October 23, 2013 // by Catalina Campos
Immigration reform has been a widely discussed and controversial topic in the United States in recent years with no resolution in sight.
On Oct. 16, the Houston chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists held a discussion panel with guest speakers Gordon Quan, former Houston City Councilman and noted immigration attorney; Susan Carroll, famed immigration reporter for the Houston Chronicle; Tony Diaz, writer and professor at Lone Star College; and Andy DuBois, executive editor of the Conroe Courier.**
The question that dominated the discussion was how the media portrays immigration reform in regard to specific ethnic groups.
Local and national media groups consistently cover immigration reform with stories ranging from immigration reform laws affecting national economics to Hispanic families being separated across borders.
Diaz, a writer on Hispanic areas of interest, brought up the claim that the media attack ethnic groups with an attempt to make a bland story interesting in hopes of monetary profit.
Diaz mentioned that in 2012, the Republican Party opposed foreign-owned charter schools such as The Harmony School, a Turkish multi-cultural charter school with locations in Houston. After the 2012 GOP platform was released, “60 Minutes” wrote a negative story.
The story, titled “The Gulen Movement,” primarily discussed the Turkish-owned schools in connection with a powerful Turkish imam, Fethullah Gulen.
Lesley Stahl, the correspondent for 60 Minutes, said, “(Fethullah Gulen) is a mystery man — he’s never heard or seen in public — and the more power he gains, the more questions are raised about his motives and the schools,” as well as stating that the Turkish immigrant teachers had “unintelligible” responses.
Instead of focusing on how The Harmony School serves the underprivileged, pushes the subjects of math and science and promotes a multi-cultural environment for the upbringing of tolerant children, Stahl distorts the school and makes it appear as a haven for anti-American Islamic extremists to help immigrants acquire entry into the U.S.
This type of distortion created by the media hinders the possibility of any progress being made in immigration reform.
Another aspect covered by the panel discussion was the media’s lack of recognition toward other ethnic groups who aren’t of Hispanic origin.
Quan, an Asian-American immigration attorney, states that, “As an Asian-American, our presence is fairly new. People aren’t used to the Asian influence, and people should see immigrants in a positive light.”
Many Americans are unaware how the media exclude other ethnic groups from the immigration reform process. It has become an issue centered on Hispanic people.
Local and national media have excluded other ethnic demographics, such as the South Asian population.
India has more illegal immigrants coming into the U.S. at this time than any other country and has the longest waiting list to attain a visa. Quan mentioned that illegal immigrants don’t just get to the U.S. by crossing the border — some visit on a travel visa and stay past their visas’ required date.
By prohibiting outside intelligence from working and promoting our country’s economy, we could be hindering advancements in the fields of health care or technology.
Accounting junior Nihant Kapadia is an international student who dreams of working in the U.S. He faces the dilemma that many college students on student visas experience: finding a way to stay in the U.S. and work past their graduation.
“I am hoping to work for a major accounting firm. My goal is to work for the best and biggest one, though, since the better they are, the more helpful they will be in giving you your H1 status,” Kapadia said.
“I find it upsetting that the media doesn’t involve Indians or Pakistanis in the fight for an immigration reform. Our presence to the U.S. is as beneficial as that of the Hispanic community. … I feel like if the Indians and Pakistanis work with the Hispanics and other ethnic groups, like Africans, we can create better progress towards a solution.”
The SPJ panelists agreed that a solution is nowhere in sight.
“When one is fully aware of their own culture and reach a higher intellectual level, then (they would) be able to bridge connections among other cultures, and we’re not there yet,” Diaz said.
Immigration reform will not come to us easily until we all have a mutual understanding of each other’s cultures and relevance to the U.S.
It’s important to note that the immigration reform is not just a Hispanic issue, but also one that affects South Asians, Chinese, Africans and other ethnic demographics.
Yet as we strive for a mutual compromise, the media’s attack and distortion of immigrants is only preventing a peaceful resolution.
Opinion columnist Catalina Campos is an English literature senior and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
** Andy DuBois, the executive editor of Houston Community Newspapers, was originally scheduled to participate in the panel discussion but was not able to attend the program.