Friday, April 04, 2008

Immigrant Rights News - Fri, April 4, 2008

Immigrant Rights news â€" Fri, April 4, 2008

Visit for IRN and other National Network posts.

1. Los Angeles Times: “Immigration games”

2. San Antonio News-Express: “Detention facility for immigrant kids sued for abuse”

3. Washington Post: “Administration Asserted a Terror Exception on Search and Seizure”

4. Two from the New York Times:

A. “Lawsuit Challenges Immigration Raids in New Jersey”

B. Book review: “Wonder Bread and Curry: Mingling Cultures, Conflicted Hearts”

5. Columbia Journalism Review [interview with journalist Dianne Solis]: “New proposals, rhetoric, and enforcement revive a thorny issue”

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Los Angeles Times

Immigration games

Considering that other than the occasional round of Wii Tennis, I haven't played a video game since I failed to beat "Legend of Zelda" in the late 1980s, I'm not the best person to comment on the medium.

But an educational immigration game arrived on the Internets not too long ago, so I gave it a try. (OK, actually, it was kind of long ago, it got some news last year, and an official release came out in February.)

The game is from and it's called "I Can End Deportation," [ ]or ICED, for short (a play, of course, on the agency in charge of said deportation). You pick one of five characters -- from an undocumented Mexican immigrant to a Japanese student to a girl who thinks she's a citizen -- and try to avoid getting deported, while learning about what trials immigrants, legal or not, have to suffer.

It's a conversation-starter about an aspect of immigration policy avoided by many moderates, who need to be tough on enforcement or who may simply assume that the deportation process works well enough (unlike, say, actual worksite or border enforcement). They don't worry much about the process, unless it goes seriously awry.

And though the game may be criticized as such, it isn't a primer for anyone who's actually evading authorities. Of course, the name alone makes it clear that the game makers weren't exactly trying to avoid controversy. (See what the game's creator has to say about the reaction she has received here.)

Anyway, I played until it made me sick, not because of all those violated rights (though those are nauseating in their metaphorical way), but mostly because first person perspective games make me queasy (yes, I know, pathetic).

Unlike other do-gooder games like the United Nations' "Food Force," "ICED" doesn't quite live up to the "edutainment" portmanteau. It's definitely more nerdy than fun. There are little quizzes and good deeds to perform for points, and pop-up factoids, and as far as I could tell, no violence or sex. And sadly, there's plenty of both in actual immigration enforcement -- and showing some might have made this game's message that much louder and clearer.

Two years ago, the board made note of games like this in an editorial mocking City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo for pursuing a lawsuit against an already obscene video game for containing a -- surprise! -- hidden obscene act:

Some politicians are interacting with game developers in more fruitful ways, coming up with alternatives to violent or prurient titles. A good illustration is a United Nations-sponsored video game called "Food Force." More than 3 million players registered for the game, comparing their scores -- based on conducting air drops of food, designing nutritious meals and planning a 10-year anti-hunger strategy -- with real U.N. missions.

That's no match for the heavily marketed "Grand Theft Auto" series. But it's a start.

Unfortunately for immigration advocates, the other side of the debate -- and not just the other side, but its genuinely creepy extremes -- have their own game, with GTA-level hideousness. (Link from Matthew Yglesias.)

*Photo from

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San Antonio News-Express

Detention facility for immigrant kids sued for abuse


By MICHELLE ROBERTS  / Associated Press

Eight immigrant teenagers held at a facility for unaccompanied minors filed a federal lawsuit Thursday claiming they were abused and denied access to attorneys.

The teens from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Cuba were being held at the 122-bed facility run by Houston-based Cornell Companies Inc. under a contract with the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Undocumented minors caught by authorities in the United States fall under the care of ORR while their immigration cases are decided.

But Susan Watson, an attorney for Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, said the teens were beaten and subjected to other excessive force in violation of their constitutional rights.

At least one teen was knocked unconscious, but complaints to facility administrators were ignored, according to the lawsuit.

Officials at Cornell also denied the teens access to attorneys by unnecessarily transferring them to other facilities before scheduled lawyer meetings, the lawsuit alleges.

