Migratory Notes 205

Border Crisis? VP Harris leads on immigration; Asian American divide

Daniela Gerson
Migratory Notes
Published in
14 min readMar 25, 2021


Stuck in limbo in Ciudad Juárez, the 30 transgender women of Casa de Colores, most of them migrants from El Salvador, have built a community during the pandemic. Photo credit: Claudia Hernández for Borderless Magazine

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“As details about the employees emerged, so too did another narrative: the story of the wealth divide among people of Asian descent in America — a community often viewed by outsiders as monolithic and whose economic disparities have long been misunderstood,” writes a team from The New York Times in a beautifully woven investigative feature of immigrant striving and devastating, divergent outcomes in Atlanta.

Border apprehensions of Mexicans could soon reach a 10-year high after decades of decline as many young residents risk the journey north. “The pandemic hit just as many children of the first migrant generation came of age,” write Michael O’Boyle and Maya Averbuch in Bloomberg News.

Immigration Reform
Two immigration reform bills that passed the House last week face an uphill battle with the increase in border crossings and a divided Senate that is increasingly set on blocking Biden’s agenda. Former colleagues of new Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif), believe that the son of Mexican immigrants who got his start in organizing protests against California’s anti-immigrant Proposition 187, may just be able to break the gridlock and push immigration reform forward, reports the LA Times.

The first bill, which would give DACA and TPS recipients a way to legalize their status, passed with minimal Republican support. The second, which would grant legal status to farm workers, garnered 30 Republican votes, mainly from agricultural districts. However, some farmworker advocates say the process laid out in the bill is overly burdensome because of the strict requirements that include additional years of work, reports KIMA TV.

Border Surge?
Major TV networks have called the situation at the border a “crisis” or “surge” at least 138 times since January, parroting a Republican talking point, reports Media Matters.

Border apprehensions rose to more than 100,000 in February and could reach a 20-year high in March, according to the LA Times. And border officials are expected to take in an all-time high of 17,000 unaccompanied minors this month, reports The Washington Post.

But do these numbers really merit being called a border surge or crisis? Political scientists from the University of California at San Diego say the increase follows a pattern of seasonal migration that increases around February and March of each year, reports The Washington Post. They say the trend is more prominent this year because some migrants could not leave during the pandemic due to border closures.

Here are some additional reasons being reported for why migrants, particularly minors, are arriving at the border:

Officials and community leaders working at the border say what they are facing is not yet a crisis, and they aren’t concerned so much with the language as with the impact on these migrants, reports Politico. They want a long-term solution from lawmakers in Washington, including immigration reform and more support to fix the root causes of migration from Central America.

Migrant Children
More than 5,000 children and teens were were in short-term Border Patrol facilities unfit for long-term custody of minors, reports CBS News. Photos shared with Axios by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) of a Border Patrol tent facility where minors are being held showed young children and teens crammed together in “pods” and sleeping on mats with mylar blankets. The photos offered a rare look into the conditions for migrant children after the Biden administration barred non-profits and journalists from visiting, reports AP. In response to criticism about the lack of transparency, the Biden administration allowed one news network into facilities during lawmakers’ visit to border facilities Wednesday, reports The Washington Post.

Approaches being taken or considered to house and process migrant youth include:

Border Response
Biden named Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the administration’s efforts to work with Mexico and Central America to address the root causes of migration. The announcement comes as three high-level U.S. officials — lead advisor at the border Roberta Jacobson, Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle Ricardo Zúñiga and National Security Council’s senior director for the Western Hemisphere Juan González — met with the Mexican foreign minister this week to discuss bilateral cooperation to stem migration from Central America, reports AP.

Meanwhile, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who visited the border with a group of Senators last week, reiterated the administration’s message to migrants: Don’t come. The Biden administration has worked to spread this message through 17,000 ads on the radio and 500 on social media in Latin America, reports NBC News. In addition, in response to U.S. pressure Mexico sent immigration agents to its southern border with Guatemala, reports AP.

