Yahoo's Sad Mismatching of Immigration Stories

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on May 11, 2010
Related Content: Arizona Law SB 1070 Topic Page

When millions of Americans signed on to Yahoo this morning, they had a chance to see a pair of starkly contrasting Associated Press stories on immigration.

One of them, a profile of activist attorney Kris Kobach – an architect of the new Arizona law targeting illegal immigrants – was an example of solid, professional reporting. It offered a nuanced view of a controversial figure, giving voice both to supporters and to detractors as well as to Kobach himself.

The other story, embedded in the middle of the Kobach profile, was an AP video about a Phoenix family in which the children are U.S. citizens and the parents are illegal immigrants. It is a vivid example of the one-sided reporting that has caused some of my friends in Arizona to become embittered about the mainstream media. Some have taken to dissing it as "lamestream media."

The video made no pretense of objectivity or balance or nuance. It was a compassionate one minute-fifty-five-second look into the life of the Alvarez family, which lives in constant fear that the parents will be deported.

We learn especially of the fears of the oldest of the four children, a sympathetic and articulate girl named Heidi, who appears to be about 12 years old. Heidi talks movingly about her dread of waking up one day to learn that her parents are gone. "There would be nobody who could get breakfast or hug you," she says, wiping away tears.

Heidi asks for understanding, for compassion. "We just come here to get a job," she says. "We don't steal. We don't kill. We're not criminals…"

Apparently responding to a question of what she wants the American public to do, Heidi says, "I don't think it's something bad coming to this country trying to get a job. I don't think it's bad for me because lots of people suffer in Mexico from violence and they want to bring their families somewhere else. I don't think that's bad for me, and I want you guys – I want them to help us."

As Heidi tells her poignant story, the camera shows a view of the family's neat and solidly middle-class stucco home, with a late-model pickup truck in the driveway. We see Heidi's mother, who is awaiting an appearance with an immigration judge who could order her back to Mexico, making a meal in a spotless kitchen. We see her infant brother playing on the floor.

From all outward appearances, the Alvarezes are an All-American family. They seem to have achieved much of the American dream. Yet they lack the most basic element, the right to be in the country.

The story of the Alvarez family is an important part of the immigration debate. It deserves to be told. It deserves to be respected. It deserves to be understood.

What is missing, of course, is the proverbial other side of the story. What is missing is some context that would help explain why Arizona's now-infamous new law against illegal immigration is so widely supported in Arizona even as it is so widely condemned elsewhere.

For the great majority of illegal immigrants in Arizona are not living a life of middle-class comfort. The great majority are struggling in low-paying jobs that often require them to cram into apartments or rented homes with another family or two. Such conditions impose enormous strains on the state's neighborhoods, schools, and social service systems. While illegal immigrant parents are not eligible for public services, their U.S,-born children are.

Lacking that voice, the viewer is left with the impression that Arizona is a cruel state filled with hard-hearted people. The reality is more complex. The reality demands more thought. The reality had no place on Yahoo, at least in Tuesday's sadly imbalanced pairing of stories.

As someone who lived many years in Arizona, and as a former journalist, I hope Yahoo's editors find room some day soon. If the AP didn't offer a broader look at Arizona's daily reality, I hope Yahoo demands it.