Migratory Notes
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Migratory Notes

Migratory Notes 211

Mothers who melt ICE; Death at Tyson; Refugee cap ⬆

Immigration attorneys are increasingly women. Immigrants Defense Advocates created a children’s book on mothers who do immigrant rights work. Proceeds from sales go to the organization. Illustration by Jackie Gonzalez.

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At the beginning of the pandemic, the meatpacking industry successfully lobbied the government to be considered “critical infrastructure” and their employees “essential” — but their largely immigrant workforce has been treated as anything but, reports The New York Review of Books. In an intimate and searing feature, Alice Driver shares the story of immigrants workers at Tyson plants in Arkansas who died of COVID and reveals negligence that predates the pandemic. Both Driver and the photographer, Liz Sanders, are from rural Arkansas.

On paper, Walter Cruz-Zavala seems like someone Democrats and Republicans would agree should be deported: several DUIs, a gang affiliation, a firearm conviction, and a giant MS-13 tattoo on his chest. But in a deep-dive into Cruz-Zavala’s life and the circumstances that led to his four-year detention in an ICE facility, Ryan Devereaux of The Intercept probes what may be missed when people are reduced to their rap sheets. “Cruz-Zavala’s interactions with the homeland security apparatus reveal the historical ties between counterinsurgency campaigns in Central America, California gang policing, and the explosion in immigrant detention in the United States over the past two and a half decades,” writes Devereaux.

Families at the Border
Three years, seven months and four days after being separated by ICE, Sandra Ortíz and her son Bryan Chávez were reunited at the San Ysidro border crossing on Tuesday, as part of a group of four families who are the first to be reunited under the Biden administration, reports the Los Angeles Times. “I was seeing her with my own eyes, but I couldn’t believe she was there in front of me,” Chávez said. More than 1,000 families separated are expected to be reunited.

Many other families remain separated due to different immigration policies. Thousands of migrants whose Remain in Mexico asylum cases were rejected by the Trump administration are still in Mexico, reports the Los Angeles Times. Some parents sent their children across the border into the U.S. to claim asylum as unaccompanied children. While the Biden administration has allowed migrants with active Remain in Mexico cases to enter, there are no current plans to allow in those whose cases were rejected.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is allowing an increasing number of migrant families seeking asylum to enter the country at border crossings, reports The Wall Street Journal. Though there are no formal procedures for selecting the families that are being accepted, many are among the most vulnerable migrants waiting in Mexico, including pregnant women, LGBTQ people and those with medical emergencies.

Migrant Children
The number of migrant children held by CBP dropped more than 80% in the past month, down from 5,767 to 790, DHS Secretary Mayorkas reported Friday. The length of time children are kept has gone down from 133 hours a month ago to an average of 28 hours. Many of the children are still in government custody as migrant children are being transferred from CBP detention facilities designed for adults to shelters managed by the Department of Health and Human Services. Also on Friday, Biden went on the Today Show to talk about his first 100 days, including his response to the crisis at the border. “Do not send your kids. Period,” said Biden.

Deadly Border Crossings
Smuggling incidents on the coast near San Diego jumped 92% in 2020 with 309 incidents, and CBP has increased its water presence in response, according to Border Report. In 2021, there have been 157 smuggling incidents reported so far. Among them an overcrowded boat carrying 32 migrants that capsized Sunday, killed three people, and sent 27 to the hospital, reports AP. More people may have died, but a naval aircrewman hiking with his family dove in and supported the rescue effort, reports the Los Angeles Times.

A report by the University of Arizona’s Binational Migration Institute (BMI) found that although Southwest border apprehensions have decreased overall since 1990, the number of remains of border crossers found has increased, reports Newsweek. According to BMI Director Daniel Martínez, the deaths are related to increased militarization at the border over the last several decades, which pushes migrants to more remote and dangerous parts of the desert.

Border Surveillance
In an effort to combat drones that criminal organizations and migrant smugglers use to navigate the border, CBP put out a request to private companies in February looking into anti-drone technology, reports The Intercept. In January the Congressional Research Service reported that the Defense Department plans on spending $487 million on research, development and procurement of anti-drone technology this fiscal year.

A federal contract shows CBP purchased several “vehicle forensic kits,” which are capable of extracting personal information stored inside cars, many of it synced from smartphones, from a Swedish data extraction firm, reports The Intercept.

