Here are the results of our Immigration News Hunt, which NewsTrust hosted with our partners USA Today and their On Deadline blog, from July 19 to August 1, 2010. (see earlier blog post)
During the past two weeks, our community looked for good journalism on Arizona's controversial immigration law and its impact on local and national politics. NewsTrust hosts for this immigration topic were Kaizar Campwala, Kristin Gorski, and Jon Mitchell. Kaizar Campwala was managing editor and Fabrice Florin was executive editor.
Immigration has long been a heated political issue in America. It's tied to issues of security and economic prosperity, and raises many questions about national identity and citizenship.
Most recently, the immigration debate was rekindled with the passing of Arizona's new immigration bill, SB 1070, in April 2010. Among its provisions, the act "makes it a state misdemeanor crime for an alien to be in Arizona without carrying the required documents, bars state or local officials or agencies from restricting enforcement of federal immigration laws, and cracks down on those sheltering, hiring and transporting illegal aliens." (Wikipedia)
To sort through the political spin and develop a fact-based understanding of the Arizona bill and immigration issues, NewsTrust members teamed up with USA Today readers for two weeks. Together, we reviewed over 162 stories on immigration, posted 684 reviews, and fully rated 105 stories. We've highlighted some of the best of these stories below, with our take on how they inform and clarify the immigration debate.
Here are some of our top rated stories for this News Hunt:
- The All-American Canal - 60 Minutes
- Immigration re-enters national debate - USA Today
- Immigration law author claims 60 percent of Arizona Hispanics support the measure - PolitiFact
- The 'Dangerous' Border: Actually One of America's Safest Places - Time
- Obama Gains Evangelical Allies on Immigration - New York Times
- Illegal immigrant profiles hard to discern from legal residents - Arizona Republic
- GOP Faces Internal Divide On Changes To Immigration - NPR
- What's a Little Marriage Fraud Between Amigos? - Village Voice
- Arizona's immigration law isn't the only one - Los Angeles Times
- Obama Administration Considers Bypassing Congress on Immigration Reform - ProPublica
- In the fight over Arizona's immigration law, everybody loses - Washington Post
- Arizona, rogue state - Economist
- Borderlines - New Yorker
- Adios, Democrats - Slate
- Time for Obama to Put Up or Shut Up on Immigration - Pajamas Media
- No Win in Arizona - American Prospect
- Humane tweak to immigration enforcement - Dallas Morning News
For more recommended stories, check our full listing for this News Hunt.
To highlight some of the important themes that emerged during the News Hunt, we compared stories on four different aspects of immigration: the legal and political debate surrounding Arizona's controversial new law, the economics of immigration, law enforcement and policy proposals for immigration reform.
Arizona Immigration Law: Legal and Political Debate
On July 28th, a day before Arizona's controversial immigration law was due to go into effect, a federal judge issued an injunction that blocked key provisions of SB 1070. In a lawsuit between the U.S. Justice Department and the State of Arizona, Judge Susan Bolton ruled that the law would risk putting “a distinct, unusual and extraordinary” burden on legal resident aliens in Arizona. This decision provoked a frenzy of opinions about the role of the federal government in controlling illegal immigration.
Supporting the judge's ruling, the reliably left-of-center Nation gave readers their analysis of Arizona's SB 1070 law, arguing that all "[Judge] Bolton really did was to assert one of the most basic principles of Constitutional law: that the federal government gets to set immigration policy." Reviewer Thomas Rees gave the story a low rating, finding "its lack of real data negates its ability to inform the undecided or contrary thinker. It exists solely to stoke the fires of those who already believe in this particular point of view. Mr. Hearst would be proud."
Heather MacDonald writing in the National Review offered a dissenting perspective on what she deemed a fictitious ruling. "The real threat posed by S.B. 1070," MacDonald asserted, "was that it would disrupt the de facto amnesty that the executive branch has accorded to the vast majority of illegal aliens. It would start to implement congressional mandates and the public will that the immigration laws be enforced. For that reason, it had to be stopped." Not all NewsTrust reviewers were convinced by her arguments, as exemplified by William Gordon, who wrote "like many pundits she focused on the details of the law, if it were legal and misses the reason why it is not legal. She wholly misses the point of preemption in our federalist society in order to find demons in the Obama Administration."
