Migratory Notes 129

Elizabeth Aguilera
Aug 29 · 15 min read

FBI informants, solitary suicide, destination Houston

Doctor. Tennis player. Police officer. These are some of the dreams of children who are waiting in Matamoros for the chance to seek asylum, reports BuzzFeed News in an evocative photo essay. Genesis, age 9, wants to be an attorney. Photo Credit: Veronica G. Cardenas for BuzzFeed News

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#MustRead/ #MustListen
An undocumented Muslim immigrant from Uzbekistan agreed to inform on his own community for the FBI in exchange for being able to stay in the U.S., reports Arun Venugopol for Gothamist and WNYC. This type of agreement has grown more common since the September 11 attacks. “It creates distrust among community members,” a national security expert said. “Because people are always looking at the guy next to them, and thinking, ‘Oh, is he an informant?’” With the help of a legal aid group, the man was able to “break up” with the FBI agents. But now he worries about how he can repair his relationship with his community and if he could face retaliation for being an informant if he is deported.

Efraín Romero de la Rosa hung himself after spending 21 days in solitary confinement at the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia, which is run by Core Civic, one of the largest private prison companies in the U.S. An 11-month investigation from The Takeaway and the Intercept revealed that correctional staff skirted rules when dealing with de la Rosa, who suffered from schizophrenia. (In May, the International Consortium for Investigative Journalism, working with various outlets, investigated the overuse of solitary confinement in immigration detention.)

Detention
A new study by researchers at UC San Diego analyzed case files of more than 7,000 families held in custody from October 2018 to June 2019, Here are some key findings:

  • Houston has emerged as a key destination city for Central American immigrants
  • 1 out of 5 heads of households had a primary language other than Spanish, but nearly 90% of them were given legal instructions in Spanish
  • 12 percent of families reported mistreatment, including insults or physical abuse
  • 62 percent reported poor food or water quality
  • 45 percent reported trouble sleeping because of the conditions

Nineteen states, led by California and Massachusetts, filed a joint lawsuit against the Trump administration for a new rule that would allow the indefinite detention of minors, reports the LA Times. The states claim that the rule violates due process and would lead to childhood trauma. The Trump administration’s attack on the 1997 Flores agreement, which set standards for detention conditions for minors, goes back as far as August 2017, reports The New Yorker.

After a hotline for detained immigrants was featured in “Orange Is the New Black,” ICE shut it down, reports the LA Times. Freedom for Immigrants, which runs the line, says it sometimes receives 14,000 calls a month. The organization responded with a cease and desist letter charging that ICE violated its First Amendment rights. ICE says it removed the number because it was not on a pre-approved list.

Return to Mexico
Some asylum officers in the U.S. have risked their jobs by refusing to send migrants back to Mexico to wait for asylum appointments because they believe doing so puts migrants in danger, reports the LA Times in an investigation that reveals the policy, officially known as Migrant Protection Protocols, appears to be in violation of U.S. law. The policy appears to be also increasing deadly crossings, with 255 deaths along the border reported in 2019 so far, reports The Dallas Morning News. “Ironically, the harder the Trump administration tries to deter migrants from crossing into the U.S. to seek asylum, the more incentive they have to cross illegally,” writes Alfredo Corchado. “The immigration crackdown is increasingly forcing migrants to isolated, treacherous areas where they try to cross into the U.S. with, at times, deadly consequences.”

Mexico has been working closely with the U.S. on enforcement efforts since the program, better known as Remain in Mexico, began in January, but there are signs its cooperation has reached a limit. Mexico has begun to set restrictions on the program, such as capping the number of migrants accepted and the times when they can be sent to Mexico, reports BuzzFeed News.

With more than 35,000 people sent to Mexico, cases could take years to decide. DHS plans to select 150 judges to hear these cases and open two courts in Texas that can hear 20 cases per day, reports BuzzFeed News. To pay for these temporary hearing locations and more detention space, the Trump administration notified Congress that it will move $271 million in DHS funds, including disaster relief funds (while Puerto Rico prepares for a tropical storm) to pay for it, reports NBC News and BuzzFeed News.

