Migratory Notes 217

Ghosts of family separation, dismantling Trump policies, legislation heats up

Daniela Gerson
Migratory Notes
Published in
15 min readJun 17, 2021


Jennifer Rocha wanted to hear the rustle of her black graduation gown against the bell pepper bushes in the California farm fields,” Vanessa Romo reports for NPR of the University of California, San Diego graduate who chose to take the photos where her parents labored, and where she often worked with them, in the Coachella Valley. Photo by Branden Rodriguez/Instagram @branden.shoots

Migratory Notes is hosting a Town Hall for Immigration Journalists on Covering Haitian Migration, presented with Internews
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#MustListen/ #MustRead
Cindy Carcamo, a veteran L.A. Times immigration reporter, has interviewed scores of immigrant families separated by U.S. policies. But she had never publicly shared her own separation story. For This American Life she bravely shifted the focus to the personal: interviewing her sister about the years when she was left behind in Guatemala, considering the wrenching decisions her parents had to make, and exploring their consequences and the trauma that passed to the next generation.

In the Rio Grande Valley, the Cartel del Golfo (CDG), one of the oldest organized crime syndicates in Mexico, runs most human smuggling, reports Rolling Stone. Seth Harp investigates the networks of coyotes connected to the CDG and lands an interview with El Comandante, a prolific coyote who claims to oversee human smuggling in the valley. “Everyone has their price,” says El Comandante. “Whether or not there’s a wall, we’re going to keep working.”

Victims fleeing domestic violence and some victims of gang violence once again have access to asylum, after Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday reversed two controversial Trump administration legal rulings. Garland’s decision comes as scores of people fleeing domestic violence are crossing the southern border in an attempt to find refuge in the U.S., reports The Washington Post.

Migrant Children
The Biden administration is allowing tens of thousands of Central Americans in the U.S. to petition for their children to join them legally through an Obama-era program that was previously shut down by Trump, reports CBS News. Through the Central American Minors program, parents from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who have permanent residency, Temporary Protected Status, other legal status and some with pending applications for status are able to petition for their children to join them in the U.S. legally. It’s intended to prevent children from making the perilous journey from Central America. The Biden administration began re-processing closed applications in March, and opened up the program to new applications on Tuesday, expanding eligibility to parents with pending applications for asylum and U-Visas.

Despite a slight increase in the overall number of border apprehensions, the number of children and teenagers crossing the border decreased in May, reports The New York Times. Over 65,000 children and teenagers have arrived at the border alone since the beginning of the year, and over 16,000 children remain in government custody.

Many of the 2,500 migrant children sheltered in Fort Bliss Army Base in El Paso, Texas are suffering from stress and mental health issues, as paramedics are regularly called to help children suffering from panic attacks, reports AP. Some children are kept for nearly two months at a time and volunteers are urged to keep scissors, pencils and toothbrushes away from children to prevent them from harming each other. Advocates are urging the Biden administration to close the shelter as soon as possible, pointing to other underutilized shelters, such as the newly opened Pomona Convention Center in California, that have better track records and have higher rates of releasing children to family members.

Border Wall
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced last Thursday the state would build its own wall along the southern border to stem migration, reports The Texas Tribune. Immigration advocates attacked the plan as “political theater” meant to set up a potential 2024 presidential run for Abbott, and state representatives expressed confusion as the border wall funding is not in the current state budget. On Wednesday, Abbott announced a $250 million “down payment” for the wall would come from Texas state funds, and that Texas will take private donations for construction through a new website. Florida’s governor said he will send law enforcement support to Texas and Arizona, calling it “a disaster and an emergency,” reports AP. And former President Trump will visit the existing Texas-Mexico border wall at the invitation of Abbott later this month, reports The Washington Post.

On Tuesday, the Government Accountability Office determined that Biden did not violate congressional spending rules by suspending construction on the border wall, reports CBS News. The decision comes amid Republican complaints that Biden is legally obligated to continue border wall construction. The Biden administration will also be returning over $2 billion in border wall funding that Trump had siphoned off from the Pentagon, reports CNN.

Title 42
Since Biden’s inauguration, almost 10,000 Mexican children have been expelled under the Trump-era Title 42 policy, which closed the border to most migrant crossings, despite Biden’s promise to stop turning away unaccompanied children at the border, reports The Dallas Morning News. While children from other countries have been allowed into the U.S., 95% of unaccompanied Mexican children encountered at the border have been turned away, according to a report by Amnesty International.

