Illinois in the ICE Age

Illinois in the ICE Age Screenshot


Illinois in the ICE Age is a data visualization project that I made along with Jimmie Glover, Ruth Lopez and @taratc for Chicago MigraHack. The visualization is based on a data set provided by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse that describes the trajectory of 915 migrants detained in Illinois from the time they were taken into custody until they left ICE custody in November and December 2012.

We used Google Spreadsheets’ pivot tables feature to explore the data and develop questions and insights. This also provided a good way to double check programatically computed statistics.  The map animation is built using D3. I sucked the data set into a local SQLite database using the Peewee ORM and wrote some Python scripts to transform the data and export it as JSON to make it easier to visualize (especially the day-by-day updates).

The project won the “Best data visualization team project” and “Audience Favorite” awards.

Got the numbers

At a time when little boxes inviting users to “retweet” or “like” a web page are everywhere, their absence is noticeable on the pages of organizations seeking tougher enforcement of immigration laws and a reduction in immigration levels.

National organizations like Numbers USA have active presences on social media websites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube but social media isn’t necessarily their focus on the web.

“A lot of the social media, I find to be sort of circular – a lot of people talking to each other,” Numbers USA Executive Director Roy Beck said. “What we try to do is not waste our members time talking to each other but get them talking directly to congress.”

Beck said his organization uses social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook to drive people to the organization’s website where they can take direct action on immigration issues.

“Our strength has been direct action to Congress. Congress makes the laws,” Jim Robb said. Robb is the vice president of operations of Numbers USA. He said the organization has used new technologies since it was founded as an Internet-based organization in 1996.

Beck cited the defeat of a 2007 version of the DREAM Act, proposed legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, as a situation where the organization’s web site allowed people to respond quickly in the debate over immigration.

Both Beck and Robb touted their organization’s web-based faxing applications which makes it easy for people to contact their elected officials, even if they don’t know the name or contact information of their elected official. Robb said Numbers USA was the first advocacy organization to have such a faxing application, now a technology widely-used by advocacy organizations, when they developed it in the late 1990s.

According to Robb, members using the organization’s fax system have sent over 6 million faxes to elected officials in Washington, D.C.

Robb said his organization continues to adapt as new technologies become available. Numbers USA started by sending action alerts to their constituents by e-mail. Later they developed a Windows application that would pop-up alerts on a user’s desktop, a way of compelling people to take action without having to even check their e-mail. Robb said broader use of text messaging and mobile device applications are in development.

Ira Mehlman is the national media director of Federation for American Immigration Reform, an organization formed before widespread use of the Internet. Mehlman said his organization began using Internet social media only recently but that using a combination of media was important for getting people to react to immigration issues.

“As media is becoming more diverse, you have to be able to use all the available technologies to reach your widest possible audience,” Mehlman said, “The little old lady who listens to talk radio, you might not be able to reach her through Twitter and vice-versa: the 22-year-old you can reach on Twitter might not be listening to talk radio.”

Mehlman said new technologies are important ways for people to be engaged in the democratic process. “200 and some odd years ago it was a very small population,” Mehlman said, “People could be in the village square and discuss things. This essentially provides these opportunities in the modern age when we’re a much larger country.”

Robb also said he views Numbers USA’s web site and use of social media accounts in a democratic context calling them “a national water cooler.” He said the organization’s online presence is now being used to organize members by congressional districts. This, Robb said, helps localize the organization’s broad web resources which many local organizations are unable to replicate.

Unlike the office water cooler, however, the focus of the organization’s efforts to organize members by congressional district is action, not discourse, Robb said.

“We’re not informationally oriented, we’re action oriented,” he said.

Members can use the organization’s site to compare notes and report back on actions, Robb said, adding that, in the last two months, members had logged more than 7,000 visits to local congressional offices.

Robb said the goal of developing new technologies is to decrease the response time to immigration issues. A rally, he said, can take weeks to organize, but people can respond electronically in a matter of minutes.

However, Robb said, people, not technology, are his organization’s key asset.

“The big thing we’ve got though is a willing army,” Robb said, “There’s no magic technology that us or anybody else can use that can make up for not having people. You’ve got to have voters and we’ve got them.”

Not everyone engaged in the immigration debate’s view of the Internet is as action-oriented. Steven Camarota is the Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies, a research organization whose analysis typically recommends reducing levels of immigration to the United States. He said he would like to see a more careful and informed debate about immigration. Advocacy groups calling for people to take action on immigration issues, Camarota said, sometimes run the risk of polarizing the debate instead of informing it.

“It’s hard to take a complex debate and boil it down to just a few things,” Camarota said.

While the center has social media accounts, Camarota said they aren’t widely used by the organization. He said he didn’t know how social media, which often favors large numbers of short messages, has affected the ability to have a nuanced discourse about immigration but hoped it could inform the debate by pointing people to new research.

