Editor's note: We want you to know what's happening, why and how it could impact your life, family or business, so we created a weekly digest of the top original immigration, migration and refugee reporting from across VOA. Questions? Tips? Comments? Email the VOA immigration team: ImmigrationUnit@voanews.com.

The elephant in the room

This U.S. expression describes an issue that is so big it can't be ignored. Right now, President Donald Trump would like the elephant to be his proposed wall on the U.S. border between the U.S. and Mexico. He has expressed a willingness to shut down part of the U.S. government over funding for the wall "that will last for a very long time."

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If it feels like the wall has popped back into the headlines after a long absence, the truth is it has been there all along from the president's campaign rallies to the background of much of his immigration policy.

New shot at asylum

A new policy from the Department of Homeland Security requires migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. to wait in Mexico for months and maybe years while their cases work through the immigration courts, which have a backlog of more than 800,000 cases. Asylum lawyer Jason Dzubow says the matter will almost certainly be challenged in court.

The new policy, known as "Catch and Return" is the latest in a string of administration measures to restrict asylum, some of which have been curtailed by the courts.

Ali Hassan, center, speaks at a news conference af
Ali Hassan, center, speaks at a news conference after his wife, Shaima Swileh, hidden, arrived at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, Dec. 19, 2018.

Last embrace

A Yemeni mother cradled her dying baby for possibly the last time after nearly being prevented from seeing him at all. Under the travel ban, Yemeni nationals are prevented from visiting the U.S. The State Department granted Shaima Swileh a waiver to come to the U.S. after being sued by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Travel ban waivers are the subject of a lawsuit that alleges they are almost never granted, even in cases of severe illness or family separations. Last week, a federal judge ruled the case could proceed after government lawyers moved to stop it.

FILE - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (
FILE - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrest foreign nationals, Feb. 7, 2017, in Los Angeles. In New York on Tuesday a lawyer threatened to call ICE because he heard cafe workers speaking Spanish.


The Trump administration deported 256,000 people in 2018, up from the year before but still well below some of the Obama years when deportations approached 500,000.

Thirty-six Cambodians with felony convictions were deported last week. But Soeun Neat was not among them. His family won a temporary reprieve for him and is hoping for a pardon from outgoing California Governor Jerry Brown.

Last month, a federal court judge in Detroit ordered the release of 100 Iraqis held in detention prior to deportation by Dec. 20. But the next day, the judge was overruled by an appeals court that deemed he did not have jurisdiction in the case, an argument made by government lawyers. The ruling opens the door to the Iraqis' deportation, despite their claims. 

(Em)powering refugees

Barber Jerome Mbusuka cuts hair in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, using electrically-powered clippers. Without a solar panel he purchased, it would not be possible because electricity in the camp is not dependable. Solar is a clean solution, and a market-driven one.