Putting a Human Face on the Immigration Debate

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving. (Photo: Dracobontanicus)

As families around the country settle into the mood for the most American holiday of the year, it seems appropriate to reflect on the question of who Americans are now, at Thanksgiving 2010.

A quick look around reveals that we are still a nation of immigrants, just as we were back in the 17th century when the Pilgrims were starving through their first winter.

But the personal stories of today’s immigrants are all too often lost amid the bickering over immigration reform. For that reason, a Center for Community Change project called “We Are America” is trying to bring the main characters in these stories to the forefront. The project is an Internet-based audio visual story bank of immigrant profiles, open to the public. You can search for stories using words like “undocumented,” “DREAM Act,” “deportations,” or “Arizona” and meet individuals directly connected to those issues and places.

“The idea behind this project was to bring back the human element, the human side of the debate around immigration, and not just to talk about those bad things, and how people are affected adversely, but also to lift up the positive, and feature some of the stories of immigrants and how they’re really revitalizing their communities,” Burke Stansbury, the project coordinator at the Center for Community Change, told WBAI Radio in July.

The project also directly connects journalists with individuals featured on the website, so that their stories can be disseminated further. In a way, you could call it “citizen journalism,” though the majority of these pieces are professionally produced. “We Are America” is the immigrant niche within a growing field of open-source story-gathering projects, like American Public Media’s Public Insight Network, which seeks to build a network of hundreds of thousands of sources (regular people) who public radio and online journalists can tap as needed.

It’s all an effort to better understand the people who make up America, and reveal their stories, personalities and opinions to a wider audience. While this is an important moment to watch congressional chess moves on immigration legislation, especially the DREAM Act, what happens on the ground to individual immigrants, seems just as interesting, and often more meaningful.

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