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Migration News Brief 3.20.20

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A compilation of recent top articles and reports related to issues of U.S. immigration and enforcement policy and migration from Central America and Mexico (articles in English and Spanish). Please feel free to send us recommendations or requests for upcoming news briefs: lalvarez@lawg.org.


LAWG: Trump Administration’s Plan to Close Border Due to the Coronavirus Is Not the Answer: Now is the Time for Unity, Not Fear
Latin America Working Group, March 19, 2020
“‘Closing the border to vulnerable women, men and children seeking protection at our borders is not the solution. It is shameful that the administration is using a global pandemic to pursue its anti-immigrant agenda. It has already eviscerated the asylum system by forcing over 60,000 asylum seekers to wait in Mexico. Closing the border will only further endanger their lives. This border shutdown will not make our communities healthier and safer. It will only turn away people seeking safety, yet again,’ states Daniella Burgi-Palomino, LAWG co-director.”


US Enforcement

Trump border controls not ready yet, will need Mexico’s cooperation, officials say
Nick Miroff, Washington Post, March 18, 2020
“Under the Trump administration’s plan, Border Patrol agents who interdict migrants would screen and record their biometric information ‘in the field’ instead of taking them to stations and holding cells for processing, according to a senior CBP official who described the plans on the condition of anonymity to describe operational plans not yet made public.”

Guatemala to resume receiving deportees from U.S. even with asylum deal on hold over coronavirus
Camilo Montoya-Galvez, CBS News, March 19, 2020
“Thursday’s announcement will likely come as a relief for the Trump administration as it continues trying to deter migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border… Despite agreeing to receive its own deported nationals, the Guatemalan government said removals of Salvadoran and Honduran migrants to Guatemala under its ‘Asylum Cooperative Agreement’ with the Trump administration would remain suspended.”

El Salvador suspends deportations from U.S., Mexico over coronavirus
Nelson Renteria, Reuters, March 18, 2020
“El Salvador said on Wednesday it had suspended deportation flights of its nationals from the United States and Mexico until further notice in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus, following a similar step by Guatemala a day earlier.”

Justice Department closes more immigration courts, postpones hearings 
Priscilla Alvarez, CNN Politics, March 18, 2020
“The Justice Department announced overnight that it’s closing an additional 10 immigration courts, spread out across the country, through April 10 as the novel coronavirus has spread to all 50 states. It is also postponing all hearings of cases of immigrants who are not in detention.”

ICE to stop most immigration enforcement inside U.S., will focus on criminals during coronavirus outbreak
Maria Sacchetti and Arelis R. Hernández, Washington Post, March 18, 2020
“U.S. immigration authorities will temporarily halt enforcement across the United States, except for efforts to deport foreign nationals who have committed crimes or who pose a threat to public safety.”

Opinion: False Claims, Families In Danger: This Isn’t A First For The Trump Administration
Rep. Bennie Thompson and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, BuzzFeed News, March 18, 2020
“A new government watchdog report out today suggests that we may never have a full accounting of how many children were or remain separated. This report also warns that long after the zero tolerance policy ended, the Border Patrol may still not be keeping accurate records of families who arrive on the Southwest Border.”

EEUU planea devolver a México a todo indocumentado o solicitante de asilo en la frontera por el coronavirus
Jorge Cancino, Univision Noticias, 18 de marzo de 2020
En el caso de los peticionarios de asilo, el diario dijo que “no serían retenidos por un período de tiempo prolongado en una instalación estadounidense ni recibirían el debido proceso”. Una vez detenidos, serían conducidos al puerto de entrada más cercano y devueltos a México sin más detenciones.

Citing Coronavirus, Trump Will Announce Strict New Border Controls
Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Michael D. Shear, and Maggie Haberman, New York Times, March 17, 2020
“But under the new rule, set to be announced in the next 48 hours, Border Patrol agents would immediately return to Mexico anyone who tries to cross the southern border between the legal ports of entry. Under the policy, asylum seekers would not be held for any length of time in an American facility nor would they be given due process. Once caught, they would be driven to the nearest port of entry and returned to Mexico without further detention.”

