Migratory Notes 210

Biden to Congress: Pass it; border kidnappings ⬆; Chinese scientists targeted

Daniela Gerson
Apr 29 · 16 min read
“My father knew all too well what happens when legal pathways do not exist for people to enter this country: They find alternative ways in, just as his own family had,” Daniela writes in a Guest Essay for The New York Times. Her father, top right, came to the United States under a false identity in 1950. Photo illustration by The New York Times with Gerson family photos.

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It’s increasingly hard for Chinese people to survive here,” Nianshuang Wang, a scientist whose research helped develop the Moderna vaccine, told Bloomberg Businessweek. Since the Justice Department’s China Initiative program targeting suspected “economic spies” began in 2018, some universities and research institutions have begun suspending and terminating Chinese professors and scientists for allegedly failing to disclose research or funding ties with China.

Most children who were separated at the border and their parents were deported have been placed with relatives or family in the U.S. “Ending up as Mariana and Julieta did, was rare,” Noah Lanard writes in a feature for Mother Jones about a single mother from Guatemala who was deported while her two daughters remained in U.S. custody, eventually placed in foster care. The mother is still mystified about why they were separated in the first place. “Now, as the Biden administration has made family reunification a priority, they finally have some hope of being reunited — although what that will look and when it will happen remains to be seen.”

State of the Union and Immigration
In his first State of the Union address, Biden called on Congress to pass bipartisan immigration reform, including legislation to “secure protection” for Dreamers, TPS recipients and agricultural workers:

“If you believe we need a secure border, pass it, because it has a lot of money for high-tech border security. If you believe in a pathway to citizenship, pass it. There’s over 11 million undocumented folks, the vast majority here overstayed visas. Pass it. We can actually — if you actually want to solve the problem, I have sent a bill to you, take a close look at it.”

He also highlighted his work under Obama trying to target root causes in Central America, and his plan to restore that effort. “It helped keep people in their own countries instead of being forced to leave. And the plan was working, but the last administration decided it was not worth it,” Biden said. “I’m restoring the program and asked Vice President Harris to lead our diplomatic effort to take care of this.”

Central American Migration Diplomacy
During a virtual meeting with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on Monday, Kamala Harris promised to increase aid to the region and help manage migration in a “secure and humane” way, reports Reuters. Commitments include:

Just hours before the meeting, the U.S. imposed sanctions on a member of Guatemala’s Congress and a former presidential chief of staff over corruption allegations, reports Al Jazeera. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the decision shows a commitment to fighting corruption and improving governance in Central America. In March, the Biden administration announced Central American governments would have to comply with standards of transparency and good governance to receive aid money.

Smuggling, Kidnappings, and Title 42
The Department of Homeland Security launched a multi-agency operation called Operation Sentinel to target transnational criminal organizations that smuggle migrants across the border, reports The Washington Post. According to CBP officials, the operation has already revoked the visas of 130 foreign nationals with suspected ties to smuggling organizations, most of whom were from Mexico.

When asked how Operation Sentinel would deal with Title 42, which expels migrants citing health concerns and has apparently incentivized some kidnappers and smugglers, DHS Secretary Mayorkas said the policy would stay in place “until it is no longer needed,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

Among those kidnapped were Honduran immigrant Tani and her 4-year-old son. The kidnappers demanded more than $20,000 from her sister, Karen Cruz Caceres, for their safe return. “Title 42 just leaves a bunch of sitting ducks for organized crime,” Julia Neusner of Human Rights First told the L.A. Times.

According to a report by Human Rights First, there have been at least 492 attacks and kidnappings against migrants sent back to Mexico since Biden was inaugurated, reports VICE. Nuevo Laredo pastor Lorenzo Ortiz made a “deal with the devil:” He wouldn’t interfere with cartel kidnappings if they involved migrants who were stepping into the border town for the first time. In exchange, he could provide shelter and support for migrants who had already been kidnapped and survived. Now, due to Title 42 which expels migrants to Mexico based on public health concerns, the three shelters Ortiz runs are full.

Borders South and North
Border crossings are leveling off, but have remained at a 20-year high during April, reports The Washington Post. While the overall number of border arrests and detentions is projected to be the same as in March, who is coming appears to be shifting. CBP is apprehending more adults and fewer families and children. About 550 teens and children have been crossing the border per day, a drop of up to 15% since late March.

