Jens Krogstad

Jens Manuel Krogstad is a reporter at The Des Moines Register. His reporting at the paper has included an investigation into wage theft among immigrant workers and gavel-to-gavel coverage of a kosher meatpacking plant executive accused of hiring immigrant child laborers. Krogstad also reported on a 2008 immigration raid on the plant — then the largest in history — as a reporter for the Waterloo Courier. He later wrote the forward to a book about the town where the raid took place, “Postville, USA: Surviving Diversity in Small-Town America.” A graduate of the University of Minnesota, Krogstad has won Iowa state journalism awards for breaking news and feature writing.

2011 Project

Statistics rile critics of federal immigration program

Most detained under Secure Communities have scant or no criminal records, data show.

Nearly 200 immigrants have been detained in Iowa in the past year under a federal enforcement program that the Obama administration is currently reviewing. Called Secure Communities, the 3-year-old program was designed to expand an existing information-sharing program between local and federal law enforcement. Critics of the program say it ensnares too many people who either have no prior criminal convictions or have been convicted of lesser crimes. Others, though, applaud the program because it encourages cooperation between local and federal law enforcement and helps identify and deport illegal immigrants.

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Complaints of legal fraud against immigrants on rise

One alleged Iowa scam promises work permits to those who file for asylum. But the action often results in deportation.

Complaints of fraudulent and unethical legal advice that can result in the deportation of immigrants are becoming more common in Iowa, according to a state official and immigration attorneys. The Iowa attorney general’s office is investigating an allegation of immigration fraud that is taking place primarily in central Iowa, said Bill Brauch, director of the office’s consumer protection division. He said he could not provide further details while the case is under investigation.

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Story Behind The Story

Finding time in today’s newsrooms to cover immigration stories is difficult. City government, crime and education are the core beats of local and regional newspapers. Significant layoffs over the past four years have left little time to cover important topics like immigration.

Attending the Immigration in the Heartland conference last spring helped our newsroom commit the time and resources to produce these stories. Without my interest in this project and my editors’ full support, these stories would have not been written.

My first story, which ran on the front page of our Sunday paper, explored the impact of the federal government’s Secure Communities program on the state of Iowa. I mixed interviews with officials – local law enforcement, the Iowa governor and federal agents – with an immigrant’s experience with the program. My second article focused on legal fraud against immigrants, and highlighted the fact that predatory legal advice is on the rise in Iowa.

I faced more obstacles reporting the second story because it involved frightened immigrants who had to be convinced to go public with allegations of fraud against an attorney. I dug deep into my local sources to make this story happen. Respected community leaders played a key role in securing documents that supported the allegations, and in convincing frightened immigrants to speak to me about the fraud.

Any story on immigration generates negative comments on the website of the Des Moines Register, the state’s most widely read newspaper and news website. My stories were no exception.

However, I received several positive responses. One community member said the first article proved valuable in efforts to set up a meeting with local law enforcement to discuss Secure Communities. During the Nov. 2 meeting, local police reversed their public support of the program – support they had voiced less than two month earlier in my article. They publicly stated that Secure Communities makes it more difficult for them to police their communities, because the program increases distrust of authorities in immigrant communities. Again, this was a complete reversal of the county sheriff’s previous position. This was the same sheriff quoted on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement website supporting Secure Communities.

The immigration conference in Oklahoma City and Dallas proved invaluable on a personal and professional level.

The workshop on TRAC from the Dallas Morning News’ Dianne Solis, and the many tips on making successful FOI requests from the AP’s Martha Mendoza will pay dividends for the rest of my career.

Tools of the trade are important, but the reports won’t mean much to me or most readers without truly understanding why it all matters. That’s why the trip to the inner city school in Oklahoma City, and the Dallas meeting with a teacher who connected us with her refugee students, will always stay with me. Their stories, both tragic and inspirational, reminded me why I care so much about immigration.

Pursuing “passion topics,” I believe, are vital to recharging your batteries as a journalist. I left the conference inspired and bursting with story ideas.

Face-to-face conversations with immigrants impacted by the nation’s policies, federal agents who enforce the law and experts who explained the societal impact of immigration forced me to think through and challenge my assumptions.

The conference not only helped me write with more depth about immigration, it also helped me work more quickly. I now have the direct numbers and cell phones of a variety of national experts and federal agencies at my fingertips. I can quickly navigate federal statistics on ICE’s website and on TRAC. Armed with a mountain of data and a more complete knowledge of immigration, I know the right questions to ask that cut to the heart of issues.

Without the Institute for Justice and Journalism’s Immigration in the Heartland program, none of this would have been possible

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