The Bridge – Immigration News Blog
The Bridge – Immigration News Blog is a place to link two spheres on the crucial topic of immigration – the depth and breadth of the social sciences, and the immediacy and story-telling power of journalism.
I had been a journalist for almost twenty years when I went back to graduate school for a master’s degree in Latin American & Caribbean Studies, eventually writing my thesis on Cuba. For much of my journalism career I had carved out coverage on immigration, and throughout that time and reportage thought that I had tapped into a deep well of studies and research that existed on those topics.
But it was only in graduate school that I encountered the scope of nuanced and peer-reviewed scholarship on immigration issues and Cuba underway the past several decades in the social sciences. This was work that delved into everything from the complexities of immigrants’ use – or lack of use – of health care resources; the re-population of declining towns in the Midwest and Deep South by new resettlement patterns of immigrants; and the ways education, job skills, group cohesion, networks and immigration status combine to influence immigrants’ “assimilation” or incorporation into segments of society and the labor force over generations. On Cuba, the studies went beyond familiar political touchstones and dealt with things like the ways race, class, music and culture intersect with social change.
Much of the scholarship added complexity to or debunked common perceptions about immigrants.
What struck me the most, though, were the studies that addressed the larger context in which immigration plays out. As a journalist I had done what journalists tend to do: I tried to put a human face on this massive socioeconomic phenomenon. I often told the stories about immigrants escaping poverty to find a better life. While stories of what immigrants live through are crucial to the national discussion, what I failed to see was that an overabundance of this type of coverage in the absence of greater context misplaces the responsibility of the immigration phenomenon on immigrants’ shoulders, implying that they are the main driving force. It simply assumes the “pull” factors – a booming U.S. job market — and the “push” factors — namely, poverty.
By contrast, the social science research more deeply examined both, particularly the “push” factors, revealing a greater context to immigration – perhaps the most powerful one shaping international migration today: the policies of globalization. To be sure, immigrants make decisions about their lives. But the research pointed to the context in which these decisions to migrate are made. That includes everything from U.S. military involvement in other countries; the “drug war” in places like Mexico; and perhaps, most of all, trade policies and free trade agreements.
The global phenomenon of free trade agreements and foreign markets pushing into “developing” markets, while opening the door for multinational corporations and their products in other countries, also have had the consequence of displacing those countries’ work forces, in many cases setting them on paths of migration, often to the United States. Meanwhile, the research shows, U.S. immigration policies along with unprecedented border enforcement have been moving at cross-purposes of those open-borders trade policies the last two decades, exacerbating the very issues of undocumented or unauthorized immigration they purport to settle.
This seemed to be a conversation much of the rest of the country was not, and is not, having. The dots between things like trade policies and immigration reform remain disconnected in the national discourse, even as large sets of policies on both issues await action in Washington.
Journalists and social scientists contribute to the research and coverage on immigration in profound and different ways. U.S. journalists are nimble storytellers, able to jump on trends and turn around think pieces and moving tales with speed and great reach or impact. However, U.S. journalists have been challenged by academics to improve upon immigration news coverage considered episodic, lacking in historical context, failing to educate the public about the intricacies of the U.S. immigration system, and obsessed with immigration status and “illegality,” despite the fact that two-thirds of immigrants are in the country legally.
Social scientists on the other hand have been producing work on immigration that is expansive and deep, nuanced and layered, comparing the U.S. system with Europe’s, examining the inner workings of the immigration bureaucracy, and tracking broad social changes. However the critique they face is that their work is slow-moving and plodding, published almost exclusively in academic journals and in theoretical terms and language inaccessible to the general reader.
Both wrestle with their own unique professional challenges. For the journalists: less time and fewer resources to devote to long and complicated stories amid an imploding industry, mass layoffs and smaller staffs. For social scientists: it is the professional demands of making tenure, getting published in peer-reviewed journals and submitting to time-consuming institutional research review boards. Amid busy schedules, they at times express hesitation speaking to reporters for fear that they or their work will be misquoted or distorted into a sound bite. For these reasons and more, the two worlds of journalists and social scientists don’t often intersect.
This is what I hope to do with The Bridge – Immigration News Blog: connect the spheres of journalism and the social sciences.
This blog may at times highlight individual articles that appear in journals devoted to sociology, anthropology and other social science disciplines. Or it may analyze and highlight specific news coverage on immigration and migration topics and Cuba. But my greatest goal with this blog is to pair both – to bridge the two worlds of journalism and social sciences in the hope of elevating the national conversation to another level. Whatever a nation chooses for its public policies and its private decisions on immigration – from the international to the very personal – it should do so both moved by gripping storytelling and informed by solid, in-depth research.