Migratory Notes 207

Record number of migrant kids in shelters; TikTok scams; El Salvador snubs

Daniela Gerson
Migratory Notes
Published in
15 min readApr 8, 2021


A learning pod for refugee children at a San Diego church. Refugees in San Diego, with significantly higher rates of unemployment than the general population, are facing intense challenges during the pandemic, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune. Photo by Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune.

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Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have had the highest rate of long-term unemployment during the pandemic, reports USA Today. “Many were hit even before shutdowns went into effect, losing business as customers wary of Asian links to the spreading virus shied away,” Marc Ramirez writes, noting one study found more than 233,000 Asian small businesses closed from January to March 2020. The majority of people of Asian heritage in the U.S. are immigrants, and many settle in more expensive housing markets and working in low-wage industries.

As tens of thousands of migrant children are crossing at the Southern border, 9-year-old Pascual Raymundo boarded a flight from Florida back to Guatemala. “Child welfare officials argued Pascual’s parents had abandoned him and launched proceedings to have him adopted — a form of family separation that plays out in hundreds of U.S. courtrooms each year with little scrutiny,” Michael E. Miller and Jeff Abbott write in an intimate Washington Post feature probing the decisions desperate families make and their unanticipated consequences.

TikTok is the newest platform for immigration scams, as well as marketing that walks the ethical line of taking advantage of undocumented immigrants who want to legalize their status. “At a time when consultations had moved online and lawyers had to be more creative about reaching potential new clients, TikTok proved a fruitful marketing tool,” writes Isabela Dias in Mother Jones. “But it has also stirred up debates among attorneys about the ethical boundaries of social media advertising.”

At the Border
More than 170,000 migrants were apprehended at the southern border in March, the most in any month for the past 15 years, reports CNN. Nearly 100,000 were single adults. Many are likely repeat crossers since the Biden administration continues expelling migrants across the border under Title 42, a pandemic-era public health rule.

Nearly 19,000 were unaccompanied minors, the highest monthly tally in history, reports CBS. The Biden administration is not sending children back under Title 42.

Biden recently said all families should be expelled, but the policy is not being applied consistently by U.S. officials, with most families being allowed to stay, reports Reuters. U.S. authorities have released many of these families with orders to appear in court because they don’t have enough space to detain them, reports The New York Times. About 53,000 people who crossed in March were traveling as part of a family, leading to confusion about who is allowed to enter the U.S. and who is still being turned back under Title 42, reports The Guardian.

Some Central American families can’t be sent back because Mexico is not accepting families with children age 6 or younger in the state of Tamaulipas, which makes up a large part of the southern border. The decision seems arbitrary to the families hoping to seek asylum in the U.S., reports The Dallas Morning News.

Migrant Children
U.S. Border Patrol found a 10-year-old boy walking alone and crying for help on April 1, reports CNN. On the other side of the border, Mexican officials found a 3-year-old Honduran boy wandering along the Rio Grande alone, reports AP. Mexico’s National Immigration Institute said adults often travel with minors to cross more easily and then leave them once they reach the border.

CBP facilities for children are overcrowded and it’s impossible to practice social distancing, according to a report filed by two court-ordered inspectors to a federal judge last week, reports CBS News. The report also said there were not enough caregivers in these facilities. In an attempt to improve the humanitarian response, the first group of Border Patrol “processing coordinators” graduated from their training program this week, reports NPR. The 39 coordinators will hand out food, blankets and other necessities to migrants in CBP custody.

The Department of Health and Human Services is expanding additional shelters for unaccompanied minors this week, adding to the recently opened converted Christian camp, military base, convention center, and church hall.

Central American Root Causes
“There’s a reason why the U.S. government has failed for so many years to ‘control’ the border: none of these policies have addressed the real reasons for migration itself,” writes historian Julia G. Young in TIME. A deeper understanding of the inequality and corruption rooted in colonialism is needed to address migration, according to Young.

