Migratory Notes 187
Who really built the cages? The Hmong vote? Anonymous no more
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For the first time in modern asylum history, the U.S. is sending political dissidents back to the countries they fled, without ever allowing them to present their case for protection from persecution. This riveting and devastating love story produced with This American Life starts in an attic where a couple famous for their opposition to Nicaragua’s government is in hiding. Kevin Sieff’s audio version of the story he originally reported for The Washington Post then traces how Jessica and Moisés got there: They listened to Republicans supporting their position, and wrongly assumed after being brutally tortured and jailed by their government that they would find support in the United States.
Other asylum seekers live in “effectively a refugee camp on the doorstep of the United States, one of several that have sprung up along the border for the first time in the country’s history,” writes New York Times reporter Caitlin Dickerson. Along with photographer Ilana Panich-Linsman, she captures the desperation of migrants at the Matamoros tent camp. When the Trump administration began sending asylum seekers back to Mexico in 2019, the camp across the border from Brownsville, Texas made frequent headlines. But during the elections, these migrants have largely been forgotten until the final debate. About 600 migrants remain. “They are bound together by the one thing they share in common — having nowhere else to go.”
Immigration has been largely ignored for most of the campaign cycle, reports The Wall Street Journal. But it finally got its moment in the last debate and in the days following it. The LA Times created a handy immigration fact check. By the issue:
- 545 Separated Families: Trump said that his administration was “working on” finding and reuniting families, but offered no details on his plan. The government actually appointed a steering committee of NGOs. Lawyers assigned to the cases said they cannot find the parents of these remaining children, saying many were deported without their kids.
- Border Cages: Trump criticized the Obama administration for building cages at the border in 2014, asking multiple times, “Who made the cages Joe?” The Obama administration built chain-link fences to enclose migrants in warehouses and keep men, women, children and families in separate areas in response to an increase in border crossers in 2014. But the zero-tolerance policy separating parents from children began in 2018 and was unique to the Trump administration.
- Record Deportations Under Obama: “We made a mistake,” Biden said of the Obama immigration agenda. “It took too long to get it right. Took too long to get it right. I’ll be President of the United States, not Vice President of the United States.”
- Hearings: Trump claimed most immigrants don’t show up for their hearings, and only immigrants “with the lowest IQ” do. But the fact is that more than 80 percent show up to all hearings.
Did Trump actually carry out his campaign promises on immigration while in office? Check out this handy guide from the Arizona Republic on his policies on the border wall, “catch and release,” DACA and more. If Biden wins, he says he would completely change immigration policy, but even his campaign advisers are unclear on how far he’d go to undo Trump’s policies, reports ProPublica.
Experts predict a Biden victory could spark a renewed surge from Central America, reports the LA Times. The Biden administration has come up with a plan that would mark a departure from Trump’s “bullying” methods and a return to Obama’s approach of trying to address root causes of migration, reports The New York Times. Biden’s 2016 trip to Guatemala to attend the inauguration of President Jimmy Morales offers a glimpse into the potential for restoration of strong US-Latin American relations under the Biden administration, reports The Atlantic.
- In a push to turn out one million Muslim voters for the elections, outreach is moving beyond Sunni voters to minority Muslim groups. (Religion News Service)
- Republicans and Democrats have focused on courting Indian American voters, a move that recognizes the growing importance of this voting bloc, which is the wealthiest immigrant group and tends to vote blue. (LA Times)
- Asian American voters have doubled in the past two decades, are growing in suburbs, and are unpredictable in allegiances — all of which make them prime recruits this election. (The New Yorker)
- Hmong Americans, while small in numbers, may be particularly important in swing states. (Washington Post)
Anonymous No More
Former DHS chief of staff Miles Taylor admitted he was the anonymous author who wrote a 2018 New York Times op-ed calling Trump “impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective” that sent shockwaves through Washington’s political circles, reports The New York Times. Taylor has since endorsed Biden and said he regrets not speaking out about family separation sooner. The former DHS official also wrote a book railing against Trump but did not reveal his identity until now.
Border wall construction under the Trump administration costs five times as much per mile as it did under the Obama administration, reports ProPublica/The Texas Tribune. This is due to major changes to border wall construction contracts that drive up the price after the competitive bidding process has ended. These costs have exceeded the budget allocated by Congress and funds are coming from military counter-narcotics funding.
