March 2018: Experts share tools and ideas for reporting on DACA

By Taylor Potter

Three experts joined the Student Press Law Center and the Education Writers Association for a webinar on understanding how to report on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. The Chronicle of Higher Education Senior Writer Katherine Mangan, Education Week staff writer Corey Mitchell and immigration lawyer Dina Francesca Haynes explained some story angles and resources student journalists can use to cover the possible DACA repeal.

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WTP: Hello everyone, this is Taylor Potter, and I’m your host for the Student Press Law Center’s March podcast. On this month’s episode, we’re looking back at a webinar from February held by the SPLC and the Education Writers Association talking about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, and education. 

The March 5 deadline has come and gone, but nearly 700,000 DACA recipients are still in limbo waiting to find out the future of the program and their citizenship status. Reporting their stories, especially those of minors, is complicated and full of legal risks. To help prepare you, we’ll go over the risks of naming sources, where to find reliable data, and some great story ideas 

WTP: We’re joined by three experts — Katherine Mangan, a senior writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education; Corey Mitchell, a staff writer for Education Week; and immigration lawyer Dina Francesca Haynes. We’re only going over the highlights in this podcast, but you can watch the full hour-long webinar at splc.org. The link is in the show notes.

WTP: But first, what exactly is DACA? Mangan gives us a quick look at the policy and why it’s important to so many people.

Mangan: “The lives of hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people were thrown into doubt last year when President Trump ended the DACA program, which had given young people brought here by their parents when they were children certain limited protections from deportation and the chance to get work permits. However, he did give Congress six months to fix the problem, which is ambitious, given that Congress has been trying to fix the problem ever since 2001 as part of immigration overhaul.”

WTP: President Trump set a March 5 deadline for Congress to create a permanent solution for DACA, though a district court has delayed that deadline indefinitely. On February 26, the Supreme Court announced it would not bypass an appellate court and take up the matter, leaving the decision in place.

Mangan: “If DACA is ended, every day a thousand young people could lose their protection and their DACA status and be that much more vulnerable to deportation. That would continue for two years until everyone with DACA had essentially lost that protection.”

WTP: Here’s immigration law expert Dina Haynes talking about the  dangers looming over the heads of DACA recipients She says reporters should look at methods for reporting on DACA that don’t involve profiling specific DACA recipients.

Haynes: “With my immigration lawyer hat on, it makes me nervous when my clients, if they contact me before they speak to the press or go on media, it makes me nervous when they do so. So, if I were really cautious or abundantly cautious, I would advise them not to speak to the press, although I appreciate that many have people have really valid reasons for doing that.”

WTP: It’s also become harder for journalists to find DACA recipients willing to go on the record.

Mitchell: “We began writing stories about DACA and about the threat of deportation shortly after the 2016 election, and there were a lot more people willing to talk at that point than there are right now… People are just becoming a lot more wary and cautious now. When you hear reports about raids and ramped up deportation, people are afraid. You have to be very upfront with these folks about their name appearing and that anybody can read this. Some people are brave enough to go out there despite that.”

WTP: So what exactly does this mean for student journalists, and, more importantly, how can they cover DACA without putting recipients in danger?

Mitchell: “Focusing on what Congress is doing or what your state legislature might be doing, what sorts of decisions local police departments are making… You want to cover the people, but you can also cover the politics and the policies of this all to help inform people about what’s going on because there’s a lot of fear and uncertainty, and if you can help bring some clarity to the situation, that’s always a positive.”

WTP: Education is one of the areas that could be heavily impacted if DACA expires, so there are plenty of story ideas relating to schools. Several thousand teachers could also be affected.

Mitchell: “The Migration Policy Institute estimates that number is somewhere between eight and nine thousand. Many of these folks are concentrated on the coasts — New York, Boston, DC, all throughout California. But for any community that you cover, there are likely to be DACA protected teachers, even if there are only one or two in a particular school district. Research has shown that many of these folks have gone on to get college educations and they’re able to work with these permits. And they’re in the classrooms, and many of them may be your bilingual teachers, your dual language teachers. So they’re very important to the school districts that employ them, whether that’s through teaching a foreign language, connecting with other immigrant students… I think it’s a big issue for districts because, how do they replace some of these folks that have this skill that not many native-born teachers have, speaking a second language and they’re able to connect with these students.”

WTP: Another story idea: schools’ support for recipients and campus sanctuary status. Mitchell and Haynes both touched on this.

Mitchell: “We often tend to see these letters from dozens of college presidents or dozens of school district superintendents saying we’re behind efforts to pass the Dream Act. But there are thousands of colleges and tens of thousands of school districts that,  if you’re covering these places where a superintendent hasn’t come out, maybe ask them what is the district’s stance, to provide clarity for people, for some of your readers. Maybe they are of the mind that there needs to be immigration reform and immigration restrictions. But asking those questions I think will help clarify if people are very outspoken in their support of immigration reform and passing a Dream Act.”

Haynes: “When campuses in particular decided whether to be sanctuary campuses, I know a lot of them specifically avoided the name because they feared that it would encourage ICE to visit them, and there’s something to that fear. And I think just talking to college administrators further about what their thought process is when they make those decisions, what they think sanctuary means when they chose to become a sanctuary campus or not. And I guess, just from the legal protection side, I would just caution reporters not to report anything that gives sort of broad or generalized legal advice because I think that it’s misleading in that it doesn’t tell anybody’s specific alternatives to DACA or solutions that they might have. I know it’s tempting for campuses to have information sessions, but I would discourage that.”

WTP: Another possible angle for DACA stories stems from mixed status families.

Mangan: “Many of them do come from mixed-status families. Being able to sort of set that person’s story in the context of their entire family, like yes, I have these protections and I can drive without worrying if I roll through a stop light, but my father, every day when he leaves, I worry about him or my sister because she’s that much younger or older than me was not eligible for DACA. So yes I have this protection, but she doesn’t. And I think when you look closely at those relationships within families, you can understand why so many people that are DACA supporters have wanted what they call a clean Dream Act, and they worry so much, what they don’t is a path to citizenship for themselves if it means that their loved ones, their parents, their siblings, are more likely to be deported.”

WTP: Our guests also gave advice on how to go about your reporting. 

Mangan: “Just tracking students down, and I think social media is probably the best tool that I’ve found. I certainly use Twitter and Facebook a lot. You look at hashtags, DACA or any trending hashtag that you think might be a place where students with DACA might be congregating to talk. If nothing else, just to track those on Twitter so you know what kind of conversations are taking place.” 

Mitchell: “Migration Policy Institute has been great at providing numbers and context because there’s a lot of uncertainty, especially at the K12 level. Schools aren’t asking the immigration status of students or teachers who may be DACA protected, but they’ve been able to provide some of the estimates on these populations for us.”

WTP: Thank you for listening to this episode of the Student Press Law Center’s podcast. Again, if you want to learn more about DACA and education, be sure to check out the full webinar  — link is in the show notes. Thank you to Katy Mangan, Dina Francesca Haynes and Corey Mitchell for participating in the webinar. Also, thank you to Marquita Brown and the Education Writers Association for helping host the discussion. Music by leehayeskerr. We’ll see you next time.