After Remain in Mexico
The end of the Remain in Mexico program that forced asylum seekers to wait in Mexico has created a challenge for the Biden administration as it has had to decide who to let enter the U.S. first, reports The Texas Tribune/ProPublica.

In Matamoros, officials prioritized migrants in the tent camp first for humanitarian reasons. Now, asylum seekers who left the camp seeking safety question why they are being forced to wait and lawyers call the process arbitrary. Some LGBT asylum seekers in the program have been able to enter, but advocates worry about the others who haven’t and who face violence and discrimination in Mexico, reports the Washington Blade.

In Tijuana, disinformation is spreading rapidly among asylum seekers camped at the border who are confused by Biden’s immigration policies and don’t understand why they haven’t been let in, reports The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Rapid Expulsions
While some Republicans like Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) falsely claim the border is “wide open,” the framing is misleading tweets Politico reporter Sabrina Rodríguez, because most migrants are still being expelled across the border.

Less than 1% of border crossers have been able to seek protection since the Trump administration began expelling them under the Title 42 public health statute invoked to stop the spread of COVID-19, reports The LA Times. Despite promising to restore the asylum system, the Biden administration has quietly continued the policy, confusing migrants who thought they would have the chance to enter the U.S. A group of nearly 150 migrants who were flown 600 miles from south Texas to El Paso only to be dropped off in Ciudad Juarez say U.S. officials never told them where they were going, reports The New York Times.

One group that is no longer subject to expulsion are minors. CBS News Reporter Camilo Montoya-Galvez goes into detail on the cost of renewing youth expulsions: children’s lives.

A byproduct of admitting minors has led to a new form of family separation as families decide whether to stay together or send minors across alone who have a better chance of being released to relatives, reports Politico Magazine.

That may be changing: Axios reports that the Biden administration expelled just 13% of migrant families in past week.

Anti-Asian Racism
In the aftermath of a shooting in Atlanta that targeted Asian massage parlors, many politicians and officials have rushed to claim that the shooting was not racially motivated, falling in line with a trend throughout American history of erasing anti-Asian violence, reports GEN Magazine. Many Asian Americans have grown frustrated with having to justify their experiences. “While my adoptive family saw me as almost raceless and therefore safe from racists, I lived every day from the age of 7, when I heard my first slur from a classmate, understanding that my Korean face made me hypervisible where we lived — and that it could also make me a target,” writes Nicole Chung in TIME.

Female Labor
The pandemic disrupted a form of work that was often invisible: Mexican women crossing the border for informal domestic labor caring for children and elderly people, reports KTEP. Border restrictions have made it difficult for these women to cross, exposing the vulnerability of their working conditions. Meanwhile, Mexican women filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government for failing to enforce gender discrimination laws in its temporary migrant labor programs, reports Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The Biden administration will launch a new program to house migrant families at hotels run by non-profits in an attempt to move away from long-criticized for-profit detention centers, reports Reuters. The $86.9 million contract will provide more than 1,200-bed spaces and other necessary services.

A detainee who tested positive for COVID was released from ICE custody and died three days later, raising questions about whether ICE is releasing sick migrants to undercount in-custody deaths during the pandemic, reports the LA Times.

State legislators in Maryland took a major step to end for-profit detention in the state by passing a bill that requires three counties to end their agreements with ICE to hold detainees in local jails, reports The Baltimore Sun.

Immigrant advocates called on the Biden administration to issue a new Temporary Protected Status to Haitians in the U.S. given how the political turmoil and increase in violence has made it unsafe to return, reports the Miami Herald. The U.S. Embassy in Haiti tweeted an apparent response:

Border Crash
A man sent a message to his sister before she crossed the U.S.-Mexico border: “Cuidate mucho” or “take care of yourself.” His sister Carolina Ramírez Pérez, a mother of four who was running away from her abusive husband in Mexico, never read the message, reports the LA Times. She was killed when a car filled with too many people crashed on the highway in California.

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