Migratory Notes 148

Elizabeth Aguilera
Jan 30 · 14 min read

Remembering Jakelin, Ukrainian refugees, Iranian scrutiny

Jakelin Caal’s grandfather, Domingo, holds a photo of Jakelin in his home in Guatemala after the family learned of her death while in U.S. custody. More than a year later, the family is still mourning her death. Photo by Jeff Abbott for Texas Monthly.

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The Iraqi refugee could not understand why he was arrested in the summer of 2018. He did not know that he was being falsely held up as an example to prove a political point, reports The New Yorker. “Soon after Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President, he began saying that terrorist groups had infiltrated the flow of refugees into the U.S.,” writes Ben Taub. No matter that Omar Ameen was fleeing terror, not the terrorist. “The Departments of Justice, State, and Homeland Security have been coöpted into a campaign to smear an Iraqi refugee as an ISIS commander, frame him for murder, and extradite him to almost certain death in order to make a racist lie look true,” writer Ben Taub tweeted about his story.

After 7-year-old Jakelin died in U.S. custody, immigration authorities promised to improve conditions for child migrants. The government followed through on some of these promises, but another greater danger has since emerged beyond detention in the U.S., reports Texas Monthly. “The greatest risk to young migrants like Jakelin Caal arguably no longer lies on the U.S. side of the border,” Anna-Cat writes. “Less than two weeks after Jakelin’s death, the administration announced the Migrant Protection Protocols, better known as the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy.’” In a piece that moves from Jakelin’s remote Guatemalan village, to camps in Matamoros, to her father who believes he is suffering a curse in Philadelphia, Anna-Cat weaves together the legacy of the girl’s death and the looming risks for child migrant safety linked to U.S. policy.

Public Charge
The Supreme Court ruled Monday to lift an injunction against the Trump administration’s public charge rule to deny green cards to certain immigrants who may use or have used public benefits for basic needs, such as housing or food. The rule was introduced in August and expanded on the previous definition of public charge, which only disqualified immigrant applicants who received significant cash benefits or were institutionalized long-term or who are deemed to be likely to use services.

Fewer than one percent of applicants were previously determined to be a “public charge,” but many activists fear this will now expand to include many non-English speaking immigrants from developing countries. While the Trump administration maintains the rule will help the economy, economists are not certain, reports PBS News Hour. The rule can now be implemented everywhere except Illinois, where a state-wide injunction remains. Legal challenges to the rule will continue in lower courts.

Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago writes that the Trump administration’s rule and the Supreme Court decision tear away at the longstanding promise of the American Dream: “It is a day of mourning for us, for who we have become as Americans.” But Masha Gessen writes in The New Yorker that that the law is “not, contrary to many comments, a drastic change in immigration policy. Like much that is Trumpian, the new rules, and the Supreme Court order allowing them to go forward, build logically on the last few decades of the American political conversation on immigration, race, and class.”

Migrant Deaths
Two immigrants died in ICE custody in the past week: a 39-year-old British man who died of “self-inflicted strangulation” and a 63-year-old Cuban man who went into cardiac arrest, reports BuzzFeed News. Six immigrants have died in ICE custody since the start of the fiscal year in October and the agency is already approaching the eighth in-custody death in FY 2019.

Asylum & Refugees
As the U.S. slashes refugee admittance numbers for many countries, Ukrainians have emerged as one of the top groups taking advantage of preferences that are a legacy of the Cold War, reports The Washington Post. “Though Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia drive more than two-thirds of the international refu­gee crisis, now numbering more than 26 million according to the United Nations, Ukrainians in 2019 outnumbered Syrian refu­gee arrivals in the United States 8 to 1,” Abigail Hausloner writes. “They outnumbered Afghans nearly 4 to 1, Sudanese 12 to 1 and Somalis 19 to 1.”

A Minnesota county found itself in the middle of a war on misinformation before a vote on refugee resettlement last week, reports Sahan Journal and MPR News. Text messages, flyers and social media messages falsely stated that Muslim refugees would be a drain on public resources and urged residents to vote against refugee resettlement. It is still unclear who started the misinformation campaign.

At a visit to the border last week, top immigration official Ken Cuccinelli announced the administration’s plans to expand two controversial pilot programs that speed up the time Mexican and Central American asylum seekers have before an initial screening, reports CBS News. One program, known as HARP, gives 48 hours for Mexican asylum seekers to prepare for an initial screening. The other, PACR, does the same for Central Americans. Lawyers have criticized the programs, arguing they reduce access to their clients and makes them more vulnerable to deportation. The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General recently announced it will review the pilot programs to see if asylum seekers are getting a fair chance at asylum, reports BuzzFeed News.

