Border surge, Cuban asylees, refugee journalism

Daniela Gerson
Mar 28 · 13 min read
CBP has run out of space to process asylum seekers. Hundreds of migrants are being kept under the Paso Del Norte International Bridge in El Paso. Photo Credit: Mark Lambie for El Paso Times.

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“The stories, spread in front of him in hot metal type, told of families stranded at sea, of sturdy ships rescuing rickety boats, of the hundreds drowned — all in the desperate struggle to get to America,” Anh Do writes in a beautiful testimony to refugee journalism, a life in news, and the bond between father and daughter. In the late 1970s, her father, Vietnamese immigrant Yen Ngoc Do launched community newspaper Nguoi Viet Daily News in Orange County to help recently arrived refugees adjust to life in the U.S. and stay connected with their home country, she reports in the LA Times. Over the decades, “the newspaper founded to chronicle a community helped create one.”

In an immersive multimedia story with video and animation, The Washington Post brings to life how many immigrants are already living with invisible walls — barriers that prevent them from remaining in the U.S., being with their children, or living a life free of fear. Zoeann Murphy, Jon Gerberg, Jorge Ribas and Jesse Mesner-Hage take the viewer along on the journeys of three women — Elsa from Guatemala, Karla from Honduras and Yolanda from Mexico — who face these invisible walls.

Border Wall Funding
On Tuesday, the House failed to gain the 288 votes required to halt Trump’s national security declaration by overriding a presidential veto, meaning that courts will now determine whether the declaration is legal and how much money can be diverted to pay for a border wall, reports The Washington Post.

A total of $12.9 billion in Department of Defense funds could be reallocated to pay for the wall, including:

As the government’s plan to build a border wall moves forward, landowners are increasingly vulnerable given that Homeland Security often waives protections meant to ensure they get a fair price for their land, reports ProPublica. An investigation found that property owners who are able to pay for a lawyer have received three times the average amount for their land.

Border Surge
CBP predicts it could apprehend more than 100,000 border crossers this month, the most in the past decade, reports The Washington Post. This is still a much lower number than the historic high of more than 220,000 migrants apprehended in March 2000. During the early 2000s, most migrants crossing the border were single males from Mexico who could be quickly deported. Now, tens of thousands of Central American asylum seekers cross the border, requiring more detention space, immigration judges and other resources while their cases are processed.

“The biggest question on my mind is why we have this sudden surge. For a while, we had equalized back from the anomalous dip in 2017, but why the sudden climb?” Washington correspondent for The San Francisco Chronicle Tal Kopan asks in a Twitter thread in which journalists and analysts note possible partial explanations, like smugglers delivering busloads of migrants to the border. “We don’t know what’s actually causing it so it’s hard to evaluate any proposed response.”

The president’s response was threatening again Wednesday in a tweet to close the southern border. “Mexico is doing NOTHING to help stop the flow of illegal immigrants to our Country. They are all talk and no action. Likewise, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have taken our money for years, and do Nothing. The Dems don’t care, such BAD laws. May close the Southern Border!”

Meanwhile, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen signed an agreement in Honduras Wednesday to increase cooperation between law enforcement in the U.S. and the Northern Triangle and address root causes of migration. Politico reports that there are already hundreds of millions of dollars approved in aid to Central America, but the government does not know what to do with it because of conflicting messages from the White House.

Salvadoran photographer Fred Ramos has documented the migrant exodus for five years says finding that cause will not be easy.“The migrant crisis in Central America is so complicated,” Ramos told The New York Times. “People leave for one reason, or all the reasons at once. But the international media deals with it in a simple manner, but it’s not just simply because some gang wants to kill them.”

Asylum Seekers
The El Paso and Rio Grande Valley sectors have seen the biggest increase in asylum claims in the past few months. “CBP is facing an unprecedented humanitarian and border security crisis all along our Southwest Border — and nowhere has that crisis manifested more acutely than here in El Paso,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan said on a visit where he said the system was at a “breaking point.” Border Patrol facilities, particularly in the El Paso border region, are more than 400 percent over capacityas the agency, reports CNN.

In New Mexico, officials are experimenting with potential solutions to address the increase in asylum seekers, ranging from an app to help authorities communicate to increasing volunteer medical aid, reports the Albuquerque Journal in a four-part series about the border.

