Migratory Notes 202

Kids at border test Biden; More Asian kids homeschooling; Immigrant cooks in Baltimore

Daniela Gerson
Migratory Notes
Published in
16 min readMar 4, 2021


In Baltimore, a pandemic collaboration staffed with refugees and immigrants working out of one of the city’s finest restaurants is feeding the hungry, Today reports. Among them is Chef Emilienne, a refugee from Burkina Faso. Photo courtesy of Alkimiah.

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Jaywalking landed Javier Castillo Maradiaga, a DACA recipient, in immigration detention during COVID. Turns out he was caught in an “operational error,” Eric Lach reports in The New Yorker. But ICE is still working to deport the 27-year-old to Honduras. “It’s an indication that this is what our immigration system is. It’s not broken — this is exactly what it was designed to do,” said one lawyer.

The Trump administration’s lasting legacy on immigration won’t be the border wall; it will be tearing down the notion that the United States should serve as a refuge, Jack Herrera argues in Politico Magazine. “In turning asylum seekers into political ammunition in the American fight over immigration — conflating them with illegal border-crossers — Trump broke a fragile but powerful consensus that had lasted through Republican and Democratic presidents and had kept America open as a nation of refuge for more than a generation,” Herrera writes.

Border authorities and immigration advocates agree that migration is on the rise and they cite the economic crisis caused by COVID and devastating hurricanes in Central America in November as the reason, reports The Dallas Morning News.

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas says the government is still sending migrants back across the border under pandemic public health guidelines known as Title 42. Douglas, a Guatemalan asylum seeker stuck in the winter storm in Texas woke up in the hospital with frostbite so bad he may need to have his hands amputated, only to be told that he would be expelled under Title 42, reports the LA Times. Since the story was published, immigration officials have said Douglas will be allowed into the U.S. while he argues his asylum case.

Highlighting one reason behind the Biden administration’s hesitancy in lifting the rule, more than 100 asylum seekers released in Brownsville, Texas have tested positive for COVID-19 since Jan. 25 when the city began testing at the bus stations, reports Telemundo Investiga. Local authorities said they did not have the authority to prevent these migrants from traveling, but recommended that they seek out local NGOs coordinating isolation areas for migrants.

Deadly Border Crash

The 13 victims of a deadly car crash Tuesday near the border at El Centro were likely migrants smuggled through a hole in the border fence, reports CNN. Up to 28 people were in an SUV when a semi truck struck it. Immigrant advocates suspect the crash could have been the result of a Border Patrol chase, which they say has happened before, but CBP said they did not show up until after the crash was reported, reports LA Times. Ten Mexican nationals died in the incident and Guatemalan authorities believe at least two citizens were in the crash, reports Reuters.

Migrant Children
About 2,000 migrant children were apprehended at the border this week, posing one of the first major challenges to the Biden administration as it scrambles to find shelter space to be able to transfer minors from Border Patrol custody within 72 hours as required by law, reports CBS News. The influx comes after Biden rolled back a Trump administration rule to rapidly expel minors during the pandemic, reports The Washington Post. The decision by the Office of Refugee Resettlement to decrease shelter capacity to follow social distancing measures has exacerbated the problem, but the agency sent out a memo instructing officials to open up more bed space this week.

The government also opened two new facilities for migrant children and is considering opening four more, reports CNN. After opening a new shelter sparked controversy last week, the Biden administration said it was not planning on having these facilities open for long, reports HuffPost. The government is also looking for ways to speed up the process of releasing minors to parents and sponsors to avoid reaching capacity, reports Reuters.

Family Separation
DHS Secretary Mayorkas announced Monday that the task force for reuniting separated families is working to give families the chance to reunite in the U.S. or their home countries, reports NBC News. The Biden administration had previously committed to finding and reuniting families but had not commented on whether separated families would be allowed to stay in the U.S. legally. Immigrant advocates lauded the decision but urged DHS to provide more information because the legal process remains unclear, reports NPR. Mayorkas also announced that immigrant rights advocate Michelle Brané of the Women’s Refugee Commission, will lead the task force to reunite families, reports New York Magazine.

Lawyers said that since mid-January they’ve been able to contact more than 100 parents separated from their children during the zero-tolerance policy, which a judge said was optimistic for family reunification efforts under this administration, reports The Guardian.

Remain In Mexico No More?
After the Biden administration began processing asylum seekers in the Remain in Mexico program, immigration advocates expect about 25 people in the program will be processed each day at the port of entry between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, reports The Texas Tribune. From there, they’ll go around the country to live with family members and sponsors. The Matamoros tent camp, where an estimated 700 people were living before the Biden administration began processing asylum seekers in the Remain in Mexico program, could be cleared out in days, reports Bloomberg. The camp became one of the most visible symbols of Trump’s immigration policy and the closure of the camp would mark a clear shift under the Biden administration.

Asylum & Refugees
Hundreds of refugees approved for travel to the U.S. have been taken off their flights around the world in recent weeks because Biden has yet to finalize a plan to increase the refugee cap from 15,000 as set by Trump to more than 60,000, reports CNN.

