Can’t say it enough: Crossing the border to seek asylum is not illegal

After Vice President Mike Pence made remarks in meeting with leaders of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, I tried to clarify something on Twitter about what he said. It seems to have struck a chord — or a nerve — with many people.

There are many migrants who are not explicitly crossing the southern border without presenting themselves at checkpoints because they are fleeing violence. There are people who are trying to escape poverty to reunite with family in the US. But if Pence is talking about a “migration crisis” — a term that deserves analysis in its own right — it’s important to note that many of these migrants take the dangerous journey because they feel their lives are in danger. They are looking for safety and, often, requesting asylum.

The US is a signatory of he Refugee Convention in 1967 and asylum-seekers are protected under US law. It’s not that the US has to (or does) allow anyone who says they are afraid to stay in the country. But there is a process by which their claim is heard.

Here’s more about that process — the links in this this story can take you even deeper into the subject.

Covering immigration: What reporters get wrong and how to get it right

I’ve spent the last three years, in my position as a senior editor for Global Nation, PRI’s The World’s immigration desk, developing training material for our contributors (and amazing group of dedicated reporters — check out their work) and for reporters around the country to be able to better cover the United States’ large and complex immigration system.

As more media outlets devote time and resources to this important topic, I’m trying to help connect reporters and share what we’ve learned at Global Nation. For my part, over six years of editing the ambitious work of many journalists, I’ve found it to be a beat that is incredibly rewarding and, often, very difficult.

One resource I’ve created, which I began to formalize when Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) began asking me to host workshops, is a list of data resources. On the immigration beat, context and numbers isn’t always easy to get or understand. So this is a growing, public resource for reporters who are trying to understand the agencies involved in the US immigration system, the scope of their work, as well as demographics, trends and other issues that can help their reporting. There are now 75 places to find data listed in the spreadsheet.

Chloe Reichel at the Journalist’s Resource website asked me about the training material, as well as for some tips on immigration reporting. To do good reporting on immigration, developing a diverse staff or contributor base and being sure not to parachute into communities that are in crisis are two really important starting points. Here are some other tips I offered.

My hope is that these resources help those of you who are just getting started and those who have been on the beat longer than I have. Feel free to reach out if you have questions or ideas to improve them.

Lives on the Line: Caring for Displaced People

I was honored to help craft and lead this conversations with health care providers and a journalist about what matters most to people fleeing conflicts. I learned from the panelists, and hope you can too.

The event was hosted by Doctors Without Borders at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and was streamed online to about 9,500 people.

Among the takeaways for me? Power. Empowering people in their own lives is very important, even — especially — in situations of conflict and war.

In Texas, the conflicts between immigration enforcement and public safety concerns is on display

What’s happening in Texas is part of a larger national debate about how local and state law enforcement policies can affect public safety. SB4 is the first state law seeking to penalize sanctuary cities, but many other similar pieces of legislation are moving through states around the country.

On the other hand, the governor of Illinois signed the Trust Act Monday. The law prevents state and local police from detaining people on the basis of their immigration status and from complying with immigration officers’ requests to detain people. Some people say the Illinois law creates a “sanctuary state,” though many supporters reject that label. The law would ensure good communication with the federal government on immigration, not keep law enforcement agencies apart, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner says.

“Illinois has been welcoming of immigrants for a long time, and this bill will continue that tradition,” Rauner said during the signing ceremony. “It also makes clear that stopping violent crime will be law enforcement’s mission rather than working on federal prerogatives that a federal court has found illegal.”

Read on at PRI.org.

“I wish my body could tell the difference…”

I worked with reporter Tiziana Rinaldi on a story that took great courage on the part of the people who spoke with us.

Laura López, a 29-year-old DACA recipient in Provo, Utah, told me about what it’s like to panic. The physicality of it is striking.

Woman outside, with young boy piggy backing“I wish my body could tell the difference between border crossing danger and the feeling of the unknown, even if I’m just sitting at my desk,” she said.

If you’ve ever had an anxiety attack or a panic attack, you’ll understand this story very well. The consequences of long-term stress, in this case caused by long-term immigration status uncertainty, is real. Our immigration system puts a lot of people in this kind of limbo. And mental health experts say, it’s really hard to provide the kind of care these immigrants need.

Read on at PRI.org.

An immigration data workshop at Investigative Reporters and Editors

There are some 320 million people in the US. 43 million of them were born abroad. About 11 million people are undocumented and over 5.1 million children have one or more undocumented parent. 860,000 people have applied for temporary legal status because they were brought to the US without proper documentation as children. Over 500,000 people are waiting for their cases to be heard in immigration courts. Some 270,000 people in the US came as refugees. On any given day, about 40,000 people are in immigration detention.

The numbers surrounding immigration can often be daunting and, sometimes, hard to track down. In this session, we’ll go through some of the most useful data sets available — and talk about some of the data that’s a bit tougher to find. We’ll talk about how to use that data to get leads on local and national stories — and what to do when the government is not providing data about its immigration actions.

IRE logoI’ll be at this year’s IRE conference in Phoenix for a June 24 workshop. Come work through the numbers — each is a person, after all — and find stories with me.

