Elizabeth Aguilera
Mar 14 · 13 min read

“La Gordiloca,” lost children, last family dinner — again

“La Gordiloca,” pictured with her niece, is a muckraker creating a new type of border reporting. Source: Priscilla Villarreal

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She calls herself La Gordiloca, roughly translating to “crazy fat lady,” and she has upended border journalism through on-the-ground social media reporting in Laredo, Texas, reports The New York Times. Priscilla Villarreal’s work has attracted the ire of some residents who have questioned if she is undocumented. But the response to her reports, which has included criticism of the border wall and scrutiny of Border Patrol, is mainly positive and she has more than 119,000 Facebook followers. “Ms. Villarreal’s swift rise to prominence reflects how many people on the border now prefer to get their news — and just maybe, provides a glimpse at the future of journalism,” writes Simon Romero.

The story of one Salvadoran man, who has tried to migrate to the U.S. three times in three decades, highlights the different waves of Central American migrants, Sandra Cuffe reports for Al Jazeera. He was only successful once when he left at the outset of the country’s civil war in 1980 and stayed for about a decade before going back home. In 2003, he tried again but he fell from a freight train in Mexico and lost his left leg to the infamous train La Bestia. And last year, he joined a migrant caravan but instead of going the whole way he decided to seek asylum in Mexico.

National Emergency & Budget
The Senate appeared headed to a showdown vote Thursday over the national emergency declaration at the border, as Senator Mitt Romney announced he would vote against the president to defend the Constitution, CNN reports. Wednesday night three Republican senators, led by Senator Lindsey Graham, crashed Trump’s dinner with Melania to address GOP concerns about the declaration, The Washington Post reports.

The president stated the outcome of the vote will not impact his plan to declare a national emergency. “I don’t know what the vote will be. It doesn’t matter. I’ll probably have to veto. It’s not going to be overturned,” Trump told reporters.

In addition to $8.6 billion for a border barrier, immigration-related elements of Trump’s 2020 proposed budget include:

Immigrant advocacy groups have called Trump’s budget proposal to increase spending for a border wall and border security while cutting social programs part of his “hateful, anti-immigrant agenda,” reports Newsweek.

Family Separation
At least 245 more migrant children have been separated from their families since the Trump administration announced that it officially ended the policy, reports The New York Times. The California federal judge who found the Trump administration responsible for the children and ordered it to reunite all of the families estimated that the number of cases could be in the thousands, reports Vox. One challenge: the administration failed to properly document the cases to be able to easily reunify families.

An internal Office of Refugee Resettlement memo obtained by BuzzFeed News details a coordinated effort to deter migrants through family separation and arresting undocumented sponsors for migrant children. DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has repeatedly denied that deterrence was the purpose of the family separation policy.

Jorge Zaldivar, who has lived in the U.S. since 1997 after leaving his native Mexico, is one of nearly one million undocumented immigrants who have been granted stays of removal over the years at immigration hearings, reports The New York Times. But since the Trump administration expanded its deportation priorities, Zaldivar’s future in the country has become more precarious. So he spends every dinner before his regular immigration check-ins with his family. “In the last two years, in households across the country, the dinner before a check-in has turned into a grim ritual, with families never sure whether or not this meal is the last they share together,” writes Julie Turkewitz.

The Trump administration’s refugee caps have hit Boise hard, leading to family separations and the closing of the local World Relief office, reports the Idaho Press. “Refugees who were approved to resettle in places like Boise were told they could help their relatives apply for a special refugee visa meant to reunify separated families, “ Nicole Foy writes. “But instead of approved visas and arrival dates, they have received a version of the same letter, telling them their case is still processing.”

At least 10 migrants have reported being extorted or witnessing other migrants being extorted for thousands of dollars by Mexican officials in Reynosa and Matamoros so that they can be put on a list to request asylum, reports Vice News. “The strict limitations on asylum seekers enacted under the Trump administration has turned the process into a lucrative business for corrupt Mexican officials and cartels,” writes Emily Green.

