Migratory Notes: Combating confusing policies through immigration stories and data


By Yana Kunichoff, Migratory Notes

The Trump administration didn’t wait long to implement its aggressive immigration agenda. On 27 January 2017, a week after his inauguration, Donald Trump signed an executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries and throwing airports around the world into chaos.

That chaos wasn’t limited to travel details. Journalists, policymakers, lawyers, advocates and immigrants themselves across the country were thrust into the topic of immigration and found that their daily work depended on keeping up with, and understanding, an unprecedented flood of news.

Enter Migratory Notes. Journalists Daniela Gerson and Elizabeth Aguilera sent out the first newsletter days after the travel ban, with the intention of producing a pop-up product that would offer an insightful synopsis of immigration news at a time when interest in the issue, and confusion, was soaring.

I joined in October 2017 as the first staff writer. One year later, Migratory Notes is still going with a weekly newsletter summarizing the stories that are changing policy, as well as highlighting particularly impressive data stories and offering a list of immigration data resources.

This list of resources is especially important because of the complicated way immigration data can be used by different federal agencies, dealing with different parts of the system - Customs and Border Patrol oversee the border, while Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) runs detention centers for border crossers, for example. If someone opens an asylum case they could be detained with ICE but be also making their case to the courts, which collect their own data, often with their own vocabulary around immigration. 

And the system’s complexity has only increased under Trump. He has encouraged immigration agents to take off their ‘shackles', which offered new ways for agents to arrest undocumented immigrants, such as visa check-ins, and made an already opaque system that much harder to analyze.

On our data resources section, we include resources for investigating visas, which point journalists to reports from the State Department and Securities and Exchange Commission; tips on covering immigration when you don’t live near the border, and reports put out by The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a stellar project run out of Syracuse University that offers some of the most comprehensive data on immigration courts and arrest rates.

We recently published our first special issue of standout immigration stories to mark Migratory Notes’ first year anniversary. That included some amazing data stories, such as Reuter’s breakdown of the ‘Trump effect’ through data visualizations, comparing border wall funding and staffing and mapping the populations of detention facilities onto a map of the US. There was also the expansive USA Today multimedia package about the cost of the border, for which a team of reporters and photojournalists flew and drove every foot of the border.

The work we highlight has come from major news organizations like The New York Times, AP and Reuters, but we also keep an eye on local publications doing important immigration coverage such as the Star Tribune in Minnesota or the Albuquerque Journal. And our interest stretches beyond America’s borders; we’ve shared articles from Deutsche Welle, such as their data exploration of how to judge the EU’s policy priorities by its migration funding.

When the Phoenix New Times published an investigation into ICE enforcement at Motel 6, we connected journalists across the country with the reporter on the story, who offered them a breakdown of her investigative process. And we’ve helped to publicize outlet’s efforts to engage readers in sharing their own immigration stories, such as ProPublica and Univision’s asking for readers to report on ICE operations in their area or Mother Jones’ call for travel ban testimonies.

The Trump administration appears committed to continuing its crackdown on immigration in all its forms; understanding the nuances and complexities of this field will be even more important as this continues.

The growing interest in Migratory Notes shows a need for information, and one that we will continue to fill.

About the author

Yana Kunichoff is an independent journalist and documentary producer who covers immigration, policing, education and social movements. She was project manager for Migrahack 2016 in Chicago. She has also produced feature-length documentaries and a pop-culture web series for Scrappers Film Group; worked as a fellow with City Bureau, where she won a March 2016 Sidney Hillman award for an investigation into fatal police shootings; and covered race and poverty issues for the Chicago Reporter. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, Pacific Standard and Chicago magazine among others. You can find her on Twitter @yanazure.

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