April 6 in Chicago: People-Centered Immigration Storytelling

I led a workshop at the Journalism and Women Symposium in Virginia in October that I think was supposed to be about technology.

But the only tools anyone really needed was some scratch paper and a pen.

Daria Nepriakhina/CC BY 2.0

What I’ve found in developing a social strategy for Public Radio International and for our immigration coverage, Global Nation, is that while many newsrooms and institutions want to develop relationships with the communities they cover, they often end up seeking “likes” and retweets instead. Facebook and Twitter provide particular types of data about their performance and — instead of focusing on their actual goals — they focus on upping the numbers these for-profit platforms give them most easily.

Which brings me back to the scratch paper. The most difficult part of creating a strategy, a process by which you can engage with a wider public, isn’t finding numbers to measure your success. It’s actually knowing what success means for your organization — without depending on what’s on the screen in front of us.

I’m going to give another, more in-depth version of the session I gave last fall at City Bureau in Chicago on April 6. I’ll talk about how we defined success in Global Nation, and how we measure it. And I’ll do my best to help participants scratch out their own goals. If you’re in the area and like this kind of stuff, please join us!

Public Newsroom #13: People-Centered Immigration Storytelling

Hosted by City Bureau, South Side Weekly and Illinois Humanities

Thursday, April 6 at 6 to 8 p.m.
Build Coffee
6100 S Blackstone Ave, Chicago, Illinois 60637

Find out more and let the organizers (and me) know you’re coming.

The US has already tried registering Muslims. It didn’t work.

I reported on a Muslim registry in the US almost 15 years ago, after 9/11. It never occurred to me, once the Bush administration quietly stopped pursuing the program, that I would have an occasion to report on it again.

But here we are. Since this story ran, the Obama administration has taken the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), essentially a profiling program for male non-resident immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, off the books. But it was a program that was implemented by executive order, so if Trump so chooses, it will be easy to begin again. In fact, one of Trump’s immigration advisors was a chief architect of the original program.

I reported this story to help people better understand what “extreme vetting” and “Muslim registry” actually means. Read and listen at PRI.org.

I moved to Minneapolis for Prince

On the left, we took a photo in the car, before we went into Paisley Park last summer. Prince doesn’t allow photos or alcohol in his parties. On the right, Paisley Park at night. Credit: Angilee Shah

On the day of Prince’s death, I wrote a remembrance.

I don’t remember not listening to Prince. After college, I got my first job in Los Angeles and moved into a motel-turned-apartment on La Cienega Boulevard. The street was busy and, like most of my neighbors had experienced at one time or another, my old Civic was broken into in my first few months on the block. They smashed a back window, took my tennis bag and a pair of heels I wore into the office. I made peace in my heart with the thief, though, mostly because the only CD he or she took from my collection was “The Very Best of Prince.”

Prince to me was Los Angeles, and I love Los Angeles. So whoever had the good taste to cherry-pick his music from the pack was OK with me. I couldn’t blame them. I had barely enough money at the time to fix the back window. I replaced the Prince CD first.

Read the full story at PRI.org.

‘Detained because my name was Gonzalez’

Jacinta Gonzalez locked herself to a vehicle on Mar. 19 to block the road to a Trump rally in Fountain Hills, Arizona. She was arrested with two other protestors, who were released that night. She was held detained overnight at the request of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Gonzalez is a US citizen. Credit: Diane Ovalle/Mijente
Jacinta Gonzalez locked herself to a vehicle on Mar. 19 to block the road to a Trump rally in Fountain Hills, Arizona. She was arrested with two other protestors, who were released that night. She was held detained overnight at the request of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Gonzalez is a US citizen. Credit: Diane Ovalle/Mijente

Gonzalez and the two other protesters were in the booking area together, where they were processed, fingerprinted and patted down. That’s when, she says, two agents called her by name to come up to the counter. Gonzalez says she was the only one in the booking area who was called up. They began asking questions including, “What’s your immigration status?”

Gonzalez replied, “I want an attorney present to answer your questions.”

“Oh, so you’re illegal,” one of the agents replied, she recalls. They asked if she is a citizen. She refused to answer. She had provided her Louisiana drivers license, name and date of birth — enough to check databases and verify her status.

The agents then told her that they were issuing an immigration detainer, which is a request by ICE for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office to hold a suspect and turn him or her over to immigration officials once they complete their investigation.

Chris Hegstrom, the director of public information for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, says this was all standard procedure. The ICE agents are stationed at the Fourth Avenue jail and question everyone who comes through, he says.

“If you were arrested today, you would be interviewed by ICE,” Hegstrom says. “If I were arrested, I too would be interviewed by ICE.”

The two other protestors, both white men, told The Republic they were never questioned by the agents nor were they asked about their immigration status.

About 8 p.m., the three protestors were seen by a judge. They were released on their own recognizance and will face misdemeanor charges for obstructing a highway. By late that night, 11 p.m. or midnight, Gonzalez estimates, the jail finished processing them. The two other protestors were released; Gonzalez was kept in jail overnight, in isolation, she says.

Full story at PRI.org.