While The Nation and National Review garnered mixed reactions, The Economist's Lexington column offered an opinion that was appreciated by most reviewers. The column cut through the rhetoric, writing that "at bottom the argument between Arizona and its critics is political. The stated aim of 1070 is to reduce the number of illegal immigrants, mainly by enforcing federal laws which local politicians accuse the federal government of neglecting. Although Mr Obama is in fact deporting more illegals (a total of about 400,000 a year) than George Bush did, that cuts little ice in Arizona because people know his eventual hope (or at least the one he dangles in front of Hispanic voters) is to give illegals a pathway to citizenship, not kick out as many as possible. Mr Obama’s policy was also Mr Bush’s, and is probably the only humane way forward. But in Arizona “amnesty” has been turned into a dirty word."
Economics of Immigration
The immigration debate is inextricably tied to economic issues. High unemployment and strained government budgets have inflamed the conversation, with many Americans questioning the role illegal immigrants play in the U.S. economy. News media coverage of this issue varied greatly: some news outlets stoked the public's fears, while others worked to help citizens better understand the economics of immigration.
In a report that received mixed reviews on NewsTrust, The Arizona Republic, the state's largest newspaper, explores how illegal immigrants are often forced to operate in a 'shadow' economy. Though reviewer Gordon Oliver found the story "scattered" and "imprecise," other reviewers found the report commendable because it investigates a question that repeatedly surfaced during the News Hunt: "... whether illegal workers are a net boon to the economy because of the labor they contribute, or a drag because of the medical, education and other services they require?"
A number of news outlets focused on the role played by U.S. employers in providing jobs to illegal immigrants. The Wall Street Journal argued that employers are to some degree the victims, on one hand getting sanctioned for hiring illegals, and on the other facing Justice Department probes "for allegedly violating anti-discrimination laws by demanding too many identity documents from applicants who aren't U.S. citizens."
To address these competing pressures, two different sources, Truthdig and The Week, published opinion stories advocating for the expansion of guest worker programs in the U.S. As explained by Will Wilkinson in The Week, "By establishing a common labor market in which Americans and Mexicans (Canadians too!) may range freely, living and working where they please, we can channel the commercial energy of integration while maintaining distinctly separate citizenship." Longtime reviewer Patricia L'Herrou found the piece "thoughtfully based on reason, and a viable model in the EU."
History has shown that people will migrate to find better economic opportunity. In a story that reviewer Alice Lake felt gave "a glimpse of both sides of migrant worker reality," the New York Times took a step back to explore the phenomenon of migration from a global perspective. The piece highlighted the difficulty in trying to stem the tide of migration, explaining that "from the Arizona Statehouse to Calabria, critics warn that porous borders hurt native workers, threaten local cultures and increase crime. But even a downturn of rare magnitude did less than expected to slow the flows, revealing instead the persistent forces that keep migrants venturing abroad."
Much of the news coverage we reviewed examined the real challenges of enforcing immigration laws. The Village Voice featured an intimate look at how “some young, assimilated illegal immigrants” married U.S. citizens, also Hispanic and often friends, in an attempt to become legal.
To gain perspective by looking at the past, an Arizona Republic article on the state's recent history with racial profiling warned that, in implementing SB 1070, police departments had to be careful to “never violate the public trust again.”
Looking at what could be a massive influx of newly arrested illegal immigrants, reporters at the Arizona Capitol Times constructed an insightful multimedia piece on how sheriffs and local government predicted how they would shoulder its cost; this piece showcased many different viewpoints in an unbiased way, and this successfully illustrated how complex the law's enforcement could be.
Not all articles were clarifying, however. An editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle about sanctuary cities didn't explain what they were and didn't clearly show how SB 1070 would affect them. And an interview on Fox News veered from a more factual, reasoned conservative source to focus on right-leaning political commentary, thereby losing points on credibility, balance and information quality.