While the expulsion program continues, families are increasingly being allowed to enter the U.S., with 80% of families encountered at the border admitted in May, reports The Washington Post.

Tuesday marked the 9th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which temporarily grants work authorization and deportation protection for some undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, reports Mother Jones. More than 800,000 undocumented immigrants have benefited from the program over its lifespan, though it has been threatened by lawsuits and political changes since its inception. Yet, many DACA recipients remain frustrated with the program’s temporary nature. “We say that DACA is the floor, not the ceiling. Citizenship is the ultimate goal,” said Dylan Ruiz, whose DACA application is pending.

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who helped implement the program during the Obama administration, wrote an opinion piece for USA Today touting the benefits of the program and urging Congress to pass legislation that offers “Dreamers” permanent protection.

Immigration reform legislation, however, is far from secure. During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the House-passed American Dream and Promise Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, TPS recipients, and millions of other undocumented immigrants, Senate Republicans signaled they were gearing up for a fight on which groups of undocumented immigrants to include in potential immigration reform, reports Roll Call. While members from both parties agreed on legalizing “Dreamers,” Republicans expressed doubts on providing a pathway to citizenship to other undocumented immigrants, including TPS holders, and signaled that legislation must also include boosts to border security and immigration enforcement.

While legislation stalls, a federal judge in Texas who previously ruled against the Obama administration’s attempts to expand DACA is weighing whether the program is legal. Some analysts contend that if the program is struck down in court, Congress may be pushed to act on immigration reform.

A new DHS policy will expand work permits to immigrant victims of crimes with pending U-Visa applications, reports Reuters. Every year, 10,000 U-Visas are made available to victims of crimes who assist law enforcement, and successful petitioners receive work authorization and the ability to apply for permanent residency after three years. High demand has created a backlog of nearly 269,000 applications, with some applicants waiting five years before receiving work permits. The new rule will allow applicants who have filed the proper forms, including biometric data and their statement of “victimization,” to receive work permits before their cases have been fully reviewed, reports The Hill.

Coronavirus-related visa backlogs and travel bans have exacerbated labor shortages and negatively impacted U.S. companies that rely on foreign professionals and seasonal employees, reports The Wall Street Journal. Citizens from the 33 countries under a U.S. travel ban have been unable to get work visas even if they’re vaccinated, and backlogs for work visas have gotten worse as only 160 out of the 233 U.S. consulates that process work visas are accepting appointments. Many summer recreation employers, such as amusement parks or summer camps, that normally hire thousands of foreign workers to staff their locations during the summer have been forced to reduce their services or close altogether due to labor shortages caused by a lack of foreign workers.

After being notified of a potential tuberculosis exposure, six women in a privately-run ICE detention facility in Louisiana protested a lack of proper medical care and poor communication about their immigration cases by refusing to enter quarantine in the cells, reports The Intercept. The women say that staff responded by taking away phone and TV access, measures that staff at the same facility took last year against detained women who published videos of their Covid-19 fears. Neither ICE officials nor representatives from GEO group, which runs the facility, have commented on the incident. In Georgia, at a contentious immigration detention center, ICE has been monitoring activity of immigrant organizers and considering retaliatory measures, The Intercept reports.

Two important cases await decisions that will affect immigration detention in multiple states:

With a backlog of 1.3 million cases and rising, immigration judges around the country are saying they are overworked, understaffed, and under political pressure from the Justice Department, reports NBC News. Unlike other federal judges, the approximately 500 immigration judges in the U.S. are employees of the Justice Department and answer to the attorney general, meaning they are more susceptible to political pressure, which came in the form of more deportations under Trump. Though the judges have been represented by a union since 1979, a move to decertify their union by former Attorney General William Barr has some worried they will lose judicial independence.

Immigration scams
Advocates are warning that the expansion of TPS for 100,000 Haitian immigrants has been followed by an increase in immigration scams targeting TPS applicants, reports The Haitian Times. Scammers posing as attorneys or pastors are charging undocumented Haitian immigrants upwards of $5,000 to file TPS applications, despite the fact that the new application process for TPS hasn’t been opened yet. The Haitian Bridge Alliance has received over 100 reports of TPS scams since last month’s expansion.


Jobs, Fellowships & Awards

Director of Development and Audience Growth, Borderless Magazine

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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

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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.
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  • 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.

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*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