“The Internet allows you to be a real expert if you want to take the time,” he said.

Union leaders and alderman among 32 arrested at immigration rally

It all went as planned.

After warning protesters who were sitting in front of the doors of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices three times, an officer told the activists to stand and that they were being arrested.

Thirty-two protesters who represented unions and immigration rights groups were lined up and led inside the building for processing.

The staged act of civil disobedience, with planned arrests, camera crews and trash bags emblazoned with dollar signs meant to symbolize the cost of current immigration policy, stood in stark contrast to the tangible fear of deportation of those in the U.S. without documents.

“We need comprehensive immigration reform,” said Keith Kelleher, president of Service Employees International Union Health Care Illinois-Indiana, and one of those arrested, as he was being led into the building.

“Our brothers and sisters in our unions and in the community are being deported every day and we need to stop it. That’s why I’m getting arrested.”

The arrests followed a rally at Federal Plaza and a march from the plaza to the ICE offices. The event was organized by the Labor Committee on Immigrant Worker Rights, an organization that represents a number of unions throughout the Chicago area.

Kelleher said employers who take advantage of immigrant labor by lowering wages cause lower wages for all workers.

“We cannot fix this economy as long as 12 million workers are forced to live in the shadows and subject to exploitation,” Eliseo Medina, executive vice president of SEIU, said. “All workers deserve to have the same rights and responsibilities.”

Medina called on Republican lawmakers to join efforts to craft comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

Jean Cusack came to the protest from Milwaukee with a group named Voces de La Frontera.

On her back was a photograph of Omar Damian Ortega, a Milwaukee man Cusack said was an undocumented worker detained and facing deportation after he tried to seek worker’s compensation for an on-the-job back injury.

Cusack said she wants to see immigration reform that allows a path to legalization for workers.  “The process is impossible,” Cusack said.

Among the arrested was Ald. George Cardenas(12th). In a speech at the rally, Cardenas said there needed to be unity between Americans across immigration status.

“We will not have tranquility in this nation unless we are all united, unless we are all allowed to pursue liberty and happiness,” he said.

Cardenas, himself an immigrant, said immigrants and other Americans were tied by a common bond.

“We share your values, we share your work ethic, we share your self reliance,” he said. “Your dream is our dream and your future is our future.”

This story was originally published May 25, 2010 on Medill Reports Chicago.

Asian Americans Reluctant to Stand Up for Immigration Issues

From Asian Americans Reluctant to Stand Up for Immigration Issues:

NEW YORK – The Institute for Asian American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston recently released a study showing that many Asian Americans pay close attention to immigration issues but few of them are willing to stand up and do advocacy work. According to The World Journal, a survey of 412 Asian Americans by Paul Watanabe, director of the Institute and associate professor of political science at the university, and his colleagues found that about 80 percent of them were “very concerned” or “concerned” about immigration. The study shows that 58 percent of Asians are sympathetic to undocumented immigrants and 52 percent of them are supportive of the idea of legalizing undocumented immigrants. About 33 percent of the Asian Americans surveyed said they would become involved in collecting signatures on petitions for immigration issues, but only nine percent said they were willing to do anything further, such as participating in public protests.

Even the most informed of us, I think, gets a certin picture in their head when they hear the phrase “immigrant” and “illegal immigrant”.  I remember being surprised when I learned that the first law to limit a specific group’s immigration to the U.S. was directed to Chinese Americans.  I wonder if there’s any data about Asian American political engagement in general and whether the behavior in this study is any different from the general case.

I can only think of my dad yelling at the radio, but being pretty resigned to the way things were in the world, even if he acknowledged that they were unjust.  I was excited that my mom told me that my dad had volunteered during the Obama campaign, making calls to potential voters.  Things are always more complicated when it comes down to it.

U.S. “legal” immigration explained in flowchart

It’s dangerous to oversimplify what are ultimately complicated policy issues, like immigration, not to mention the huge variety of experience that immigrants face, but most of the public debate on this, and many other issues, seems founded on information, that, even at a basic level is pretty misinformed.  This diagram about different pathways to legal residency and citizenship is an example of helping people understand the basics of policy in a really clear way.

I’ve  always loved things like this.  Recently, I saw a great breakdown of the different positions of McCain in Obama that really concisely summarized the candidates rhethoric, their voting record, and analysis from non-profit issue advocacy groups.  This was in Glamour magazine, but it’s the kind of coverage that I think has been sorely missing in other media I’ve seen.  I’d rather see lots more of this issue-based breakdown, rather than being overwhelmed with manipulative identity politics or Monday Night Football-style coverage of campaign strategy.

As a kid, I read Zillions Magazine, who, like many other print publications, has since gone out of print.  It had a lot of similar diagrams that broke down the dynamics of finance and marketing for youth, trying to help make them critical consumers.

