Transcript: 2011 Katz Award Ceremony

By Mark Krikorian, Leo Banks, and Nicolas Stein on June 7, 2011

Related Publications: Booklet, Video

Mark Krikorian,
Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies
Nicolas Stein,
Producer, “Border Wars”
National Geographic Television
Leo W. Banks,
Journalist and 2011 Katz Award Winner
Transcript by
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.

MARK KRIKORIAN: Good afternoon, folks. Don’t stop eating on my account. I know Steve won’t. But I just want to get things started so we can respect people’s times if they have to go. My name is Mark Krikorian. I’m executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. And we’ve been doing the Katz Award here now for, I think, 14 years. I’m not sure. It seems like a long time. Actually, it doesn’t seem that long but it sounds like a long time.

And we started this award in honor of Eugene Katz, who was – the late Eugene Katz, who was one of our board members, had been on both sides of journalism, the editorial side and the business side, in a family business; had been a reporter. His business was the ad sales business and we really thought it was both – it was appropriate to name it after him but it was appropriate to have an award like this because, frankly, so much of immigration reporting is just lousy.

It’s formulaic. It’s, you know, kind of – either it’s transcribing press releases from either the government or activist groups or just sort of predictable sob stories. And what we’ve tried to do with this award is highlight people who go beyond the predictable sob stories and the press releases. And I’ll introduce our honoree in a little while, but his warm-up act is Nick Stein. Nick is the producer of “Border Wars,” a series on the National Geographic Channel, which, apparently is, if not their top show for the channel, one of the top shows.

And they actually go out there with the camera and sort of wait around for something to happen on the border and there’s really dramatic stuff. I’m not sure, I think it’s kind of like those nature shows where they have a camera that just sits there and looks for, like, four months for something to happen and then you figure – I don’t know if it’s quite that bad. (Laughter.) There’s more going on there than just that.

But there is a good deal of waiting around and waiting for something to happen, but there’s plenty of interesting stuff that happens. People never see it. And it really does help give a context to the debate to actually see what’s going on with smugglers or somebody sneaking through the border with a fake identity, and then they question them, or people trying to sneak, you know, contraband, whatever it is – I mean, dope or other stuff – in their cars. I mean, there’s a lot of really interesting stuff.

And even for me, I haven’t seen all of this stuff up front, in person myself. It’s very informative. Nick, though, doesn’t come from any kind of immigration/border/law enforcement – any of that kind of stuff; he’s a producer. I mean, he’s done shows for A&E and the History Channel, Food Network, Travel Channel, Disney – all kinds of shows like this.

Worked on, actually, the – last year’s Katz Award winner’s show, “Homeland Security USA,” which did kind of a similar thing but I think maybe not as dramatic because for the “Homeland Security USA” show that we honored last year, there was a lot of – I mean, in a sense, the analogy I use is NASCAR and demolition derbies. Because demolition derbies were invented, basically, because people went to NASCAR races but then the thing they really wanted to see was the crashes. And so the people organizing NASCAR, or what was the precursors to NASCAR, said, why don’t we just cut out all the other stuff and just have the crashes?

In a sense, it seems that’s sort of like what Nick is doing – (laughter) – is cut out all the other stuff in homeland security and just get to the kind of really interesting meat. And the show is apparently very – quite successful. National Geographic loves it. It’s, you know, a really hot property of theirs. So Nick’s going to show us some clips, tell us some stories, make us laugh, make us cry and then I’m going to introduce our honoree. Nick?
EDITOR'S NOTE: Upon the National Geographic Television's request, Nicolas Stein's statements in the transcript and video have been redacted as a condition of his participation in this awards ceremony.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Nick. And our speaker and honoree will – after they finish, we’re open for Q&A if anybody has questions, but I want to make sure that we move on to the sort of main part of the program, which is to honor Leo W. Banks, our 2011 recipient of the Eugene Katz Award for excellence in the coverage of immigration.

Leo is from New England but has basically spent his whole professional life in Arizona; got his master’s in journalism at the University of Arizona and has been writing from there ever since; has worked for – from what he’s said is that a job he had at Arizona Highways, which is a magazine, got him, basically, in every little corner and nook and cranny of the state.

That’s the kind of familiarity with someplace that leads to the kind of granular journalism that Nick referred to because, you know, a year or so ago, when Arizona passed SB 1070, everybody flocked there – reporters from everywhere – to do their pro forma, mandatory story on SB 1070. It was almost like the people following Anthony Weiner around now in the halls of Congress. (Laughter.) Everybody’s got to have something about it so they do.

