Migratory Notes 197
New exec orders; Deportation pause, paused; Vaccine tourism
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After 30 years in the United States, Felipe Ortega was deported to Mexico as President Biden took the oath of office. Hours later, the 58-year-old with no criminal record would have been protected, at least temporarily. “The abrupt about-face on policy shows how, without a long-term fix from Congress, the fate of millions of immigrants can change dramatically with the flick of a presidential pen,” write Mica Rosenberg, Kristina Cooke, and Jose Luis Gonzalez in a feature for Reuters on the human repercussions of policy by executive action.
Just a week after Biden introduced a bold immigration reform proposal, Democrats are already tempering expectations and stressing that the proposal is a baseline to start a discussion, reports AP. Under consideration is breaking down the proposal into separate pieces of legislation, reports Politico. This piecemeal approach has been tried previously when comprehensive immigration reform has stumbled, writes Miriam Jordan in an in-depth probe for The New York Times into past efforts and what is at stake today. Meanwhile, Republicans are likely to try to block reform, particularly because the current proposal doesn’t include typical concessions like increased border security, reports The Wall Street Journal.
Need a refresher on what’s in the proposal and other key executive orders from Biden’s first week in office? Check out this handy guide from The Marshall Project.
Deportation Pause, Paused
A federal judge in Texas halted Tuesday Biden’s 100-day deportation moratorium for 14 days, while he considers a legal challenge to the policy filed by the Texas attorney general. The state alleges the pause violates an agreement signed in the last days of the Trump administration that requires the federal government to consult the state on major changes to immigration policy. BuzzFeed revealed the existence of these agreements days before Biden took office. It’s still unclear if they are legally enforceable.
An executive order to stop border wall construction caused confusion when landowners reported it did not stop, reports KJZZ Fronteras Desk. The Defense Department said it just needed a few days for construction to “safely prepare each site for a suspension of work,” reports CNN.
Billions of dollars of planned work on the wall remains unfinished and Biden has given his administration two months to determine the cost of canceling the contracts, reports AP. Some environmentalists are urging a step further, tearing down sections of the wall that damage wildlife habitats, reports Scientific American. Meanwhile, families living in the shadow of the border wall in South Texas are bitter about losing their land, but divided on the best way to move forward, reports The Dallas Morning News.
Biden has proposed a “smart” border wall made up of drones, motion sensors and facial recognition technology, much of which is already in use along the border, but the increase of surveillance technology could lead to abuse and be hard to reverse, reports The Nation.
Asylum & Refugees
Thousands of asylum seekers in the Remain in Mexico program are anxiously waiting for the Biden administration to allow them into the U.S. while their asylum cases are pending, reports VICE News. They will likely have to keep waiting. Leading up to the inauguration, “few along the border, from asylum seekers to U.S. agents, had answers for how Biden will confront the most immediate challenge left to him by Trump: How to deal with about 30,000 migrants waiting in limbo, as well as thousands more heading north, amid a pandemic that Trump used to close the border,” Molly O’Toole writes for the L.A. Times.
Now in office, the Biden administration says it could take months to increase processing capacity for asylum seekers at the border, reports NPR. So they remain stuck in some of Mexico’s most dangerous places — where researchers say the Mexican government denies asylum seekers their constitutional protections, reports LatinoUSA.
Biden is expected to lay out his plan to restore the asylum system through an executive order soon, reports The Wall Street Journal. He will likely rescind the memo that created the Remain in Mexico program and end agreements with Central American countries to send asylum seekers there.
First lady Jill Biden is planning on taking an active role in a task force to reunite families at the border, a stark contrast to Melania Trump, reports CNN. The launch of the anticipated interagency task force was scheduled for Friday, but is now delayed, reports NBC.
Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson officially rescinded the Trump-era “zero tolerance” policy through a memo he sent to federal prosecutors Tuesday. Wilkinson was chosen for his perceived lack of involvement in controversial cases. But he was aware of the family separation policy as early as 2017, when he reviewed and signed off on the reassignment of a prosecutor in Texas who objected to splitting up immigrant families, reports NBC News.
Some Democratic representatives and immigrant families are asking that the Biden administration broaden its policy on family separation to include those separated by Obama-era policies. “It matters that the Obama administration’s actions were not sadistic. But it doesn’t mean they weren’t harmful,” writes Jean Guerrero in an opinion piece for The New York Times.
Biden did not include immigration detention centers run by private prison companies in his executive order aimed at ending the Justice Department’s use of private prisons, reports US News & World Report. He had previously said he planned to end the practice. The companies will lose about a quarter of their revenue and shares in CoreCivic and Geo Group, which run many immigrant detention centers, fell to the lowest level in a decade.
