Migratory Notes 77

Trying to pass the buck on reunification, fathers on hunger strike, limiting the path to citizenship

At the Casa Migrante shelter in Tijuana a Salvadoran man talks to his wife on the phone. The shelter has become a lifeline for deportees from the United States. The photo is part of an exhibit hosted by Colectivo Liminal making its way around the country to support local migrant organizations. Credit: Yael Martínez

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Frontline takes a deep dive into the family separation crisis in their latest film, which also explores how Obama dealt with child migrants. The film depicts how immigrant parents are asking nuns at a shelter, “What’s happening to the children?” and how parents deported without their children are in mourning. One man in El Salvador says he would like to ask his 6-year-old daughter, who is being held in Arizona, for forgiveness. “When my daughter asks me, ‘Daddy, why did you go back and leave me to suffer over here?’ I won’t know how to answer that.”

A White House proposal in the works would make it more difficult for immigrants to get a green card or citizenship if they’ve ever used certain public welfare programsor Obamacare, reports NBC News. As the proposal stands, it wouldn’t need Congressional approval and advocates estimate it could impact up to 20 million legal immigrants. Critics say this new effort proves the administration’s policies are about race rather than the law.

The White House is considering a plan that would only allow 25,000 refugees to be resettled in the U.S. each year, an even lower cap than the historic low the administration already set, reports The New York Times. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may be one of the last holdouts keeping the Trump administration from cutting back much of the refugee program. Stephen Miller is widely held as the architect behind the efforts to make citizenship more difficult to obtain and minimize refugee resettlement.

A federal judge in Washington D.C. ruled last week that the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA was “arbitrary and capricious,” and the program must now be fully restored. In his opinion, Judge John D. Bates said that the court wasn’t entirely against rescinding DACA. Instead, “the Court simply holds that if DHS wishes to rescind the program — or to take any other action, for that matter — it must give a rational explanation for its decision,” he wrote. But another federal judge in Texas is expected to pass a ruling shutting down DACA sometime soon, putting the federal government between two contradictory federal orders.

DACA recipients are facing other challenges. In Arizona, a court ruling barring DACA recipients from paying in-state tuition means some Dreamers will be paying triple earlier tuition rates when they go back to school this fall, reports the Arizona Republic. And DACA recipients say some businesses are refusing to hire them even though they have valid work permits. The courts are backing their effort to fight discrimination on the job, reports Vox.

Family Separation
A federal judge rejected the government’s suggestion that the ACLU take responsibility for reuniting migrant children with their families, saying instead that the administration was “100 percent responsible” but could accept help from NGOs and law firms. “The reality is that for every parent who is not located, there will be a permanently orphaned child,” said U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw. “The government has the sole burden and responsibility and obligation to make (reunifications) happen.”

Texas lawmakers are holding hearings on state regulation of immigration detention centers after the death of a toddler upon leaving detention as well as ongoing abuse allegations at children’s detention facilities in Arizona, reports The Dallas Morning News.

A youth worker at a Southwest Key shelter in Mesa, Arizona has been charged with sexually molesting eight unaccompanied immigrant boys over a nearly year-long period, the latest in a string of abuse allegations inside immigrant youth shelters, reports ProPublica. The Casa Kokopelli shelter where the abuse occurred was cited in 2017 for its failure to perform adequate background checks on staff.

A group of 500 detained fathers are allegedly on a hunger strike to push action on their cases. NPR reports the men, who have been reunited with their children, are in a for-profit detention center in Texas. In audio obtained by the immigration advocacy group RAICES, one parent says: “We are asking the government to free us. We are not criminals.” Immigration authorities, meanwhile, told the press that the fathers had only staged a brief sit-in.

Some migrants convicted of misdemeanors were kept in detention nearly a week after they were ordered released, reports the Voice of San Diego. Attorneys in San Diego filing for emergency release of one detainee called the practice “illegal detention.”

A secretive police unit in South Carolina has received $5 million in public money since 2012 to arrest drug kingpins and human traffickers. Instead, the state Immigration Enforcement Unit has mainly picked up landscapers and restaurant workers, reports The Post and Courier.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent an assistant chief immigration judge to preside over a hearing for one particular immigrant in place of the regular judge, who had been overseeing the case for years. The fill-in judge ordered the man, who has not shown up for any hearings, deported. Lawyers, retired judges and the union representing immigration judges are concerned the case points to Sessions’ close control over immigration courts, and the impacts of his recent rules dictating how and when judges can close cases, reports CNN.

