Always Highly Charged, Immigration Beat Has Gotten Even Hotter

By Chris Adams

Suzanne Gamboa of NBC Latino has been covering immigration off and on for 30 years. And it’s gotten progressively more complex and more politically charged.

It’s not just the issue of the wall President Donald Trump wants to build between Mexico and the United States. It’s the status of undocumented immigrants already in the country, and skilled workers from around the globe who want to come to the U.S. for high-tech jobs, and refugees fleeing violence in Muslim-majority countries who face a chilly reception if they try to emigrate to the U.S.

“Immigration is not something that can be fixed,” Gamboa (Twitter) said. “The border will never be secure. What you can have is border management.”

In a session with Paul Miller fellows, three reporters described how to stay on top of a massive and rapidly changing beat. Two of the reporters are Paul Miller alums: Gamboa and Franco Ordoñez, who covers immigration topics as a White House correspondent for McClatchy.

Ordoñez (Twitter) described how language has changed on the beat during his time covering it. “Chain migration” to some is “family reunification” to others.

“Be careful of the language you use,” Ordoñez said, telling a story of when he used a term one side of the debate considered to pejorative – and that side of the debate didn’t talk to him for a few days. “Always best to use the most neutral term.”

The Associated Press Stylebook has an entry for immigration that reporters should read. The stylebook says journalists should not say “illegal alien” or “illegal immigrant,” terms that were in common usage a decade earlier.

Ordoñez also discussed some relatively under-covered immigration stories, such as the H-1B visa program that issues work permits to workers with “highly specialized knowledge” to fill jobs when qualified Americans can’t be found. Critics say the program is being abused by U.S. companies that send jobs to outsourcing companies employing workers who had come into the U.S. on H-1B visas for their training but then returned to their home countries.

Laura Meckler (stories and bio, Twitter) of The Wall Street Journal put the complexity of the beat in sharp focus, detailing the four different facets of the beat – and how she executed a story in each of them. That includes stories on border security; deportation; the Muslim travel ban and refugee issues; and legal immigration and whether it should be scaled back.

“There are so many people who come for so many different reasons,” Meckler said.

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