Migratory Notes 125

Elizabeth Aguilera
Aug 1, 2019 · 14 min read

Climate driver, foster care, Marine smugglers

On the coast, water is rising. Inland it’s drought. Environmental degradation in Central America is a major factor leading to migration from Central America and it’s made worse by policies that favor business interests over protecting the environment, reports The Guardian in a series called Running Dry. In Honduras, the shrimp industry which exports to the U.S. and U.K. is destroying “huge mangrove sites promising development, but actually creates very few jobs — and actually increases poverty by restricting fishing access for locals,” said Dina Morel, director of a local marine conservation organization. In El Salvador, the most densely populated country in Central America, the country will run out of water in 80 years, according to one study. Photo credit: Juan Carlos for The Guardian.

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A “crude unwritten bargain” between Guatemalan leadership and the U.S. involves stymying the flow of immigration for turning a blind eye, reports Colum Lynch in Foreign Policy. “They promise not to let brown people into the country, and we let them get away with everything else,” a U.S. official told Lynch. This includes tacit acceptance of President Jimmy Morales restricting access to “archives that have been at the core of various attempts to prosecute Guatemalan politicians and officers responsible for some of Latin America’s most heinous atrocities,” Lynch writes.

In Honduras corruption is rampant. Sonia Nazario, writing in The New York Times, takes readers along on one bus driver’s journey as he delivers his extortion payments. The MS-13 gang, she writes, “requires you to walk toward youths holding AK-47s to pay your ‘taxes.’” The18th Street gang, which is extorting the driver, has drive-through service. Nazario argues that submitting to this type of corruption is at the root of despair — and the drive to move north. “Lots of places, the United States included, have corruption. Still, Honduras makes the swamp in Washington look like a piddling puddle. If the United States wants to slow migration from Central America, that’s the swamp we must help drain,” Nazario writes.

Safe Third Country?
Although the president announced Friday he had created “a safe third country agreement with Guatemala that will put human smugglers out of business and provide safety for legitimate asylum seekers,” it’s still not clear if it will go into effect, and what it will be exactly. Neither the U.S. nor Guatemala has used the phrase “Safe Third Country” in leaked documents, reports Just Security. “On its face, the document seems more like the arrangements made by Australia to transfer asylum seekers to the impoverished island nation of Nauru, than it does sound anything like the relatively equal relationship between Safe Third Country partners, like the U.S. and Canada,” writes Susan Gzesh.

The agreement would require asylum seekers, mainly Salvadorans and Hondurans who usually pass through the country on the way to the U.S., to request protections in Guatemala before doing so in the U.S., reports BuzzFeed News. If they don’t, they can be sent back to Guatemala.

The announcement that the two countries had signed an agreement Friday caused confusion and controversy. The Guatemalan Constitutional Court had previously blocked President Morales from signing a “safe third country agreement” without his Congress’ approval. Guatemalans took to the streets on Saturday to protest the agreement and the country’s human rights ombudsman filed a petition asking the constitutional court to nullify the agreement, reports AP. Lawmakers and experts in Guatemala say the country is ill-equipped to take on these asylum cases, reports Vice News. The country only has four asylum officers.

No Asylum
More than five months into the “Remain in Mexico” or Migrant Protocols Program, not a single asylum seeker has been granted asylum, according to a report released this week from TRAC. Researchers also found that just about 1% of the 1,155 Remain in Mexico cases that have been decided had legal representation, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

DHS cut a question in the Migrant Protections Protocols screening process that would have asked migrants if they feared returning to Mexico, reports BuzzFeed News. Immigrant advocates say it is another clear example of the program’s recklessness in sending migrants to Mexico.

Attorney General William Barr issued an opinion Monday stating that families are not a “particular social group” that would be eligible for asylum in the U.S. This means that asylum seekers will not be able to seek protection based on threats to their family. Immigration lawyers estimate that thousands of families will be affected by the decision, although the exact number is unknown, reports The Washington Post.

Southern Border Wall
The Supreme Court ruled last week that the Trump administration can use $2.5 billion in reallocated military funding to begin construction of the border wall. An injunction had previously blocked the administration from using the funds while the case is being decided in a lower court. Access to another $4.2 billion in funds is still restricted until a decision is made by a judge.

Northern Border
Undocumented immigrants who want to move legally to Canada are up against a new challenge: biometrics administered in the U.S., reports the Toronto Star. “Since these people can’t get fingerprinted to apply for Canadian work permits and study permits legally, they will all just walk across the border,” a Winnipeg-based immigration lawyer Vanessa Routley told the Toronto Star. “Ottawa has made it impossible for the majority of undocumented U.S. residents who want to apply legally.” (The story also features a DACA recipient who has relocated to Canada as a skilled worker and would not be impacted by the shift.)

