#CoveringCOVID is a virtual series of one-on-one interviews with our reporters, where we pull back the curtain to better understand how they do their jobs and how the pandemic has changed it all.
This week WBUR CitySpace events and programming manager Alex Schneps interviews immigration reporter Shannon Dooling.
Shannon Dooling: My name is Shannon Dooling and I cover immigration for WBUR. I have been covering that beat for about three or four years now.
Alex Schneps: OK. So for those who may not know, what types of stories do you normally cover as an immigration reporter?
Shannon: Yeah, it's a big topic, right? So it varies. It could be policy changes; executive orders from the White House; local legislation that impacts immigrant communities. A lot of the time I find myself trying to personalize those policy stories by meeting people who would actually be affected and by sharing their stories.
Alex: And it's interesting that you say that because I was just talking to Adrian Ma, who covers business, obviously. And one of the things that he said was how, at least right now, the numbers that we're seeing can start to be overwhelming and we forget the human element. And I think is probably very often the case with immigration as well, right?
Shannon: That's probably the hardest part of this shift for me has been that my beat naturally draws me into people's living rooms, into their places of employment, into an advocacy group setting where I can talk to people where they feel comfortable. But I'm always trying to make that personal connection and to be able to sit across from someone and make eye contact. I feel like that's when stories really come alive, especially in this beat. And so that has been a big challenge in trying to figure out new ways to make those connections and in some ways figuring out a new way to report these stories.
Alex: What do you normally cover in Boston as it relates to immigration?
Shannon: It's sort of counterintuitive. When we think about immigration on a national scale or even international scale, we often have images of the southern border or even the northern border with Canada. But I think what I've learned over the last few years in covering this is that Boston is a very, very immigrant rich community. You know, we have the second or third largest Haitian diaspora in the country, second to New York City and Miami. We also have a very vibrant Central American community, Salvadoran, Honduran, Guatemalan communities throughout Boston, Greater Boston. It is sort of counterintuitive to think of a place like sort of stuck all the way up in the northeast in Boston as being a hub of immigration. But the sort of traditional immigrant tale, right, is someone's uncle or someone's nephew or someone's sister came to Boston, came to Lawrence, came to Chelsea, came to Eastie, 15, 20 years ago. And since then, these communities have really been building themselves up and and supporting one another. And I think it's important as an immigration reporter to try to illustrate and give them sort of a platform to be able to talk more about issues that affect them and how we're all interwoven as a city, as a greater Boston community and as a state. I've been kind of trying to look at how the pandemic has been affecting these more vulnerable communities in general and then also how these communities are really playing a big role on the front lines. These are folks who often aren't thought of as frontline essential workers. But I think that the pandemic has really highlighted the value of the communities that live in and around Boston. The pressure is just increased now and people's lives are on the line in a way that, you know, they maybe weren't at such a severe level in the past.
Alex: I know that one of the stories that you've been covering closely are the ICE detainees at the Bristol County Correctional Facility and the controversy that's happened there.
Shannon: You know, it's sort of a vulnerable population on top of a vulnerable population in many ways. I started getting phone calls and letters from detainees who are being held at the Bristol County House of Corrections. And basically their concerns were there were 57 people sleeping in one room that could sleep up to 66. So it was almost at capacity. Here we have people who are incarcerated for civil immigration matters. They're being held in a facility in which they don't feel safe. There was a class action lawsuit that was filed shortly after we published stories about the concerns from ICE detainees. And now there's a federal judge in Boston who's releasing detainees on a sort of rolling basis with the effort or the goal to reduce that the population there and enable people to be six feet apart, if not more, while they're being detained.
Alex: For a beat that is already really fraught, where are you finding hope, in any of these stories?
Shannon: Well...so I had a conversation yesterday with that with a man who reached out to me on Twitter. He had a question about the stimulus checks and his own household. You know, just hearing him being thankful and, you know, genuinely saying, "I can't believe you responded to my tweet and then now we're talking about it. And you're actually going to do a story about this." So I think it's like, well, yeah, this is important. Thank you for reaching out to me. You know, I can't be everywhere at every time. So just knowing that the stories can make an impact today, that helps me, you know, sort of keep motivated. And a year ago, it helped to motivate me. So thankfully, I might not be able to sit across the table from someone in their living room and make eye contact with them and meet their children when I'm interviewing them. But I can at least, you know, exchange a warm conversation, understand where they're coming from and and find the news out of that.
Alex: What advice, if anything, would you give to people as they're trying to navigate these extremely difficult times?
Shannon: I think if you can find yourself grounded in the facts and find a source like WBUR, where we do really take pains to put context and analysis around those facts, there is a sense of calm and knowing what's going on.
Alex: Shannon, thank you. I know things are crazy right now, so I appreciate you giving us your time.
Shannon: You're welcome. Thanks for inviting me.
Alex: Of course. Check out all of WBUR's coronavirus coverage, go to wbur.org/coronavirus and listen to 90.9 F.M. Thank you, Shannon.
Shannon: Thank you. Stay well.
Producer - Alex Schneps
Assistant Producer - Candice Springer
Technical Advisor - Niall Foley
Music and Audio Mixing - Adam Straus
Animation - Michael Diffin