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Migratory Notes 162

Elizabeth Aguilera
May 7 · 13 min read

Essential illegal workers, American kids sue for aid, migration to Israel

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Previous waves immigrated to Israel for religious freedom, but it appears that the pandemic is driving a 50% jump in immigration applications from North American Jews, reports Haaretz. In Israel, 219 people have died of the disease. In New Jersey, which has about the same population as Israel, 7,910 people have died. The Jewish Agency predicts a 30 percent global increase in immigration to Israel over the next two years because of the coronavirus.

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As a young boy helping his parents in the California fields, journalist Alfredo Corchado watched loved ones scramble to hide from immigration authorities. Decades later, not much has changed. While farmworkers may have “essential worker” papers right now because of coronavirus, they are still “illegal workers.” “True to form, America still wants it both ways,” Corchado writes in a New York Times opinion piece featuring Max Whittaker’s stunning photography of Central Valley farmworkers. “It wants to be fed. And it wants to demonize the undocumented immigrants who make that happen.” Corchado argues this could be the time to legalize undocumented immigrants who make up 75 percent of essential farmworkers. In response USC professor Roberto Suro tweeted that “inimitably @ajcorchado makes the case for a food worker legalization with a vivid personal narrative. The proposal alone is a blow to the all-or-nothing logic of legalization.” But then Suro breaks down the barriers and unintended consequences that have previously challenged this approach.

More than three million Yemenis have been displaced by a conflict between pro-government forces and the rebel Houthi movement backed by Iran. Osamah Mahyoub and Emad Al-Azabi are among those who have fled the country, reports HuffPost in a long-form story that traces their journey across multiple continents fleeing a conflict that receives little coverage. They first met in Djibouti after leaving their home towns because Houthi rebels wanted to kill them for refusing to join. The threats continued. Then, they flew to Ecuador, but Houthi sympathizers beat and threatened them there, too. They traversed eight countries during the last four months of their journey to make it to the U.S., which has become increasingly hostile to asylum seekers. “If I knew that the trip was going to be what I had experienced, I would have never gone,” Mahyoub said. “I pray that no one ever experiences this.”

U.S. Detainees & Coronavirus
Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia, a 57-year-old Salvadoran immigrant, became the first immigrant detainee to die of the coronavirus, reports The San Diego Union-Tribune. In mid-April, a judge denied him parole because of a domestic violence charge his sister and former attorney says was a case of mistaken identity. “All of this anguish because of the judge,” his sister told Kate Morrissey, “because on April 15, my brother was still well.” Escobar Mejia was detained at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, where lawyers say detainees are not properly isolated while they await their coronavirus test results, reports the LA Times. In some cases, lawyers found out about their client’s positive results before the client. The warden said he has taken all the necessary steps to protect inmates.

A clash between immigrant detainees and officials in a Massachusetts detention center last week is at least the 10th disturbance in immigrant detention since the Trump administration declared a national emergency for the coronavirus, reports CBS News. About 10 people barricaded themselves to avoid being transferred to the medical wing for COVID-19 testing, which they feared could expose them to the virus, reports AP. They ripped washing machines and pipes off the walls, causing an estimated $25,000 in damage. Family of the detainees told CBS that officials tried to get them to sign a paper approving of the conditions in the center, which they refused to sign.

The expansion of ICE detention into rural communities, especially in the South, has caused tensions during the coronavirus pandemic as local residents fear the spread of the virus in their community but also worry about speaking out against an industry they rely on for employment, reports Politico Magazine.

Coronavirus & Immigration Policy
The immigration restrictions labeled an “emergency response” to coronavirus actually came from previously drafted executive orders and policy discussions, reports The New York Times. Since at least 2018, Trump aide Stephen Miller has argued the administration should close borders and restrict immigration based on a public health justification, including the mumps, the flu and a series of migrant deaths in U.S. custody.

U.S. citizen children excluded from the coronavirus stimulus package because their parents are undocumented filed a lawsuit that alleges excluding them from the CARES Act is unconstitutional, reports NPR.

Lawmakers introduced the bipartisan Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act to allocate 40,000 immigrant visas to doctors and nurses to help with the coronavirus pandemic, reports The Hill.