The Supreme Court Is Closed, But Immigration Courts Are Still Packing in Dozens of People at a Time
Fernanda Echavarri, March 17, 2020, Mother Jones
“As it stands, the group hearings under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) or ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy are still happening, meaning hundreds of asylum seekers continue to line up every day at US ports of entry, sometimes as early as 3 or 4 a.m., to be processed by Customs and Border Protection agents and transported by bus to courtrooms in border cities such as San Diego for their day in court. These hearings put up to 50 people—many of them families with small children—in a courtroom for hours at a time and countless more in crowded courthouse waiting rooms.”

Asylum Seekers Say U.S. is Returning Them to the Dangers They Fled
Kirk Semple, New York Times, March 17, 2020
“‘To be here is almost the same as being in Honduras,’ said Carlos Eduardo Woltke Martínez, a migrants’ advocate in the human rights section of Guatemala’s public prosecutor’s office. ‘You’re in the same neighborhood of the criminal groups. The conditions here are not a guarantee of your safety.’”

With masks at the ready, ICE agents make arrests on first day of California coronavirus lockdown
Brittny Mejia, Los Angeles Times, March 17, 2020
“The ICE agents were about to spend the day trying to arrest targets on a most unusual of days: the day after the California governor and L.A. mayor ordered people to ramp up their efforts of social distancing over the coronavirus. The agents had N95 respirator masks in their vehicles, just in case.”

U.S. limits Mexico guest worker visas, sends farmers scrambling
Chris Walljasper, Reuters, March 17, 2020
“U.S. fruit and vegetable producers are bracing for dramatic disruptions to their labor force after the U.S. government said it was suspending visa interviews in Mexico to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.”

Coronavirus Risk for Detained Migrants Targeted in ACLU Lawsuit
Alejandro Lazo and Alicia A. Caldwell, Wall Street Journal, March 16, 2020
“The suit is part of a broader push by advocates who are pushing for the release of more migrants in detention and a national closure of immigration courts, which they argue could become breeding grounds for the rapidly spreading virus.”

Remote hearings for unaccompanied children proves a disaster
Jennifer Podkul, The Hill, March 16, 2020
“The court is forcing detained  unaccompanied children to undergo deportation proceedings via video teleconference (VTC) before an immigration judge located in the Atlanta immigration court, 700 miles away. This pilot program will impact up to 1,500 children and some advocates worry this could lead to a permanent VTC docket for all detained unaccompanied children in the country.”

Coronavirus testing won’t count against immigrants trying to get green cards, feds say
Monique O. Madan, Miami Herald, March 14, 2020
“When immigration officials rolled out their ‘public charge’ rule last month, people who were sick were deemed a ‘burden’ to the U.S. and their health conditions were counted against them when applying for a green card. Late Friday, however, part of that changed— at least when it comes to coronavirus, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services announced. Any immigrant who gets tested or treated for the virus will not be negatively impacted.”

2,000 miles, 72 hours, a tough choice: Asylum in Guatemala, or go home?
Whitney Eulich, Christian Science Monitor, March 13, 2020
“Guatemala’s asylum system is relatively young, and the process is cumbersome: The vice president and a handful of government ministers together make the final decision on each claim. Out of the hundreds of refugees sent to Guatemala from the U.S. via ACA, only 14 applied for asylum as of mid-February, according to Guatemala’s migration agency. It’s a reflection of how they view the proposition of seeking protection here, advocates say.”

US: Immigrants Can Seek Coronavirus Care Without Fear
Associated Press, New York Times, March 13, 2020
“The agency acknowledged that some immigrants may fear seeking care in the wake of the virus, saying that it ‘will neither consider testing, treatment, nor preventative care’ related to the virus in determining someone’s eligibility for permanent residency. It said that those who can’t work or attend school and must rely on public benefits during the duration of the virus outbreak and recovery can later explain and provide documentation and that it will be taken into consideration.”

Acnur: Preocupa devolución de solicitantes de refugio a países de los cuales huyeron
Sergio Morales Rodas, Prensa Libre, 13 de marzo de 2020
“Respecto a las capacidades que tiene el país para recibir a los peticionarios bajo el ACA, Bassu reconoció que ‘claramente no existen las condiciones necesarias’ Y urgió al Estado de Guatemala a extender el plazo de 72 horas para que los migrantes tomen la decisión de retornar a su país o quedarse, así como darles más asesoría sobre las opciones que tiene para sentirse seguro”.

