Migratory Notes 121

Elizabeth Aguilera
Jun 27 · 13 min read

Detained and dead children on the border, shuffle in DC

Salvadoran Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter Angie Valeria drowned while trying to cross the Rio Grande into the U.S. after being unable to request asylum at the border, reports Anna-Cat for the Guardian. Martínez Ramírez’s wife Tania Vanessa Avalos watched from shore as her loved ones disappeared into the current. Photo credit: courtesy of the mayor’s office of San Martin, El Salvador

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A judge ordered the end of family separations a year ago, but they have continued via a loophole that allowed the government to separate parents from children if the parent has a criminal record or gang ties or if the child is perceived to be in danger, reports The Houston Chronicle. Those claims are often questionable, write Lomi Kriel and Dug Begley. Their story looks at the case of 4-year-old Brianna from El Salvador, one of an estimated 700 children separated from a parent or relative from June 2018 to May 2019. “The government is trying to drive a truck through what was supposed to be a very narrow exception,” an ACLU lawyer told Kriel and Begley.

Census and Politics

The Supreme Court ruled against the Trump administration Thursday blocking the citizenship question from the 2020 census, reports the Wall Street Journal. In a ruling, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court said this was not a final decision regarding the lawfulness of the question and wrote that the administration”s reasoning “seems to have been contrived.”

Immigration was in focus at the Democratic debate Wednesday night with candidate Julian Castro calling for his fellow candidates to commit to repealing the legal code that makes crossing the border illegally a federal crime, reports the Washington Post. Immigration is shaping to be one of the hot issues of the 2020 campaign given Trump’s positions on the border wall, detention and the metering of asylum requests at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Migrant Deaths

A Salvadoran man and his 23-month old daughter drowned while crossing the Rio Grande [Warning: GRAPHIC IMAGE] Monday, reports AP. The man, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, had decided to cross after growing frustrated at being unable to request asylum through U.S. officials at the border. A photo of the father and daughter lying face down in the water circulated widely on social media after the AP decided to publish and many other outlets followed suit.

Some, including Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro, have compared the photo to the Syrian boy who drowned and washed up on the beach [Warning: GRAPHIC IMAGE], saying that it could have the power to sway public opinion. But other immigration reporters and activists have questioned the ethics of deciding to publish a photo that dehumanizes the father and daughter. “Their family’s trauma should not be a political shock piece. We can — and should — stand against the atrocities happening at the border, but we can do that respectfully without sharing such an explicit image,” writes Julia Montejo, who recalls her own childhood experience of waiting for word about the safety of family members crossing the border, in Remezcla.

At least eight children have drowned in the river this year, reports The Guardian. On Saturday, Border Patrol found the bodies of three children and one woman who drowned crossing the river. Their identities and the cause of death has yet to be released.

Trump delayed mass immigration raids that were expected to begin Sunday, instead giving Congress two weeks to negotiate how to allocate $4.5 billion in supplemental funding. Despite the delay of the raids, many immigrants are still living in fear. “People know that enforcement is happening all the time. But the manner in which this is being rolled out is cruelty at its highest level,” immigrant rights activist told the LA Times. In many cities, including Baltimore, organizations have offered Know Your Rights workshops to prepare residents, reports The Baltimore Sun.

ICE agents themselves also opposed the raids, reports The New Yorker. One agent described the plan as a “nightmare” because of all the logistical details that were not addressed. There was no plan to house families, get booster seats to transport kids or handle cases of detained parents with U.S. citizen children.

Child Detention

Hundreds of children were transferred out of a Texas Border Patrol facility after reports of the dismal conditions there — overcrowding, no baths, kids taking care of kids — sparked outrage late last week. But for some, leaving was only temporary. 100 children were moved back on Tuesday, a move that shows the chaos within the immigrant detention system, reports The New York Times. These poor conditions are not unique to one detention center, reports Vox. On any given day, there are an estimated 2,000 children in Border Patrol custody and critics allege that the administration is not dedicating the proper resources to the influx of asylum seekers. These centers are notoriously difficult for activists, lawyers and journalists to gain access to, making it even more difficult to track the problem, reports Pacific Standard.

The issue has crossed partisan lines. On Sunday, Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul said he has never seen worse conditions in detention centers and he called on bipartisan support for humanitarian aid at the border on CBS program “Face the Nation.”

The House passed a bill Tuesday for $4.5 billion in supplemental funding for the humanitarian crisis at the border, reports The Washington Post. Democrats included measures to improve conditions for migrant children, including new health and safety standards for migrants in CBP custody. The bill will now go to Senate Republicans, who are likely to oppose the measures, reports The New York Times. Democrats also included resuming aid to Central America as part of the bill, reports Reuters.

