Migratory Notes 181

Elizabeth Aguilera
Sep 17, 2020 · 13 min read

Sterilizations in detention, TPS blocked, spy warfare

Thousands were displaced by fires at Europe’s largest refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos earlier this month. Now more than 12,000 people are packed into makeshift canopies, reports The World. Photo from “The Story Won’t Die” a forthcoming documentary on refugee artists from Daniela’s brother David Gerson which was filmed at the camp, Moriah, and the surrounding areas on Lesbos.

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What happens when you refuse to spy for the FBI? In the case of an Iranian scientist, the FBI accused him of spying, and then threw him in jail. When a judge threw out the case, ICE threw him in detention due to the FBI scuttling his visa. Then he caught coronavirus and almost died, Laura Secor writes in The New Yorker in a meticulously researched story that reads like a thriller. “The Bureau recruits counterintelligence assets in much the same way it turns witnesses in domestic racketeering cases: agents look for vulnerabilities to use as leverage in pressuring people to become informants,” Secor writes. “They find discrepancies in immigration paperwork or identify petty sanctions violations, sometimes threatening an indictment to bolster their demands.”

When the coronavirus reached New Mexico’s ICE facility, the state health secretary Kathy Kunkel sprung into action. “But ICE repeatedly stonewalled the health department’s efforts,” write Patrick Michels and Laura C. Morel for Reveal in a story detailing the failed response that led to an outbreak at Otero County Processing Center. “Kunkel only could look on from the outside as COVID-19 cases slipped out of control at Otero. At a time when testing kits were scarce, health department staff had no idea whether the 500 they sent to Otero had even been used.” ICE denied the allegations and said it maintained clear communication.

Up to 400,000 immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan could face deportation due to a federal court decision that the Trump administration has authority to end their Temporary Protective Status. Many of these immigrants, like Jose Palma of the National TPS Alliance, could be forced to leave the U.S. after building a life over more than two decades, reports PRI’s The World. Those who could be impacted also include an estimated:

The change would go into effect next year unless Congress proposes a long-term solution, Trump revokes his decision, or an incoming Democratic administration renews protections as promised. The plaintiffs will likely contest the decision and could take it to the Supreme Court.

Hysterectomies in Detention
Georgia gynecologist Mahendra Amin, who was often called “the uterus collector”, sterilized at least five women in ICE custody from October to December 2019 without their consent, Tina Vasquez reports in Prism. Now, Rep. Pramila Jayapal says the number of cases is up to 17. This is part of a long history of forced sterilization of women of color in the U.S., reports The Lily. However, the story doesn’t come without criticism from at least one journalist that it was based on unconfirmed reports — which is the same push back coming from ICE regarding the story.

The allegation came to light after a report by The Intercept detailed the dangerous medical practices during the pandemic, including a refusal to test sick detainees, neglected medical complaints and underreporting of cases. The whistleblower, nurse Dawn Wooten, says her hours were drastically reduced in retaliation for speaking up. She detailed the conditions in a complaint filed by the legal advocacy group Project South. ICE said it takes the allegations seriously but does not directly comment on Office of Inspector General investigations. Democrats called for an investigation Tuesday, reports the New York Times.

Enforcement & Detention
It was presented as a routine summer flight to relocate detainees to Virginia during the pandemic. Instead, it was actually meant to transport ICE agents to be law enforcement at civil rights protests in D.C., which would be illegal if detainees were not on board, reports The Washington Post. The transfer fueled an outbreak in Farmville, Virginia that led to more than 300 infections and one death.

An analysis of COVID-19 cases in ICE custody by Reveal showed a trend: privately run facilities reported more cases than jails run by local governments. The reason remains unclear.

Immigration agents said recent raids were necessary during the pandemic to round up criminals, but a closer analysis of the more than 2,000 people arrested shows many immigrants had committed minor crimes, like driving under the influence or minor drug offenses, if any crime at all, reports The New York Times.

Rapid Expulsions
More than 8,800 unaccompanied minors and 7,600 families have been rapidly expelled from the U.S. without the chance to seek protection under a pandemic-era rule in place since mid-March, reports CBS News. Most of the 159,000 people expelled under the rule have been single adults. But U.S. immigrant rights advocates criticize this “opaque, chaotic new system” that has led to situations such as the case of Gustavo, a 12-year-old Guatemalan boy with a disability whose mother sent across the border to try to get him to safety only to lose contact with him for nearly a week, reports Reuters. She thought he was going to go to his grandfather in the U.S. but instead, the child was rapidly expelled to Guatemala without her knowledge.

Elections 2020
This fiscal year, 235,000 fewer people were naturalized after a three-month pause during the pandemic, reports The Dallas Morning News. These would-be voters won’t be able to cast a ballot this year and these voters are key in states like Florida that could decide the race. USCIS said the agency has been “extremely productive.”

Biden kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month with a trip to Florida, where he is currently lagging in polls. Voters there with roots in Cuba or Venezuela may be swayed by recent Trump ads that portray Biden as close to their country’s socialist governments, reports USA Today. But Central Florida’s Puerto Rican community, many who left the island after Hurricane Maria, could swing the state in Biden’s favor, reports PRI’s The World.

Even if Biden wins, undoing Trump’s more than 400 executive actions on immigration will be a daunting task, reports NPR. There are few quick solutions to reversing these policies, and an incoming administration would have to be careful to avoid fueling chaos in the immigration system.

Immigration is an International Issue
Migration from Honduras has increased since 2014 when president Juan Orlando Hernández took office and many Hondurans cite deteriorating security conditions and corruption as their reason for leaving, reports The Arizona Daily Star. Yet the U.S. continues to support Hernandez, who is linked to drug traffickers, even as it aims to curb migration from the region.

Persistent demand for immigrant labor particularly in elder care and agriculture in developed economies has led countries including the U.S., Japan and Italy to loosen some pandemic-era travel requirements for these essential workers, reports The Wall Street Journal. But many would-be foreign workers still can’t travel to improve their earnings as planned. In the Philippines, where an estimated 2 million citizens seek work abroad each year, these returning or stranded migrants are adjusting to lower wages and finding new ways to support their families, reports The Washington Post.

Employers are legally required to provide masks to California farmworkers, at least half who are undocumented, when the air quality is unhealthy. But many farm owners are ignoring this requirement during the wildfires, reports NPR.

Border Wall
Tommy Fisher received more than $2 billion in government contracts to build the border wall in the past nine months after repeatedly being passed over for contracts by the Army Corps of Engineers, reports The Washington Post. Fisher began receiving government contracts after completing private contracts in New Mexico and south Texas through the privately-funded We Build the Wall. His rise shows how the Trump administration’s favoritism can be lucrative, even as others involved in the We Build the Wall project face fraud charges.

Immigration Journalism
Who gets to tell stories of immigration, racism, and inequality and why? Two recent memoirs by Latina journalists — My Time to Speak: Reclaiming Ancestry and Confronting Race by Ilia Calderón and Once I Was You: A Memoir of Love and Hate in a Torn America by Maria Hinojosa — tackle this question head-on. “Black, brown and Indigenous journalists, whose voices have been restrained time and again by the boundaries of objectivity framed by white counterparts, are mixing their own narratives with current events to create new guiding standards. Some may call this a biased approach to storytelling. I call it necessary perspective,” writes Migratory Notes board member Fernanda Santos in a review for The New York Times.


Immigration Resources & Opportunities

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.

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