Migratory Notes 163

20,000+ expelled, Chinatown devastation, coronavirus love story

Elizabeth Aguilera
Migratory Notes
Published in
14 min readMay 14, 2020


Coronavirus has devastated Chinatowns economically across the country, particularly in New York City, reports The Wall Street Journal. In a different era, Amy Chin’s father opened a Chinese laundry in the Bronx circa 1960. This photo was taken not long after her father was able to bring his children and wife from Hong Kong and the family was prospering.

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Pedro was in an immigration detention center. His wife Zoila was still working at the Mississippi chicken-processing plant where he had been picked up in a raid nine months ago. One hundred and fifty miles apart, they both got infected with coronavirus. “When the coronavirus started sweeping through ICE detention centers and meat-processing plants, Pedro and Zoila didn’t want to worry each other,” Mica Rosenberg writes in a deeply reported data-driven feature for Reuters, which is also a love story in the time of coronavirus. “I didn’t want to tell him how bad I feel,” Zoila said. “He is already in jail — I don’t want to make it worse for him in there. When you really love someone, you try to imply something positive to make them feel better.” Now they are both worried about who will take care of their young son if they don’t recover.

When pro-bono immigration attorney Joelle Eliza M. Lingat got coronavirus, she felt like she “was moving through razor-filled molasses,” her brain was a fog, and she woke up gasping for air in the night. When she tried to reschedule her court dates, she was told she must appear by phone like everyone else. But that was not the hardest part, she writes in an opinion piece for Newsweek. It was knowing what her clients face. “Every day I hear scared voices with uncontrollable coughing and feverish chatter. ‘Please tell my family if I die,’ they whisper to me, not wanting their fellow cellmates to hear,” she writes of calls with clients. “As we jump through bureaucratic hoops and submit motion after appeal after petition, people are getting sicker and more scared.”

As harvest season ramps up without any guidelines from the U.S. government to protect essential farmworkers, some companies and workers are taking safety into their own hands, reports Politico. Meanwhile, the Trump administration plans to publish a regulation to help businesses that rely on seasonal workers, allowing immigrant workers who are on seasonal H-2B visas, to remain in the country for longer, reports CNN.

Conditions for immigrant farm and meat plant workers throughout the country vary:

Border Expulsions
Only two people have been granted refuge at the southern border since March when the U.S. began expelling migrants immediately after they were caught trying to illegally enter the U.S. under a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) directive, according to The Washington Post. The migrants received protections under Convention Against Torture, the only category of protection available under the new restrictions. These border crossers are not given the option to apply for other humanitarian protections, such as asylum. At least 20,000 migrants who crossed the U.S. southern border have been expelled to Mexico under the directive, reports CBS News.

The Mexican government has not provided many options for these migrants, one-third of whom are from Central America, reports The Intercept. With detention centers and shelters emptied by the Mexican government to prevent a coronavirus outbreak, migrants have to figure out how to house themselves while seeking asylum in Mexico or go home to their native countries. San Diego and Tijuana have formed a cross-border initiative to track coronavirus cases, reports the San Diego Union Tribune.

Border Wall
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf visited the Arizona border this week to view the progress of border wall construction projects, despite concerns of local residents of potential exposure to coronavirus, reports the Arizona Republic. During Wolf’s visit, he said officials would consider painting the wall to increase its longevity, reports the Arizona Daily Star. Doing so could cost $500 million to $3 billion. Meanwhile, conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration this week for its transfer of military funds for border wall construction and illegal decisions to waive environmental protections, reports The Hill.

Deportations & Infections
ICE removed five migrants who tested positive for coronavirus from a deportation flight to Haiti this week after pressure from advocacy groups, reports the Miami Herald. The flight arrived in Haiti Monday with 50 people, only about half of the expected deportees. A panel of medical experts called on the Haitian government to halt all deportation flights until the end of the pandemic.