I mean, in a sense, what you ended up with in Arizona is people – somebody from a coastal newspaper or from a bureau of a foreign news service in New York or Washington, they fly in, get a quote from a minuteman, get a quote from a protester, get a nice picture of the border and then you’re on the 8 o’clock flight back to civilization. That’s not what Leo does, at all.

By actually having the kinds of relationships and maintaining them and doing this kind of reporting on an ongoing basis, he can find the stories that are there that other people just aren’t finding. I mean, he can find the people who have been chased off their land – off their, you know, winter house. They’re snowbirds from somewhere else and they just had – they couldn’t stay there anymore because drug traffickers make the place too dangerous.

In one of his stories, he refers – it was really telling – he refers to a rancher who has to go out and ride his fences constantly just to make sure nothing’s cut so the cattle won’t wander off, and he can’t take a cell phone with him because if he’s seen talking on a cell phone and there’s a spotter somewhere else for a cartel, they might shoot him because they’re worried about his, you know, telling law enforcement about their activities. This is the kind of thing you don’t get when you fly in, get three quotes, a picture and then you’re out by the end of the day.

In your booklets, you have some examples of Leo’s work, mainly from the Tucson Weekly, which is kind of an improbable site. Maybe he can tell you a little bit more about that. The Tucson Weekly is one of these alternative papers where you go in the back and there’s the personals ads for the, you know, SWF looking for whatever it is – I mean, you get the point. This is not the kind of journalism outlet, media outlet, you would expect to have this kind of serious, sustained, non-PC examination of a controversial, hot topic like this.

Now, it’s Tucson so obviously, it’s sort of hard to avoid, but it’s really kind of remarkable that he has that kind of long-form outlet because if you see some of the stories, this is not 700 words tucked into page, you know, A14 in a regular metropolitan newspaper. They really do seem to give him a good deal of leeway to write long, and that, I think, benefits all of us. He’s written for a lot of other outlets, as well.

He used to work at the Arizona Daily Star, which is the Tucson paper; has done freelance work for – I think maybe the first thing I saw of his was for National Review Online, just because I write for them and it came to my attention; and has written for the Wall Street Journal and the Boston Globe, the L.A. Times, a whole bunch of places. And he’s almost – the Katz Award is almost sort of a kind of thing that’s designed specifically for the kind of reporter Leo is.

His work on this really does need more attention and more exposure, in my opinion, because he’s actually done the legwork to get real stories instead of the formulaic pap that we see too often. So Leo, if you could come on up. This is the tchotchke that goes with the award. So Leo, the Center for Immigration Studies is honored to give you our Eugene Katz Award for excellence in the coverage of immigration. (Applause.)

LEO BANKS: Hi, everybody. Thank you, Mark, for those kind words. I won’t talk long and I will take questions. You know, people always ask me, when they hear what I do, what’s going on in Arizona, and I tell them, well, we have Border Patrol agents everywhere now. There are green-and-white trucks on every horizon, dust running off the horizon. Everywhere you go, you’re running into Border Patrol. But the cartels aren’t particularly worried. They can still get in what they need to get in.

You know, I was having lunch recently with a fairly senior Border Patrol guy and he was saying, you know, we finally got the ability to move the traffic. And he was boasting. He was fairly exultant about that. Mind you, he said nothing about stopping the traffic. What he meant was there’s enough Border Patrol now to move them to another area, into the remote areas where there’s nobody there to see them and nobody there to report it.

That conversation made me think of how much of the border war is illusion, how much of it is perception and how much of it is politics. You probably remember Obama being in San Francisco at a DNC fundraiser in April, and he was making the point that we’re all connected, you know, whether we came here on slave ships, through Ellis Island or across the Rio Grande. And I – this didn’t get a lot of play, at least that I saw, and I thought, really? This is the president and he can’t think of a single difference between coming legally through New York Harbor and jumping the river in Texas?

In El Paso, on May 10th, he was at it again. He was giving his immigration speech and he was talking about how border security activists will never be satisfied until we get a moat with alligators in the moat. Well, there’s two problems with that. First of all, the drug smugglers will shoot the alligators lickety-split. (Laughter.)