Mexican Immigration Enforcement
Mexican security forces dismantled the latest caravan of an estimated 4,000 Central Americans through “carrots and sticks,” proving just how far Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador would go to carry out the promise of helping out the U.S. with immigration enforcement, reports The New York Times. Most have been arrested and will be deported to their home countries, reports The Wall Street Journal. “The televised images brought home to Mexicans what a growing number of them see as an uncomfortable truth about Mr. López Obrador, who last month completed his first year in office. The charismatic, silver-haired leftist nationalist, once a passionate critic of Mr. Trump, has now become the main enforcer of his anti-immigration policies,” write José de Córdoba and Juan Montes. This enforcement is not limited to caravans. Just this month, Mexico deported 5,000 Hondurans, including 2,300 who were part of the caravan, reports AFP. He is not the only leader showing a turn of sympathies in Mexico. Priest Alejandro Solalinde, long an emblematic advocate for migrants, told El Faro “migrants are very important but Mexico comes first.”

Mexico’s National Immigration Institute (INM) announced this week that it would temporarily suspend visits by civic and religious groups to immigrant detention centers, which have long been protection against alleged human rights abuses, reports AP. The Interior Department, which oversees the INM later said it did not authorize the announcement. It’s now unclear whether visits will be allowed.

Iranian Immigrants
CBP’s Seattle Field Office instructed officers to interrogate Iranian-born travelers, according to a U.S. immigration officer and whistleblower who sent an email to a lawyer known to be critical of the administration, reports CBC News. More than 200 Iranian immigrants, including some U.S. citizens, were questioned when entering the U.S. shortly after a U.S. drone strike killed Iran’s top general.

DHS said that it denied entry to an Iranian student with a visa in January because it suspected his family had ties to Hezbollah, reports The Wall Street Journal. His lawyer denies the claim and says CBP told him they were deporting him because they believed he was trying to immigrate to the U.S. The case is the latest of at least 14 Iranian students with visas who were denied entry since August and points to a pattern of heightened scrutiny of Iranian travelers.

Travel Ban
There is little evidence that the African countries the Trump administration is considering adding to its travel ban — Eritrea, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Sudan — are terrorism threats, reports The Atlantic. What the countries have in common is a high rate of citizens who overstay their visas, suggesting that the real motive of the ban is to deter immigration from Africa.

More than a dozen detainees at the largest ICE facility in the New York/New Jersey area say the are receiving inadequate medical care, including Pepto-Bismol for long-term stomach pains and Bengay for a broken rib, reports WNYC and Gothamist. Medical staff at the jail deny their reports.

When Gustavo Velasco was detained in 2009, his wife had to drain their savings to support their two U.S. citizen children, reports High Country News. The financial toll of detention can bankrupt families. On average, families spend $9,228 on detention and deportation-related costs, like bonds and lawyers, when a relative is arrested. When indirect costs, like lost wages, are also factored in, the cost rises to $24,000.

Last week, the Trump administration named Rodney Scott as the replacement for Border Patrol chief Carla Provost, who is retiring, reports AP. Scott has worked for Border Patrol for 27 years, mainly in the San Diego sector, which helped cement his belief that border barriers work.

The pressures of deciding the fates of immigrants under the Trump administration has led many judges to quit, reports the LA Times. At least 45 judges left last fiscal year out of about 440 judges. “It used to be there were pressures, but you were an independent judge left to decide the cases,” said a former immigration judge.

An Ohio judge sparked a debate about cooperation between judges and ICE when he told a local news station WCPO that he calls ICE when he suspects a defendant of being undocumented because the person speaks Spanish or is charged with carrying drugs, reports USA Today. Immigrant rights activists worry that courthouse arrests deter immigrants from coming forward to law enforcement or participating in the justice system.

Sanctuary Movement
A movement to provide sanctuary to immigrants is growing among churches in Kentucky, at the same time that the state legislature is moving to prohibit sanctuary laws that would limit cooperation between law enforcement and ICE, reports Wave 3 News.

The acting director of ICE said last week that the agency would deport immigrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program, reports Vox. The statement contradicts the argument of Chief Justice John Roberts during oral arguments last November in a case that will determine the fate of DREAMers. Roberts stated at the time that both the Obama and Trump administrations said they would not deport DACA recipients.

Marshall Islands Migrants
Migrants from the Marshall Islands represent the many mistakes of the U.S. government and failures of its immigration system, reports Politico Magazine. A community of immigrants in Iowa was lured to the U.S. by the promise of healthcare to treat the effects of U.S. nuclear testing during the Cold War, but they are still waiting for the U.S. to follow through on its promise. (The New York Times and Des Moines Register previously reported on this community.)

First Person
Worldwide, about 12 million people are stateless, meaning no country recognizes them as citizens, reports The Nation. Karina, who was born in Soviet Ukraine, says that her experience growing up was one of shame. “We need to have another way of talking about this issue than talking about it in terms of fault, because that’s all you hear within the community,” she said.


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

Newsletters, Podcasts, & Facebook Groups

  • Frontera Dispatch is a weekly newsletter by the Hope Border Institute on news and analysis from the border.
  • Nuestro South is a podcast exploring the experiences of Latinx people in the U.S. south.
  • Salvadoran investigative media outlet El Faro has launched an English-language newsletter with reporting from Central America.
  • 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 Troubling audit reveals state failure to test millions of babies for toxic lead. 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…

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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