Media makes citizenship status of Hispanic surname suspects part of the story

LatinaLista — One crux of immigration enforcement is identifying undocumented immigrants in the first place.
Visually identifying people as being potentially undocumented falls under racial profiling. So, unlike the military standard — Don’t ask, don’t tell — anyone suspected of being an immigrant these days is being asked to prove their citizenship.
Yet, the current climate of immigrant bashing takes this a step further — anyone who is Hispanic and is involved in a crime is suspected of being undocumented by the media unless proven otherwise.
Which leads to an interesting question: Should the media identify the immigration status of Latino crime suspects at all?


Today on the journalism site Poynter, an interesting piece by Mizanur Rahman, immigration editor for the Houston Chronicle, raises the very question.
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A police sketch of a Hispanic rape suspect. Would you assume he’s undocumented? Does it matter?
(Source: salem-news)

It seems this is unchartered territory for the media.

It’s becoming an uncomfortably familiar question in newsrooms when someone with a Spanish surname is a crime suspect: Is he illegal?
Calling Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to check the immigration status of some Hispanic suspects is now routine. It wasn’t always this way — not even a few years ago, either here at the Houston Chronicle or at my former newspaper, The Dallas Morning News. And this is Texas — a border state with 1.6 million illegal immigrants [PDF], a state with countless citizens whose grandparents swam the Rio Grande to reach Texas soil.
But the winds have shifted. Illegal immigration has boiled in the last two years under the flames of mass protests, nativist rhetoric and failed reform efforts in Congress. Homeland Security has also issued one of the largest criminal be-on-the-lookout alerts in our history by significantly increasing enforcement along the border and the workplace to root out illegal immigrants.

Because of this increased enforcement, it’s not unusual to hear talk radio hosts discuss a crime the next morning, when the suspect is known to be Hispanic, whether or not the suspect is legal or not. Unfortunately, it’s not only talk radio that voices such suspicions out loud – it’s their listeners too.
Which leads to the assumption that if it weren’t for the media identifying or speculating in the first place, who’s to say that the citizenship of every Hispanic suspect would be questioned.
It has gotten to the point that citizenship status of Hispanic suspects has become an important part of the story — before the suspect is proven guilty.
The media’s eagerness to identify a suspect as being legal or undocumented does a disservice to every American Latino. Because in those rare instances, when a Hispanic suspect is not identified the question is still being asked.
The immigration status of any suspect should not be part of the story until the suspect is proven guilty. Only then when it’s necessary to present a fuller profile of the guilty suspect should his/her citizenship be cited.
Otherwise, there will be a reader expectation to know the citizenship status of every Hispanic surname suspect.
What’s worse, is that there will be an automatic expectation that every Hispanic surnamed suspect is undocumented.

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10 Comments

  1. miguel said:

    When citizens feel they need someone or something to blame for their ills, blame those that look different. We assign guilt by who the media tells us is at the root of a problem and we blame the people from that group.
    Poisoned dog food…Blame the Chinese. Pedophiles…Blame all priests, drugs on our streets… blame the mules that bring it to the customer. Jobs going overseas…. blame the illegals even if the jobs are are for the benefit of the companies that make the profit by selling the products right back to us in Walmart and Target. High gas prices. Blame the oil companies, not the government policy makers that make the rules after jumping into the back pockets of the oil companies.
    Never blame the big corporations that are making the big bucks off the poor.
    The food at Taco Bell….blame the Mexicans.

  2. EYES OF TEXAS said:

    It is important that the general public be made aware of the criminal downside of illegal immigration. By knowing the legal/illegal status of a suspect brings attention to the fact that illegal immigration needs to be stopped now. The U.S. has its hands full with home grown criminals and we don’t need to add to that problem with illegal alien criminals. Crimes committed by illegal aliens are preventable just by not allowing them to be here in the first place.

  3. Frank said:

    miguel, so wanting our immigration laws enforced is to seek blaming someone for our ills? What a ridiculous statement!
    We do blame the uncrupulous employers for hiring illegals. It has been statement in there many times. Try to keep up, ok? But they are only part of the equasion. Our government and the illegals themselves are also to blame.
    The fact remains that Mexicans/Latinos make up the majority of illegals in our country. So what if all latinos are viewed suspect as far as their legal status goes? All one has to do is show proof that they are here legally when law enforcement asks. What is the problem? Each and everyone one of us has to show I.D. nearlly on a daily basis.

  4. miguel said:

    Using Frank logic:
    So what if all latinos are viewed suspect as far as their legal status goes?
    So what if all asians are viewed suspect as far as their legal status goes?
    So what if all blacks are viewed suspect as far as their legal status goes?
    So what if all native americans are viewed suspect as far as their legal status goes?
    Ok Frank. Which of the above happens on a daily basis as you see it?

  5. Frank said:

    I see nothing traumatic about being “suspect”. That doesn’t equate to a conviction of anything.

  6. Horace said:

    The vast majority of illegal aliens, perhaps as many as 10 million or more, are Latinos and all Latinos can say is why pick on us. If Latinos would quit supporting illegal immigration and illegal aliens, maybe the rest of our citizens would feel that they could be trusted. Check with your history books. A large part of our German population supported the Kaiser during WWI, even going so far as some of them fighting for the Axis powers. Do you think that wasn’t divisive? The mass movement across our southern boundary has all the attributes of an invasion, and those who advocate otherwise, are blind. The sad thing is that Latinos can’t even fathom how their behavior appears to the rest of us who oppose illegal immigration. There’s a wide chasm of divisiveness that’s opened between Anglo and Latino citizen in this country, and Latinos are clueless as to its origins or magnitude,

  7. Publius said:

    Marisa would have us believe that the immigration status of criminal is irrelevent, when in fact the crime would never have been committed if the citizens of this country had had their laws enforced and the person in question had been denied entry. Tell that to the innocent victims and their families, Marisa. Your sympathies seem to lie with everyone but your fellow Americans. How sad.

  8. Marisa Treviño said:

    Publius, please reread the post. If you do, you’ll see what’s being said.

  9. 5thKolumnisto said:

    Uh, Horace, the U.S. did not fight the “Axis powers” in WWI. Please Google “central powers” for further information. I trust the rest of your historical analysis is of similar quality.
    Marisa, Today’s AP story about alleged spy Ben-ami Kadish noted that he is a U.S. citizen just in case anyone thought an 84 year-old retired U.S. Army engineer might be otherwise with that “funny” name. Where I’m at Spanish names are unusual enough that if a local crime suspect reported in the paper has a Spanish name someone is bound to cry “illegal” on the paper’s website.
    And, Frank, where the hell do you live that you have to show identification on a nearly daily basis? I can’t remember the last time I was asked for ID outside a port-of-entry, and I don’t intend to carry a passport around in my native country. I do, however, intend to sue if I am arrested without probable cause. (Hint for law enforcement: My appearance and absence of documents are not probable cause to believe I am in the country illegally. Try me.)
    Frank: “So what if all latinos are viewed suspect as far as their legal status goes?”
    Frank should be punched in the face for that line.

  10. Frank said:

    5th, try it! Latinos are suspect because the highest percentage of illegals that are here are Latinos. You can thank your illegal amigos for making life miserable for you Latino citizens. You sit around and whine about “racial profiling” instead of joining the rest of the citizens in this country to fight illegal immigration. You even call us racists for being opposed to it. You reap what you sow.

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