Original Articles

Original Articles

(Im)mobility in the Age of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted global human mobility dynamics. This IMR Dispatch examines the historical, bidirectional links between pandemics and mobility and provides an early analysis of how they unfolded during the first nine months of the COVID-19 emergency. Results show, first, that international travel restrictions to combat the spread of the coronavirus are not a panacea in and of themselves. Second, our analysis demonstrates that the pandemic, government responses, and resulting economic impacts can lead to the involuntary immobility of at-risk populations, such as aspiring asylum-seekers or survival migrants. In a similar fashion, stay-at-home measures have posed dire challenges for those workers who lack options to work from home, as well as for migrants living in precarious, crowded circumstances. Moreover, global economic contraction has increased involuntary immobility by reducing both people’s resources to move and the demand for labor. Third, we show that people’s attempts to protect themselves from the virus can result in shifting patterns of mobility, such as increases in cross-border return migration and urban-to-rural movements. Drawing on international guidance for measures to combat pandemics and relevant frameworks on mobility, we propose approaches to alleviate the burden of travel restrictions on migrants and people aspiring to move, while still addressing the need to contain the pandemic and lessen its repercussions.

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Charting a Course to Rebuild and Strengthen the US Refugee Admissions Program

This report analyzes the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), leveraging data from a national survey of resettlement stakeholders conducted in 2020. The survey examined USRAP from the time that refugees arrive in the United States. Its design and questionnaire were informed by three community gatherings organized by Refugee Council USA in the fall and winter of 2019, extensive input from an expert advisory group, and a literature review.

This study finds that USRAP serves important purposes, enjoys extensive community support, and offers a variety of effective services. Overall, the survey finds a high degree of consensus on the US resettlement program’s strengths and objectives, and close alignment between its services and the needs of refugees at different stages of their settlement and integration. Because its infrastructure and community-based resettlement networks have been decimated in recent years, the main challenges of subsequent administrations, Congresses, and USRAP stakeholders will be to rebuild, revitalize, and regain broad and bipartisan support for the program. This article also recommends specific ways that USRAP’s programs and services can be strengthened.

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Migrant Detention and COVID-19: Pandemic Responses in Four New Jersey Detention Centers

On March 24, 2020, a 31-year-old Mexican national in Bergen County Jail, New Jersey, became the first federal immigration detainee to test positive for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). By April 10, 2020, New Jersey had more confirmed COVID-19 cases among immigration detainees than any other state in the nation. This article examines the relationship between COVID-19 and processes of migrant detention and deportation through a case study of New Jersey — an early epicenter of the pandemic and part of the broader New York City metro area. Drawing on publicly available reports and in-depth interviews with wardens, immigration lawyers, advocates, and former detainees, we describe the initial COVID-19 response in four detention facilities in New Jersey. Our findings suggest that migrant detention and deportation present distinct challenges that undermine attempts to contain the spread of COVID-19. We provide testimonies from migrant detainees who speak to these challenges in unsettling personal terms. Our interviews highlight the insufficient actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to contain the spread of the pandemic and a troubling lack of due process in immigration court proceedings. Based on these findings, we argue that reducing the number of migrants detained in the United States is needed not only in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic but also as a preventative measure for future health crises. Reductions can be achieved, in part, by reforming federal immigration laws on “mandatory detention.”

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In 2019, the US Undocumented Population Continued a Decade-Long Decline and the Foreign-Born Population Neared Zero Growth

This report presents new estimates of the undocumented population residing in the United States in July 2019, by country of origin and state of residence. The Center for Migration Studies (CMS) derived the estimates by analyzing data collected in the annual American Community Survey (ACS) conducted by the US Census Bureau (Ruggles et al. 2020). The methodology used to estimate the undocumented population is described in the Appendix.

The report highlights an aspect of population change — the number leaving the population — that is often overlooked in discussions of immigration trends. The report shows that the annual numbers leaving the population, especially through return migration to Mexico, have been the primary determinant of population change in the undocumented population in the past decade. Increasing numbers leaving the population have also led to near-zero growth of the total foreign-born population, which grew by just 20,000 from July 2018 to June 2019, the slowest growth in that population in more than a half-century.

