Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Sometimes the media gets one right

His nightly histrionics have made him the poster-boy for the debate over immigration reform. With a roll of his eyes, or a well placed indignant sign, Lou Dobbs has managed to dominate the discussion of the issue in the media. His nightly "Broken Borders" segments with their mix of blatant editorializing and testimony from "experts" from various anti- immigration advocacy groups have become a definitive voice in the debate over immigration reform. Unfortunately, his ability to command the issue, at least from a cable news perspective, has left a void of responsible journalism on the topic.

Interestingly, it must be noted that Dobbs, who now fancies himself as the champion of the American working man, rarely finds time to talk with those who truly represent the working men and women of this country; representatives from organized labor. It is no coincidence that Dobbs favors his "experts" to come from Washington think tanks, or border vigilante groups rather than the unions, as many of the largest unions in the country hold views in direct opposition to Lou's hard-line philosophy. But that is an issue for another day. Today, the discussion's about a case where the media got one right.

Last night, NBC aired a one hour documentary titled, “In the Shadow of the American Dream,” hosted by veteran newsman, Tom Brokaw. Unlike the usual fare served up by the likes of CNN or FOX, NBC chose not to feature scenes of protesters from both sides of the debate screaming at one other from behind well positioned police barricades, or interviews with border vigilantes or spokesmen from immigrants rights groups. Instead Brokaw spent the hour simply talking with real people. People from communities in the Roaring Fork Valley near Aspen Co, an area at the epicenter of the growing immigration debate.

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He introduces us to Mark Gould, the owner of a local construction company with far too much work and far too few workers. We watch as Gould deals the newly arrived immigrants from Mexico whom increasing fill the ranks of his company's workforce. He explains the difficulties in finding workers to take the entry level jobs with his company, stating that it has become impossible for him to find young workers, just out of school who are willing to man the shovels and pick-axes necessary to keep his company running. Even the fourteen dollars an hour with full benefits he pays cannot attract new young workers.

The foreman and crew bosses, many of whom started as laborers themselves, back-up Gould's assertions. Although some of the rough hewed foreman resent the social changes taking place in their community due to the influx of immigrant workers, they all admit they couldn't do their jobs without them. In fact we watch as young men from the area apply for jobs with the company, only to quit after a week or so of ditch-digging and other tough jobs that must be done to before construction can begin. Gould puts it quite frankly when he says, “Americans don’t want this work.”

Over the hour we also follow the lives of the immigrants themselves as they try to maneuver their way through the underground world of the undocumented on the one hand while still trying to look towards a brighter future. We watch them at work and at home in four-bedroom house where one them lives with 17 other family members. We see them as they take their children to school, deal with illness without medical care, take English classes and try to obtain the documents needed to stay employed.

Brokaw also talks with those who are not comfortable with the changes taking place in their community. One of Gould's native-born laborers states that although the immigrants are in no way competing with him for work, he still feels that there should be legal consequences for those who he feels break the law by working and living here without documentation. For him it's just a matter of "respect for the law."

We also meet a local mother of a young child whose school is now made up of children, 80% of whose parents are newly arrived immigrants. Although she feels that the multicultural experience her child receives in school is an asset, she worries not only about the resources available to him, but also whether her child feels comfortable as a minority. She is clearly torn on the issue, and as any other mother, worries about what is ultimately best for her child. Ironically, she is also a vice president at Gould Construction, which Brokhaw notes is still trying to find workers to finish a school expansion project at her child's school needed due the increase of immigrant children.

It is in these gray areas that the true story of the immigration debate resides.

Unlike the black and white picture painted for us nightly by the likes of Lou Dobbs, Brokhaw and NBC have presented an image rich in texture and color. By focusing in on this small microcosm of the debate, the people involved with one company, in one small valley nestled in the mountains of Colorado, this documentary presented a much richer examination of the immigration question than all the red-faced rants and smug condescension Lou musters in a year.

View complete Transcript

From the MSNBC website:

Indisputable points in the immigration debate (Tom Brokaw, NBC News)

In our report on illegal immigration Tuesday night, December 26, at 8 p.m. on NBC, "Tom Brokaw Reports: In the Shadow of the American Dream," several points are indisputable:

1. In many parts of the country immigrants are doing the work Americans no longer want to do, especially the hard work of manual labor at construction sites.

2. In our reporting we discovered that most of them are paid a fair wage — $14.00 an hour for an entry level construction job, and that they are paying state and federal taxes through withholding. (Sure, some employers pay cash off the books but most we encountered are trying to play by the rules).

3. While local residents are conflicted about the spreading Hispanic culture - language and music - they agree the immigrants are very hard workers and in general have good family values.

4. But it is also clear the immigrants are straining the public and health systems without paying their fair share.

5. They live in overcrowded, often sub-standard housing in clear violation of local laws.

6. They're brazen about acquiring forged documents — from Social Security cards to driver's licenses — to get work.

7. And, most important, this complicated problem won't be solved until Mexico becomes a reliable partner in improving its own economy and enforcing the rules at its border.

We can build a high fence, send illegals back, crack down on employers and it won't end because it is about survival and a piece of the American dream, a powerful lure for immigrants from all over the world for 200 years.

It is a growing problem and it requires urgent action in Congress because in the meantime all the pressure is on local law enforcement, school and health administrators and employers.

A sovereign nation must have control of its borders and a great nation must have a systematic, legal way of filling its labor needs.

In an upcoming "Tom Brokaw Reports," airing Tues., Dec. 26 at 8 p.m., Brokaw travels to an unlikely place where the debate over illegal immigration is raging — the Colorado Rockies. NBC News spent eight months reporting on the myths and truths about illegal immigration in this pristine stretch between Aspen and Vail, a historically white population that has seen an influx of thousands of Hispanics, mostly from Mexico. The hour-long documentary follows a booming economy attracting illegal workers willing to do unskilled labor, questioning what happens to American culture and America's laws when hundreds of thousands of people enter the country illegally.


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