Journalistic Pablum and Faux Human Interest

By Dan Cadman on November 11, 2014

The poor quality of news reporting in an immigration case was recently brought to my attention, and I have to say that, even in a sea of mediocrity, this one sinks right to the bottom.

The article, by Mica Rosenberg of Reuters, is entitled "U.S. man held in detention for more than three years". Shocking, isn't it? Rosenberg goes on to tell us the plight of one Davino Watson, who "languished" in an immigration detention center for years after being convicted of selling cocaine. Watson was born in Jamaica, but claimed derivative citizenship through his father, which claim the article would have us believe was simply ignored by authorities. Of course, Watson is now suing the U.S. government. After all, why would the government not take the word of a convicted cocaine trafficker born in Jamaica that he had derived citizenship?

What Rosenberg hasn't even attempted to give readers any hint of is the labyrinthine and tangled series of legal proceedings that took place over the course of Watson's detention before there was ultimately a finding in his favor.

Here are the facts of his birth and "naturalization": Watson was born out of wedlock in Jamaica. His mother remained in Jamaica. His father, who did not raise him, shelter him, or support him — perhaps did not even acknowledge him — and took no formal steps to legitimate him, later became a United States citizen through naturalization. Watson entered the United States not as a citizen, but as an alien. It was only after his arrest and conviction on drug charges that he belatedly raised the claim that his father's naturalization had the salutary effect of affording him citizenship.

Here are the legal facts: After immigration authorities took custody of Watson when he was released from serving his cocaine-dealing sentence, he was presented to a U.S. immigration judge in deportation proceedings. The judge was unable to clearly discern that he was a derivative citizen and deferred the case to the experts at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, who did not find him to be a citizen and returned the case to the judge who ordered him to be deported. Watson appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), where the order of deportation was sustained, then appealed to the Federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals, where they remanded the case to the BIA for further proceedings to examine the Jamaican law of legitimation and how it applies to U.S. immigration and nationality law.

It doesn't take a legal scholar to read between the lines of this case and see that it was probably simply a case of the government cutting its losses and deciding not to waste any more limited legal resources (and costs) in pursuing a case that would have little, if any, broader impact on the notions of either legitimation or derivative citizenship. But that wouldn't fit the tidy but erroneous narrative that Ms. Rosenberg has chosen to provide her readers.

This is a classic case of what's wrong with most immigration reporting: instead of incisive, trenchant reporting and a willingness to dig into, and comprehend, the complexities of immigration or nationality law, the journalist reveals herself as lazy, incapable of understanding, indifferent to the facts, or some combination of all three, as long as those facts can be loosely cast in a light that furthers the reporter's — or the reporter's organization's — philosophical bent (usually in favor of open borders and vilification of the agencies involved in immigration administration and enforcement).

The only thing more irritating than these simplistic, pablum-filled "human interest" stories chronicling the failings of immigration bureaucrats is the fact that the federal organizations involved in the enforcement, adjudicative, and due process aspects of Watson's case chose silence instead of vigorously defending the choice that they made in going forward with removal proceedings: a choice that seems, at least to me, abundantly defensible. One senses, though, that this will continue to be the case all through the remaining lame duck years of the Obama administration, whose views are about as simplistic and open borders-oriented as Rosenberg's and Reuters': when the facts don't fit the narrative, just ignore them.