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The Household Financial Losses Triggered by an Immigration Arrest, and How State and Local Government Can Most Effectively Protect Their Constituents

Through a survey of 125 long-term resident households in Pima County, Arizona, this study finds that an immigration arrest costs each household an average of more than $24,000. These costs accumulate through the value of assets seized and not recovered, out-of-pocket costs for hiring an attorney, immigration bond, and other expenses involved in supporting an immediate family member as they navigate the immigration court system. But they also include lost income due to disruptions to employment resulting from the arrest, and a physical inability to work while in detention, appearing in court, and immediately following deportation. In this article, we discuss how, when measured at the scale of the household, these financial costs fail to discriminate according to immigration or citizenship status, and accumulate to affect issues of poverty, education, housing security, health and development, and generational wealth inequality — all matters of sustained interest to state and local government. In the second half of the article, we draw on our research findings to evaluate various policies that states, counties, and municipalities can implement to mitigate these financial burdens while promoting the overall well-being of their constituents. Policies considered include:

  • The “Immigrant Welcoming City” paradigm
  • The limitation of routine cooperation and custody transfer between local and federal law enforcement
  • Expanding access to permissible forms of identification
  • Universal representation for immigration defendants
  • The cultivation of community bond funds
  • The promotion of worker-owned cooperatives

Although these kinds of state or local initiatives cannot replace meaningful federal action on immigration reform, they can do much to provide relief and promote economic security for established immigrant and mixed-status families living in the United States, while contributing to overall community well-being and economic vitality.

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Caught in the Crossfire: Challenges to Migrant Protection in the Yemeni and Libyan Conflicts

In spite of the prevailing security dynamics in Yemen and Libya, both states continue to serve as areas of transit along some of the world’s largest mixed migration routes, leaving migrants caught in the crossfire of the two conflicts. This article examines the legal framework governing the protection of migrants in armed conflict under international humanitarian and human rights law. It also identifies two adverse incentives produced by the conflict situations that impede the exercise of these legal protections: (1) profits derived from migrant smuggling and trafficking, and (2) the use of migrants to support armed groups. In the absence of stable conditions in Yemen and Libya, individuals have little reason to respect international legal protections and discontinue migrant abuse connected with the lucrative businesses of smuggling and trafficking. The intractable nature of the two conflicts has also led to the strategic use of migrants as armed support, and more specifically as combatants, weapons transports, and human shields. Given these realities, the article outlines several recommendations to address the issue of migrant abuse in conflict. It recommends that states, particularly those neighboring Yemen and Libya, strengthen regular migration pathways to help reduce the number of migrants transiting through active conflict zones. It further advises that the international community increase the cost of non-compliance to international humanitarian law through the use of accountability mechanisms and through strategic measures, including grants of reciprocal respect to armed groups that observe protections accorded to migrants in conflict situations.

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US Foreign-Born Workers in the Global Pandemic: Essential and Marginalized

This article provides detailed estimates of foreign-born (immigrant) workers in the United States who are employed in “essential critical infrastructure” sectors, as defined by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency of the US Department of Homeland Security. Building on earlier work by the Center for Migration Studies, the article offers exhaustive estimates on essential workers on a national level, by state, for large metropolitan statistical areas, and for smaller communities that heavily rely on immigrant labor. It also reports on these workers by job sector; immigration status; eligibility for tax rebates under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act); and other characteristics.

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International Migration amid a World in Crisis

This article comprehensively examines international migration trends and policies in light of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. It begins by reviewing migration developments throughout the past 60 years. It then examines pandemic-related migration trends and policies. It concludes with a series of general observations and insights that should guide local, national, regional, and international policymakers, moving forward. In particular, it proposes the following:

  • National measures to combat COVID-19 should include international migrants, irrespective of their legal status, and should complement regional and international responses.
  • Localities, nations, and the international community should prioritize the safe return and reintegration of migrants.
  • States and international agencies should plan for the gradual re-emergence of large-scale migration based on traditional push and pull forces once a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available.
  • States should redouble their efforts to reconcile national border security concerns and the basic human rights of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.
  • States and the international community should accelerate their efforts to address climate-related migration.
  • States of origin, transit, and destination should directly address the challenges of international migration and not minimize them.

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Revisiting the Refugee–Host Relationship in Nakivale Refugee Settlement: A Dialogue with the Oxford Refugee Studies Centre

Uganda has long promoted refugee self-reliance as a sustainable livelihood strategy with progressive land-allocation and free-movement-for-work policies. Framed as a dialogue with Oxford University Refugee Studies Centre (“the Centre”), this article explores sustainable solutions that benefit refugees as well as the host populations that receive them. It explores the self-reliance opportunities that depend on the transnational, national, and local markets in which refugees participate. It acknowledges the Centre’s substantial work and welcomes its focus on economic outcomes. For Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Uganda, however, the discussion of “refugee economies” may not be complete without problematizing the effects on the host populations living alongside the refugees.

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More than a Wall: The Rise and Fall of US Asylum and Refugee Policy

This article uses a multidisciplinary approach — analyzing historical sources, refugee and asylum admissions data, legislative provisions, and public opinion data — to track the rise and fall of the US asylum and refugee policy. It shows that there has always been a political struggle between people who advocate for a generous refugee and asylum system and those who oppose it. Today, the flexible system of protecting refugees and asylees, established in 1980, is giving way to policies that weaponize them.

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