Immigration is an International Issue
In recent years, more migrants from Africa, Asia and Latin America have passed through Panama en route to the U.S. An estimated 17,000 people –from Haiti, Cuba, Nepal and many other countries — took this route this year, compared to estimates of about 100 per year a decade ago, reports The Washington Post. Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo said last week that the country will not enter into a safe third country agreement with the U.S., reports EFE (in Spanish). Under a safe third country agreement migrants arriving in Panama would be required to seek asylum there. He made the statement shortly after The Washington Post reported the U.S. would seek such an agreement during a visit by acting DHS secretary Kevin McAleenan. During his visit, McAleenan called migration a “regional problem” and asked other countries, including Ecuador, Brazil and Colombia, to aid in enforcement efforts, reports Reuters.

From Hungary to Italy to the U.S., a hatred of migrants is on the rise, reports The Guardian. “Where does this fear and loathing of migrants come from? It didn’t start with the yobs on the street, the skinheads marching in leather, the torch-bearing white supremacists. The hatred has been manufactured. It is an Old World idea,” writes Suketu Mehta in an excerpt of his book “This Land Is Our Land” that takes readers through different eras of xenophobia to try to make sense of our current political climate.

Southern Border
In a race to construct 500 miles of border wall by the 2020 election, Trump has instructed his aides to do whatever it takes — including violating environmental rules or seizing private land — to build the wall, promising a pardon in return, reports The Washington Post. Although the Trump administration has not succeeded in its goal of building a new border wall to date, it has increased surveillance along the border. CBP signed a $26-million contract with an Israeli military company to install 10 surveillance towers in the Tohono O’odham Nation’s reservation in Arizona, reports The Intercept. The contract is one of the many ways that expansion of surveillance along the border has affected residents, particularly Native Americans who used to move freely but now fear constant watch.

Northern Border
Maine has a new border chief in town, who came from the Laredo Sector, “which encompasses more than 100,000 square miles in northeast and southwest Texas, and has been at the forefront of responding to the new migrants,” writes Rachel Ohm in the Portland Press Herald. “He now finds himself in rural Maine, surrounded by potato fields and snow, and in charge of an area that last year had 52 apprehensions of undocumented immigrants compared with Laredo’s 32,641.” Jason Owens says while the mission is the same on both borders, on the northern one the “vulnerabilities that exist up here are much more vast.” Owens was a member of the secret Border Patrol Facebook page revealed last month by ProPublica that had racist and sexist posts by members of the government agency.

Enforcement
USCIS recently began sending denial letters for medical deferrals of deportation, which allowed undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. for necessary medical treatment, alarming lawyers and immigrants who did not expect a change in policy, reports WBUR. Federal agents, however, appear confused if the policy has ended, and if not, who is handling it. After the article was published Monday, the agency clarified that ICE will now be handling requests. “On Wednesday, however, ICE rejected this claim,” Shannon Dooling reports. “An ICE official told WBUR that the agency was not informed by USCIS that USCIS would stop processing the deferral requests.”

Deportations
The Brazilian government instructed U.S. airlines in June to allow Brazilian deportees to board flights with just a certificate of nationality after pressure from the U.S. government and the threat of sanctions, reports Reuters. Brazil was previously considered a country “at risk of non-compliance” because it would not repatriate nationals without a passport, and Brazilian citizens have to apply for the passport themselves.

The U.S. deported a 17-year-old Palestinian who traveled to the U.S. to study at Harvard after questioning him for hours at the airport and searching his phone and computer, reports The Harvard Crimson. The student said an official screamed at him for having friends with political views that oppose the U.S. University lawyers are assisting the student so he can return to start his freshman year.

Asylum
Asylum seekers who go through a forensic evaluation which reveals evidence on their bodies of persecution are more than twice as likely to be granted asylum than those who do not, the Chicago Reader reports. Many of the examinations in Chicago are done for free at a torture survivor center located in a former convent. A volunteer doctor there says that many of the 185 people “she’s treated over the years have been tortured by the state and military in regions like sub-Saharan Africa, eastern Europe, and Central America. She has frequently examined patients for criminal evidence collection in cases of rape and abuse.” (The piece is part of 90 Days, 90 Voices’ Asylum City series on immigration and sanctuary in Chicago and received support from the International Women’s Media Foundation.)

