Migratory Notes 215

Heartland Immigration Boom; Maine’s Bantu farmers; Texas disaster?

Daniela Gerson
Jun 3 · 16 min read
Jabril Abdi, a Somali Bantu refugee farmer in Maine, is an owner of the state’s first immigrant-owned farming cooperative, reports the Bangor Daily News. Photo credit: New Roots Cooperative Farm

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Must Reads
The lone Central American immigrant in Congress is wary of the Biden administration’s efforts to support the region, reports the Los Angeles Times. The fascinating portrait of California’s Norma Torres (D-Pomona) chronicles her story from fleeing Guatemala as a child to her current powerful and often provocative position on the subcommittee that decides how foreign aid flows. “We must stand strong against #NarcoGov and Dictators in the #NorthernTriangle, otherwise as they say ‘Meet the new boss same as the old boss,’” she wrote on Twitter. Not surprisingly her tweets sparked criticism, particularly from Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele. The two “have exchanged an angry torrent of tweets — as fierce as it is unusual for a foreign leader to tangle with a member of Congress,” write Tracy Wilkinson and Sarah D. Wire.

More than 228,000 Guatemalans have been deported since 2015. While for many, “sent home with the stigma of failure and staggering debts that can’t be paid in a country where the minimum wage is about $11 per day” the dream had failed. Others keep trying. Sonia Pérez D. reports for the AP an in depth feature on what keeps Guatemalans attempting to immigrate to the U.S. “Smugglers in recent years have promised would-be migrants three tries at successfully crossing the U.S. border — an acknowledgment that it’s a large investment that doesn’t always pan out,” she writes.

Changes to Asylum
In an attempt to streamline the asylum process, the Biden administration intends to change how migrants apply for asylum at the border, shifting the initial decision-making power from an immigration judge to a USCIS asylum officer, reports BuzzFeed News, which received a copy of the plan. “Depending on how it is implemented, the plan could represent President Joe Biden’s most consequential immigration policy to date and fundamentally change the dynamics at the southern border by preventing asylum cases from taking years to complete in court,” Hamed Aleaziz writes. ProPublica reporter Dara Lind notes it could be 1) struck down in court or 2) create serious implementation problems.

In a separate, internal effort to speed up asylum cases for immigrant families picked up at the border, the Biden administration launched Friday a “dedicated docket plan” in 10 cities nationwide, reports BuzzFeed News. Courts will be expected to make a decision on asylum cases within 300 days of the initial hearing. But some advocates are saying the “rocket docket” approach causes more harm than good, comparing it to similar programs run by the Obama and Trump administrations, reports El Paso Matters. An analysis by TRAC of “rocket docket” cases during the Obama administration between 2014 and 2016 found that 70 percent of families did not have legal representation.

Texas Disaster Declaration
For the third consecutive month, according to preliminary data, border apprehensions in May remained the highest monthly level in two decades, reports Reuters. On Tuesday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster for 34 counties along Texas’ border with Mexico, citing what he called the “ongoing surge” of illegal immigration, reports KXAN. The order authorizes state and local law enforcement to protect Texans from property damage, trespassing, smuggling and human trafficking, and directs the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to work with border counties to increase detention capacity.

The Abbott disaster declaration also ordered state child-care regulators to take away licenses from facilities housing unaccompanied migrant children, reports the Dallas Morning News. Denying the Biden administration access to these shelters could force the administration to house migrant children at CBP stations. Under the order, 52 facilities with contracts with the Office of Refugee Resettlement would lose their licenses in three months. HHS says it does “not intend to close any facilities as a result of the order.”

Remain in Mexico & Title 42
The Biden administration formally ended on Tuesday the controversial Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy, a program that forced tens of thousands of Central American asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their U.S. court dates, reports Reuters. The administration had paused the program shortly after Biden took office, and a February 2nd executive order called for agencies to review the program and determine whether to terminate it. According to DHS officials, since Biden’s inauguration, over 11,000 migrants enrolled in the program have been allowed to enter the U.S. to pursue asylum claims.

Meanwhile, the ongoing Title 42, a Trump-era policy that has “closed” the border under the auspices of Covid-19 and public health, is supposed to prevent asylum seekers from crossing the border by expelling them back to Mexico. However, Mexican authorities have been limiting how many migrants they will take back per day, making it so crossing the border has become a “lottery” for migrants, where timing determines why some are accepted in the U.S. and some aren’t, reports NBC News.

Others are taking increasingly dangerous tactics to cross the border illegally. Maria Eugenia Chavez Segovia, one of three Mexican killed when an overloaded boat crashed, was expelled from the border twice before she attempted to enter the U.S. by sea, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune. Wendy Fry and David Hernandez explore Chavez Segovia’s life in Central Mexico to her tragic end near the shore to her funeral in her hometown, where dozens of family members gathered to honor her memory.

Anxiety and depression is rampant among asylum seekers at the U.S. border in Mexico, but getting those suffering with mental health problems to accept counseling is often challenging, reports U.S. News & World Report. “Helping migrants with their mental health presents its own challenges, since many migrants are resistant, in part because of a deeply ingrained societal stigma and general distrust,” Anna-Cat Brigida writes in a feature on NGO efforts such as group therapy that continues even after borders are crossed.

