Migratory Notes 122

Legal child labor, raids rumors, border deaths

Elizabeth Aguilera
Jul 11 · 15 min read
The mother of 19-month-old Mariee Juarez, who died shortly after being released from ICE custody in 2018, testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform about the conditions in detention facilities, which she called unsanitary and inadequate, reports Mother Jones. Juarez has filed a wrongful death claim against the U.S. government. Photo via Arnold & Porter.

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More than 500,000 children work in the U.S agricultural industry each year and they are legally allowed to do so as long as it does not interfere with school and they have their parents’ permission, reports Pacific Standard magazine. The kids can be as young as 12 and can work unlimited hours. Many are the children of immigrants. It’s risky work and an estimated 33 children per day are injured in agricultural related accidents. The legality of using kids in the fields is essentially unique to the U.S. according to Margaret Wurth of Human Rights Watch: “It’s kind of unbelievable that, in 2019, that’s the status of our child labor laws when it comes to farming,” For 16 months writers Valeria Fernandez and Karen Coates and photographer Jerry Redfern followed children in South Texas.

The Guardian also visits Texas immigrant farmworkers, with a story on the specific challenges facing undocumented women in the Rio Grande Valley who work for $3 an hour.

Immigrant farmworkers are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events caused by climate change, reports 100 Days in Appalachia in a series called Unseen. Many, such as Martin Hernandez, are not eligible for disaster assistance after storms like Hurricane Florence destroyed their crops and livelihoods because they are not the legal owners of their homes or property. “New undocumented immigrant farmworkers continue to arrive in North Carolina and the state’s growers depend on increasing numbers of farmworkers with temporary, H-2A visas, mostly from the same countries as undocumented farmworkers,” writes Timothy Pratt. “Despite their importance to the regional economy, these workers remain mostly unseen when natural disasters strike.”

Border Apprehensions Drop
Border apprehensions fell 28 percent from May to June, reports The Washington Post. The decrease is more than the usual drop during the summer months, but crossings are still at more than 100,000 per month. Experts attribute the drop in part to Mexico’s increased enforcement efforts, reports The Dallas Morning News. Although Mexican President Lopez Obrador vowed during his campaign that he would not bow to U.S. demands, he has received little backlash in Mexico, where support for migrant caravans has waned since October 2018, reports AP. One group of Mexicans is not happy with the move: the National Guardsmen, reports Reuters. The force was created to tackle violence in Mexico, but instead has been sent to the country’s northern and southern borders.

Migrant Deaths
The Rio Grande River is at its highest level in 20 years, and dozens have died trying to cross, most recently Salvadoran father Oscar Martinez and his daughter Valeria, reports The Intercept. At a press conference about their deaths, recently elected Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele said that his own country shares part of the blame for the deaths because the conditions force them to flee, reports The New York Times. One of his campaign promises included improving the economic conditions and insecurity that cause so many to flee.

In the past two weeks, reported deaths at the border include:

Migrant Demographics
African migrants in Mexico have tripled in the first four months of 2019 to 1,900 people mainly from Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo, reports Reuters. Countries in Latin America usually let them pass because they don’t have repatriation agreements with the Africans’ home countries and want to avoid the high cost of deportation. But that could soon change as Trump pressures Mexico and Central America to crack down on immigration. Many of these migrants have joined the long list of asylum seekers waiting in Mexico, reports the LA Times.

Border Patrol
After ProPublica revealed a secret Facebook group where Border Patrol agents joked about the death of migrants and made other racist and sexist remarks, the group began deleting the posts in an effort to hide the evidence, reports The Intercept. DHS officials knew of the Facebook group since at least 2016, but failed to take any action against the agents for their lewd posts, reports Politico. CBP opened an internal investigation after the report was published, reports ProPublica. In a separate incident, in March, Border Patrol agents tried to humiliate an immigrant by making him hold up a sign that says “I like men,” according to emails written by an agent and obtained by CNN.

Immigration Raids
The promised mass immigration raids are expected to begin Sunday but the final details are still being worked out, reports The New York Times. The plan includes targeting at least 2,000 immigrants who are part of families that crossed the border recently and have been ordered to leave. Trump previously tweeted raids would occur by July 6 but that seemed to be postponed because of the pushback the administration received. Acting USCIS Director Ken Cuccinelli told CBS Sunday that authorities are prepared to deport the estimated 1 million undocumented immigrants with final deportation orders. Documents obtained by The Intercept show that the raids are more about filling quotas than about “public safety” as officials claim.

The U.S. has been using intelligence from a previously unreported “fusion center” in El Salvador to accuse migrants of having gang ties and separate them from their children, reports ProPublica in an investigative piece that reveals how cross-border communication between law enforcement is being used, and potentially abused, in the immigration system. Information sharing between U.S. immigration officials and Central American countries has taken place for years, but it’s “largely been limited to people with active arrest warrants and criminal convictions for use in deportation proceedings,” a lawyer and former State Department employee told Melissa del Bosque. The U.S. government reports that information from Salvadoran authorities has helped identify more than 240 previously unknown gang members, but the methods for categorizing someone remain shrouded in mystery. The Salvadoran police have a history of police abuse, arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings, calling into question the validity of the information they share with the U.S. In 2018 the center was expanded to include Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico.