Vice President Mike Pence said the Trump administration believes that detained migrant children should have toothbrushes and soap, reports NBC News. He made the comment after a government lawyer argued last week that the government may not be legally required to provide these items for short-term stays, reports AP. The lawyer, Sarah B. Fabian, began receiving death threats after her testimony in front of a judge who spent part of his childhood in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans, reports The New York Times. After reading about the lack of toothbrushes and soap for child migrants, some local residents decided to donate supplies to help out, but they were turned away because the government is legally prohibited from accepting donations, reports The Texas Tribune. CBP allowed a small group of journalists to tour a border station in Clint, Texas to show that they are providing toothbrushes and soap for detained children, but reporters were not allowed to take photos or speak to any of the children, reports The New York Times.

About 600 miles away, in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, 200 people protested a government plan to house undocumented children in a former Japanese internment camp, reports The New York Times. “We are here to say, ‘Stop repeating history,’” said a Japanese American who was born in the camp. Coordinated action by civil rights leaders against Bank of America’s support for private prisons and detention centers finally led to change this week when the bank announced it would stop lending to companies that run these facilities, reports Bloomberg. In Boston some employees of Wayfair walked out in protest of the company selling furniture to detention centers and consumers are calling for a boycott, reports WBUR.

Late Wednesday, a request for a Temporary Restraining order was filed on behalf of the children in detention that demands CBP start processing kids to be released to their parents, relatives or others and decries the deplorable conditions that are in violation of the Flores agreement, reports the LA Times.


In 2015, an oversight panel within Homeland Security was formed to recommend improvements to CBP to weed out “bad actors.” But years later, the agency has failed to carry out at least nine major recommendations, reports ProPublica.

Zero tolerance has continued for pregnant women in U.S. custody, who now face criminal prosecution and extended detention, reports LatinoUSA in an interview with Rewire.News reporter Tina Vasquez. The government has not explained how it decides who to prosecute under zero tolerance.

Sanctuary Policies

LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva promised to prohibit law enforcement cooperation with ICE, but ICE is still able to make some arrests, reports the LA Times. Law enforcement still sends fingerprints to a federal database that ICE has access to and some inmates can still be transferred to ICE custody. Since January ICE arrests have declined by nearly 50 percent, but there still exists a “complex tango that grants ICE a role while distancing it as a law enforcement partner,” writes Maya Lau. In another sanctuary city in Maryland, Prince George, at least three undocumented immigrants were placed in deportation proceedings after interactions with law enforcement that they thought would have been protected, reports The Washington Post.


A member of the border militia group United Constitutional Patriots was arrested this week for impersonating a U.S. officer, an offense punishable by up to three years in prison, reports Las Cruces Sun-News.

Immigration is an International Issue

Coyotes have cautioned migrants against crossing the Guatemala-Mexico border after Mexico sent more than 6,500 security forces, including 2,000 members of a newly created National Guard force, to crack down on migration, reports The New York Times. Mexico’s previous enforcement efforts have mainly focused on its southern border, but the country has now expanded enforcement to its northern border, where it deployed 15,000 soldiers and National Guard this week, reports Reuters.

Asylum seekers can now be sent back to two additional Mexican cities under the Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as Remain in Mexico, reports Reuters. One of the two cities, Nuevo Laredo, is in Tamaulipas, one of the most dangerous states in the country because of the presence of the Gulf and Zetas cartels. The other city is San Luis Rio Colorado in the state of Sonora, bordering Arizona. The number of asylum seekers sent back to Mexico under the policy has now reached 15,000, reports CBS News.

Root Causes

The U.S. has been relying on Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez to stop migrants from leaving the country, but Hondurans themselves have little faith in the president, reports The Wall Street Journal. Many believe he was fraudulently elected and are calling for his removal. Protests have persisted in the country since April when teachers and doctors began protesting efforts to privatize the education and healthcare systems.

In Central America, environmental disputes and violence against environmental defenders are another reason many flee. That was the case for Teresa Muñoz, a Guatemalan land rights defender who fought against a mining project that threatened her community’s source of clean water, reports The Intercept. Now she is seeking asylum in the U.S.

Children in Foster Care

A ProPublica investigation found that Illinois has failed to comply with a law that requires that children of Spanish-speaking parents be placed in foster homes that speak the language. Instead, some children like the son of Guatemalan immigrant Jorge Matias have learned Slovak as their first language, creating a language barrier between the two that only worsened when the father was deported.


A new study released by UC Berkeley shows that children of Mexican and Central American parents have increased anxiety and poorer sleep quality since the 2016 elections.


Immigration Resources & Opportunities

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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 most recent story was California poised to go further than any state to insure the undocumented — too pricey, or about time? 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 the 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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