Migratory Notes
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Migratory Notes

Migratory Notes 197

New exec orders; Deportation pause, paused; Vaccine tourism

Seasonal workers called “lechugeros,” or lettuce people, commute daily to Yuma across the Mexican border. The Arizona county known as “America’s Salad Bowl” has “become a winter hothouse for Covid-19” with the highest U.S. case rate, writes Miriam Jordan in The New York Times. Photo by Adriana Zehbrauskas for The Times.

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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.

Immigration Reform
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.

Border Wall
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.

Family Separations
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.

Travel Bans
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.

Vaccine Tourism
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.

Border Violence
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.

Biden Admin
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

Take a moment and read this amazing immigration reporting story from PBS News Correspondent Nadja Drost.


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

  • 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

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, 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

*Migratory Notes Advisory Board: Daniel Connolly, Maria Kari, Dan Kowalski, Paola Marizán, Mirta Ojito, Roberto Suro, Phuong Ly, Fernanda Santos




A weekly informed and concise guide to immigration news.

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Daniela Gerson

Daniela Gerson

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

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