Migratory Notes 82

Boredom and desperation in Chicago, gang accusations, indefinite detention for minors

In Guatemala a mom, aunt and dad nervously waited to reunite with their son. The boy was kept in the U.S. after he was separated from his father along the border. His father was deported and the 12-year-old spent 4 months in detention before being sent back home this week. Cindy Carcamo, of the Los Angeles Times, was there with the family. Credit: Cindy Carcamo

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At a shelter for unaccompanied minors in Chicago, a 16-year-old contemplated suicide and a 10-month-old baby was bitten repeatedly. Children toggled between boredom and desperation as months went by, reports ProPublica Illinois in an investigation (co-published with Mother Jones) based on thousands of confidential records. “The documents reveal the routines of life inside the shelters, days punctuated by tedium and fear as children wait and wait and wait to leave. They spend their days taking English lessons and learning about such peculiarities as American slang, St. Patrick’s Day, the NFL and the red carpet fashions at the Academy Awards,” write Melissa Sanchez, Duaa Eldeib and Jodi S. Cohen. “They complain about the food and mistreatment by staff. And they cry and write letters and hurt themselves in despair.”

A record high number of people, 68.5 million, are displaced worldwide as Trump has slammed the door on America’s refugee program. A Reuters investigation interviewed more than 20 current and former U.S. officials to show how refugee admittance was severely cut, particularly for people most in need. “The officials, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, say the administration has rejected internal findings that refugees could be admitted safely and with little expense,” write Yeganeh Torbati and Omar Mohammed, adding, “The administration has instituted opaque and complicated new security vetting procedures.”

Unaccompanied Minors
The number of detained migrant children has shot up to the highest levels ever, reaching a total of 12,800 this month and more than fivefold since last summer, according to data obtained by The New York Times.

Family Separation
More than 400 immigrant kids remain separated from their parents.

Some are still detained because their parents were accused of being members of MS-13 or other gangs, despite many saying they were fleeing those same groups, reports The Washington Post. “It’s very much a theme of this administration that all Central Americans carry the threat of gang violence,” said one attorney.

Families made up of grandparents, siblings or aunts and uncles who were separated at the border could be kept apart for good, reports The Orange County Register. Advocates are arguing that extended family should fall under Judge Sabraw’s reunification order.

One father who was deported to Guatemala without his 8-year-old son, who remains in custody, is planning to return to the U.S. and turn himself in at the border, reports The Texas Tribune. It’s a long-shot legal strategy devised by a high-profile legal team.

A migrant family separated for 51 days is starting a new life in Oregon, but returning to normalcy after a summer of trauma and uncertainty is proving complicated, reports The New York Times. “It was the first day of school, and the fifth-grade teacher invited her students, seated in a circle on the floor, to swap summer stories,” writes Miriam Jordan. “The 11-year-old Guatemalan boy with ink-black eyes and a coy smile had spent most of his summer in a foster home in New York with his 7-year-old sister, Mayda, after immigration authorities arrested their mother near the Mexican border.”

For a mother and son separated at the border, the trauma of separation only became fully clear after the pair were reunited, writes The Atlantic. One minute the 6-year-old boy was calm, the next he was screaming. “Just take me back to jail,” he cried in one instance. “You’re not my mom anymore.” In another, he feared starting school because it reminded him of the separation.

In a short documentary, Al Jazeera’s Fault Lines travels to the border and Central America to investigate the family separation crisis, tracking down two fathers in Honduras who were deported without their children and claim to have been denied the opportunity to apply for asylum.

AG Jeff Sessions told the largest-ever class of new immigration judges that he will try to increase the number of immigration judges by 50 percent by the end of the year and called the zero tolerance policies on the border “perfectly legitimate, moral and decent.” He also instructed them to be careful of fake claims from undocumented immigrants, to work against defense attorneys, and to decide cases quickly.

Nearly $10 million was transferred from FEMA to DHS for immigration enforcement operations earlier this year, according to documents provided by Sen. Jeff Merkley from Oregon, reports MSNBC.

The Trump administration is taking another step toward dismantling the Flores settlement that limits how long migrant children can be detained. DHS and the Department of Human Services announced a new rule that will allow children to be held indefinitely if they are with a parent. The rule lets children stay in detention with their mothers while their asylum cases play out in court. It will go into effect in 60 days.

A government shelter for unaccompanied minors at a Texas port of entry that was meant to be temporary will add up to 3,800 beds and will stay open through the end of the year, reports the El Paso Times. Officials say it is to accommodate unaccompanied minors, not kids separated from their parents.

Refugees & Asylum Seekers
The number of undocumented Central American families crossing the border spiked again in August, reports The Washington Post. Many of these families are turning themselves in and asking for asylum, say agents.

The rate at which national resettlement agencies are closing their doors is being called a systemic dismantling by advocates, and it’s putting the future of the entire program into question. The Atlantic reports resettlement agencies are looking into a bleak future.

A deaf immigrant in Detroit who lives in an adult care facility is facing deportation to Nigeria, where advocates say he would be facing “a virtual death sentence,” reports the Detroit Free Press.

Citizenship and Green Cards
A policy change that kicked in this week will allow authorities to deny visas and green cards for small application errors, without giving people the chance to correct them, reports ProPublica. Under Obama, it was mandatory to send notices to applicants giving them a chance to correct errors. It’s yet another brick in the “invisible wall” against legal immigration, say advocates.

Election Data
Officials with ICE, the DOJ and DHS have subpoenaed eight years of voter data from North Carolina, including voting ballots and provisional voting forms, reports WRAL.com and The News and Observer. The request covers 15 million documents, and the agencies want it by the end of the month. Some observers say the requests may have to do with to a grand jury investigation in which 19 non-citizens were charged with voting in the 2016 election.

It takes tens of thousands of agents, officers and attorneys to carry out the aggressive enforcement of the Trump era, and some of the USCIS employees who do the work are finding their complicity intolerable. Topic interviews current and former USCIS staff about what it’s like to do their job. “We are the ones who opened the doors,” said one former USCIS officer. “Under Trump, it was like the job became to try to close the door.”

Stephen Miller’s childhood rabbi took the occasion of the Jewish high holidays to deliver a sermon criticizing his former congregant, reports The Guardian. “Honestly, Mr. Miller, you’ve set back the Jewish contribution to making the world spiritually whole through your arbitrary division of these desperate people,” the rabbi said.

Racial Tension
A high school football game in Orange County became a microcosm for the tensions gripping the country when students from a majority white school used signs encouraging the border wall and in favor of Trump to intimidate a team from a heavily Latino school, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Immigration Journalism
Spanish-language radio station La Campesina plays a singular role as a media source for farm workers during a time of increasing hostility to Latinos in the U.S., reports Politico. The station, founded by Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, broadcasts to Western states with music, know-your-rights information and prize-winning drawings.


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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

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