Migratory Notes 155

Raids and coronavirus, tracking travel bans, detention epidemics?

Elizabeth Aguilera
Mar 19 · 13 min read
Liyah Birru, illustrated in this poster, faces deportation to Ethiopia after serving prison time for shooting and injuring her husband. Advocates are demanding that due to coronavirus risks she and other immigrant detainees who allege domestic abuse be released. (LA Times and FreeLiyah)

Know someone who might like Migratory Notes? Please help us spread the word: Here’s the subscribe form and here’s an archive on Medium. Got a story or an immigration-related resource or opportunity we should know about? Send it on!

In the pre-dawn hours of California’s first coronavirus lockdown day, ICE agents and CBP officers prepared for raids as usual. The agents arrested two men with prior criminal convictions, one a 56-year-old planning to buy food for his family later that day, reports the LA Times. The director of Enforcement and Removal Operations for ICE in LA told Brittny Mejia, who rode along with them, the raids are “to protect the public by getting these criminal aliens off the street and out of our communities.” But immigrant advocates say they are spreading fear — and the virus — in ways that can ultimately damage the population at large. Late Wednesday ICE said it would restrict enforcement operations, and not carry out operations in or near health care facilities, but it would continue to pursue those with criminal convictions, reports The Washington Post.

Just a few months ago, Mexican asylum seekers were camped outside of the international bridge in Ciudad Juarez in a public display that brought embarrassment to leaders on both sides of the border. Now, most are gone, reports The Dallas Morning News. The dismantling of the U.S. asylum process partly explains why “Mexican asylum seekers have nearly vanished here in a region that for a century provided passage to those seeking safe refuge,” write Alfredo Corchado and Dianne Solis in a deep-dive feature. But Mexican policy is also a factor. “How and why Mexicans suddenly dispersed illuminates the delicate political situation for Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is pinned in by drug cartels, whose economy is struggling and who must keep President Donald Trump happy.”

Travel Bans

→ The New York Times created a handy guide to global coronavirus travel restrictions.

Deportation Bans
In a quick turnaround, two days after risking the wrath of the Trump administration and announcing suspending deportation flights from the U.S. due to fears of spreading coronavirus, Guatemala announced Thursday morning it would again accept deportees, reports CBS News. Guatemala is expected to receive 99 deportees on Thursday who are expected to then self-quarantine at home. The suspension remains of Salvadorans and Hondurans sent to Guatemala under an agreement with the U.S.

El Salvador on Wednesday announced it would suspend accepting deportations from the U.S. and Mexico indefinitely, reports Reuters. The decisions came after mounting pressure from immigrants rights groups in Central America to temporarily halt deportations, reports The Guardian and Al Jazeera.

Border & Remain in Mexico
Despite the risks, more than 30 asylum seekers in the Remain in Mexico programs were brought across the border to El Paso, where there have been two confirmed cases, for court hearings, reports El Paso Matters. These courtrooms are often overcrowded, which goes against recommendations for social distancing to stop the spread of coronavirus, reports The Intercept.

Healthcare volunteers working in migrant camps in northern Mexican border cities are preparing for a potential coronavirus outbreak that they say could disproportionately affect migrants, who are consistently dehydrated and malnourished, reports BuzzFeed News.

Coronavirus & Anti-Immigrant Sentiment
Trump called coronavirus the “Chinese virus” in a tweet Monday that many fear will stoke anti-immigrant racism against Chinese nationals and Asian Americans, reports NBC News. He had previously referred to the disease as COVID-19 or coronavirus, but made the switch days after the CDC director said labeling the disease as Chinese is “absolutely wrong and inappropriate.” The virus has resurfaced anti-Asian racism, reports The New Yorker in a story that tracks the growing racism day-by-day until it explodes in the writer’s confrontation with a stranger.

Coronavirus Immigration Closures

Parties on opposite sides of the sprawling immigration courts system — including unions representing immigration judges, prosecutors and attorneys — are coming together to demand the government close all courts for two to four weeks, reports BuzzFeed News. While the Justice Department’s announced Tuesday night that it would close 10 more immigration courts where there is fear of spread of coronavirus, most of the country’s 68 immigration courts remain open.

The immigration court in Seattle was the first to shut down last week after a report of possible second-hand exposure to COVID-19, reports AP. Some cities, such as Boston, continue to have hearings but have postponed master calendar hearings for non-detained immigrants, reports WBUR.

The pandemic is exposing longtime problems in the immigration system, including an enormous immigration court backlog, overcrowded and unsanitary detention centers, and a lack of clear guidance from leadership, reports the LA Times.

Schools have closed in New York, but detention centers holding unaccompanied immigrant minors have not. COVID-19 has further exposed how the U.S. immigration system puts young immigrants at risk, reports Reveal.

Calls to release immigrant detainees at risk of contracting coronavirus have intensified this week.

Public Charge
Immigrants in Southern California, where there have been two deaths from COVID-19, are afraid that seeking medical help will threaten their chance of getting a green card in the future under the Trump administration’s public charge rule which went into effect February 24, reports The New York Times. USCIS announced last week that getting tested or treated for coronavirus will not affect immigrants under the public charge rule, reports The Miami Herald.

At least three asylum seekers or refugees died by suicide in Northern California after the public charge rule went into effect in what clinical psychiatry professor Dr. Rania Awaad says should be a warning to the rest of the country about the mental health impact of the rule, reports USA Today in an op-ed.

The U.S. is suspending new applications for agricultural workers from Mexico, sending farmers and fisheries scrambling on the U.S. side of the border and warning of food shortages, reports Reuters. Last year 77,000 H2A visas were certified in March and April, more than a quarter of the total for the year. About half of those were returning workers, according to the president of the Western Growers Association, which will still be allowed to apply.

Many workers in industries that rely on immigrant labor are worried about the economic impact of measures to stop coronavirus, including day laborers, uninsured airport workers, street vendors and domestic workers, reports City Limits and the LA Times.

A quarter of the judges in federal appellate courts are now Trump appointees, one of the most enduring legacies of his term that will affect immigration rulings for years to come, reports The New York Times. These appointees were more likely to be open about their conservative views than past appointees and at least seven of the 51 appointees previously served on Trump’s campaign or administration.

Lawyers are suing the U.S. government for the chance to seek asylum for three children from El Salvador previously in MPP after their mother sent them across the border, reports AP. The case could set a precedent for the nearly 500 children in U.S. custody who report having family in Mexico under MPP.

Migrant Deaths
A Honduran man died in a family detention center bringing the 2020 fiscal year total to nine, surpassing 2019’s total detention deaths. The apparent cause of death is suicide, a source told BuzzFeed News.

Eight ICE arrests of Central American immigrants at JFK airport this week are believed to be part of Operation Noble Guardian, an attempt by the agency to crack down on adult migrants who allegedly bring children with them as a way to get released from detention and then send the children back to Central America, reports Gothamist/WNYC. But immigration lawyers say the ICE operation is picking up people who are not involved in this scheme.

Election 2020
Tensions between white elites and Latinos in Arizona have existed since the territory broke off from New Mexico in 1863, reports The New York Times. But a recent backlash against conservative immigration policies could signal change in the state and its politics.

Trump Administration
The director of the Office for Refugee Resettlement, which oversees care of refugee minors in the U.S., is leaving the position, reports BuzzFeed News. He has reportedly been pushed out of the role by the White House.


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. One of her recent stories 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.

More From Medium

More from Migratory Notes

More from Migratory Notes

Migratory Notes 88

Related reads

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade