The 2014 Katz Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Immigration
Related Publications: Panel Press Release, Panel Video
Mark Krikorian, Executive Director, CIS
Jeremy Beck, Director of the Media Standards Project, NumbersUSA
Bonnie Erbé, host of “To the Contrary”, PBS
National Press Club, Washington, D.C.
Transcript by Federal News Service Washington, D.C.
MARK KRIKORIAN: Good afternoon, folks. Feel free to keep eating, of course, but we’ll start our program to respect people’s time in case anybody actually works for a living and has to get back to the office.
I’m – as most of you know, I’m Mark Krikorian, executive director of the center. We have been doing the Eugene Katz Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Immigration since 1997. It’s named – the point of it is to highlight good reporting in an area where much of it is bad – marred by even more than the usual degree of bias that you see in journalism.
It’s named in memory of Eugene Katz, who was on our board for many years, until shortly after his 90th birthday in 1997. He passed away in 2000. Gene, after Dartmouth and Oxford, started his career as a reporter for The Daily Oklahoman and then after that – after he’d been a reporter for a couple of years, in 1928, joined the family business, which was Katz Media and then Katz Communications, later, which was a ad agency, but also owned and managed radio stations.
And we’ve been awarding this to mostly print, but also some broadcast, journalists for many years, and this year’s honoree we’ll get to in a minute, but I wanted to start with some comments from our keynote speaker to kind of provide context for immigration reporting.
The – our speaker’s Jeremy Beck, up here to my right. He’s the director of the Media Standards Project at NumbersUSA, which tracks, and sometimes even tries to correct, the unbalanced reporting on immigration issues. He’ll tell you a little bit more about that.
Jeremy’s also an accomplished stage and screen actor. And I suspect – I’ve never asked him about this, but I suspect his experience in dealing with the entitled prima donnas in the media has helped him in his relations with his various thespian colleagues. (Laughter.) So Jeremy will give us a few comments on his thoughts about coverage of immigration and then I’ll be back to introduce our honoree. Jeremy?
JEREMY BECK: Thank you, Mark. Yeah, I guess one thing that the theater and the media ostensibly have in common is you’re always supposed to be looking for the other side – think how the other side of the story sees things.
As director of the Media Standards Project I don’t have a lot of influence, actually, over media or standards, but – (laughter) – but I will share some observations and some experiences from some of the people that I talk to and speak with, some of whom are here today.
Last October, the University of Virginia’s Miller Center held a series of events here in D.C. on immigration and it kind of culminated with a roundtable about how the media writes about immigration and specifically immigration reform. It was moderated by Ray Suarez and had a panel of four prominent journalists and it’s – actually it’s a very excellent event. A video of it is online on the Miller Center’s website. Sorry to plug another center here at the beginning.
But the panelists went through and they sort of talked the audience through the stories that they write and how they approach the issue. And they gave a pretty fair representation of the kind of stories that we would expect to see on any given day. There is an emphasis on the changing racial and ethnic makeup of the country, its impact on elections, the Hispanic vote, the border, a lot of emphasis on legalization, with a smattering of stories about hypocrisy of elected officials thrown in.
And two of the panelists said that they specifically like to write about immigration as a civil rights movement. One of them said they also like to write about where the resistance to that movement is coming from.
And I don’t – I don’t know many people who are lining up to be represented as the face of that resistance within that particular narrative, but, presumably, some of that resistance comes from the kinds of people that I speak with from around the country whose primary concern with immigration is the levels of immigration and how the numbers impact other issues that they care about.
And they’re frustrated. They know that there’s not a lot of room for them or their perspectives or their concerns in the media’s typical approach to writing about or speaking about this issue. And they’re teachers, students, veterans, programmers, drywallers, home inspectors. Some of them grew up working on farms. Some of them have lived in cities their whole life. They’re the kinds of people who get presidential awards for volunteerism or the Carnegie Hero Award for putting themselves at risk to help others. Their interests are as diverse as their backgrounds, but what brings them all together is that immigration impacts them or the things that they care about in some way, and they’re hungry for the kind of reporting that Bonnie Erbé does, the kind of reporting that’s willing to connect the dots between immigration policy and other big issues of the day.