Families like the Alsidnawis from Syria have been waiting years to be reunited and they hope the repeal of the travel ban means more visas will be granted to Syrians, reports The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Even as the Biden administration moved to loosen Trump-era bans based on religion or race, it announced travel restrictions on travelers from Europe, Brazil and South Africa to curb the spread of COVID-19, reports NPR.
Varying state guidelines have led to “vaccine tourism” — travelers coming from other states or countries to get vaccinated, with consequences for immigrants. In Florida, the governor announced proof of state residency will be required to get vaccinated as a way to curb vaccine tourism, but immigrant advocates say the rule purposely excludes essential farmworkers, reports the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times. Looser residency regulations in Texas have enabled some travelers from Mexico, where the vaccine is not widely available, to get vaccinated, but also have ensured faster distribution for people who live in the state, including undocumented immigrants, reports the Monitor.
Mexican authorities found 19 shot and burned bodies near a migrant smuggling point in Tamaulipas, a Mexican state bordering Texas ravaged by organized crime groups in recent years, reports AP. About 30 Guatemalan families who fear their loved ones might be among the dead traveled to the capital Monday to give DNA samples, reports Reuters. The case brings up painful memories of a 2010 massacre of dozens of Central American migrants also in Tamaulipas, reports AP. The recent killings highlight the still volatile security situation in Mexico, despite the Mexican president’s assurances that security has improved drastically.
More than 4,500 Hondurans who left in a caravan were forcibly returned to their country in the past week after Guatemalan security forces thwarted their path, reports the LA Times. During the Trump administration, Central American governments stopped caravans from advancing, and Biden has yet to indicate he would approach caravans differently. Thousands of Hondurans fled the destruction and displacement from back-to-back hurricanes, reports Al Jazeera. Many who returned plan to take to the streets this week in protest of the government, reports Reuters. The Honduran president also faces drug trafficking charges by U.S. prosecutors but denies the charges.
An estimated 3,000 migrants from the caravan were not apprehended by Guatemalan authorities and continued their journey north, reports Newsweek.
Immigration is an International Issue
In a call between Biden and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the two leaders promised to cooperate to reduce “irregular migration,” reports The Guardian. Mexico has been a key ally helping to carry out U.S. immigration enforcement priorities during the Obama and Trump administrations, often leading to human rights abuses. It’s unclear how the bilateral relationship will change under Biden, but COVID-19, trade and border infrastructure remain priorities according to both governments, reports KJZZ’s Fronteras Desk.
The Biden administration has moved quickly to staff DHS with employees with a background in immigration law and rights who will be key in undoing the Trump administration’s policy, reports CNN. Among the new staff are:
- Ashley Tabaddor, an outspoken critic of Trump’s immigration policy as head of the immigration judges union, who will serve as top lawyer as USCIS
- David Shahoulian, a former DHS employee under the Obama administration, who will serve as assistant secretary for border security and immigration
- Adam Hunter, who previously worked at the Refugee Council, and will serve as deputy assistant secretary on immigration
Twitter Inspiration Thread
- ICE released the last of nine detained women who came forward with allegations of medical abuse by a Georgia gynecologist. The woman would be a key witness in the ongoing case. (AP)
- Immigrant advocates hope Biden will cut back on immigrant detention, which has been growing rapidly since the 1990s. (KERA News)
- A woman who spent more than three years seeking sanctuary in a Chicago church finally went home after the Biden administration issued a deportation moratorium. (Chicago Tribune)
- The Senate Homeland Security Committee voted to move forward with Biden’s pick to lead DHS, Alejandro Mayorkas. The date of a confirmation vote has not yet been confirmed. (Politico)
- The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that former gang members can qualify as a “particular social group” when seeking asylum, overturning a previous standard determined by the Board of Immigration Appeals that said defining former gang members as a social group is too narrow. (Reuters)
- Immigration authorities released a nine-year-old Haitian boy who was detained at the airport and separated from his brother after their visas were taken away because of missing paperwork. (BuzzFeed News)
- Democratic senators introduced a bill that would provide TPS to Venezuelans based on the humanitarian crisis in the country, a move that could impact 200,000 people. Trump granted a different form of deportation relief, Deferred Enforced Departure, to Venezuelans in one of his last actions. (NBC News/Politico)
- Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other Trump administration officials declined to be interviewed for an internal Justice Department inquiry into their role in the family separation policy. (The Guardian)
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)
- Futbol in the Park: Immigrants, Soccer, and the Creation of Social Ties by David Trouille (January 2021)
- 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
- Routed Magazine curates a bi-monthly newsletter on news in migration and mobility.
- 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, Previously she was a senior fellow at the Center for Community Media (CCM); community engagement editor at the LA Times; editor of the trilingual Alhambra Source; and immigration reporter for the New York Sun. She has reported for WNYC: New York Public Radio, The World, Der Spiegel, Financial Times, CNN, The New York Times, among other outlets. 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