United States Project

The immigration syllabus: 10 essential stories

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IMMIGRATION NEWS EXPLODED THIS WEEK, trending in a major way for the first time since the travel ban, displacing jobs and healthcare as the key issue in the run-up to the midterm elections. Journalists, including many who do not speak Spanish and who lack a background in these complicated policies, are being called to report on immigration at a breakneck speed. It is a tsunami of news, even for the most experienced journalists.

After the first travel ban, Elizabeth Aguilera and I launched Migratory Notes, a newsletter following immigration issues. It was intended to be a pop-up newsletter, something we would maintain for about a month. We have now published 70 weekly installments.

ICYMI: Breaking through the administration’s lies on immigration

As immigration coverage swells in the US, we have compiled 10 essential stories below that explain fundamental points shaping immigration under the Trump administration. These stories are written by immigration reporters who we look to time and again to understand the complex issues that underpin immigration; they reveal that problems like family separation are built on generations of immigration policies in this country.

Recent immigration coverage has raised the profiles of a number of excellent reporters doing incredible work on the topic. This list captures a few; for more, here is a select list of ​Twitter users we use as a resource for Migratory Notes​, and three  more extensive lists from ​PRI’s Global Nation project, from CityLab immigration reporter Tanvi Misra, and​ from Houston Chronicle immigration reporter Lomi Kriel​.


1. Trump’s crackdown focuses on people in the US illegally—but not on the businesses that hire them

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For decades, businesses have evaded consequences for hiring undocumented workers, while the employees themselves have been targets of life-changing enforcement and public ire. ​Cindy Carcamo​ reports on long-standing employer loopholes, and how they need to end in order to prevent unauthorized immigration flows.

(The Los Angeles Times, March 20, 2017)

2. A Travel Ban’s Foe: A Young Firebrand and Her Pro Bono Brigade

The first travel ban may have had a smaller impact than Trump intended in part thanks to one attorney who helped mobilize an army of law students and pro bono lawyers. ​Miriam Jordan​ offers a behind-the-scenes look at the meticulous preparations and the force behind a movement that appeared spontaneous.

(The New York Times, May 7, 2017)

3. The Wall

If the border wall could be built, what would it cost? A team of USA Today reporters and photojournalists flew and drove every foot of the border to create an expansive multimedia package of aerial video, a podcast and a virtual reality experience for which the crew was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

(USA Today, September 2017)

4. How the Dreamers Learned to Play Politics

Under the banner of the Dreamer movement, a nation of young, undocumented immigrants learned to wield their power. But the story of the movement isn’t without its internal frictions and divides. ​Julia Preston​ analyzes the players, how the movement started, and where it is going. For a more in-depth look, check out Laura Wides-Muñoz’s recently published “The Making of a Dream: How a group of young undocumented immigrants helped change what it means to be American

(Politico and The Marshall Project, September 9, 2017)

5. From Migrants to Refugees: The New Plight of Central Americans

Thousands of people are fleeing rampant violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. As they descend on the shelters that once supported economic migrants seeking a better life, they are transforming the shelters into refugee camps. In a four-part multimedia series, including a searing video animation, a team of bilingual journalists report the devastating stories of the transformation of the Central American migrant saga—and its collision with new Trump policies.

(Univision and El Faro, October 2017)

6. Why Don’t Mexicans Just Apply for Citizenship?

Dianne Solis​, who has been on the frontlines of immigration coverage for many years, breaks down a seemingly simple question and its complicated answers. Among them: A backlog is built into the process, so green cards are difficult to get. At the time of publication, Solis wrote, “it takes at least 22 years for people from Mexico to get a green card if they’re the married son or daughter of a US citizen.”

(The Dallas Morning News, December 15, 2017)

7. A Betrayal

A teenager told police all about his gang, MS-13. As a consequence, he was slated for deportation and marked for death. ​Hannah Dreier​ creates a gripping and harrowing personal story about the lack of clear communication among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies; unfulfilled promises that undermine immigrants’ trust in the system; and the disregard for the safety of migrants who have decided to cooperate with authorities, even if they have done wrong.

(ProPublica and New York magazine, April 2, 2018)

8. They Wanted The World To Pay Attention To Migrants. But The Attention Came At A Price.

News about the caravan of Central American asylum seekers blew up in a way nobody expected. Adolfo Flores​, who was embedded with the movement for more than a month and whose reporting brought it to the attention of the president, shares the gripping inside story. “It was a lesson in the consequences, in the age of Trump, of getting the attention you thought you wanted,” Flores writes. “Now they were also facing the wrath of Trump’s tweets, and soon they would feel the crushing weight of the US and Mexican governments, as the caravan became the center of a political game and a media storm, even as the migrants grappled with what it meant to suddenly become the face of their fleeing compatriots.”

(BuzzFeed, June 4, 2018)

9. Family separation: How did we get here?

It used to be rare that first-time border crossers were criminally prosecuted or held in detention. That changed with the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. While the policy of separating children from their parents is new, explains Vox’s ​Dara Lind​, it’s “building on an existing system, and attention to family separation has brought more awareness to problems with that system that have been going on for some time.”

(Vox, June 15, 2018)

10. Migrant children sent to shelters with histories of abuse allegations

The rough conditions undocumented youth face in detention go far beyond cages or tents. And they are not new: A Reveal and Texas Tribune investigation found drunk employees, sexual assault, forced administration of heavy psychotropic drugs that leave children “hypnotized,” and private companies that continue to receive government contracts despite repeated violations. “In nearly all cases, the federal government has continued to place migrant children with the companies even after serious allegations were raised and after state inspectors cited shelters with serious deficiencies,” according to the investigation. Since 2014, such deficient companies have received $1.5 billion in payments from the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

(Reveal and the Texas Tribune, June 20, 2018)

ICYMI: How immigration reporting overlooks women

Daniela Gerson, Elizabeth Aguilera, and Yana Kunichoff are the editorial team behind Migratory Notes. Gerson is a professor of journalism at California State University, Northridge, and the incoming co-director of the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism. Elizabeth Aguilera is a multimedia journalist who covers immigration, health and social services for CALmatters. Yana Kunichoff is an independent journalist based in Moscow. Gerson and Aguilera are founders and editors of Migratory Notes, and Kunichoff is a staff writer.