Secondly, we know that Obama’s going to go nowhere near the moat or the alligators; he’s going to stay in the most secure house in the land talking down to folks who live on smuggling routes who, every day of their lives, live with pistols on their hips, pistols in their pickup trucks, pistols by their nightstands, hoping against hope that they don’t run into some methed-up, cross-border smuggler who thinks, for whatever reason, that you just called Border Patrol on him.

A day or so after the alligator speech – and I can tell you how that was received in southern Arizona: It ticked people off in a big way – I got a call from a friend of mine, just spitting mad. And he kept saying over and over again, "Obama’s laughing at us. He’s laughing at us." And this fellow’s anger is justified.

He lives along the Chiricahua smuggling corridor in southeast Arizona. If you know Arizona geography at all, southeast corner of the state, right near New Mexico, is the little town of Douglas. You come north on Highway 80 and there’s a mountain range on the Mexico side, a mountain range on the Arizona side and the corridor sort of runs between. It’s very active. It’s very dangerous, as a smuggling corridor. It has been for years.

Some residents have had their homes broken into five times; some 10; some 17 times. It’s an article of faith that, if you want to go out at night with the family and go to town to get something to eat, you’d better leave somebody at home to watch the house. And if you’re going away for a vacation for a period of time, you need a house-sitter because your home will be occupied.

And here’s Obama joking, first about – first, he sues us, all right, for SB 1070, and then he’s making jokes about alligators and moats. So you can understand the frustration of this fellow who called me. And by the way, this is Rob Krentz’s brother-in-law who called me, and Rob Krentz is – if you know the name – he was murdered March 27, 2010, in this same corridor.

But here’s the kicker: This guy calls me and he’s complaining and he’s complaining. But he can look out his window as he’s talking to me and he can see the Chiricahua Mountains burning before his eyes. This is the largest wildfire ever recorded in the Chiricahuas. When I left Arizona, it was around 50,000 acres. I saw a crawl on FOX this morning and I just caught the end of it and it looked to me like it was 86,000 (acres). And it can’t be that much bigger in a week, but it’s big. It’s a huge fire.

It started May 8th on a smuggler trail into Horseshoe Canyon, which goes up the Chiricahuas. Border Patrol was chasing four illegals into Horseshoe. They lost them. The illegals went to the high country. And it’s still cold up there this time of year, so they set a fire – a warming fire or a cooking fire. There was a 50-mile-an-hour wind. We have unbelievable drought conditions, and off they go.

On this same trail, the Horseshoe Canyon trail, last year, we had a fire that cost $11 million to fight. It was not as big as this one, but it was a pretty big fire. Jerry Kammer and I, in fact, at the time that fire was burning, we were going along Geronimo Trail, which is a dirt road at the bottom of this smuggling corridor, and up to our left, up in the mountains, we could see the billows of smoke coming off the Chiricahuas. That was Horseshoe I. The one burning now is Horseshoe II.

And the residents up there – one of them has written a letter to the president and is circulating a petition asking for some help, for some recognition of the problem that they have. I wanted to read you three paragraphs from that letter so you get a sense of the frustration and what it’s like to live in this area.

“Over the years, as our homes have been burgled or invaded, our fences, waterlines and windows repeatedly broken, our businesses driven toward bankruptcy, our natural surroundings desecrated by trash and fire, it has amazed us how little note is taken of these tragedies by our government and the press.”

“Is it enough, now that we have suffered back-to-back fires that threaten to erase our very reasons for living here? What must we say or do to garner your attention and help? How is it that, on the same day we took Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, we could not prevent illegals 50 miles within our borders” – that’s five-zero – “from setting a fire along a known smuggling route in an extremely dry year? Why were federal agents not posted along this route in anticipation of a repeat of last year’s calamity? Better still, why were the illegals not captured before they had traveled 50 miles north of the border? Or in the eyes of our government, do we just reside in a sacrifice zone?”

And what she means by sacrifice zone is, you close one area and say, well, this area is too hard; we’ll just let them go through there. This fire is a huge event. It’s a really huge event. The local media has covered it as a fire, extensively, which they should. They don’t cover it as part of the border war. And the national media, for the most part, except for that crawl I saw on FOX this morning, I’ve seen nothing about it. You folks would all, if you follow – and I’m sure you do – these events, you might know more than I do at this point about what the national media has done.

But fires are a huge problem and we’re getting them now and a lot of them are cartel fires. We had the Bull fire over Easter; started in northern Sonora, blew across the line west of Nogales over at Danny Bell’s ranch. And some of you from CIS came out in January and you met Dan Bell. The word is, on that fire, that it was started by the cartels. What they’re doing is, they’re going into ranches in northern Sonora and trying to buy the ranch. When the rancher says no, they just torch his pasture as a little incentive. And that fire got out of control and came north into Arizona.