The suit names Cornell and 15 employees along with three employees of ORR. It does not name ORR itself because the teens have not filed or exhausted their administrative claims against the agency, a requirement that must be fulfilled before the federal government can be sued.

Calls to officials at ORR and Cornell were not immediately returned Thursday.

The allegations raised by the immigrant teens were not the first against Cornell.

Arkansas fired Cornell from the operation of a juvenile facility in November 2006 after finding employees inappropriately injected youth with anti-psychotic medication to control behavior.

And in September, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials removed 600 detainees from an Albuquerque, N.M., facility run by Cornell, citing failure to maintain safety, health and well-being standards there.

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Washington Post 

Administration Asserted a Terror Exception on Search and Seizure

By Dan Eggen and Josh White

Washington Post Staff Writers

Friday, April 4, 2008; A04 

The Justice Department concluded in October 2001 that military operations combating terrorism inside the United States are not limited by Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, in one of several secret memos containing new and controversial assertions of presidential power.

The memo, sent on Oct. 23, 2001, to the Defense Department and the White House by the Office of Legal Counsel, focused on the rules governing any deployment of U.S. forces inside the country "in the event of further large-scale terrorist activities" by al-Qaeda, a Justice Department official said yesterday.

Administration officials declined to detail what domestic military operations were being contemplated at the time, and the legal status of the secret memo is now unclear. Although the memo has not been formally withdrawn, the Justice Department yesterday repudiated the idea that there are no constitutional limits to military searches and seizures in a time of war, saying it depends on "the particular context and circumstances of the search," according to a statement.

The Fourth Amendment assertion is one of several far-reaching legal arguments revealed by the disclosure Tuesday of a 2003 Justice Department memo that authorized harsh military interrogations. In its footnotes, asides and central text, that 81-page memo asserted nearly unlimited presidential powers during a time of war, although the Justice Department later said the military should not rely on its reasoning.

The document disclosed, for example, that the administration's top lawyers had declared that the president has unfettered power to seize oceangoing ships as commander in chief; that Congress has no ability to pass legislation governing the interrogations of enemy combatants; and that federal laws prohibiting assault and other crimes did not apply to military interrogators who questioned al-Qaeda captives.

One section discussed to what extent the president might be allowed to legally maim a prisoner, such as through the use of a "scalding, corrosive, or caustic substance." A footnote argued that Fifth Amendment guarantees of due-process rights "do not address actions the Executive takes in conducting a military campaign against the Nation's enemies."

These bold assertions surprised many experts, including career officials and Bush appointees at the Justice and Defense departments, who said the previously secret opinions are overly broad and improperly granted vast powers to the president without adequate internal debate or judicial oversight.

No court has ever ruled that the Fourth Amendment does not apply to the military, said Jameel Jaffer, national security director at the American Civil Liberties Union. "In general, the government can't send an FBI agent to search your home or listen to your phone calls without a warrant, and it can't send a soldier to do it, either," Jaffer said. "The applicability of the Fourth Amendment doesn't turn on what kind of uniform the government agent is wearing."

The memo was made public Tuesday in response to an ACLU lawsuit and requests from Congress; the Fourth Amendment issue was first noted by the Associated Press.

Attorneys for soldiers charged with abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison said they should have received copies of the memo as part of the legal-discovery process, and argued that it shows that the highest levels of government condoned activities that were later practiced in U.S. detention facilities abroad.

Retired Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when the memo was written, said that he never saw the document authorizing harsh military interrogations and that its narrow definition of torture is "absolutely ludicrous."

"I frankly don't know anyone in the military who bought into that as a good definition of when you cross the line," Myers said this week. "In the end, you want to do the right thing. I worry most about reciprocity, how other countries will treat us."

Neither the attorney general at the time, John D. Ashcroft, nor his deputy, Larry D. Thompson, were aware of the 81-page memo when it was written and sent to the Pentagon in March 2003, according to several former senior department officials. The Pentagon was told in December 2003 to disregard the legal advice in the memo after Justice Department lawyers raised objections.

