Trans asylum court, DHS shakeup, Miller’s next plans

Daniela Gerson
Apr 11 · 14 min read
California Governor Gavin Newsom visited El Salvador this week, in an effort to make California a leader on immigration policy, reports Elizabeth for CALMatters. Accompanying him was State Senator Wendy Carrillo, who fled El Salvador as a child. Photo courtesy of Carrillo.

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#MustListen/ #MustRead
Reveal goes deep into the legal and personal web of trans asylum cases. Out of 627 asylum cases heard in six years, a California immigration judge rejected 600 of them. Her record had a huge impact on one specific community: transgender people who came to the United States because they were afraid for their lives. Patrick Michels interviews the judge, who is now retired, and looks at how she, ironically, opened up more opportunities for trans people across the country to seek asylum. Alice Driver, two years ago, left at dawn from an El Salvador bus station with a sex worker on the beginning of her journey to seek asylum in the U.S. They parted ways in Mexico, but she caught back up with her recently in San Diego.

“Unlike in much of the world, where most murdered women are killed by their husbands, partners or family members, half in Honduras are killed by drug cartels and gangs,” Sonia Nazario writes in The New York Times. “And the ways they are being killed — shot in the vagina, cut to bits with their parts distributed among various public places, strangled in front of their children, skinned alive — have women running for the border.” The Honduran state often fails to protect these women, and sometimes “is the predator,” writes Nazario. And U.S.-backed support for social changes in Honduras, as well as victims’ chances of receiving asylum in the U.S., are diminishing.

The New York Times also provides a broad analysis of the situation at the border: U.S. Immigration System May Have Reached a Breaking Point. “The very nature of immigration to America changed after 2014, when families first began showing up in large numbers. The resulting crisis has overwhelmed a system unable to detain, care for and quickly decide the fate of tens of thousands of people who claim to be fleeing for their lives,” write Michael D. Shear, Miriam Jordan and Manny Fernandez. “For years, both political parties have tried — and failed — to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, mindful that someday the government would reach a breaking point.”

A couple points that came out of Twitter threads responding to the story:

Shake Up at DHS
The man taking over DHS from Kirstjen Nielsen, who resigned Sunday, looks the part of enforcer. That fits with his last role — as CBP commissioner. But Kevin McAleenan also supports aid to Central America as a deterrent to migration and is liked on both sides of the aisle, reports The Washington Post. The question is, how long will he last? McAleenan will be the ninth top level DHS official, as Trump’s erratic staffing changes led to instability in the agency, reports CNN. “He’s pulling the rug out from the very people that are trying to help him accomplish his goal,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) told The Washington Post.

Other recent staffing changes:

Trump and Miller “appear to be trying to get rid of anyone who might tell them that ‘tougher direction’ might be a bad idea — or illegal,” Dara Lind writs in Vox. The shake up appears part of a larger plan to enact harsher immigration policies, in part to help motivate Trump’s base ahead of midterm elections, reports Politico. Plans from the Trump administration, many created by Miller, include:

Yet, ultimately, Trump’s actual next moves on immigration are predictably unpredictable. “While Trump recently told senior aides that White House adviser Stephen Miller is his unofficial immigration czar, he told reporters on Wednesday that his son-in-law Jared Kushner would be out with an ‘exciting’ immigration plan ‘soon,’” Politico reports.

We’re Full
Trump has used the line recently that the country is “full” and “can’t handle any more” immigrants. But the federal government is quietly proposing to increase the number of guest workers, The New York Times reports. And there is, indeed, room. A Times analysis and visualization breaks down that there are fewer working-age adults and that population growth in the United States has now hit its lowest level since 1937.

Meanwhile, the winter White House has an immigration problem. “Alongside the foreign guest workers and the sizable American staff is another category of employees, mostly those who work on the pair of lush golf courses near Mar-a-Lago,” write Miriam Jordan, Annie Correal and Patricia Mazzei in The New York Times. “Not offered apartments, they have been picked up by Trump contractors from groups of undocumented laborers at the side of the road; hired through staffing companies that assume responsibility for checking their immigration status; or brought onto the payroll with little apparent scrutiny of their Social Security cards and green cards, some of which are fake…an embarrassing reality for a president who has railed against undocumented immigrants, one his company is scrambling to erase.” But if Trump Organization is under federal investigation for its hiring practices remains a mystery, reports The Washington Post.

