Migratory Notes 213

Immigration lawyers under surveillance; Global pandemic refugees; ICE ordered to stop detention at two county jails

Daniela Gerson
Migratory Notes
Published in
14 min readMay 20, 2021


After more than two years sequestered in a Virginia church, Maria Chavalan Sut, an asylum seeker from Guatemala, received a stay of removal in her deportation proceedings. “Her first wish: to see the river,” Jessie Higgins writes in Charlottesville Tomorrow. In Detroit, an Albanian man who sought refuge in a local church for over three years received a humanitarian visa, reports Detroit News. Photo credit: Mike Kropf/Charlottesville Tomorrow

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Two years ago NBC reporters in San Diego uncovered records of the U.S. government tracking journalists, lawyers and activists thought to be connected to the 2018 caravan. “New documents prove the operation went further — and raise questions about how many others were targeted,” Dara Lind writes in a ProPublica investigation. U.S. officials shared theories that “immigration lawyers were seeking to profit by moving migrants through Mexico, and that ‘Antifa’ may have been involved.”

In an immersive multimedia project, the Washington Post follows Central American migrants on a harrowing failed journey across the U.S.-Mexico border. The compelling mix of audio, video, and print transports the audience to a situation that is often reported on, but is challenging to grasp if you have not experienced it.

Pandemic Immigration Shifts
The patchwork of convoluted border policies is creating false hopes for migrants and confusing experts, ProPublica reports in a broad and detailed breakdown of current policies. Among recent shifts:

As Covid-19 cases dwindle in parts of the United States, new waves of global pandemic refugees are traveling long distances to the southwest border, reports The New York Times. According to CBP data, 30% of families encountered at the border are from countries other than Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, compared to only 7.5% during the last border surge in April 2019. In recent months, border officials have encountered migrants from more than 160 countries, many of which are bearing the brunt of the pandemic, including Ecuador, Brazil and India.

Meanwhile, thousands of immigrants who live in the U.S. on visas are stuck in India after the United States implemented a travel ban against the country amid record-high Covid-19 cases, reports The New York Times. The most recent travel ban has impacted a disproportionate number of Indian immigrants, who claim more than two-thirds of H-1B visas issued each year.

Migrant Children & Biden Administration
White House officials were “livid” after reports were released that some migrant children waited on parked buses overnight before being released to family or sponsors, reports NBC News. NBC News crews counted nine buses filled with children waiting in a Dallas parking lot last Tuesday night, and found several of the same buses Wednesday morning. One child’s family said he was stuck in a bus for four days.

As border apprehensions remain at high levels, the Biden administration is looking at different metrics to gauge its success on the immigration front, such as the transfer of more than 90% of children and teens from Border Patrol facilities to HHS run shelters, reports the Washington Post. “Apprehensions don’t tell the full story, and getting to zero is not a measure of success,” says Tyler Moran, one of Biden’s top immigration policy advisers.

HHS officials say they’ve placed more than 20,000 children with sponsors since Biden’s inauguration, reports CBS News. The discharge rate has increased from an average of 89 minors daily in late January, to an average of 608 minors daily last week. Still, more than 20,000 migrant children remain in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Immigration is an International Issue
Many migrants are fleeing Honduras because they aren’t receiving aid from the ruling party, which favors its own supporters, reports Reuters. The National Party, which controls the federal government and 58% of the nation’s mayor’s offices, runs a corrupt patronage system that provides aid and support for its supporters, breeding cynicism among those deprived of public benefits. Dozens of migrants told Reuters the system influenced them or their family to migrate.

Immigration Justice & Scammers
A San Francisco immigration judge quit after encountering a “soul-crushing bureaucracy” subject to the political whims of the Justice Department, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. His case exposes the pressures within a court system “subject to the changing winds of a political landscape.” William Hanrahan started the job 14 months ago hoping to “do some good,” but quickly clashed with a top-down management style, lack of discretion that leaves judges little choice but to deport people, and an uncomfortable closeness with the ICE prosecutor’s office.

Amidst rumors of new immigration laws under Biden, California lawmakers are considering a bill and an ordinance that would crack down on fraud committed against undocumented immigrants with two proposals that place limits on consultants, reports the Fresno Bee. Misrepresentation and corruption is not new or isolated. A woman in Fairfax County, Virginia, was arrested last week on charges of allegedly posing as an immigration attorney and collecting money for legal services she never provided, reports WJLA.

DHS announced plans to close detention facilities in Massachusetts and Georgia that were under federal investigation as part of an effort to improve the conditions in ICE facilities, reports The Washington Post. The Bristol County Sheriff’s Office in Massachusetts came under fire last year when staff used pepper balls and other harsh tactics against detainees who refused Covid testing. The Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia has been the center of a scandal involving the forced sterilizations of detained women, reports Prism. More changes to immigrant detention centers are expected to follow the decision as the Biden administration works to meet the demands of immigrant rights groups.

Legislators in New York will be introducing a bill that would prohibit county jails from entering directly into contracts with ICE or private-prisons to house immigrant detainees, reports The Nation. The Dignity Not Detention Act would also terminate existing detention contracts. The proposed legislation is part of a nation-wide effort to take on ICE and close detention centers, and mirrors legislative efforts in California and Maryland.

Teenagers are being held indefinitely at ICE-run juvenile jails for months at a time without an explanation, reports The Nation. Minors with criminal records are exempt from the 1997 Flores Agreement that sets limits for time in U.S. custody for immigrant children and teens. ICE says it detains minors in “rare circumstances” when they have been “deemed to pose a significant threat to public safety,” but advocates say some of the the detained teenagers were never convicted of a crime.

While vaccinations against Covid-19 have begun in some ICE facilities, there’s no national plan to ensure the detained population gets vaccinated, reports Roll Call. The ICE vaccination effort has remained slow in part because the agency has delegated responsibility to states, some of whom have not prioritized populations held in federal custody for the vaccine. According to ICE officials, about 20% of detainees have received at least one shot.

Art & Immigration
Across the country, artists are being inspired to create works of art that reflect the modern migrant experience:

Immigration Journalism
A CNN article about the “new tactics” migrants are using to evade CBP officials was criticized by journalists such as Liliana Soto and Ryan Devereaux for lacking accuracy and on-the-ground knowledge. “These ‘exclusive’ stories really make me cringe,” Liliana Soto writes on Twitter.


Jobs, Fellowships & Awards

Jobs, Fellowships & Awards

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



Daniela Gerson
Migratory Notes

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