Migratory Notes 146

Private border wall, Trump’s white evangelicals, bad burritos

Elizabeth Aguilera
Migratory Notes
14 min readJan 16, 2020


The Pacific island of Saipan is known for its beaches, and, increasingly, birth tourism. A U.S. territory, it has become a destination for Chinese wanting to bestow American citizenship on their children. A birthing agency published this story reading: “Dream trip. Beautiful scenery and beautiful baby.” Now an airline is subjecting some women to mandatory pregnancy tests before boarding flights, reports The Wall Street Journal.

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They are known as the caminantes; the poor fleeing Venezuela by foot at a rate of 5,000 a day. In an evocative story LA Times reporter Andrea Castillo and photographer Marcus Yam accompany the 125-mile exodus out of Venezuela. “They carried blankets and quilts and homemade backpacks. They carried handouts from the Red Cross: boiled sausages, crackers, bottled water and canned tuna. They carried faith in God,” Castillo writes. “Valentina Durán carried her month-old son.” Castillo also shares how for her the story was personal: She received WhatsApp messages from her cousins in Venezuela about their journey out of the country in 2018.

For the first time, the U.S. is shipping asylum seekers to what the government is labeling a “safe third country” — Guatemala, one of the hemisphere’s poorest countries. Human rights advocates and asylum seekers say Salvadoran and Honduran migrants have been misled and boarded flights to Guatemala without knowing their destination, reports The Washington Post. “Many arrive with the same question: “Where are we?” writes Kevin Sieff. Then many are not informed of their rights in Guatemala, which requires them to immediately request asylum or leave within 72 hours. (Human rights organizations filed a lawsuit against the program Wednesday on the grounds that Guatemala cannot protect these asylum seekers. They say the U.S. is playing a “deadly game of musical chairs,” reports BuzzFeed News)

Immigration is an International Issue
Guatemala’s new president Alejandro Giammattei took office on Tuesday and one of the first decisions he faces is whether to rescind or honor the asylum agreement made between the U.S. and Guatemala’s previous government, reports Reuters. His approach to migration has focused on building an “economic wall” to keep Guatemalans from leaving.

The $5.4 billion Alliance for Prosperity joint plan between the U.S., Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras aimed to stop Central American migrants from leaving their home countries. But in Honduras, at least one city home to hundreds of deportees did not receive the funds meant to support local programs, reports El Intercambio (translated by DocumentedNY).

Undocumented immigrants to the U.S. are increasingly seeking asylum in Canada. Adding an extra layer of complication, the fate of their U.S.-born children is tied to the outcome of their cases, reports PRI’s The World. Most asylum cases are denied, leaving families to decide if the children will return with them to their home countries or be sent them back to the U.S alone.

A federal judge blocked Trump’s order requiring local government officials to consent to accept refugees on Wednesday. Texas — previously a leader in refugee resettlement — was the only state to announce it would not resettle refugees under the order. Texas Governor Greg Abbott said last week that the state should focus resources on Texans who are already here, reports The Houston Chronicle. The injunction temporarily prevents Texas from banning resettlement. Either way, the governor’s decision does not completely prevent refugees from entering Texas as some refugees could decide to move there after coming to the U.S. through a state still enrolled in the resettlement program, reports The Texas Tribune.

Refugees and Religion
White evangelicals are the group least likely to support welcoming refugees into the U.S., even though scripture advises otherwise, reports Newsy. One political scientist believes this is because many feel isolated from the Democratic party and so the voices of Republican politicians are winning out over the words of their pastors. In Texas, many Republican Catholics support limiting refugee resettlement, showing a split among Catholics on immigration issues that are mirrored across the country, reports The Texas Tribune.

Remain in Mexico
The Trump administration recently said it would open up “tent courts” in Texas to the public, but lawyers and advocates say that is not happening, reports Buzzfeed News. Judges often video in from private facilities as far away as Falls Church, Virginia to decide asylum cases of migrants made to remain in Mexico while awaiting hearings. Meanwhile, more videos have been introduced. Immigrant rights organizations in Texas and Mexico launched a program to provide consultations to migrants waiting in Mexico with lawyers via teleconferencing, reports The Dallas Morning News.

Asylum seekers who express fear about having to wait in Mexico for their U.S. immigration proceedings must be allowed to have attorneys represent their cases, according to a decision by a San Diego federal judge, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune.

House Democrats opened an investigation into the Remain in Mexico program, also known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). They said the program “threatens the health and safety of legitimate asylum seekers” and asked DHS to provide documents and data related to the program by the end of the month.

Iranian Immigrants
At least 10 Iranian students have been detained and deported upon arrival in the U.S., even though their documents are in order, reports The Guardian. Iran is one of seven countries affected by the Trump administration’s travel ban, but the situation for Iranian immigrants has become more precarious after the U.S. killed General Qassem Suleimani in a drone strike in early January. The tense political climate intensified Iranian immigrants’ sense of displacement, reports The Houston Chronicle. “It triggers a feeling of ‘we are not seen,’” said one Iranian immigrant. “We have not been able to represent our culture, and who we are in Iran, or in this country, without those stereotypes.”

Travel Ban
The Trump administration is considering expanding the travel ban nearly three years after issuing the “Muslim Ban” that prevented citizens of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the U.S., reports AP. The updated ban would maintain the current restrictions and could include new countries, including Venezuela and North Korea, reports BuzzFeed News.

