By Jack C. Doppelt, Medill, Immigrant Connect, Dec. 21, 2017
A Social Justice Journalism Approach to Immigrant and Refugee Issues
One year ago, the writing was on the wall of tweets that a new president was about to push aside a departing President Obama’s policies and initiate a brash agenda. We reported on the First Hundred Days of the new administration from the perspective of immigrants and refugees.
We road tested a more connected way of reporting – social justice journalism – that zeroes in on the impact societal inequities, systemic abuses and policy assumptions have on immigrants, refugees, their families and communities.
As we published such stories as The future of fleeing religious persecution and finding protection in Trump’s America; Winnebago County stands against ICE detention center in Rockford; A tale of two school districts’ post-election approaches; Over-policing strains Chicago’s Mexican immigrant communities; Trump administration policies, though on hold, have Syrians in the U.S. on edge and guessing; and Hate is tracking in the Korean American community, the Trump administration became emboldened and rolled out policies that directly, aggressively and unapologetically undermine basic values of social justice. The policies target the very individuals and communities that have been hardest hit already by societal inequities and systemic abuses.
By characterizing immigrants and refugees as illegal, criminal, terrorism-prone, tax-avoiding, resource-straining, job-stealing, visa-abusing, and loophole-seeking, the administration and expanding stables of law enforcement have found it unconscionably easy to separate families, ignore persecution in the world, curtail entry into the U.S., and threaten the sanctuary sensibilities of cities, hospitals, universities, schools, and churches with being seen as disloyal to the country. You can hear it in the rhetoric, read it between the lines of policy initiatives, and be smothered by the media coverage of it. Immigrants and refugees have become “the other,” demonized and unwelcome, and the country could use some ethnic cleansing by any other name.
The most basic of tenets in the emergence of social justice journalism is to use the storytelling process itself to humanize people’s lives and to explore how policies and divisive issues can wreak havoc on vulnerable populations whose lives are in the balance.
It is painful as journalists to recognize that this country (and the world) is in the process of playing out an immigration debate that is being addressed in grotesque spasms.
As we’ve sought out stories to report, we’ve begun a process of differentiating social justice journalism from traditional journalism in terms of norms, ethics, sourcing, story generation, relationships with vulnerable communities, and the balance between detachment and advocacy. We are taking a stab at a guide of ethics, norms and practices that questions journalistic bromides and that responds to the 2014 challenge of the Society of Professional Journalists to “encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices, coverage and news content.”
Read our stories, and then join us in the inquiry to flesh out a journalistic approach that values social justice along with reliability, credibility, and accuracy:
Undocumented are invisible in school success data by Hannah Wiley
Crossing the border for the Akwesasne Tribe is a work in progress by Natalya Carrico
This is another in the continuing partnership linking immigrant and refugee communities with one another through the lens of social justice journalism.
The first illuminated the phenomenon of the American dream for a cluster of extraordinary Chicago-based global immigrants whose dream is even grander than borders. Theirs is of being in two places at once, living here and staking a claim to the future of the country they won’t leave behind. Those stories were published in Dec. 2009 – Chicago’s global immigrants: Beyond the American dream
The second explored the impact of the 2010 U.S. Census count on their communities and were released simultaneously on Jan. 15, 2010, in the city’s ethnic media and on Immigrant Connect. Check out the series here – Census stories link diverse immigrant communities
The third examined the relationships between immigrants and their children, and discovered that immigrant communities are crossing the generational divide in ways that resonate for one another. They were released in June 2010. That series is here – Immigrant communities cross the generational divide together
The next dealt with the homeland – the place, the memory, the heritage – and the multiple meanings it has for Chicago’s immigrants. They were released in December 2010. That series is here – Home and the homeland: Chicago’s immigrants keep connecting
The next looked into the risks but also the options of health care in immigrant communities. The stories were released in early June 2011. That series is here – Health care for Chicago’s immigrants: Alternative options and risks
We explored the many challenges immigrant communities face in attending and acclimating to college. The stories were released in December 2011 and January 2012. That series is here – Education dream of immigrants more than an Act
The next series came as immigration wedged its way into the 2012 election cycle, and with it came some misleading shorthand; that immigrants vote Democratic and that immigrants means Latinos. The immigrant landscape is far more nuanced than that, and so is their politics. The stories were released in June 2012. That series is here – Immigrants don’t fall in line for 2012 elections
In 2013, attention turned to young immigrants; the sons and daughter of immigrants, many of whom were in the U.S. without proper authorization, some not even knowing it. In June, 2012, President Obama had issued an executive order that allowed certain young people who entered the country as minors, to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit. We followed up with stories focused on the lives and issues of young immigrant. The series, which you can read here – How immigration policy affects young people – was released in June 2013.
During the tumultuous 2016 Presidential campaign, we returned to a national dialogue that became foreboding – the need for a wall, the impulse to keep Muslims out, the call to deport those living without authorized status, and a Presidential election in which all the marbles were on the table, and then fell haphazardly onto the nation’s floor. The traditional flag waving of candidates who tout their family’s proud immigrant heritage was swallowed whole, with not even a gulp of self-awareness. We spent 10 weeks in six of Chicago’s vibrant immigrant communities to get a sense of some issues immigrants were dealing with on a day to day basis. We focused on issues that were specific to particular immigrant communities and that were also relevant to other immigrant communities. That series ran in June 2016, before the two national parties officially nominated their candidates. It is here – Six Immigrant Communities this Election Year
Once Donald Trump became President, the clock began ticking. For American politics, for the beltway and for mainstream media, the first hundred days of a new Presidency has been used as a benchmark since President Franklin Roosevelt first invoked the term in a radio address in 1933. Eyes train on the nation’s capital to detect the relations between the President, the administration and Congress. For immigrants, refugees, their families and their communities, the first hundred days became a blur, hard to trust, out of focus and disorienting. We chose to look away from Presidential tweets and antics, and instead train our eyes, attention, interviewing and reporting on the people impacted by the new administration’s policies, decisions and proclamations. We connected with immigrants, refugees, their families and their communities as we’ve always done. That is the raison d’être for social justice journalism. The result was this series of 23 stories – The First Hundred Days for immigrants and refugees…and counting.
Over the eight years that we have been doing this work, we have returned regularly to the families and communities of refugees who have sought a home and safety in Chicago, America. Here are the series we’ve produced – Finding Triumph Finding triumph for Chicago’s refugees, A Chicago Welcome to World Refugee Day, and Safe haven from trauma and torture: World’s refugees resettle in Chicago.
This is the only journalist effort of its kind in the U.S. today to connect with immigrants, refugees and their families and communities as far as we know.