Migratory Notes 114

Elizabeth Aguilera
May 9 · 12 min read

Border deaths, refugee costs, voluntary deportation

A painting titled “immigration” depicting two migrant children holding a sign that reads “Bring Our Mom Back” is one of the winners of the high school Congressional Art Competition. Dominick Cocozza, 17, of Virginia, created the piece of art and said he based his painting on pictures of kids carrying signs. Credit: Twitter

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Claudia Gómez, a 20-year-old Mayan migrant from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, was fatally shot by a Border Patrol agent in May 2018 while being apprehended. Her death may have been forgotten if a neighbor nearby had not taken a video that went viral, report Lauren Bohn and Andrea Ixchíu for Marie Claire in the first in a three-part series about women and migration. “An American flag still hangs over the window in a small room where Claudia used to sew clothes and where the family received visitors after Claudia’s body was sent back to Guatemala,” writes Bohn. A year later, her family continues to seek justice in her killing. Despite inconsistencies in the Border Patrol agent’s report, past cases of migrants shot dead at the border suggest that nobody will be held accountable for her death.

College professor Scott Warren has spent years working in the Arizona desert to bring water and aid to migrants making the dangerous journey. “In an alternate universe, one could imagine the efforts of Warren and his cohort being the kind of thing a society might actively support, or even prioritize,” writes Ryan Devereax in The Intercept. But instead, Warren and his fellow volunteers have been criminalized. He was the last of nine volunteers to be tried for entering a wildlife refuge without a permit and his trial began this week.

The number of immigrants, most of them in detention, who requested a voluntary departure doubled from 2017 to 2018, reports The Marshall Project. For the Trump administration, this indicates the success of its immigration policy. What is called “voluntary departure” is generally a decision made when it feels like there are no other options, as was the case of Alejandra Garcia Zamarrón, a mother of three who chose to return to Mexico over a prolonged stay in detention. “It speaks to the desperation of people in detention that they’d be trying to sign up in droves for this thing that actually causes them to be removed,” her lawyer said. “They’ve got to be thinking that there’s no way out.”

Enforcement
Trump’s latest choice for ICE director is Mark Morgan, a former FBI official and avid support of Trump’s immigration policies. Morgan formerly worked as head of Border Patrol under the Obama administration and on a special MS-13 task force as an FBI agent in California, reports PBS Newshour. If his nomination passes a Senate confirmation hearing, his greatest challenge may be staying in Trump’s good graces.

The Department of Justice drafted a regulation to expand the public benefits that could fall under the category of “public charge” to include cash welfare, Medicaid, food stamps and more, reports Reuters.

Limiting Asylum
In a move that suggests the Trump administration is finding new ways around the courts to narrow asylum, it recently instructed asylum officers to be more skeptical of asylum seekers’ stories in revised training guidelines, reports Reuters. The guidelines also removed previous passages that encouraged cultural sensitivity and explained why migrants might not have documentation of their cases. The new rules could lead to longer delays in the already backlogged asylum process by requiring asylum officers to provide detailed explanations on their decision to allow a case to continue, an anonymous asylum officer told The Washington Post.

In March 2017, Trump ordered high-level officials to investigate the financial burden of refugees on the country and find ways to curb costs. The Center for Public Integrity found that the order was based on misinformation about refugees and asylum seekers. Statistics show refugees contribute more to the U.S. government in taxes than they use in public services.

Family Separation & Fake Families
Legal guardians and the children they were traveling with when they were separated at the border still have not been reunited because they are excluded from the court ruling ordering reunification, reports Reveal. It is unclear how many families are affected by this legal technicality. Lawyers are fighting to have legal guardians be recognized as parents to speed up reunification.

Since April 2018, Border Patrol has reported 3,100 cases of “fraudulent families” — adults with minors who cross the border and falsely claim to be related, reports the Arizona Daily Star. This is only about 1 percent of the total families that crossed the border during that time. In one case last week, Border Patrol said it apprehended a minor who had crossed the border posing as the relative of an adult migrant more than once, in what they call “recycling,” reports El Paso Times. Immigration experts caution against using individual stories to point to a trend.

