How data helped visualize the family separation crisis

Chava Gourarie at StoryBench: “Early this summer, at the height of the family separation crisis – where children were being forcibly separated from their parents at our nation’s border – a team of scholars pooled their skills to address the issue. The group of researchers – from a variety of humanities departments at multiple universities – spent a week of non-stop work mapping the immigration detention network that spans the United States. They named the project “Torn Apart/Separados” and published it online, to support the efforts of locating and reuniting the separated children with their parents.

The project utilizes the methods of the digital humanities, an emerging discipline that applies computational tools to fields within the humanities, like literature and history. It was led by members of Columbia University’s Group for Experimental Methods in the Humanities, which had previously used methods such as rapid deployment to responded to natural disasters.

The group has since expanded the project, publishing a second volume that focuses on the $5 billion immigration industry, based largely on public data about companies that contract with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. The visualizations highlight the astounding growth in investment of ICE infrastructure (from $475 million 2014 to $5.1 billion in 2018), as well as who benefits from these contracts, and how the money is spent.

Storybench spoke with Columbia University’s Alex Gil, who worked on both phases of the project, about the process of building “Torn Apart/Separados,” about the design and messaging choices that were made and the ways in which methods of the digital humanities can cross pollinate with those of journalism…(More)”.