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Thursday, October 22, 2015
FOI Toolbox

Documenting the undocumented

By Lynn Walsh

Regardless of whether you live in or near a border town, immigration issues are moving to the forefront of people’s minds. And for good reason: Immigrants are coming to the United States at higher rates today than they were during the 1900s.

Reporting and covering these issues is more important now than ever. The issues also affect almost every aspect of our lives: culture, economy, education, politics, health, etc. To report on the changes, we need to first figure out what’s happening in our communities.

When I produce stories and work with my team, I like to have data or documents to back up and support what people are saying. Yes, the people tell the story, but having solid facts, numbers or statistics helps substantiate or make a story more conclusive.

One of the challenges when reporting on immigration issues is how do you get data or numbers for people who immigrate to the U.S. without being tracked by the government?

Fortunately, some resources are available to help:

• The ACLU

• Immigrant rights organizations

• Religious organizations

• The U.S. Census American Community Survey, which includes data related to an individual’s place of birth, citizenship status and more

• Advocacy organizations, including National Council of La Raza, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, and the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans

• Think tanks, including the Hispanic Center, Migration Policy Institute and Center for Immigration Studies

Don’t forget about the Freedom of Information Act. File requests for data relating to:

• Deaths among undocumented workers

• Fatal accidents in areas or companies where immigrants may be working

• Wage and hour violations in your area (it’s been shown that people who do not speak the language where they work are more likely to become victims of wage theft)

On top of those resources, sometimes the best data and information come from people engaged in your community.

Talk to advocates, non-profit organizations and immigration attorneys. I think the best way to do that is to go to events, knock on doors and make phone calls. Tell people you are interested in reporting on these issues, and in my experience they are pretty open and willing to help.

If you strike out there, try local government agencies. There are more than you think that may be involved with immigration issues, including:

• Your local ICE officials (both local and federal officials)

• Border Patrol

• Judges that oversee or hear immigration issues

• Immigration units within your court system (district attorney)

• Law enforcement involved in federal task forces relating to immigration issues

• U.S. Department of Justice

As much as data can help, establishing a relationship with someone is also important. Talk to the people you are mentioning in your stories, get to know them and develop a relationship so they trust you.

Lynn Walsh is an Emmy Award-winning journalist leading the investigative team at KNSD in San Diego, Calif., a member of the SPJ FOI Committee and national president-elect for SPJ. Interact on Twitter: @LWalsh or email: Lynn.K.Walsh@gmail.com

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