Journalists and scholars gathered last Friday at the Nieman Foundation to discuss the unique relationship between their respective fields in tackling the issue of illegal immigration—a topic they agreed was generally misunderstood by the public.
The day-long conference, which was co-sponsored by the Graduate School of Education, emphasized the cooperation that is necessary to properly address and portray the effects of immigration on the law, the economy, and education. While academia generates new ideas about immigration, attendees said, journalists are responsible for presenting that knowledge to the public in a comprehensible way.
Calling the conference a “crucial dialogue” between professionals from the two fields, Ed School professor Vivian S.M. Louie said the successful assimilation of immigrant children into American education systems was central to the discussion.
“Public schools have to educate children regardless of their legal status,” she said.
Michael J. Holland, an Ed School student and one of Louie’s advisees, said he felt hearing the journalists’ experiences was particularly unique and beneficial.
“Sometimes we get inundated with professors,” he said, “so it’s cool to hear a practitioner’s perspective.”
Julia Preston, the New York Times’ national immigration correspondent, spoke about the difficulties she faced in conveying the complexity of immigration-related legal issues in her articles. Preston said her most vocal readers—many of whom oppose illegal immigration—often do not understand the nuances of the term “illegal,” or the fact that undocumented citizens receive civil, not criminal, sentences.
“These stories are damned hard to write,” she said. “There is an area of explanation that journalists need to do about these laws that is just very important. Finding very concise ways to do this in stories ... is something that I view as an increasing part of my responsibility.”
Holland said his interest in immigration issues also stems from a desire to correct misunderstandings. His field of interest is in global citizenship education, which addresses children’s comprehension of the world’s cultures and politics.
“One of the biggest reasons for improving global citizenship is immigration, and the fact that we have so many new residents and the ties that they have with home—remittances that they send back, and the perceptions of the US that they send home,” he said.
A similar conference met in 2008, resulting in a book titled “Writing Immigration: Scholars and Journalists in Dialogue.”
Louie, who also participated in the 2008 discussion, said she is unsure of the future of these gatherings.
“I would hope that there will be [more events of this kind],” she said. “The spirit at an event like this is certainly that we—all of us: policymakers, journalists, scholars, and the public—need to be engaged in this richer dialogue about what the stakes are with immigration.”