So as I’m listening to this fellow who called me go on about alligators and moats, it occurred to me how hard it is for people elsewhere – D.C., New York, Seattle, anywhere – to understand what it’s like to get out of bed every day and have to fight to keep what you have, and that’s what these people do. They have to keep their families safe; they have to keep their land; and they have to fight for their way of life. And that’s what they’re fighting for – their very way of life.

That’s why blowback from borderland residents is so huge against Inspector Clouseau’s claim – that’s Janet Napolitano – (laughter) – that the border is as secure as it’s ever been. If you believe that, I invite you to come out to the Chiricahuas and hear people talk about how the tops of those mountains – they go over 9,000 feet, absolute jewels; most beautiful mountains in the continental United States – how the tops of those mountains, 50 miles into Arizona, are owned by the cartels.

They are basically a forward operating base for the drug cartels, and no one hikes into them anymore – at least to the top parts – because it’s just not safe. It’s too dangerous. You don’t know what you might run into. You could hear local resident Joey Mendez talk about looking into actually taking out a full-page ad in USA Today with the text of this letter that is circulating in that area to Obama, hoping somebody at the national level will pay attention.

You could hear retired professor of biology and ecology Dina Davidson (sp) – she’s 63 and she’s a former Obama supporter, and she said to me the other day, “If we can fight in Afghanistan, we can fight in the Chiricahuas.” I thought that was a good quote. These fires are terrifying. They really are a form of terror. They roar like jet engines. They snap and they pop and they billow, and when they go up or a ridgeline or they go up a canyon, they move with a speed you just can’t believe.

And they have the potential to take away everything you have pretty much in a heartbeat – just as quickly as the bullet that killed Rob Krentz, fired by a drug scout. And it was a bandit who shot Brian Terry west of Nogales, took away everything that, that family had, as well. The thing that kills me about these fires is Border Patrol and Forest Service won’t discuss that they are started – that they are sometimes started – and we don’t have 100-percent probability on this but we can be 95-percent sure – that illegal aliens and smugglers start fires.

At public meetings, people will bring it up and they’ll simply shut down. They won’t talk about it. They’ll say it’s human-caused, under investigation. That’s as far as we go. That’s as far as it ever goes. I think word has come down from Washington not to talk about it. It’s politics and it’s political correctness. Acknowledging that you have smuggler fires of this magnitude sort of messes up your message of border security.

And in private, though, these same folks who won’t talk about the fires will sort of give you a nudge and a wink and say, well, we know what’s going on. We know who’s starting them. So how do you solve a problem if you don’t acknowledge it? How do you solve a problem if you don’t call it by its name? Speaking of media coverage, you know, last year, during the Horseshoe I fire, the paper I used to work for, the Arizona Daily Star, they sent a reporter up – big fire. He went back and did a story on how fires are good for the forest. (Laughter.)

Now, you want to know why newspapers are going away? Fire is good for the forest, from an ecological sense. Certain kinds of fires are helpful. But if you’ve worked all your life, you know, to buy 160 acres in a really beautiful place and you have a nice home and there’s a fire raging outside your window, the story you want to read isn’t about how fire is good for the forest. You want to know who started it. You want to know how do we keep this from happening again.

This year, the paper has done five or 10 stories on the Horseshoe fire – Horseshoe II – and they’ve had, I think, five paragraphs on the possibility that it was smuggler started on a smuggler trail. So the result of all this is that the story gets buried. I don’t know how many of you are aware of smuggler fires, alien fires in the borderlands, but they’re a problem. But it doesn’t get reported. The agencies won’t talk about it. The media generally leave it alone. And it’s the only thing on people’s minds if you live in that area.

So there’s nobody to speak for those people. There’s nobody to stand up for them. And my job, as I see it, is to keep reporting on what’s happening, keep talking to these people and keep the pressure on the government because I think this government in particular will walk away from border security pretty much as quickly as they can, if the pressure comes off. If they have a choice between winning, politically, and letting us burn, I think they’ll let us burn because they’ve already done it.

Horseshoe I burned on this smuggler trail; we’ve got Horseshoe II now. If they don’t admit the problem and if they don’t make efforts to solve it, we’re going to have Horseshoe III next year, if nothing is done to prevent it. I’ll close there and thank Mark again. . .