Another law enforcement issue which surfaced during our search is the federal “Secure Communities” program, a national fingerprint-database program that's already in effect. The Associated Press wrote a well-sourced, factual and informative piece on this program, pointing out that it doesn't rely on racial profiling and results in used effectively to arrest and deport illegal immigrants with criminal records.
Most of the stories we reviewed on this theme observed that SB 1070 has provided lawmakers with a strong impetus for passing national legislation to fix the country's broken immigration system. But when it came to discussion of the means and rationale for enacting sweeping immigration reform, agreement was far thinner.
The Texas Observer, an independent bi-weekly from Austin, argued that Texas, which has the longest international border of any U.S. state, should take a leadership role in reshaping the country’s immigration policies. It took a three-pronged approach: build a stronger social and economic relationship with Mexico; acknowledge that the U.S.-Mexico border can’t be “secured” and stop spending money to seal it; and redefine what makes an immigrant legal or illegal.
The Miami Herald, meanwhile, contended in an editorial that the case for immigration reform is as strong as it has ever been and that good ideas already exist -- what’s missing is leadership. The paper compared President Barack Obama’s calls for reform to those of his predecessor, saying the country has only grown more impatient since former President George W. Bush made the drive for immigration overhaul and failed. “In short,” the Herald said, “the delay has cost us money, created ill-will with our neighbors and produced bad laws -- without fixing the problem.” The problem, it concluded, is that lawmakers are too afraid of political backlash if they try to tackle the issue.
The Economist picked up on the same theme, but painted a somewhat bleaker picture. "President Obama and Democratic leaders are killing any chance of Congress approving an immigration reform bill by alienating Republican legislators whose support is crucial," The Economist said. "And the Justice Department’s lawsuit over SB 1070 only made matters worse," it added, confusing the roughly 60 percent of the country that approves of the new law. Obama’s plan -- which contains calls for a pathway to legal status for unauthorized immigrants -- risks failure if Democrats continue to make it an issue for the midterm elections.
Other stories departed from the politics behind reform and offered different perspectives on what measures would be most beneficial to the United States and immigrants alike.
The Sun Sentinel said a guest worker program should be an essential aspect of reform, and attempted to dismiss claims that such a program would take jobs away from American citizens.
A Wall Street Journal op-ed took a more focused view, saying the United States should prioritize talent and special skills in the individuals it allows into the country. “The point is to attract more individuals with the potential to enhance American innovation and competitiveness, increasing the odds for economic prosperity and rising living standards for all down the road,” author Darrell West wrote. Immigration reform has failed so far because reform’s advocates have not convinced a skeptical public that newcomers contribute to the country’s prosperity, he said. “Instead of viewing immigration as a brain gain,” West said, “ordinary folks see the economic and social costs as broad, and the benefits as narrow.”
In a major departure from other sources, Newsweek said immigration could very well fade as a hot-button issue in the next decade, making reform unnecessary except for the short term. Declining fertility rates in Mexico could dramatically decrease the need for Mexicans to come to the United States to seek work because they can’t find it in their own country. “All this angst may be an overreaction,” it said.
Findings by Medium
Each day during the first week of this Immigration News Hunt, we compared stories from different media: news reports from major print publications and wire services on Monday, national broadcast media on Tuesday, online and blogs on Wednesday and local Arizona media on Thursday. Here are examples of noteworthy stories from each group: (see more in our earlier blog post)
National Print Media (Newspapers, Wires, Mags.)
- Immigration re-enters national debate - USA Today
- Farmers Tackle Immigration Issues - Wall Street Journal
National Broadcast Media (TV and Radio)
- GOP Faces Internal Divide On Changes To Immigration - NPR
- Ariz. Immigration Law Roundtable - CBS News
Online and Blogs
- Is Arizona's New Immigration Law Preempted? - Balkinization
- Should the U.S. Restrict Immigration? - Cato Institute
Local Arizona Media
- Open season: Arpaio plans massive sweep, tent city expansion - Arizona Capital Times
- SB 1070 Lawsuit Preview - KJZZ
As part of our educational mission, we try to highlight examples of bad journalism in News Hunts like these. As we searched for great journalism on immigration, we also looked for news and opinions that seemed particularly superficial, biased or irresponsible on this topic.
