Migratory Notes 178

Elizabeth Aguilera
Aug 27, 2020 · 14 min read

Solitary COVID confinement, arbitrary asylum, DACA renewals a go

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Laura Castro, 15, submitted a painting to the Migrant Education Program about her experience as a child farmworker from the time she was five-years-old. ‘What I wanted people to see in the painting was that it was always hot. That’s why there’s a sunny half. The other half is raining because we worked in the rain,” she said to Borderless Magazine. Source: Borderless Magazine/Laura Castro

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ICE is sending dozens of detainees exposed to COVID-19 to solitary confinement, reports The Intercept and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. These cells are “a far cry from a hospital bed or a hotel room: Cells are claustrophobic, sparsely furnished, and those confined are allowed limited social interaction. A stay can cause lasting trauma and trigger suicidal impulses,” writes Carmen Molina Acosta. The agency’s decision to use solitary confinement for quarantine is a direct violation of CDC recommendations, which specify that the experience should be “operationally distinct” from punitive solitary confinement.

Coyote border smugglers have found a new market: migrants wanting to leave the United States or Mexico and return to their Central American countries of origin, VICE reports. “It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen before at the U.S border and in the region,” said Olga Byrne, immigration director at the International Rescue Committee. “Those Salvadorans locked out of their country started calling themselves ‘varados,’ or ‘the stranded,’” Bryan Avelar and Deborah Bonello write. “Many undocumented migrants don’t want to take the deportation flights organized between governments, for fear of being forced into quarantine centres, which in some nations have become hotspots for COVID-19.”

New reports reveal Trump administration officials proposed using a military weapon that makes people feel their skin is burning to prevent migrants from crossing the border prior to the 2018 midterm elections, reports The New York Times. “It is not known whether Mr. Trump knew of the microwave weapon suggestion, but the discussion in the fall of 2018 underscored how Mr. Trump’s obsession with shutting down immigration has driven policy considerations, including his suggestions of installing flesh-piercing spikes on the border wall, building a moat filled with snakes and alligators and shooting migrants in the legs,” writes Michael D. Shear. Kirstjen Nielsen, who helmed DHS at the time, nixed the proposal.

Republican National Convention
Acting DHS head Chad Wolf performed a naturalization ceremony at the RNC Tuesday for five immigrants, including two who later said they were unaware it would be televised as part of the convention, reports The Wall Street Journal. The ceremony aimed to portray the U.S. under Trump as a land of opportunity for legal migrants who follow the rules. But the act contradicted Trump’s policies, which have restricted both legal and unauthorized forms of migration, reports The New York Times. The naturalization ceremony may have been illegal under the Hatch Act, which prohibits the use of government functions for political reasons, reports The Washington Post. The House launched an investigation.

Earlier on Tuesday, Trump announced the formal appointment of Wolf as DHS director after 10 months serving in an acting capacity. A Government Accountability Office report had found Wolf was serving illegally because the Trump administration bypassed the Senate confirmation process, a common tactic used to stack important agencies with Trump loyalists.

In a speech during the convention, former California prosecutor and Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle attempted to appeal to immigrants by proclaiming herself the child of two immigrant parents. But viewers quickly pointed out her Puerto Rican mother was a U.S. citizen, as everyone in Puerto Rico has been since 1917, and not an immigrant, reports NBC News. “It’s quite on message, because it reflects their belief that Latinos aren’t real citizens, even when we are Native descendants,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter. Guilfoyle’s father was an immigrant from Ireland.

USCIS Furloughs
USCIS — the agency responsible for processing asylum, green card and citizenship applications — narrowly avoided furloughs for 13,000 employees scheduled for the end of August when the House passed a bill Saturday to provide emergency funding, reports CNN and The Wall Street Journal. The furloughs could have delayed the naturalization of up to 100,000 people eligible to vote in the November elections. The agency still faces a crisis from decreased revenues caused by the pandemic and Trump’s policies deterring legal migration, and will have to implement severe budget cuts, reports The New York Times. In Minnesota, for example, the system has been backlogged since before the pandemic, with average wait times for naturalization increasing from 10 months to 25, reports Sahan Journal.

A detailed analysis of 10 years of asylum cases shows that the difference between winning protection and facing deportation is often based on a series of arbitrary factors, reports The San Diego Union-Tribune. Among the findings:

  • Country of origin matters: Odds of an asylum seeker from China getting asylum is 2.2 times more likely than one from Somalia.
  • Not detained = much better chance: Asylum seekers who were in custody when their cases were heard were deported more than 70% of the time, while those released were deported in about 40% of cases, even though they may have similar circumstances.
  • Judges determine outcomes: Often in the same court there was a 60% differential in grant rates based on who the judge is.

