As a former journalist and current immigration attorney, it never ceases to amaze me how the media not only distorts the truth, but perpetuates those distortions in the way it covers immigration issues. It is not difficult to regurgitate the content of a USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization Services) press release, yet journalists oftentimes do the public a great disservice in not supplementing that information with critical analysis of the information, including what has been omitted or is lacking in a piece of reform, and explaining the implications and impact on the public. The tendency has been to simply rephrase or paraphrase a new law or immigration policy, much in the style of printing an AP or Reuters wire story.
However, since USCIS rules and regulations are often themselves convoluted and confusing, a simple rehashing of information is not sufficient in properly reporting the news and educating the reader. In analyzing this trend, I noticed that literal translations of legal terms into foreign languages augments confusion and actually drive the reader or watcher to potentially choose the wrong path in terms of who they go to to assist them in immigration matters which will permanently affect their futures and that of their immediate families.
This growing problem reared its ugly head on August 15, 2012, when young illegal immigrants began presenting their applications under a new program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Around the country, thousands flocked to community centers, churches and even tourist destinations like the Navy Pier in Chicago, to get assistance in applying. The media covered it in its typical feel-good way, focusing on the backgrounds of the applicants and how their lives might be positively changed by the new measure, something which I support, and I have written about.
In this coverage, there was little or no discussion of the holes in the policy, the discrepancies between the instructions and forms, the confusion generated by the application process, and most importantly what comes after the applications are submitted and their legal effect. Rather, there was just a lot of language encouraging people to go fill out their forms quickly. This message was ubiquitous in all mass-media coverage of the most recent immigration reforms. The spirit of such coverage is to encourage people to take part in the process, but it does not tell them the potential pitfalls of doing so, or who should be assisting them with something so important. It also does not comprehend an immigrants’ perspective as to what immigration law is and therefore does not do its job of properly educating them and steering them in the right direction, which leaves them to choose the wrong path, i.e. the thousands of “practitioners” around the country ready to pounce on those people and take their money without a second thought as to the egregiously negative consequences on those people’s lives.