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Alexis Trujillo

Alexis Trujillo is a senior at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Her ultimate goal is to pursue a career in broadcast journalism with a focus on business news. She is currently a promotions assistant at CBS Radio.

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Immigration reform: Tips for covering a tangled debate

Robert Harris, an immigration attorney, offers coverage tips for business journalists at the 2012 SABEW conference.

A panel discussion at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers Annual Conference challenged a room of business journalist to expand their coverage of immigration reform.  It’s a complex issue and a hot coverage topic that will continue to grow during the 2012 elections.

The panel, which included Robert Harris, an immigration attorney based in Ohio, Jenifer M. Brown, an immigration attorney and partner at Indianapolis law firm Ice Miller, and Steve Guerra, general manager of Azteca America’s Atlanta affiliate, discussed immigration reform angles journalists should cover in the coming months. The discussion was moderated by Kevin Hall, a national economics reporter for McClatchy Newspapers.

A common theme was the panelists’ view that a border fence will not solve core problems. Here are other highlights from the session:

Economics 101

Robert Harris suggested journalists could pursue several key topics within the immigration debate that receive limited attention. They include:

  • The impact of investing in a child’s education through high school and then later deporting them.
  • The fallout of the reduction of cheap labor in agriculture and other areas.
  • The accurate amount of contributions to state’s sales tax and social security made by illegal immigrants.

“The real issue is the distributional affect is uneven,” Harris said. “There are people who win a lot and there are others who are hurt a little.”

Harris suggested journalists keep basic economic principals in mind to avoid reporting the common misconception that illegal immigrants are the sole cause of our nation’s recession.

“We desperately need some kind of immigration reform to clarify what the issues are and how we can deal with them as far as just building a fence whether it’s a real fence, a virtual fence, an emotional fence our GDP will fall, how much isn’t clear, but it wont cure the recession,” Harris said.

Kevin Hall (left) moderated the immigration reform session at the 2012 SABEW conference that included panelists Steve Guerra, Jenifer M. Brown and Robert Harris.

The waiting game

Jenifer M. Brown detailed the difficulty faced by immigrants who pursue coming to the U.S. legally. For example, this fiscal year there are no remaining HB1 visas allowing U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations.

In order to grant a visa, Brown said she has to prove there is no alternative U.S. resident capable of performing the task of the international skilled worker. Brown said STEM majors (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) typically make up the majority pool of those granted visas.

The visa quota situation is a challenging hurdle, Brown said. She added that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services remains skeptical about fraud  in the applications, which also slows down the process.

All about the numbers

The panelist mentioned the importance of verifying the numbers in immigration studies because they could be self serving for the organization that produced them. The help round out the data check out these resources: