Migratory Notes
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Migratory Notes

Migratory Notes 14

Skulls at a border-crossers’ morgue. Screenshot of George Etheredge’s photography for a New York Times interactive project on what happens to unidentified migrant corpses.

Recruiting for CBP officers at the rodeo, cultural exchange with an immigrant family, a global moratorium on refugee interviews

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Straight-up amazing reporting

Manny Fernandez and photographer George Etheredge visit the border-crossers’ morgue at one county in Texas where more than 500 remnants of bodies have been processed since 2009. The multi-part interactive project explores the grisly story of the area where more people have perished crossing the border illegally in the last 16 years than were killed in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina combined.

One of the nation’s most dangerous companies has taken advantage of immigrant workers for decades and then turned U.S. immigration laws against the victims, ProPublica’s Michael Grabell reports. He visited Case Farms chicken plants in two states and traveled to Guatemala to find discarded workers. The photos by Hector Emanuel are stunning, and Grabell’s first-person backstory gives great insight into the reporting process.

Border Patrol

Recruitment for new Customs and Border Patrol officers is happening at rodeos, Big 10 sports tournaments, job fairs and country music fests as the agency tries to fill 5,000 new spots, AP reports.

The Atlantic says this rapid expansion risks build on the Customs and Border Patrol’s existing corruption problem, which it traces to a hiring surge in the years after 9/11 when the agency doubled its ranks and relaxed hiring standards.

Various reports of CBP officials mistreatment and potentially violating rights:

Refugees and asylum seekers

Refugee admissions have plummeted under Trump, USA Today’s Alan Gomez reports, as apparently the administration is limiting entry even without an official executive order.

A bipartisan group of senators is investigating a global moratorium on refugee interviews, the Washington Post reports. “We’ve never had a four-month suspension of the program,” Jen Smyers, director of refu­gee policy and advocacy with the Church World Service, told the Post. “Refugee processing has ground to a halt.”

When the first travel ban went into effect, back in January, the International Refugee Assistance Project was ready. The New York Times’ Miriam Jordan profiles the 35-year-old founder of this organization, Becca Heller, and how she built up a network advocating for refugees which is now involved with the travel ban challenge in Virginia.

200 asylum seekers are caravaning across Mexico in protest, riding La Bestia en masse and stopping along the way to pray and speak collectively, Mother Jones reports.

The profiteers

Kushner’s family members have been encouraging Chinese investors to apply for the controversial so-called millionaires visa, or EB-5, in a bid to shore up $150 billion in funding for a New Jersey project, the New York Times reports. Reporters were later barred from a subsequent event, according to Reuters.

A charismatic businessman promised about 500 undocumented immigrants from four continents adoptions that would result in becoming citizens, reports The Sacramento Bee. The man, Helaman Hansen, allegedly received thousands of dollars from each individual and is now on trial for fraud.

Immigration is an international issue

We’re not criminals, we’re lovers. A Mexican public art installation had more than 1,000 people kiss in public as a response to accusations the Trump administration has made about immigrants, Fusion’s Anna-Cat Brigada reports.

Germany has welcomed more refugees than any other European nation. The next challenge is to integrate the newcomers. Germany is outspending any other nation on these efforts, at about $15 billion in 2016 for measures such as reception centers, integration courses and job training. The New York Times produced an in depth interactive on one community efforts.

Could the sanctuary movement take off in the UK? Currently there are 90 initiatives. But the activities are largely symbolic, according to City Metric. “Cities have little power to resist a central government, whose executive powers have grown over the past century,” Deborah Talbot writes. “Short of individuals hiding immigrants in their homes, or in their car boots en route from France, it seems there is very little sanctuary cities, and towns can do.”


A media-hungry rabbi went to the White House and revealed, via a selfie, the whiteboard listing all of President Trump’s campaign promises, reports The Forward. This board was known to be kept by Steve Bannon but the details had not been made clear until now. One of the pledges: “Cancel all federal funding to sanctuary cities.”

In Texas, the Dallas Morning News breaks down what went wrong with the effort to soften the sanctuary bill that bans sanctuary municipalities statewide. The Governor has already said he will sign it, tweeting that he’s got his pen ready.

In California, the legislature is advancing a state sanctuary proposal that is expected to land on the governor’s desk. Elizabeth writes for CALmatters that California’s Governor, Jerry Brown, once opposed sanctuary status. But have time — and Trump — changed his mind?


A private prison operator is trying to get Texas to classify detention centers as childcare facilities so that it could hold women and children longer than the 20 days currently allowed by law, the Intercept reported. One facility earns about $55 million annually, but without the bill allowing children to be kept in jail indefinitely the facility would most likely shut down.