Halt: Border Wall
On Friday, the Biden administration canceled border wall construction projects funded by the Trump administration with funds diverted from the Defense Department, reports The Washington Post. An estimate last fall found that the government would save about $2.6 billion in leftover funds from the total $10 billion that the Trump administration diverted for wall construction if Biden chose to discontinue the border wall projects.

DHS announced it would use separate funds previously appropriated by Congress for wall construction to address environmental problems at the wall, including repairing flood levees in the lower Rio Grande Valley. DHS described the remediation projects as “initial steps to protect border communities from physical dangers resulting from the previous administration’s approach to border wall construction,” reports KVEO.

Asylum Seekers and Refugees
“It has been more than two years since the small, wiry farmer made the difficult decision to leave all he ever knew and had, including his wife, children, land, cattle and chickens,” Alfredo Corchado writes in the Dallas Morning News. The intimate feature came after “Carlos Joaquin agreed to check in regularly with The Dallas Morning News in an effort to document his experiences as an asylum-seeker and help readers gain a better understanding of the life of an immigrant navigating a country full of opportunities and myriad contradictions.”

A Vietnamese refugee whose family came to the U.S. in 1996, Tien Pham has spent most of his time here locked up after being sentenced to 28 years in prison for attempted murder at the age of 17, reports The Guardian. This year, he was one of the approximately 6,000 immigrants deported by the Biden administration in February and March. Pham tells The Guardian: “I always felt that America is my home. My family, my loved ones, my friends, they are all there.”

Refugee Caps
On Monday, Biden announced he would allow as many as 62,500 refugees into the U.S. over the next six months, but acknowledged that the U.S. is unlikely to resettle the full number, reports The New York Times. The announcement came two weeks after Biden said he would leave the refugee cap at Trump’s historically low 15,000. Biden said, “We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years. It will take some time, but that work is already underway.”

COVID Travel Bans
On Friday, Biden imposed travel restrictions on India, barring most non-citizens from entering the U.S., in response to a COVID-19 surge in the subcontinent, reports Reuters. The ‘travel ban’ took effect on May 4. India joins more than two dozen other countries on the ‘travel ban’ list, including South Africa, Brazil, the U.K., Ireland, and 26 other countries in the E.U. that allow travel across open borders, as well as China and Iran. Non-citizens who have been in any of the countries within the last 14 days are ineligible from traveling to the U.S., though there are exemptions for some, including permanent residents, family members, and students.

Anti-Asian Racism
In 2015, the Justice Department falsely accused a Chinese-American physicist, Xiaoxing Xi, of illegally sending sensitive technology to China, traumatizing him and his family long after the charges were dropped, writes his daughter, Joyce Xi, in USA Today. Xi traces the history of anti-Asian policies and racial profiling in the U.S. from the Chinese Exclusion Act to Japanese internment camps to the Justice Department’s “China Initiative” in 2018 and Trump’s racist Covid-19 moniker, the “China Virus.” “To meaningfully address anti-Asian violence, the U.S. government must end its own racist policies and account for past wrongdoing,” writes Xi.

Crowdsourced aid organizations in New York City such as Welcome to Chinatown and Heart of Dinner are providing support for the Asian Americans struggling through the pandemic, with a focus on businesses that didn’t qualify for loans, and elderly people who were disproportionately affected, reports Documented.

U.S. Census
Last week, the Census Bureau released the 2020 state population counts, in which the counting of undocumented immigrants was a contentious issue under the Trump administration. Here are some key takeaways related to immigrants:

Immigration Courts
A group of House Democrats led by Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA) asked the Appropriations Committee to assign $75 million in funding for legal representation for immigrants facing removal proceedings and expand a pilot program for certain groups of immigrants, reports The Hill. Because immigration proceedings are not criminal proceedings, immigrants typically do not get government-funded legal representation in immigration court. Those with counsel are four times more likely to be released from detention, according to the American Immigration Council.

Meanwhile, San Diego will be the first county on the Southwest border to provide legal representation to detainees. San Diego County approved a $5 million pilot program to provide free legal representation for immigrants detained at Otay Mesa Detention Center, reports The San Diego Union-Tribune.


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. You can find him on Twitter @pacvarez

*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



A weekly informed and concise guide to immigration news.

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Daniela Gerson

Daniela Gerson

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