Immigration Debates
Immigration was a central theme in the debates again (transcripts of first and second nights). Some takeaways from the top six Democratic candidates include:

  • Biden: “if you cross the border illegally, you should be able to be sent back. It’s a crime.”
  • Buttigieg: “When I’m president, illegally crossing the border will still be illegal”
  • Harris: “These children have not committed any crimes and should not be treated like criminals.”
  • O’Rouke: Waive citizenship fees, end for-profit detention, assist Central American countries.
  • Sanders: “What we will do…is bring the entire hemisphere together to talk about how we rebuild Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador so people do not have to flee their own countries.”
  • Warren: “We need to expand legal immigration. We need to create a path for citizenship, not just for Dreamers but for grandmas and for people who have been working here in the farms and for students who have overstayed their visas.”

In swing districts, like one in Wisconsin, Democratic presidential candidates may struggle to convince voters that they are not too soft on immigration, reports The New York Times. Many voters there disagree with Trump’s immigration policy, but still think that immigrants should follow legal pathways to come to the U.S.

Nearly 20 Marines were arrested for smuggling migrants across the border in a case that shows how restrictive immigration policies have led some unexpected people to join smuggling operations, reports The New York Times. “Those Marines — from Camp Pendleton, near Oceanside, Calif. — have not yet been charged,” writes Dave Phillips. “But their arrests are a glaring indication that stepped-up enforcement at the border by both troops and Border Patrol agents has done little to stop migrants, and has instead had an unintended effect: pushing up smuggling fees and attracting atypical players to the trade.”

A DACA recipient married to a U.S. citizen traveled to Mexico to follow the required procedure to get a green card, but when he admitted that he had smoked marijuana — which is legal in California where he lives — his application was put on hold, reports The OC Register. Immigration lawyers say there is confusion and uncertainty about how marijuana use can affect immigration applications.

Detention Politic$
The Maryland company Nakamoto Group repeatedly reported that detainees in U.S. immigration detention were happy with the conditions and often downplayed abuse, reports Kaiser Health News. But a government institution and a non-profit organization which had access to the same facility found extensive problems.

Nakamoto Group is one of many private companies that profit off immigration detention, reports Newsweek in an op-ed. GEO Group and CoreCivic also bring in billions from detention centers and politicians often accept their money to fund their campaigns. Eleven out of 17 members of a Congressional committee that determined how ICE funds would be distributed in 2019 accepted money from private prison companies. “To combat this injustice, we must understand its causes. Through our nation’s history, many immigration policies have been driven by nativism, so it makes sense to look at the current immigrant detention crisis within that context,” writes Danny Holt. “However, there is another force shaping the particularities of the detention system that is often overlooked: money in politics.”

Democratic lawmakers decided to table a progressive bill that would have changed the migrant detention system until after the summer recess, reports Politico. The bill was expected to cause fractures within the Democratic party. If they don’t reach a deal, another government shutdown could be looming.

Family Separation
As many as 1,000 children have been separated from their families since the Trump administration was ordered by a judge to stop doing so, according to the ACLU. Some of those separated migrant children are placed in foster care, reports NPR. Reporters Lulu Garcia-Navarro, Sophia Alvarez Boyd and Josh Axelrod take readers through the range of emotions that one of these foster mothers faces.

Root Causes
Why has one Guatemalan community become a center for out-migration? National Geographic visits Huehuetenango, Guatemala and finds people are driven by a combination of poverty, lack of economic opportunities, and systematic discrimination of indigenous people.

Out of 64,000 cases placed in a specialized docket for families meant to speed up the immigration backlog, more than 13,000 have resulted in orders of removal “in absentia,” meaning the person did not show up to their court date, reports Reuters. Many immigrants and advocates report that notices were never received and point to clerical errors in an overloaded system.

Citizenship and Special Visas
Democratic senators tried to pass a bill that would grant Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans in a rush vote before the summer recess, but it was blocked by Republican senators, reports The Miami Herald. The bill passed in the House last week with a majority of members voting to extend the status to Venezuelans who cannot return to the country because of its ongoing humanitarian crisis, reports AP.

Immigration Map of the Week

Business Insider is the latest to take a look at what languages are spoken in states — other than Spanish and English. While there are various interesting takeaways, there are also challenges with looking at languages in this way without population numbers. Five years ago, Slate broke down some of the shortcomings of maps like these and how the American Community Study selects languages and why that could lead to certain languages, such as Chinese/ Mandarin/ Cantonese, being underrepresented in this visualization, and Native Hawaiian not included. The comparison also reflects some growing communities: Somali and Arabic-speaking among them. Also, if you have made it this far, anyone know why Ilocano replaced Tagalog in Hawaii?


Immigration Resources & Opportunities

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Reporting resources, tools and tips

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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 senior fellow at 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 reported A Japanese American newspaper chronicles the ‘searing’ history of immigrant incarceration for PRI’s The World. 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. A recent story by Aguilera 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

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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