Biden Administration
A new DHS document maps the Biden administration’s plans to expand legal immigration and reverse the damage to the immigration system wrought by Trump, reports The New York Times. Among the desired shifts:

  • Expand virtual interviews and electronic filings to address backlogs
  • Increase opportunities for LGBTQ+ refugees fleeing persecution
  • Revamp the U-Visa program that provides a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who cooperate with law enforcement

Immigration advocates are pushing to bring back immigrants who they say were unfairly deported, reports AP. One proposal, spearheaded by the National Immigrant Justice Center, urges Biden to use executive action to create a centralized DHS office to consider requests from deported immigrants to return to the U.S. to reunite with their families. Previously, a Biden-proposed bill to allow a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants included provisions that would allow some deported immigrants to return to the U.S., but the administration has not spoken publicly about the possibility of regularly considering requests.

Immigration is an International Issue
Panama has been hit with a five-fold jump in migration toward the United States, as global borders begin to open up and countries are feeling the impact of COVID. “The nation’s migration authority recorded 5,818 undocumented foreigners crossing into Panama from Colombia in April, up 477% from January. The biggest source countries are Haiti and Cuba, but many also travel from as far away as Bangladesh and Uzbekistan, trying to eventually reach the U.S.,” Michael D. McDonald writes in Bloomberg.

In his first official visit to Latin America, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the Costa Rican president and other Central American officials, reports the LA Times. Meanwhile, Vice President Kamala Harris is taking her first trip to Guatemala and Mexico next week, reports Reuters. According to her senior adviser, Harris plans on focusing on three areas: “economic development, climate and food insecurity and women and young people.”

On Friday, the Biden administration submitted a budget request to Congress of $52 billion for DHS for fiscal year 2022, reports The Washington Post. While the budget request is only one-tenth of a percentage less than Trump’s budget request last year, changes in spending reflect Biden’s shift in immigration policy:

  • Elimination of border-wall funding
  • Increase in spending on the care for unaccompanied minors
  • A dramatic increase in staff at the border to help process asylum claims
  • A $30 million fund to assist migrant families separated under Trump
  • A two-fold increase in resources to help process up to 125,000 refugees next year

Covid-19 infections in ICE detention facilities have gone up to almost 1,500 this week compared to 60 inside the Bureau of Prisons, reports The Washington Post. Federal officials say the uptick in infections is due to the increase in Covid infected migrants crossing the border, but advocates say that ICE has failed to create a robust vaccination program similar to the program that helped the BOP drive down infection rates.

The Illinois General Assembly passed a sweeping reform bill that would prohibit cities and counties from entering into contracts with ICE to detain immigrants at county jails, reports Injustice Watch. Illinois would join two other states, California and Washington, in banning counties from contracting with ICE. If signed by the governor, the state would be rid of all existing detention centers by January 1, 2022 because it already restricts private detention centers.

Since Biden’s inauguration, ICE has signed new contracts with private prison firms worth more than $260 million, some of which contain language condoning $1-a-day wages for detainee labor, reports The American Prospect.

Immigration Courts & FOIA
Average wait times for Freedom of Information Act requests to DHS, USCIS and ICE have been cut by a third since December 2020, when a federal judge ruled the agencies must adhere to the 20-day FOIA deadline and clear backlogs, reports Borderless Magazine. Immigrants and citizens requesting their Alien Files can now expect their FOIA requests to be completed in an average of 21 days when before they might have had to wait months. Still, advocates and attorneys worry the expedited processing times for A-Files were only possible because USCIS received help from 136 FOIA personnel from within DHS, and say systemic change is needed to solve access issues.

On Monday, the Illinois General Assembly passed a bill that would allow the Cook County public defender’s office to represent immigrants facing deportation in immigration court, reports Injustice Watch. Last year, the public defender’s office created an immigration unit, but needed the state’s authorization to represent immigrants in immigration court. The county has enough funding for two immigration attorneys. Recent studies of immigration court data from Chicago and New York show that immigrants with representation are five to 10 times more likely to avoid deportation.

Heartland Immigration Boom
Des Moines, Louisville, Indianapolis and Columbus are among the fastest-growing immigrant communities in the country, according to a new report from Heartland Forward. While most of these communities still have relatively small numbers of migrants, they have grown more rapidly than traditional landing cities due to a combination of refugee resettlement and low and high wage employment opportunities, reports the Des Moines Register.


Jobs, Fellowships & Awards

Director of Development and Audience Growth, Borderless Magazine

Producer/Reporter — Race & Culture, ABC News — ABC News Washington is looking for a Producer/Reporter to join the Race and Culture team “to develop coverage with a deeper reporting at the intersection of race, politics, and culture, with a specific focus on immigration.”

Radicle Anthology Call for Submission — A new multi-media anthology for and by undocumented im/migrant voices is accepting submissions until July 16, 2021.

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

*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

*Anna-Cat Brigida is a contributing editor 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 the Arizona Republic. 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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