Migratory Notes 216

Daniela Gerson
Migratory Notes
Published in
16 min readJun 10, 2021


“Do not come” and a Dem divide on immigration; “Chinatown Pretty”; tasering an asylum seeking kid

“After a while, clothes became a gateway to learn more about their immigration stories,” Chinatown Pretty author Valerie Luu told NBC Asian America about the book and Instagram account that features portraits of seniors who live in six North American Chinatowns. Photos by Adria Lo

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A sheriff’s deputy tasered the 16-year-old asylum seeker after shelter officials in Bexar County, Tx., called for backup. While extreme, the law enforcement response is not unique. In the last six years, shelters run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement have released at least 84 children, as young as 11, to local law enforcement to manage behavior such as fights, damage to property, and mental health problems, reports Reveal News. “We’ve talked a lot in this country about over-policing in different situations, and this is clearly an example of over-policing with respect to asylum-seeking youth,” U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro told Reveal. The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement following the story’s publication that the deputy was placed on leave pending an investigation.

The Perla family tried to follow the rules, and now they regret it. “We wanted everything to be done legally. We didn’t want to break any laws,” Juan Carlos Perla, who spent the past two years with his family waiting on his pending U.S. asylum case in Mexico, told Mother Jones. “If I had known back then what I know now, we wouldn’t have waited to present ourselves at the port of entry. We would’ve just tried to cross illegally.” In a multimedia project featuring audio and illustrations, Fernanda Echavarri follows the 130-week journey of the Perla family from Honduras to the U.S. as they hop from shelter to shelter, are harassed, and wait with tens of thousands of other families stuck in the Remain in Mexico limbo.

Kamala Harris in Latin America
Vice President Kamala Harris’s warning to migrants on her first trip to Guatemala — “do not come” to the U.S. and that they “will be turned back” if they try to cross the border illegally — sparked backlash from immigration advocates. Among the most outspoken was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who called Harris’ statement disappointing, saying “seeking asylum at any US border is a 100% legal method of arrival.” The public discord points to a growing rift in the Democratic party over immigration, reports The Hill.

During her trip to Guatemala and Mexico, Harris announced several initiatives to tackle the “root causes” of migration, such as U.S. investments in agriculture, entrepreneurship and housing. Other initiatives include:

As the Biden administration promises to increase aid to Central America, it must reckon with the fact that U.S. aid programs designed to reduce poverty and stem migration have largely failed over the past decade, reports The New York Times. For example, in Guatemala, despite the $1.6 billion the country has received in the last 10 years, poverty rates have increased and more unaccompanied Guatemalan kids have entered the U.S. than from anywhere else in the world. Experts say one of the reasons aid programs have failed to help Central Americans is because development programs are often handed to American contractors who sometimes invest up to 50% of aid money in overhead costs, including salaries for executives.

Asylum Seekers
The Biden administration has asked six humanitarian groups to recommend migrants who should be allowed in the U.S. to seek asylum, aiming to allow up to 250 migrants a day until July 31, reports AP. The consortium of groups, which contains organizations based in the U.S, Mexico and London, has selected almost 800 migrants for admittance since May 3, and some organizations are saying there’s more demand than they can meet. Critics allege the new system lacks transparency about how the six groups were chosen, and are concerned because they say there are “no assurances that the most vulnerable or deserving migrants will be chosen to seek asylum.” The new system is separate from an ACLU-led effort begun in March that allows 35 families a day to enter the U.S.

DNA and Data Collection at the Border
CBP has recently deployed a new app that uses facial recognition, geolocation and cloud technology to process asylum seekers before they enter the United States, reports LA Times. Called CBP One, the app allows organizations to submit biographical and biometric data directly to CBP. Some advocates are optimistic that the app will create a more efficient border and that pre-vetting asylum seekers will make them less likely to use smugglers, while critics are worried that facial recognition poses privacy and surveillance risks.

Some vulnerable asylum seekers are having their DNA collected by border officials and sent to the FBI, reports BuzzFeed News. “US immigration authorities said they are required to do this and that it has been a widespread practice since the end of last year, but advocates said they have only recently started hearing about DNA collection at the border and take issue with the fact that it’s being collected from some of the most vulnerable asylum-seekers,” Adolfo Flores writes.

Border Crossings
With four months left in fiscal year 2021, nearly 900,000 migrants have been apprehended by CBP between October 1 and May 31, the largest number of apprehensions since fiscal year 2006, reports Axios. According to preliminary numbers, there were over 170,000 apprehensions in May, continuing the 20-year records set in March and April. While most migrants are from Mexico and Central America, officials are continuing to see an increase in migrants from farther countries, including Haiti, Cuba, Ecuador and Brazil.

Meanwhile, officials and advocates are worried about a “brutal summer” as the increase in migrants crossing the border through remote and dangerous areas has the potential to create a spike in migrant deaths, reports The Washington Post. CBP is on track to make over 10,000 rescues in fiscal year 2021, twice the number of rescues in 2019 and 2020.