Another Guatemalan deportee tested positive for the coronavirus last week after the U.S. had agreed to test all deportees, reports AP. Deportation flights from the U.S. were previously suspended after dozens of migrants on an April 13 flight tested positive. The Guatemalan Health Ministry announced this week that even more deportees tested positive than they originally identified, raising the positive cases to 71 out of 76 on that one flight, reports AP.

Citizenship & Special Visas
The Trump administration is drafting an executive order to restrict visas for skilled workers, seasonal workers and students during the coronavirus pandemic, reports The Wall Street Journal. Like previous immigration restrictions during the pandemic, the restrictions would be temporary, but Trump’s advisors are pushing to turn them into long-term policies.

For laid-off foreign skilled workers, the 60-day window to find new employment is quickly closing, possibly forcing some to give up on the years-long process of gaining permanent legal status, reports The New York Times. But some workers who now cannot stay legally in the U.S. are finding they have nowhere to go. Indian nationals on these visas cannot leave the country after losing their job, as legally required, due to travel restrictions from the Indian government, reports Hindustan Times.

A new coronavirus relief package proposed by House Democrats includes some key provisions for immigrants, including expedited processing for health care worker visas and green cards, and remote naturalization ceremonies so immigrants can become citizens during the pandemic, reports Roll Call. It is unclear if these provisions will remain after negotiations with House Republicans.

The U.S. tightened visa restrictions for Chinese journalists in response to China’s decision to expel three Wall Street Journal correspondents, reports Reuters. The decision comes as tensions between the two countries have flared during the coronavirus pandemic.

Migrant Youth
Release of migrant youth in U.S. custody has stalled during the pandemic, even though many already have a sponsor waiting for their release, reports the LA Times. Activists and lawyers allege the Trump administration is holding off for their 18th birthdays to deport them more easily, including in the case of one 17-year-old Guatemalan immigrant. As a victim of human trafficking, he would be eligible for a special visa, but only if he is released to a sponsor, reports Reveal Center for Investigative Reporting. A family in Minnesota is ready to take him in and a new lawsuit could make his release possible. The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees unaccompanied minors in detention, told the LA Times it has not changed its policy and any delays are public health related.

U.S. Detainees & Coronavirus
The advocacy group Freedom for Immigrants published this map tracking coronavirus cases in detention centers, reporting as of Thursday morning 50 facilities with cases. Calls to release vulnerable detainees are growing as more cases of immigrant detainees with the coronavirus have been confirmed.

COVID-19 & Immigrant Communities
The more than 700,000 Latino-owned businesses in Texas face extra struggles to avoid eviction and bankruptcy after closing because of the pandemic due to language barriers and lack of access to loans, reports The Texas Tribune and LatinoUSA.

A clinic in Oregon found that Latinos were 20 times more likely to test positive for the coronavirus than other ethnic groups, a trend seen across the country to varying degrees, reports The New York Times. Public health experts attribute this to the fact that many work in the service industry and few have access to health insurance. Some states are ramping up testing of Latinos in light of this data.

As Asian Americans face discrimination related to the coronavirus, a five-hour PBS series explores the mark that Asian Americans have made in the U.S. at a time when immigration is an intensely divisive issue.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions made changes to the asylum system that have had an impact on hundreds of thousands of immigrants long after he left office in 2018, reports LatinoUSA and Documented in an investigation about the immigration court system. After observing immigration courts in New York every day for three months, they found a system in disarray. Files were lost, teleconferencing systems broke down, and notices to appear in court never arrived. Judges no longer had as much discretion to determine cases on a humanitarian basis, impacting the lives of hundreds of migrants. One of these immigrants was Elvis, who fled Guatemala with his pregnant wife when they started receiving extortion calls. After a series of missteps, including a lawyer who was suspended from practicing law while representing Elvis, the process culminated in a final hearing in which he represented himself. This “maddening and punishing” immigration court system is “now the norm for immigrants seeking safety.”


Immigration Resources & Opportunities

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

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



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