Steven Renderos: Response to Star Tribune Article
Dear Nancy & Jean,
My name is Steven Renderos, I work in the Department of Chicano Studies at University of Minnesota with the Minnesotano Media Empowerment Project. The mission of the project is to improve the quality and quantity of media coverage on Latinos in Minnesota.
I am writing in regards to an immigration article the Star Tribune ran on May 25 titled "On Immigration, bluster but little action." written by Jean Hopfensperger. http://www.startribune.com/local/19236514.html?page=2&c=y
As a media consumer, I'm concerned with the continued usage of the term "illegal immigrant". Media is grounded on the principal that people have a right to fair and neutral information regarding issues of importance to their everyday life. Immigration, has consistently been a hot-button issue for over a decade and encompassed within that debate has been the media's, and in this case the Star Tribune's, usage of the term "illegal immigrant".
In 1994, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Asian American Journalists Association, Native American Journalists Association and National Association of Black Journalists issued a joint statement calling for media outlets to change its internal editorial policy regarding this term.
In June 2006, Minnesota Public Radio hosted a public forum to discuss the issue with local journalists and members of the community and some media outlets came left that public forum and ended up changing their position.
Thom Fladung, editor in chief at the Pioneer Press was quoted in a recent article published in La Prensa de Minnesota, saying that they use the term "illegal immigrant" because it's clear and accurate. I have to disagree. It is clear that there is a lot of disagreement over the use of the term even within varying media outlets. Almanac at TPT has a policy not to use the term in its scripts. So do Kare 11, the MN Daily, and both Latino newspapers La Prensa and La Gente de Minnesota.
It is inaccurate because it criminalizes the individual and not the action they are purported to have committed. Furthermore, the term describes individuals who have crossed into the United States without proper documentation, when in fact over 40 percent of undocumented immigrants are people who have fallen out of status due to their visa expiring. It also presents the argument in a "black & white" scenario, assuming that the process to Legal immigration is a valid option. The truth is, it's not, it's a broken system that is failing to meet our country's labor needs, and is unattainable by the same people being criminalized through the use of "illegal immigrant".
I've been taught that as a journalist you want to expose wrongdoing and the misuse of power. Media plays the role of publicly engaging everyday people in a debate and through the use of terms and arguments can convey its possible solutions. When the issue of immigration is framed as an "illegal vs. legal" argument then the only solution becomes enforcement. While I personally don't believe this is a viable option, in 2006, the Department of Homeland security identified 1.2 million "deportable aliens". Even though the number of foreign born individuals has risen to over 11 million, the number of "deportable aliens" is not higher than relevant statistics from the 70s and 80s. It seems the current approach is ineffective in achieving resolution to this issue.
Lastly, I would point out that I, as a citizen of the United States, find the term offensive. It inaccurately describes a certain sector of the Latino community, but also for everyday Minnesotans, it inaccurately shapes their perceptions of not only immigrants but all Latinos.
I would strongly encourage you to reconsider your editorial policy in regards to the use of the term "illegal immigrant" and perhaps you may also want to consider hosting a discussion with members of the Latino community regarding this issue. If this is of any interest, the Media Empowerment Project in the Department of Chicano Studies would be willing to help organize such an event. I appreciate your time and please feel free to call or email if you feel the need for further discussion. Thank you.
Steven Renderos, Media Project Coordinator
Minnesotano Media Empowerment Project
Department of Chicano Studies, University of Minnesota