Migratory Notes 198

Biden reviews; AZ record deaths; Workhorse congresswomen

Daniela Gerson
Migratory Notes
Published in
13 min readFeb 4, 2021


More than 25,000 immigrant youth who claim abuse or neglect are stuck in a waiting limbo and effectively undocumented for years, despite being eligible for green cards, The Marshall Project reports in a new data analysis published with Documented NY. Illustration by Julia Kuo for The Marshall Project.

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For every Trump-era policy that Biden has reversed, hundreds of lesser-known measures remain,” Sarah Stillman writes in The New Yorker. Undoing all of these small rule changes and guideline adjustments may be essentially impossible. To preserve records of small but significant shifts that would otherwise be overlooked, the Immigration Policy Tracking Project meticulously documented them. Then Stillman and her team at the Global Migration Project at Columbia’s Journalism School spent years following stories of the human repercussions from Honduras to Somalia.

Decades after losing contact due to war and distance, social media is transforming how immigrant families are reconnecting. “In countries like El Salvador, where governments have been maddeningly slow to help locate thousands of citizens who disappeared both during the war and after, Facebook has become one of the few tools people can use to find family members who had been incommunicado for decades,” writes Maya Averbuch in a feature for OneZero.

Transfer of Power
Biden came out strong in his first days with actions on immigration, but the raft of executive orders and directives on immigration he signed Tuesday “primarily call for the review of, rather than an end to, Trump policies that the new administration has said it would get rid of,” Molly O’Toole writes in the LA Times. Among them:

Alejandro Mayorkas, who the Senate confirmed Tuesday mainly on party lines as Department of Homeland Security Secretary, will have to overcome internal resistance from those who preferred Trump’s harsh approach to immigration enforcement, reports The New York Times.

A last-minute agreement between the Trump administration and the ICE union that requires policy changes to be approved by the union could further complicate Mayorkas’ job, reports The New York Times. A whistleblower filed a complaint calling the agreement an abuse of power, but it remains unclear if the agreement can be annulled.

Border Violence
At least 12 Mexican police officers participated in the killings of 19 people near the Texas-Mexico border last month in a case that highlights the dangers migrants face from corrupt Mexican security forces, reports The Washington Post. They were part of an elite special forces unit trained and vetted by the U.S., reports InSight Crime. Families in Guatemala believe that at least 13 victims were migrants who left an indigenous town in Guatemala’s western highlands, although they are still waiting for DNA confirmation, reports the LA Times.

The Biden administration said Tuesday that it will stop the Trump-era policy of rapidly expelling migrant children citing public health grounds during the pandemic, reports BuzzFeed News. As of Wednesday, some Mexican government officials stopped accepting Central American families expelled under the rule, although neither the U.S. nor Mexico announced a formal change in policy, reports The Washington Post.

Meanwhile, other expulsions of adults have continued, including a group of Haitians in El Paso. “Generally, the quick returns to Mexico have applied only to single adults from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras and unaccompanied Mexican youths,” Lauren Villagran writes in El Paso Times. “Under the rule, migrants of other nationalities, including Haitians, are supposed to be returned to their countries of origin.”

Deportations resumed with a flight to Haiti Monday after a Trump-appointed Texas judge ruled to block the Biden administration’s suspension of some deportations, reports The Guardian. Another flight to deport Cameroonians, Angolans and other African migrants is scheduled for this week, and some of the asylum seekers allege torture by ICE agents to force them to agree to deportation, reports The Guardian. The actions raise questions about whether ICE will resist carrying out Biden’s immigration agency.

A survivor of the El Paso Walmart shooting was deported last week, reports KTSM. The woman was cooperating with law enforcement and was in the process of applying for a U Visa based on her status as a victim of a crime, reports KERA.

Family Separation
For a growing number of families, it feels like a second family separation. “Parents and children emerged from the zero-tolerance policy with separate immigration cases — often with pending removal orders and no attorneys,” Kevin Sieff writes in The Washington Post. “In hundreds of those cases, parents have been ordered deported while their children’s asylum or visa applications were being processed.”

Immigration Reform
Seven congresswomen have emerged as the leaders of the immigration reform bill and they are determined to be the “workhorses” who finally get this bill passed, reports USA Today. They call themselves the “Closers” and most have immigrant roots or represent districts with large immigrant communities. They are considering splitting a comprehensive bill into smaller legislation, but promise results no matter their approach.

Twenty years after first introducing the DREAM Act, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin introduced a new bipartisan bill Thursday to provide permanent residency to undocumented immigrants who arrive as children. It is an attempt to pass partial immigration reform on an issue with the most support across party lines before aiming for more ambitious proposals, reports The Hill.

House Democrats decided not to include a pathway to citizenship for undocumented essential workers and other immigrants in a COVID relief bill after an initial push from the National Hispanic Caucus to use the relief package as a way to pass immigration reform, reports Politico.

COVID & Immigrant Communities
The Biden administration promised it would not conduct immigration enforcement at vaccination sites and expressed its commitment to ensuring all undocumented immigrants can get vaccinated, reports CNN.

A 57-year-old Mexican man died in ICE custody in Georgia over the weekend after testing positive for COVID, reports BuzzFeed News. He is the second to die in ICE custody this fiscal year. Last year, 21 detainees died in ICE custody, the most since 2005.

Biden is expected to lift a cap on refugee admissions that the Trump administration had set at 15,000 for fiscal year 2021, but just how many more will be let in is still undetermined, reports The New York Times. After years of cutting back services under Trump, the refugee system has been gutted and may not be equipped to meet Biden’s campaign promise of raising the cap to 125,000 per year.

Immigration Backlog
When Trump halted legal immigration during the pandemic, he created a backlog of 380,000 people waiting to legally migrate, mainly spouses, children, and parents of U.S. citizens and residents, reports The New York Times. Biden has signaled he plans to open the pathways for these people once again, but experts warn the backlog could stress the system for years to come.


Immigration Resources & Opportunities

For four years, we tracked Trump’s attack on immigration and migrants. Here’s a look back at the biggest stories of the administration.

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



Daniela Gerson
Migratory Notes

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