Texas Emergency?
Texas border towns are feeling the impact of increased numbers of migrants, reports KXAN. Around 250 human stash houses have been uncovered in the Rio Grande Valley, including 60 groups of 100 or more people.

On Monday, the Biden administration threatened to sue Texas if Gov. Greg Abbott forces shelters in the state to stop housing migrant children in federal custody, reports CBS News. Texas officials told 52 state licensed shelters that house about 4,200 unaccompanied children to stop operations by August 30 following Abbott’s disaster declaration last week. A top HHS lawyer responded that the act violates the U.S. Constitution, which grants federal law supremacy over state law, and gave Texas until Friday to decide whether the directive would apply to shelters operated by HHS and the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Family Reunification
The Biden administration is planning on reuniting an additional 29 families separated at the border under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy in the coming weeks, reports CNN. According to a new report by the Family Reunification Task Force, 3,913 children were separated from their families between July 2017 and January 2021 — nearly half have already been reunited with their families, and there are no confirmed records of reunification for another 2,127 of the children. Only seven children have been reunited with their families since the task force was launched in February, reports Reuters.

The Biden administration has given broader discretion to ICE prosecutors in deciding which deportation cases they choose to pursue or dismiss, after years of guidance by the Trump administration to pursue most deportations, reports BuzzFeed News. A memo sent out on May 27 instructs prosecutors to consider dismissing cases against immigrants in certain circumstances, including long-time green card holders, pregnant or elderly immigrants, immigrants with health conditions, or immigrants who were brought to the U.S. at a young age. Officials hope the memo will help cut the immigration court backlog, which is currently over 1 million cases.

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that immigrants with Temporary Protected Status cannot apply for permanent residency if they entered the country illegally, reports LA Times. While lower courts, including the 9th Circuit Court in California, were divided on whether TPS is considered a lawful admission, the high court ruled that only TPS recipients who entered the country legally could apply for a green card. In her opinion, Justice Elena Kagan said only Congress can change the law to allow all TPS recipients to apply for permanent residency. This is the third time in three weeks the court has reversed a decision on immigration law made by the 9th Circuit Court.

Anti-Asian Racism
As COVID cases fall and the United States reopens, some Asian-Americans are wary of returning to public spaces after the surge in pandemic-related hate crimes against Asians, reports The New York Times. A recent survey found that one-third of Asian-Americans are scared of becoming victims of a hate crime, and a federal survey found that only 18% of Asian-American fourth graders have returned to in-person learning compared to nearly 60% of their white classmates.

Thousands of winners of the 2021 Diversity Visa Program are suing the Biden administration over fears they will lose their chance to come to the U.S. due to processing delays, reports Euronews. Every year, 55,000 diversity visas are made available through a lottery to immigrants from countries with low immigration rates to the U.S. The visas have a time-limited application, and a recent State Department decision to make them the lowest-tier priority for application processing means some applicants will be unable to get their visas before the applications expire. Last year, some diversity visa winners were unable to enter the U.S. due to Trump policies.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed to expedite Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans who worked with the United States due to fears they may be targeted by the Taliban following U.S. troop withdrawal this fall, reports Bloomberg. Blinken also asked Congress to raise the 26,000 visa cap under the Special Immigrant Visa Program by 8,000, and suggested the U.S. might move thousands of Afghan applicants to another location, such as Guam, while their applications are being processed. Blinken’s statements come after a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to Biden urging him to evacuate the thousands of Afghans who helped the U.S. in the last twenty years, reports Politico.

Traffic-to-Deportation Pipeline
For immigrants, regardless of immigration status, traffic stops can result in deportation, reports Bloomberg CityLab. Some experts refer to the circumstance as the “traffic-stop-to-deportation pipeline.” About 8% of all people deported in 2019 had been convicted of a traffic-related offense, not counting convictions that may have begun with a traffic stop.

Immigration Journalism
A Honduran asylum seeker in the U.S. was reunited with her daughter after seeing an Associated Press photo of her, reports AP. Glenda Valdez, who traveled to the U.S. six years ago, didn’t know her daughter, Emely, had been sent to the U.S. by the girl’s father until she saw the photo while watching a Univision newscast one afternoon. After weeks of speaking with U.S. officials and refugee agencies, Valdez was finally reunited with her daughter on Tuesday.

Coffee and Immigration
A deported Colombian immigrant has started a coffee exporting company, Deportado Coffee, to start conversations about deportations, reports The World. Mauricio Zuñiga lived in the U.S. for four decades before being deported in 2018 for a banking fraud conviction from 1998. Since then Zuñiga and his family have been building a new coffee export business in Colombia that they hope brings more attention to the problems with an immigration system that separates people from their families. For each bag of coffee sold, Deportado donates $1 to the non-profit Families Belong Together.


Jobs, Fellowships & Awards

Director of Development and Audience Growth, Borderless Magazine

inewsource seeks border and immigration reporter

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



Daniela Gerson
Migratory Notes

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