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Thursday, June 17, 2004

NCM > Immigration Raids in California Test Spanish-Language Media

NCM > Immigration Raids in California Test Spanish-Language Media

Immigration Raids in California Test Spanish-Language Media
NCM Report, News Analysis,
Elena Shore, Jun 17, 2004

U.S. Border Patrol sweeps and detentions of undocumented immigrants far from the Mexican border have sparked “hysteria,” “terror” and “panic” in Southern California Latino communities, according to recent Spanish-language media headlines.

With fear still rippling through the area, Spanish-language media, the main information source for many recent immigrants, is finding itself caught in a dilemma. While eager to inform audiences, media outlets also are concerned about needlessly fueling hysteria or serving as megaphones for the rumor mill.

“La Migra has become this bogeyman that is everywhere” in the raids' aftermath, says Orlando Ramírez, editor of the Spanish-language weekly La Prensa in Riverside, Calif.

“There is an unnecessary fear being fueled by radio and some TV and print media, ” he adds. “As a journalist, I don’t want to make something more dramatic than it is. We’re trying to provide accurate information so people don’t get frightened.”

Despite his concerns, Ramírez agrees that the raids themselves are newsworthy. Sweeps of the kind that took place June 4 and June 5 in the Inland Empire cities of Ontario and Corona have not been seen in the area for six or seven years, he says.

Federal authorities use “Homeland Security” as a justification for the sweeps and as a smokescreen to hide an anti-immigrant agenda, he says. “The INS says it’s a matter of homeland security. That’s bull****. These are just working people.”

On June 11, Jazmin Ortega Morales, a reporter for La Prensa and its parent paper, The Press Enterprise, cited Hector Villagra, regional counsel for the Los Angeles office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), who said that beyond 100 miles of the border the Border Patrol must have a reason to suspect people of being undocumented before stopping them for questioning in accordance with the Fourth Amendment.

In the same article, Rep. Joe Baca, a Democrat from Rialto, Calif., called the sweeps illegal because they single out Latinos, who comprise 40 percent of the Inland Empire area’s population. Protestors who marched from Ontario to Pomona on Sunday, June 13 also called the interior sweeps examples of racial profiling.

Raúl Villareal, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesman, confirmed that 410 people have been detained in the Southern California raids since June 4, and warned operations would continue, according to a June 16 story in Los Angeles daily La Opinión.

La Opinión, the largest Spanish-language paper in the country, has worked to avoid reporting on every rumored raid as fact. The day before, June 15, La Opinión noted that it had received reports from readers of detentions in Pomona, Ontario, Perris and the San Fernando Valley -- but then scrupulously added that these were areas where the U.S. Border Patrol officially denied being.

Meanwhile, some editors at Latino newspapers criticized Spanish-language radio stations for failing to verify the validity of sightings and indiscriminately broadcasting call-ins by people who said they had seen "La Migra."

Although the U.S. Border Patrol says its detentions in the Inland Empire, the region east of Los Angeles that includes Riverside and San Bernardino counties, have stopped and that its activity for now is restricted to some detentions in neighboring San Diego County. But calls reporting sightings of "La Migra" continue to pour into Spanish-language radio stations from throughout Southern California.

Ruddy Bravo, publisher of El Sol newspaper in Fontana, Calif., says that unlike print media, live radio lacks the time to put a story together and verify sources and may sometimes be putting out erroneous information. Still, Bravo, who used to work in radio, says stations do have a duty to report sightings of immigration agents or U.S. Border Patrol officers.

“Even though (radio) may be seen as alarmist, the fact is these detentions are happening and it’s not a bad thing to inform residents of what’s going on in the community,” he says.

“My concern is people who are trying to adversely impact our community by creating rumors. There is no way to verify these reports. The only thing you can do is let people know they are rumors.”

Meanwhile, “shock jocks” on English-language radio stations in Los Angeles and some anti-immigration websites have sought to capitalize on the confusion and fear by encouraging listeners to make phone calls to immigrant rights groups.

Some DJs gave out the number for Hermandad Mexicana Nacional in Ontario, Calif., one of the organizers of a protest against the raids. The organization has received hundreds of offensive phone calls from anti-immigrant listeners.

As rumors fly the panic has cooled local economies. Businesses have seen a drop in sales as a result of the sweeps and the fear has kept many indoors in the Inland Empire, according to the Los Angeles-based immigrant voting organization PROVOTO, reports Univision Online June 15.

According to PROVOTO, “‘stores were empty, public transportation nearly empty and many children were missing from school, because the community is panicked that the patrol could detain them if they leave to go shopping or take their kids to class.’”

Ramírez, La Prensa's editor, says Spanish-language media needs to exercise discipline when covering stories like the Inland Empire raids.

“It’s good to communicate with people in the language that they speak, but at the same time, there are other people taking advantage of it, giving false information that increases people’s fear," he says. "Coming out of this, Spanish-language media needs to rethink its role."

He believes editors must think carefully about whether they are "providing accurate information or just adding to the hysteria.”

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