Border Wall
Trump plans to reallocate $7.2 billion in military funding in 2020 for border wall construction, five times the amount authorized by Congress, reports The Washington Post. Lawmakers from both parties criticized the plan for diverting funds from other important military projects. To date, the Trump administration has completed 101 miles of barrier construction, far less than his goal of 450 miles by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, a man in Texas with a Trump flair for dealmaking is buying land on the border and building his own wall, writes the Los Angeles Times. “His company has built around 1,500 feet of what it says will be a three-mile fence,” Molly Hennessy-Fiske writes. “The cost, he estimates, will be $42 million, faster and cheaper than government contractors who have spent months surveying and building more expensive border fences nearby. The estimated time of completion: two weeks.”

A federal trial against the Border Patrol for the squalid, overcrowded conditions in eight Arizona facilities released never-before-seen footage of a man struggling to find an available bathroom at 2 a.m. because all the stalls were filled with sleeping migrants, reports AP. The lawsuit was filed in 2015 and shows the longstanding problem of Border Patrol conditions predating this administration. More recently, doctors report that as many as 80 percent of migrants became sick after eating burritos given to them in a Tucson Border Patrol facility, reports Phoenix New Times. They blame food preparation that leaves the burritos cold or frozen rather than the food itself. CBP announced it is investigating the case.

Asylum-seeking families have been held in a Texas Border Patrol facility for 11 days, violating federal law that says minors can only be held in these facilities for 72 hours, reports BuzzFeed News.

House Democrats are drafting a letter to call on the Trump administration to release all transgender inmates in ICE custody, given that the administration has failed to follow guidelines to protect them, reports The Hill. Friday is the deadline for legislators to sign on, but the letter would not be legally binding.

Hundreds of Hondurans left San Pedro Sula in a caravan this week in an attempt to reach the U.S., reports AP. But getting asylum has become much more difficult since the first caravans set out in 2018. They could be stopped by officials in Guatemala or Mexico who have been cooperating with Trump, made to wait in Mexico if they reach the U.S. border, or be sent to Central America under one of the asylum agreements.

El Salvador’s top Anglican bishop fears his 34-year-old son’s deportation after his asylum case was denied last month for lack of reasonable fear, reports Reuters. The son fled El Salvador in 2016 after refusing to help a gang distribute weapons and drugs as a taxi driver. “Even though they’ve signed deals between the Central American governments … and the United States that they are safe countries, we know that they’re not so safe,” said Bishop David Alvarado.

A federal judge ordered DHS to bring back a deported asylum seeker from Chad — which criminalized homosexuality in 2016 — because the U.S. did not properly consider his asylum claim as a gay man, reports NBC News. He was deported in December as his case was ongoing. But returning him is extremely unlikely. DHS says it does not have jurisdiction to return him without a valid passport, which he does not currently have.

The Trump administration deported 25 Cambodians this week, reports Washington Monthly. Most arrived to the U.S. as refugees, but at some point committed a crime that invalidated their residency. Some were born in refugee camps and have never stepped foot in Cambodia.

Elections 2020
During the debate Tuesday — the first with all white candidates — immigration was the elephant in the room, reports DemocracyNow!. Candidates were interrogated on how they would pay for healthcare, but there was no mention of immigration or border issues, such as the costly border wall.

Immigration activists criticize frontrunner Joe Biden for the Obama administration’s immigration policy as vice president, but he has still managed to win over Latino voters in Nevada, reports BuzzFeed News.

Stephen Miller
Trump adviser Stephen Miller forwarded an article to Breitbart News that suggested shipping immigrants in trains as a scare tactic, according to leaked emails obtained by the Southern Poverty Law Center. He also lambasted DACA and said DACA recipients might one day replace white Americans, a theory often posited by hate groups.

California will spend $187 million to count its residents in its own census amidst concerns that the federal census will undercount the state’s residents, particularly immigrants who may fear the federal census, reports NPR. But the chief methodologist at the Urban Institute warns it actually could decrease accuracy due to the double effort. “There are some populations that would be suspicious, and that’s going to cause problems,” he said.

Education & Immigration History
Immigration is currently one of the most controversial political issues, but the topic is not taught in-depth to the average U.S. high school student, reports Anna-Cat for Yes! Magazine. Some schools are working to change this by incorporating lessons about the history of immigration in their curriculums. A New York Times investigation found that textbooks in California and Texas differ — sometimes subtly and other times more overtly — particularly when it comes to politicized issues such as immigration, gun policy or slavery. “On these questions and others, classroom materials are not only shaded by politics, but are also helping to shape a generation of future voters,” writes Dana Goldstein.

Mexican immigrant Juan Díaz Peña was killed by a police officer in 1953. Papers called him slurs like “wetback” and published a dehumanizing photo of his dead body. In a personal essay for The Journal of Alta California, LA Times reporter Gustavo Arellano struggles to make sense of the advances we’ve made as a nation in the treatment of immigrants and the many ways things have stayed the same. “If a police officer shot at — let alone killed — an undocumented immigrant today, there would be nationwide attention, rallies, and lawsuits,” writes Arellano. “None of that happened with Peña. I found no evidence that anyone took up his cause — not the Mexican Consulate, not local activists, not the ACLU, not even mainstream Latino organizations, which actively opposed illegal immigration in the 1950s.”


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.

Curriculum & Campaigns

Reporting resources, tools and tips

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 Med school free rides and loan repayments — California tries to boost its dwindling doctor supply. 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