Apr 7, 2007
Flood of Immigrants Leads to Flood of Information

Ever feel flooded with too much information? Lost in a forest of statistics?

You must be covering the national immigration debate.

I feel your pain. I’ve been covering the debate for more than a year, and I still feel like I’m hacking my way through a jungle, trying to find daylight. As I write this column, I’m surrounded by dozens of pieces of paper: copies of legislation, talking points, newspaper stories, editorials, press releases, charts, graphs – you name it. There are so many ways to approach the debate, it’s hard to choose one.

Let’s start with the obvious. The U.S. Senate passed an immigration reform bill May 25, one that would give most illegal immigrants in the United States a pathway to citizenship. The Senate bill has to be reconciled with a bill passed by the House of Representatives last December, which has no such pathway and is strictly focused on enforcement. If the two chambers can somehow work out a compromise, the final piece of legislation will go to President George W. Bush for approval.

There are dozens of bills sitting in Congress that address immigration in one way or another, but the national debate has more or less attached itself to the two bills mentioned above. There’s a multiplicity of opinions about them, backed up by a deluge of data. That’s what makes covering the conflict so difficult. In order to find any answers, you have to swim through a sea of contradictions.

It starts with words, the primary weapons in any debate. If I call an illegal immigrant an “undocumented worker” or “unauthorized migrant” instead of an “illegal alien,” does that mean I’m too soft on him? Too hard? Even the term “illegal immigrant” could be seen as biased in one way or another. Would calling him an “unauthorized undocumented illegal alien migrant worker” please everybody?

Let’s move on to numbers, another potent debating weapon. Those involved in the debate seem to have settled on 11 million to 12 million as the number of illegal immigrants in the country, though I’ve seen estimates as high as 20 million and as low as 8 million.

How many of them work on farms? That’s hard to pin down, but I’ve seen a few numbers thrown around. According to Sen. Larry Craig’s Web site, 500,000 undocumented farm workers would be put on a pathway to citizenship if his AgJOBS legislation were made law (major provisions of AgJOBS were included in the bill just passed by the Senate). Groups supporting AgJOBS, like the National Council of Agricultural Employers and the Agricultural Coalition for Immigration Reform, claim 70 percent of U.S. farm workers are illegal.

That’s a big percentage, but I’ve seen smaller. According to a story (complete with charts and graphs) that ran in The New York Times April 2, 24 percent of the jobs in the farming, fishing and forestry occupations are held by illegal immigrants, along with 12 percent of food-preparation jobs. If you want to find other percentages, I’m sure they’re out there.

Speaking of The New York Times, the national media are good at giving daily updates about changes in immigration legislation, and they even manage to put the broader conflict in perspective every once in a while, but they tend to neglect the agricultural viewpoint. To them, it’s one more viewpoint among many. To our readers, it’s their livelihood.

If you’re looking for specific viewpoints, there are plenty to choose from. One of the following organizations is sure to share at least some of your opinions: Migration Policy Institute, Center for Immigration Studies, Pew Hispanic Center, National Immigration Forum, Center for Migration Studies, Federation for American Immigration Reform, American Immigration Law Foundation, Center Policy Institute for Immigration Migration American Law Studies Foundation.

That last one was a joke.

The point is, there’s a lot of information out there, and it’s hard to know whom to trust. The best thing to do is roll up your sleeves, take a deep breath and dive right in. Let me know what you find out.

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