The number of women who allege they were pressured into or did not consent to surgery at a Georgia detention center has nearly tripled to 57, reports The Intercept. The new cases related to previous allegations of forced sterilizations at the Irwin County Detention Center were included in a report by lawyers and advocates submitted to Senators in a closed-door meeting. Another report by experts who reviewed more than 3,000 pages of documents identified at least 19 cases of women who received unnecessary surgeries by Dr. Mahendra Amin, reports the LA Times. Amin’s lawyer denied the allegations and said the panel did not review all the necessary records, reports The Wall Street Journal.
On Tuesday, DHS named Luke Bellocchi as its first immigration detention ombudsman who will handle complaints of mistreatment and abuse in detention centers, reports The Washington Post. Bellochi is an immigration attorney who previously worked for CBP and as deputy ombudsman for USCIS under George W. Bush. Meanwhile, ICE is looking to expand its detention centers in New York and New Jersey, even as the overall population has declined during the pandemic, reports NorthJersey.com.
Deportation & Forced Repatriation
Eight Cameroonian migrants filed a civil rights complaint alleging brutal abuse in detention in Mississippi. Five are believed to have been put on a plane back to Cameroon. C.A. is one who who is still detained at Prairieland Detention Center in Texas. “His dramatic story raises questions about what happens to people in the sprawling and secretive civil justice system that governs immigrants,” Dianne Solis writes in the Dallas Morning News.
In an interview with AP last week, Trump aide Stephen Miller said the administration will focus on signing agreements that require other countries to accept more asylum seekers. Policies pushed by Miller during the Trump administration have led the U.S. to fall behind Canada as the top country for resettling refugees, reports AP.
While current asylum and refugee restrictions are unprecedented, the U.S. government making callous and self-interested decisions regarding who should be protected from persecution are not new, reports Mother Jones in a deep-dive on the U.S. asylum system. “In sealing off the country completely, the Trump administration has told the world that it wants everyone else to just shut the hell up and leave it alone. Our country is full,” writes Ian Gordon. “Come November, we’ll find out if that’s the story Americans want to keep telling.”
Border Patrol & CBP
The FBI is investigating the death of a man who was shot by Border Patrol Friday after allegedly putting the car in reverse and backing up into an agent, reports the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Border Patrol said the man was dropping off undocumented immigrants in Laredo, Texas who were then picked up by another car. Two others were injured in the shooting.
CBP refused to explain to Congress the legal grounds for using commercially bought location data to track Americans without a warrant, reports Vice. Companies regularly sell data to law enforcement agencies, but CBP would need a warrant to use this data.
COVID-19 and Borders
Hospitals in sister cities El Paso and Ciudad Juárez are now on the brink of collapse, reports AP. Experts blame large family gatherings and continued non-essential travel despite restrictions. But many Americans say they still need to cross the border for affordable healthcare or medications, reports Borderless Magazine.
Labor and Violence
The death of undocumented Mexican farmworker Jorge Gonzalez in Texas after police officers allegedly beat, tripped and tased him sent shockwaves through the Rio Grande Valley, where undocumented immigrants usually fear deportation more than police brutality, reports The New York Times.
Many immigrants from Laos end up working in California’s illegal marijuana industry when they first arrive, reports the LA Times. The industry can be deadly, as evidenced by the September deaths of seven workers in Aguanga in rural Riverside County. The fact that many of the immigrants recently arrived and had little documentation of their time in the U.S. has made it more difficult for law enforcement to investigate.
- Enrollment of foreign students at U.S. universities declined for three years in a row after the Trump administration raised questions about the accessibility of student and work visas. (NBC New York)
- TPS holders who have been in the U.S. for decades are lobbying during campaign season for a permanent solution that will allow them to stay in the U.S. (The Texas Tribune)
- ICE announced it will launch “Operation Broken Promise” to target undocumented immigrants who did not leave the U.S. after being issued an order of voluntary departure. (CNN)
- The closure of the U.S-Canada border for non-essential travel was extended again until November, and one expert believes these closures could continue until the summer of 2021. (Vermont Public Radio)
- Lawyers filed a class-action lawsuit in California Wednesday on behalf of asylum seekers in the Remain in Mexico program. They allege the program is designed to deport as many people as possible because it cuts asylum seekers off from legal representation. (The San Diego Union-Tribune)
Immigration Resources & Opportunities
- Immigrants in COVID America documents the health, economic and social impact of COVID-19. (Immigrant History Research Center)
- Database of more than 200 COVID relief funds that are accessible to refugees and other immigrants, including without legal status. (IRAP)
- Updates on immigration developments during COVID-19 (Center for Migration Studies)
- Map of detention centers tracking coronavirus outbreaks (Freedom for Immigrants)
- COVID-19 resources for undocumented immigrants (UndocuScholars)
- Database of likely deportation flights during the pandemic (Center for Economic and Policy Research)
- Informed Immigrant is an online resource that provides information for undocumented immigrant communities in the U.S. during the coronavirus.
