Migratory Notes 208

Record low for refugees; $60 million/week for beds; TPS at risk

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


“Haitians who have been waiting years in Mexico for an opportunity to seek asylum in the U.S. are now testing the Biden administration and a border where their chances are — evidently — hit or miss,” writes Lauren Villagran in a feature for the El Paso Times profiling two women with similar migration paths who met “remarkably different fates.” Photo by Omar Ornelas for the El Paso Times.

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The forced removal of more than 400,000 people with Temporary Protected Status could begin as soon as October. If so, “it could also turn into the largest family-separation operation in American history,” Marcela Valdes writes in The New York Times Magazine. In a meticulously researched story, Valdes digs into the trajectory of this “immigration purgatory” of temporary status weaving the policy with a portrait of Cristina Morales, the plaintiff who won a preliminary injunction against the Trump administration’s move to end TPS for Salvadorans. If Biden and Democrats cannot create a permanent solution for DACA and TPS recipients, “Morales wonders how anyone can trust them to help the millions of other immigrants whose fates currently hang in the balance.”

The Biden administration keeps saying it will address root causes of migration from Central America. Reveal, in two deeply reported features (one updated from an earlier August story), provides a nuanced look at just what that entails in an investigation into the U.S. role in historic corruption and terror — and how Biden’s previous attempts in the region fell short.

Rapid Expulsions
Since mid-March the U.S. has flown 2,000 migrant families from Texas to San Diego and then expelled them to Tijuana, “a city they do not know that is hundreds of miles from where they crossed into the United States,” Kate Morrissey writes in the San Diego Union-Tribune. “That is in response to increased crossings, particularly in the eastern part of the Texas border, where the corresponding Mexican state of Tamaulipas has refused to accept some families back, especially if they have young children.”

U.S. officials fear “a cascade effect” as Mexico limits the number of Central American migrants it will take, Mary Beth Sheridan writes in The Washington Post: “As more Central Americans succeed in entering the U.S. immigration system, their relatives and neighbors back home are deciding to make the journey.”

The ACLU put on hold a lawsuit challenging Title 42 expulsions to negotiate with the Biden administration, reports Axios. But now lawyers are frustrated that officials have not made efforts to end the policy.

Remain in Mexico No More?
Immigrant advocates say the continued use of the Title 42 rule is putting Central American asylum seekers in harm’s way similar to the Remain in Mexico policy that Biden ended. The case of 10-year-old Nicaraguan Wilton Obregon, who the Border Patrol found wandering near the border last week, shows the dangers migrants face after being expelled, reports The Washington Post. The boy and his mother were kidnapped for ransom in Mexico after being sent back by Border Patrol in March.

The migrants stuck in Mexico say they just want guidance on how to seek asylum, but have had no indication of when they’ll get that information, reports Politico Magazine.

Meanwhile, the attorney generals of Texas and Missouri filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration Tuesday to restore the Trump-era Remain in Mexico program that forced asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their court dates, reports The Texas Tribune. They argue the decision to end the program in January was “arbitrary and capricious.”

Migrant Children
Beds for migrant children cost more than $60 million a week in taxpayer dollars, reports The Washington Post. Those include more than 16,000 temporary beds and Health and Human Services network of 7,700 spaces in permanent shelters. The average daily cost per child in the emergency shelters is about $775, more than double the cost in permanent shelters.

More than 60 Democratic lawmakers are calling for reforms to the HHS shelter system for minors, including the end of these temporary overflow facilities which they say are subject to less scrutiny than long-term facilities, reports CNN. Top aides to the Biden administration are also voicing concerns that kids are not being released quickly enough from shelters, reports Reuters.

As the government struggles to hire enough people to process these minors and contact their families, many parents report spending anxiety-filled weeks without news of their children, reports The New York Times.

Efforts to shelter the increase in migrants have caused controversies in various states:

The governors of Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota have refused to take in child migrants, reports KELOLAND news.

Biden Administration
Biden tapped Chris Magnus, a former Tucson police chief who criticized Trump’s immigration policy and has openly supported the Black Lives Matter movement, to fill a key immigration position as head of Customs and Border Protection, reports The New York Times. He also nominated Ur Jaddou, former chief counsel to USCIS to lead that agency, reports AP.

But other positions related to immigration remain unfilled, such as the director of ICE, and this could be making it more difficult for Biden to move forward with his immigration plans, reports NBC News and LA Times.

