Mexican immigration to the United States has slowed due to the economic downturn here and stricter immigration laws. In fact, for the first time in 40 years, there are as many Mexicans returning home as coming the United States. Meanwhile, Mexico’s economy has picked up after two decades of mediocre growth. But that growth isn’t happening in sectors that benefit repatriated Mexicans.
Monica Ortiz Uribe examined the challenges that returning Mexicans face in a story that was broadcast on Marketplace Radio/American Public Media as well as the Fronteras Radio Network, a public radio collaboration in the Southwest focusing on the border and changing demographics.
Monica’s Story Behind the Story
My story focused on immigrants moving back to Mexico as a result of the bad economy and stricter immigration policies in the United States. My hypothesis was that these immigrants were persuaded to return for two main reasons: Mexico’s economy is getting better and drug violence is diminishing. Yet one of the biggest challenges I encountered while reporting was that my original theory wasn’t altogether true. It’s something that can happen fairly frequently and a good reporter will evolve with the story rather than try to force it to be what it’s not.
Turns out the returning immigrants were not moving back to take jobs in the growing sectors of Mexico’s economy. Those growing sectors are mostly in urban areas and concentrated in trade and manufacturing. The returnees were mostly headed back to rural regions of the country to work in agriculture, construction, and small scale retail.
My reporting partner and I originally arrived in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato to report the story. We picked it because it was home to multiple car manufacturing plants. When we didn’t find the kinds of interviews we were looking for in Guanajuato we switched locations. We headed north to the state of Zacatecas where the education department had just begun a program to help orient the children of returning migrants.
The decision to switch locations was a bit tricky. It would mean pushing our reporting schedule back by a day and imply more costs. But ultimately I betted on the chance that we would get a strong radio scene at a school and be much more likely to find the kinds of interviewees we were looking for. Turns out, we made the right choice. As a journalist I recommend making decisions by listening to both reason and your gut. Also ask yourself: “What’s best for the story? Will this make my story stronger?”
Something else that struck me while working on this story is the realization that journalists ought to be well-versed in economics. This isn’t the first time in my career I’ve thought this. At first my main concern was researching the immigration side of my story. But the more reporting I did the more I realized the story went hand and hand with the economy. That left me scrambling for financial facts and data as I wrapped up my story. In the end I felt my story could have been stronger had I spent more time researching the economic side of things.
My participation in the Institute for Justice & Journalism fellowship has benefited my work beyond a single story. For me the most valuable take-away was the list of contacts we gathered during our stay. I’ve called attorney Dan Kowalski for a fact check or advice on more than one occasion. Jerry Kramer of the Center for Immigration Studies helped me find an excellent source for a story about the Violence Against Women Act. And I cannot praise Dianne Solis and Martha Mendoza enough for their data journalism workshop. I could use a whole month of that kind of training.