The memo was written by John C. Yoo, then a deputy in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, who also wrote or co-wrote many of the key legal opinions that asserted an expansive view of presidential power in the Bush administration's early years. Now a California law professor, Yoo has defended his work as a "near boilerplate" defense of presidential prerogatives and said subsequent criticism has been motivated by politics.

Two memos written or drafted by Yoo, including the 2003 memo released this week, have been formally withdrawn by the Justice Department. However, the October 2001 memo arguing for unregulated military searches on U.S. soil has not been formally withdrawn and remains a secret but unclassified document, according to Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse.

Roehrkasse declined to say whether the document has been formally modified in any way, and refused to comment further because the memo is the subject of ongoing litigation seeking its public release.

Roehrkasse and other officials said the 2001 memo is not related to the administration's controversial warrantless surveillance program, which allowed a military organization -- the National Security Agency -- to monitor communications between the United States and overseas without warrants.

Justice Department officials also declined to explain a reference in Yoo's 2003 memo that said the Criminal Division "concurs in our conclusion" that federal criminal laws do not apply to the military during wartime. The division was led at the time by Michael Chertoff, now head of the Department of Homeland Security.

The Justice Department has dropped 22 out of 24 cases of alleged detainee abuse by civilian employees and contractors referred by the CIA and the Defense Department. A U.S. official said the Yoo memo's legal arguments that interrogators are exempt from such criminal liability could have been part of the reason why those cases were dropped.

"Could it conceivably have played a role in deciding whether to prosecute or not? Certainly, in theory," said a law enforcement official involved in the deliberations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "If there was a memo blessing behavior at a certain point in time, and someone relied on legal guidance, could they have formed the necessary intent" to break the law?

Charles Gittins, a lawyer representing Army Pvt. Charles A. Graner Jr. in his appeal of his abuse convictions tied to Abu Ghraib, said Yoo's memo appears to show that President Bush suspended maltreatment laws for the military during a time of war. He said he plans to submit the document to Graner's parole board when it meets in a few weeks.

Staff writers Carrie Johnson and Jerry Markon and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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New York Times

April 4, 2008

Lawsuit Challenges Immigration Raids in New Jersey


Immigration agents systematically entered homes and made arrests without proper warrants during raids to round up immigration fugitives in New Jersey, according to a federal lawsuit filed Thursday.

The lawsuit, brought by lawyers at the Center for Social Justice at Seton Hall Law School in Newark, will provide a constitutional test of law enforcement methods often used by immigration agents since May 2006 when they began operations across the country to track down and deport immigrants who had been ordered to leave by the courts.

The suit, against officials of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, on behalf of 10 plaintiffs, including two United States citizens, contends that teams of ICE agents used “deceit or, in some cases, raw force” to gain “unlawful entry.”

The lawsuit claims that agents, sometimes misrepresenting themselves as local police officers hunting for criminals, entered homes where no fugitives being sought were present and detained residents without showing any legal cause. Immigration agents have broad authority to question foreigners about their immigration status, but they may not enter a home without either a warrant or consent.

A spokesman for the immigration agency, Michael Gilhooly, said he could not comment on pending litigation. The suit was filed in Federal District Court in New Jersey.

Speaking generally, Mr. Gilhooly said all fugitives who were targets of ICE searches had been ordered deported by immigration judges.

R20;They became fugitives when they chose to ignore the judge’s order,” Mr. Gilhooly said, adding that operations to arrest fugitives “are planned after meticulous investigation and surveillance.”

In the last two years, immigration authorities have faced intense political pressure to track down fugitive illegal immigrants. In most cases, the immigrants overstayed visas or were caught when they tried to sneak into the country over a land border, then failed to appear at hearings, leading judges to order them to be deported.

Last year, ICE agents arrested 30,408 immigration fugitives, according to official figures, about double the number for 2006.

One plaintiff in the lawsuit, Maria Argueta, has been a legal immigrant since 2001. During a predawn operation in January at her home in North Bergen, N.J., the lawsuit claims, ICE agents persuaded Ms. Argueta to open her door by telling her they were police officers searching for a wanted criminal. Ms. Argueta was detained and held for 36 hours.

