Dec. 21, 2006 | 8:41 p.m. ET

The challenge in telling the immigration story (Soraya Gage, NBC News producer)

Illegal immigration was an obvious topic for a Brokaw Reports. It was a pressing national issue. It affects a large group of people. And it's constantly in the news. The challenge was finding a good story to tie the larger issue of illegal immigration around. And where to do it?

There are illegal immigration issues all over the country, but many of these stories had been told. The day laborer story was pretty familiar to everyone.

I wanted to get inside the story of illegal immigration and find out whether the myths were true. Are they stealing jobs from Americans? Do they drive wages down? Are they draining services like education and healthcare?

We visited communities in Virginia , but it seemed like the big issue there was the day labor situation. We went to North Carolina to examine the poultry industry and found that this area had a lot of single mothers with many children. Many of the husbands were in jail. We looked at a situation in New York, where a man was deported for playing soccer on a school yard. None of these situations offered the full picture of illegal immigration that we were looking for. I was hoping to find a community where all the employment, healthcare, education, and assimilation issues would play out.

Two months after we began the search, one of the field producers, Joyce Cordero, found an article written by an owner of a construction company in Colorado. He said there were not enough workers in the state of Colorado to fill unskilled labor jobs. We contacted him and went out to visit. As soon as we got there, we knew we were in the right place to tell this story. We talked to everyone we could find; Mark Gould, who owned the Construction Company, workers, teachers, healthcare workers, police, and parents. At the end of two days, we made the decision to stay in Glenwood Springs Colorado and cover this story.

The big breakthrough was the Construction Company owner, because he allowed us to videotape his hiring process, which I felt was at the heart of this story. I had never seen that on television before. These illegal immigrants wouldn't be here unless someone was willing to hire them. But I soon realized, it wasn't that simple. The employers were only required to check documentation, not to authenticate it. And a lot of the documentation looked real. Plus, they needed the workers, so there wasn't a whole lot of desire to find something wrong with the
documents. Basically they did their best to stay within the law, but to hire the workers the company needed.

We penetrated the community of illegal immigrants and convinced them to allow us to tell the story from their side. Joyce Cordero and Leonor Ayala both speak Spanish so they were able to gain the trust of the workers. Once we had found the right workers, the whole world of illegal immigration opened up for us. We decided we needed to be on location day and night for a few months so we didn't miss anything.

This really paid off because there was such continuity. And in the end, I think we got an inside look at a world which is seen but unknown.

In an upcoming "Tom Brokaw Reports," airing Dec. 26, Tuesday, 8 p.m., Brokaw travels to an unlikely place where the debate over illegal immigration is raging — the Colorado Rockies. NBC News spent eight months reporting on the myths and truths about illegal immigration in this pristine stretch between Aspen and Vail, a historically white population that has seen an influx of thousands of Hispanics, mostly from Mexico. The hour-long documentary follows a booming economy attracting illegal workers willing to do unskilled labor, questioning what happens to American culture and America's laws when hundreds of thousands of people enter the country illegally.


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