ICE arrested a teenager waiting for asylum because of “severe child abuse” at a youth shelter the day he turned 18, reports Huff Post. The Immigrant Defenders Law Center says that the teen would have mostly likely been released on his birthday under Obama era guidelines. Instead, he was transferred to an adult detention center.

California is posing potential barriers to enforcement efforts. While detentions are up nationwide, in Southern California they are flat. The LA Times looks at ICE officers who are struggling to reach deportation goals as more people are educated by organizations about their rights. And KQED’s California Report takes an in-depth look at the need for more detentions to reach deportation goals, and how the state’s policy makers could thwart those efforts.

Immigrant immersion

Forget Paris or Florence. Students in Minnesota are ‘studying abroad’ with immigrant families in the US. City Stay offers students the chance to immerse in a new culture for one week with Latino, Somali and Hmong host families, PRI’s The World reports.

Wall? No thanks

Bipartisan opposition in Texas has risen to fight off a wall that would damage Big Bend National Park and the Rio Grande, NPR reports. The international river flows between 1,500-foot-tall sheer walls and the region is considered sacred ground where the Chisos Mountains rise from the Chihuahuan Desert.

In San Diego, a developer with a property just south of the current fence in Baja aims to bring Tijuana closer by creating a hub where people from both sides can live and work, reports Voice of San Diego. San Diego State economics professor James Gerber said people believe the U.S.-Mexico relations will win out over the rhetoric: “The reality is that we are enjoined at the hip.”

But there are some who live on the border who are happy about the border wall. One is a man who goes by Flaco and is a drug and human smuggler. He tells the New York Times that rates have increased for him.

Immigrant workers

Stable owners in Louisville, Kentucky said they can’t find enough workers since Trump’s crackdown and American workers are not willing to do the work they need done, according to the local NBC affiliate.

California’s two Democratic senators filed legislation to shield undocumented farm workers from deportation and to make it possible for them to become legal workers with an eventual path to citizenship, reports the Los Angeles Times.


The visas for Afghans who helped U.S. forces appeared to be in jeopardy. But last week Congress approved an extra 2,500 visas under the $1 trillion U.S. government funding deal after a bi-partisan push in support of the program, according to the New York Times.

It’s one of the world’s most covered contests, and this could be its last year. Fourteen million people checked the State Department website last week to learn whether they have won one of the U.S. green-card lottery,” writes The Washington Post.

Following up on the Maryland rape case that made national headlines

White House Spokesman Sean Spicer used the the alleged rape committed in a high school by two undocumented juveniles as an example for why strict immigration enforcement is necessary. That case collapsed this week. The Washington Post writes Maryland prosecutors have said they will drop the rape and sex offense charges, saying they could not substantiate the story of the 14-year-old girl. A different spokesperson said she would not retract anything Spicer said about the case because he was going off what he knew at the time.

Jobs and other immigration-related opportunities

With all the focus on immigration has come new opportunities in immigration reporting and policy. Got one you want to share, please send it on. (Also, we’ve now grown to have more lawyers reading — if you’ve got a great opportunity, send that one as well.) Here are a few:

That’s all for Migratory Notes 14. We’re both based in LA, so help us out by letting us know what’s going on elsewhere. We realize this is in no way a complete list. If there’s a story you think we should consider, please send us an email.

Thank yous to those who helped this week, knowingly or unknowingly. Here’s a few: Sloane Davidson, Anna-Cat Brigada, Shirin Parsavand, Jason Alcorn, Cindy Carcamo’s FB posts, Voice of San Diego Border Report, Global Nation Exchange FB group, Marshall Project newsletter, Xavier Maciel’s Sanctuary Schools newsletter, and countless tweeters.

*Daniela Gerson is an assistant professor at California State University, Northridge with a focus on community, ethnic, and participatory media. She is also a senior fellow at the Democracy Fund. Before that she was a community engagement editor at the LA Times; founding 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. You can find her on Twitter @dhgerson

*Elizabeth Aguilera is a multimedia reporter for CALmatters covering health 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 before that she covered a variety of beats and issues for the Denver Post including urban affairs and immigration. Her latest story looked at California’s Governor, Jerry Brown, once opposed sanctuary status. Have time — and Trump — changed his mind? You can find her on Twitter @1eaguilera



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Daniela Gerson

Daniela Gerson

Ass’t Prof @CSUNJournalism and Co-creator #MigratoryNotes. Subscribe for free: https://bit.ly/2tkethJ @dhgerson