It’s been a little over a week since I revealed publicly for the first time that I’m undocumented. After Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Sept. 5 that DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, will be rescinded, a current editor of my high school newspaper reached out to me. She asked me, as a former editor-in-chief of the publication, to write something to our community. She wanted my help localizing national news. I agreed.
I’m a rising junior at the University of California, San Diego, and I was at first hesitant to share my story publicly. Beyond safety and harassment issues, two years have passed since I graduated from high school and I was doubtful of what writing in a high school publication would actually do. What would be the point?
The point, I remembered, is to humanize this issue to a local community. The point, is to challenge assumptions about the topic of immigration and the laws that determine who is allowed in and not.
President Donald Trump said famously, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crimes. They’re rapists,” about Mexican immigrants during his presidential announcement speech in June 2015. Much of this rhetoric has shaped how people talk about immigration, conflating the subject to be about crime and Mexico. The reality of immigration is much more complicated.
As student journalists, we have a responsibility to not simply accept and regurgitate these kind of existing assumptions. We are responsible for bringing accurate information and news to our communities and campuses. We cannot buy into this anti-immigrant messaging used for someone else’s political gain.
We need to provide context. Approximately 800,000 people will be affected by DACA’s repeal, one of whom might be your classmate, neighbor, or friend. We all have unique stories of how we ended up here and how we found out about our legal status, and it is your responsibility to hear us and portray our experiences accurately.
I’m not asking for you or your newspaper to advocate for us but to treat us fairly and diligently in your reporting. This means, first, by testing your own assumptions as a reporter, what you think you may know about DACA and who the program affects. Rely on research and experts for facts, don’t exclusively allow the narratives you’ve heard about immigration to guide you. Second, give your subjects your time and attention, especially if they’ve agreed to speak to you despite the risks. Don’t treat us like sound bites or the perfect quote grabs or you won’t understand the full story. It’s also just plain insensitive.
Lastly, let’s not allow ourselves to be described as part of the “dishonest media” that fails to accurately report to the best of our ability. We can’t afford to not localize issues affecting those right in our community. Student journalists have more of a responsibility now than ever to do so.
Shine Cho is a former reporting intern at the SPLC.
Want more stories like this? The Student Press Law Center is a legal and educational nonprofit defending the rights of student journalists. Sign up for our free weekly newsletter to receive a notification on Fridays about the week’s new articles.