Pregnant Woman, 19, Dies After Falling From Border Wall Near El Paso
Nomaan Merchant, Associated Press, Time, March 12, 2020
“CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan told reporters that Girón and her partner were taken to the border by smugglers and left there in the darkness. They were attempting to climb when she fell. Border Patrol agents reached her and called medical authorities, who took her to the hospital but ‘tragically, the mother and the child died from their injuries from the fall,’ he said.”

DHS Reveals New Details of Secretive Asylum Programs PACR and HARP
Katie Shepherd, Immigration Impact, March 11, 2020
“These single adults and families are held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in holding facilities at the border. Attorneys are categorically barred from entering CBP facilities to meet with their clients in person and are unable to use other methods like phones or video teleconferencing. This means that attorneys are unable to meet  with their clients or review physical evidence.”


Mexican Enforcement

Por el cuidado de todas y todos, incluyendo las personas en contexto de movilidad ante la actual crisis humanitaria por el coronavirus COVID-19
Red Nacional de Organismos Civiles de Derechos Humanos “Todos los Derechos para Todas y Todos”, 19 de marzo de 2020
“Haciendo eco de las palabras del director de la Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS) sobre la necesidad de compromiso político al más alto nivel y más allá del sector salud en México; desde las organizaciones de la sociedad civil hacemos un llamado a las entidades públicas encargadas del tema migratorio encabezadas por la Secretaria de Gobernación, de protección social y salud para implementar acciones que reduzcan el riesgo de la población migrante y solicitante de protección internacional ante la actual pandemia”.

Most Mexicans seeking asylum have seemingly vanished in this border city
Alfredo Corchado and Dianne Solis, Dallas News, March 14, 2020
“An official with Mexico’s Foreign Ministry who asked for anonymity because the official was not authorized to comment said that, to remove Mexicans requesting asylum, the government took actions such as offering ‘thousands of jobs to our citizens living at the campsites’ and ‘mobilized to provide them with housing and health care’ through a network of shelters in Juarez. The official denied Mexicans were forcibly removed, adding, ‘In many cases, these individuals ultimately decided to return voluntarily to their communities.’”

Coronavirus: Mexico may consider border-crossing limits
Al Jazeera, March 13, 2020
“The spread of the virus turned the usual US-Mexico border issue on its head. The administration of US President Donald Trump has pushed for limiting crossings along the border since his 2016 campaign. Earlier this month, he floated the idea of closing the US’s land borders due to the coronavirus, but reversed course just days later.”


Root Causes 

Central American countries ramp up measures to fight coronavirus
Anna-Cat Brigida, Al Jazeera, March 13, 2020
“Leaders and experts worry the countries are doubly vulnerable because of weak, resource-stripped healthcare systems, leading them to take extreme preventive measures. These decisions could affect the health of millions of citizens and the already struggling economies of small countries that get a boost from tourism dollars.”

Honduras Supreme Court Throws Out Historic Anti-Corruption Conviction
Parker Asmann, InSight Crime, March 18, 2020
“The conviction of former first lady Bonilla was arguably the most emblematic conviction that MACCIH secured before being shut down in Honduras. Its reversal should serve as a real warning sign. The MACCIH faced its fair share of obstacles from the start, but the anti-corruption body played an important role in combating corruption in a country that has become accustomed to business and political elites pilfering state institutions and stealing public funds.”

El Salvador’s Congress Authorizes Bukele to Restrict Freedom of Transit and Assembly
Jimmy Alvarado and Roxana Lazo, El Faro, March 17, 2020
“On Saturday, March 14, despite pressure from Nayib Bukele’s office to obtain approval of two decrees without major issue (a state of exception and a national emergency), political opposition toned down the Executive’s demands before allowing him to restrict mobility around the country and more rapidly access funds. The Assembly stopped Bukele from controlling other constitutional powers including the freedoms of speech, freedom of association, and interventions into telephone and mail communications.”

”Si me quedo en casa, me muero de hambre”
Carlos Barrera, El Faro, 18 de marzo de 2020
“Dejar de trabajar y encerrarse en casa durante el estado de excepción por Coronavirus es un lujo que quienes trabajan en el sector informal de El Salvador difícilmente pueden darse. No hablamos de poca gente”.

