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.
A police sketch of a Hispanic rape suspect. Would you assume he’s undocumented? Does it matter?
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.