In their January 28 story, "Backing in G.O.P. for Legal Status for Immigrants" for the New York Times, Jonathan Weisman and Ashley Parker provide a nuanced look into the division between the corporatist and populist wings of the Republican Party over immigration. But their good reporting is marred by an inaccurate description of the Senate bill that has the effect (intended or not) of transforming an otherwise well-reported story into an advocacy piece.
For reasons unexplained, the Times has clung to a description of the Senate bill that even its authors deny. Weisman and Parker write:
"In June, a broad immigration overhaul — with a 13-year path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants now in the country illegally, and stricter border security provisions that would have to be in place before the immigrants could gain legal status"
Every poll that asks finds that voters would like to see measures to prevent future illegal immigration put into practice before granting work permits and legal status to illegal aliens who are already here. A bill deserving of the Times' description might poll well with voters, but S. 744 does not do what Weisman and Parker claim it does.
As my colleague Andrew Good explained earlier this week, millions of aliens in the country illegally would be granted a 5-year or a 10-year "path to citizenship" under the Senate bill. The Congressional Budget Office projects that millions more would not be legalized at all. There is a 13-year "path to citizenship" in the Senate bill but it does not apply to all of the estimated 11 million illegal aliens in the country today.
More importantly, there are no "stricter border security provisions that would have to be in place before the [illegal] immigrants could gain legal status." The reporters may be referring to the two plans for border security and fencing that the DHS Secretary is required to submit under S. 744. Most readers would agree that "plans" are not the same as "provisions that would have to be in place," but Weisman and Parker don't allow readers to make that determination for themselves.
The Hill recently reported that President Obama and Senator Schumer opposed any hard triggers for legalization in both the House and Senate bill.
USA Today reported things quite clearly nearly a year ago: "There are no measurements of border security that must be reached before the nation's unauthorized immigrants could apply to become legal residents."
The Times has been challenged on its inaccurate summaries of S. 744 before. Immigration reporter Julia Preston explained that the Times has been "careful not to write that 'new border enforcement' had to be in place or that any specific security standards had to be achieved before initial legalization for illegal immigrants."
"Careful" reporting like that should come with a decoder pin:
- "provisions" means "plans," not "enforcement"
- "gain legal status" means "receive permanent resident status," not
- "initial legalization" when aliens -- you know -- "gain legal status."
Even Senators Schumer and Rubio (co-authors of the bill and deeply aware of the opposition to legalization-first sequences) are willing to unequivocally state the legalization-before-enforcement sequence of their bill.
Here is video Sen. Schumer last April explaining that "first people will be legalized - in other words, not citizens but they will be allowed to work, come out of the shadows, travel. Then we will make sure the border is secure."
Or, as Sen. Rubio explained last June, "First comes the legalization. Then come the measures to secure the border."
The New York Times views legalization as "a very substantial civil rights movement," one that "is about the heart and soul of the United States, and who we are going to be as a nation going forward." Would a paper so dedicated be tempted to obfuscate an inconvenient truth for a cause it believes in?
Reporters must have a difficult time summarizing 1,000+ page bills. But that is no excuse for inaccuracy, particularly when the error could be a determining factor in public support.
The House Republican leadership has sent mixed signals about whether their immigration proposals will grant legal status up front or first require prevention measures. The Times should have many opportunities to report the story straight in 2014.
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
Updated: Sun, Feb 2nd 2014 @ 11:08pm EST