Preparing for Coronavirus, but with Hardly a Drop of Water
Nelson Rauda Zablah, El Faro, March 17, 2020
“While El Salvador lept into action in response to the coronavirus on Wednesday, March 11, certain underlying conditions in the country—that have been compounding for decades—preclude quick solutions. Washing hands is recommended and necessary, but it is useless advice for people from San Ernesto who have no regular access to clean water.”

¿Es legítima y proporcional la suspensión del derecho a la libertad de expresión en el contexto de la crisis del Coronavirus?
Joaquín Mejía, Conexihón HN, 17 de marzo de 2020
“En mi opinión, esta restricción no cumple con los requisitos de necesidad, idoneidad, legitimidad y proporcionalidad, teniendo en cuenta la importancia de la libertad de expresión en tiempos de normalidad democrática y, sobre todo, en tiempos de crisis como la que hoy enfrentamos como sociedad.”

Menores de edad son los más afectados por dengue
El Pulso, 17 de marzo de 2020
“‘No hay que olvidar que estamos en una epidemia de dengue en el cual hemos entrada prácticamente en una meseta no hemos logrado bajar los números de casos de dengue siempre nos siguen reportando en la región metropolitana’, manifestó Roberto Cosenza, subsecretario de Salud”.

El Salvador is trying suspects in the notorious El Mozote massacre. The judge is demanding crucial evidence: U.S. government records.
Kevin Sieff, Washington Post, March 14, 2020
“The Mozote trial, which began in 2016, is considered a milestone in El Salvador’s reckoning with its dark history. The massacre remains the most infamous killing in the country’s bloody 12-year civil war, its survivors silenced by a succession of governments, its victims left to decompose in a mass grave. The process has begun to reveal what happened in the northeastern village of El Mozote. Evidence presented by prosecutors contradicts the original Salvadoran and American accounts of the massacre, implicating a U.S.-trained special forces battalion.”

In El Salvador, “Iron Fist” is a Way of Life
Ligia Orellana, El Faro, March 12, 2020
“More than 80% of the representative sample of the population who were polled said they believe that ‘democracy is the best form of government.’ Yet the poll also revealed an alarming level of popular support for government actions typical of authoritarian regimes—actions such as ‘sacrificing some rights’ for the wellbeing of society, implementing Mano Dura policies, and excluding or eliminating people ‘who cause problems.’”

Bukele’s International Credit Line: The Next Step toward Militarizing Public Safety
Jimmy Alvarado, El Faro, March 12, 2020
“An itemized look at the multimillion-dollar loan that launched Bukele’s standoff with the Legislative Assembly reveals that the centerpiece of the president’s Plan for Territorial Control is the army’s permanent involvement in public safety tasks reserved, in theory, for the National Civil Police.”

Northern Triangle’s Armed Forces Creeping Back into Domestic Politics
Parker Asmann, El Faro, March 12, 2020
“The somewhat rocky transitions to democracy in the Northern Triangle — which have taken place in fits and starts over the last few decades — put the armed forces under civilian control and back into the barracks. Recently, however, the militaries of these three countries have been creeping back into politics at the orders of civilian governments.”

Honduras orders two-week school closure over coronavirus
Daina Beth Solomon, Reuters, March 12, 2020
“The Honduran government said on Thursday that all schools, both public and private, would close for two weeks from Friday to contain the coronavirus, after the country’s National Autonomous University suspended classes indefinitely. Other Latin American countries, including El Salvador, Panama and Peru, have also taken measures to close schools temporarily.”

Al menos 28 transportistas han sido asesinados en los primeros tres meses de 2020
Dennis Álvarez, Radio HRN, 12 de marzo de 2020
“En los últimos 10 años, más de tres mil operadores del transporte público a nivel nacional, han sido asesinados por el mal llamado ‘Impuesto de Guerra’. ‘Es la forma de cobrar su dinero. El problema es que la mayoría de las muertes quedan impunes. No hemos visto que haya resolución de esos crímenes’, aseguró la directora”.

Las manos de los de abajo
Carlos Barrera, El Faro, 9 de marzo de 2020
“Arrugas, piel requemada, manchas, cicatrices: así se ven las manos trabajadoras de quienes ganan lo mínimo por su trabajo… A excepción del policía, todos en la serie fotográfica ganan menos del mínimo por una labor que no eligieron, pero que por falta de acceso a educación les tocó realizar”.


