The eight-week blueberry harvesting season will begin in mid-June and will last through mid-August. And for Art Galletta, a South Jersey blueberry grower, this season’s crop is looking promising. But Galletta, like many people across the state, is nervous about the safety of bringing on 500-plus migrant workers who will soon arrive at his farm.
Every year, an estimated 20,000 migrant farmworkers from Mexico, Haiti, Puerto Rico and Central America arrive in New Jersey to pick fruits and vegetables. Blueberry pickers like those who work on Galletta’s farm start their season in Florida and then migrate to Georgia, North Carolina and New Jersey before heading to Michigan, posing extra risk of spreading coronavirus. “We know there have been several (farmworkers) that have tested positive down south (in Salem County),” state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Wednesday at the governor’s daily briefing. Persichili says the state has a “full plan” for testing the farmworkers which will be unveiled next week.
Documented spoke with farm workers in Upstate New York who tested positive for COVID-19 and were fired shortly after. “I just hope that during this time people will root for each other and God willing, we will get out of this,” Vasquez told Documented over the phone. In the early stages of the pandemic, farmworkers were instructed to continue working even if they felt sick. One advocate told Documented that of eight farms he checks in on, four have reports of many workers testing positive for the coronavirus. NJ Spotlight
Husband of Pregnant Canadian Woman Denied Entrance to Country
A pregnant Ottawa woman says she’s stranded in New York City with her American husband after Canadian border guards refused to let them enter the country. On April 17, the couple headed for the Canada-U.S. border crossing at Thousand Islands. “The border officer asked why my husband was coming into Canada,” Erika Lavelle said. “I said, ‘He’s accompanying me because he’s my husband and I’m not able to do a lot of things now, lifting things, unpacking things.'” The Canada Border Services Agency said her husband entering the country was “not essential” and he was refused entrance, though she was allowed into the country. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made it clear that family members of Canadian citizens would still be allowed to enter even after the U.S.-Canada shut down to stem coronavirus spread. CBC
SDNY Court Wins Free Immigrant Detainees
Two recent wins in federal court will allow immigrants to be released from New Jersey detention centers. In Basank v. Decker and Arias v. Decker, the public defender program identified multiple plaintiffs suffering from pulmonary and chest afflictions who could be increasingly susceptible to the coronavirus pandemic. They petitioned the court to release them from the Essex, Bergen and Hudson county facilities where they were held due to substandard conditions in those facilities. Judge Analisa Torres of the Southern District of New York found they established all necessary elements to warrant a temporary restraining order, mandating their immediate release. New York Law Journal
COVID-Positive Detainee Refused Release from Batavia Detention Center
Cristian Diaz Arvelo first heard he had the coronavirus when a guard at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility told him he was moving to another unit within the facility. “Not even the doctors come, just they, one of the officers came: ‘Oh you gonna be moved to a unit,’” Arvelo says. “I asked them why. ‘Oh, you tested positive.’ That’s all they say.” Arvelo has asthma and high blood pressure, but he lost his case for humanitarian parole due to his criminal record. Before he tested positive for the virus, Arvelo was in the B-2 unit, an open dormitory where people sleep in bunk beds in close quarters. WXXI News
First Immigrant Detainee Dies of COVID
Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia, an immigrant detainee held at Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, became the first person held in immigration detention nationwide to die from COVID-19. He died around 2:15 a.m., according to his sister, after being released from the detention center and placed on a ventilator for little over a week. He would have turned 58 this month. He came to the U.S. from El Salvador in 1980 to escape the country’s civil war and hadn’t been able to get a green card. He had been at Otay Mesa since January. The facility has become the biggest site of COVID-19 infections nationwide. San Diego Union Tribune
Number of People Illegally Crossing Canada Border into U.S. Rises
The number of people apprehended crossing from Canada into the United States has nearly tripled over the past three years, with a growing population of Mexican citizens in the group. One Mexican man crossed illegally to work on a Vermont dairy farm, which he said was easier than trying to cross at the southern border. U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics show that along the border from Maine to Washington, 446 of the 1,586 illegal border crossers apprehended in fiscal year 2019 were Mexican, up from 20 of 558 in 2016. The Associated Press
Border Apprehensions Plummet in April
