Migratory Notes 191

Cuban Jew to lead DHS; Nantucket’s driver’s license debate; Trump’s final push

Daniela Gerson
Dec 3, 2020 · 14 min read
We need to make sure that farmworkers get replacement income immediately.” A new study of California farmworkers finds that most who experienced COVID symptoms continued working, reports the Desert Sun. Photo by Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun.

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It’s long been an open secret: To pay debts for migrating, an unknown number of teens work overnight shifts in dangerous factories before going to school. In order for minors to be released from immigrant detention, their sponsors must promise to support them financially and ensure they attend school. But often these promises are not kept once they are out of U.S. custody, reports ProPublica in an investigation into violations of child labor laws that have provoked little to no action from authorities. “Working overnight allows the teens to attend school during the day. But it’s a brutal trade-off,” writes Melissa Sanchez. “Their bodies bear the scars from cuts and other on-the-job injuries.”

Biden Administration
Democrats have promised comprehensive immigration reform for nearly two decades, but as Biden prepares to take office, some activists are questioning whether it is the best way forward, reports Newsweek. “Their main beef with CIR, they said, is that Republicans increasingly call for more border militarization and more interior enforcement against immigrants, and the negotiation eventually no longer benefits activists and the community,” writes Adrian Carrasquillo. Instead, many are calling for the “Here to Stay” platform that provides a pathway to citizenship, dismantles ICE and ends immigrant detention.

Biden tapped former Obama administration official and Cuban Jewish refugee Alejandro Mayorkas as his pick to lead DHS. He would be the first Latino and immigrant to serve in the role. Mayorkas played a key role in the implementation of DACA and many immigrant advocates lauded the decision, reports Voice of America.

What will the Biden administration face in a transfer of powers on immigration? The Washington Post created a deep dive on the different issues. “Navigating between activists’ demands for a total rejection of Trump’s policies and the complex reality at the border — where communities on the U.S. side are among the hardest-hit by the pandemic — will be a challenge for Biden from his first day in office,” write Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti.

Here are some of the policy changes immigrant advocates say they want to see from the Biden administration:

Trump Admin
The Trump administration’s time may be limited, but it is still pushing its immigration agenda through rule-changes and administrative policies, reports Politico. Some actions can be enacted swiftly — like a revision to the citizenship test and limits to work permits for immigrants awaiting deportation. But others can’t yet go into effect because of the mandatory waiting period. Recent Trump Administration moves:

Border Crossings & Rapid Expulsions
Experts report a worrying shift to “unusual, dangerous and risky smuggling tactics” along the Arizona border as a result of border wall construction and increased enforcement, reports the Arizona Republic. Law enforcement said they’ve documented an increase in the use of stash houses to hold migrants hostage for ransom and more dangerous encounters between law enforcement, smugglers and migrants.

Nearly 1,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended after crossing the border with Mexico over the span of 6 days in November, reports CBS News. The data was used to justify a request to suspend a court order that does not allow immigration officials to rapidly expel minors during the pandemic. U.S. officials also report an increase in border crossings by immigrants from countries other than Mexico, particularly Haiti and Honduras, reports Fox San Antonio.

The Supreme Court decided it will not rule on a case to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census until the numbers are reported to Congress, which will likely be after Trump leaves office. In arguments Monday, conservative Supreme Court justices seemed skeptical of the legality of Trump’s attempt to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census because the Constitution states the count should include the “whole number of persons” in each state. They also questioned whether the Census Bureau can provide an accurate count on the number of undocumented immigrants that would impact the number of congressional seats, and expressed their reluctance to rule without this information.

Pregnant Immigrants
Trump’s immigration policies have created a maternal health crisis, reports The New York Times in a series on pregnancy and immigrants. Under the Remain in Mexico program, many pregnant women who would have been able to receive care in the U.S. were forced to live in dismal conditions in shelters or the Matamoros tent camp in Mexico. The pandemic and Hurricane Hanna exacerbated an already precarious situation for these women and girls, reports Longreads. Meanwhile, in the U.S. the public charge rule has led many undocumented pregnant women in the U.S. to forgo necessary medical care, despite being exempt from the rule. Doctors report an increase in no-show rates for prenatal appointments and midwives say they have seen an increase in requests for at-home services.

COVID-19 & Immigrant Communities
As the possibility of widespread vaccination inches closer to becoming a reality, doubts about accessibility and privacy for immigrants and other marginalized populations have grown. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wrote a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar urging the federal government to take a “fair and equal” approach to vaccination that takes into account undocumented immigrants, reports CBS News. Concerns are also being raised that the information the CDC is requesting to track vaccine distribution could be shared with immigration authorities, reports The New York Times.

Many organizations and individuals have stepped in to fill the gap in resources for immigrants, given their limited access to federal pandemic relief funds.

Driver’s License Debate
The pandemic has renewed the debate over driver licenses for undocumented immigrants, reports NPR. “Not many people would think that this 2-inch by 3-inch piece of plastic would be considered a public health intervention, but it is,” the island of Nantucket’s health director said after an outbreak was traced to four immigrant workers sharing a car. Lawmakers in Massachusetts are considering a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to get a driver’s license. And a federal court ruled Monday to uphold a decision to allow undocumented immigrants in New York to apply for a driver’s license, reports Gothamist. Other states in the South and Midwest are having similar debates.

The Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma uses solitary confinement more than any other detention center, with some stays in solitary up to 70 days, according to a new report by the University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights. GEO Group, the private prison company that runs the detention center, denied any allegations of wrongdoing, reports The Seattle Times.

The LA Times sued DHS for records on allegations of sexual abuse at immigrant detention centers after five months without an answer.

Immigration is an International Issue
Documents obtained by Mexican investigative outlet Animal Politico revealed more than 50 cases of immigrants with COVID-19 in detention centers in Mexico since March even though the Mexican government publicly denied any immigrants had tested positive. The National Migration Institute conducted less than 80 COVID-19 tests, calling into question whether the agency properly handled the pandemic and its effect on immigrants.

Special Visas
The estimated 300,000 foreigners on J-1 cultural exchange visas were left in limbo when the pandemic hit because of the specifications of their visas, reports The Nation. They are not considered workers even though they hold jobs and log 40-hour workweeks, meaning they did not qualify for pandemic assistance from the U.S. or their home governments when they began losing their jobs.


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

  • 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 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

*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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