The government's publicists (I used to be one of them) should make full use of the stories they encounter to discourage further illegal immigration.
That thought came to me when I read a March 24, "just the facts, Ma'am" press release from ICE titled "ICE detainee tests positive for COVID-19 at Bergen County Jail".
NEW YORK — A 31-year-old Mexican national in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack, New Jersey, has tested positive for COVID-19. The individual has been quarantined and is receiving care. Consistent with CDC guidelines, those who have come in contact with the individual have been cohorted and are being monitored for symptoms. ICE is suspending intake at the facility until further information is available.
Additional information about ICE's response to COVID-19 can be found at ICE.gov/COVID19.
The release is all very well for New Jersey media, but it should have been handled quite differently — and written in Mexican Spanish — for widespread distribution in Mexico.
There should be a screaming headline about a Mexican national falling victim to the corona virus after illegally entering the United States. There should be an explicit warning to other Mexicans that one of the things you risk when you go to the States illegally is the virus; and that the virus can kill you.
There should be a picture of a downcast young man in prison hospital garb, and, preferably, hand-cuffed. There should be a detailed description of his health, his fever and other symptoms, and perhaps some speculation about the possibility of his death. There should have been a statement about his being comparatively lucky because he is less likely to die in a federal detention center than were he untreated and still on the street.
The Spanish press release should have given us his name, his hometown, and what techniques were used to arrest him. There should have been additional material about him so that Mexican readers could identify with him and so that the Mexican media would report on the situation in detail, and at length.
If someone violates our laws, as this man clearly has done, why do we not give him a name and a hometown? Harvey Weinstein got his name in the paper for his brushes with the law, so why not this young man? (ICE will mention people by name once they are indicted, or so I surmise, but not merely apprehended. I question that practice.)
Even without his name, and maybe with his face airbrushed, all the rest of the information should have been provided in a press release that plays to the sensational inclination of many Mexican newspapers.
The point of a press operation is to promote the interests of the people of the United States, as well as that of the agency involved. It is in our broad interest that people obey laws, and it is to the interest of ICE to discourage illegal migration. Stressing the dangers of illegal migration to the United States also provides a service (perhaps an unwitting one) to those in other lands that might be thinking of an illegal entrance to this country.
I must say that I have been over some of this ground earlier in life, when I was the press guy for the Office of Insular Affairs (i.e., the islands) in the Interior Department. I had advocated the treatment described above for some crook in one of our territories, and drafted a memo to that effect for my bosses to send to the Justice Department. I got a mild rebuke when a Clinton appointee at Justice — a good civil rights advocate, I am sure — objected to my suggestion that the criminal be shown in a "perp walk".
BTW, when I reprinted the tiny ICE press release above my computer — a machine that has a better sense of style than the ICE writer — underlined the word "cohorted" in little red marks. To say, as the release does, that "those who have come in contact with the individual have been cohorted" is to inflict cruel and inhumane punishment on the English language.
I suspect what the writer was trying to say was that those in the detention center who had been near the man had been identified and were subject to some medical attention, or separated from the rest of the center's population. Insider terminology should be explained when writing for outsiders, as it was not in this case.