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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
6100 S Blackstone Ave, Chicago, Illinois 60637
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.
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.
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.
The Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Legal Permanent Residents program, commonly known as DAPA, was scheduled to start in May 2015 and would have granted certain undocumented parents, like Bilbao, temporary relief from deportation and employment authorization. But the program was put on hold by a federal court.
Not far from the southern limits of the US, and the very busy San Ysidro border crossing into Mexico, a small group of men, ages 30 to 70, have made a home. They have family in the US. They fought in the US military. Some were injured in battle. Some have PTSD.
They have all been deported to Mexico and want to return to their homes in the US.
For now, though, home is a place called The Bunker, a Tijuana support house for US military veterans who have nowhere else to go when they land back in Mexico. It was founded by Hector Barajas, who himself served in the US Army and was deported in 2004.
Rekha Koirala is a first-time voter. She was born in Bhutan and grew up in a refugee camp in Nepal. She came the the US in 2008 and became a citizen as soon as she was eligible in 2013.
“I grew up not belonging to anywhere,” she says on the phone from Portland. “I was kicked out of my own country.”
For her, the process of becoming a citizen and registering to vote was relatively simple. She remembers the volunteers who helped her fill out a registration card after she took her oath of citizenship — and that was that. Come November, like everyone else in Oregon, she will mail in her ballot.
Studies show that naturalized citizens vote at lower rates than native-born citizens. A 2012 University of Southern California study (PDF), however, points out that this discrepancy is rooted at the registration level. That is to say, when you compare naturalized and native-born citizens who are registered to vote, participation levels are roughly equal.
So for advocates and those who want to empower new Americans in the political system, registering new Americans like Koirala is particularly important.
Meena Ramamurthy is a filmmaker and storyteller. A colleague, another writer of color, once told her: “Don’t write a pilot with two people of color.”
“It doesn’t come from a bad place,” Ramamurthy says. “It just comes from experience.”
If you’ve watched “Master of None” (the “Indians on Television” episode), this probably sounds familiar. Studios, investors, networks — they have not caught up to the changing demographics of their audience. And in the meantime, they’re having a hard time bridging the gap between a new generation of storytellers and their old formulas for what works.
So stories with two lead characters who are Indian? They get left behind.
An annual report from USC, Ramamurthy’s alma mater, quantifies the issue. The study, by the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative, drilled down into the content of 10 major media companies. The results may not be wholly surprising. This year, they found that, “The film industry still functions as a straight, White, boy’s club.”