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New York Times withholds key fact in story

author Published by Jeremy Beck

The New York Times’ April 23 story, “Justices to Rule on Role of the States in Immigration,” was frightening, but dishonest.

The anti-enforcement wing of the agricultural lobby must have been pleased with the Times piece which portrayed farmers as the hapless victims of state enforcement laws run amok (the photo for the story online depicted a forlorn-looking farmer, alone in his fields). According to the Times, farmers in Georgia “could not recall a more acute labor shortage” after Georgia passed its local enforcement law. Farmers warned “that they could go out of business if the labor supply continues to decline.” The story was smothered in negative language (“fear,” “turmoil,” “terror,” “unanticipated consequences,” “negative fallout”) bookended by the cries of local farmers who claimed to “need the [illegal] labor.”

I hate to be the one to let truth get in the way of a good story but the federal government gives farmers an unlimited guestworker program to fill all of their labor needs. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services:

When U.S. employers have a shortage of available U.S. workers to fill temporary or seasonal agricultural jobs, they may file an H-2A petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for permission to employ foreign workers to perform that work in the United States. Once the petition is approved, these workers, if they are eligible for admission, may enter the United States in H-2A nonimmigrant status.

The H-2a visa program is well-known to the Times which reported last year that “Mexican workers can now receive their [H-2a] documents the same day that they apply.” Ironically, the story reports that some farmers moved to North Carolina after Georgia passed its law. Perhaps they will join the North Carolina Growers Association which, according to its website, uses the H-2a program to provide its members with “a workforce that is legal, reliable, and ready to ensure that your crops are planted, maintained, and harvested in a timely fashion.”

For reasons known only to the imes, the paper withheld the existence of the unlimited guestworker program from readers of the story.

The obligatory American-bashing frequently found in stories like this did, however, find its way into print. According to a farmer who spoke with the Times, a local advertisement he “placed for 16 workers brought one local man, who lasted half a day in the heat of Georgia summer.” The Times did not track down the “local man” to verify the farmer’s story (there is no indication that the reporter even tried). American workers are routinely abused like this by the press, which never gives the workers voice to present their side of the story. Had the reporter interviewed the “local man,” readers would have gained a legal worker’s perspective about pay and working conditions in Georgia’s agricultural industry.

That insight would have been informative, but the Times must know that scary stories are best told to audiences left in the dark.

JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA

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