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Immigration reform: Angles for business journalists


Track the economic impact of illegal immigration in your market to localize the national conversation.

The pending reform of the nation’s immigration laws, with proposals by a bi-partisan Senate team and by President Obama already up for discussion, leads naturally to follow-up stories from the business angles.

As controversial state laws in recent years, and election rhetoric last year, have shown, this is an emotionally- and politically-charged issue. It’s also a weighty economic one. Reporters need to beware of partisan hype from groups for and against policies like amnesty, border restrictions and even practical programs like drivers’ licenses and resident, in-state tuition eligibility for undocumented immigrants.

Still, taking a look at the economic impact of illegal immigrants in your market is a good way to tap into the national conversation.  It’s a massive topic and fraught with difficulty in reporting, as many companies will seek to obfuscate their employment of illegal workers.

For starters, check out this Pew Research Hispanic Center report, “A Portrait of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States.”  While it dates back to 2009, it’s a good starting place for assessing the presence of undocumented people in  your state; the report offers information about demographics, education, workforce participation and other metrics by state.  Take note of the chart showing which industries employ the most illegal workers; most feature labor-intensive occupations like farming, outdoor maintenance, construction and food service.  Clearly these are industries you can start with in your market, asking for reaction to the current proposals, effects of existing legislation and/or past amnesty actions, alternative proposals from the companies’ point of view and so on.

Another source of leads to companies in your area is to check out their representation (or that of their sector) among the groups lobbying for (or against) various immigration policies; OpenSecrets.org as usual provides a treasure trove of information via its Immigration portal  — you can tell where the vested interests lie by the trade groups involved in financing the conversation.  It’s interesting to see that organizations representing both high-tech and low-tech or low-skill occupations want input into the issue;

Conversely, you will want to check in with labor unions, trade groups and professional associations that may oppose less restrictive immigration rules.  Given the difficult nature of the low-skill jobs available to immigrants, like field agriculture and slaughterhouse work, it’s more likely you’ll find domestic workers in higher-skilled occupations like information technology protesting looser rules for H-1B visas, for example — the permits that allow high-skilled workers to come to the U.S. from overseas.  

 Economic impact.  Here’s a Cronkite News report on the economic impact of undocumented people in Arizona. You might check with public policy experts and economists in your region for similar analysis. 

 The immigration industry.  Like any other human endeavor, the quest for immigration (or the fight against it) generates an industry of its own, with vendors and consultants providing goods and services from legal advice to computer software.  Just Google search “immigration attorney” or “immigration consultant” or “green card” or “H-1B” and a geographic term for your region and you’ll find a surprising number of practitioners who specialize in such cases.  

I also ran across a number of message boards and websites, such as Trackitt.com, where people seeking visas and green cards share information about the process;  perusing some threads will give you insight into the bureaucracy of immigration and perhaps story nuggets specific to your region or industries. 

On the employer’s side, there are “immigration compliance” services and specialists. 

In Agriculture, Beats, Economy, Featured, Manufacturing | Large companies, Small | Private | Non-profit, Story ideas.

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