Last month, Groundswell's Practitioner Support Network Working Group teamed up with colleagues Patrick O'Shea and Shiu-Ming Cheer from the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) to offer a special PSN chat: Immigration Law for Oral Historians.
This sold-out event was designed to give oral historians an opportunity to address some of the concerns and challenges they face when working with vulnerable immigrant populations whose stories could reveal legally compromising information. Here are a few key takeaways:
First, be especially cautious with the following types of information:
How people came into the country. Legally, it makes a big difference how and when people came in. Best to keep those details vague. If a person is undocumented and trying to get their green card, you don’t want information out there that would contradict what's in their application or what they've told the immigration judge.
Criminal convictions. It's really important to show the reality of criminalization and crimmigration and to debunk the narrative around good immigrants/bad immigrants. But anyone who has had any contact with law enforcement is a priority for deportation under Trump. Make sure to talk this through with potential narrators. Connect people with resources around post-conviction relief.
Prior deportation or removal orders. ICE can just pick up a person and execute these orders. Might want to ask if people want a legal referral.
Family members. Take care when discussing a narrators' family members, particularly those who might be undocumented or have had interaction with the criminal justice system. How much do people actually need/want to share about their family members? Would it be possible to talk about family members in a more general way, and without naming names?
Second, know the potential risks of going public with one's story. Recently, we have seen examples of undocumented and DACA-mented immigrants facing retaliation for speaking out publicly and criticizing ICE. Narrators and interviewers alike need to assess how comfortable people are with making their stories public, and do our best to ensure that everyone involved understands the possible consequences (legal, emotional, etc.) of sharing immigrants' stories and of exposure.
Other topics touched on in the chat include: anonymity and the use of pseudonyms, archiving of immigrant narratives and sensitive information, transnational safety implications, narrator agency, and innovative, low-risk forms of sharing immigrant narratives.
Listen to the full audio from the chat, here:
PHOTO CREDIT: Chicago Immigration Mural Photo Flickr CC by Mary Anne Enriquez