Sources Matter: Talk to People Closest to the Situation

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Sources Matter: Talk to People Closest to the Situation

Diligently seek out comment from people directly affected by news events.

On Friday night, hundreds of thousands of people at vigils across the country heard first-hand accounts of family separation, of abuse by Border Patrol and ICE agents and of the many reasons people come to the United States.

  • In Rhode Island, Define American Ambassador Javier Juarez talked about his separation from his parents in coming to the United States: “I crossed the US Mexico border at ten, alone, after being stranded in Mexico for 10 days. I’m a survivor.”
  • In California, Define American Chapter Leader Carolina Martinez spoke about organizing undocumented college students at Berkeley City College.
  • A woman in Farmington, N.M., spoke about her daughter being sent to an immigrant detention center in Texas. A woman in Los Angeles talked about travelling in a caravan to the U.S. And a man in Boise spoke about being separated from his parents twice when travelling to the United States as a child. 

Meanwhile, when Vice President Mike Pence visited a migrant processing center in Donna, Texas, and an overcrowded Border Patrol station in McAllen, Texas, reporters could not seemingly find anyone to talk to.

  • NBC News reported on the cries of the detainees and quoted an immigration attorney who has visited all federal migrant facilities in the Rio Grande Valley. However, the network did not appear to request interviews with detainees, nor did its reporters consult with former detainees, asylum seekers or relatives of detainees.
  • CNN quoted Yazmin Juarez, a mother whose todder died after being released from ICE custody, but did not seek out opposing views on the conditions of detention or the lack of justification for mass immigrant detention.
  •  People, USA Today, and the New York Times’ accounts of Pence’s tour do not provide response or context from victims of the Border Patrol brutality. Even Vox.com’s valuable policy give-and-take leaves out the voices of the people actually being affected by inhumane and needless immigrant detention.

In reporting on a dignitary visit, we understand that media access can be limited, but when reporting on conditions at detention facilities, reporters must make a concerted effort to speak with former detainees, their families or service providers on the ground.

The Society for Professional Journalism (SJP) urges reporters to “diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.” It also admonishes the press to “give voice to the voiceless.”

Here are a few ideas for more humane coverage of mass immigrant detention:

  • On the cops and court beat, reporters always ask about charges and are very careful to state that they are just allegations. Stay focused on the fact that there are no criminal charges in the vast majority of immigrant detentions near the border. People are being held in inhumane conditions while they wait for paperwork. Tell the public every time that they are innocent, and that many have strong asylum claims.
  • Seek out local organizations that work with migrants and their families, and build sources in your communities. You will find former asylees, DACA recipients and relatives of those in immigration detention. If you are not able to talk with people with direct experience, you can talk to their advocates, attorneys, neighbors and friends. This is the shoe leather part of immigration reporting.
  • Build sources every day, not just when an official decides to visit the border or during a threatened raid. Immigrant communities have very few reasons to trust reporters, so building trust is important.
  • Minimize harm. Another SJP tenet, bear in mind that migrants may be in risky positions, subject to violence or danger in their home countries and targeted by immigration forces in the U.S. In interviews and in images — even in images of the vice president in a Border Patrol station — make sure you and your sources understand the consequences of your reporting. 

There are 44.5 million immigrants in the United States. We are confident you can find someone to talk to.

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