Actions, Alerts, Resources 

Q&A: Guatemala’s Controversial NGO Law
Adeline Hite and Adriana Beltrán, Washington Office on Latin America, March 19, 2020
“The government’s insistence on approving this law, despite criticism, shows a serious attempt to attack and undermine civil society. This makes it critical to understand what the NGO law purports to do, who it would affect, and the urgent need for Guatemalan civil society and international partners to remain vigilant of, and to push back against, efforts to restrict civil society.”

COVID-19: Los gobiernos deben promover y proteger el acceso y la libre circulación de la información durante la pandemia – Expertos internacionales
Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, 19 de marzo de 2020
“La salud humana no sólo depende del fácil acceso a la atención sanitaria. También depende del acceso a información precisa sobre la naturaleza de las amenazas y los medios para protegerse a sí mismo, a su familia y su comunidad. El derecho a la libertad de expresión, que incluye el derecho a buscar, recibir y difundir información e ideas de todo tipo, independientemente de las fronteras, a través de cualquier medio, se aplica a todos, en todas partes, y sólo puede estar sujeto a restricciones limitadas”.

Pandemic crisis exposes failures in government response and underlying inequalities
Alianza Americas, March 18, 2020
“This crisis calls for a refocusing of priorities toward protecting public health, and that means protecting the health of every single person living in a given territory, including those born in other countries, without regard to their migration status. The coronavirus should be a wake up call for countries to confront the deeper problems that also threaten all of us, starting with profound economic inequality.”

AILA Sends Letter to CBP Regarding Its Response to COVID-19
American Immigration Lawyers Association, March 17, 2020
“Understanding that this national emergency presents unique issues for your agency and its staff, AILA requests that CBP take measures that will ensure an effective and efficient handling of individuals passing through preclearance sites and ports of entry, and the safety of those currently being held in CBP facilities on the southern border.”

Challenges to “Safe Country” Strategy in Central America Mounting
Fulton Armstrong, Aula Blog, March 17, 2020
“However compelling the Foreign Affairs Committee’s arguments that the administration is violating U.S. law and values, the letter’s impact has been blunted by widespread perceptions that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is further proof that the United States needs to keep outsiders from entering the country. The Administration is also not swayed by the fact that the U.S. State Department’s own repeated warnings that U.S. citizens limit travel to Northern Triangle countries – because of widespread ‘violent crime … rape, and narcotics and human trafficking – contradict the assertion that the ACA partners are ‘safe countries.’”

Key Legal Considerations on access to territory for persons in need of international protection in the context of the COVID-19 response
UNHCR, March 16, 2020
“It reconfirms that while States may put in place measures which may include a health screening or testing of persons seeking international protection upon entry and/or putting them in quarantine, such measures may not result in denying them an effective opportunity to seek asylum or result in refoulement.”

Immigrant Women and Girls in the United States
Jeanne Batalova, Migration Policy Institute, March 4, 2020
“Immigrants represent about 14 percent of all females resident in the United States. As mothers, workers, and students, female immigrants make important contributions to local communities, the economy, and society. They come from diverse origins and linguistic backgrounds, and have varied levels of education and work experiences, which in turn shape their social and economic integration.”

Our Rights, Our Safety: Resources for Women Human Rights Defenders
Valerie Miller, Mariela Arce, and Marusia Lopez, JASS (Just Associates), 2020
“This manual is intended for people who work at the local and community level, and particularly for human rights activists and defenders who are facing various risks and forms of violence in their struggle to build a more just world. It contains information and educational processes born of the valuable experiences and knowledge of women and their movements in different parts of the world, and is designed to help deepen the vision, analysis and practices necessary to creating a safer environment for the defense of human rights.”

Manual caminando más seguras: Saberes para nuestra protección
Valerie Miller, Mariela Arce, and Marusia Lopez, JASS (Just Associates), 2020
“Nos emociona compartir nuestro nuevo manual elaborado por y para mujeres activistas y defensoras de derechos humanos, diseñado con el objetivo de fortalecer nuestra seguridad colectiva para que podamos continuar haciendo nuestro trabajo vital”.


P.S. Do you know of someone who might be interested in receiving the Migrant News Brief? Tell them to email lalvarez@lawg.org