As of last week, ICE had a record-high 50,049 migrants in detention even though the previous budget capped detentions at just over 40,000 migrants, reports The Daily Beast. The overpopulation in detention has led to concern among advocates about potential disease outbreaks, such as mumps, reports Reuters. These outbreaks have lead to quarantines that limit migrants access to legal representation, as was the case with a Honduran migrant ordered deported via video conference in February.

Juan Sanchez, CEO of Southwest Key, the network of shelters for migrant children, resigned this week after widespread criticism that the company possibly misused funds, mismanaged the children in its care and created an environment for abuse. The company made $1.7 billion in federal contracts, reports Vice News. The New York Times previously reported that Sanchez was paid $1.5 million and Latino USA explored with Sanchez the moral dilemma of considering himself a champion of social justice and running shelters for migrant youth.

Southwest Key is not alone in profiting off of immigrant detention. Business is booming for Libre by Nexus, which helps migrants find companies to front their bonds in exchange for renting an ankle bracelet for $420 a month, reports The New Yorker. Critics say the practice goes beyond turning a profit and exploits the vulnerable. “Though it is easy to vilify a company profiting in the process, it is perhaps wiser to interrogate the policies that create the demand for its services by forcing desperate people to choose between bad and worse,” Micah Hauser writes. (Recent investigations into Libre by Nexus: The Washington Post, Univision News, Radio Ambulante/ Univision Noticias).

Guards and other ICE employees often use an unequal power dynamic and threats of deportation to sexually assault detained migrants, among them Salvadoran migrant Laura Monterrosa. She reported sexual abuse by a female guard but faced barriers in getting justice, reports Rewire.News and Latino USA. Although ICE employees are the most likely perpetrators of sexual abuse, prevention efforts focus on educating detainees to avoid sexual assault and few cases end in a conviction.

Mentally ill migrants are often punished with punitive measures such as pepper spray while in detention, which a disability rights group says could be a violation of their constitutional rights, reports The San Bernardino Sun. The year-long investigation also revealed that suicide attempts often go under-reported.

Two immigrant rights organizations have filed a lawsuit against the Board of Immigration Appeals for failing to respond to a FOIA request about the process of granting stays of removal, reports Pacific Standard. The organizations hope that more transparency on the issue will allow more immigrants to be able to stay in the country.

As the number of Central Americans crossing the border has increased, so has the number of militiamen along the New Mexico border, reports The Albuquerque Journal in an ongoing series.

A group of volunteers arrived at the border last weekend to document the biodiversity in the region at a moment when academics have begun to worry about the potential impact of increased border security on their work, reports LA Times.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced Tuesday that it may shutter all 21 of its overseas offices and transfer duties to embassies and consulates if the State Department agrees, reports The Washington Post. Immigration advocates believe the move, revealed in an internal memo, is another way for the Trump administration to discourage migration to the U.S.

TPS & Special Visas

Sanctuary Movement
An undocumented immigrant detained and released nine times was charged with stabbing to death a woman in her San Jose home, sparking a debate about sanctuary policies, reports The Mercury News. In a news conference, the police chief made a distinction between protecting otherwise law-abiding immigrants and immigrants who have committed serious crimes.

Colorado’s governor and attorney general filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for illegally withholding $2.7 million in public funds based on the state’s refusal to cooperate with immigration enforcement, reports The Colorado Sun.

A review of contracts, emails and other documents revealed California law enforcement has granted ICE access to a database of drivers, which the agency has used to track down undocumented immigrants without a criminal record, reports LA Times. The ACLU has called on police and sheriff’s departments to stop sharing this information, which violates state and local sanctuary laws.


Immigration Resources & Opportunities

Ronny Rojas, a former data editor at Univision and current Knight Fellow, is investigating creating a network of investigative immigration reporters. He is asking journalists and editors to take his brief survey.

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

Reports, 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. Her latest story was California raised taxes to pay doctors for the poor — and is still waiting for them. 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.

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