Magazine article Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal

Breaking Down Barriers

Magazine article Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal

Breaking Down Barriers

Article excerpt

Our investigations have zeroed in on questionable policies affecting both immigrants and native-born Americans. We've deconstructed how President Trump and other politicians capitalize on immigration myths, and we've explored how those myths are used to justify policies that result in immigrants' separations and deportations.

We inaugurated our "Immigration Decoded" blog in January 2018 to demystify the visa system and provide context that breaking news stories can't often accommodate. We've tried to address comments that readers post in response to stories - comments that often contain misconceptions - and we've also invited readers to submit questions of their own.

Here are some tips for reporting on themes that crop up repeatedly in reader comments and questions.

1.

Can't people immigrate legally? Why don't undocumented people take steps to "get legal"?

Many Americans aren't close enough to the immigrant experience to understand how someone obtains a legal permanent residency visa - also known as a green card - or other types of visas. Politicians often like to appear pro-immigrant by praising legal immigrants for not "jumping the line." But most immigrants are only able to obtain green cards because they're sponsored by a spouse, parent, adult child or sibling, not because they're patiently waiting a turn.

In far fewer cases, employers can attempt to obtain visas to sponsor people to fill jobs. But there are surprisingly few visas for jobs often filled by undocumented immigrants. Undocumented workers usually land jobs through word of mouth, and they use fake Social Security cards and other documents that look authentic enough to pass. By law, employers are only required to see and keep written record of identity documents, and they are not required to validate them.

A read of the American Immigration Council's online primer on visas (bit.ly/visaprimer) can help reporters avoid repeating myths by clarifying what the visa system actually allows. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services also has a primer on visa categories (bit.ly/visacategory), and the National Immigration Forum (bit. ly/NIFcourt) has one on how the immigration court system functions.

On our Immigration Decoded blog, we've tried to consistently include information that goes beyond the news to explain that immigrants who came illegally as children or who have a Temporary Protected Status aren't scofflaws who've neglected to "get legal." Under the current immigration system, most of them have no path to green cards and citizenship. We've also reported multiple stories on little-known laws preventing thousands of undocumented people married to U.S. citizens from legalizing their immigration status. Many readers have no idea of the barriers that exist to obtaining legal status - and how those barriers harm U.S. citizens, too.

2.

How much do immigrants cost Americans, and how much do they contribute?

Lou Dobbs and other media personalities have built careers railing against immigration and feeding into preconceived notions about this. For years, immigration-restriction groups have also been releasing reports purporting to show immigration's negative fiscal impact. Avoid these reports unless you're going to seek neutral opinions on the methods used to produce them.

If you decide to report on costs, ask yourself: Is it balanced to estimate costs of schooling for immigrants' kids without also consulting with experts who can measure the contributions of immigrants' labor? If U.S. citizens replaced undocumented immigrants on every job in a community, would they be less of a so-called "drain on revenues"? Undocumented immigrant adults are ineligible for most public benefits, as the National Immigration Forum website explains.

Communities have legitimate concerns about whether schools must invest more in education to serve immigrant children learning English. But fair reporting means avoiding isolating costs without looking at labor and tax contributions and the multiplier effect that legal and undocumented immigrant workers bring to an entire community. …

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