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The Best In-Depth Reporting on Immigration (#MuckReads)

We’ve rounded up the some of the best recent reporting on immigration — from the surging numbers of Central Americans crossing the border to visas available only to wealthy foreigners.

President Obama reiterated his call for Congress to pass an immigration reform bill in his State of the Union address Tuesday, something both chambers are already working on. A bipartisan band of senators announced plans to tackle the issue two weeks ago, and a bipartisan House of Representatives effort, long cloaked in secrecy, is also in the works

With that in mind, we’ve rounded up the some of the best recent reporting on immigration — from the surging numbers of Central Americans crossing the border to visas available only to wealthy foreigners. 

Leave your recommendations for in-depth immigration reporting in the comments below, or tweet us with #MuckReads. 

Unwanted at Home, Free to Strike Again, The Boston Globe, December 2012

Huang Chen, an illegal Chinese immigrant, went to prison after he assaulted Qian Wu in 2006. But four years later, he was able to attack her again. The reason? Chen was one of “more than 8,500 detainees convicted of murder, rape and other crimes” that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has released over the last four years, usually without informing their victims or the public. The story is the first in a blockbuster investigation of immigrant detention by The Boston Globe. The second details the secretive prison system that holds more than 10,000 immigrants without criminal records; the third goes inside the country’s equally secretive immigration courts, which deport more than 160,000 people each year.

 U.S. Grows an Industrial Complex Along the Border, NPR, September 2012

The federal government has spent about $219 billion on immigration enforcement — “roughly the cost of the entire space shuttle program.” The money has fuelled what Rep. Hal Rogers, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, calls “a sort of mini industrial complex.” The federal government has launched three separate high-tech border tower systems since 1997, none of which work the way they were supposed to. It spends $5 million a day detaining illegal immigrants. Hundreds of aircraft patrol the each day. All told, the federal government employs about 80,000 people in immigration enforcement.

A Boom Behind Bars, Bloomberg Businessweek, March 2011

The tougher immigration policies of the last decade have led to a boom for private prison contractors like the Corrections Corporation of America, a public company that detains about 1,000 alleged illegal immigrants in its Houston facility alone. The company, whose stock has risen in recent years, “has been accused of lobbying for policies that would fill its cells,” including Arizona’s 2010 immigration law.

Better Lives for Mexicans Cut Allure of Going North, The New York Times, July 2011

Illegal immigration from Mexico has plunged in recent years. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, “fewer than 100,000 illegal border-crossers and visa-violators from Mexico settled in the United States in 2010, down from about 525,000 annually from 2000 to 2004.” The factors behind the slump include the declining Mexican birthrate, a more dangerous border, an increase in the number of agricultural-worker visas granted to Mexicans and better education and employment opportunities in Mexico.

The story is the first in Times reporter Damien Cave’s yearlong “Immigration Upended” series.

The New Border: Illegal Immigration’s Shifting Frontier, ProPublica, December 2012

As the number of illegal immigrants from Mexico declines, U.S. border agents are catching more and more immigrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Many of them have fled violence in their home countries by crossing Mexico’s porous southern border. In response, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s advisers have announced plans boost border security and create a Mexican border patrol.

Discordant Band Plays Together on Immigration, The Los Angeles Times, February 2013

How a few key senators revived immigration reform in the weeks after the election. (For more on how the politics of immigration are shifting, check out Ryan Lizza’s post-election piece in The New Yorker.)

Why Americans Won’t Do Dirty Jobs, Bloomberg Businessweek, November 2011

When Alabama passed a tough new immigration law in 2011, one of the big selling points “was that it would free up jobs that Republican Governor Robert Bentley said immigrants had stolen from recession-battered Americans.” But Randy Rhodes, the president of a catfish-processing plant in Uniontown, Ala., said he couldn’t find workers for 158 positions he needs to fill since his Guatemalan workforce left the state. Locals wouldn’t take them — even though the unemployment rate in the county was 18.2 percent.

Watching Brethren Vanish, The Los Angeles Times, December 2011

Alabama’s immigration law had an impact on more than catfish processing. In Tallassee, Ala., the Hispanic share of Riverside Heights Baptist Church’s congregation plunged after the law’s passage, leaving many of the white churchgoers feeling conflicted. "I'd hate for them to go back to what they came from," said Tommy Graham, 68, a retired firefighter. "All of them are good workers, and not working jobs that white people would take." (The story is part of the “New Latino South” series.)

Wealthy Immigrants Can Invest Way to Visas, The Seattle Times, December 2011

Wealthy immigrants have an option for coming to the U.S. that others don’t: they can receive visas if they invest at least $1 million in an American enterprise (or $500,000 in a rural area or one with a high unemployment rate). In Washington State, the money invested through the visa program has helped to finance everything from a Seattle office building to utility-line extensions for a new BMW plant.

Frustrated Migrants Go Farther North for Work, The Washington Post, January 2013

Oscar Reyes used to pay smugglers to take him across the U.S. border each spring, but now he flies Air Canada. Reyes is one of almost 16,000 Mexican laborers who participated in Canada’s temporary worker program in 2012. “I come home loaded with money, and I don’t have to worry about anything,” he said.

Undocumented Life Is a Hurdle as Immigrants Seek a Reprieve, The New York Times, October 2012

A new program allows illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children a chance to stay in the country. All they have to do is prove they arrived before they turned 16, have been here continuously for five years, are under 31 as of June 15, 2012, and have graduated from high school (or are still in school or have a G.E.D.). But proving all that can be hard for illegal immigrants who have been living here for years without driver’s licenses, credit cards or much else that could serve as a paper trail.

Young and Alone, Facing Court and Deportation, The New York Times, August 2012

More and more young people are crossing the border illegally, even as the total number of immigrants declines. More than 11,000 unaccompanied minors were placed in deportation proceedings in the first eight months of 2012. They include children like Juan David Gonzalez, 6, who appeared in immigration court last year without a parent or a lawyer after crossing the border illegally. (In immigration court, the government won’t provide a lawyer if the defendant cannot afford one the way it does in other courts.)

Did you find this reading guide useful? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more #MuckReads roundups on issues such as drones, campaign finance and redistricting.

Theodoric Meyer

Theodoric Meyer is a former ProPublica reporting fellow. He was previously an intern at The New York Times and The Seattle Times.

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