Stricter immigration enforcement policies have made migrant families more fearful and afraid to move frequently. But Oregonian reporter Andrea Castillo found that there’s been one surprising benefit – as the families put down roots, that stability is boosting their children’s education.
Before the Migrant Education Program, which helps support children from migrant families, started in 1966, more than 90 percent of migrant students dropped out of school nationwide. Last year in Oregon, 55 percent graduated in four years, compared to 69 percent of non-migrant students. Still, the challenges remain. Although students may no longer spend large periods of time moving and missing school, many struggle to learn English and overcome socioeconomic barriers.
Photo by Benjamin Brink/Oregonian
Andrea’s Story Behind the Story
Writing about the impact of migration in Oregon, it was easy to get buried in the details. Months of reporting turned into hours of audio and page after page of notes. But even with so much information, another difficulty remained. It was supposed to be a trend story, but the lack of available data on migrant populations forced me to dig for some numbers and rely on anecdotes for the rest.
I slowly chipped away at the story, by the end having gathered enough reliable accounts and figures that I was sure of the big-picture trend: Migration patterns have changed and stability is helping children of farm workers succeed. I also found that those children are making a cultural impact on the schools and communities around them. Working closely with a photographer, I ended up with a long main story, 27 photos, a graphic and two sidebars.
The response to my story was mainly positive. Some people told me it gave them hope. One teacher said, “I tell my students that change happens slowly, but it happens every day. Thank you for seeing, and reporting on, the positive changes happening around us.” Anti-immigrant sentiment fueled the negative responses. I think it’s too soon to know whether it will result in any changes or decisions. The story now has more than 100 Facebook likes, 42 re-Tweets and 74 comments.
Without a Justice and Journalism fellowship, this story would have been much more difficult to produce. Reporting and writing it was time-consuming but having a looming deadline and the extra help of IJJ leaders pushed me forward. It taught me the importance of learning to balance daily duties with enterprise projects.
The fellowship itself provided needed context and national resources for my story. I especially appreciated the immigration law primer by Dan Kowalski and the introduction to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which I now check frequently for story ideas. Talking to fellow reporters interested in immigration and listening to the guest speakers, I filled note pads with new story ideas and issues I hadn’t thought to look into before. I walked away with a long list of resources and the names of several journalists to take inspiration from.
For journalists interested in immigration reporting, there are stories connected to any beat. While too often reported as a political issue, immigration intersects with education, healthcare, culture, industry, and so many other topics. This fellowship taught me to mine for data and the importance of good sourcing. My story emerged from a routine conversation with an ex-school administrator. It never hurts to ask an expert what stories they see missing from headlines.