Migratory Notes 185

Detention times triple, deported by Barrett, cocaine tunnels

Elizabeth Aguilera
Oct 15, 2020 · 14 min read
Yovin Estrada Villanueva was murdered in August 2019 after he lost his asylum case in the United States and was deported back to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. His sister holds up a photo of him in his casket. Kate Morrissey reports for the San Diego Union-Tribune that victims of Central American gang violence are increasingly denied asylum in the U.S. (Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

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Gerson Alvarenga-Flores, who had been targeted by MS-13 for witnessing a murder, was deported to El Salvador in 2018 after Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett ruled that minor discrepancies in his case disqualified him for asylum even though she had the power to grant him protection. Now, he barely leaves his parents’ home, terrified he will be murdered, reports The Intercept. “Alvarenga’s story speaks not only to how Barrett might rule on such immigration cases, but to the systemic regulatory disaster of the U.S. asylum process itself: how it fails to protect the persecuted,” writes John Washington.

As the U.S. border wall has made it more difficult for drug traffickers to cross openly above ground, they have moved underground into tunnels. The 80-year-old Nogales drainage system connecting Mexico to Arizona has become a hotspot for drug cartels to move cocaine, reports The Washington Post in a story that takes readers on a journey into these labyrinths. “The cocaine travels north through the sewer. Sometimes the traffickers send it floating in bags on a river of wastewater. Sometimes they crawl with it through mud and human excrement until they hit U.S. soil,” writes Kevin Sieff.

Family Separation
Border Patrol told a Honduran mother she would be sent to Mexico without her newborn baby after agents found her in a field in Eagle Pass, Texas shortly after she gave birth, reports the LA Times. A lawyer said it was the second case of a mother temporarily separated from her newborn to be processed by Border Patrol. Officials deny that they planned to separate the family. The mother and child have since been reunited.

A 2017 family separation “pilot program” in Texas determined kids should be given a maturity test to confirm they could find their way back to parents on their own, according to a DOJ memo obtained by NBC News. The memo never reached high-level members of the Justice Department in Washington DC.

An ICU nurse says “she does not want more parades, fly-overs or signs. She wants the U.S. government to release her husband from immigration detention and allow him to stay in the U.S. with their children,” writes Camilo Montoya-Galvez for CBS News. Amir Ali has been fighting deportation for 15 years. But in the past Pakistan has refused to accept deportees like him. This time when he checked in with ICE authorities said they thought he could deport him and he was taken into custody where the 47-year-old cancer survivor may have gotten COVID. Meanwhile a campaign has been launched by the ACLU and Kamala Harris for a stay of removal.

Border Wall
The Federal Bureau of Land Management has interpreted a border wall as an important way to reach its goal of protecting wild spaces, reports Las Cruces Sun-News. “When it declares an area a wilderness, that means the land is supposed to be ‘untrammeled.’ That’s what the law says. It’s difficult to do that when you have illegal traffic going through, and smuggling in various forms,” said one official. On Indigenous People’s Day, members of the Kumeyaay Nation protested border wall construction in San Diego, where construction continues despite a court ruling that determined the Trump administration illegally transferred funds for construction, reports KPBS.

Asylum seekers from Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo were deported Tuesday, amidst national protests against the action. Two were pulled off the flight, part of an investigation into abuse they alleged they endured in U.S. custody, reports NBC News. The asylum seekers say they fear they could be arrested or killed upon return and some say they were coerced into signing deportation documents. “In the U.S. asylum system, a legitimate fear of death does not guarantee protection, reports The San Diego Union-Tribune in a separate series on asylum.

U.S. border agents in Guatemala violated State Department regulations when they detained and sent back Honduran migrants in January, according to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee report. The regulations prohibit agents from carrying out enforcement operations on foreign soil, reports The Wall Street Journal. The Guatemalan government plans to investigate the U.S. actions, reports Al Jazeera.

In many communities which have long held cooperation between ICE and law enforcement authorities, local elections could create new limits, reports The Appeal. Check out this map and handy guide to 12 elections where immigration policy is on the ballot.

A decision by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to prohibit immigration judges from closing cases through what’s called “administrative closure” has ended the ability of many immigrants to remain in the U.S., reports LatinoUSA and Documented. The story is part of a series by Documented that investigated the changes and malfunctions of the immigration court system, from video conferencing issues to lost files.

The average time immigrants are held in detention has nearly tripled since Trump took office and extended detention times have put migrants at risk during the pandemic, reports Reuters. ICE has reported eight COVID-related deaths of detainees and more than 6,400 infections. Even after Congress ordered the agency to reduce the number of people detained in February, ICE invested more than $20 million in expanding detention, reports Citizens for Ethics.

African migrants say that racism plays a role in how they are treated in ICE detention, including more time in solitary confinement, higher bond rates and discrimination, reports In These Times. This has led to an increase in hunger strikes in detention centers. The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a complaint on behalf of several African men held in detention in Louisiana alleging racism and studies from the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services backed up their claims about how migrants from majority Black countries are treated.

In Colorado, immigrant detainees allege in a class-action lawsuit that guards at a detention center there owned by private prison company GEO Group punished them by putting them in solitary confinement for refusing to clean the facility without pay, reports Roll Call.

Elections 2020
In stark contrast to four years ago, immigration has taken a backseat during this campaign, with only 15% of voters considering it a top issue, reports CNBC. But it deserves voters’ attention given that Trump has enacted more than 400 immigration actions during his time in office and the election will determine if this agenda continues or is reversed, writes The New York Times Editorial Board.

Latinos tend to support Democratic candidates, but 30% prefer Trump, reports The New York Times. Here’s one possible explanation of Trump’s popularity among Latino men: “The macho allure of Mr. Trump is undeniable,” writes Jenny Medina. “He is forceful, wealthy and, most important, unapologetic.” As the presidential elections near, Latino immigrant voters could have a major impact on the results in some key states:

Rapid Expulsions
Activists allege that Border Patrol has been dropping off hundreds of migrants in the remote Mexican border town of Sasabe along the border with Arizona, where limited resources and no migrant shelter means they are at risk of being targeted by criminal groups, reports The Intercept. Both Mexican and Central Americans are being left there under a pandemic-era rule to rapidly expel border crossers.

Immigration is an International Issue
In Venezuela, migrants once again are setting out on the dangerous trek to Colombia, Ecuador and Peru but closed shelters because of pandemic restrictions make the journey even more arduous, reports BBC. In the early months of the pandemic, many Venezuelans abroad had returned to their home country.

In Germany, a decrease in new immigrants during the pandemic has led the population to shrink for the first time in a decade, which experts say can cause economic problems in the future for Europe’s second-largest economy, reports the Financial Times.

In France, an apprenticeship program for asylum seekers after they turn 18 has been one of the few options for integration for unaccompanied minors otherwise rejected by the system, reports The New Humanitarian. The pandemic has threatened the future of the program as fewer companies are hiring.

Sanctuary Sours
In Pennsylvania, sanctuary in churches appears on the decline, reports The Philadelphia Inquirer. “Call it sanctuary fatigue: Desperate migrants, churches, and supporters joyfully join in protective alliance, only to find a year or so later that all are tired, stressed, and frustrated,” writes Jeff Gammage.


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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.

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*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

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