Which immigration headlines should you care about?

Foreign-born tech workers shouldn’t panic — or bury their heads in the sand

Newsflash! President Donald Trump is planning to deport naturalized U.S. citizens, force H-1B visa holders to return to their home countries, and revoke the green cards of lawful permanent residents. He also wants to deport the Dreamers and evict millions of other immigrants from the country. Or wait — maybe he’s planning to increase visas for skilled workers, open the door to foreign-born researchers, protect DACA recipients, and — for an encore — bar himself from the United States.

Feel like you’ve got whiplash yet? Welcome to the nerve-wracking world of U.S. immigration policy — a strange place at the best of times but one made all the more confusing by the weaponization of immigration issues for political gain and the media’s continuing failure to cut through the spin.

Tech workers are better prepared than most to cope with a torrent of torrid immigration headlines, continuously amplified and distorted by Twitter rumors, Slack chatter, and credulous Facebook reposts. Still, the sheer volume of immigration news makes it hard to know what to pay attention to — and with 71 percent of Silicon Valley’s techies born outside the United States, this isn’t simply a theoretical problem. If you, your loved ones, colleagues, or staff are immigrants, then you need to learn to separate the signal from the noise.

So how can you tell the real deal from the real fake news? There’s no simple answer, but to keep you safe — and keep your heart rate in check — here are a few ground rules to help you figure out which headlines are worth taking seriously:

Whose headline is it anyway?

When weighing immigration headlines, pay attention to the medium, not just the message. If you work in the tech sector, you already know that Twitter and Facebook can serve as echo chambers, amplifying baseless rumors — or be manipulated by trolls, bots, and other bad-faith actors. If Aunt Rita shares a headline that sounds too crazy to be true, check to see how the story is playing out in mainstream media before you click the “like” button.

Not all mainstream outlets are created equal, either. A hysterical cable-news chyron might grab your attention, but chyron writers are often poorly informed about policy issues (or even basic geography), so don’t take them too seriously.

Opinion pieces are more complicated: They can explain complex immigration issues very clearly but aren’t trying to be impartial, so don’t use them as a source of factual information — except for the one you’re reading now, of course! Stick to credible sources of news and analysis — like TechCrunch! — when you’re looking for the real skinny on immigration issues.

National newswires like the AP and Reuters are also a good option — since they serve a wide range of newspapers, they’re theoretically less prone to bias. And don’t discount aggregation services like Flipboard, which aim to offer both liberal and conservative takes on breaking immigration news.

Look for specifics

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Image via Getty Images / alashi

The immigration debate often veers into cartoonish attacks: fear-mongering about “bad hombres” and migrant caravans on the one hand, and ICE abolitionism and jokes about border-fence design on the other.

It’s worth learning when to tune out the noise: If a news story is mostly a “meta” story about political point-scoring, the trading of insults and attacks, or the language being used by either side, then it’s probably safe to ignore it.

On the other hand, if a news headline focuses on specific policy proposals — killing the International Entrepreneur Rule and overhauling the EB-5 investor program, for example — then it’s worth reading more. When it comes to the immigration system, the devil is in the details, so the wonkier a headline sounds, the more important it’s likely to be.

Bet on continuing gridlock 

Many big immigration proposals require legislative action, regardless of who’s in the Oval Office. Unfortunately, there are very few immigration policies likely to pass both the Democratic House and the Republican Senate and even fewer that would then survive a presidential veto. That means that, broadly speaking, if a new policy is legislative and would require pushing a new bill through Congress, you can safely ignore it for now.

On the other hand, if a new policy is something that can be enforced without an act of Congress, either by executive order (like DACA or the travel ban) or by regulatory action (like the public charge rule), then it’s worth paying close attention to. Millions of people can be impacted by such measures, and unlike legislative action, some executive-branch changes can be pushed through virtually overnight, with little prior oversight or scope for public input. (New regulations usually take a little longer to implement but still matter more than legislative action.)

Look at the bigger picture

Politicians can be savvy media operators who often use immigration issues to bait their opponents or rally their base. Trump’s immigration proposals, for example, are sometimes intended as strategic gambits, meant to outfox his opponents rather than to advance specific policy goals.

To make sense of that, think about what else is going on in the world — if the White House is in the grips of a big scandal, ask yourself: Is the Trump administration more interested in changing the narrative or in changing the immigration system?

One big tell: President Trump sometimes promises big changes in a couple of weeks’ time, knowing that by then the media’s attention will have drifted. If a news headline concerns a dramatic-sounding plan that Trump says he’ll provide more details about later, feel free to take a wait-and-see approach or put it straight into your discard pile.

Don’t confuse words and actions

Image via Getty Images / erhui1979

Even presidential speeches and White House press releases don’t constitute policy changes until they’re actually acted upon. (A case in point: Trump’s long-promised border wall remains strictly notional.) That means that if the media is obsessing over what the president tweeted, or called over his shoulder on his way aboard Air Force One, then you can usually tune out. If a new policy is actually implemented via executive order, a regulatory change, or — much more rarely — an act of Congress, though, it’s time to start paying serious attention.

The same goes double, of course, for pledges made by Democratic presidential hopefuls. At this stage, anyone pushing a grand vision for immigration reform is likely just trying to stand out on a crowded stage. Even if elected, a Democratic president would face the same challenges and constraints that have checked President Trump’s efforts to transform the immigration system, so don’t get too excited about their promises of reform.

Numbers don’t lie (much)

Some of the most telling headlines aren’t about new policies, but rather about the impact of policies already being quietly implemented by government agencies. That’s especially true of data-driven reporting that aims to quantify the real-world impact of immigration policies. If a report claims that H-1B denials have spiked or that immigration processing times have doubled based on the government’s own data, you should probably take it seriously.

Of course, as Mark Twain wrote in his autobiography, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Consider the source of the data: a reputable think tank, or an immigration-focused tech company like Boundless, puts its credibility on the line when it publishes its research. On the other hand, a lawmaker standing in front of a flipboard — or a president firing off statistically dubious tweets — might just be trying to score political points.

Remember who has the final word

Any new immigration policy will inevitably be picked over by a crowd of advocacy groups, all tugging in different directions — and firing off legal challenges to policies with which they disagree. When you read immigration news, pay attention to who is objecting: If numerous state attorneys general or deep-pocketed national advocacy groups threaten legal action, there’s a real chance the new policy will face delays or will wind up being watered down.

It’s almost always worth paying attention to rulings and stays issued by judges, since they can directly impact how and when a law or regulation is applied. Even then, though, remember that different courts can reach different conclusions, and only the Supreme Court has the final word. The one immigration headline that’s always worth paying attention to is a report on a major Supreme Court ruling.

Don’t bury your head in the sand

It’s a tough time to be an immigrant, even if you’re a techie with the legal resources of a big Silicon Valley firm behind you. But while the firehose of immigration headlines can seem overwhelming, it’s important not to ignore issues.

If you’re a foreign-born worker, the policies coming out of Washington could have a big impact on your employment prospects and your future in the United States, so mastering the quirks of the U.S. political and media ecosystem is a crucial survival skill.

The key, at the end of the day, is to avoid panicking. Follow the rules outlined here, and find a few trustworthy news sources that you can rely on to help you make sense of the rapidly changing world of immigration policy. Remaining informed and engaged, even amidst the chaos, is the best way to stay sane — and also the best way to ensure your own immigration journey goes smoothly, no matter what the headlines say.