Migratory Notes 158

Elizabeth Aguilera
Apr 9 · 13 min read

Epicenter: Corona Queens; 10,000 Expulsions; Separated Newlyweds

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Farmworkers continue to work, risking their lives to keep the food supply flowing to millions of Americans sheltering at home. These “essential” immigrant workers have been given little to no protection, work in close proximity and have increased rates of diseases like asthma and diabetes that make them especially vulnerable to coronavirus, reports Yvette Cabrera for Grist. Photo Courtesy of Grist.

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The Darién, an unconquerable 110-mile stretch of jungle along the border of Colombia and Panama, “has long been considered one of the most dangerous regions in the world: a corridor for drug trafficking and home to jaguars and venomous snakes,” writes Nadja Drost in California Sunday Magazine. “This has not stopped thousands of migrants from Africa, South Asia, the Middle East, and the Caribbean from traversing it in the hope that they will reach the United States.” The emotional story follows Cameroonian and Pakistani migrants on a journey through rivers and mountains scattered with corpses.

Dilley, a south Texas town referred to as “the middle of nowhere,” and previously known for its prized watermelons, now houses one of the biggest family detention centers in the country, reports the Oxford American. “More than five years after opening, the center is a symbol of President Trump’s immigration agenda, and Dilley is a window into the landscape of detention,” writes Emily Gogolak. “It’s also representative of many small towns across America whose economies and ways of life have changed radically in the last thirty-plus years.” Calls to release these families, including many children held for longer than permitted under the Flores agreement, have only intensified now that some detention centers have confirmed cases of COVID-19, reports The Washington Post. The government insists that it is practicing social distancing at these facilities, despite widespread reports of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.

Labor, Health & Immigrants
The epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. is also the epicenter of immigration to the U.S. Ironically, it’s called Corona, Queens, reports DocumentedNY, where there is a “perfect storm” of among New York’s highest rates of overcrowded homes, uninsured people, and hospitality and service workers. A doctor at the Queens hospital serving the area writes in The New York Times that “it is not easy to communicate — especially when patients are as likely to speak Bengali or Fuzhounese as English,” and that it is no surprise the epidemic hit this community where “many are undocumented immigrants and work off the books or as a part of the gig economy; their jobs don’t offer health insurance, benefits or employment protection.”

A free pharmacy in Dallas has become a rare lifeline for low-income residents — including undocumented or uninsured immigrants — who are struggling to pay for prescriptions because of job losses, reports The Dallas Morning News. It reports prescriptions have doubled since COVID-19 arrived in Texas, the state with the highest rate of uninsured residents.

Nationwide, undocumented immigrants are disproportionately employed in industries experiencing economic trouble because of the coronavirus pandemic, but they have few options for economic relief since they are excluded from a federal stimulus package, reports The Washington Post and The Dallas Morning News. “The coronavirus does not care if you have U.S. citizenship or not. The coronavirus does not discriminate. Efforts to help us all survive it should not either,” writes Yazmín Franco in an op-ed for CalMatters about her family’s personal immigration story.

Some legal immigrants can receive benefits. Here’s a handy guide from The Wall Street Journal on which immigrants qualify for financial relief from the government’s coronavirus stimulus package, as well as unemployment insurance and free coronavirus testing.

For the third time, Guatemala temporarily suspended deportation flights this week after a third confirmed case of a deportee arriving with the coronavirus, reports Reuters. The government is asking for stepped-up protections when flights resume, including limits on the number of migrants per flight and the communities they are from to avoid spreading the virus to rural areas. Despite confirmation from the country’s health ministry, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei denied last week that there are any cases of deportees who have tested positive for COVID-19, reports Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre. Giammattei said that all deportees from the U.S. arrive with a certificate stating they do not have the coronavirus.

Lawmakers and immigrant rights advocates are asking the U.S. government to halt deportations to Haiti, which the State Department recognizes as lacking basic emergency response services like ambulances, reports the Miami Herald.

