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What does Trumpism mean for health of immigrant kids? This reporter set out to tell their stories.

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What does Trumpism mean for health of immigrant kids? This reporter set out to tell their stories.

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The Affirmation Wall in the fourth-grade classroom of teacher Cindy Herrera. Students can write positive notes to each other. (P
The Affirmation Wall in the fourth-grade classroom of teacher Cindy Herrera. Students can write positive notes to each other. (Photo courtesy of Robert Dolan, SJ)

A month following Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents started detaining and sometimes deporting undocumented parents of U.S-born children. Many of these parents were suspected of no infractions other than allegedly entering the country or working without documentation; some had a record of misdemeanor offenses.  

In Los Angeles, ICE agents detained a man minutes after he dropped off his 12-year-old daughter at school. Immigration officials said they arrested him because he had been convicted of driving under the influence and receiving stolen tags 20 years earlier. ICE agents in Arizona arrested and deported a woman following a routine check-in with immigration officials. The mother of two U.S.-born children had been convicted in 2009 of using a false Social Security number, but had been allowed by immigration authorities to stay in the country. In Ohio, ICE agents arrested the mother of four U.S.-born American children. An immigration judge had ordered her deported in 2014, but immigration authorities had left her alone so long as she checked in on a monthly basis. That changed after Trump took office.

The Obama administration deported plenty of undocumented immigrants — some immigrants’ rights advocates derisively called him the “deporter-in-chief.” But Obama didn’t target wide swaths of undocumented immigrants who were working, raising their family and not accused of crimes. Trump’s policy allows ICE agents to go after anyone in the country without the proper documentation. I wanted to explore the larger story of how the widespread terror Trump’s policy was creating among the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country is affecting the health and wellness of the kids of undocumented immigrants — many of whom are Americans. I also wanted to investigate how health care workers and educators who work with immigrants are responding to this collective terror. I knew there was recent research on these topics, and no shortage of academics who’d be willing and able to comment. We primarily produce consumer advice-oriented stories and slideshows, and I felt this was an opportunity to expose our readers to the dramatic impact Trump’s policies and rhetoric are having on a vulnerable group of people. In order to make these stories compelling, I needed to find examples of collective terror and interview kids of undocumented immigrants and their parents.

Trump’s policy allows ICE agents to go after anyone in the country without the proper documentation. I wanted to explore the larger story of how the widespread terror Trump’s policy was creating among the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country is affecting the health and wellness of the kids of undocumented immigrants — many of whom are Americans.

Using funds from my Dennis A. Hunt Fund grant, I flew to Portland, Oregon to invest a week interviewing people at a community health center that serves many immigrants. A at the health center had told me she could set up interviews with undocumented mothers and clinic staff members. I also arranged to spend an additional week in Los Angeles to do additional reporting before returning to my office in Washington, D.C.

Before I launched my reporting in earnest, I had two specific story ideas: a piece on how Trump’s rhetoric and policies were causing widespread terror among many schoolkids with immigrant parents, and a piece on how nearly 800,000  “Dreamers” — young people protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program initiated by President Obama — were dealing with the crushing uncertainty caused by the likelihood that that Trump would end the program. I envisioned a multi-part series, and was confident that other stories would emerge during my reporting.

Three additional story ideas materialized during my reporting in Los Angeles and Portland. An administrator at Dolores Mission School, a Catholic school in a poor, heavily Latino neighborhood just east of downtown, set up interviews with two undocumented mothers and their American-born sons. Both boys talked about how they wanted to be with their parents, particularly their mothers, all the time, so they could try to somehow protect them from ICE. These interviews led to a story on “parentification” among many kids of undocumented immigrants, in which the typical parent-as-protector dynamic is flipped. The Dolores Mission administrator also mentioned that a fourth-grade teacher had related that some of her U.S.-born students whose parents are Mexican immigrants struggled with the idea of their American identity in the face of Trump’s repeated attacks on immigrants, particularly those from Mexico. An interview with the teacher led to a story on how Trump’s rhetoric is affecting these kids’ sense of identity. A nursing supervisor at the community health clinic in Portland related how a patient, a young woman from Mexico, panicked when she received a text at the clinic saying ICE agents were detaining people at a grocery store nearby. In response, nursing staff members fanned out to grocery stores and other places where people gathered to see whether ICE agents were conducting operations. This led to a piece on the extraordinary measures some health care providers and educators were taking to help terrorized immigrants.

Based on emails from educators and health care workers, I believe the series brought into focus some specific ways Trump’s immigration policies and his rhetoric are affecting the health and wellness of kids from immigrant families, in real time and potentially in the long run.

Here are some tips that I think could help journalists working on similar projects:

  • Follow your instincts. Before I went west for the Center for Health Journalism fellowship program and my reporting forays in Los Angeles and Portland, I called a source, a yoga instructor, to let her know I’d be working on the project. I had a feeling she’d have ideas that could help me, and she immediately gave me the name and phone number of the principal of the public charter school her two young kids attend. The principal related an incident in which an entire class of third-graders, many of whom have immigrant parents, melted down in terror the day before Trump’s inauguration, terrified he would deport their parents. The anecdote perfectly illustrated the deep fear permeating the psyches of many kids from immigrant families; I used it to lead the first piece of the series. 
  • Start working on your project right away. With a six-month deadline, it may seem like you have lots of time to complete your project. That time goes very quickly, and keep in mind that not every lead will pan out. Conducting multiple interviews right away made me feel like I was ahead of the game and gave me plenty of time to write my stories. I relied on many of the interviews I conducted in July and August for stories I wrote in October, November and December.
  • Make it a team effort. Take full advantage of your colleagues’ expertise. U.S. News editors and producers developed graphics to help illustrate some of my stories and a graphic artist came up with a logo for the series.

I hope these tips can be useful to anyone working on a project. Feel free to me at [email protected]

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