2021 was a Dangerous Year for Migrants, Percent of Immigrants in the US Declines, ICE's Digital Surveillance Under Fire, and more.
As the end of 2021 approaches, I am reminded of Judith Schalansky’s recent book An Inventory of Losses which asks the question: “Which more terrifying: the notion that everything comes to an end, or the thought that it may not?” Schalansky, whom I first encountered in Atlas of Remote Islands, spends the book contemplating (in beautiful prose) what it means to lose something irretrievable—a work of art, a piece of history, a species, etc. In this way, Schalansky brings to my mind Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost, which similarly takes up the theme of what it means to be lost, or Adam Phillips’ observation that getting lost is something that you gain; lost, we tend to say, is something you get.
Lost is the word I often hear associated with 2020 and now 2021. It seems that for many of us, these are years in which we experienced loss, the loss of loved ones and the loss of jobs, as well as years that we lost, as if we had expected to find these years and they instead came up missing, as if we somehow misplaced them. Immigration politics has mirrored these more general feelings of loss. From the treatment of Haitians along the U.S.-Mexico border to the reinstatement of the Migrant Protection Protocols, immigration researchers, reporters, and policy analysts seem constantly on the edge of their seats and glued to Twitter just to keep up with the volume of immigration changes, hardly any of them positive.
I don’t know how—I don’t think any of us know how—to fully process this sense of loss. I certainly do not have answers. But I do hope that wherever we are, that we are able to take some time between now and the new year to take account of what we have lost, but also take account of what we have gained, too. I’m sure this isn’t the introduction to an immigration politics newsletter you were expecting, but here it is anyway. May you carry the insights from 2021 into the new year.
Now let’s get into it.
Table of Contents
2021: A Dangerous Year for Migrants
Manchin Pulls the Plug on Build Back Better
ICE’s Digital Surveillance Practices Come Under Fire
Court Tells ICE to End Collateral Arrests
Percent of Immigrants in the US Declines
Number of Immigrants Monitored by ICE’s Alternatives to Detention Program Continues to Grow
Newsletter Slowdown until January
 2021: A Dangerous Year for Migrants
More migrants went missing or died in North American in 2021 than in any year since 2014. This is according to new data from the Missing Migrants Project, a project of the International Organization for Migration (OIM) that tracks migration. In absolute numbers, more migrants died or went missing between 2014 and 2021 in the Mediterranean and North Africa. But North America ranked third overall, making up 7 percent of all migrants reported missing or dead. The OIM identifies 45,589 migrants who have been lost or died since 2014. The Missing Migrants Project produced a recent report on the Latin America to North America route available here.
 Manchin Pulls the Plug on Build Back Better
After sending the White House a plan for moving forward on Biden’s Build Back Better bill earlier last week, Joe Manchin went on Fox News yesterday morning and quit negotiations cold turkey. The White House called this “a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position”, but I think for many of us who felt exhausted watching the White House and congressional Democrats bend over backward for Manchin and Sinema (at the expense of campaign promises on immigration), this feels like the season finale we all saw coming.
The end of BBB is nonetheless disappointing for immigrants who would have benefitted from the (extremely whittled down) immigration reforms that were left in the defunct bill. Ellen Gilmer has a short but useful thread on a few immigration reforms that were lost and how immigrant advocates are reacting.
There is another way to look at this which I believe is historically accurate. I think there is political value in disenchantment, in this case, the disenchantment that comes with realizing (or simply remembering) that Democrats do not have a strong track record at all on immigration reform. Rather than coming as a surprise, the end of BBB could be interpreted (at least on the immigration front) as the end of a charade that will prompt a new creative wave of immigrant rights organizing.
 ICE’s Digital Surveillance Practices Come Under Fire
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has long sought, shall we say, “creative” legal avenues for identifying undocumented migrants given that the agency has never had anywhere near the staff capacity to deport over 11 million estimated undocumented migrants in the country by itself. In recent years, this has led the agency to seek access to various for-profit and state-level databases as well as use social media to multiply its enforcement efforts. There are two developments on this front in the past week, both from Drew Harwell at the Washington Post.
First, ICE lost access to personal information from utility bills this month after Equifax was ordered to stop selling this data to companies like Thompson Reuters, which sold the data to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other law enforcement agencies. Back in February of this year, the Washington Post discovered ICE access to this data, which prompted elected officials to push for an end to the practice. The Journal of Higher Education also reported that students have been calling on universities to disinvest from Westlaw and LexisNexis for these same reasons.
