Migratory Notes 184

Detainees drop 60%; ICE billboards

Elizabeth Aguilera
Oct 8, 2020 · 13 min read
In an unprecedented political move, ICE launched billboards in Pennsylvania warning of the “real dangers” of sanctuary policies, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Former DHS officials called the move to target immigrants on billboards “wildly inappropriate” reports CBS. Photo via ICE (Migratory Notes covered eyes).

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Mayela Villegas, a 27-year-old trans woman from El Salvador, “looked like a success story. Defying the odds, she had been allowed into the United States to pursue her asylum claim,” writes Molly Hennessy-Fiske in the L.A. Times. But, despite being with family in Texas, she would eventually walk in front of a truck, her hands up. “I hadn’t spoken to Mayela in months, and felt guilty,” Hennessy-Fiske writes in an intimate story probing the apparent suicide and the brutal obstacles facing trans women on both sides of the border. “She had called me now and then but, traveling and on assignment, I had responded late or not at all. Was there something I could have done?”

We need to take away children, no matter how young.” Top Justice Department officials, including former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, pushed family separation policy even when U.S. attorneys along the border opposed it, according to a draft report of a two-year investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general, reports The New York Times. The reports come after CNN obtained a tape of First Lady Melania Trump complaining about the backlash against family separations and falsely claiming the Obama administration did the same thing.

The number of detained immigrants has dropped by more than 60%, with an average daily population of about 19,800, compared to 50,000 last year. Fewer immigrants are being transferred to ICE detention centers under a rule to rapidly expel them during the pandemic, reports The Dallas Morning News. “The plunge comes as many people — from Dallas to Los Angeles to Chicago and New York — call for reforms of the U.S. justice system, including how the government locks up immigrants. Why were so many people locked up in the first place?” writes Dianne Solis.

In California, a judge ordered ICE to further reduce the population at the Adelanto Processing Center, the largest detention center outbreak in the nation, with nearly 20% of the detainees infected, reports the Palm Springs Desert Sun. The outbreak has “drawn the ire of the federal judge overseeing the case, who has slammed ICE and The GEO Group, the private prison company that owns and operates the facility, for its ‘inadequate and objectively unreasonable’ response to the COVID-19 crisis,” writes Rebecca Plevin.

DHS recognized its failure to contain the spread of COVID-19 in ICE detention in an agency draft report obtained by BuzzFeed News. The report says the agency contributed to the spread of the virus through transfers and was unable to implement social distancing. Some ICE detainees say they fear reporting COVID-19 symptoms because they don’t want to be put into what they call “the hole,” a solitary confinement cell where they spend 23 hours in isolation, reports KQED. ICE protocol says quarantine should not be equivalent to solitary confinement, but detainee reports say this is not the case.

More than 3,500 Hondurans who set off in the latest migrant caravan were deterred after the Guatemalan president declared a state of emergency and sent troops to stop the migrants citing the risk of spreading COVID-19 as the reason for the harsh enforcement tactics, reports Vice. The country followed Mexico, which sent the National Guard to break up a migrant caravan in January, marking a departure from the welcome the first caravans received in Mexico in 2018, reports AP.

Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador questioned the timing of the caravan before the U.S. elections, but there is no proof that it was politically motivated, reports the L.A. Times. The Honduran migrants say they have no option but to flee since the pandemic caused an economic meltdown, reports Al Jazeera. Some experts expect Honduran migration to increase in the coming months as lockdown measures in the region loosen.

Visas & Citizenship
The Trump administration announced changes Tuesday to the “highly skilled” visa program that would increase the minimum salary companies must offer and restrict eligibility requirements, reports The New York Times. Officials said the decision is necessary to protect American workers during the pandemic, but Trump has aimed to restrict the program since 2017. The decision came days after a federal judge temporarily blocked a pandemic-era order to halt new visas for foreign workers, opening the door for companies to bring workers into the country on visas for high-skilled workers, cultural exchange and guest workers, reports The New York Times.

Other proposed or recently added restrictions on visas and citizenship include:

Border Wall
Scavengers along the border allege that construction crews often give them metal scraps from border wall construction that they then sell across the border in Mexico because they have no other income during the pandemic, reports the Arizona Republic. U.S. companies cannot legally dump construction materials across international borders, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers say they are investigating the allegations.

Border Patrol
Records obtained by Vice News reveal that CBP agents were deployed to Texas for the burial of George Floyd with instructions to use deadly force if they felt threatened. The documents show how the mandate of the agency expands beyond immigration and border security. Even as its role expands, the agency is working to restrict access to documents that would hold officials accountable. Border Patrol requested that the National Archives and Records Administration designate the agency’s internal records as temporary, meaning they would be destroyed after just four years, reports The Intercept. A similar ICE request was granted last year.

Border Patrol apprehended 12 migrants and detained seven volunteers at the camp of aid group No More Deaths in the second raid since the summer, reports AP. Members say the raids are part of a pattern of increased criminalization and retaliation for their work in recent years.

Rapid Deportations & Expulsions
ICE is planning to fast-track deportations nationwide for undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for fewer than two years. “The shift could allow the Trump administration to increase deportations while circumventing a court system that is severely backed up and short on resources, but advocates for immigrants have said it would destroy their due process rights,” writes Hamed Aleaziz in BuzzFeed.

Was it public health or xenophobia? AP investigates the decision to close the border in March. When scientists pushed back that there was no evidence that it would stop the spread of the virus, the Trump administration pushed health officials into action. “That was a Stephen Miller special. He was all over that,” Olivia Troye, a former top aide to Pence, who coordinated the White House coronavirus task force told AP. Vice President Mike Pence then ordered the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to use its emergency powers to justify shutting the border to immigrants and asylum seekers. Since then, more than 150,000 people have been rapidly expelled.

Elections 2020
Kern County, California usually leans right, but its reliance on immigrant farm labor means some residents don’t want to cast their votes for Trump, reports KVPR. Across the country in Florida, some Cubans may be swayed the other way with the help of a YouTube star who rails against left-wing Cuban media and Black Lives Matter protesters, reports Mother Jones. Support for Trump among Florida Cubans increased 22 percent since 2016.

During the 2020 campaign, Trump has shifted his rhetoric to prioritize leftists and anti-fascists as the biggest threat, rather than immigrants as he did in 2016, reports The Intercept. Experts say expanding the definition of “enemy” is a common move in authoritarian leaders. The debate moderators have also left immigration off the agenda. Not a single question in either debate has covered immigration, reports Vox.

In December, Illinois will become the only state with a healthcare program that covers residents over 65, even undocumented immigrants, reports the Chicago Tribune. “At least now I can be at peace knowing that if I get sick, I can go see a good doctor that can help me heal without having to worry about not having the money to pay for the treatment,” said 76-year-old ice-cream vendor Ananias Ocampo. California officials proposed this earlier in the year but the effort was ultimately rejected because of pandemic budget cuts.

“Genius” Studying Immigrants
Natalia Molina, a USC professor who has studied how stereotypes of immigrants shape our views and public policy, won a MacArthur Fellowship to continue her work on Los Angeles’s Mexican community as told through the history of her family’s iconic restaurant, reports the L.A. Times.


Job Opportunities

*Director of Entertainment Partnerships and Advocacy (Define America)

*Senior Manager, Journalism Partnerships and Advocacy (Define America)

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

  • Immigrant & Democracy from Harvard University’s immigration initiative.
  • 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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