I started speaking with these people around 2008, around the time that Barack Obama was elected president and, frankly, I thought that we’d be seeing a lot more of this kind of reporting: Bonnie Erbé’s immigration special on how immigration impacts health care and poverty and natural resources. Along with immigration, these were all top issues for Obama, he certainly – at least on the stump. They were all highlighted in his second inaugural address. And they’ve all been big news stories. But they’re presented, more often than not, like food on a picky eater’s plate. They’re always separate. They’re rarely allowed to touch.
And this drives the people that I talk to crazy. As Bonnie Erbé’s reporting demonstrates, we have big decisions to make on some of these issues in front of us and we ought to get as complete a picture as possible. From resource depletion to poverty to the fraying social safety net, immigration isn’t the only factor in these things, or even the primary factor, but it is often a significant factor. And it’s the level of immigration that makes it significant. As the character Lester Freeman says on HBO’s “The Wire,” all the pieces matter.
Well, one NumbersUSA member that I speak with off and on over the years is a former engineer from the Bureau of Reclamation. And not long ago he came across a story that he admired on population growth, it had a few environmental twists to it, and he reached out to the reporter to compliment him on his story and to pitch the idea of including the immigration angle in future stories. And to his delight, the reporter was not only familiar with the statistics and resources that this former engineer was giving him, but he had a few of his own. And they had a back-and-forth and at the end of the discussion the reporter said, but I can’t write about that – that’s an immigration story and that’s not my beat.
Well, what happens when immigration is off-limits to reporters who cover other issues and when immigration reporters are tasked with, or choose to cover immigration primarily as a social issue? What happens is we don’t get the information. We’re not getting the information that we need in order to make fully-informed decisions on the other issues that we care about.
Towards the end of the Miller Center’s roundtable this came up during the Q-and-A when a reporter from the audience asked a question about a Rasmussen survey. And the survey found that only 10 percent of American could correctly guess the annual level of immigration – just 10 percent.
To what extent, he asked the panel, should we regard that as a failure of our profession in not informing American about this most basic fact about immigration? There was a brief silence. (Laughter.) One of the panelists looked down the table at the others and said, who wants to take that? (Laughter.) There was a muffled chuckle. There was another brief silence. Then a second panelist said, I still don’t understand the question. I’m sorry. (Laughter.)
So the reporter is Neil Munro of the Daily Caller. He explained a little bit more about the survey. It was a Rasmussen survey and it asked, approximately how many immigrants legally enter the United States each year? And it was multiple choice: 100,000, 250,000, 500,000, 1 million, 2½ million, 5 million, more than 5 million, or not sure.
Fifty-one percent said not sure. The next highest percentage, 32 percent, incorrectly guessed 250,000 or less, which is more or less our historical traditional average. Only 10 percent correctly guessed 1 million per year, and 7 percent guessed 2½ million or more.
He repeated his question. And the second panelist said, there is a lot of ignorance about a lot of things in this world. People don’t read. They don’t educate themselves. I’m not sure that’s our fault.
Mr. Suarez, who did a terrific job moderating, he followed up on the question and he said, we’re talking about the numbers – he said, but what about them? Couldn’t we include that in the stories we write, for context, he asked.
And when the panel again hesitated to answer, he himself spoke directly to Mr. Munro and he said, I’ll take your point that it’s a pretty basic thing in that if we’re going to have a national argument about this, we ought to know the size of the problem.
But it’s that pretty basic thing that the people that I talk to are concerned with and that they don’t see in the stories that they find. And not just annual numbers, but how they compound over time. One million per year may not seem like much to some people in a country of more than 300 million, but it’s the primary driver of population growth in my lifetime, and without changes we’ll be heading beyond 600 million in possibly my children’s lifetime. And we can debate about whether or not that’s a good thing or a bad thing or a mix of both, but there’s no question that by requiring it, Congress is making profound choices, both for us and for generations to come. We ought to talk about it.
Mr. Suarez indicated that journalists do talk about it and do tell people about it. And perhaps he was thinking of your reporting. But, generally speaking, I respectfully disagree.
The second great wave of immigration, larger than the first, has been underway for decades. Most people don’t know it, although they may feel it. On top of that – on top of this record level of immigration, the Senate last year introduced, debated, and passed a bill that calls for the largest immigration increase in U.S. history – in world history – and almost nothing was written or said about that in the mainstream media, that aspect of the bill. It’s not just a question of being under-reported. It’s barely on the radar.
Now, of course there are exceptions. We’re honoring a notable exception today. And there’s a few others. I’ll give a few examples. The Hill wrote a couple of stories – one on the second great wave, one on the unpopularity of guest-worker increases. Slate did a story on the second great wave. The Associated Press did a terrifically thorough story on the immigration increases as laid out in the Senate bill, as did The Washington Post.
But I’ll add that, with exception of the Post story, all of those stories were written after the Senate had voted. (Laughter.)
This reminds me of a guy that I spoke with. He used to live near the meatpacking plants outside of Omaha, and he contacted a reporter who was writing about the House versions of comprehensive immigration reform. And he was trying to raise some awareness with this reporter about the immigration increases in the bill. And he got a very nice email back and the reporter explained that, you know, his job was really to let people know that these bills were coming, but not to worry: He was sure that he’d probably get to break the whole issue down once the bill had been debated and passed. (Laughter.)
Another activist spoke with a reporter who covered the Senate debate and – again, this was after the debate was over – and this reporter had looked at some numbers that the Census Bureau had put out and acknowledged, during the course of their exchange, that during the entirety of the Senate debate, he had had no idea how much immigration had already increased over the past 40 years.
Recently, President Obama declared that the policy debate is over on immigration. But with respect to the debate about numerical limits, it really never began. The Gang of Eight didn’t want to talk about it and we certainly didn’t see, and we still don’t see, stories that tell us something about the numerical impact of the bill, or the numerical goals or limiting principles of the principal actors involved in the debate. Instead what we see are stories that are built on a pro versus no narrative in which people are squeezed into one of two columns: You’re either pro-immigration or you’re anti-immigration.
Well, one of the NumbersUSA members that I’ve spoken with for several years now is a woman. She grew up in poverty. She started working as a young teenager to help pay the bills. She worked two jobs to help pay for college. She had to drop out after two years, with a GPA over 3.8, in order to take her first job in IT to help square away the family’s finances. Despite dropping out of school, she prospered, and, in fact, she was hired by the FBI in 1967 as a programmer – the only one in her initial group who did not have a degree. And she ended up spending more than three decades in the field. Work, she says, was her salvation.
Well, she spent much of last summer reaching out to reporters, trying to raise questions that she thought were pertinent and important to the debate – questions like, how do politicians like Senator Rubio square their belief that people who come from poverty, people like her, should be able to work their way out of poverty, while at the same time calling for a doubling of permanent job-seekers through immigration?
By the end of the summer she was no longer asking questions like that. She was just asking why the immigration increases in the bill weren’t being covered at all, and her appeals went unanswered.
But once, when she provided a little more information about herself – she described herself as an old-line environmentalist – she quickly got a response back from the reporter, who thanked her for her email, and without addressing any of her questions remarked that he rarely heard from the anti-immigration left. (Laughter.) But this is the pro-immigration versus anti-immigration framework that is so often employed in the stories that we read today. And it doesn’t accurately describe her or politicians or activists or the American people.
I think if you took all of the polling over the past couple years, including the very few polls that actually asked about limits or numbers, what you would find is that the American people generally have good feelings about immigration and like immigration. And they generally think that immigration should be limited. And what they want is continued limited immigration. The fundamental disagreement, really the core of the debate, is over those limits and what enforcement should be in place to make sure that those limits have credibility? But the media’s common approach to writing about immigration has divorced immigration from this core question and it’s replaced it with this kind of pro-versus-no narrative.
Well, this IT worker, she supported the 1986 amnesty bill. She thought legalization for enforcement was a fair tradeoff. She’s just still waiting for the enforcement. In the meantime, she has seen immigration more than triple since the days when she was a young person with limited advantages, fighting to get a hold on that economic ladder, and she holds nuanced, complicated views on immigration, born of experience. She’s also married to an immigrant from the U.K. But in this pro versus no framework, she’s just anti-immigration and that’s the end of the story.
A couple of years ago she actually sent me a story from an organization called Remapping Debate, that does original reporting, and according to their website they try to ask the why and the why not questions that the mainstream media frequently does not. And they did an interesting story. They spoke with three advocacy groups that were pushing for another large-scale legalization and an expansion of the current immigration system. And what they found – what Remapping Debate found was that none of those groups were willing to set forth any concrete limitations on immigration now or in the future.
The reporter wrote, “I was not able to discern any specific limitations that any of the advocates was prepared to affirm. To the contrary, the key arguments for opposing enforcement today appear to be fully applicable to a post-legalization world. Each advocate seemed to be describing a system whereby enforcement would almost always give way to personal or familial factors.” That’s a perspective that would have been important to understand during this last debate.
Now, there was another story a few months ago about a poll sponsored by several pro-Senate bill groups, including Bloomberg’s Partnership for a New American Economy, and the story took a sort of typical pro-versus-no approach, the gist of which was, this poll finds support for immigration reform, therefore Republicans who oppose immigration reform will suffer, at least politically. And like many polls, this poll found support for something called immigration reform by describing a version of immigration reform that differed significantly from the immigration reform actually being considered by Congress, particularly when it came to the legalization process.
This was a point that was also overlooked by the story, but the NumbersUSA member who came across it wasn’t so much concerned with that as he was with the fact that neither the poll nor the story made any mention of the legal immigration side of the bill. So he reached out – the reporter didn’t have time to talk on the phone – would you please send an email? Sure, no problem. The activist sent an email, introduced himself, a two-time supporter of President Obama who strongly disagrees with him on this issue, feels it undermines some of the other issues that he agrees with him on.
And he expressed concern that while all of the media’s attention is focused on the legalization aspect, the arguably more important aspect of doubling immigration to an average of about 2.2 million per year, by his estimation, over the next decade, including an increase in guest workers as well, was going unnoticed. Then he pointed to some numbers that prompted the Congressional Budget Office to predict a small rise in unemployment and drop in wages over the next 10 years should the bill be passed. And he asked why – why do we have this blind spot in our coverage? And the reporter, who had requested the email, replied: Thank you for reading and sending your thoughts. (Laughter.)
So it’s been nearly a year since the Senate passed the bill and we still – we still rarely see the immigration increases that it calls for mentioned in the press. What we do see are phrases like: The bill would revamp the legal system. Or I’ve even seen at least one story that said the bill would improve the legal system, but without giving readers any idea of what that meant.
Paul Ryan argues that we should increase low-skilled immigration. Otherwise industry will have to choose between raising wages to attract American workers or possibly moving their industries overseas. And he fears that the industries will choose the latter. Alan Greenspan argues we should increase high-skilled workers in order to reduce inequality by depressing the wages of engineers and programmers. These are arguments of leading voices but in order to fully understand their implications we have to know what kind of numbers they’re talking about.
And unfortunately I don’t have a good story or anecdote to give any insight as to why the Senate bill has come and gone and the debate continues without the mainstream media acknowledging the immigration increases, but the fact is, is I’ve heard stories from people around the country who have asked reporters about this, and mainly the response they’ve gotten is the same that Neil Munro got at the Miller Center roundtable: silence. On that roundtable, some of the panelists expressed some surprise at the opposition to the Senate bill. As one of them put it: It seemed to come out of nowhere. (Laughter.)
And I’m not surprised that they’re surprised. Arguably the opposition to the bill could be boiled down to two of its most unpopular and under-reported features: an increase in immigration that would add approximately 30 million permanent job-seekers over the next decade, in addition to doubling guest workers as well, many of them poor, all of them adding to the demand on our infrastructure and natural resources, just as any of us do; and, two, a legalization before enforcement sequence that left many people concerned that the bill would not produce the enforcement of numerical limits in the future, even expanded limits.
Mr. Suarez wrote about the pressure that reporters feel to make things simple. And he referred to letters that he received from around the country, letters that say, what part of “illegal” don’t you understand, and when my grandparents came they did it the right way. And we see the same kind of arguments online, comments on news stories all the time. And I think I understand where those comments come from, but I think there’s also part of a misguided pro-versus-no narrative in the sense it’s the illegal good – illegal bad, legal good, and there’s no question of in between or of numbers or limits.
And they are over-simplistic. As Mr. Suarez said, it’s more complicated than that. One of the complicating factors is the question of limits, that pretty basic thing. And it’s a key piece to our immigration comprehension. And reporters needn’t agree with immigration reductionists to consider it in their stories. Whether the clock runs out on the Gang of Eight bill or not, this is not going to be the last time that we debate immigration as a country. And if we get more reporting like Bonnie Erbé’s, I think we’ll be laying the groundwork for a more comprehensive understanding of how immigration affects our lives and perhaps have more comprehensive, maybe even a more civil debate next time around.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Amen.
MR. BECK: Thank you. (Applause.)
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Jeremy – excellent. A couple things came to mind, this idea of the reporters are surprised. You know, the opposition to the Schumer bill just came out of nowhere reminds me of the – this is – I don’t know if it’s an apocryphal story. Pauline Kael was the movie reviewer for, I think, New York (sic) magazine a long time ago. In the 1972 election, as those of you old enough to remember, Nixon won every state but Massachusetts and then the District of Columbia. And Pauline Kael in the newsroom the next day said, “How can that be? No one I know voted for Nixon.” (Laughter.) Well, it’s a similar thing. No one these reporters know is skeptical of mass immigration and amnesty before enforcement.
The other point I wanted to make on – this is a point Jeremy made about the reporter who said that he couldn’t get from any of the advocacy groups and actual, you know, number, a kind of limiting principle. I tried to do this years ago. We published something called “Blueprints for an Ideal Legal Immigration Policy.” It’s online somewhere. It was pre-Internet so I think – I don’t know, we scanned it in or something. But anyway, it’s there.
And so I called people all across – I called Cecilia Muñoz – now running immigration at the White House – when she was at La Raza, Frank Sharry, all kinds of people. And I said, look, I just want 1,500 to 2,000 words on what you actually want at the end. What is your ideal legal immigration – anything you say I’m going to print. I’m only editing for typos. None of them would do it, because honestly – I mean, I got some minor people to do it but none of the actual major actors. And I think the reason is their immigration – their ideal immigration policy is one word – more. Just more.
Well, before our honoree Bonnie Erbé comes up and has a few comments, I wanted to show a clip from one of her – from her program. It’s called “To the Contrary.” And they did a half-hour program on – they’ve done several on immigration. This one specifically is on the birth tourism issue. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, this is people coming from overseas – the people highlighted here are from China but it’s happening from a lot of other places – Russia, Turkey, Korea and elsewhere. Women come here pregnant, have their baby, get the passport because the baby is a U.S. citizen, and then go home.
Often this is so that they can come here to study and as U.S. citizens it’s easier to get into the University of California at Berkeley. Or in some cases from Turkey and Korea I understand it’s done to be able to dodge the draft, so that if you have a boy you send him here at 14 and that way he’ll stay until he can’t be drafted anymore, because you don’t want to be in the Turkish army. I sure don’t. (Laughter.)
So it’s an important issue and Bonnie did a whole program. And this is just going to be a – I think a two-and-a-half or three-minute segment, which was – I mean, I know about this. I mean, obviously I’ve read about this a good deal. This actually had some interesting stuff in it that I had never seen any reporter actually define – talk about before. Can we turn the lights down? OK. Yeah.
MS. : (Off mic.)
MR. KRIKORIAN: OK, go ahead, Margaret.
BONNIE ERBÉ: Hello, I’m Bonnie Erbé. Welcome to this special edition of “To the Contrary.” We’re here in Southern California, where we’re going to introduce you to the new Americans and the burgeoning industry that’s grown up around them.
ROSSANA MITCHELL: (From tape.) On an ethical level, I think it’s very concerning. It’s not very American. You know, as an immigrant myself I came over here when I was eight years old. My father came over here first, left our entire family, worked two jobs, earned enough money to send money to get visas for our family. We came over here. We’re all citizens now. We’re very proud to be Americans and we worked really hard at it. And essentially, this birth tourism, it’s like buying citizenship.
MS. ERBÉ: Rossana Mitchell is the leader of Not in Chino Hills.
RALLY ATTENDEES: (From tape.) Not here, not anywhere!
MS: (From tape.) Louder!
RALLY ATTENDEES: (From tape.) Not here, not anywhere!
MS. MITCHELL: (From tape.) If you come here, you can buy your citizenship, 5,000 (dollars) to 10,000 (dollars) a month. Essentially, you can come have your baby here and then go back to your country.
MS. ERBÉ: Even members of the Chinese American Association of Chino Hills are against birth tourism.
ANN LIM: (From tape.) I feel it’s not right, and I think I did all whatever necessary to get my citizenship from beginning until now, and I think that’s the right process to do that.
LOU ALFONSO: (From tape.) I have a soft spot for those people who want to come in the United States because, like myself, I came from outside the United States. But I went through the legal process, the right way of doing it. It’s not the fault of those pregnant women. Any parent would like to have their children have a better life. There’s nothing wrong with that. Now, this business of maternity hotels is doing it in a way that I feel it’s exploiting the Constitution of the United States.
MS. ERBÉ: Daniel Deng is a lawyer who represents women who have gone through birth tourism brokers and are now suing them. He says many of the women are being scammed in several ways.
DANIEL DENG: (From tape.) And to enjoy a very good health system, health care service in United States, and many mother are complaining because when they come over here – they were showing that one woman had one room and one caretaker taking care of the baby, but when they come over here, once the baby is delivered, they have 10 babies – they’re crying every night – and only one caretaker to care of 10 mothers or the 10 babies.
MS. ERBÉ: Deng says one health care worker was so overworked, she dropped a baby and the baby died. Then there are concerns over what the brokers represent and what they deliver.
MR. DENG: (From tape.) And there’re so many brokers in China who are competing for the business. So when they first came over here, it turns out that the living condition is not what they promised in China. And frankly, many of those brokers in China, they’ve never been to the United States. So they would present a misperception and they would get a five-star hotel photos and paste that – you’re going to stay here – or get the five-star hotel as a hospital and say, this is what you’re going to get.
MR. KRIKORIAN: That was – you know, I don’t – I’m not sure any reporter actually thought to ask local Chinese-Americans, what do you think of this? I’m – this was actually a great idea, and I think we learned something, or at least people who saw the show learned something from this.
The debate last year during the – surrounding the whole Schumer-Rubio bill in the Senate focused a lot on the amnesty issue and enforcement issues. And that’s, you know, natural. More recently, the center’s revelations and the drop in deportations and the releases of criminal aliens has been dominating the news. Just this morning Secretary Johnson was asked about it in the hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And these are obviously important concerns, but sometimes those kind of immediate news stories crowd out consideration of larger questions or consideration of issues that are still smaller than a man’s hand but can become – loom large in the future.
And Bonnie Erbé’s program, “To the Contrary,” has, among, obviously, all kinds of other issues that it’s dealt with, tried to grapple with some of these issues. It did a – during the debate last year did a special, half-hour special, not looking at the issues of enforcement or is the fence high enough or what have you, but the kind of longer-term concerns that relate to immigration as they affect health care, poverty, natural resources.
And likewise this birth tourism issue is something that’s reported on kind of episodically but not in this detailed way. And this is something that has long-term effects and consequences that people don’t really see in the – you know, in the short term.
And these are some of the reasons that the center has chosen Bonnie Erbé, who is the host and executive in charge of “To the Contrary,” to be this year’s recipient of the Eugene Katz Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Immigration.
“To the Contrary,” which is on PBS, is now in its 22nd year on the air and features a rotating panel of women journalists and commentators from a variety of political perspectives, covering the whole gamut of issues, obviously not just not immigration but politics, Supreme Court issues, all the rest of it.
The program has been honored repeatedly. Just this year, if I am correct, it was – it was recognized at the best TV talk show by the – by American Women in Radio and Television. “To the Contrary” has been recognized for financial reporting, for coverage of mental health issues and a variety of other issues.
Bonnie has been covering politics in various forms for decades. She was a local TV reporter in Tampa and Atlanta and Washington, D.C., then worked in radio at UPI and Mutual – I think Mutual is gone too, isn’t it, yeah – and NBC Radio. She was a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service until that was closed down last year. And she really, I think, has been fulfilling an important role in shining light on some of these immigration issues that even for reporters who aren’t ridiculously biased, as Jeremy sometimes pointed out, if they’re dealing with the kind of horse race immediate day-to-day issues, they can’t stand back and do that kind of reporting.
So, Bonnie, we’re – if you could come up, we’re honored to offer you the award. (Applause.)
BONNIE ERBÉ: Thank you so much. (Applause continues.)
MR. KRIKORIAN: The actual award, the physical tchotchke, is this really great clock, which you will have seen if you’ve – came to our previous awards.
The problem is that it’s in UPS’s warehouse somewhere – (laughter) – and it’ll be here. So in the meantime we have – so that you have an actual tchotchke for the next couple of days to recognize your award, we have – I got to get this open – a drinking vessel from the U.S. Border Patrol Museum. (Laughter.) So – (laughs) –
MS. ERBÉ: Thank you. (Applause.)
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you.
MS. ERBÉ: Cheers! (Chuckles.) Thank you so much.
I also want – before I get to the other people I want to thank, I do want to say that Daniel Deng (sp), the lawyer, also told me – which – we didn’t have time to show you that clip, but that these women – the birth tourism mothers don’t speak English, the tourism brokers trick them into signing Medicaid – Medi-Cal, they call it out in California – forms. Their delivery – they’re told they’ll have the best private doctors, and in fact their deliveries are handled by, you know, state doctors, Medicaid doctors, and paid for by the citizens of California.
It is supposed to be a relatively small number of people. I want to point that out. The U.S. government reports something 7,500 the last time that – well, remember, this story aired last year and the reporting I did for it was mainly from late 2012, early 2013. But the last time I checked, the latest figures, which probably were from 2010, showed about 7,500 births to foreign mothers in the United States. I also interviewed one of the members of the L.A. County Commission, and he said there’s no way that number’s accurate. (Chuckles.) I can tell you about 10,000 instances of this in Los Angeles County alone, which is one of the places where it’s concentrated, but it’s happening all over the country.
So – but to get back to who I want to thank, I want to thank Mark. I want to thank Steve Camerota (sp), whom we’ve interviewed so many times, who’s such an expert on all the numbers, who really supports – helps us in that way.
I want to thank Roy Beck and his wonderful NumbersUSA, and Anne Manetas, who’s here. We work with them on many projects. That they run – and it’s shown by the growth of their website and email list they run a very necessary organization with now more than 2 million, I believe, members – shows you just how much of an issue – that’s half the size of the NRA, of course, not as well-known as the NRA.
But I – about myself, I want to tell you a little bit about how I came to immigration as an important issue to be covered in its – all its aspects, good and bad. I am the very proud daughter of a Russian-Cuban immigrant. My grandfather and his two brothers left Russia, Poland, what’s now Lithuania but went back and forth between Russia and Poland during all the wars they had, and could not get into the United States, could not get their visas, so they went to Cuba, waited 10 years till their numbers came up, in the process became Cuban citizens and then went back and forth between the U.S. and Cuba after that. And my grandfather started two small businesses in Havana or outside Havana and one in Brooklyn and went back and forth until the end of his life, which was right after Castro took over.
Anyway, immigrants are fabulous. Immigrants make the best Americans. They work the hardest for the least amount of money. They contribute so much to this country. But in the journalistic community, if you dare raise any negative impact of mass immigration that we have now, both legal and illegal, you are shunted aside as some kind of strange person who has – you know, has a very strange approach to reporting.
And it’s very sad, because I came up in the ’70s as a teenager, went to one of the first Earth Day events in New York City, in 1970, and population – not immigration at that point, I might add, because it predated the latest great wave of immigration, but population in the United States was an issue that was front and center. It has never mentioned anymore, or if you mention – you can’t use the term “overpopulation.” That gets you shouted out by both conservatives and liberals. Liberals don’t want to hear it because they support open-border immigration, pretty much, and conservatives don’t like it because they want cheap labor.
And so I am – I am nonpartisan, not because of that issue, because of a whole host of issues, but I like to say I dislike each party equally – (chuckling) – for different reasons. But I truly am not – I certainly came of age as a progressive, but I am no longer a progressive because I don’t believe the progressives really support the environment, and to me, that’s the most important issue. If we don’t deal with climate change and human impact on the planet, there’s not going to be a planet in 50 years, it’s my personal belief.
And you can’t – you say that in journalistic or political circles, and people look at you cross-eyed. And some – and we get objections from viewers sometimes. We also get great, you know, emails saying, thank you for doing this; I have – I hear this nowhere else on TV. But we also get people who say – you know, call me bad names and say that our – that begins with R – (chuckles) – and call us out for just reporting what are the facts. And I think it’s a really sad time, because I’m not sorry – I spend a fair amount of time in the company of climate change scientists. I am – I am convinced that if – perhaps it may not be too late. It probably is, but perhaps if it – if we were to turn around everything right now and use – and restrict the bad things that we’re doing to the environment, carbon emissions, et cetera, and use new science to try to turn around global warming, maybe it’s not too late. I kind of think it is. But since we are nowhere near where we need to be to deal with this issue, we really should be dealing with issues that contributed to it that we can deal with, and one of those is population growth in all its forms, not, you know, births to native people in each country – and the United States – the fertility rate is and has been for a very long time of native-born Americans 2.1, which is replacement level. But we add a million a year in terms of legal immigrants and the children that they have, and the first generation of women tends to have many more than two children because they come from families of six and eight, as did my grandmother, also from Lithuania, was one of 11 children. She’s the only one who made it over to the United States before Hitler went through her – you know, her town and killed all of her family.
