Migratory Notes
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Migratory Notes

Migratory Notes 194

Where was DHS? We fled failed governments; Expulsions on the rise

A mob of insurgents scaled the wall to the Capitol on Wednesday, which set off memes like “should have built a bigger wall.” Meanwhile, immigrants who fled countries with failed governments were faced with unsettling similarities. “We never thought it would be possible in the United States of America,” a Somali American leader told Sahan Journal. Photo by Evy Mages

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Where was DHS?
The Department of Homeland Security “has been indiscriminate in using its law enforcement arms, now the largest in the federal government — Secret Service agents, ICE, Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security Investigations, Federal Air Marshals and even the Federal Protective Service — to intervene over the past year when protests didn’t involve pro-Trump, right wing mobs,” writes William M. Arkin in Newsweek. On Wednesday they were absent. “Sources from other departments said the Department of Homeland Security — which had declined to use its mammoth army of law enforcement officers to suppress protests in Portland and other cities, ostensibly because they were needed in DC to protect government buildings — was making itself virtually absent from the scene for the transition.”

On Thursday acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf issued a strongly worded condemnation: “These violent actions are unconscionable, and I implore the President and all elected officials to strongly condemn the violence that took place yesterday.” But NBC News reporter Jacob Soboroff noted Wolf’s own history of supporting family separation policies. Thursday morning the White House announced that Trump withdrew Wolf’s nomination to lead DHS, but he is still in the “acting” role. “The withdrawal occurred yesterday and was not related at all to Wednesday’s events or the Acting Secretary’s comments this morning,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said.

Others pointed out how peaceful protests of immigration policy at the Capitol building were met with a harsher crackdown from law enforcement agencies. In July 2019, nuns protesting the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrants after the deaths of Central American minors in U.S. care were arrested.

“Surrounded by so much sickness, Kevin was growing desperate to find a way out,” writes Hannah Dreier in a searing portrait for the Washington Post on asylum seekers giving up as they face death in detention from COVID. Abandoning his three-year quest for protection in the United States, the Honduran young man ended up instead facing deadly consequences when he returned to Central America. He was among the more than 2,500 detainees to give up their cases since March.

Rapid Expulsions
With expulsions on the rise in December, more than 320,000 migrants have now been expelled to Mexico under a pandemic rule that rejects most migrants at the southern border, reports Border Report. Less than 1% of migrants expelled during the first three months of the pandemic, many of whom were asylum seekers, were given the chance to seek protection as is their right under international law, according to a new Human Rights Watch report. The policy has also been used to justify sending at least three new mothers to Mexico shortly after giving birth in the U.S. to citizen children, reports The Intercept. Lawyers say this is a violation of the law, because expulsion laws do not apply to U.S. citizens.

Remain in Mexico
Meanwhile about 23,000 asylum seekers are still waiting in Mexico under the Remain in Mexico program for an opportunity to argue their case in U.S. courts, reports KERA. Biden promised during the campaign to end the program on his first day in office, but he has since backtracked to say he will do it “quickly,” but may need more time, reports PRI’s The World. Angry with the delays, at least 100 Cuban migrants protested at the international bridge in Juárez last week after being forced to spend months, and in some cases years, waiting for the chance to seek asylum in the U.S., reports the El Paso Times.

Immigration is an International Issue
Mexican migrant shelters have closed their doors or decreased capacity in recent weeks as a measure to stop the spread of COVID-19. The decision to do so has endangered many migrants, mostly from Central America who are vulnerable to attacks by criminal groups, reports Reuters.

Border Wall
CBP announced that it reached the goal of 450 border wall miles constructed by the end of the year, that construction will continue and $1.375 billion has already been allocated in a spending bill approved by Congress, reports Fox News. The administration has continued to grant contracts in its last days, a decision that will make it more difficult for the incoming administration to halt construction because the government will have to negotiate with contractors, reports CNN.

More than 170 people were approved for DACA in the last months of 2020. They represent the first new applicants to be granted the status since Trump tried to end the program in 2017, reports AP. Nearly 500 applications were not approved, and another 2,000 are still pending. The new approvals were made possible by a November order declaring acting DHS head Chad Wolf to be illegally holding his position, and thus invalidating his decision to stop accepting new applicants. This small victory for a select few has not distracted DREAMers from their ultimate goal of immigration reform that would permanently protect them and their families, reports the Border Report.

TPS and Visas
Two bipartisan immigration bills have brought hope to TPS-holders that Congress might find a permanent solution to allow them to stay in the country, reports The Dallas Morning News. Meanwhile, representatives for the Venezuelan opposition on a tour of South Florida called on Biden to follow through on his promise of granting TPS to citizens of the South American nation on humanitarian grounds, reports the Miami Herald.

Trump ordered a three-month extension of pandemic-era restrictions for new work visas, citing the need to hire struggling American workers at this time, reports CBS News.

Border Patrol
Under Trump, the Border Patrol union became increasingly politicized, often appearing on Fox News to spout right-wing talking points. This poses a major challenge for the Biden administration, which declined to comment on the issue, reports The Intercept.

A new civil society report details the “performative compliance” of oversight bodies tasked with corroborating complaints in ICE detention centers, reports The Intercept. Instead, they downplay testimonies of abuse and mistreatment, and by doing so legitimize the conditions activists and detainees have long denounced.

The report’s publication comes as detainees in New York and New Jersey launched hunger strikes in protest of conditions in detention and ICE’s refusal to release them during the pandemic, reports WNYC. ICE said it is working to vaccinate detainees in New York for COVID-19 but has not provided a timeline, reports Documented. Activists doubt these detainees will be prioritized for vaccination given the agency’s failure to adequately respond to the pandemic.

Courts & Immigration Applications
The Executive Office for Immigration Review published a report claiming to debunk common misconceptions about the immigration system, such as the bias of immigration judges and low asylum grant rates. But immigration lawyers say the supposedly myth-busting report is actually full of misleading statements and data that misrepresent the reality of the immigration court system, reports Mother Jones.

Family Separation
Immigrant advocates are calling on Biden to do more than just reunite families separated at the border to make amends for the harm done, reports Vox. They say a congressional investigation, legal status for these families, and a victims fund are also necessary. Biden could use his executive powers to do so, reports The Guardian.

Migrant Deaths
A new federal law, passed with rare bilateral support, will provide more funding for government institutions and humanitarian organizations to find and identify migrants who have died at the border, reports The Intercept. This is crucial for Arizona which recorded one of its deadliest years for border crossings in 2020.

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



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Daniela Gerson

Daniela Gerson

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