Migratory Notes 180

Latinx and the census; Central American cover up; working the fires

Daniela Gerson
Sep 10, 2020 · 14 min read
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A painting project launched on the Texas-Tamaulipas border captures family separation from COVID-19, border closure and immigration policies. The visual art piece shows how families in Matamoros, Mexico and Brownsville, Texas, have been impacted. Painting by Mario Jiménez Díaz in collaboration with Bertha Bermúdez Tapia

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Long before the pandemic, virtual hearings for ICE detainees were becoming more commonplace, reports The Verge. Under the Trump administration, which has opened more detention centers in rural communities isolated from networks of activists and lawyers, the trend took off. “These remote hearings are the result of nearly three decades of experimentation” starting with immigrants in federal prisons in Kentucky, writes Gaby Del Valle. Many lawyers have fought for in-person hearings where their clients would have a better chance at asylum. But the pandemic only accelerated the process of moving immigrant hearings to virtual courtrooms. (Del Valle is also co-editor of BORDER/LINES newsletter.)

As the deadline to fill out the census looms, people who identify as Latinx face a conundrum: What box to check?** Graciela Mochkofsky tackles the evolution and inherent shortcoming of identifying terms for Latin American immigrants to the U.S. in an essay for The New Yorker. “The people successively referred to as Hispanics, Latinos, and now Latinx, who now number more than sixty million, almost twenty percent of the U.S. population, only reluctantly agree that they are actually one and the same people,” writes Mochkofsky, who is director of the Center for Community Media at the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. Only 3% of the population identifies with the label Latinx. Borderlander, mestizo, and Taíno are some of the terms Mochkofsky found others prefer. Although there has yet to be a consensus, without flawed labels, she writes “the government wouldn’t have counted us, and there would be no data to shape public policy, assign federal funding, and apply civil-rights or voter-rights protections.”

DHS and Intelligence Reports
Russian interference was not the only intelligence finding intentionally ignored at Homeland Security because it could make the “president look bad,” according to the whistleblower complaint to the DHS inspector general. Facts compiled about vicious violence, corruption and poverty in Central America were labeled part of a “deep state” conspiracy to undermine the president’s push to restrict asylum, reports The Hill. The complaint includes accusations that Ken Cuccinelli, then the department’s second-highest official, ordered in December 2019 the reassigning or firing of analysts who compiled intelligence on Central American countries. The whistleblower told his boss that to do so would be “an abuse of authority and improper administration of an intelligence program,” according to the complaint. “The DHS whistle-blower complaint provides even more evidence of how the dept has simply become a cesspool of Trumpism,” New Yorker writer Jonathan Blitzer tweeted.

In California’s Sonoma County, the county agriculture commissioner granted access passes to grape pickers to continue working despite making residents leave the area because of fire safety concerns, reports The Intercept. The case highlights the risks that these overwhelmingly undocumented workers have to take because of the financial pressures caused by the pandemic. An investigation by Politico revealed that counties with the highest per capita rates of COVID-19 in states including Oregon and North Carolina were also the counties that are top crop producers.

A new study showed that many low-wage workers, particularly undocumented workers, are less likely to speak up when they are exploited or go unpaid by employers, reports The New York Times. During the pandemic, workers in the food, construction and domestic work industries suffered up to 20 percent loss in wages in April because of wage theft. Natural disasters are also rife for exploitation of undocumented workers, as was the case during Hurricane Katrina and is likely to happen again during hurricane season, reports Capital & Main.

Asylum & Refugees
Democratic legislators wrote a letter to Congress last week asking the U.S. to stop deporting Nicaraguan dissidents during the pandemic, reports The Washington Post. The letter came after the Post reported on the case of Valeska Alemán, a 22-year-old student who stood up to the regime of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega during an uprising in 2018. She was deported along with more than 100 Nicaraguans in July under the Trump administration’s policy of rapid expulsions during the pandemic. Alemán fears being thrown in jail and tortured — again.

Only World War II caused a greater refugee crisis in the past century than the War on Terror, according to a new report from Brown University’s Costs of War project. Thirty-seven million people have been displaced by violence related to America’s response to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, reports The New York Times. More than 23 million have since returned home, many through involuntary deportation. The report focused on displacement of people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Libya and Syria and the authors say it is a conservative estimate since it does not include people displaced in other countries with smaller counterterrorism operations.