Citizenship
The Trump administration announced this week that it is canceling automatic citizenship for the babies of some military members and federal workers who are born abroad, reports the Washington Post. The new rule goes into effect in October and would impact babies born to parent(s) who had not lived in the U.S. for 5 years. Those parents would have to apply for citizenship for their children. In a call USCIS said it will be a “very, very small” number of people impacted, Tal Kopan tweeted.

Labor
A recent raid on multiple chicken processing plants in Mississippi exposed a “fatal flaw” of E-verify, the federal system designed to prevent employers from hiring undocumented workers, reports the LA Times. The system checks the documents provided but does not ensure that they belong to the person who provided them. This means people can pay about $1,500 for documents that do not belong to them. Employers say that cracking down on undocumented labor will hurt the economy because there are not enough workers to sustain their businesses, reports The New York Times. In South Florida, business owners have begun poaching workers to deal with staffing shortages.

For years, the laundry industry has opened its door to immigrants, both entrepreneurs and employees, but it is also rife with exploitation, reports The New York Times. Recently, laundry workers have organized to demand better conditions, but many still fear retaliation given their undocumented status.

Justice
A new rule will allow the director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review to decide immigration appeals if a court does not rule within 90 or 180 days. The judges’ union says the move is another way to strip immigration courts of their independence. The Justice Department says the change is not politically motivated. But any administration still has a great deal of power over immigration courts. Just last week, the Trump administration promoted six judges with an average asylum denial rate higher than the national average to the immigration appeals court, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. They now make up one-fourth of the appellate court, which has the power to overrule lower court decisions. These rules and decisions have contributed to a growing movement calling to depoliticize the immigration court system and make it more independent, reports The Marshall Project.

Public Charge
As students prepare to go back to school, the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder warns of six ways that the public charge rule could affect students and the school system. Among them:

  • Immigrant parents may be afraid to sign forms
  • Students may not receive free meals
  • Educational outcomes could suffer.

Instead of saving money for the U.S. government, the public charge rule could shift the costs of healthcare, housing, and other services to states and lead to a loss in jobs, reports Newsy. But saving money might not be the main goal anyway. The government itself has said the rule is meant to keep out immigrants who are a burden on the system. A new federal lawsuit filed this week claims the rule is unconstitutional and racist, reports Jackson Heights Post.

Trump Administration
May Davis, an immigration hawk close to Stephen Miller who supported zero tolerance and suggested releasing immigrants to sanctuary cities, was promoted to the Office of the White House Counsel, reports The Daily Beast.

Follows

Immigration Resources & Opportunities

Recently released immigration books (got one, send it over)

Newsletters, Podcasts, & Facebook Groups

  • BIB Daily Edition is a free aggregation of “inside immigration news” (court cases, new regulations and the like) and “outside news” (culled from the mainstream and not-so-mainstream media).
  • The Global Nation newsletter and Facebook group from PRI’s The World.
  • Center for Migration Studies Migration Update is a weekly digest of news, faith reflections, and analysis of international migration and refugee protection.
  • Migration Information Source from the Migration Policy Institute offers a series of newsletters.
  • Documented NY’s Early Arrival newsletter aggregates information on immigration in New York and nationally.
  • The Marshall Project newsletter: criminal justice news that regularly intersects with immigration.
  • Politico’s Morning Shift newsletter: a daily read on employment and immigration.
  • Give Me Your Tired, an (Im)migration Newsletter offers updates on global migration.
  • Radio Public curates a list of podcasts about immigration and migration.
  • Only Here is a KPBS podcast about the place where San Diego and Tijuana meet.
  • ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest? Podcast tells stories of Latino life “from the homeland to the heartland.”
  • Tempest Tossed, a podcast with “conversations on immigration and refugees that go beyond the predictable soundbites.”
  • Displaced, a podcast from the International Rescue Committee.
  • A is for America America’s Voice discusses immigrant politics and organizing.
  • Only in America National Immigration Forum’s podcast about the people behind immigration issues.

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If there’s a story or immigration-related opportunity you think we should consider, please send us an email.

*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 co-founder and 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.

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