Asylum claims from Cubans have also increased significantly in recent years. In 2018 the government processed 455 requests, this came after the Obama administration ended the wet-foot, dry-foot policy that allowed Cubans a special path to residency, up from 59 cases decided in 2016 reports NBC News. Cubans are also among a group of an estimated 2,500 migrants traveling in a migrant caravan through southern Mexico and activists say the group’s path has been hindered by the Mexican government, reports AP.

ICE is arresting fewer immigrants in the interior of the country as the agency moves resources to the border, reports CNN. Arrests decreased 12 percent from last year, while more agents were directed to the “explosion at the border,” said Nathalie Asher, ICE acting executive associate director for enforcement and removal operations.

ICE’s acting director said Tuesday that the agency has trained 1,500 state and local officers to help carry out immigration enforcement, reports Newsweek. The announcement comes as many other law enforcement agencies around the country are adopting sanctuary policies to separate their work from immigration enforcement.

Under the Trump administration, ICE press releases are used to promote the agency’s goals of increased enforcement and criminalization of immigrants and they depict ICE as a looming threat to undocumented immigrants, according to an analysis by Topic Magazine of more than 3,400 press releases between 2014 and 2018. Under the Obama administration, press releases emphasized the efficiency of the agency.

In October, ICE stopped ensuring that migrants had a way to travel to their destination before releasing them, a decision that has led to chaos as 107,000 parents and children have been released in California, Texas and Arizona in the past three months, reports PRI’s The World. An underground network of church leaders, charity organizations and volunteers has formed to house these migrants, with some volunteers hosting up to 40 migrants in their home at once. Univision’s Real America with Jorge Ramos follows a rapid response network in San Diegowhere people have been dropped off with ankle bracelets at McDonald’s parking lots.

Reproductive Rights
A Honduran mother recently gave birth to a stillborn baby in U.S. custody, raising questions about how immigration policy affects reproductive rights, reports The Washington Post. In an opinion piece, Sonia Gomez provides a history of nativist movements which have restricted reproductive rights of migrants.

Remain in Mexico
The “Remain in Mexico” program received new criticism for violating migrants’ rights. Documents obtained by the San Diego Union-Tribune revealed that migrants who express fear of returning to Mexico have not received a required interview with an asylum agent from USCIS.

Since the program only applies to asylum seekers who turned themselves in at ports of entry, more migrants are crossing the border illegally near Tijuana to request asylum and avoid being sent back to Mexico, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune. Migrants rushed the border at least four times last week.

Despite the controversy, “Remain in Mexico’ expanded to El Paso last week. Mexican officials in Ciudad Juarez are now struggling to adapt to the increase of asylum seekers staying long-term in the city without extra resources from the Mexican government to handle the problem, reports PRI’s The World.

DACA, TPS & Special Visas
A flight attendant with DACA status who was detained for a month after a flight to Mexico, was released last week after an outpouring of social media support, reports the Houston Chronicle. Her employer said it was safe for her to travel but the case casts a spotlight on the misunderstandings about the program and its limits.

New York City has seen a 14 percent drop in applications for U visas, which allow undocumented immigrants who cooperate with law enforcement to apply for legal status, reports WNYC. Immigration lawyers and activists attribute the drop to fear among undocumented immigrants of coming forward about crimes because of Trump administration’s restrictive immigration policies.

English Only?
Bilingual employees hired to translate and attend to immigrant youth at the Philadelphia offices of VisionQuest, a program for youth, reported being scolded for speaking Spanish in the office, reports The Philadelphia Inquirer. The incident is one of many which have grown more common in the U.S. in recent years.


Jobs, Fellowships & Awards

CQ Roll Call — Immigration and Homeland Security Reporter (DC)
Gannett Co./El Paso Times — Border and Immigration Reporter (TX)
Miami Herald — Immigration/General Assignment Reporter (FL)
Committee to Protect Journalists — Freelance Central America Correspondent, part-time (Central Am)
Southern California Public Radio/KPCC — Editor, Diverse Communities (CA)
San Jose Spotlight — Vietnamese-speaking Reporter and Freelancers (CA)
The Graduate Center at CUNY — International Migration Studies Program, applications due April 15.

Immigration Resources & Opportunities

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.

Daniela Gerson

Written by

Ass’t Prof @CSUNJournalism and Senior Fellow @CCEMNewmarkJ. Co-creator #MigratoryNotes. Subscribe for free: @dhgerson

Migratory Notes

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

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