Migratory Notes 123

Elizabeth Aguilera
Migratory Notes
Published in
14 min readJul 18, 2019


Private prison funds, asylum held up, go back where?

Conservatism and civil action are two growing trends among Chinese Americans, National Journal reports. There is a “rising force of conservatism among new Chinese immigrants in the U.S., aroused by nationwide issues such as the racially conscious admissions policy of Ivy League colleges and the legalization of marijuana for recreational use,” writes Rong Xiaoqing. Photo of a protest in Manhattan by Xiaoqing.

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The immigration court backlog has grown faster than the number of migrants crossing the border, despite the Trump administration’s attempts to speed up cases, reports The Marshall Project and Politico. Julia Preston and Andrew R. Calderon identify what is going wrong: “According to interviews with judges, lawyers and court staff, many of the moves by the administration — designed to accelerate the courts and eliminate policies from President Obama — have instead slowed them even more, making it harder for judges to move cases efficiently, extending processing times and compounding a nationwide backlog that has grown by about 68 percent under President Trump to nearly 877,000 cases.”

At least 20 public pension funds nationwide — including some in sanctuary states — have invested in two of the biggest private prison companies detaining immigrants, CoreCivic and GEO Group, revealed an investigation by Documented and The Guardian. The investments total an estimated $67 million, with the two largest being the California Public Employees Retirement System and the Texas Permanent School Fund. (There is a searchable database of the public pensions and amounts invested.) As watchdog reporting has exposed which banks and companies have invested in migrant detention, public outcry has led many to rethink their investments. Canadian pension funds stopped investing in these companies after Documented revealed last year they had invested $8 million.

“Go Back”
The tweet has become a rallying call. Wednesday at a Trump rally in North Carolina supporters chanted “send her back,” referring to Rep. Ilhan Omar. Her response:

Omar is one of the four Democratic congresswomen that were targets of Trump’s racist tweets saying they should “go back” to their countries. This despite that fact that three of them were born in the U.S. and all four are citizens.

ProPublica’s Documenting Hate Project has been collecting hate crimes and bias incidents into a database working with more than 170 newsrooms. People being told to “get out of this country” is one of the most common reports. HuffPost documented 97 ways it was said across the country. CBS news reports that this language is considered discriminatory and violates civil rights, per the U.S. government guidelines.

Across social media citizens of color shared their own experiences of being told to “go back” where they came from despite being born in the United States or being naturalized citizens. The L.A. Times compiled a selection of responses it got from readers.

The Washington Post predicts this move signifies Trump intends to use this type of language as “a rallying cry during his 2020 campaign as he seeks to frame the election around the nationalistic message that has inflamed racial tension across the country.”

The legal challenges have already begun against the new Trump policy to bar migrants from seeking asylum if they traveled through another country before reaching the U.S. The ACLU and other groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday just hours after the rule was published in the Federal Register by the Justice Department and DHS. Lawyers say that the rule violates the U.S. asylum law, and expect it to be blocked quickly through the court system.

The UNHCR also opposed the rule for its implications for international asylum law. “The effect is to tell the (mostly poor) countries next door to war-torn or violent ones that only they, and not rich ones, have a duty to help refugees,” reports The Economist. Internal memos show that the head of asylum at USCIS also raised concerns about the rule after asylum officers were not given the proper time to prepare and adapt to the drastic change, reports the LA Times.

The Trump administration announced the rule shortly after a potential deal with the Guatemalan government fell apart. The deal would have declared Guatemala a “safe-third country,” meaning that some asylum seekers would have had to seek refuge there first before doing so in the U.S., reports The New Yorker. Instead, Guatemala’s constitutional court barred president Jimmy Morales from signing the agreement in a meeting with Trump Monday without consulting Guatemalan Congress first, essentially squashing the plan. The meeting was rescheduled.

Border Patrol
More than 60 Border Patrol agents are being investigated internally for posts in a secret Facebook group that violated the agency’s code of conduct, reports AP. After ProPublica broke the story about a secret Facebook group for Border Patrol agents, a high-level Border Patrol official circulated an article that called the reporting a “threat” to the agency. Border Patrol chief Carla Provost was quick to express her shock and dismay at the group, but she was once part of the group, although she had left by the time the group was revealed, reports The Intercept.

Meanwhile, Texas and California agents have been circulating a mock commemorative coin that makes fun of the agency’s changing role in caring for and processing migrants, rather than just patrolling as before, reports ProPublica. An anonymous Border Patrol agent described how many agents rationalize their behavior. “I might not like the rules. I might think that what we’re doing wasn’t the correct way to hold children. But what was I going to do? Walk away? What difference would that make to anyone’s life but mine?”

A Customs and Border Protection officer working when Vice President Pence was visiting a holding cell full of detainees along the border got tagged as #IceBae and went viral. Her response on a Twitter feed she created to share with fans: “WOW I am in awe. Thank you all for the support! My job is so hectic at this moment but I am grateful. I love protecting my country! 🇺🇸🇺🇸❤️.” CBP says she can do what she wants with social media. Some are calling her a “Latina Hero” but others say she is “literally scum,” reports the New York Post.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services sent an email to staff Wednesday asking for volunteers to work for Immigration and Customs Enforcement given that “current conditions are placing extreme stress on our colleagues at ICE,” reports BuzzFeed News. USCIS has its own case backlog to deal with.