Kids and Rapid Expulsions
What is worse than young kids isolated in detention centers? Lomi Kriel, of ProPublica and Texas Tribune, writes in a tweet thread on a policy she has reported on that has taken off in the past few months: “Kids are hardly even entering the US system for migrant children at all. Instead they’re sending kids to Mexico or holding them in hotels before flying them to their home countries without outside oversight. Why? Covid.”

This may have changed this week. A judge ordered the Trump administration to stop, saying that it violated standards for protection for child migrants in U.S. custody, reports AP. Even before that in recent weeks, more migrant children had been transferred to federal welfare authorities, following the typical process before the pandemic, reports The Wall Street Journal. And the Trump administration is now considering excluding some unaccompanied minors from the policy, reports BuzzFeed News.

Why the shift? Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, counsel at American Immigration Council, speculated on Twitter that it had to do with reporting from Kriel and Dara Lind documenting the government is expelling minors who had tested negative for COVID. “So rather than face an embarrassing defeat, they want to moot the lawsuit,” he writes.

Border Patrol
CBP took down a promotional video that depicted agents chasing a migrant, who escapes and then kills a man in a dark alley after reporting by The Washington Post and The Daily Beast. The video was based on anti-immigrant propaganda promoted by Stephen Miller that immigrants are criminals, reports The Daily Beast. This is one of many examples of the Trump administration’s reelection playbook that focuses on white supremacy, designed and perpetuated by Miller, reports The Guardian.

Border Patrol did not test any migrants in its custody for COVID-19 between March and early May, reports The Intercept. It’s unclear if the agency began testing after mid-May.

Demographics and Census
Immigration to New York City has declined during the Trump presidency by nearly 50% from 62,000 in 2016 to 34,000 in 2019, because of fear of enforcement and delays in processing visas, according to a report by the Brookings Institution, reports The Wall Street Journal. Experts predict this could hurt the economy, where immigrants makeup 45% of the workforce and own more than half of the city’s businesses.

A federal judge blocked the Census Bureau from laying off staff and halting in-person counting efforts until a court hearing is held on September 17, which is arguing for more time to count. The Trump administration, which tried to prohibit undocumented immigrants from being counted, wants to have the count conclude by the end of the month. Opponents, including some members of the Census Bureau, say that will exacerbate what is already poised to be a record undercount, particularly of immigrants.

For many in immigrant communities, the census is the only power they have to affect change because resources are allocated based on those counts. So even though non-citizens cannot vote the tally of their census makes a difference, reports PRI’s The World.

Immigration is an International Issue
More than $4 million of Mexican government funds allocated for regional efforts to slow migration was instead used to pay for renovating immigrant detention centers and sending migrants away from the U.S.-Mexico border by bus, reports AP.

In an effort to make up for falling revenues during the pandemic, USCIS announced an increase in visa fees by about 50% for artists who want to tour the U.S., reports NPR. In a separate case, an award-winning Oklahoma musician is fighting deportation, reports Fox25.

The crisis in the Postal Service is also expected to impact USCIS. An estimated 90 percent of immigration applications are processed through the mail and a lack of funding for USPS would delay hundreds of thousands of applications, reports Documented.

Border Wall
Trump again doubled down on his false campaign promise that Mexico is paying for the border wall at a rally in North Carolina Tuesday, even though taxpayers have paid for the wall, reports HuffPost. He also resurfaced an idea of installing toll booths at the border to make Mexican citizens pay for crossing and then funnel this money into border wall construction, reports Newsweek. He suggested the idea in 2016 but it did not come to fruition during his first term.

Elections 2020
Biden’s decision to add former Obama administration official Cecilia Muñoz to his transition team sparked outrage among some immigration advocates for her role carrying out what they deem were harsh enforcement and deportation policies, reports The Hill.

Immigration Journalism
Faced with the pandemic, and now the fires, Ventura County-based Radio Indígena has been broadcasting via Facebook Live and on the air in indigenous languages, reports the Ventura County Star. (Daniela also profiled the station as part of her report on innovative immigrant-run media outlets.)

The white male perspective is the default in history and journalism, so when Jean Guerrero set out to write a biography of Trump aide Stephen Miller, many questioned her ability to be objective, Guerrero writes in an op-ed for The San Diego Union-Tribune. “That’s irrational. The fact is, my family history gives me a better understanding of Miller — who, like me, is the descendant of people who came to this country seeking a better life,” she writes.


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

** Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the only option in the census is Hispanic. In fact, one can choose Latino, of Spanish origin or write in an option.

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