census, taking on one of its most controversial cases since Trump appointee Brett Kavanaugh took the bench in a case that will test the limits of executive power, reports The New York Times. The court is expected to rule on the case before the end of June, when the forms are scheduled to be printed.

Trump’s immigration policies may be driving agriculture to automation much quicker than the industry would otherwise. Because the agricultural industry is fueled by immigrant workers it is now facing a labor shortage partially driven by Trump’s immigration crackdown. Companies are hoping that investment in developing automation will fill the gap and keep produce at reasonable prices, reports the Washington Post.

Trump claims to want to increase U.S. competitiveness in the development of artificial intelligence, but would need to open the country to high-skilled workers in the field to do so, causing a conundrum given his mainly anti-immigrant platform, reports Vox.

The U.S. garlic industry has benefitted from Trump’s import taxes on Chinese goods, but is hurt by his immigration policy, an example of the limits of Trump’s trade policy given that many businesses depend on an immigrant workforce, reports NPR. “If the Republican Party is pro-business, if they want to support industries across the country, they need to realize that immigration is a critical function of that,” said the vice president of one of the largest garlic producers in the U.S.

Twenty years ago, Democratic politicians argued for increased border security citing crime and the flow of drugs as threats. Democratic voters now overwhelmingly believe that immigrants are an asset to the country, forcing the politicians who represent them to change their stance, reports NPR.

For ESL students in Texas, immigration policy is never far from their minds, given the impact on their own lives, reports Experience Magazine. Providing a safe space for students is one teacher’s recommended approach. “It is a constant, nagging worry for them. So we do not run from it. I don’t act like my opinion matters. This is their thing. They get to feel how they feel, and like every other teenager in the world, they feel A LOT,” writes Kellye Hooks.


Immigration Resources & Opportunities

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

Newsletters, Podcasts, & Facebook Groups


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 West Coast Director of the Center for Community and Ethnic Media(CCEM) 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 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 co-founder and the executive editor of Migratory Notes. She is a multimedia reporter for CALmatters covering health care policy 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 worked for the Denver Post covering urban affairs and immigration. Recently she moderated a panel for Zocalo Public Square about How Immigrants are Influencing Health. You can find her on Twitter @1eaguilera

*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

*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 Washington Post, The Guardian, Univision, LA Times, and Al Jazeera, among others. You can find her on Twitter @AnnaCat_Brigida

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

Migratory Notes

At a time of rapidly shifting policies, we publish a weekly concise and insightful guide to immigration news.

Elizabeth Aguilera

Written by

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

Migratory Notes

At a time of rapidly shifting policies, we publish a weekly concise and insightful guide to immigration news.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade