Much has been written about the plight of the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. In recent years, stepped-up deportation has divided thousands of families or forced parents to yank their children from the only country they’ve known. Many of the stories I’ve read look at the effects on the adults and the family as a whole.
But this piece by Perla Trevizo in the Chattanooga Times Free Press takes a different approach: It examines how the relocation of families from Chattanooga back to their native Guatemala is affecting their children’s education.
It’s a side of the issue that many people overlook, but one that will likely affect this country significantly because many of the U.S.-born children (who are American citizens) plan to return to this country eventually. Will they return with less education, less preparation, and fewer skills than they would have if their families had stayed here?
As Trevizo writes:
“These U.S.-born children face the same hard futures as other Guatemalan children, especially those living in rural areas, where only 35 percent of them will have access to and finish middle school; only 20 percent will have access to high school and less than 1 percent will go on to college.
Totonicapán, the state where Jennifer’s village sits, has a lower level of human development than Cambodia, according to the United Nations.”
The article is a good example of how to humanize an issue that often is merely presented in statistics or quotes from experts and advocates.
Here are some tips to take away from the piece and use in your own reporting:
Think cinematically: A gripping film often starts off with a close-up of the hero, or a scene zooming in on a character doing something that sums up their lives, then it zooms out to a greater expanse or to the larger story.
Trevizo begins her story with an image of a young girl named Jennifer at lunchtime in a poor school in a Guatemalan village, then tells us that “Jennifer is one of untold numbers of children in the crosshairs of a vitriolic immigration debate: children born and raised in America—and thereby U.S. citizens by law—but forced to move to other countries when their parents are deported or pressured to leave.”
Use details to drive the story: Look for details that back up your reporting and research and make those facts and figures human. Statistics about poverty levels in Guatemala tell us that it is a poor country, but this description tells readers how that poverty affects the children: “A year later, she’s thinner than when she first arrived. The lack of lotion and the ever-present, coating dust from unpaved roads has parched the skin on her feet and hands, especially rough around the knuckles and nails. Her long brown hair, which she wears back with a plastic clip, looks dry. There’s no money to buy shampoo or hair conditioner.”
Pick your subjects carefully: Instead of trying to find people whose lives you can fit into a story about a larger issue, look for the larger issue in the stories of the people on your beat. In this case, the families profiled by Trevizo illustrate a situation confronting thousands of deported immigrants and their children. Their individual stories would be interesting, but the fact that they speak to a bigger problem makes the piece more powerful.