Migratory Notes 159

Elizabeth Aguilera
Migratory Notes
Published in
13 min readApr 16, 2020


Pepper spray & Covid in detention; meat plants close, lower wages for farm workers?

More than 5,500 Haitians sought asylum in Mexico in 2019, compared to fewer than 100 the year before, reports the El Paso Times. For many, including Briyanne Jeanniton (pictured above), a Haitian immigrant who traveled from Chile, the plan was a temporary stop. But even before coronavirus, she and many others were facing stricter Mexican enforcement and long processing times that have forced them to make a prolonged stay in southern Mexico en route to the growing Haitian community in Mexicali along the U.S. border. (Photo by Omar Ornelas)

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Immigrants dying of coronavirus are being denied a parting wish: to return to their homelands and loved ones to be buried. José Felix Rojas, 52, is one of at least 150 Mexican immigrants in the New York City area who have died from the coronavirus, reports the LA Times. “We always had the dream that he would come back someday,” said his wife Maclovia in Puebla, Mexico. But now, “along with intense emotional anguish and a sudden economic void from the loss of crucial providers, their families must endure another blow: The crisis has made it almost impossible to ship bodies back to Mexico for burial,” writes Patrick J. McDonnell.

Lizandro Claros Saravia has emerged as one of El Salvador’s most promising young soccer stars, after being denied a soccer scholarship to attend college in North Carolina and deported with his brother from the U.S., reports CBS News. “A mixture of perseverance and good fortune has allowed the brothers to pursue their college degrees and childhood dreams of soccer stardom thousands of miles away from their family,” write Kervy Robles and Camilo Montoya-Galvez.

Guatemala’s Health Minister blamed deportation flights for spreading coronavirus, saying 75% of deportees on one flight tested positive, reports the LA Times. Guatemala resumed deportation flights this week after it had temporarily halted them after three previous deportees tested positive for the new coronavirus.

The Trump administration announced Monday that it will seek more aid for Central America because the countries have helped reduce migration from a May 2019 peak, reports AFP. But at the same time, it is threatening to deny visas to these countries if they refuse to accept deportees. It is the latest move in the Trump administration’s “carrot and stick” diplomacy in Central America, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Although some Haitian deportees who may have been exposed to the coronavirus were pulled from a deportation flight last week, more than 60 Haitians were deported. Haiti’s ambassador to the U.S. has asked for deportations to be halted but feels the country has little leverage in this David vs. Goliath fight against the U.S., reports PRI’s The World.

Remain in Mexico
“Despite the worry now about the asylum-seekers in Matamoros, no one is rushing to help them,” Karla Cornejo Villavicencio writes in a New York Times Opinion piece with photos from Christopher Lee documenting the tent camp under the coronavirus. “People are just rushing to read about this impending mass grave.” At least five migrants at the Matamoros tent camp have shown COVID-19 symptoms, but they have not been tested and the Mexican government has not authorized their move to a hotel, reports The New York Times Opinion. The city has at least eight confirmed cases, but none are in the camp.

When immigrant detainees in Arizona protested the treatment of sick detainees, ICE used pepper spray inside their cells, only worsening coughs of anyone already sick, reports The Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting. “It’s not possible to have good hygiene there or wash yourself well since you have to share the bathroom with another 40 people or so,” a detainee in Illinois told Borderless in an investigation into the immigration detention and court system in the Midwest under coronavirus. In other detention centers around the country, ICE measures — or lack thereof — have triggered widespread panic among inmates:

ICE has confirmed more than 89 cases of detainees who have tested positive for the new coronavirus and 21 employees. Here is a breakdown of some of the reports:

After a report of two positive cases at Krome Detention Center in Miami, a federal judge ordered U.S. immigration officials to disclose how many of their detainees and third-party contractors at three South Florida detention centers have tested positive for the coronavirus, reports the Miami Herald.

Immigrant Kids and COVID-19
Pressure for immigration judges to resolve cases of the estimated 3,100 unaccompanied minors in U.S. custody within 60 days has not let up during the coronavirus pandemic, putting these minors at risk in shelters and at court, reports The Marshall Project. Even in coronavirus hotspots such as New York, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles, the Justice Department has refused to suspend deportation hearings for minors on the grounds that continuing these cases increases the chances of being freed quickly.

Meanwhile, at least 37 immigrant children in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement at a shelter in Chicago have tested positive, reports ProPublica.

“While the nation’s attention was focused on coronavirus, the health department abruptly swapped refugee office leaders and began pursuing hardline, Stephen Miller-backed policies again,” Dan Diamond tweeted about his story in Politico on changes at Office of Refugee Resettlement, which runs shelters and takes care of thousands of immigrant children. “It’s only a matter of time before the situation blows up again like it did in 2018,” one official told him, referring to family separation.

For more than a century, the Smithfield pork factory in South Dakota has helped immigrants, many of them refugees, build a new life in the U.S. Now it is the largest coronavirus hot spot in the country, with more than 640 cases linked to the now shuttered plant, reports The New York Times. “Workers, many at-home battling weeks-long fevers and debilitating body aches, are now facing another cruel reality of the virus: They are mourning both their co-workers and the jobs that made them sick,” write Caitlin Dickerson and Miriam Jordan. Several other meat plants have also closed because of the virus, which may impact the food supply, reports Reuters.

The Department of Agriculture is considering a controversial proposal to reduce already low wages for foreign guest workers, reports NPR. U.S. farmers who are struggling say it could help them but opponents of the plan — which includes both advocates and immigration hardliners, say respectively it will make these workers even more vulnerable and this is the wrong move during a time of unprecedented U.S. unemployment.

Foreign workers on H-1B special visas for college graduates are at risk of not only losing jobs during the pandemic, but also losing their legal status if USCIS does not relax strict visa guidelines, reports Roll Call.

Guatemalan immigrant Vitalina Williams — described by family as vivacious and generous — became Massachusetts’ first grocery store worker to die of COVID-19, reports The Boston Globe. She was one of many immigrants working an essential job during the pandemic.

Coronavirus Stimulus Package
Activists launched a campaign Tuesday to convince top lawmakers to include health care and economic relief for immigrants in a coronavirus stimulus package, reports The Hill. “The novel coronavirus does not care about a person’s immigration status, economic status or access to health care,” said director of UnidosUS Action Fund. “Our response to the pandemic shouldn’t either.”

Public Charge & Health Care
The attorneys general of New York, Vermont and Connecticut asked the Supreme Court Monday to temporarily halt the public charge rule that allows the government to deny visas or green cards to immigrants who rely on public benefits, reports The Hill. Lawyers and doctors have reported that immigrants are not seeking care for possible COVID-19 symptoms because of fear of retaliation under the public charge rule, reports BuzzFeed News.

Immigrant Communities & COVID-19
For many immigrants, the coronavirus pandemic is one of many crises, reports The Nation in a photo essay documenting how working-class immigrants have been affected. In Langley Park, Maryland, where 70 percent of adults are immigrants, residents must choose between staying home and continuing to work to support their families, many who don’t qualify for benefits because of their immigration status, reports The Washington Post. In Chelsea, Massachusetts, where 60 percent of the population is Latino and many are immigrants, fear of seeking testing is worsening the situation, where there have already been 23 deaths, reports NBC Boston. And in Minneapolis, immigrant and refugee families face additional barriers when trying to access distance learning sites for public schools, including a language barrier and lack of internet access, reports Sahan Journal. This places emotional duress on immigrant parents who may have fled traumatic circumstances and feel responsible if their kids fall behind in school.

The coronavirus pandemic threatens to sink Latino households financially just as they were starting to bounce back from the Great Recession, reports NBC News. Latinos lost more wealth than any other racial or ethnic group from 2005 to 2009.

TPS & Special Visas
More than 130,000 Salvadoran, Honduran and Haitian immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) are working in essential jobs during the pandemic even as they wait for a court to decide whether their legal protections will continue, reports the Center for American Progress.

A Government Accountability Office report revealed that CBP spent $12 million for unnecessary meals and private security at a detention center in Tornillo, Texas that never housed more than 68 people per day, reports AP. DHS defended the spending in a letter, but would not further comment on the report.


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
  • 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.
  • ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest? Podcast tells stories of Latino life “from the homeland to the heartland.”
  • Frontera Dispatch is a weekly newsletter by the Hope Border Institute on news and analysis from the border.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Politico’s Morning Shift newsletter: a daily read on employment and immigration.
  • 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 Media (CCM) 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 published Digital First Responders: How innovative news outlets are meeting the needs of immigrant communities, a report for the Center for Community Media. 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 Coronavirus stretches California’s special education system to the brink. You can find her on Twitter @1eaguilera

*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

*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

*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