On the top of our list was an opinion news clip of MSNBC host Ed Schultz's commentary against Fox News: as USA Today reviewer George Horen points out, Schultz "says nothing about the subject but is critical of other news reporting. He is just like a lot of the news people that sit in a chair and read some one else's writings." We also found plenty of bad journalism from the other side of the political spectrum, such as this Fox News clip using immigration to score political points in their case against the Obama Administration.
Here's a sampling of some of the worst offenders:
- Malkin defends immigration law - MSNBC
- Arizona law was already working - Glenn Beck
- What Arizona Ruling Means for Obama - Fox News
- Illegal Aliens Getting Away With Mayhem and Murder - Right Side News
For more questionable stories on immigration, check our least trusted stories for this News Hunt.
Thanks to our partners
We'd like to thank the wonderful team at USA Today for partnering with us for this News Hunt. In particular, we're very grateful to these individuals for their special contributions to this project: Doug Stanglin, editor of the On Deadline blog, as well as Anne Willette, Desair Brown and Chet Czarniak, to name but a few. Together, they went beyond the call of duty to promote this experiment widely on USAToday.com, from home page badges to special blog posts, emails and widgets. We really appreciate their great advice, initiative and inspiring commitment to this cause.
This project was made possible in part by a generous grant from Omidyar Network, which funded a six-month investigation of new ways to help people separate fact from fiction online. We're very grateful for their support, as well as to our other backers at the MacArthur Foundation, Ashoka and the Ayrshire Foundation.
Thanks to our reviewers
We're also deeply grateful to all our reviewers for participating in this Immigration News Hunt. We welcomed hundreds of USA Today readers who signed up for this investigation. These new members added valuable new perspectives to the NewsTrust community, and seemed to share our belief that good journalism is critical to maintaining a vibrant democracy. Our deepest appreciation goes to our great community hosts Kristin Gorski and Derek Hawkins, and staff host Jon Mitchell for their thoughtful posts and reviews about immigration. We would also like to credit them here for their individual contributions to this report: Kristin wrote about Law Enforcement, Derek wrote about Immigration Reform. Managing editor Kaizar Campwala wrote about Law and Politics, and the Economics of Immigration -- and also wrote and edited this blog post, along with Fabrice Florin. Thank you all for your great insights!
This News Hunt and partnership with USA Today was a great opportunity to test our evolving "trust network" platform, which enables citizens and journalists to collaboratively curate the news. This project demonstrated the effectiveness of this 'pro-am' approach, as we all worked closely with each other to learn more about immigration. In the process, we became more informed and engaged citizens, and can now make better decisions about this important and complex issue. We look forward to expanding our news curation platform in coming months, and hope to work with you all again very soon!
-- by Kaizar Campwala, with Fabrice Florin, Kristin Gorski and Derek Hawkins
Join the Truthsquad!
How can you tell fact from fiction on the Internet? Join the Truthsquad, a community fact-checking experiment led by NewsTrust, with the help of our partners at the Poynter Institute and our advisors at FactCheck.org.
The week of August 2nd, our community is fact-checking controversial quotes from politicians and pundits, and we hope you participate as well. Each day this week, our editors are posting daily quotes to research, and asking our members whether they think they are true or false. These short quotes are excerpted from recent news reports, opinions or political ads suggested by our advisors and partners.
Give Truthsquad a try. Here's one particular quote we fact-checked earlier this week, which will let you practice what you learned from our Immigration News Hunt:
- Decline in illegal immigration to U.S. "due to the recession," not enforcement
By Dick Morris, Fox News consultant
True or False?
Read more about Truthsquad on the NewsTrust blog. Enjoy!