LatinaLista — Picking on undocumented immigrants has become chic in this country.
From politicians to cable talk show hosts, all have figured out they score brownie points if they blame undocumented immigrants with such vices as propelling poverty stats or contributing to growing crime rates.
The sad aspect of this trend is that now newspapers want to follow suit.
But for a business that relies on accuracy as a benchmark for a job well done, it’s a violation of pubic trust that some newspapers would rather be chic than totally truthful.
An article in a McClatchy newspaper titled “Law enforcers struggle with illegal-immigrant crime” would have us believe from the headline that crime is on the rise by undocumented immigrants.
What’s scarier than that?
A chart used in the story paints an even more sensational picture of crime by undocumented immigrants. It shows the overall prison population in 2001 and 2004 with numbers for “criminal aliens” for those respective years.
All the numbers have increased.
Yet, the article leaves out a couple of very important facts that alter the focus of the story â€” crime IS NOT rising among undocumented immigrants.
If it wasn’t for blogger Hubris Sonic, these major gaffes would have gone undetected and undocumented immigrants would have been the scapegoats yet again for invented allegations.
To clarify what Hubris discovered:
The article implies that the graph is keeping track of undocumented immigrants â€” Not so!
“Criminal aliens” refers to ALL non-citizens. By definition, that includes a wide range of people who are here from other countries – students, tourists, green card holders, etc. Hubris points out that those numbers are much larger than just the undocumented segment.
Also, the overall prison population cited in the graph isn’t the WHOLE prison system â€” just the federal prison system which comprises a small percentage of the overall prison system.
And lastly, but most importantly, graphs are always used to make a visual impact. When they can show a change then the story becomes an issue.
In this case, there is no issue because there is no story.
Though the numbers have increased from what they were in 2001 to 2004 â€” the percentage remained constant.
In 2001, criminal aliens comprised 36 percent of the federal prison population.
In 2004, criminal aliens comprised 36 percent of the federal prison population.
As Hubris asks: What’s the story?
Well, the story is how can undocumented immigrants be villified even more in the public consciousness?
What’s really sad is that Hubris received an email from a reader who pointed something else out to him:
a math geek emailed me and mentioned that if you look at 3 decimal places the percentage actually has DROPPED.
There’s no word yet if McClatchy newspapers will print a correction. If they were true to the ethics of the industry, they would. But if they want to be chic, well, â€¦
Another example of where it is much easier to blame the undocumented rather than looking at the facts for what they are was found in today’s Washington Post’s op-ed section.
A column by Robert J. Samuelson titled Importing Poverty cites last week’s US Census findings, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2006 report .
In his column, Samuelson bluntly states:
The stubborn persistence of poverty, at least as measured by the government, is increasingly a problem associated with immigration. As more poor Hispanics enter the country, poverty goes up. This is not complicated, but it is widely ignored.
He goes on to commit the rest of his column to blaming Hispanic immigrants and their “American-born children” for maintaining the poverty rate and stating that the current US immigration policy is to “import poor people.”
Even when he concedes that white and black poverty have risen since 2000, he’s willing to gloss over that fact by saying both rates are down over longer periods.
But when it comes to undocumented Hispanic immigrants, Samuelson would rather heap all the blame by saying:
Only an act of willful denial can separate immigration and poverty. The increase among Hispanics must be concentrated among immigrants, legal and illegal, as well as their American-born children.
â€¦From 2000 to 2006, 41 percent of the increase in people without health insurance occurred among Hispanics. Paradoxically, many Hispanics are advancing quite rapidly. But assimilation — which should be our goal — will be frustrated if we keep adding to the pool of poor. Newcomers will compete with earlier arrivals. In my view, though some economists disagree, competition from low-skilled Hispanics also hurts low-skilled blacks.
Yet, in another opinion article, citing the same U.S. Census findings, a completely different picture of Hispanics emerges.
In the editorial, The Other Census Story, published in the Wall Street Journal, the opening paragraph contains:
Last week’s news that the U.S. poverty rate fell to 12.3% in 2006 from 12.6% in the prior year becomes even more noteworthy when you consider that Hispanics led the way.
According to the Census, poverty rates in 2006 were statistically unchanged for whites, blacks and Asians but decreased to 20.6% from 21.8% among Latinos. The poverty rate among Hispanics is lower today than the poverty rate among blacks (24.3%). Per capita income also increased across the board, by 1.9%, but here, too, Hispanic gains stand out. The per capita income of whites, blacks and Asians, increased by 1.8%, 2.7%, and 8% respectively, while Hispanic incomes rose by 3.1%.
Unlike Samuelson, the WSJ author confirms that the improved poverty numbers for Latinos is a trend that has been historically documented to show improvements over the last three years and which are expected to continue.
Yet, it makes such a good story, in Samuelson’s case, to be able to single out and attribute blame to one particular group of people who have no way to defend themselves from such attacks.
What’s ironic is that in his column Samuelson states time and time again that he wants the truth â€” as every good journalist should aspire for â€” even if it means creating his own version of it.
However, the Wall Street Journal seems to have the upper hand when it comes to following the ethics standards of the industry.
As they said in closing:
We hate to spoil the morose political mood with such contrary optimism, but we have to follow the facts where they lead.