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Data-driven analysis localizes Trump’s travel ban

Standing beside her mother, Yemeni refugee Samar Alwahiri, 3-year-old Laila Alamri tries to make a heart shape with her fingers after arriving at Los Angeles International Airport, Feb. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

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Among the many questions raised by President Donald Trump’s surprise executive order targeting predominantly Muslim nations was how his administration arrived at the seven “countries of particular concern.” Take Libya, for example. By making the list, one might think the country was sending waves of refugees pouring into the U.S. Not so, according to data analyzed and packaged on deadline for AP customers by data journalist Meghan Hoyer.

Only 12 people had emigrated from Libya to the U.S. over the past decade.

In 2016, just four Libyans were allowed to enter the country. In the two years before that, the number was zero. In fact, only a dozen people had emigrated from Libya to the U.S. over the past decade. It was similar for Yemen, one of the other countries on the list. Just 35 Yemenis had immigrated to the U.S. over the past two years, and only 131 in the past decade.

Those were just some of the findings from Hoyer’s analysis of federal data in the chaotic days that followed the Trump administration order. As media outlets all over the country scrambled to find people affected by the executive order, Hoyer focused on the numbers. The result was hard data that provided tremendous value for AP customers across the country, allowing them to localize a story of international significance.

How did Hoyer do it? She quickly researched the relevant data and extracted it from the U.S. State Department’s website. She pulled 10 years’ worth of numbers about refugees from the seven countries in question, providing the city and state of their destination as well as topline national summary data. Hoyer then reformatted the data into a clean spreadsheet that members could quickly sort and filter.

Hoyer’s data set provided settlement information for 2,100 cities in nearly every state and the District of Columbia.

The data set provided settlement information for 2,100 cities in nearly every state and the District of Columbia. Not surprisingly, it showed that the number of Syrian refugees dramatically increased in recent years, from just 26 in 2007, to 247 in 2014 and to 15,479 in 2016. It also revealed that Republican-leaning states such as Texas, Michigan and Arizona were among the top recipients of refugees from the seven countries.

Even within states, the data showed that distribution of refugees is typically concentrated to a few communities. Suburban Detroit, for example, gets the majority of Michigan’s Syrian immigrants. In California, the most popular destination for Iranians, immigrants from that country mostly go to Southern California, with large concentrations in Los Angeles and Orange County. And yet the Central Valley farming town of Turlock, with a population of 73,000, has an outsized proportion of Iranians. It took in 1,175 over the 10-year period, more than double the number going to San Diego.

For Somalis, Minneapolis and Columbus, Ohio, are the most common destinations.

Within the first two days of Hoyer’s data set being provided to AP customers, the emailed advisories providing the link had been opened more than 1,000 times, suggesting exceptionally strong interest. The feedback Hoyer received from reporters, editors and news directors using the information illustrated just how valuable this kind of localizing data is to our core mission.

Refugees Graphic
Breakdown of 2016 emigration data. – AP GRAPHIC / FRANCOIS DUCKETT

· From a reporter with CBS affiliate KOLN-TV in Lincoln, Nebraska: “My assignment desk editor passed along your refugee information to me today. First off,THANK YOU! … This seemed the most comprehensive, compared to other sites that had data.”

· From the Portland Press Herald: “I’ve been looking at the refugee data you compiled for AP; such excellent work,thank you! This is incredibly helpful.”

· From a reporter with The News & Observer in Raleigh,North Carolina: “Thank you so much for your work putting this refugee data out.”

Newsday went all in,using Hoyer’s data set not just for its own story but also to create a graphic, a chart and its own detailed table showing where on Long Island refugees from the seven countries had settled. You can see their localization here.

Hoyer’s data set was accompanied by a graphic from Francois Duckett in Interactives and a short text block that moved on the wire. It also was emailed to AP regional and news editors,who have used the state and city numbers to add important context to their own stories.

For working quickly to find,analyze and package a decade’s worth of demographic data on the biggest global story of the week,adding tremendous value for AP state news customers, Hoyer wins this week’s $300 Best of the States award.

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