I'm a devoted National Public Radio listener, but their coverage of the immigration issue generally leans toward textbook advocacy journalism. Their reporters might invite someone that believes in the rule of law to give the appearance of "balance", but those sound bites are usually buried deep in a narrative-driven story about a law-abiding, straight-A student who just happens to be "undocumented" and ran afoul of the cruel immigration system.
But sometimes reporters stumble on bad actors or people who are just plain hard to conjure any sympathy for. My vote for weakest immigration sob story of the year goes to … drumroll please … "Marissa Castillo" (not her real name), an illegal immigrant profiled by Chicago Public Radio who is afraid to apply for President Obama's amnesty.
The story profiles Castillo, a student at Northern Illinois University (NIU) with a 3.8 G.P.A. and no "papers", and her roommate, Elaine Rodriguez, a legal immigrant whose parents took advantage of Reagan's 1986 amnesty. Castillo tells us her parents brought her to the country at age six but their visas expired. Like most lame immigration sob stories, the public isn't told what type of visa they arrived with, because in 99 percent of cases, it's a tourist visa and that doesn't fit the stories' narrative arc.
Why point out that her family went to a U.S. embassy or consulate and conned an American Foreign Service officer into believing they were legitimate tourists when you can leave listeners, who are uninformed about visas to begin with, with a vague impression that they came here as immigrants and their visas just mysteriously "expired"?
Chip Mitchell, the reporter, uses the term "undocumented" rather than "illegal" throughout the story, and also tells listeners that Castillo works "off the books". He also repeatedly uses the term "papers" rather than "legal status", hitting the holy trifecta of illegal immigration euphemisms.
Using the slang term "papers" in a news story is silly because, first of all, this family did have "papers", if you want to call them that, and because it trivializes legal immigration and citizenship. Being a U.S. resident or citizen is more than just having a piece of paper. The term also conveniently obscures the fact that someone, in this case Castillo's parents, broke the law.
The story revolves around Rodriquez's unsuccessful efforts to convince her fearful roommate to apply for the amnesty.
"You never know what's going to happen with the government", Castillo says, explaining her decision not to apply for the amnesty. "Obama has deported the most people in the whole century. We're giving our information to the technology system. They could completely switch it, or drop it and then they have all our information in there. Something can harm us, you don't know."
Remember, this is someone who came to the country legally with a visa in the 1990s. Hello, the government already has your information in its "technology system", save for the address of the apartment you're sharing with your roommate. But given how often college students move, the wildly imbalanced ratio of ICE agents to illegal immigrants, and the complete lack of political will to engage in hunt-and-capture deportations, her reluctance to apply for the amnesty borders on the absurd.
Rodriguez makes the point that even now the government could pass a law that would jeopardize her ability to stay in the country, and tells her roommate that since she's a student at NIU, the government already knows about her.
Castillo counters that they "don't know all the details" and complains that Obama's heart isn't in the amnesty effort.
"Look at the other one, isn't it Romney, he's against immigration", she says. "What's he going to do with the information of all those that got the permit?"
You don't have to listen to the whole story to predict how it ends. What good is an immigration sob story without some actual on-mic crying?
"We came here together and we promised each other we'd finish together", Rodriguez says before breaking down as though ICE agents were at the door about to carry her roommate off in leg irons.
Mitchell's narration resumes to conclude the story, but you can still hear the sniffling and crying in the background as the piece winds down. I sympathize with people who were brought to this country as children and have no legal status. Really, I do. But it's hard to feel much sympathy for people like Castillo who prefer to remain "in the shadows", as they say.
Immigration enforcement in this country is mostly Keystone Kops stuff, contrary to public opinion. In her case, even in the wildly, wildly, wildly improbable scenario where the government decides to target those who apply for amnesty for deportation, all she has to do is move to another address and melt into the landscape. She's a college student who lives with a roommate. Millions of people around the developing world would be thrilled to trade places with her right now.