As the U.S.-Mexico border continues to feature prominently in national and international news, many journalists are looking for ways to better understand the complexities of the situation.
Jason Buch, ICFJ Reporting the Border fellowship recipient and Jorge Luis Sierra, director of the Border Center for Journalists and Bloggers, led a workshop at the Latin American Conference for Investigative Journalism, which took place in Mexico City in November, on some of the resources they use to investigate topics at the border.
Here are some resources and tips the pair shared for every occasion:
If you’re trying to better understand what’s happening at the border in general:
- The U.S. Department of Transportation has data and graphics on every border crossing from 1994 to present day (expect a six month delay in the data being uploaded), complete with downloadable databases.
- The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s atlas of surveillance is a quick reference guide on the technology used to monitor border crossings, as well as the federal agency, county and jurisdiction using it.
If you’re searching for people:
- Pipl is an online database that allows you to search for people globally. The database has monthly rates that run from US$99 per month to US$299 per month, and vary by the number of searches per user. The searches can provide information like phone numbers, social media profiles, and other information that would surface in a background check.
- LexisNexis is another way to search people globally that costs between US$109 and US$154 per month. Using the website, users can search for legal documents and public records.
- These tools are precise, and even the smallest mistake can derail the search. When researching individuals of Hispanic origin, for instance, make sure to use both first and second last names.
- Search news articles to double-check the full name of who you’re investigating. Make sure the name you’re searching isn’t misspelled, and that the last names aren’t inverted or hyphenated.
If you’re searching for people that may have been convicted of crimes in the U.S.:
- Pacer gives public access to electronic, downloadable court records. Court records typically cost US$0.10 per page, though there are several other limitations based on the document length, number of searches and the type of case. More information can be found on the Pacer website.
- U.S. District Courts’ websites have searchable databases by state, location and/or case number, which have records that are downloadable for a fee that varies by state.
- Court listener is a free database of previously downloaded court documents, but the search is limited to documents that have been uploaded by others.
- Local courts may have more extensive documentation of criminal proceedings than federal courts, and checking local jurisdictions can yield better results.
- Court records often have misspellings and names written incorrectly, so make sure you keep your search wide — and imprecise — when looking for a specific document.
If you’re searching for businesses:
- Secretary of State websites, in the state where you’re investigating, has free public databases of registered business licenses.
- Open Corporates is the largest online database of international companies with both paid and free search options.
- Contratobook is a searchable resource for federal contracts in Mexico that are available for free.
- If information isn’t available online, it may be available in person, at a state’s Secretary of State office, or its equivalent.
- Research relatives and close contacts that may be involved in a business dealing. Businesses can be registered through a third party to minimize public knowledge of the owner.