Another plaintiff, Arturo Flores, a United States citizen, said ICE agents showed no warrant when they forced their way into his house in Clifton, N.J., in November 2006 and conducted a search. A third plaintiff, Veronica Covias, a legal immigrant in Paterson, N.J., said agents pushed open her door in March 2007 even though she demanded that they show her a warrant.

<><><> 4B 

New York Times

April 4, 2008

Books of The Times 

Wonder Bread and Curry: Mingling Cultures, Conflicted Hearts



333 pages. Alfred A. Knopf. $25.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s characters tend to be immigrants from India and their American-reared children, exiles who straddle two countries, two cultures, and belong to neither: too used to freedom to accept the rituals and conventions of home, and yet too steeped in tradition to embrace American mores fully. These Indian-born parents want the American Dream for their children â€" name-brand schools, a prestigious job, a roomy house in the suburbs â€" but they are cautious about the pitfalls of life in this alien land, and isolated by their difficulties with language and customs. Their children too are often emotional outsiders: having grown up translating the mysteries of the United States for their relatives, they are fluent navigators of both Bengali and American culture but completely at home in neither; they always experience themselves as standing slightly apart, given more to melancholy observation than wholehearted participation.

As she did in her Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of stories “Interpreter of Maladies” (1999) and her dazzling 2003 novel “The Namesake,” Ms. Lahiri writes about these people in “Unaccustomed Earth” with an intimate knowledge of their conflicted hearts, using her lapidary eye for detail to conjure their daily lives with extraordinary precision: the faint taste of coconut in the Nice cookies that a man associates with his dead wife; the Wonder Bread sandwiches, tinted green with curry, that a Bengali mother makes for her embarrassed daughter to take to school. A Chekhovian sense of loss blows through these new stories: a reminder of Ms. Lahiri’s appreciation of the wages of time and mortality and her understanding too of the missed connections that plague her husbands and wives, parents and children, lovers and friends.

Many of the characters in these stories seem to be in relationships that are filled with silences and black holes. In some cases this is the result of an arranged marriage that’s never worked out; in others it is simply a case of people failing to communicate or failing to reach out, in time, for what they want.

In “Only Goodness” Sudha, who is working on her second master’s degree at the London School of Economics, wonders at the bizarre “lack of emotion” in her parents’ marriage, which was “neither happy nor unhappy” and seemingly devoid of both bitterness and ardor, but she finds her own marriage to an Englishman foundering upon her failure to tell him a family secret. In “Hell-Heaven” the narrator recounts the story of her parents’ chilly marriage and her mother’s passionate, unrequited love for a fellow Bengali and family friend, who gave her mother “the only pure happiness she ever felt.” And in “A Choice of Accommodations” Amit realizes that the “most profound thing” in his life â€" the birth of his daughters â€" has already happened, that the rest of his life will be only “a continuation of the things” he already knows. Increasingly he will come to regard solitude â€" a run in the park, a ride by himself on the subway â€" as “what one relished most, the only thing that, even in fleeting, diminished doses, kept one sane.”

As for Ruma, the heroine of the title story, she realizes during a visit from her widowed father that they rarely talk about matters of real importance; they do not speak about her mother or her brother, they do not discuss her pregnancy or her marriage, or her father’s new relationship with a woman he met on vacation. This has been their history as long as she can remember: “Somehow, she feared that any difference of opinion would chip away at the already frail bond that existed between them.” Her marriage, Ruma realizes, is stilted too: she is increasingly aware that she and her husband, Adam, are “separate people leading separate lives,” and that part of her is actually relieved when Adam leaves on one of his many business trips.

Like many children of immigrants Ms. Lahiri’s characters are acutely aware of their parents’ expectations; that they get into an Ivy League school, go to med school or grad school, marry someone from a good Bengali family. Deftly explicating the emotional arithmetic of her characters’ families, Ms. Lahiri shows how some of these children learn to sidestep, even defy their parents’ wishes. But she also shows how haunted they remain by the burden of their families’ dreams and their awareness of their role in the generational process of Americanization.

