Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Through ‘Mexodus,’ Insights on Immigration Stories

The Mexodus project captures stories of violence-weary Hispanics who have crossed the border into the U.S. for a chance at a safer life. Source: Raymundo Aguirre/Borderzine.com

Fourteen-year-old Mariana of Chihuahua, Mexico, was kidnapped by 20 men dressed as police officers just days before she was to celebrate her passage to womanhood at her quinceañeraFor two days, they held her captive while her parents struggled to pay the $8,000 they had demanded for Mariana’s ransom. Upon her release, Mariana’s family escaped to the United States, leaving everything behind.

“I know that we came here illegally, but at least we can sleep in peace now,” Mariana told reporter Mariel Torres in El Paso. “If you have to choose between being killed there and being imprisoned here, the jail would be better.”

Mariana’s and others’ stories are recorded in Mexodus, a bilingual multimedia project by journalism students from four universities in collaboration with professors, professional journalists and Fundación MEPI in Mexico City. The lead professor on the project, which seeks to humanize Central American immigration to the United States, Ana Lourdes Cardenas, was a guest speaker earlier this month at the EWA Spanish-Language Media Convening. She and Dallas Morning News Senior Writer Dianne Solís drew from their reporting experiences during a session on covering immigration.

Mariana’s plight was similar to others recorded in Mexodus: “Relocate or die.” Many native Mexican students in El Paso had stories like hers, she said.

According to the Center for American Progress, “The majority of unaccompanied children and families who are arriving to the U.S. come from a region of Central America known as the ‘Northern Triangle,’ where high rates of violence and homicide have prevailed in recent years and economic opportunity is increasingly hard to come by. Officials believe a total of at least 90,000 children will arrive on the U.S.-Mexico border by the end of this fiscal year in September.”

In July, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske reported 57,000 children had been picked up at the Texas-Mexico border since October, calling it “difficult and distressing on a lot of levels.” Some groups have likened the situation to the biblical account of Exodus.

Many children do not have lawyers, Solís said, and without an attorney, deportation is a 90 percent certainty. She suggested journalists look into a localizing a story on the subject similar to one she wrote recently entitled “Rocket dockets may be jettisoning justice for immigrant children.”

The speakers advised reporters to get familiar with TRAC, a website tracking enforcement of laws and providing invaluable statistics, like the odds of asylum cases being granted or how many immigrants the United States has deported this year.

If reporters have trouble getting into the courtrooms, especially during juvenile court cases, Solís said not to be deterred. Other good places to dig are local soccer fields, where teams are often divided up by countries.

“Don’t ask them why they came to the U.S.,” Solís said, giving tips on how to approach immigrants. The question may get generic responses such as, “a better life.”

Solís said to instead ask why they felt they had to leave their home. There lies the better story.