Nearly 10,000 migrants have been expelled from the U.S. since March 21 under a Trump administration policy that immediately turns back border crossers to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, reports The Washington Post. Some of the expulsions can happen in a matter of minutes, reports the Arizona Daily Star. If these migrants want to claim asylum, they have no way to have their cases heard, according to a leaked Border Patrol memo obtained by ProPublica. This is illegal under international law and is only possible under a little-known power given to the Center for Disease Control during a public health crisis.

“‘Immigration reporters- please be careful saying that people being sent back to CentAm right now are being ‘deported.’” Theresa Cardinal Brown of the Bipartisan Policy Center writes in a Twitter thread explaining the use of the word “expel” since they are not formal deportations and are not tracked as apprehensions.

The coronavirus has provided the perfect opportunity for Trump to launch this expulsion program and other draconian measures he has long wanted to implement, reports The Washington Post. Experts caution that even after the virus is under control these policies may become the new normal.

A chance encounter between two former high school classmates at a concert in Mexico eventually led to their marriage in 2019. But only one is a U.S. citizen, meaning that border closures to non-essential travel separated them during the coronavirus pandemic, reports Slate in partnership with Feet in 2 Worlds. The husband, Elliot Vernet, was denied entry to the U.S. in March because he is not a citizen. He is now one of the 1.4 million people waiting for their petition to join family in the U.S. to be approved.

Cities along the south Texas border are not receiving the coronavirus tests they need even though they are among the state’s most vulnerable during a pandemic because of high poverty rates, low rates of insured residents, and proximity to Mexico where testing is scarce, reports ProPublica and The Texas Tribune.

A pregnant woman gave birth at a Border Patrol station while still wearing her pants, according to a complaint immigrant rights advocates filed Wednesday alleging abuse, reports BuzzFeed News. Advocates are demanding the inspector general conduct an investigation.

Border Wall
In New Mexico, residents have asked state officials to limit temporary construction workers for a border wall project over fear that they could spread the coronavirus, reports AP. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it follows federal health guidelines but declined to provide details on its coronavirus-related actions.

A Trump-appointed judge ruled last week to allow two lawsuits challenging the reallocation of military funds to the border wall to move forward, reports Courthouse News Service. Hearings for two other lawsuits in south Texas opposing a private border wall project have been postponed until May because of coronavirus closures, reports The Monitor.

Immigration officials say they will respond to a potential outbreak by sending detainees to hospitals, but many detention centers are in remote areas without easy access to a hospital, reports Reuters. About 5,000 immigrants are held at detention centers without a hospital with an intensive care unit within 25 miles.

ICE released more than 160 detained migrants who were deemed vulnerable to the coronavirus and is reviewing a total of 600 cases of potentially vulnerable detainees, including pregnant women and anyone over 60, reports The Wall Street Journal. At least 20 detainees across the country have tested positive for the virus, reports BuzzFeed News. That figure includes two at Eloy, near Tucson.

Calls for release by detainees have intensified, with some immigrants in Louisiana who were put into isolation saying that they would prefer to be deported, reports The Guardian. At another Louisiana detention center, detainees are growing more fearful after an inmate tested positive, reports Reveal. They allege they don’t have enough soap and have to make masks out of socks. Others in Virginia have organized a hunger strike, reports The Washington City Paper. ICE denied that a hunger strike had taken place.

CBP announced Monday that 160 employees have tested positive for COVID-19, reports the Arizona Republic. Most of the cases are in coastal cities, including New York. Twenty-six cases are of agents working along the U.S.-Mexico border. ICE is reporting that seven of its employees have tested positive, including two at a detention center near Miami, reports the Miami Herald.

DACA & Special Visas
A scholarship program for students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Temporary Protected Status (TPS) reports that 80 percent of its working scholarship recipients have lost income because of the coronavirus, reports The Hill. Many are at risk of losing their status due to USCIS closures and the failure of legislators to include an automatic extension of these statuses in a coronavirus relief package.

Immigrants in the final steps of becoming citizens are worried they won’t be able to vote in the November elections after their naturalization ceremonies have been postponed due to coronavirus closures, reports BuzzFeed News.

Courts around the country are generally closing on a case-by-case basis:


Immigration Resources & Opportunities

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 the health and welfare of California’s children, and immigration. Previously she reported on health care and social services for CalMatters and 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 Coronavirus stretches California’s special education system to the brink. 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.

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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