Deportations & Infections
Guatemala said Monday that it will accept deportation flights after the U.S. promised all deportees will be tested for the coronavirus before boarding, reports the LA Times. The decision comes after protests in Guatemala in communities that fear deportees will spread the disease, reports Reuters.

The U.S. finalized an “Asylum Cooperation Agreement” with Honduras last week to deport asylum seekers from other countries to Honduras. The announcement came on the same day prosecutors in New York charged the former chief of the Honduran police with drug trafficking, which activists cited as evidence that the country is not safe for asylum seekers, reports Al Jazeera.

Immigration is an International Issue
Some undocumented immigrants have taken a “U-turn” during the coronavirus, opting to return to often dangerous home countries because of their vulnerability as informal workers, reports The New York Times. Meanwhile, many migrants en route are stuck in deadly situations, stranded at sea or in the desert because governments won’t let them in, reports AP with The Pulitzer Center. In Panama, government regulations require migrants to stay in a dangerous area known as the Darién Gap so as not to spread the coronavirus, but migrants say they are scared because they don’t have access to medical care, reports The World.

After the World Bank predicted a 20% drop in global remittances this year, remittances sent to Mexico increased 36% in March reaching a record $4 billion, reports Bloomberg. One economist says Mexican migrants in the U.S. may be choosing to empty their savings at a moment when the dollar is strong against the peso in preparation of returning.

Other immigrants, however, like Nicaraguan Sergio Armas, are struggling to send money due to lay-offs and shuttered businesses in the U.S. Armas can’t send the $300 a month his parents need for food and medicine, reports The World.

Last week, undocumented workers organized car caravans in at least six states in protest against the unsafe working conditions and lack of protections for immigrant workers, reports NPR. Could these new forms of organizing, some of which were done using the app Telegraph, lead to societal change? Activists see the pandemic as an opportunity to “seize the moment,” one sociologist tells High Country News.

A new report by the Economic Policy Institute revealed that 60 percent of workers on H-1B visas are paid below industry standard, reports Press Trust of India. Many work for top tech companies, including Amazon, Facebook and Google. The Department of Labor can change regulations to ensure companies do not undercut wages, but has not done so.

Border Wall
The president’s latest decision to paint a section of the wall black could drive costs up to at least $500 million and as much as $3 billion, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

Construction of an 11-mile stretch of border wall in South Texas advanced over the weekend despite calls to halt construction during the coronavirus pandemic, reports the Border Report. Residents complying with stay-at-home orders have reported seeing more border construction and surveying activity recently, reports Texas Public Radio. Some believe it is an attempt to take advantage of the pandemic to secure more private land, which usually draws protests and is contested by lawyers.

Documents obtained by Roll Call reveal how changes in the hiring process for the Board of Immigration Appeals favored judges with high asylum denial ratings. An official from the Executive Office for Immigration Review said the hiring process is neutral.

COVID-19 & Immigrant Communities
Immigrants in New York feel exceptionally isolated during the coronavirus pandemic, reports ProPublica. They are scared to seek medical care, and are torn between working to survive or staying home to protect their health. Since undocumented immigrants don’t qualify for public funds, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, a nonprofit operated by the city, announced it will provide privately funded grants to undocumented immigrants and their families seeking help for burial costs, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Immigration Journalism
Laura C. Morel, immigration reporter for the Reveal Center for Investigative Reporting, explained how she connected with detained immigrants to document immigrant detention center conditions during COVID-19, reports The Center for Public Integrity. Dallas Morning News reporter Dianne Solis also shared her tips on reporting on immigrant detention, including using the GettingOut app, during the Migratory Notes Town Hall.


Immigration Resources & Opportunities

Newsletters, Podcasts, & Facebook Groups

  • In The Thick podcast covers the coronavirus impact on immigrant communities from Chelsea, MA to the Bronx, New York.
  • 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 where she covers the health and welfare of California’s next generation after covering health care and social services, including immigration, for several years for the digital outlet. 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 Home is a perilous place for some Californians during Coronavirus pandemic. 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

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.

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.

Migratory Notes

At a time of rapidly shifting policies, we publish a weekly concise and insightful guide to immigration news.

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