Migrahack brings immigration issues to life

The immigration debate continues to dominate the news cycle — from the persistent fallout over family separations to leadership turnover at the Department of Homeland Security.

With a polarizing topic like immigration, nothing speaks louder than data. That’s why nearly 300 journalists, data scientists, community members and DU students gathered on campus in September for Colorado’s first migrahack. 

For two days, small groups spread out across the Anderson Academic Commons and huddled around laptops to sort through dozens of pages of immigration data. The goal was to comb through that public data and design creative projects about the impacts of immigration in Colorado. Among the final projects were infographics on children separated from their parents, multimedia projects on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and a flow chart depicting the complicated process and decisions facing immigrants on their way into the United States. 

DU partnered with Colorado Media Project and several local groups to bring this unique experience to the Centennial State. The goal is to provide an effective method for sharing data and to enhance understanding of the immigrants who make up 10% of Colorado’s residents.

“Immigration is a hot topic,” says senior journalism and political science major Isaac Vargas, who participated in and helped coordinate the migrahack. “We have a lot of first-generation students such as myself who have come from immigrant families. To be able to report and talk about the issues that are happening on our campus, in our city and in our state is really important, given the community we represent.” 

Lynn Schofield Clark, professor and chair of the Media, Film and Journalism Studies department, says the migrahack was a success because it brought together so many people to have important conversations about immigration. She hopes to keep those connections strong as DU continues to collaborate with community members and groups serving immigrant communities.

“Students, faculty and staff members found the event energizing,” Clark says. “They spoke of learning a lot about immigration in a short period of time while also building good relationships and having fun.”

Award-winning Los Angeles Times journalist Cindy Carcamo set the tone for the hackathon with the annual Estlow Center Anvil of Freedom lecture, presented annually by DU’s Estlow International Center for Journalism and New Media. Carcamo, who has covered immigration for more than a decade, stressed the importance of data and facts when reporting on an emotionally charged issue like immigration.  

“It’s important to look at the numbers and put it into perspective,” Carcamo explained, especially when it comes to combating disinformation. Other times, she said, it’s important to use that data to illustrate a powerful story. That often requires collaboration and combining talents. 

“Everyone has their own specialty,” Carcamo said. “You produce better stories when you have a team of people. Immigration is such a big issue. You really do need a team. Not just one person can do it — especially right now.” 

There is already interest growing for another migrahack in Colorado next year. Vargas says that as a student, the opportunity to collaborate with professionals was extremely valuable. 

“So many people from different backgrounds were able to come together and learn from one another while also producing cohesive projects in such a short amount of time,” Vargas says. “The amount of data and information that all our teams were able to uncover was very eye-opening to me.” 

For more information visit migrahack.org

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