Seeing this flowchart got me pretty stoked and made me start thinking about a How do people get and stay incarcerated in Monroe County flowchart.

technology and activism

Here are two new instances of technology (both via boingboing) that seem to really aid social justice movements.

Cause Caller is a VOIP tool that lets you define a cause and contacts related to that cause (for instance, congressional representatives on a panel investigating a particular issue).  Users can then enter their phone number and the application will call them back and connect them with the different contacts.

ICED (I Can End Deportation) is a video game made by the human rights group Breakthrough that, according to Breakthrough’s website:

puts you in the shoes of an immigrant to illustrate how unfair immigration laws deny due process and violate human rights. These laws affect all immigrants: legal residents, those fleeing persecution, students and undocumented people.

Exclusion Acts

In researching the details of a museum that my father wanted to go to on our trip in San Francisco, I read this.  It’s crazy that, more than 100 years later, the motivations for limiting immigration and the use of legislation to exclude certain classes of immigrants persists.  The faces of the undesireable immigrants is all that has changed:

During the 1870s, an economic downturn resulted in serious unemployment problems, and led to politically motivated outcries against Asian immigrants who would work for low wages. In reaction to states starting to pass immigration laws, in 1882 the federal government asserted its authority to control immigration and passed the first immigration law, barring lunatics and felons from entering the country. Later in 1882, the second immigration law barred Chinese, with a few narrow exceptions. Imperial China was too weak and impoverished to exert any influence on American policy. This law was originally for 10 years, but was extended and expanded and not repealed until 1943, when China was our ally in World War II. However, only 105 Chinese were allowed in legally each year, so the exception process actually continued into the 1950’s. Chinese were not on a equal immigration footing with other nationalities until immigration laws were completely rewritten in the mid 1960’s.


la quinta inn, colonias

We stayed in a hotel last night, under really random circumstances.  A friend of friends from DC was at the show.  She had recently moved to Las Creces to work as a union organizer doing community and university outreach in an attempt to improve wages and working conditions for workers at the state university in New Mexico.  The union had put her up in a local hotel and she shared it with us.  She was telling us a little about the work that she did and how she had encountered something called colonias, which are exploitative real estate sold largely to immigrants that are totally without hookups to electrical, water, and sewer grids.  The first thing I found was this FAQ by the Texas state government that describes more about Colonias.

“I don’t want my 17-year-old son to have to pick tomatoes or make beds in Las Vegas.”

I stumbled across this quote on the Internet.  It’s from Karl Rove, allegedly uttered at a Republican Women’s convention when talking about the benefits of Bush’s immigration policy.  I came across the quote in the context of an editorial on the conservative National Review website.

The editorial’s commentary is pretty interesting:

It is precisely Rove’s son (and my own, and those of the rest of us in the educated elite) who should work picking tomatoes or making beds, or washing restaurant dishes, or mowing lawns, especially when they’re young, to help them develop some of the personal and civic virtues needed for self-government. It’s not that I want my kids to make careers of picking tomatoes; Mexican farmworkers don’t want that either. But we must inculcate in our children, especially those likely to go on to high-paying occupations, that there is no such thing as work that is beneath them.

This is why the president’s “willing worker/willing employer” immigration extravaganza is morally wrong — it’s not just that it will cost taxpayers untold billions, or that it will beggar our own blue-collar workers, or that it will compromise security, or that it will further dissolve our sovereignty. It would do all that, of course, but most importantly it would change the very nature of our society for the worse, creating whole occupations deemed to be unfit for respectable Americans, for which little brown people have to be imported from abroad. In other words, mass immigration, even now, is moving us toward an unequal, master-servant society.

The use of the phrase “educated elite” gives me the fear, and the editorial’s ultimate conclusion seems  to call for a more closed-bordered approach to immigration.  Also, the idea that we don’t already have a master-servant society and attributing this toward mass immigration (um, slavery, colonialism anybody?) seems to make this argument rather rethorical.  Still, it shows that immigration is a complicated issue, even within Republican ranks.  Rove’s comment is disgusting and describes, for me; the desire to preserve resources and privilege for those who have it, at all costs, that I find so frightening.  However, I’m also really uncomfortable with the editorial’s idea that you could equate labor that a young, wealthy person could do voluntarily and temporarily, with the labor reality of many undocumented workers.  I’m not denying that in the history of many families with wealth, there is a working class history, and individuals who made some significant sacrifices for their families.  However, the rags to riches mythology that many conservatives (and punk kids for that matter) use to justify the preservation of resources and privilege is an incomplete narrative.  There are a lot of reasons why some people have been able to accumulate and preserve wealth while others have not, beyond just personal industriousness.  If we’re going to value hard work as a culture, we owe it to ourselves to do that in the open context of those other, often unfair and ugly, factors.