But you know, she – if she would have had – I would have had lots of cousins and all that sort of thing if it hadn’t been for that event. And that’s – it’s true of all immigrants because when women are uneducated in the countries that they come from, they – children are their social security, they are their livelihood, and women don’t have anything else to do where they can earn a living. They come here, they get educated, they get fabulous educations or they have to – until recently have been able to, and then they have one or two kids. I mean, look at Hillary Clinton, for example.
But we’re not dealing with the fact that we are the major contributors to greenhouse gases and what we do – and this is our cultural disadvantage, but when we do take immigrants from developing nations who have very small carbon footprints, we turn them into the rest of us, who have huge carbon footprints, and turn them into greater contributors to global warming.
And we need to do something somewhere. We’re not doing anything on any of the fronts. Immigration is just one of the fronts where we need to start controlling thing – things, but again, is anybody going to listen? Does anybody care? No.
Al Gore, much to his credit, tried in his presidential bid, in his I might say – (chuckles) – successful presidential bid that he never claimed the gain from, to bring overcrowding, traffic, smog, overcrowding of schools, all those issues that are a result of overpopulation and that affect people where they live and people can relate to, he tried to raise that as an issue in his campaign, and it did not work, so he dropped it. But Americans just don’t want to hear it for whatever reason.
In any event, for that reason and many others, I thank you so much, Mark, for giving this award, for encouraging those of us who are out in the trenches to keep doing it because we need all the support we can get. (Applause.)
MR. KRIKORIAN: People have places to go, I know, but I actually had one question for you, Bonnie, that occurred to be. I’d thought of it before, but I didn’t bring it up. “To the Contrary” is on PBS, and it’s covered by a lot of PBS stations, syndicated so the stations can pick it up if they want. How do you stay on PBS? I mean, how – (chuckles) – how do you get away with that?
MS. ERBÉ: Well, we – I mean, we do (carry it ?) in 91 percent of the country. And I think, as you saw, although we raise these issues, we’re very, very fair about it. We present – we don’t present one side. We present both sides. And we also are, quite frankly, the most diverse show on public television and have been. I know that now, just in the last year or so, Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff were named as co-anchors of the “NewsHour,” but we have been all women and at least two women of color on the panel. Usually, we’re a panel discussion show, but just the last couple of years we started doing longer (take outs ?), like you saw, show in the field on issues that are of great interest to our audience.
And immigration is one of them, but we also – I – we just aired one this past weekend, a piece I shot in Rio and a group called Promundo which goes into the slums of the favelas in Rio de Janeiro, takes men at risk for domestic violence and puts them through a training therapy program. It turns them – makes them realize that being a man does not mean beating up your wife and kids but taking care of them, providing for them, becoming involved with the children; even when the woman is still pregnant, going on prenatal visits. And so it’s one of many issues that we cover. I mean, we don’t do immigration every week or anything like that.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Right, right. Sure. I understand.
MS. ERBÉ: But, you know, in the past, there have been complaints and issues raised that made life difficult that I think were very unfair.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Right. Good. Well, thank you, Bonnie. And we’ll get you the clock when UPS gets it to us. (Laughter.)
MS. ERBÉ: Thank you. And I did want to say – want to donate the actual award to –
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yeah, I took care of it, yes.
MS. ERBÉ: – Progressives for Immigration Reform. I think that’s a very, very important group, and that’s what I’m doing.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you. And – (applause) – and Jeremy, thanks for your comments. This – we’re going to have a transcript and a video up probably next week. Thank you all for coming. I’m not sure about Jeremy and Bonnie, but I’m happy to be accosted afterwards if you want to talk later. But I want to respect people’s time; people have to get back to the office. So thank you very much, and we hope to see you at next year’s Katz Award luncheon. Thank you. (Applause.)