A new ACLU report alleges that Border Patrol agents in Detroit use racial profiling when arresting immigrants, reports the Traverse City Record Eagle. The ACLU obtained a “Complexion Codes” chart used by Border Patrol agents to document the skin tones of people they apprehend. Ninety-six percent of people apprehended were listed as “Black,” “Dark Brown,” “Dark,” “Light Brown,” “Medium Brown,” “Medium,” or “Yellow.” The agency didn’t respond directly to the report but a spokesperson said “agency policies prohibit consideration of race or ethnicity in law enforcement, investigation and screening activities in all but the most exceptional cases.”

DHS has recently ended various Trump era enforcement policies:

President Biden nominated Harris County, Texas Sheriff and Trump critic Ed Gonzalez as director of ICE, reports The Texas Tribune. “The focus should always be on clear & immediate safety threats. Not others who are not threats,” he tweeted in 2019. In 2017, Gonzalez withdrew Harris County from a contract with ICE that allowed local jail officials to check the immigration status of people arrested and turn them over to federal immigration authorities.

Refugee Cap
Sources in the White House say Biden is once again considering setting the refugee cap to 62,500 for the remainder of the year, reports The Washington Post. This comes about two weeks after Press Secretary Jen Psaki told members of the press that setting the cap at 62,500, which Biden promised in February, was ‘unlikely.’ Thirty-four Senate Democrats sent a letter to Biden urging him to raise the refugee cap to fulfill his original promise, reports the Hill. The letter, led by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), also asks Biden to set the cap at 125,000 refugees for the 2022 fiscal year, which begins on October 1, 2021.

Immigration Reform
On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Republicans were unlikely to support a bill for “Dreamers” if it doesn’t also address the surge at the border, reports The Hill. His statements come as Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) holds talks with Democratic and Republican Senators to promote a separate bill for Dreamers and agricultural workers. Last week, Sen. Durbin told reporters he thought any reform agreement would need a border security component to get 10 Republican senators on board to defeat the filibuster.

Around 2018, USCIS began routinely demanding more evidence for visas provided to victims of domestic violence, and denying applications for applicants who have had any sort of contact with the criminal justice system, including if they’ve had a criminal case dismissed, write Evangeline M. Chan and Amy Cheung in an opinion piece for Ms. Magazine.
The average COVID infection rate in ICE detention facilities is 20 times higher than the general population, according to an analysis by The New York Times. Repeated violations of safety protocols, a lack of testing, and a lack of consistent data on COVID infections are all factors that make detention facilities hotspots, even as infection rates decrease in the United States. For example, in a privately run detention center in Colorado, 96 detainees, about 20% of the population, and one employee tested positive for COVID, reports Colorado Public Radio.

When the vaccine is offered, distrust can also be high. At detention centers in southern Florida, 65% of detainees opted out of receiving the COVID vaccine, reports the Bradenton Herald. The vaccine rollout is part of a settlement in an ongoing civil rights lawsuit.

Anti-Asian Violence
The surge in violence against Asian-Americans is a reminder that America’s present reality reflects its exclusionary past,” Michael Luo writes in a The New Yorker story where he reflects on historical waves of violence against people of Asian heritage in the U.S. “Asian-Americans do not fit easily into the narrative of race in America,” Luo writes. “Evaluating gradations of victimhood, and where a persistent sense of otherness ends and structural barriers begin, is complicated.”

Among the recent acts of violence:

A New York Post article which falsely stated that Kamala Harris’ book is being handed out to migrant kids quickly circulated among Republican elected officials. Laura Italiano, the reporter who wrote the article, resigned from the Post, tweeting, “The Kamala Harris story — an incorrect story I was ordered to write and which I failed to push back hard enough against — was my breaking point.” (CNN)

Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) tweets the false story.

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

*Paco Alvarez is a staff writer for Migratory Notes. He is a writer based in Chicago. Previously, he was a Fall 2020 Civic Reporting Fellow for City Bureau where he covered the 2020 elections and political participation in immigrant communities. His work has appeared in the Chicago Reader, Block Club Chicago and South Side Weekly.

*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

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