More than 4,300 asylum seekers have sought protection in the U.S. from 2007 to 2017 based on fear of persecution related to their LGBT identity, according to previously unreported data obtained by NBC News. The numbers rose rapidly under Obama, peaking in 2016. Central America’s Northern Triangle has the largest share of LGBT asylum seekers per capita. Ninety-eight percent passed the credible fear screening, but it is unclear how many won their asylum cases. New rules the Trump administration released June 15 would sharply limit asylum and gender-based claims.

A rule implemented Tuesday makes it more difficult for asylum seekers to apply for work permits, reports CBS News. They will now have to wait 365 days after filing for asylum to request a permit, compared to 150 days under previous regulations.

DHS announced it will resume DACA renewals after a month-long freeze that likely delayed 20,000 applications, reports The Wall Street Journal. The agency did not say whether it will accept new applications, despite a federal ruling in Maryland ordering a full restoration of DACA after the Supreme Court struck down the administration’s 2017 termination of the program. Despite this win for DREAMers, many still face hiring discrimination. Some DACA recipients have filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent employers from turning them away based on civil rights law, reports The New York Times.

Border & Travel Restrictions
The U.S. closed travel lanes at some ports of entry at the southern border last week in an attempt to better control non-essential travel of U.S. citizens and residents, who can still enter the U.S. under a March rule that has limited travel during the pandemic, reports Reuters.

Texas’ Rio Grande Valley has some of the state’s highest death rates during the pandemic and youngest victims, reports The Washington Post. “While adversity is no stranger to the people along the Mexican border — an area bearing the trauma of centuries of resource scarcity, systematic exclusion and stifling poverty — people here have overcome those challenges by coming together. The best ways to protect against the virus violate every instinct of Valley life,” writes Arelis R. Hernández.

Travel restrictions have led to increased wait times for previously easily obtainable visas for U.S. citizens studying in Canada, reports Politico. Students wishing to enter must now prove their presence is necessary to get past border checks, but most Canadian universities have moved classes online and do not require students on campus.

Border Wall
The indictment of Trump aide Steve Bannon for conspiracy charges related to the Build the Wall Campaign includes an investigation into an unnamed non-profit run by Bannon, most likely Citizens of the American Public, which promotes Trump’s ideology through films and podcasts, reports ProPublica and The Texas Tribune.

The government is set to begin border wall construction near a historic church and two Native American burial sites, despite explicit instructions from Congress not to harm these areas, reports The Intercept. The government has cleared land just feet from official cemetery property, including some areas where people were buried, reports the Border Report.

Muslim detainees at Krome detention center in Miami say they have been served pork-based meals during the pandemic that violate their religious beliefs, forcing them to choose between going hungry during a public health crisis or breaking their religious customs, reports Miami New Times. The allegations go back to 2017 and are part of a pattern of violating detainees’ rights under the First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act, according to advocates.

Impersonations and Violations
A postal worker in Utah is pending trial on charges for destroying mail related to immigration cases, causing chaos in many towns and leading some people to lose their jobs or receive fines, reports the Nevada Independent. In California, a 34-year-old man was arrested for impersonating a federal agent after years of pretending to work at DHS, openly carrying a firearm and pulling over vehicles, reports the LA Times. An official said imposters have increased recently, potentially because ICE is in the news.

Immigration is an International Issue
Eight minors deported to Guatemala on a flight from Alexandria, Louisiana tested positive for COVID-19 despite assurances from ICE that migrants are being properly screened, reports AP.

Remittances to Guatemala reached a record-high $1 billion in July, a sign that the Central American country may avoid the economic devastation predicted when remittances dropped in the spring, reports El Faro and Plaza Pública.


Immigration Resources & Opportunities

Coronavirus Resources

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

Reporting Initiatives about Immigrant Communities

  • Borderless: a non-profit online magazine reimagining coverage of the immigration system.
  • Documented: a non-profit news site covering immigrants in New York.
  • Ethnic Media Services: organization that works with ethnic media organizations to improve coverage and reach.
  • Feet In Two Worlds: project that tells immigrant stories and provides fellowships for immigrant journalists.
  • Finding American: a collaboration between documentary photographer Colin Boyd Shafer and immigrants to feature their stories.
  • The Immigrant Story: a project between journalists, photographers, graphic designers and developers to document and archive immigrants’ stories.
  • ImmPrint: an online publication by and for people affected by immigrant detention.
  • New Michigan Media: a network of ethnic and minority media across the state of Michigan.
  • Newest Americans: a multimedia collaboration between journalists, media-makers, artists, faculty and students telling the stories of the immigrant and immigrant communities in Newark, NJ.
  • Refugees (Santa Fe Dreamers Project): a collection of testimonies from asylum seekers in partnership with the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center.

Newsletters, Podcasts, & Facebook Groups

  • Detention Dispatches by Capital & Main follows the conditions in ICE detention centers during the pandemic.
  • 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
For some California teens, school closures led to work in the fields. 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

A weekly informed and concise 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

A weekly informed and concise 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

A weekly informed and concise guide to immigration news.

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