Since 1998, about 600,000 U.S. citizen children have had a parent detained or deported. According to social workers, educators and others who work with the families, the children are at higher risk for poverty, mental health issues, behavioral problems and poorer educational outcomes. Reporter Zaidee Stavely interviewed Sonia Cauich’s, who was detained for three days and whose three children were left at home alone.
Cauich, who had been detained after calling police in San Francisco to report domestic violence, said that her children are still traumatized – three years after the incident. “My son who is now six starts trembling when he sees a police officer. He trembles all over! They have that in their mind, and it has not been erased,” she said. The story appeared on Radio Bilingue’s website in English and Spanish, and Huffington Post Voces also published a version in Spanish.
Zaidee’s Story Behind the Story
When I applied to the Immigration in the Heartland fellowship, I proposed to report on the growing number of children in the foster care system with undocumented parents. It was a story that had pulled me in from the time I had first heard about it, and I knew more reporting could be done. At the fellowship conference in Oklahoma, I was particularly drawn in by two speakers: Joanna Dreby, who spoke about her research on children’s feelings regarding immigration, and Nina Rabin, who spoke about the ways in which the disconnect between the foster care system and the immigration enforcement system make it more difficult for undocumented parents to reunite with their children in foster care.
Back in the office, my momentum slowed. The Radio Bilingüe newsroom is small, and as senior news producer, I wore many hats. I had done little reporting in the last two to three years. I reached out to a few contacts, but I could find little time to follow up or set up in-depth interviews. Still, I was able to use contacts from the fellowship for a talk show on how the tornado in Oklahoma had affected immigrants, and I began research for my project. A few months after the conference, I made a decision to quit my job so I could report full time, as a freelancer. It was a decision that was a long time coming, but in no small part, the conference inspired me to follow my dreams to return to reporting.
It was not until my new freelance career began that I began reporting the story in earnest. Then, new obstacles arose. I contacted numerous sources about children in foster care with immigrant parents, and several times, I came close to what seemed like it could be a good story (women in detention who had experience with children in foster care, or young people in San Francisco who had gone through custody issues), but then the source would stop returning phone calls and emails.
Then, one day as I reported on a group of immigrants and allies calling for a “due process law” in San Francisco, which would end collaboration between police and ICE, I interviewed one of the women who testified before the San Francisco supervisors. Sonia Cauich told me she had been separated from her children for three days when the police detained her and turned her over to ICE. She described something other immigrant mothers have told me over the years: the children were traumatized, afraid of law enforcement officers, and terrified their mother would be taken away again. It seemed I had another story to report: the health effects of detention and deportation on children.
Under deadline, I reached out to Phuong Ly and she encouraged me to begin writing. I had a great interview on tape with one of the authors of the report “Family Unity, Family Health,” and I had the interview with Cauich, but I did not have any other interviews on tape, and the contacts for doctors and therapists that I had were not in the Bay Area or even in California, so the interviews would not make for good radio sound. I chose instead to make this a print story for Radio Bilingüe’s website, and encouraged by Phuong and another 2013 fellow, Eileen Truax, I also pitched it to Huffington Post Voces.
The final version is bilingual, in both Spanish and English, with graphics and embedded videos from the “Family Unity, Family Health” report, and some photos from the Radio Bilingüe archives. I had not written for print for more than seven years, and this was the first time I have published something simultaneously in both languages.
The response to this story has been mixed. On Huffington Post Voces, the majority of commenters responded that parents are responsible for any health effects in children, because they came to the United States without immigration papers. However, other commenters stated that this is the reason why comprehensive immigration reform is needed.
My advice to other journalists is to move forward with whatever you have. Begin writing, because once you see on paper all that you have, it will be easier to figure out what is missing. Don’t wait for the perfect source. And don’t be afraid to change course mid-project. In my case, both the angle of my story and the medium changed.
I am still hopeful that some other stories will grow from this reporting experience. I am eager to use the TRAC system and to follow up with sources about how the recent ICE directive on parents will be implemented. I have made contact with a myriad of sources who are not quoted in the article, but who I am sure will be part of other stories in the future.
There is no way I could have reported this story if I had not received a Justice and Journalism fellowship. I did not have the time or energy to do this kind of project when I was working full-time. The fellowship gave me the support I needed to do this project and the courage to begin working as a freelance reporter.