The FBI and ICE have run thousands of facial recognition searches based on information provided by state DMVs, providing them with more information on undocumented immigrants, reports The Washington Post. More than a dozen U.S. states allow undocumented immigrants to get a license. In at least three of those states — Washington, Utah and Vermont — officials have been “actually taking advantage of that to secretly find and deport those people using face recognition technology,” the director of Georgetown’s Law Center on Privacy & Technology told NPR.

Family Separation
The exact number is unknown, but there are likely thousands of grandparents, aunts and cousins who have been separated from the children they raised at the border, reports NPR. Many of the adults are sent back to Mexico and have few chances of being reunited with their families, reports The San Diego Union-Tribune.

A USCIS directive will allow asylum officers to interview migrants just one day after they have crossed the border as opposed to the previous 48-hour waiting period, reports BuzzFeed. The agency said it will help speed up processing times and clear a backlog of cases at the border, but critics say it will give asylum seekers less time to prepare their cases and recover from the physically and emotionally taxing journey.

A new policy could decrease the number of migrants who are considered unaccompanied minors by disqualifying anyone who had been released to a parent or legal guardian, reports the LA Times. Being considered an unaccompanied minor affords them special protections and asylum interviews with USCIS officers instead of in immigration court.

The first 12 migrants were sent back to Tamaulipas, one of the most dangerous states in Mexico, under the Remain in Mexico program, reports The Washington Post. A State Department travel warning advises against any travel to the state.

For the more than 200 people who went before Judge Agnelis L. Reese in the past five years in Oakdale, Louisiana, destiny was a rejected asylum case, reports Topic Magazine. Reese has the lowest approval record in the country at 100% denials. That compares with a 65% average denial rate across the country. She is also part of a local immigration detention boom: “ICE has more than tripled the number of beds reserved for detainees in Louisiana, putting it among the top five states with the largest number of migrants held in detention centers, including California and Texas,” writes Gabriel Thompson. Reese retired in June, but the situation does not look like it is improving with a new Sessions’ appointee so far following her lead with rejections.

ICE opened three new detention facilities last month — one in Mississippi and two in Louisiana — even though detention is already over the congressional limit, reports Mother Jones. The administration is also scouting properties in Phoenix, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio for new detention centers for unaccompanied minors, reports NBC. The leases would be long-term for up to 20 years.

A joint El Paso Times and New York Times investigation revealed that Border Patrol leaders knew of the horrid conditions at the Clint station in Texas for months because agents had been reporting them. The site was designed to hold no more than 100 adult men but has gone far overcapacity in recent months. The lack of beds, proper hygiene and quality food was well-known to Border Patrol officials, who blame the conditions on the increase of families crossing the border.

The reports of abuse at detention facilities extend beyond Clint and are not all new. Government case managers have documented cases of sexual abuse, verbal insults, and barely edible food in Yuma, Arizona, reports NBC News.

Sanctuary Movement
The U.S. government has issued fines of up to $500,000 to immigrants who have sought sanctuary in churches for failing to depart the U.S., according to documents obtained by NPR. The law allows the government to impose fines of up to $500 a day for immigrants who have stayed after signing voluntary departure or been ordered deported, but immigration lawyers say the law has barely been used before, reports The Washington Post.

Immigrant Education & Benefits
Between 2000 and 2011, a study found that more than 300,000 Latino students changed or left schools in communities where cooperation agreements between local police and ICE were signed, reports U.S. News and World Report. At the time of the study, 55 counties had these partnerships. Now, there are 90.

As more migrant children arrive in the U.S., school districts are struggling to attend to students with little prior formal schooling, reports The New York Times. Integrating children from Guatemala’s indigenous communities is particularly challenging because many speak neither English nor Spanish.

The unexpected arrival of more than 300 African migrants created housing problems in Portland, Maine. But an emergency declaration allowed the local government to turn the Portland Expo into emergency housing, reports the Portland Press Herald. As the city works to move them to permanent housing, there is still tension over what kind of public assistance they will receive.

Census & Justice
Trump is planning to announce an executive action around “census and citizenship” on Thursday, The New York Times reports. This will bring new court challenges and most likely a return to the Supreme Court.

Attorney General Barr has moved forward with a regulation that would give the Board of Immigration Appeals more power to issue binding decisions and establish precedent in immigration law, reports The San Francisco Chronicle.

Immigration is an International Issue
In Guatemala, evangelical pastors make a profit off the immigration industry — $250 per person that they refer to a coyote and $150 for praying with migrants before they leave, reports The Guardian. “Pastors can act as a bridge between people who want to migrate and people who can take them,” explained a man named Pedro who recruits for coyotes. “They know the community.”

Helping farming communities build resistance to climate change could help stem the flow of migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, but cuts to U.S. aid may be undermining the progress made since 2016, reports NBC News. If nothing is done, an estimated 4 million people from Central America and Mexico will migrate because of climate change by 2050.


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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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