Their parents often seem so exhausted just coping with the difficulties of surviving in a strange new world that talk about self-fulfillment or depression or happiness seems utterly irrelevant to them; they are strangely pragmatic and unsentimental â€" about their marriages, their work, the hardships of daily life. These characters’ American-born children are, at once, more romantic about the possibilities of finding genuine love and rewarding careers and more cynical too about the trajectories of most people’s lives. Often cast in the role of facilitator or fixer, they are accustomed to serving as their parents’ go-betweens and to easing their younger siblings’ way into full-fledged American lives.

Sudha, for instance, scavenged yard sales for the right toys for her little brother â€" “the Fisher Price barn, Tonka trucks, the Speak and Say that made animal sounds”; she read him books like “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” and “Frog and Toad,” and “told her parents to set up sprinklers on the lawn for him to run through in the summer.”

The last three overlapping tales in this volume tell a single story about a Bengali-American girl and a Bengali-American boy, whose crisscrossing lives make up a poignant ballad of love and loss and death. Hema and Kaushik get to know each other as teenagers, when Kaushik’s family comes to stay with Hema’s parents while they house-hunt in the Boston suburbs. Hema secretly nurses a crush on Kaushik, but he is oblivious to her schoolgirl antics and preoccupied with his mother’s deteriorating health. His grief over her death and his rage at his father’s hasty remarriage will propel him into a career as a photojournalist, who spends most of his time traveling to war zones in distant parts of the globe.

Hema, meanwhile, becomes a professor, a Latin scholar, who after a long, unhappy love affair impulsively decides to opt for a traditional arranged marriage; though she is conscious of the “deadness” of this proposed partnership, she tries to convince herself that the relationship will endow her life with a sense of certainty and direction. Then, against all odds, Hema and Kaushik run into each other in Rome â€" on the eve of Hema’s departure for her wedding â€" and embark on an intense, passionate affair. And yet it is an affair that concludes not with a fairy-tale happy ending but with an operatic denouement that speaks of missed opportunities and avoidable grief.

In the hands of a less talented writer it’s an ending that might have seemed melodramatic or contrived, but as rendered by Ms. Lahiri it possesses the elegiac and haunting power of tragedy â€" a testament to her emotional wisdom and consummate artistry as a writer. 

<><><> 4

Columbia Journalism Review

 Q and A â€" March / April 2008

Immigration's Rise

New proposals, rhetoric, and enforcement revive a thorny issue 

By Clint Hendler

Last may, a CBS/New York Times poll found that 69 percent of Americans want to see the country’s illegal immigrants prosecuted and deported. But, the next month, NBC and The Wall Street Journal released a poll suggesting that, in their heart of hearts, 85 percent of Americans recognize that summarily removing 10 or 20 million people isn’t realistic.

Those two numbers provide a pretty good snapshot of the nation’s confused and confusing immigration debate, including its contradictions. Some folks talk tough about the rule of law, but worry about splitting families by the happenstance of citizenship. Some business owners depend on foreign workers; others are outraged that their competitors hire illegal immigrants without consequence.

These debates, and many others, will come up as Americans pick a president. John McCain made it out of his party’s primaries after being roughed up over his immigration plan, whose concepts most Americans supported. Democrats have so far parried the issue, but that probably won’t be the case in many congressional races and the general election.

Through it all, close looks will be necessary. Clint Hendler, a CJR assistant editor, spoke about the challenges and changes to the immigration beat with Dianne Solís of The Dallas Morning News. Previously, Solís worked for The Wall Street Journal, including a stint in the paper’s Mexico City bureau. In 2007, her reporting on immigration drew the attention of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, which named her print journalist of the year.