National security advisor Roberta S. Jacobson announced she will be leaving her position at the end of the month. Her role as border coordinator and liaison between the U.S. and Mexico was always meant to be temporary and she is departing on good terms.

Republican lawmakers and conservative pundits have been lambasting Vice President Kamala Harris for not yet traveling to Mexico and Central America. “Behind the scenes, Harris’ advisors have a different question: Who can she meet with?,” the LA Times reports.

Immigration is an International Issue
The U.S. announced agreements with Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras Monday that they will increase troops at their borders to limit the passage of migrants north, reports The New York Times. The Biden administration said the agreements were the result of bilateral talks with each country. The Guatemalan government, however, said Tuesday that it did not sign an agreement with the U.S. on border security, reports The Hill. A visit to the border between Guatemala and Mexico, where migrants arrive on small boats without resistance shows the limitations and logistical hurdles of stopping migration through militarization, reports The Guardian. Instead, they often find riskier routes.

Mexico received a monthly record of 9,000 asylum applications in March and the Mexican government predicts a record high 90,000 applications this year, reports The New York Times. The increase comes as the Biden administration struggles to reform the U.S. asylum system so people can present their claims as required under federal and international law in a timely manner.

Biden’s Central America Plan
The U.S. is considering starting a cash transfer program to alleviate the economic stress of the pandemic that is one of the factors driving migration from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, reports Reuters. The administration is also considering sending vaccines to the countries as a way to boost the economies.

Asylum & Refugees
Biden is on track to accept the fewest refugees — about 4,500 — of any president since the start of the U.S. refugee program in 1980 because he has not signed a presidential determination to increase the refugee cap, reports The Washington Post. Biden has not explained the reason for not completing this bureaucratic measure. One leading advocate said the wait is like “salt on the wound” after years of Trump-era bans and restrictions, reports The World.

More than 386,000 asylum applicants await a decision from USCIS as of September 2020 and the backlog hasn’t improved since Biden took office, reports HuffPost.

Immigration Reform
Democrats from the House and Senate sent a letter to President Biden urging him to include the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act in the second part of his infrastructure plan, reports CNN. The bill would grant permanent residency to undocumented immigrants who work in health care, child care, sanitation, agriculture, emergency response and other essential occupations and industries. Democrats in Congress said passing immigration reform is a priority as they returned to Washington Monday, and DACA recipients like nurse Javier Quiroz say they’ve waited long enough, reports The Washington Post.

Biden asked Congress to increase the budget by 22% for workforce oversight offices for ICE and CBP to better and more quickly investigate workforce complaints, “including those related to white supremacy or ideological and non-ideological beliefs,” reports Reuters. The decision marks a commitment to rooting out domestic extremism, particularly in immigration agencies with a history of complaints of racism, misogyny and white supremacy.

COVID & Immigrant Communities
New York lawmakers created a $2.1 billion fund for undocumented immigrants who didn’t qualify for federal stimulus payments, unemployment insurance and other forms of government aid, reports The New York Times. Unemployed, undocumented New Yorkers who can prove they lost income due to the pandemic are eligible for up to $15,600, while other undocumented New York residents are eligible for up to $3,200.For information on how the fund works and how to apply, check out this handy guide from Documented. The New Jersey governor is considering a similar plan to provide federal funds to undocumented workers, reports Politico.

Pandemic airport closures temporarily halted a long-time tradition for Central American immigrants: flying to the U.S. with chicken from Pollo Campero, a childhood favorite for many Guatemalans and Salvadorans, reports the LA Times. But “Operation Chicken Airlift” is now back in full motion.

Vaccinations & Immigrant Communities
As the vaccine rollout continues, some immigrants have been left out. Differences in state guidelines about ID and residency requirements for vaccination have caused confusion for undocumented immigrants, some of whom are already vaccine-hesitant, reports The Washington Post.

Getting vaccinated is especially urgent for working-age Latino immigrants, who are more than 11 times more likely to die from COVID than U.S.-born non-Latinos, according to a study in California, reports The Sacramento Bee.

Border Wall
Arizona’s Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed a lawsuit to force Biden to resume border wall construction, reports the Capitol Media Services. Brnovich said the government failed to study the environmental impact of the policy change as required by law.


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

  • Port of Entry is a podcast about cross-border stories that connect us. Border people often inhabit this in-between place. From KPBS and PRX, “Port of Entry” tells personal stories from this place.
  • 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.
  • 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