Tips for Covering Immigrant Populations: A Nonprofit's Perspective

Following our workshop, “Covering Immigrants & Refugees,” Amanda Begson-Shilcock from the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, shared tips for working with immigrants.

Dart Center: What are three things that you feel a journalist needs to know to cover immigrants and immigration? 

Amanda Bergson-Shilcock: Immigration law is incredibly complicated, and often uses ordinary English words in very different ways from how they are commonly understood. Journalists should be especially careful when reporting on questions of legal status or immigration law, and make sure that they understand the definitions of words being used by their sources/interviewees. 

A quick example: "Benefit" in the immigration context often means getting your green card, attaining US citizenship, or otherwise obtaining a particular immigration status. It has nothing to do with welfare benefits. (Other words with tricky double meanings are "relief" and "temporary.")

The most common misperception that American-born people have about our immigration process is that there is just one "line" to wait in. The most common misperception that immigrants have is that the way in which they personally came to the United States is a pathway that is open to everyone.

American media consumers in general have limited knowledge about how U.S. companies or the U.S. government's actions can affect conditions in other countries, and thus affect migration to the United States. 

Journalists can remedy these gaps by ensuring that their stories include as much context as possible, for example by explaining how NAFTA affected the ability of corporations to purchase farmland in Latin America. 

DC: What mistakes do you see reporters making most often, and what can they do to improve their coverage?

ABS: A common mistake is using language imprecisely, and thus creating a false impressions in the mind of the reader. 

For example: Writing "Michael did not become a US citizen until 14 years after he moved here," rather than correctly stating: "Although Michael had lived in the US for 14 years, he was not eligible to apply for US citizenship until he had had his green card for five years. He applied the first week he was eligible, and became a citizen last March."

DC: What are the most effective ways for journalists to include organizations like yours in their stories?

ABS: We can shed light on the issue or issues that you are writing about. As an organization, we do our best to respond to media inquiries promptly. Journalists can help us do that by clearly indicating the topic of their inquiry and the date of their deadline.