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Borderless Magazine’s Favorite Stories of 2022

By January 12, 2023January 26th, 2023Trending

A female Afghan governor-turned-refugee, a Bangladeshi community builder working behind bars, a Mexican American woman who turned love-letter writing into a family tradition, here are some of the people whose stories we helped tell in 2022.

Saleha Soadat interviews former Afghan district governor Salima Mazari on a couch in her current homeMichelle Kanaar/Borderless Magazine
Saleha Soadat interviews former Afghan district governor Salima Mazari in her current home in the American Midwest, May 4, 2022.
By January 12, 2023January 26th, 2023Trending

A female Afghan governor-turned-refugee, a Bangladeshi community builder working behind bars, a Mexican American woman who turned love-letter writing into a family tradition, here are some of the people whose stories we helped tell in 2022.

Putting people first is at the heart of our reporting.

From when we first reach out to someone, to the fact-checking process, our reporters work collaboratively with people who are immigrants or the children of immigrants. We work to inform and educate, highlight the strengths, document the struggles, and provide services to a diverse array of immigrant communities.

One person we met in 2022 was Al-Amin Porosh, an ICE detainee who assisted other detainees in navigating the confusing immigration detention system and was released in December. Another was Julieta Alcántar-García a lifelong resident of West Chicago and activist who is fighting against the opening of a second waste transfer station in the Latino-majority city to protect her family and community. We also spoke with Afghan women, including our contributing reporter and previous pathways fellow Saleha Soadat, about navigating life here in the U.S. after escaping Afghanistan in August 2021.

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Whether we are reporting on environmental health hazards, the driving causes behind immigration, or fighting for change in one’s community, we work to create a representative media landscape that includes diverse voices and experiences.

As we look to the year ahead, we will continue to bring you stories of immigrants fighting injustice and working to build and strengthen our communities.

Sandra and Jesse Arzola in front of Sandra's family’s house in West Chicago
Sandra and Jesse Arzola in front of Sandra's family’s house in West Chicago, Ill., Saturday, June 25, 2022. The couple lived with Sandra’s family in West Chicago during the 1990s when the city was cleaning up radioactive waste left behind by an old factory last owned by the Kerr-McGee Chemical Corporation. Jonathan Aguilar/Borderless Magazine

West Chicago Is Cleaning Up The Last Of Its Nuclear Contamination. Residents Exposed To Radiation Say ‘It’s Not Over’ 

A West Chicago local factory was once the largest producer of thorium in the world which made the Latino majority city the “radioactive capital of the Midwest.”

Radioactive waste from the factory, which looked like sand, was used as fill and spread to parks, homes, sidewalks and construction sites across West Chicago. Sandra and Jesse Arzola and other West Chicago residents spoke to journalist Liuan Huska about discovering the legacy of a toxic danger tainting their community.

“People don’t want to discuss it,” said Jesse Arzola, “because they are afraid of the unknown.”

Salima Mazari looking out the window of her current home
Salima Mazari in her current home in the American Midwest, May 4, 2022. Mazari, a former Afghan district governor, continues to aid her people from abroad and connect them to resources.Michelle Kanaar/Borderless Magazine

This Female Afghan Governor Fought Against The Taliban

Salima Mazari was one of just three women serving as a district governor in Afghanistan before the Taliban took over. Mazari grew up as a refugee in Iran, where she completed her education. She belongs to the Hazara ethnic minority that has been discriminated against for years because of their ethnicity and Shiite religion. After the collapse of the Afghan government in August 2021, Mazari migrated to the American Midwest with her husband and three children, where she continues to advocate for Afghans.

This story is part of our series, Broken-Winged Birds: Afghans in Exile.

“War and violence are not things to be loved,” said Mazari. “As a woman, I never wanted to go to war just to defend my people and my family. But there was no other way.”

Omar with a black turtleneck and beard and mustache standing on a sidewalk, lots of skyscrapers in the background
Denis “Omar” Covis at Olive Park Woodland in Chicago, Ill., Sept. 27, 2022. Covis explored Chicago for the first time since he arrived in Chicago on Sept. 7, 2022. He and other migrants walked for over an hour to get to Lake Michigan. Jesus J. Montero for Borderless Magazine

A Venezuelan Father’s Fight To Earn A Living For His Family: ‘I Was Tired Of Not Being Able To Provide For Them’

Denis “Omar” Covis left his pregnant wife and children and traveled over 3,000 miles — including on foot, through jungles, mountains, and rivers — to get to Chicago. But he says the trip wasn’t a choice, it was a necessity. Leaving home was the only way he would be able to find a job that would support his growing family.

This story is part of our series, After The Buses: Meet The Migrants At The Center Of Texas’ Manufactured Crisis.

“”Faith is the last thing you lose and I know God gives us a lot of opportunities,” said Covis. “While I’m alive, I’ll persevere.”

illustration of Al-Amin Porosh wearing a blue colared shirt
Al-Amin Porosh. Illustration courtesy of Organized Communities Against Deportation

When Illinois Shut Down Detention Centers, One Detainee Made Sure Fellow Immigrants Got Help

Al-Amin Porosh has helped fellow detainees navigate an opaque immigrant detention system – and built a community behind bars. When Illinois decided to shut down its immigrant detention centers in early 2022, advocacy groups and attorneys were left scrambling to find clients who had been abruptly transferred to jails and private detention centers across the country.

At the McHenry County jail in suburban Chicago, Porosh, a 25-year-old immigrant from Bangladesh, proved to be a lifeline for information. In the midst of isolation and stress of detention for most, his efforts connected people to advocates to receive legal assistance and updates which built a community in the world’s largest immigrant detention system, a largely opaque network of local jails and private prisons spread across the United States. Porosh was released in December, 2022 after spending 22 months in detention and almost being deported twice.