Unauthorized southwest border crossings dropped 50 percent in April, according to federal statistics released Thursday. These numbers come as the Trump administration has continued to turn migrants away from the southern border over the perceived threat of spreading the coronavirus. Border authorities detained 16,789 migrants last month, according to most recent data, down from 34,064 in March, when the U.S. Customs and Border Protection began expelling people under a 1940s-era provision of a U.S. law. The Washington Post
Judge Rules Treatment of ICE Detainees was Unconstitutional
U.S. District Court Judge William Young in Boston ruled on Thursday that Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson and ICE had likely violated the constitutional rights of 82 ICE detainees by deliberately disregarding their health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hodgson and ICE were ordered to conduct widespread testing of detainees and staff, but an altercation broke out between staff and detainees after during the sheriff’s first attempt at testing. Hodgson said the judge “far exceeded his authority.” A class action lawsuit has led to the release of 50 detainees from the jail in recent weeks. Seven staff have tested positive for COVID-19. WBUR
Judge Dismisses Lawsuit by Meatpacking Plant Workers
U.S. District Judge Greg Kays dismissed a lawsuit by workers, mainly immigrants, at the Smithfield Foods meatpacking plant in Milan, Missouri alleging the company hadn’t done enough to protect them from COVID-19. The judge said it was up to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to ensure the plant adheres to guidance on slowing the spread of COVID-19, not the courts. The workers asked the court to compel the plant to abide by federal guidelines on social distancing and provide protective equipment. Meat plants have become hot spots for the spread of the coronavirus, with thousands of workers infected across the U.S, leading to meat shortages. Associated Press
Washington — CBP Chief: Quick Deportations Should Continue, ICE Director and White House Clash, Watchdog to Investigate Decision to Keep Immigration Court Open
The new immigration policy of quickly deporting migrants after they cross the border may stay in place after the coronavirus, according to Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan. The policy is set to expire on May 20 and has drawn the ire of advocates, as asylum seekers are also quickly deported without a hearing. The policy is justified under powers given to the president during a public health crisis.
The decision on whether to extend the policy of quickly expelling migrants will fall on The Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Morgan said health authorities should consider that the virus may continue to spread in Mexico and Central America, even if numbers begin to decrease in the U.S., when considering whether or not to return to pre-outbreak enforcement. The U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada have been closed during the pandemic to non-essential travel. Morgan said he hoped the conversations around changes to daily life in the U.S. were extended to border enforcement. So far CBP has apprehended two people who tested positive for COVID-19. Associated Press
President Trump is once again pushing to have the wall on the U.S.–Mexico border painted black, a decision that will cost taxpayers an estimated $500 million. Trump has gone back and forth on the idea, with military commanders and border officials trying to convince him that it would be costly and create maintenance issues. Trump believes the paint will make the wall more forbidding and too hot to touch in the summer. According to The Washington Post, Trump asked for cost estimates on painting the wall last month. The Washington Post
Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence is resisting efforts by the White House to install political appointees to key positions within the agency. The White House is keen to fill roles for chief of staff and office of policy director with allies during this election year. Albence has rebuffed the efforts by reportedly calling White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller. Albence’s defenders told Politico he was concerned about the candidates’ lack of law enforcement experience. Politico The inspector general of the Executive Office for Immigration Review will investigate the agency’s decision to keep the immigration courts open for detained hearings during the pandemic. EOIR, an agency within the Justice Department that houses immigration courts, postponed hearings for non-detained immigrants but kept detained hearings going despite protests from judges, lawyers, and prosecutors. A number of people who frequent the courts tested positive for the virus. CNN
Support the work of Documented
Documented was founded with the goal of making sure the people affected by our stories were also the people reading them. Immigration reporting is often extractive and isn’t produced or published with the main protagonists as the intended audience. Through our reporting and out outreach via WhatsApp, we’ve created award-winning journalism that is created with and for New York’s immigrant communities. This work is not easy and it is not cheap. Consider becoming a member today to help fuel this work. By joining the Documented Community, you can not help only provide us with the financial freedom needed to fulfill our mission but also meet others who are passionate about immigration in the New York area. Become a member today.