Migratory Notes 152

Office of Denat, Immigration plunges, Returned from Cambodia

Elizabeth Aguilera
Feb 27 · 14 min read
Cambodian refugee Thy Chea returned to the U.S. Wednesday after being deported more than 18 months ago. He is the fourth known case of a Cambodian being allowed to return. Chea’s family greeted him in Boston including his baby son, born during Chea’s exile. Image: gofundme by Kevin Lam.

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In 2013, Congress appeared close to passing immigration reform — until Stephen Miller got in the way. Since then the architect of Trump’s immigration agenda has weaponized the Department of Homeland Security, reports The New Yorker in a profile of Miller that reveals new details on how he has shaped restrictionist policies. “Since Trump could rarely comprehend the full substance of his own Administration’s agenda on immigration, it fell to Miller to define what victory looked like,” Jonathan Blitzer writes. And as Trump’s longest standing aid, “There’s no one left to say no to Miller.’”

Public Charge
On Monday, Trump’s public charge rule, which critics refer to as a wealth test for immigrants, went into effect. Experts say it could lead to a public health crisis. Last week, the Supreme Court lifted the last injunction against the rule, which allows the government to deny visas or green cards based on the use of or the potential to use certain public benefits. Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a scathing dissent accusing the Trump administration of falsely using the Supreme Court to resolve disputes it claims are urgent, reports The New York Times. “With each successive application, of course, its cries of urgency ring increasingly hollow,” she wrote. In response, Trump tweeted that Sotomayor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg should recuse themselves of future cases related to his administration’s policies.

The Justice Department said Wednesday it created a special Denaturalization Section of its immigration office, reports The New York Times. Previous administrations have also pursued stripping citizenship, but the efforts have ramped up under the Trump administration. “Over the past three years, denaturalization case referrals to the department have increased 600 percent,” writes Katie Brenner.

Immigration on the Decline
The number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. shrunk by more than 1 million from 2010 to 2018, driven by immigrants returning to countries with growing economies, such as Mexico, Poland, Ecuador and South Korea, according to a new report by the Center for Migration Studies. The undocumented population from countries in political and humanitarian crises, like Venezuela and India, has increased in recent years.

Meanwhile, legal immigration to the U.S. has started to “plunge,” reports The New York Times. Trump’s restrictions including the travel ban, refugee cap and increased vetting for students have led to a new report predicting a 30 percent decrease by 2021. That is not a good thing, according to a top Trump aide who said “we are desperate for more immigrants,” reports The New York Tims.

Remain in Mexico
An estimated 88,000 Nicaraguans have fled since April 2018 when anti-government protests were met with brutal government repression, reports The San Diego Union-Tribune. Many sought refuge in Costa Rica, but a smaller number went to the U.S. Among them is Barbara, whose story reporter Kate Morrissey followed over many months beginning in Nicaragua, and then as she crosses borders “in a car, on horseback, by bus, by truck and on foot” to reach the U.S., only to be shocked that she will have to wait 158 days in Tijuana for a court date that has little chance of securing her a future. The story is the first installment in a series on the asylum system.

Two programs to quickly deport asylum seekers appear to be replacing the Remain in Mexico program, which in January sent 2,000 migrants to wait in Mexico compared to 12,000 in August, reports The Washington Post.

  • The Prompt Asylum Claim Review (PACR) allows officials to deport Central Americans within 10 days. The number of migrants deported through this program is still unknown.
  • The Asylum Cooperation Agreement has sent more than 600 Salvadorans and Hondurans to seek asylum in Guatemala. Few of these migrants have opened asylum cases in Guatemala, leading advocates to call the program “deportation with a layover,” reports AP.

Meanwhile, for those migrants in the Remain in Mexico program, doctors, lawyers and migrants say the Trump administration has not carried out its promise to allow exemptions for migrants with medical or mental health issues, reports The New York Times. Previously, these migrants would have been allowed to receive public healthcare in the U.S., but now they must receive volunteer care or often-inadequate care at a Mexican hospital. And at least four pregnant women were not allowed to enter the U.S. for their court dates, in what advocates believe is an attempt by the administration to prevent the mothers from giving birth in the U.S., reports KPBS.

As news of the lack of lawyers at the border has spread, big firms are spending more pro bono hours on immigration cases and lawyers with high-powered jobs are leaving their shiny offices behind to help out, reports The Dallas Morning News. Only one in three asylum seekers in the U.S. and 5 percent of migrants in MPP have a lawyer, which greatly increases their chances of staying in the U.S.

This week, the U.S. granted asylum to former Guatemalan attorney general and presidential candidate Thelma Aldana based on well-documented political persecution related to her work cracking down on corruption, reports AP. The case highlights the corruption within the Guatemalan state as well as the disparities within the U.S. asylum system, which denies most cases from Guatemala.

