Friday, June 22, 2012

On the AP Article, "New Asian immigrants to US now surpass Hispanics"

On June 19, the Associated Press released an article entitled "New Asian immigrants to US now surpass Hispanics,"  a disturbing piece, not because of the factual content, but because of the presentation, which reads like an ivory-tower celebration of cultural conflict, starting with the first line:
WASHINGTON (AP) — For the first time, the influx of Asians moving to the U.S. has surpassed that of Hispanics, reflecting a slowdown in illegal immigration while American employers increase their demand for high-skilled workers.
While it may be true that immigration demographics are changing, the immediate juxtaposition of "Hispanics" with "illegal immigration" is sure to fan an already furious fire that has done nothing but destroy communities that might have been able to overcome differences, were it not for the stereotyping of Hispanic immigrants as criminal "illegals."  The lead sentence only serves to encourage that stereotype.

The contentious opening goes further by stating American employers have an increased demand for high-skilled workers.  Yet, "high skilled" is a descriptor relative to need. While Hispanic immigrants have contributed significantly to every part of U.S. economy and culture, recently, it is in construction, masonry, carpentry and other skilled trades that Hispanic immigrants have excelled. But the word "skilled" when referring to "trade" is demeaned in this article (and historically, within mainstream society), implying that "high-skilled workers" are those who show potential in the sciences and that they are somehow superior to those skilled in the trades.  The article takes the age old vocational school vs. college prep rivalry and ups the ante by adding ethnic and political dimensions.

Resentment against Hispanic workers, most notable in industries such as construction and food services, has become a dysfunctional kind of norm, though there is little to no evidence that Hispanic immigrants here legally or illegally have caused unemployment among native born U.S. residents.  Interestingly, this resentment does not come through so vocally when policy discussions revolve around college educated immigrants.  At a time when our own postsecondary educational system has failed us (evidenced by the U.S.' apparent need to recruit technology, science and medical experts from other countries, as well as the debt crisis among college grads), a significant number of Americans looks down on those Hispanic immigrants who have sacrificed  health benefits, accident insurance and legal protection, among other securities, to earn a living as they build American neighborhoods and cities.  The way in which immigrants are perceived and treated is often largely dependent on ethnicity and education, as this article clearly demonstrates.

These are not new phenomena.  The demand for skilled artisans in relationship to immigrants invariably leads to discussions (more often, arguments) on who should and should not be let into the country, who is here legally and who is not.  So it is no surprise that the AP article touches on these issues.  Ironically, though, the article reads:
"...Too often the policy debates on immigration fixate on just one part — illegal immigration," said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a political science professor at the University of California-Riverside and a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
In spite of  Ramakrishnan's intent, that's exactly what this article does, syntactically pitting one set of immigrants against another by identifying one group as "skilled" and another in terms of illegal immigration, which can only aggravate existing tensions between Hispanic and non-Hispanic communities, as well as set the stage for friction between Hispanic and Asian communities.

Not only does the article focus on ethnic groups (Hispanic and Asian) as opposed to hard data, Mexico, in particular, is called out:
"With net migration from Mexico now at zero, the role of Asian-Americans has become more important," he said.
This statement, preceded by references to Hispanic illegal immigrants, reinforces the popular association between "Hispanic" and "Mexican," and "Mexican" and "illegal immigrant."

The Associated Press is a media icon in the United States and, as such, has an obligation to examine not only accuracy of information, but the way in which that information is communicated.  Given the changes in immigration trends and the research available, the AP had an opportunity to demonstrate that immigrants are not foreign invaders, and that people from every culture can and have contributed the prosperity of our nation.  Instead, this article implies that some immigrants are okay and some are not, and that the parameters for making such an assessment are linked to the immigrant's country of origin.

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