Jaclyn Cosgrove is a reporter for Oklahoma Watch, a non-profit, investigative and in-depth reporting team that collaborates with other news organizations and higher education to produce journalism that makes a difference in the lives of Oklahomans. Cosgrove graduated with a degree in news-editorial journalism and broadcast production from Oklahoma State University.
About 11 million illegal immigrants live in the United States. Luis Carlos Aguirre Piña is not one of them. Instead, Aguirre leaves his Camargo home in the Mexican state of Chihuahua and travels 900 miles northeast to work legally in the U.S. through the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Labor Certification Program. The H-2A program exists in case there’s a shortage of agricultural workers. And Aguirre’s employer, Kris Gosney, says that’s the case in Fairview. No one seems interested in farm labor, even high school students looking for extra cash. Click here for full story.
It’s cheaper to hire an American. Pecan farmers Chuck Selman and his son Chad want to make it clear that rather than paying thousands of dollars to legally bring a foreign laborer to work on their farm, they would prefer to just hire John or Jane Doe from down the street. But finding legal U.S. residents interested in harvesting pecans in the Tulsa area has never been an easy task. “Basically we couldn’t find any labor in the area,” said Chad Selman, operator of S&S Pecans. “I was spending more time running back and forth to town to try and find guys to come work, and getting newspaper and radio ads, than I was actually harvesting the crop.” Click here for full story.
Story Behind The Story
I did not anticipate that writing a story about the legal ways to hire foreign laborers would prove so difficult.
But my two stories about the H-2A visa program proved to be the most challenging stories I’ve yet written.
In a logical world, two stories about a federal program to hire foreign laborers would be fairly simple — find an employer who uses the program, find employees in the program, find some experts, etc.
But, especially in the realm of immigration reporting, we don’t live in a logical world.
Writing these two stories showed me just how explosive the immigration debate has become.
And writing these two stories showed me that, because of just how convoluted the immigration debate has become, the importance and relevance for in-depth and analytic immigration reporting is only growing stronger.
This was my first time to write extensively about immigration. Going into the Heartland fellowship, my editor and I decided we were most interested in looking at the impact immigration has on Oklahoma’s economy.
I’m not sure what led me to write about the H-2 visa programs, which are temporary visa work program. I started out looking at immigrants in Oklahoma’s work force. I soon stumbled upon the H-2A visa program. This program interested me for two reasons — for one, because it was supposed to serve as the legal means for how employers could hire temporary foreign labor for agricultural jobs. Secondly, agriculture is one of the driving forces of Oklahoma’s economy.
Just like with any project, gaining trust was incredibly important. One of my first interviews was a background interview with an H-2A agent. The agent gave me helpful information but wouldn’t go on the record because she feared backlash from the community against her other small business. And after making some phone calls, she told me that, because of our current political climate, her clients were scared to talk on the record about hiring any sort of foreign laborer. The clients she spoke with feared being quoted about the H-2A program would result in backlash from their communities.
The agent put me into contact with the Oklahoma Farm Bureau. Through the organization, I connected with Chad Selman, a pecan farmer in Skiatook. I visited the Selmans’ farm a few times and learned quite a bit about the H-2A program and pecan farming. The Selmans didn’t have any workers at the time I was interviewing them, in part because of H-2A paperwork headaches.
I was able to interview an H-2A worker after finding Lesli Downs of Southern Impact, an H-2A agency in Oklahoma.
I found Lesli through the Foreign Labor Certification Data Center. The site has a list of employers who use H-2 workers, and the list includes where the employer is located, how many workers she or he has and what agent or lawyer the employer used for the program.
Lesli introduced me to her parents, John and Kris Gosney, who had two H-2A workers employed at their farm in Fairview.
I interviewed one of their workers, Luis Carlos Aguirre Piña. Luis is from a part of Mexico that has seen an increase in drug violence. He has used the H-2 programs for about eight years and had so much insight.
The Heartland fellowship provided me with a solid foundation of sources. When I had a question during my project, I had a long list of reporters, editors, legal experts and several other sources I could call.
Thanks to the fellowship, I have a better grasp of how to cover immigration. When Oklahoma Watch starts another immigration project, we will do so in part with what we learned from this fellowship.