Immigration Raids
A poll by Politico revealed that 51 percent of voters supported the notion of raids across the U.S. while 35 percent opposed them. Despite that support, the mass raids promised in Trump tweets to go after about 2,000 families have not happened. Instead, smaller sweeps took place including ICE targeting blueberry pickers in Oregon, the Oregonian reported. Concerned that publicity would foil them, officials told The New York Times the plan was switched to a smaller and more diffuse operation.

So far, the raids that have occurred have been unique only in the publicity that they received. A benefit for immigrants was the increased “Know Your Rights” campaigns by activists that seemed to have worked in cases in Texas and New Jersey, reports The New York Times. But the threat of the raids still has many undocumented immigrants terrified, among them Herminia from Nicaragua, who shared an emotional and personal interview on The New York Times podcast The Daily.

Vice President Mike Pence blamed Congress for fetid and overcrowded conditions in detention centers, which he said did not surprise him after his visit last week, reports Vox. His comments revealed the contradictions of the Trump administration’s rhetoric about detention centers along the border, reports The New York Times. Officials often waver between using the conditions to justify calling migration a crisis or downplaying just how bad the situation is to avoid backlash. Just one day before Pence’s visit, lawyers filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Romanian man for being held without charge in unsanitary conditions, reports The Brownsville Herald. It is the sixth lawsuit filed against Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley since June.

Many people are getting rich off the migrant detention boom. Southwest Key, a nonprofit with multiple federal contracts to house migrant children, paid at least six employees more than $1 million in 2017, reports The Washington Post. Founder Juan Sanchez, who has since resigned, earned more than $3.6 million in 2017, more than double what he earned the previous year.

Meanwhile, migrant detention continues to expand:

Immigration is an International Issue
The Trump administration plans to send more than $40 million in aid originally appropriated to Guatemala and Honduras to the Venezuelan opposition instead, reports the LA Times. “What they are doing is essentially taking the money that would help poor Central American children and giving it to pay the salaries of Guaido and his officials and employees,” said an anonymous congressional aid.

Newly elected Salvadoran president Nayib Bukele said Tuesday that he thinks the U.S. should analyze the situation in El Salvador separately from Guatemala and Honduras, instead of lumping the three countries together for major policy decisions, reports AP. Unlike neighboring countries, Bukele said his country has made important strides against drug trafficking, part of the reason fewer Salvadorans are migrating compared to Hondurans and Guatemalans. Bukele tried to position himself as one of the few Central American leaders to recognize that country conditions lead to migration when he took the blame for the conditions that drove a father and daughter to leave the country and drown while crossing the Rio Grande. But Salvadoran journalist Oscar Martinez writes in an opinion piece in The New York Times en Español, that on another issue he is the same as other Central American leaders: “If there is something that unifies the discourse of all the presidents in the region in regards to migration, it is the inability to criticize with forcefulness the anti-immigrant policies of the U.S. and Mexico.”

Trump’s move on asylum is eliciting a divisive response in Europe and Australia where a similar approach to limiting migration has been taken, though generally without Trump’s bombast. The New York Times tracks two methods to stymy migrants:

1) Make the journey so daunting that they will not even attempt it.

2) Enlist poorer countries to detain or expel those who do anyway.

Many leaders from Europe and Australia are looking to Trump as an example of what more can be done, reports NBC News.

The Trump administration started eliminating in-person interpreters at immigrants’ initial court hearings on Wednesday at courts in New York and Miami, replacing them with a video advising people of their rights, Tal Kopan reports in the San Francisco Chronicle. The Trump administration says the video will speed up the process, but critics say it will cause confusion and impede due process, BuzzFeed News reports.

Immigration Reform
Trump presented to his cabinet Tuesday a draft of an immigration bill, developed by Jared Kushner, that would increase border security and promote “merit-based” immigration, with the hopes of rallying Republicans behind the plan before the August recess, reports Reuters.

Democratic voters are demanding that presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden explain his past immigration record during the Obama administration, which failed to pass immigration reform in the first 100 days in office as promised and deported more than 3 million immigrants, reports Politico.

Semper Fi
A Marine Corp and Army Reserve veteran is trying to re-enter the country after he was ordered deported at a hearing he did not attend years ago because he wasn’t aware of it, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune. Roman Sabal, 58, tried to enter Monday at the U.S.-Mexico border to attend a scheduled citizenship interview but was denied. Originally from Belize, he is one of seven deported veterans in Mexico or elsewhere with citizenship cases pending.


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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



Elizabeth Aguilera
Migratory Notes

Health/Social Services reporter @CALmatters, co-founder of #MigratoryNotes. I carry a mic & a pen. Prev: @KPCC @SDUT, @DenverPost. elizabeth@calmatters.org