January 9, 2004

Ethnic Media Wary of Bush Immigration Proposal

By Marcelo Ballve
Pacific News Service

News Analysis

The immigrant media, and Latino media in particular, were quick to pick apart the new White House proposal that would grant temporary legal status to millions of undocumented workers in the United States.

The day after the plan was made public, the front pages and editorial sections of key Latino, Chinese, Korean and Filipino newspapers were filled with news of the proposal, which if passed would be the most significant revision to immigration policy since the amnesty of 1986.

As the battle over the plan escalates, the fast-growing ethnic media will lead in framing the debate for their audiences in immigrant communities. White House officials and lawmakers haggling over the details as the plan enters the U.S. Congress would be wise to take note.

The headline of an editorial published in the Ft. Worth, Texas Spanish-language daily El Diario La Estrella read, “Bush’s Dangerous Immigration Gift.” In the commentary, Rafael Férnandez de Castro warns that the immigration proposal poses a double danger to Mexico.

The proposal is accompanied by a tightening of the “fortification,” through technology and policing, of the U.S.-Mexico border to placate right-wing opponents, de Castro writes. The risk is that the portions of the proposal aimed at hardening the border will be approved easily, even as the guest worker program founders due to conservatives’ opposition.

Although many of their readers and viewers would stand to gain from the reforms, opinions in immigrant media were not unanimously in favor of the new plan. If the guarded reaction from some media is any indication, President Bush may have more trouble attracting immigrant voters with his proposed reforms than many expect. Or, it may be that the real debate will only come as the plan’s details are hashed out in Congress.

In the New York-based Filipino Reporter weekly, a headline read, “Bush Plan Offers New Hope for Illegal Immigrants.”

A measured response came in the Los Angeles Spanish-language paper La Opinión, with a daily circulation of 126,000. Its lead editorial began, “The principles laid out yesterday by President Bush are interesting as a start for reopening the immigration debate, but they leave much to be desired.”

María Elena Salinas, the co-anchor of the national newscast for Univision, the country’s top-rated Spanish-language television network, portrayed the Bush proposal mainly as an opportunity for foreign workers who are able to match themselves up with jobs in the United States.

This facet of the proposal, which would create a digital database of jobs that must be offered to U.S. citizens before they can be offered to guest workers, has also drawn early scrutiny from ethnic media.

Advocacy groups like the League of United Latin American Citizens were cited in several ethnic media reports expressing worry that the plan would value only the needs of corporations and employers, not families. “We are in favor of an immigration reform, but we have to make sure that it comes with a family reunification component and not just work permits at the convenience of a few people,” Ana Yáñez, political affairs spokeswoman for LULAC in Austin, Texas, told El Diario La Estrella.

The headline in the popular Korean-language news Web site Donga.com read, “180,000 Illegal Korean Immigrants in the U.S. May Receive Legal Status.” Observers say the number of undocumented Koreans in the United States could be as high as 500,000. But the article said a strenuous “screening process” that accompanies the plan would likely make it difficult for legalized workers to gain permanent residency cards, or green cards, and get on track for U.S. citizenship.

The Bush plan would offer a renewable three-year temporary legal status to the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants nationwide, and offer a chance at this guest worker status to immigrants internationally. Participating immigrants would be enrolled in Social Security and be able to immediately apply for a green card, but waiting periods for green cards can stretch for longer than 10 years.

A relatively low number of green cards are granted each year, about 140,000, which are issued for employment purposes, and a tiny proportion of those are given to non-skilled workers. The Bush plan led the Chinese-language Sing Tao Daily — but the story immediately asked if the quota of green cards would be increased under the plan to accommodate the new influx of temporary workers likely to apply for permanent residency.

As might be expected, the consensus in immigrant media was that the proposal is politically motivated, with Latino voters in particular being the intended target of what is being called an election year gambit. Political analyst Carlos Ramos, writing a commentary in La Opinión, says, “It’s certain that the immigration initiative is a master stroke on the political chessboard of this electoral year.”

Marcelo Ballve (mballve@pacificnews.org) is an editor for Pacific News Service. He also monitors media for New California Media, an association of over 600 print, broadcast and online ethnic media organizations founded in 1996 by PNS.

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