What's different now from the early part of the decade?
We haven’t seen a crackdown this severe since the 1950s. In the 1950s, the U.S. government had a deportation effort that was bluntly called Operation Wetback, and the estimates of how many people were deported or self-deported then is wild in its range, from 100,000 to 1.3 million. In the last fiscal year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported or repatriated more than a quarter-million people. And those figures are separate from what the border patrol did. That’s a large increase, probably a doubling, from the numbers we had in 2001 and 2002. They’re also going after employers like never before in recent history. Since 1986, it’s been illegal to knowingly hire an illegal immigrant, but that was enforced largely by civil fines. And then it wasn’t enforced much at all. Now they’re going after employers with criminal cases.

And beyond that federal crackdown, there are many people out there who are very angry over illegal immigrationâ€"especially Mexican immigrationâ€"and the way it’s changed communities and changed culture. Because of the rise in technology, they’ve been able to really spread their gospel to others. So we have a very cantankerous and sometimes uncivil public debate going on in community meeting halls, on talk radio, on television, and in political campaigns.

In the last, say, twenty-five years, the debate has changed in its content and its divisiveness. The rhetoric is much harsher than it has been in a long, long time. I was just looking back at the history of the first immigration law in the United States, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. What was said about the Chinese back then was really very rough and even racist. I think that at times we may be approaching that.

How does the time you spent in Mexico City affect your work?
In immigration, we frequently talk about push-pull factors. I have a real sense of what pushes people out and what they’re coming to. I’ve also seen that in many ways our labor market is fused: construction workers in Texas come from Guanajuato; crab pickers in the Carolinas come from an area called Los Mochis on MexicoR17;s Pacific coast. People just moveâ€"or, before the crackdown, were movingâ€"with great fluidity.

But once I came back, and I could compare the way places had changed, I saw how pronounced it had become. In Dallas, you could hear, from the accents, that there were a lot of people from Monterrey and from Guanajuato. It had changed so dramatically and so quickly.

You write often about immigrants who face deportation and would rather stay out of the limelight. How do you explain your mission and earn their trust?
I speak Spanish and I lived in Mexico, so when I speak to somebody who comes from Guanajuato, I reassure them that I know where they came from and I’ve been there many times. If they come from Tepito, a neighborhood in Mexico City, I’ve been there many times.

try to have a discussion about both the negative consequences and the benefits of talking to me. I try to explain to them that the public needs to hear their story, their version of why they came or what kind of challenges they’re faced with.

Two or three years ago, there were people who had no problems telling me their full namesâ€"or what they said were their full names. That’s changed. People don’t want to give their last names now. We do allow people who are here without work authorization to speak using just their first name, but some don’t even want to give their first names.

There is a danger, but there are people who speak out and stand up for themselves. They have a great deal of frustration because they believe the Mexican, Salvadoran, or Honduran government isn’t speaking up for them.

Is it also harder to find employers who hire people without documents willing to speak?
Absolutely. It’s gotten harder, even just in the last three months, because of the crackdown: there were 4,900 worksite arrests by the federal government in the last fiscal year. That was more than a tripling from two years ago.

I have to throw the net out much wider. I’m going to trade groups that have somebody who’s willing to speak to the press. But I don’t really want the executive director of a trade group. It’s always better to have a flesh-and-blood employer, who’s out there on the factory floor, in the kitchen, or in the field. Their voices are really important and powerful. They’re very frustrated right now, and they want a fix.

Do you cover non-Spanish-speaking immigrants?
Sometimes. I’ve done some political-asylum cases, with folks from Palestine who were stateless, which is an incredible concept. I’ve been following a particularly difficult case of an Albanian who doesn’t want to go back to Albania, and finding out that there’s what’s considered a fairly large Albanian community in Texas.

What are some of the themes and stories on your beat that you have an eye on or find yourself dipping back into again and again?
Both sides believe in the rule of lawâ€"except for the laws that they want to change. Those here illegally would much prefer to be here legally, but for many of them, there aren’t many legal routes, particularly if they come from Latin America. Some of those who want illegal immigrants to respect the rule of law and to self-deport also want restrictions on the current U.S. system of legal immigration. They’d even like to change birthright citizenship by either changing the Fourteenth Amendment or the Immigration and Naturalization Act. They believe this would put an end to what they call “anchor babies.”

