Keeping up those rewriting skills

Jose Orta hands out fans during a vigil at the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in late June in Taylor, Texas. The former medium security prison converted for family detention in 2006, has been the subject of harsh criticism from attorneys, immigrant advocates and civil rights organizations. (CNS/Bahram Mark Sobhani)

Jose Orta hands out fans during a vigil at the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in late June in Taylor, Texas. The former medium security prison converted for family detention in 2006, has been the subject of harsh criticism from attorneys, immigrant advocates and civil rights organizations. (CNS/Bahram Mark Sobhani)

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of spending a few weeks on a story, turning it in with the expectation that it will run “tomorrow,” then hearing on the radio the next morning that the entire premise of your story is about to be made irrelevant.

Is it good news that it hadn’t run yet, or bad news that you now have to rewrite the whole thing (and here)?

Do you feel disappointed that your story didn’t get out in time to explain the problem before an announcement is made about its resolution? Or do you sigh with relief that you don’t have to put out a “stop the presses, don’t use that story, a new version is coming ASAP” advisory?

After covering the U.S. bishops’ spring meeting in San Antonio in June, I stayed in Texas a few days for a couple of other reporting projects, including the chance to cover a rally focused on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy of detaining families in a former medium- security prison in the small town of  Taylor.

The  T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility had been on my “write about this” list since 2007, shortly after ICE began putting families there and reports came out about the conditions inside. Pax Christi, Catholic Charities organizations, and several men’s and women’s religious orders had long been among groups protesting the use of Hutto to detain families.

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which frequently partners with various Catholic immigration organizations, had co-written a report that led to a lawsuit against ICE, resulting in a settlement which brought some significant changes, though problems remained. My immigration sources regularly pointed to Hutto as a situation in need of more public exposure.

Maria Elena Casetllanos holds a sign during a vigil at the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in late June in Taylor, Texas. (CNS/Bahram Mark Sobhani)

Maria Elena Casetllanos holds a sign during a vigil at the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in late June in Taylor, Texas. (CNS/Bahram Mark Sobhani)

So I was glad my Texas trip coincided with one of the regular protest events in Taylor. I wasn’t able to arrange a visit inside, but I made some good contacts, heard the issues aired and got a firsthand sense of what the detention center is like from the outside, as well as what the Taylor community is like.

When I got back to the CNS office in July, amid other assignments, I worked on explaining Hutto’s history and the issues it presents, relying on a stream of relevant reports (by a court-appointed monitor,  by the National Immigration Law Center and the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Jusice) that came out one after another in July.  And I started trying to get background information and answers to questions about Hutto and ICE detention policy from various public affairs staffers at the Department of Homeland Security.

I wasn’t having much luck. I received a series of “we’re working on your questions. We’ll get back to you” responses. Finally, I let my contact know that I couldn’t wait any longer. I’d given them a couple of weeks already and the story was going to run with an “ICE didn’t respond” clause by midweek.

The story went to my editor, lacking ICE comment.

Clearly, I wasn’t the only reporter working on Hutto stories, though. The morning of Aug. 6, The New York Times reported on “leaked” information that ICE was that day going to announce the end of family detention at T. Don Hutto and a revamping of the entire immigrant detention system.

That was indeed what John Morton, assistant secretary for ICE, announced later that morning.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to go completely back to the drawing board and our clients didn’t have to rip a now-outdated story from their page layouts just before press time.

I’d still rather not have had to redo something I’d worked on for so long. But it is kind of refreshing to be able to simultaneously explain a problem and report that someone in charge has already announced a plan to fix it.

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