LatinaLista — Illegal immigration has not just evolved into a polarizing issue during this presidential campaign but the savvy in society have learned how to manipulate this issue to their advantage.
Whether itâ€™s used as the foundation to spearhead a presidential platform as former Republican presidential candidate, Tom Tancredo, confessed to or as a running theme of a cable talk show like CNNâ€™s Lou Dobbs, the issue is guaranteed to draw in followers, viewers and the hope of one newspaper â€” readers.
One week ago, The Dallas Morning News (DMN) published their annual choice for â€œTexan of the Year.â€ They chose the â€œIllegal Immigrant.â€
Life hasnâ€™t been the same for the Editorial Board of the DMN.
According to their editorial page editor, Keven Ann Willey, the newspaper has been inundated with emails, blog comments and Letters to the Editor. Willey reports that 95 percent of the publicâ€™s reaction to their selection was negative.
Is it any wonder? So far, all those who have ever chosen to use illegal immigration to elevate their public persona have done so from a negative standpoint.
What we find today, sadly, is that the public has been pre-conditioned to react negatively when they see the words: immigration, illegal, immigrant and illegal immigrant.
The mistake the Dallas Morning Newsâ€™ Editorial Board committed when they chose to crown the undocumented as their TOY (an unfortunate acronym for Texan of the Year) was that they didnâ€™t write a strong editorial, if it was an editorial.
Before I go further, I must make a disclaimer and let you know that I have publicly challenged The Dallas Morning News for not having a Latino/a on their Editorial Board. In a city where Latinos are the â€œmajority minority,â€ this absence, in my opinion, is inexcusable.
Perhaps if there had been Latino/a representation, then a voice of reason (assuming there was none since the selection was given the green light) might have been heard to say, â€œGuys, if we designate the undocumented immigrant, NOT illegal immigrant, as our Texan of the Year then we go ALL THE WAY.â€
Somehow, the paperâ€™s Editorial Board thought they could take a middle of the road approach. Any good editorialist knows that such an approach makes for a weak and watery piece that resembles a jellyfish â€“ spineless and unable to take a stand on firm ground.
If the newspaper thought they could jump on the bandwagon of attention that illegal immigration ensures and not take a side, well, as the saying goes â€œHindsight is 20/20.â€
Because of all the â€œunexpectedâ€ reaction to the selection, the editorial page editor published a column this past weekend explaining their selection.
First of all, any good editorial should not need explaining. Yet, in her explanation she said something that was surprising, or maybe it was surprising because she thought it was an unspoken criteria that readers understood: Being designated Texan of the Year doesnâ€™t necessarily mean a honor is being bestowed on anyone.
As Willey explained:
â€œAnother major point of contention was whether being named as Texan of the Year was an honor. Most of our detractors felt we intended this designation as way to “reward” or “glorify” people who are here illegally. And if you stop at the words “Texan of the Year: Illegal Immigrant” that interpretation is understandable. If that really were the case, I’d be outraged, too.
But the essay â€“ all three pages of it â€“ and our previous designees should make clear that this wasn’t our intent, eitherâ€¦
When we first launched this feature, we created a definition very similar to what we’ve used in the last three years, except that it included reference to “leadership” and “vision.” In 2005 â€“ largely in reaction to the criticism from readers who claimed that our naming President Bush and Mr. Rove as TOYs connoted our endorsement of their policies and actions â€“ we deleted reference to “leadership” and “vision.” This was designed to make clearer that TOY designation was based on impact and import, and not indicators of editorial support or embrace.
Here’s the definition we published in 2005: “A Texan (or Texans) who has had uncommon impact, who exemplifies Texas traits of trailblazing, independence and staring down adversity and who has affected or influenced many lives (positively or negatively).”
It’s the same definition we used in 2006 and 2007, though for shorthand purposes we eventually lost the parenthetical at the end. It seemed a small point at the time, but now I wish we hadn’t settled for the abbreviated version. Regardless, the TOY designation is subjective; there’s no formula for its development. It’s our opinion â€“ nothing more, nothing less â€“ for better or worse.â€
Unfortunately, just as illegal immigration conjures negative expectations, anyone labeled with the distinction of being a â€œPerson of the Yearâ€ elicits high expectations from the public.
True, TIME magazine is trying to break these expectations like choosing Putin as their person of the year, but overall society is not there yet â€” and especially with such a volatile issue as illegal immigration.
As an advocate for the humane treatment of undocumented immigrants, most would think that I would have applauded the DMNâ€™s choice.
For two reasons: They didnâ€™t do their homework in separating stereotype from truth and they chose to present it in such a he-said/she-said format that any reader is confused as to why they should be admired or detested.
As one New York immigration lawyer wrote me after reading it, â€œPretty weak sauce for an editorial page, which by definition is supposed to provide reasoned opinion. The paper took the easy way out and â€˜reportedâ€™ both sides. We report, you decide (approach). Fairly useless.â€
It used to not be this way. At one time, this same editorial page wrote courageous editorials that left no doubt where they stood. For example, they had the guts to call for a former Bishop of Dallas to step down amid the priest sex abuse scandals.
But those days appear to be long gone.
Even with the selection of such an unpolitically correct subject, they bent over backwards, it seems, to be politically correct in content.
Illegal immigration will never be about political correctness â€” itâ€™s too complex. Itâ€™s all about compromising what some consider rule of law set in stone with what is fair and humane to a group of people who just want to work but are born into economies that canâ€™t support that desire and need.
The undocumented immigrant doesnâ€™t need to be â€œrecognizedâ€ as anyoneâ€™s â€œPerson of the Year.â€
They just need to be recognized period.