Another important story is the rise of so-called mixed-status families. You’ve got families in which somebody’s a U.S. citizen, somebody’s a legal permanent resident, and somebody’s here illegally. It causes all kinds of problems when they’re arrested on a traffic violation and end up getting their migration status scrutinized. They have to make all kinds of contingency plans for what they’re going to do if they’re sent back suddenly. And some of the family is left behind and maybe all of the income for the family, or half the income for the family, goes out the door.

Finally, I think we’re going to see more and more of a push to get local cops to do immigration policing. There are police departments in major cities that have said that they will not ask about immigration status because they want victims or people who have seen criminal activity to come forward without fear of being hauled away. But there are other people who are extremely angry that they cannot depend on local cops to go after illegal immigrants. That’s going to be a flashpoint.

Are we in a period in which there’s outsized interest in immigration, or will this beat always be necessary?
I think that it is a story that will be with us for quite some time because of globalization and because of the nature of immigration itselfâ€"it’s very, very hard to stop. One magnet is simply family reunification: the need, the want, to be with your family. And many, many people have their families now in the U.S. It’s a hot-button issue here right now, and that’s driving the need for more coverage. It’s a big story on our presidential beat, for example. It’s a big story in our criminal-justice coverage. It’s a big story in our education coverage.

There's a lot of sensitive language around immigration. What should the word “amnesty” mean in copy?
I think it means different things to different people, and because of that lack of clarity, it’s something that we avoid to some extent. It’s a legalization program for those here illegally. And there are people who consider the legalization programs within the McCain/Kennedy proposal as amnesty, and there are those who said it was earned legalization.

I recently went back to my old Wall Street Journal stories from ’86 on amnesty and the legalization program, and I had to smile because then people, too, were saying, “Don’t call it amnesty.”

So what did you call the ’86 program?
We started off talking about the legalization program, and then we called it amnesty, and then we called it both. And then we called it amnistía, which is the term in Spanish.

Let's try another term. Is there a distinction between “illegal immigrant” and “undocumented immigrant”?
We use them interchangeably, but we use “illegal immigrant” more often. But many advocates think there’s a distinction. Some believe that anybody who’s here without papers is illegal, and that we should say that. And others believe that that’s a very harsh term, that no human being is illegal, and if you have illegal immigrants you must also have, by logical extension, illegal employers. Others parse it more finely and say that there are many people who legally come to the United States on a visa and then overstay that visa; so since they did not come over illegally, it’s wrong to call them illegal immigrants. Then others will say, “Well, wait a minute, they’re out of legal status now, so they’re therefore illegal.” It just goes on and on.

On the term “undocumented,” there are employment lawyers who will say, “Let’s get real, folks; everyone has documents, they’re just false documents. Or they’re just not their documents. And you know that’s the way it is in your workforce.”

What about the word “illegal” or “illegals”?
There was a time when many people in the industry used “illegals,” as a noun, in print. We have a style rule against that. It’s an adjective. But the reality is that many of the immigrants will use that adjective as a noun to describe themselves.

You are a Mexican-American from California. Does anyone prejudge you or your reporting because of who you are?
I think that some people do. I think it depends on their life experience, how they live, if they’re very isolated, if they’re not. It’s kind of like, when I was in Mexico, people would ask me, “Well, in the land that gave us the macho, did you find being a woman a detriment?” It was both an asset and a detriment to me because for every man who didn’t want to speak to me because I was a woman, there was a man who wanted to speak to me because I was a woman. You just move on.

Does it ever come through in any of the aggressive e-mail you receive?
Sometimes it does. It’s oddâ€"it does for reporters whose bylines are more readily identified with Latin America. Perhaps if my first name were Guadalupe rather than Dianne, it would ring more bells.

<><><> the end / el fin / tamat <><><>

Arnoldo Garcia

National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

Red Nacional Pro Derechos Inmigrantes y Refugiados

310 8th Street Suite 303

Oakland, CA 94607

Tel (510) 465-1984 ext. 305

Fax (510) 465-1885 

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