“I came to this country to save my life, to get a better life, and then I can help people,” Porosh said.

Saleha Soadat addressing Afghan journalists for journalists’ rights and protection at Nai Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan, July 2015. Photo by Bjorn Normann Jr.

An Afghan Journalist’s Escape From The Taliban

Our contributing reporter and former Pathways fellow Saleha Soadat is one of hundreds of thousands of Afghans who rushed the Kabul airport to flee Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of the government in August 2021. Before fleeing Afghanistan, Soadat was an award-winning radio and TV journalist. When she ended up in Chicago after being processed at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, she was determined to continue her career in journalism.

“I was vulnerable for three reasons. I am a woman, I belong to the Hazara ethnic group and I am a journalist,” said Soadat. “For the Taliban, these three groups of people are a perfect excuse to kill. The Taliban are currently suppressing women, journalists and Hazaras in Afghanistan.”

Today, Saleha is pursuing her master’s degree in mass communication at Texas State University and received a full scholarship.

Migrants walk to a city bus after being sent to Chicago from Texas by Gov. Greg Abbott
Egliany, 19, holds her son, Angel, 2, as they wait outside Union Station for friends to pick them up after arriving from Texas by bus to Chicago, Ill., Sept. 7, 2022. Egliany and her husband told Borderless their final destination is New York, where a friend lives and where they will be applying for asylum. Jesus J. Montero for Borderless Magazine

What’s Behind Venezuelan Migrants Coming To Chicago?

Local professor and cofounder of the Illinois Venezuelan Alliance, Ana Gil Garcia, has been living in Chicago since 1995. Borderless spoke to her about what has been going on in Venezuela and how newly arrived Venezuelans are faring in Chicago.

“This latest wave of Venezuelan migration is very different from any past wave,” said Gil Garcia. “Many people have risked their lives to cross borders, taking a boat from Colombia and passing through the Darién Gap. These boats are overcrowded, and people drown. They end up on this path because they are manipulated into thinking there is a safe way for them to get to the United States.”

a woman with a bucket while water and objects (teddy bear, photos, lamp, pciture frame, blanket, chair) swirl around her
Illustration by Jennifer Chavez for Borderless Magazine

As Flooding Increases, Chicago Looks To Make Basement Housing Safer 

Chicago has experienced more frequent and severe storms in recent decades, putting immigrants and low-income Chicagoans living in basement units at increased risk of flooding.

Residents, like Daniela*, shared their experiences of apartment flooding caused by rain, storms, snowfall, and lake-related flooding.

Living in basement apartments increases the risk of residents losing their valuables and having health issues due to flooding. Basement apartments, which are not always legal, are popular options for lower-income residents and people from immigrant communities in Chicago.

*Daniela’s name was changed for this story to protect her safety and privacy. Borderless also chose to illustrate her image for this reason.

“We consider our city to be a sanctuary city, but at the same time, a lot of the living conditions don’t hold up,” Daniela said.

Borjon family photo in Chicago: parents with two little girls
Jose Juan Borjon, Vanessa Borjon, Rosa Maria Borjon and Michelle Borjon in 1993 in West Chicago, Ill. Photo courtesy of Vanessa Borjon

The Liberating Language Of Love Letters

First-generation Mexican American Vanessa Borjon wrote about how her parents met through a personal ad in the Chicago Sun-Times and how she has continued her family’s tradition of writing love letters.

“In person, my father may be a man of few words,” Borjon said. “But through his letters he was able to capture my mother’s attention and heart. His letters were often signed, ‘Forever tu chato.’” (Chato is a term of endearment for a person with a flat nose).

Naveen Ali drives her car
Naveen Ali delivers food for Grubhub in Chicago, Ill., Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. Ali has been working with Grubhub since 2020 after she was deactivated from both Lyft and Uber without an opportunity to appeal.Michelle Kanaar/Borderless Magazine

Unfairly Banned From Uber? Chicago Rideshare Drivers May Get A Fighting Chance

Rideshare driver Naveen Ali was kicked off of the Uber and Lyft ridesharing apps after acting in self-defense when a rider attacked her. After losing her job, the Pakistani immigrant couldn’t afford to pay her bills, lost her apartment and eventually slept in her car or with friends from her mosque. Chicago proposed a new law that would better protect Uber and Lyft drivers, the majority of whom are people of color.

“I’m not saying I’m perfect,” Ali said. “But if you see my driving record, no ticket, no nothing … At least give me a fair chance to talk.”

close image of Julieta Alcántar-García wearing a red top with shite flowers and blue accents
Julieta Alcántar-García at Immigrant Solidarity DuPage’s office in Wheaton, Ill., March 16, 2022. Alcántar-García is a lifelong resident of West Chicago and community health liaison for Immigrant Solidarity DuPage. Michelle Kanaar/Borderless Magazine

The Growing Fight Over A Trash Station In West Chicago

West Chicago residents and organizers from Immigrant Solidarity DuPage are concerned over plans to open a second waste transfer station in the Latino majority city, which would create more air pollution, odor and exposure to dangerous chemicals and radiation in the area.

Julieta Alcántar-García, a lifelong resident, expressed her concerns about what a second waste transfer station could mean for the community and how she and other activists are fighting against it and for the safety of their families and neighbors.

“It’s all because they think West Chicago is a little town,” Alcántar-García said. “Their excuse is ‘Oh we want to give it an economic boom.’ But we don’t want that kind of economic boom.”