(FYI: Westlaw and LexisNexis provide databases for legal and academic research. LexisNexis is headquartered in Dayton, Ohio, and I can still remember driving by their massive corporate park along the freeway when I used to visit Dayton to go rock climbing at this amazing gym called Urban Crag inside an old church. Didn’t know rock climbing advice was coming, did you?)
Second, Harwell reports that ICE has been running facial recognition searches on the state database of Maryland driver’s licenses. And this has been happening without getting state or court approval. Maryland stands out because the state allows undocumented immigrants to obtain special driver’s licenses. This appears to be due to a memorandum of understanding that originated back in 2012, but neither ICE nor Maryland state officials provided comments for the article, a good indication that we’ll see more revelations about this soon.
 Court Tells ICE to End Collateral Arrests
The National Immigrant Justice Center announced that ICE may soon lose its ability to use raids and sweeps to generate what are called “collateral arrests.” This comes as a result of a lawsuit brought by Chicago area residents detained in ICE sweeps in 2018. The District Court for the Northern District of Illinois initially approved a class action settlement that will require U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to end this practice, though it appears limited to Illinois and five other Midwestern states.
Here’s a description of collateral arrests from the NILC’s announcement:
“ICE for years has conducted community enforcement raids which relied on so-called “collateral arrests,” which swept up any individuals they encountered who they believed to be undocumented, regardless of whether they were a person sought in the enforcement operation. In doing so, ICE would systematically violate the limits of its authority to make arrests and traffic stops and fuel fear in immigrant communities.”
What’s particularly interesting here is that this lawsuit is essentially forcing ICE to do what the Biden administration has claimed that it is going to do voluntarily. As I wrote about on Substack a few weeks ago (and in The Hill here), Department of Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas recently issued a policy memo that allegedly limits immigration enforcement activities near what the agency calls “protected areas” out of a concern for the community-level consequences of enforcement. This is similar to what this NILC lawsuit is about because the lawsuit is saying, look: ICE can’t just go around fishing for people through traffic stops without individualized suspicion in the hopes that maybe they’ll find people to deport.
So what will the Biden administration’s response be to the NILC lawsuit? If they are serious about the “protected areas” memo, it’s plausible to think that the agency would sympathize with the plaintiff’s position and acquiesce to their concerns. But as I wrote in my take on Mayorkas’ memo, I am skeptical that the administration is serious about the protected areas memo. The administration’s response to this lawsuit will provide interesting material for evaluating if and how Mayorkas’ DHS differs from the previous administration.
 Percent of Immigrants in the US Declines
After a steady increase in the percentage of immigrants in the United States, the percentage of immigrants in the United States declined last year according to reporting by Stef Knight at Axios. A decline in the number and percent of migrants raises concerns for economists and demographers, since migration, as well as the (traditionally) higher birth rate of migrant families, is often understood as playing an important balancing role for native-born populations which tend to be much older and have lower rates of birth. I have written about population dynamics several times over the past year, including “Putting New US Census Bureau Data in Context” and “‘Replacement Theory’ and Violence at the Capitol”. Although it is rather predictable to get worked up about changes in immigration and population numbers, I would generally caution people to chill out and not overreact (this includes you, too, reporters). There’s a long history of making fallacious assumptions about what changes in population dynamics mean (see the damage caused by Ehrlich’s “Population Bomb”).
 Number of Immigrants Monitored by ICE’s Alternatives to Detention Program Continues to Grow
According to data released by ICE and make legible by TRAC’s immigrant detention quick fact tools (available here), the number of immigrants monitored on ICE’s alternatives to detention program (also called ISAP) continues to grow. We are approaching 150,000 people on ATD, nearly twice the number of people when Biden took office, and many of these people are part of what ICE identifies as family units.
It was good to finally receive updated detention data after ICE stopped releasing workable data over the past several weeks (I wrote about ICE’s data problems recently here on Substack). I say “workable” because there continue to be routine errors in ICE’s data. The agency appears to have no interest in running its public data releases through an internal quality control process.
 Newsletter Slowdown until January
I wanted to give you an update on the frequency of these newsletters over the holiday. After two months of writing very regularly here on Substack (almost daily, in fact), I am slowing down my newsletter releases between now and the new year. My recent pattern has been to publish a full newsletter on Monday morning, then publish important announcements in real-time during the workweek as needed. My next guaranteed newsletter will go on Monday, January 3, but not December 27. However, because immigration law and politics don’t automatically take a break just because it’s the holidays, you may still hear from me over the next two weeks if something urgent comes up. I hope you have a happy holiday!
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