Jeremy Beck's picture

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  by  Jeremy Beck

The San Francisco Chronicle and The Nation are headlining a series of crowdfunding campaigns to sponsor new immigration reporting through Beacon, which is offering $3 million in matching grants.

According to Beacon's website: "The most effective way to fund journalism is by pairing small, individual pledges from the crowd with larger pledges from the most passionate people."

The San Francisco Chronicle is seeking $15,000 to fund "The Faces Behind the H-1B Debate," who, according to the crowdfunding page, are "the would-be immigrants who want them and the companies that stand to benefit from a loosening of regulations."

Hmm...anyone missing there? The Chronicle is looking for human interest stories, but only from certain quarters:

"We don’t want to explore the pro/con arguments. We want to bring you the stories of the people affected.

"We know that the H-1B visa matters to our readers in Northern California. Through this project, we’re going to get the resources to do the reporting that’s missing on this issue – a deep look at the lives of workers who successfully get a visa, and what happens to those who miss out.

"Our reporting starts in the Bay Area, but we’ll follow the story abroad, too."

The H-1B is often used by companies to bring in guest workers who are trained by the Americans they wind up replacing. The most notorious example came earlier this year when Disney laid off 250 American IT workers this summer and had many of them train their incoming replacements.

An internet search didn't produce any hits for SF Chronicle coverage of the Disney layoffs, but the paper but did issue a related story with the headline, "Are H-1Bs getting a bad rep?"

Will the Chronicle include stories about Americans who are impacted by the H-1B program? The crowdfunding page includes one sentence that hints so:

"We know that families back home are just as affected by the outcome of a visa application, so we’ll work to bring you their stories as well."

But reading further, it isn't clear that by "back home," the Chronicle means the United States:

"With your support, we’ll answer questions like:


  • "What’s needed for a successful visa application? How do someone’s career options change – for better or worse – if he or she receives a visa?

  • "What happens to those whose visa applications are unsuccessful? What’s the experience of having to leave the U.S. and find a job back home?

  • "How do the outcomes of a visa application affect families abroad? What sort of connection do H-1B workers have with their families back home? How does that change if a visa is lost?"

Emphasis added. That doesn't read as if the Chronicle will be speaking the families of U.S. workers displaced or passed over by the program. In an article asking readers for money to fund the project, the Chronicle's editor-in-chief, Audrey Cooper says, "The Chronicle is dedicated to telling the truth about what is happening in Northern California. To do that, we sometimes must look outside our borders."

Cooper adds that "Major funders will be disclosed after the reporting and editing is completed to ensure journalistic integrity."

The Nation is seeking $56,000 to fund "Let's Change the Immigration Debate for 2016," a project that promises to put "immigrants at the center of the story."

Doing so wouldn't be a change for The Nation, which is already doing an excellent job on that front. What The Nation doesn't do well (and it is hardly alone in this) is report on the tradeoffs of U.S. immigration policy, which has accounted for 55% of U.S. population growth since 1965, and will be responsible for 88% of U.S. population growth through 2065 (another 103 million people).

Is the current record rate of one million new immigrants every year the right number? That question is unlikely to be examined by The Nation, which writes about immigration as if it is an unalloyed good that shouldn't be constrained by limits.

The media justifiably covers the impact that immigration policy has on immigrants and would-be immigrants. Those are important perspectives and our national conversation about immigration policy is enriched by them. What's troubling about these campaigns is how they demonstrate the media's general lack of interest about the impact of immigration policy on Americans (U.S.-born and foreign-born alike) for whom these policies are meant to exist. Some Americans benefit from the current levels of immigration; others do not. Those who lose tend to have less political power than those who win, and the news media often doesn't count them among the "faces" of the immigration debate.

It is and should be entirely possible for the press to take a hard look at the trade offs of the current immigration system while making would-be immigrants AND Americans the center of the story. Here is an excerpt from "The Progressive Case for Reducing Immigration" by Philip Cafaro in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

"If we enforce our immigration laws, then good people like Javier and his family will have their lives turned upside down. And if we reduce the numbers of legal immigrants -- contrary to popular belief, most immigration into the United States is legal immigration, under Congressionally mandated levels, currently 1.1 million annually -- then good people in Mexico (and Guatemala, and Vietnam, and the Philippines … ) will have to forgo opportunities to create better lives here.

"On the other hand, if we fail to enforce our laws or repeatedly grant amnesty to people who, like Javier, are in the country illegally, then we forfeit the ability to set limits on immigration. And if we increase immigration, then many hard-working men and women, like Tom and his wife and children, will continue to see their economic fortunes decline.

"Neither of those options is appealing, particularly when you talk to the people most directly affected by our immigration policies. Still, they appear to be the options we have: Enforce our immigration laws, or don’t enforce them; reduce immigration levels, increase them, or hold them about where they are. How should we choose?

"Acknowledging trade-offs -- economic, environmental, social -- is the beginning of wisdom. We should not exaggerate conflicts or imagine them where they don’t exist, but neither can we ignore them.

"There are a number of other choices that we must confront: Cheaper prices for new houses versus good wages for construction workers. Faster economic growth and growing economic inequality versus slower growth and a more egalitarian society. Increasing ethnic diversity in America versus stabilizing our population. Accommodating more people versus preserving wildlife habitat and productive farmlands. Creating more opportunities for foreigners to work in the United States versus pressuring foreign elites to share wealth and opportunities with their fellow citizens in their own countries.

"The best approaches to immigration policy would make such trade-offs explicit, minimize them where possible, and choose fairly between them when necessary."

Sadly, the reporting that results from these crowdfunding campaigns is unlikely to acknowledge any trade offs to the current immigration rate, which will make the debate about what future limits should be all the more difficult to have. For some of the funders, that might be the point.

JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA

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Updated: Thu, Jun 8th 2017 @ 3:31pm EDT

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