Here’s a glimpse at what’s currently happening in Central American countries:

Biden’s Central America Plan
Biden’s special envoy for Central America, Ricardo Zúñiga kicked off a tour of Central America with a visit to Guatemala Monday, reports Reuters. He was scheduled to meet with the Salvadoran president Wednesday, but Bukele turned down the planned meeting at the last minute, signaling the growing tensions in the bilateral relationship, reports The Washington Post.

The visit comes as the administration says it is addressing the root causes of migration from the region, while simultaneously running radio ad campaigns urging would-be migrants not to make the journey that have reached an estimated 7 million Central American listeners, reports CNN. Meanwhile Vice President Kamala Harris is working to get up to speed on the root causes of migration from Central America to tackle her new role as Biden’s point person for the region as allies question whether she will sink or swim, reports The Washington Post.

Immigration Reform
Congress will likely pass another budget reconciliation bill in the coming months, and Democrats could use it as an opportunity to add immigration reforms, reports Roll Call.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in Washington say it is up to Biden and Border Patrol to deal with border crossers, reports The Hill. Republican lawmakers have focused on blaming Biden’s policy for the influx, while also blocking any Democratic initiatives to overhaul the immigration and asylum system. Even some Democrats have questioned whether legislation would help address the current increase of migrants at the border.

The tech industry wants immigration reform to come quicker. Silicon Valley companies are hoping for more dramatic changes to open a pipeline for foreign workers but the Biden administration’s actions have been slow and measured so far, reports NBC News.

Proponents of immigration reform often argue that welcoming immigrants is built into the moral fabric of America, but a deeper look into history proves that untrue. “As the country moves forward from the past four years of harsh immigration policies, it must reckon with a history that stretches back much further, and that conflicts with one of the most frequently repeated American myths,” writes Caitlin Dickerson in The Atlantic.

Border Enforcement
CBP announced Monday that it arrested two Yemeni men on the terror watchlist who had crossed the southern border in separate incidents, reports Reuters. The agency said these incidents are “very uncommon,” but Republican lawmakers have seized on the possibility of terrorists crossing the border.

An immigration services officer for USCIS was arrested on charges that he used a false name to obtain citizenship, reports Fox 11.

A U.S. Appeals court ruled Monday that the feminist views of a Mexican woman abused by two partners qualify as a form of political view that represents a legitimate asylum case, reports Reuters. The case also directly challenged the 2018 Matter of A-B decision by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which said domestic violence was not grounds for asylum, by stating that the decision did not bar domestic violence victims from seeking asylum on other grounds.

The increase in asylum seekers crossing the border is worsening the 1.3 million case backlog in immigration courts, reports Voice of America. Experts say there are only two ways to address this backlog: hire more judges or be more selective about opening new cases.

A community of Haitian asylum seekers has been growing in Tijuana for a decade, and some hoped to be able to finally seek asylum in the U.S under the Biden administration, reports The World. But the political instability in their home country is now making many think twice because they fear being deported to a Haiti in crisis.

ICE arrests of those in the country illegally fell by two-thirds and deportations fell by 50% in March compared to the last months of the Trump administration, marking a shift in enforcement priorities under the Biden administration, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Research database tool LexisNexis signed a $16.8 million contract with ICE to sell information to the immigration agency, reports The Intercept. The company previously downplayed its ties to ICE.

Education & COVID
From California to D.C., “it’s an education pandemic” for English-language learners. In Los Angeles, during spring 2020 fewer than half of English learners in middle and high school participated in distance learning each week. Among high schoolers in the district, 42% are receiving Ds and Fs, reports the LA Times. The pandemic is exacerbating existing gaps and could also lead to fewer resources being invested into these programs, reports The Washington Post.

Sanctuary Laws

Montana banned sanctuary cities for undocumented immigrants on March 3; the state currently does not have any sanctuary cities, reports AP.

Immigration Journalism
For journalists struggling to choose the most accurate language to describe the current situation at the border, Poynter cautions against parroting official talking points from politicians and administration officials. Instead, writes Doris Truong, journalists should aim to add context to the number of border crossings so as not to promote harmful stereotypes. And immigration reporter Tanvi Misra points out that migrants are often represented without their knowledge or input: “images of the pain and distress of marginalized people are taken and shared, often without their consent or understanding.”


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