Migratory Notes 193

Sin City’s immigrants under pressure; Prosecute Trump for family separation? Deporting Cameroonians and supporting the regime

Daniela Gerson
Migratory Notes
Published in
12 min readDec 17, 2020


“Have you ever experienced a moment when you see your child crying and you can’t do anything?” Francisco Sical told the El Paso Times about a night after he had glimpsed the U.S., only to discover their case was hopeless. He gave up after a 2,000 mile journey, taking a UN-sponsored trip back to Guatemala. “It breaks your soul.” Photo by J. Omar Ornelas for the USA Today Network.

Thank you for sending your tips and reading Migratory Notes in 2020!
We will be off for the next two weeks, and wish you all a respite and time to enjoy loved ones, virtually — or in person.
- Daniela, Elizabeth, and Anna-Cat

To be an immigrant in Las Vegas is to see the coronavirus economy at its worst,” writes Tim Sullivan in an AP deep dive into the the state with the highest unemployment rate. People from around the world are the backbone of Sin City’s service industry, but their work depends on tourists. “Now those working-class immigrant neighborhoods, where languages spill over one another in countless dirt yards, are home to armies of unemployed housekeepers and cocktail waitresses and small business owners,” writes Sullivan. The story includes moving photography from Wong Maye-E and was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Border Crossings Up
Why the increase since October? Explanations include:

The U.S. and El Salvador finalized an agreement that will send some asylum seekers back to El Salvador — and potentially into harm’s way, reports The Washington Post. It is unclear if the U.S. will start sending asylum seekers to El Salvador before Biden takes office, reports BuzzFeed News. The announcement comes a week after the Trump administration finalized a rule that would make it harder for asylum seekers to prove their cases and allow judges the discretion of deeming cases “frivolous,” reports Forbes.

The U.S. has denied asylum to many Cameroonians while also sending military funding to the president’s authoritarian regime, reports Foreign Policy. Activists say deporting these asylum seekers will put them in danger but another flight is scheduled for this week.

Visas Stalled and Hamstrung
Disparate groups of would-be immigrants are without visas to the U.S. due to COVID and disfunction at USCIS.

ICE’s Revolving Door
Acting head of ICE Tony Pham announced he will be leaving the position at the end of the year after just five months in the job, reports BuzzFeed News. Pham’s brief tenure included overseeing an anti-sanctuary policy billboard campaign, reports NBC News. In November, Pham’s cousin wrote a scathing critique in GEN Medium of his role in enacting harsh immigration enforcement and shared new details about his family’s immigration journey from Vietnam.

Family Separation
Lawyers and human rights defenders on the ground in Central America still struggle to find more than 600 parents separated from their children, reports the Arizona Republic. Outdated contact info, distrust of authorities and families living in remote locations are just some of the challenges they are up against.

A judge in California ruled against CoreCivic private prison company in a defamation suit that challenged comments by an activist that the company played a role in the family separation crisis, reports Mother Jones. The company did in fact house parents separated from their children in its facilities.

Biden Administration
Illinois Senator Dick Durbin will lead the Senate Judiciary Committee and this could increase the possibility of immigration reform, reports AP. Durbin is a long-time Biden ally likely to try to reach a compromise with Republicans. Meanwhile, in Georgia, activists are building on successful activism against local immigration enforcement in an effort to ensure the run-off Senate seats go to Democrats, reports The Appeal.

Should Biden prosecute crimes committed during the Trump administration? James Fallows makes the case for doing so, and prioritizes family separation policy as a key investigation. “Separating children from their parents doesn’t simply occur by executive fiat. There are bureaucratic and legal hurdles that action of this kind must surmount — and Trump’s desire surmounted all of them with ease,” writes Fallows. “That demanded complicity by scores of individuals at every level, from White House aides to Justice Department lawyers.”

Biden’s pick to lead DHS, Alejandro Mayorkas, could face a tight Senate confirmation vote revolving around misconduct allegations in 2015 that he showed favoritism to politically connected applicants to a visa program while he was head of USCIS, reports AP.

A challenge to the DACA program in a Houston court scheduled for Dec. 22 could potentially invalidate the program just weeks after DACA recipients scored a win when a court ruled the Trump administration must restore the program, reports CBS. The court case centers on the legality of the program whereas past cases ruled on the legality of the termination of DACA, reports The Dallas Morning News. Given the judge’s record, experts predict he could determine the program illegal, setting the stage for a prolonged court battle once Biden takes office.

Migrant Children
The U.S. violated a court ruling by rapidly expelling more than 60 unaccompanied minors who crossed the border, reports CBS News. A judge ruled in November that the government could not use a pandemic-era rule to justify sending these minors back without due process. Federal law usually requires minors to be transferred to a government shelter and given the chance to seek asylum. The government argued in the court ruling that transferring them to these shelters will lead them to reach capacity and could cause a COVID outbreak, but shelter contractors disagree with this assessment.

COVID-19 & Immigrant Communities
More than 5 million U.S. citizens or permanent residents did not receive pandemic stimulus checks because they filed taxes with a family member who has a taxpayer number, a legal alternative for people, including the undocumented, who don’t have a Social Security number, reports The Marshall Project. With negotiations for a new stimulus package stalled, it’s unclear when and if these families will ever get the help they desperately need.

Border Wall
Terminating border wall contracts could cost the government billions of dollars, according to acting CBP commissioner Mark Morgan, reports Border Report. Some contractors may be speeding up construction in preparation of termination settlements, which will be negotiated individually. Meanwhile, a Pentagon estimate shows an order to halt the wall could save the U.S. $2.6 billion, reports the Washington Post.

No-Fly List
The Supreme Court ruled that three Muslim men can sue the FBI for allegedly putting them on a no-fly list after they refused to inform on their communities, reports Documented. The use of informants became widespread after 9/11 and Muslim rights activists say the case will help curb the overreach of authority to recruit informants.


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



Daniela Gerson
Migratory Notes

Ass’t Prof @CSUNJournalism and Co-creator #MigratoryNotes. Subscribe for free: https://bit.ly/2tkethJ @dhgerson