Shelters for Minors
Former Trump chief of staff and DHS secretary John Kelly joined the board of Caliburn International, the largest operator of shelters for migrant children, reports CBS News. Recent deaths of minors in U.S. custody has drawn more scrutiny of policies promoted by Trump officials, including Kelly, to increase the detention of migrant children.

A pediatrician detailed a pattern of improper procedures for treatment of migrant children in shelters run by New Jersey non-profit Center for Family Services, including failing to schedule follow-ups, late vaccinations, and willful ignorance of chronic conditions, reports ProPublica. But when these patterns were reported, state authorities, the Office of Refugee Resettlement and Center for Family Services failed to take action.

Detention
Is the government’s data on immigrants too much of a mess to trust? That is what a class-action lawsuit alleges, reports the LA Times. At issue is the hodgepodge of ICE databases used to issue detainers — requests to hold someone in police custody on suspicion of being in the country illegally. If a judge rules in favor, it will affect detainers issued in 43 states.

It’s not only do-gooders protesting private prison firms. Shareholders of GEO Group, one of the biggest companies that holds immigrants, voted to require the company to provide information to investors about human rights policies and abuses, reports Miami New Times.

Labor
Seven undocumented immigrants said they were hired at Trump Winery in Charlottesville, Virginia even though hiring staff was aware of their immigration status, reports Univision. Their lack of papers often allegedly led to abuse, including working long hours without extra pay, no vacation time, and no medical insurance. Univision has not received a response from the winery or the Trump administration.

An additional 30,000 seasonal work visas, known as H-2Bs, were approved by the Labor Department and Department of Homeland Security after a “tug of war” in which business leaders won out over immigration hardliners, reports The Wall Street Journal. “Not exactly out of the “buy American, hire American” playbook,” Politico reporter Ted Hesson tweeted. “The program offers 66,000 visas annually, so that’s a notable increase.”

Immigration arrests in Atlanta have increased in the past two years, leaving empty vans previously used by day laborers that have become “tombstones for the disappeared.” A New York Times Op-Doc followed Mundo Hispanico reporter Mario Guevara as he documents these arrests, often to the dismay of ICE officers.

Sanctuary Movement
ICE announced a new program Monday that will allow state and local law enforcement to circumvent sanctuary laws that prohibit their cooperation with immigration agencies. As the legal fight over sanctuary policies heats up, so has the battle over defining the term, reports Pacific Standard. As many as 12 states hinder law enforcement cooperation with ICE to varying degrees, but some cooperation still continues. For example, New York is a sanctuary state, but ICE still receives some information from local law enforcement. The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services alerts ICE when it finds certain information, such as past deportations of someone fingerprinted, reports Documented.

Immigration Reform?
This week, Trump endorsed his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner’s immigration plan, which received a warm reception when presented to Republican legislators, reports AP. The plan would favor “merit-based” immigration, but the number of immigrants allowed to legally enter the country would remain roughly the same. The proposal also details changes to border security that would require everyone and everything passing through ports of entry to be scanned.

But 18 months before elections, any appearance of progress on immigration reform is likely a “mirage” given the lack of communication between leaders of both parties, reports Politico. And who can keep up with what the more than dozen candidates vying for the Democratic nomination are promising to do if elected? The Washington Post compiled a handy guide to Democratic 2020 candidates’ immigration proposals.

Democrats, meanwhile, have not reached an agreement about the DREAM Act, because they can’t agree on whether to include those with criminal records, reports Politico. A compromise on border wall funding also remains elusive as Democrats refuse to validate Trump’s claims of a “crisis.” On Monday, eight lawyers backed a lawsuit filed by the House to prevent Trump from spending billions on a border wall without Congressional approval.

Travel Ban
A federal ruling last week gave civil rights and immigrant advocacy groups a second chance to legally fight Trump’s travel ban, reports BuzzFeed News. Meanwhile, two years after the ban went into effect, families hoping to be approved for a waiver still have not received information about their applications, which remain in “administrative processing,” reports the LA Times. Fewer than five percent of waivers have been approved.

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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. One of her recent stories was “Because we punch above our weight:” Gov. Newsom says California deserves bigger say in U.S. immigration policy. 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.

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