Immigration is an International Issue
Remain in Mexico has transformed Mexico’s southern border as well as its northern border, reports the San Antonio Express-News. About 10,000 Central American migrants sent to Mexico under the program have returned to the southern Mexican state Chiapas, where they are seeking help from Mexico’s refugee agency and setting down roots rather than risk being deported by the U.S.

Thousands of Mexicans have fled the states of Michoacan and Guerrero in recent years, but Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador continues to treat migration as a Central American problem, reports the Arizona Daily Star. López Obrador names poverty, not violence, as the main driver of Mexican migration and says he will solve the problem with his development programs.

The spread of coronavirus could lead to a reversal of globalization, providing ammunition for anti-immigrant populists, reports The New York Times. It would not be the first time the spread of an infectious disease is used to justify a xenophobic response, reports The Washington Post. In the 19th and 20th centuries, cholera and tuberculosis led to racism against Chinese and Jewish immigrants respectively.

New data shows widespread use, but questionable impact, of Arizona’s controversial law to increase cooperation between law enforcement and immigration officials, known as SB 1070, reports The Arizona Republic. The Phoenix police have called ICE thousands of times under the law, but only five percent of the cases were immigrants in the country illegally, which advocates say proves the law led to racial profiling.

The Supreme Court refused to allow the family of a Mexican teenager shot and killed by a Border Patrol agent from across the border to sue in a U.S. court. The case sets a precedent for future cases of foreign nationals seeking to sue in the U.S for civil rights violations.

Border Patrol
An FBI investigation into $500,000 of embezzled funds from the Border Patrol Union is raising questions about corruption within the agency, reports ProPublica. Rumors of the siphoned funds began in 2018, but the organization did not announce the amount until November 2019. Neither the FBI nor the Department of Labor would comment on the case.

A 34-year-old Mexican man in detention in Ohio died of what appears to be self-inflicted strangulation in February, becoming the seventh ICE in-custody death in FY 2020, reports BuzzFeed News. The case is still under investigation.

Border Patrol announced it will open a new 1,040-person holding center in Texas this month, reports AP. They say the new facility will allow the agency to better address migrants’ needs and prevent makeshift facilities from popping up, such as one in a parking lot in El Paso last spring.

ICE will soon allow guards to use pepper spray at the privately run Miami Krome Service Processing Center, which holds immigrants without a criminal record and has already received complaints of abuse, reports Quartz. The use of pepper spray at other ICE detention centers has drawn criticism for abuse of force.

The Trump administration is trying to increase deportations to Laos, where many fled a communist government in the 1970s after supporting the U.S. in the Vietnam War, reports NPR. This week, the Hmong community in Wisconsin protested deportation orders against an estimated 4,500 people.

Cambodian refugee Thy Chea will become the fourth known case of a Cambodian allowed to return to the U.S. after deportation, reports AP. Deportations of Cambodians have increased under the Trump administration even though many are able to legally stay in the U.S. because of their refugee status.

Border Wall
Democratic and Republican lawmakers from the House Armed Services Committee slammed Defense Secretary Mark Esper Wednesday for transferring funds for military projects to the border wall, calling it a constitutional issue, reports CNN. In a letter, the committee denied the reprogramming request and threatened to prevent the Pentagon from shifting funds without congressional approval in the future. The same day, the Senate introduced bipartisan legislation to reverse the transfer of Defense Department funds to the border wall and to restrict the Pentagon’s ability to make similar transfers in the future, reports Defense News. The Pentagon said it expects to retain the right to shift funds, which is important to be able to adapt to new circumstances.

Hate Crimes
“As they beat us, they yelled, ‘This is America. Speak English,’” a Boston resident identified as Ms. Vasquez told reporters Monday at a press conference about how she and her teenage daughter had been assaulted by two white women. They are demanding that Boston Police investigate the incident as a hate crime, reports WBUR. Lawyers say the case is part of a growing trend of hate crimes and that law enforcement needs to show it takes these crimes seriously.

Election 2020
More than half of Latino voters supported Bernie Sanders in the Nevada caucuses last week, which could spell success for the Vermont senator in upcoming races in states with large Latino populations, reports Vox. Sanders has not always had a progressive immigration stance and he has opposed a path to legalization and an increase in guest worker visas in the past. But he is now courting Latino voters with progressive policies that extend beyond immigration. An estimated 53 percent of Latino voters are expected to support “Tío Bernie” in the upcoming California elections, reports the LA Times.

A temporary moratorium on deportations pending a review of U.S. immigration policy is the latest immigration proposal causing debate among candidates. Here’s what the candidates say:


Jobs, Fellowships & Awards


Immigration Resources & Opportunities

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

Newsletters, Podcasts, & Facebook Groups

  • Only Here is a podcast about the “subcultures, creativity and struggles” at the US-Mexico border from KPBS
  • 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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