Recently released immigration books and films(got one, send it over)
- After the Last Border: Two Families and the Story of Refuge in America by Jessica Goudeau (September 2020)
- Next Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move by Sonia Shah argues climate change migration is a solution rather than a crisis. (August 2020)
- Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and Revolution in the Americas by Roberto Lovato. (September 2020)
- Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda by Jean Guerrero (August 2020)
- Separated: Inside an American Tragedy by NBC correspondent Jacob Soboroff tells the story of the long-term impact of the family separation policy on families. (July 2020)
- 14 Miles: Building the Border Wall by DW Gibson covers the repercussions of the wall in San Diego. (July 2020)
- “USA V Scott” a documentary that depicts the moral dilemma facing Arizona residents, who must decide whether or not to help desperate migrants they come across, using the case of activist Scott Warren as a case study.
- The Deportation Machine: America’s Long History of Expelling Immigrants by Adam Goodman. The book examines how public officials have used different forms of deportations and expulsion “to purge immigrants from the country and exert control over those who remain.” (June 2020)
- One Mighty and Irresistible Tide: The Epic Struggle Over American Immigration, 1924–1965 by Jia Lynn Yang, chronicles the major changes in U.S. immigration policy in the 20th century and their profound impact on immigrant families including her own. (May 2020)
- The Dispossessed: A Story of Asylum at the US-Mexican Border and Beyond by John Washington. The book takes an in-depth look at the Trump administration’s attack on asylum, told through the story of one Salvadoran dad, Arnovis. (May 2020)
- Migranthood: Youth in a New Era of Deportation, by anthropologist Lauren Heidbrink, chronicles deportation from the perspectives of Indigenous youth who migrate unaccompanied from Guatemala. (April 2020)
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
- Doctors for Immigrants released a toolkit to welcome and protect immigrants within the healthcare system.
- We Have Rights is a campaign to educate immigrants about rights in encounters with ICE
- Ecologies of Migrant Care has collected nearly 100 interviews with migrants, activists, academics and other immigration experts to shed light on the reasons why Central Americans flee and detail the networks that have developed to help them along their journey.
- Moving Stories is an app and curriculum to capture and share immigrant stories.
- Re-imagining Migration has resources and lessons to teach about migration, immigration, refugees, and civic empowerment through history, literature, and the sciences
- The Advocates for Human Rights and the Immigration History Research Center at UMN free curriculum that helps students learn about U.S. immigration through personal narratives: Teaching Immigration with the Immigrant Stories Project
- Freedom for Immigrants publishes an Immigration Detention Syllabus
Reporting resources, tools and tips
- The Immigrant Defense project created a style guide for journalists reporting on immigration.
- Digital First Responders: A database, report, and case study of how immigrant news outlets are innovating to serve their communities. (Center for Community Media).
- Journalists who have been targeted for their work can send incident reports through the online platform of Press Freedom Tracker.
- No Refuge from Council on Foreign Relations’ InfoGuide series, includes an interactive map of origin and destination countries for refugees, and policy options that can help refugees and support host states.
- Covering Immigration Enforcement webinar from Poynter with Marshall Project contributing writer Julia Preston.
- Tools for covering ICE from the Columbia Journalism Review
- Migration Reporting Resources (Global Investigative Journalism Network)
- Resources for Investigating Visas (Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting)
- Reporting on Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Immigrants (90 Days, 90 Voices)
- Immigration Data Resources: An extensive, and growing, list of immigration resources curated by PRI’s Angilee Shah.
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 co-hosts the new political podcast California State of Mind and covers the health and welfare of California’s next generation. Previously she covered health care and social services, including immigration for the digital outlet. Before joining CalMatters Aguilera 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. 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