Smuggling Business
The business of smuggling continues to push migrants toward the option of traveling as a family. Traveling north from Guatemala for an adult migrant could cost up to $11,700, but traveling with a minor drops the price to $5,200, reports The Guardian. “It’s never been easier for us to get families in,” said one coyote. As smugglers have capitalized on lax border controls between Mexico and Central America, and the comprehensive Mexican bus system, business has boomed in the Guatemalan border town of Gracias a Dios, reports NPR.

Asylum
A federal judge blocked the “Remain in Mexico” program Monday, based on plaintiffs who argued that the program did not provide sufficient protections to migrants sent back to Mexico. The order will go into effect on Friday, but the government could appeal the decision to have the policy reinstated. The hundreds of migrants already sent back to Mexico still don’t know if they’ll be able to cross into the U.S. while their cases are decided, reports The Texas Tribune.

Family Separation
It could take up to two years to reunite all of the children separated from their families, reports NBC News. And when they are reunited, the psychological impact of the trauma continues, reports HuffPost investigating impacts one year after zero tolerance went into effect.“Once affable sons and daughters are now angry, withdrawn and unable to sleep. Some don’t want to go to school or leave the house, for fear of being separated once again, and constantly burst into tears,” writes Angelina Chapin.

Despite a judge’s ruling to halt separations, the administration has continued to separate parents from their children through a legal loophole, reports Slate. The administration considers illegal reentry as a “serious criminal history,” which can be ground for separation under last year’s ruling against separations.

Border
Although Trump has not yet followed through on his threats to close the border, the reassignment of 750 Border Patrol agents away from border work has hurt business as wait times to cross the border have increased by 500 percent, reports Supply Chain Dive. There are an estimated 23,000 trips a day, by foot, between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, and many people who cross regularly are increasingly worried about how a potential border shut down would impact their lives, reports The Dallas Morning News. “I don’t want to jeopardize all I have worked for because of one person’s stubbornness,” said college student Luis Garcia, who recently moved to El Paso to ensure he will not miss classes if the border shuts down.

About 5,000 troops are still stationed at the border. On top of an uncertain mission, they lack fresh food and required maintenance for their vehicles, reports The New York Times.

Detention
The federal government is considering expanding its network of shelters for migrants to Dallas and Houston as facilities near the border have been become too full to house the increase in families, reports The Dallas Morning News.

Late last month the Southern California city of Adelanto announced it was terminating its contract with GEO Group, the for-profit company that runs its detention center, the Orange County Register reports. But instead of closing, the troubled detention center could actually expand, and still under GEO Group, just without the city as an intermediary. This is part of a trend in California, and elsewhere in the country, of cities pulling out of detention contracts with often unintended consequences, reports AP. The changes happen weeks after a 27-year-old detainee died in the hospital after being released in a coma, the latest of various health issues reported at the detention center.

Climate Change
In the Georgia city known as the Ellis Island of the South, immigrants from countries including Syria, Somalia, Rwanda have arrived, reporting fleeing the effects of climate change — droughts, intense storms, and floods — but they still have no legal protections as “climate change refugees,” a term that does not exist legally, reports PRI’s The World.

In Guatemala, farmers fear that cutting off U.S. aid that promotes climate change resilience would make it harder for them to remain on their land that is already prone to droughts, reports Reuters.

Licenses for Undocumented Immigrants
Advocates in favor of drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants see a chance to expand a pathway to licenses in about a half-dozen states including Wisconsin, New Jersey, and New York, reports NBC.

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*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 synthesize exceptional immigration journalism.

Daniela Gerson

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Ass’t Prof @CSUNJournalism and Senior Fellow @CCEMNewmarkJ. Co-creator #MigratoryNotes. Subscribe for free: https://bit.ly/2tkethJ @dhgerson

Migratory Notes

At a time of rapidly shifting policies, we synthesize exceptional immigration journalism.

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