Migrants in front of immigration judges at a Tacoma court could face harsher penalties than most. The judges overseeing the Northwest Detention Center give out among the highest bonds in the country, while granting asylum significantly less often than the national average. The Seattle Times reports on how the somewhat arbitrary disparity plays out on the ground.

A group of immigrants taking GEO Group to court for employing them at a rate of $1 a day to clean and cook in its centers while detained won a small victory this week. They were certified as a class by a federal judge, meaning they can now negotiate together, reports Shadowproof.

A woman whose son was killed in Mexico in 2012 by a border agent who shot across the border can sue the agent for damages, a court ruled this week, reports Politico. The agent was found not guilty by a court this year, but will face a retrial in October.

The immigration law community is mourning the death of Amy Meselson, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society in New York, reports The New York Times. Meselson, 46, worked with unaccompanied migrant children, with a special focus on helping immigrant families navigate the gaps between the child welfare systems and immigration enforcement.

Racial slurs, swastikas scrawled on bathroom walls and kids told to ‘Go Back to Mexico.’ Those are among the hundreds of reports of hate and bias in schools across the country revealed in an investigation by Education Week. The report is part of an investigation with ProPublica called Documenting Hate.

Matthew Albence compared immigration detention for kids to a “summer camp” last week. Now the second in command at ICE, his speedy rise through the ranks of the agency shows an increasingly hard line on immigration inside the agency, reports Buzzfeed. “The joke was, ‘Matt never met an undocumented immigrant that he wouldn’t deport,’” said one anonymous ICE official.

When Trump ‘took the handcuffs’ off ICE, he removed the restraints on a sprawling national infrastructure that increased arrests of immigrants by 42 percent in the first eight months of his presidency. The Atlantic reports how the president radicalized ICE, and its effect on one community of Mauritanian immigrants in Columbus, Ohio.

After weeks-long waiting lines at the border in Nogales, asylum seekers are suddenly being processed with little delay, reports the Arizona Republic. CBP attributed the slow waiting times to staff shortages and little space to hold migrants, but said the agency made no changes to the way people are being processed at the entry point, and advocates are stumped. Some reports say that people are being rejected at the border with only a cursory review of their requests for asylum, writes The New York Times.

An unlikely friendship between two neighbors in McAllen, Texas — one a border patrol agent and the other an immigration attorney — shows the complicated nature of friendships on the border. “Him being an immigration attorney and me being a border patrol agent is such a small part of us living next to each other that it’s never even been a thought to me,” the agent told NPR.

The Wall
Trump’s border wall could go billions of dollars over budget because the administration didn’t account for land ownership issues, difficult terrain or actual need for the border fence, according to a Government Accountability Office report, writes The New York Times.

Travel Ban
Some Americans are moving to war-torn countries to reunite with family members kept out of the U.S. by the travel ban, reports The Huffington Post. “It’s not an ideal place. It’s not where I imagined myself for my family,” said one woman moving to live with her husband in Yemen. “But now I’m forced to go back because God knows when this ban is going to end. It’s just wrong to deny my daughter her father.”

A work permit program that allowed spouses of H1-B visa holders to work is on the chopping block. Advocates say this program has become a lifeline for abused wives to occasionally escape emotional and physical abuse by leaving the house. The Trump administration now wants to end the permit offered to those who hold H-4 spouse visas, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

A team of Mexican immigrants has been fighting the fires raging across Northern California, reports the Los Angeles Times. They’re among the thousands of immigrants, many Latino, that are increasingly taking jobs as wildland firefighters.In the off season, many pick fruits in Washington, Oregon and California.

Immigration Water Cooler
Forbes put together a list of the 10 best films that use immigration to explore themes of humor and tragedy, including The Big Sick and District 9.

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*Daniela Gerson is an assistant professor at California State University, Northridge with a focus on community, ethnic, and participatory media. She is also a senior fellow at the Democracy Fund. Before that she was a community engagement editor at the LA Times; founding editor of a trilingual hyperlocal publication, Alhambra Source; staff immigration reporter for the New York Sun; and a contributor to outlets including WNYC: New York Public Radio, The World, Der Spiegel, Financial Times, CNN, and The New York Times. She recently wrote How can collaborations between ethnic and mainstream outlets serve communities in the digital age? for American Press Institute. You can find her on Twitter @dhgerson

*Elizabeth Aguilera is a multimedia reporter for CALmatters covering health and social services, including immigration. Previously she 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 before that she covered a variety of beats and issues for the Denver Post including urban affairs and immigration. Her latest story is What ice cream flavors can teach us about the changing California Dream. You can find her on Twitter @1eaguilera

*Yana Kunichoff is an independent journalist and documentary producer who covers immigration, policing, education and social movements. 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