In December our newsroom began planning how we would cover the Trump administration’s immigration policies. After spending a year examining how mentally ill inmates were treated in California jails, reporter Julie Small and I were in a good position to turn to see how immigrant detention was working at many of the same places.
Using a combination of public record requests and interviews we began to work on a series of larger features, while covering breaking news like the travel ban and fears of local raids.
In early March we aired and published our first major feature examining how despite California politician’s declaring war on the Trump administration, the Golden State is enmeshed with immigration detention and court.
Through data obtained from FOIAs we were able to show how immigration detention has played out in local California jails and private prison facilities. We also looked at how the backlog of cases in California immigration courts could be a significant hurdle to the administration.
In a May feature we focused on how a California bill would end private prison contracts with ICE in the high-desert town of Adelanto, and hold local jails to higher standard of care. For that story we used data obtained from ICE, the Department of Justice and California agencies. We also spoke to experts, including the man who formerly headed up the division that created ICE’s current standards.
Both of the above stories also aired on Here and Now.
Then in August we launched a full text feature and 26-minute radio special examining the Yuba County Jail, where half of all inmates are immigrant detainees. For months we followed Rafael, who was brought to California when he was six-months old, and was waiting to find out if he was going to be deported. At the same time he and his lawyers were fighting with jail staff for him to receive medications to treat his Hepatitis C and HIV co-infection at the jail. Through public record requests, FOIAs and reporting we found that Rafael wasn’t alone. Grand juries, human rights advocates and lawyers for inmates — along with ICE auditors and county officials — all have documented problems at the Yuba County Jail, ranging from inadequate medical and mental health care to overcrowding.
At the same time, we spoke with city government officials who were closely watching three bills moving through the California Legislature that could have altered — or ended — Yuba County’s contract with ICE. Yuba officials said that would spell disaster for their county’s finances. The audio story also ran as part of KQED’s podcast, Q’ed Up, becoming one of the most popular episodes this year.
Along with being distributed by the California Report, several local stations that cover the Central Valley region aired the special additionally. NPR, the Atlantic, Marshall Project, Politico, Rough and Tumble, Migratory Notes and other organizations all highlighted the story in newsletters and on social media.
I also built an explainer article taking users through changes in immigration detention since the Trump Administration. Through data from a FOIA I took users through a series of graphics to explain where facilities are, who operates them and how people are distributed throughout the country.