The case of a legal German resident of Syrian origins arrested in Greece and detained as a refugee recently presented before the United Nations Human Rights Committee could have implications for asylum seekers around the world, reports The Intercept. His lawyers are asking the court to categorize his detention as a case of enforced disappearance, after he was in limbo for years trying to return to his home in Germany. Doing so would define this treatment of migrants as a human rights violation, and not just routine immigration enforcement.

Asian-American Hate Crimes
Researchers and activists have tracked thousands of cases of anti-Asian violence and discrimination during the pandemic, and a deadly attack against an 84-year-old man from Thailand has sparked a rallying cry for racial justice, reports The New York Times. In San Francisco and other major cities, an increase in hate crimes during the pandemic has brought to the surface long-held prejudices of Asian Americans as “forever foreigners” and “perpetual potential threats,” reports The San Francisco Chronicle. In New York, many Asian Americans feel that authorities are not taking their concerns seriously and have failed to properly classify acts of violence as hate crimes, reports The New York Times. Without sufficient support from authorities, many communities have organized their own patrols to monitor potential acts of violence and protect each other, reports The Washington Post.

As schools are reopening, Asian American families from a wide range of backgrounds are keeping their children in home school, reports the Washington Post.

Five million students in the U.S. learn English at school, and data from several states shows that these students are falling further behind during the pandemic, reports NPR. Having friends who speak English, extra interactions with teachers in English and picking up on nonverbal cues all make it easier to learn a language, but these learning opportunities have disappeared with online learning. The stress on ESL programs could soon become worse as more families and unaccompanied minors cross the border and eventually end up in the U.S. public school system, reports LA School Report.

An immigrant rights group in Philadelphia launched a campaign for sanctuary schools to protect students and their families from immigration enforcement after a parent was detained dropping off a student last year, reports The Philadelphia Inquirer. The campaign hopes to bring awareness to the already existing policies to prevent officials from sharing information with ICE, that many teachers and administrators are unaware of.

Enforcement, Detention & Deportation
The last family was released from Berk’s County Detention Center in Pennsylvania after controversy around the conditions led state representatives to call for their release, reports The Morning Call. The Reading Eagle reports the final release occurred on Friday Feb. 26.

ICE has used a private database called CLEAR with information on 400 million names and addresses taken from phone, gas and water bills to identify immigrants for enforcement operations, reports The Washington Post. Democrats sent a letter to Thomson Reuters, which owns the database, for more information, citing concerns of abuse of privacy.

The family of 48-year-old Edward Alonso-Castillo are calling for his release from detention because they say he is not receiving the medical care he needs, but ICE refuses to release him, reports NBC News. Critics say his case represents a disconnect between Biden’s promises to change immigration enforcement and ICE’s actions.

More than 900 Haitians have been deported since February, and DHS officials admitted in internal documents that they could face violence or persecution when returned, reports BuzzFeed News.

Immigration is an International Issue
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador proposed a new version of the bracero program, a temporary worker plan to provide 600,000 to 800,000 temporary work visas to Mexicans and Central Americans, reports AP. “You (Americans) are going to need Mexican and Central American workers to produce, to grow,” he said. “It is better that we start putting order on migratory flows.” Critics warn that a revamped bracero program could also grow the opportunities for abuse, reports Marketplace. Mexican officials raised the issue at a virtual meeting between Biden and Lopez Obrador Monday where the two leaders emphasized the importance of improving dialogue and cooperation, particularly regarding migration, reports The Washington Post. One U.S. diplomat said Biden wants to work with his Mexican counterpart but the current bilateral relationship is tense.

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele’s party won a majority of seats in the country’s legislative elections Sunday, reports The Washington Post. His win gets rid of opposition from a key branch of government at a moment when Washington officials and politicians are becoming increasingly worried about the country’s slide into authoritarianism and what it means for Biden’s plan to strengthen democracy and curb migration from Central America. During Bukele’s tenure that began in 2019, El Salvador has seen a drastic drop in homicides, which could be seen as a positive step for Biden’s Central American plans, reports Foreign Policy. But the administration will have to understand the complex causes behind this drop if it hopes for a sustainable change in country conditions in Central America to curb migration.

COVID & Immigrant Communities
Biden said in an interview with Univision Friday that immigrants should be able to get the COVID vaccine without fear of immigration enforcement, reports The Hill, reinforcing a DHS announcement last month that ICE will not carry out enforcement at vaccination centers.

Yet, many immigrant groups report being left out of the vaccination process.

In Nashville, in an effort to bring more immigrants into the process, vaccine information has been translated to Spanish, Arabic, Kurdish, Burmese, Nepali and Somali and mobile vaccination sites are planned, reports the Nashville Scene.

Meanwhile, immigrants continue to be hit particularly hard by COVID. In Los Angeles County, Latinos in the hospitality and leisure industries “are among those who have received the lowest number of vaccines, despite the staggering infection rates within their communities,” Fernanda Santos writes in a New York Times Magazine photo essay. (Santos is a member of the Migratory Notes Board of Directors.)


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



Daniela Gerson
Migratory Notes

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