Re: [OPE-L] Another May Day Protest

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Fri Apr 28 2006 - 15:42:33 EDT"u!
The failure to refute points to widespread complicity in stoking
anger against and making a scapegoat of undocumented workers.
This is a very important piece, given the uncritical circulation of
the study criticized below. The most important point though is not
that this institute
wants fewer immigrants--their self proclaimed goal--but more highly
exploited undocumented ones with no claim to a social wage which they
nonetheless subsidize for others.

ZNet | Activism
Corporate Press Parrots Sham Study by Far Right Think Tank
by Jessica Azulay; The NewStandard; September 01, 2004
Headlines across the country last week touted a recently released
study by an anti-immigration group seeking to prove that granting
amnesty to the millions of undocumented immigrants in the US would
cost the government billions of dollars. The release of the study was
perfectly timed as the GOP debated the role of immigration in its
platform for the upcoming Republican National Convention.
"Illegal Immigrants Cost U.S. $10 Billion a Year, Study Says" (Knight
Ridder Newspapers), "Immigration Proposals Could Cost Taxpayers
Plenty, Study Says (Copley News Service), "Report Says Illegal
Immigrants Cost Country Billions" (Gannett News Service), declared
the nation's newspapers as the story broke in dutiful response to a
well-aimed press release. Most reports included responses from
immigrants' rights groups only as an afterthought and little if any
of the skepticism the public should be able to expect from the media.
The gist of the report, published by the Center for Immigration
Studies, a conservative think tank focused on immigration policy, is
that to the tune of $10 billion, undocumented workers take more in
services than they pay in taxes. The study's authors go on to
conclude that since immigrants' earning power is not likely to go up
any time soon, granting legal status to undocumented immigrants would
give them access to even more benefits, and therefore increase their
unpaid debt to society.
The Center disingenuously arrived at its supporting figures by adding
up how much money undocumented immigrants pay in taxes, summing the
cost of the benefits these immigrants receive from the government,
and finally calculating the difference between those two numbers. But
as immigrants' rights groups point out, figuring how much a group of
people gives to or takes from society is not that simple.
To their credit, some newspapers waited a day to release news of the
report, presumably to gather responses from the other side of this
issue, but even articles including extensive quotations from
immigrants' rights advocates heavily favored the Center for
Immigration Study's report in their coverage. In the dozen major
newspaper and wire service articles reviewed for this analysis, the
bias toward the Center's report was revealed in the comparative
number of words given to each side, the placement of quotes and
points of view, and the framing of the debate.
Scattered throughout reporting on the issue are various challenges to
the Center's study, though these are outnumbered by a ratio of more
than two to one and receive little help from the media in terms of
cohesion or prominence.
The headline and the lead paragraph of any article are seen by the
most eyeballs, and in coverage of this issue, those eyeballs were
served on a silver platter to the Center for Immigration Studies.
Only the LA Times, with its "Study Says Illegal Immigrants Cost U.S.
$10 Billion a Year; Analysis Is Disputed" and the Washington Post
with its only slightly biased title "Illegal Immigrants' Cost to
Government Studied" ran headlines that did not parrot the study's
Nevertheless, lead paragraphs across the board quoted recited the
Center's stance faithfully:
"Illegal immigrants to the United States cost the federal government
over $10 billion a year, but that figure would increase almost
threefold if they were granted legal status, according to a study
released on Wednesday," began the Reuters newswire article. Reuters'
readers had to read through a full ten paragraphs before encountering
a quote from an immigrants' rights advocate.
The LA Times article, which promised a dispute of the study in its
headline, led with: "Illegal immigrants cost the federal government
more than $10 billion a year, and a program to legalize the
undocumented would nearly triple that figure, a study released today
concludes." Notice the placement in its entirety of a controversial
statement of "fact" in front of the attribution of the source ("a
study released today"), thus giving the reader the impression that
the paper upholds the finding.
It then took the Times five paragraphs to get around to mentioning
that anyone has a gripe with the Center's numbers, and it does so
with one sentence: "Other immigration researchers challenged some of
the study's assumptions about what illegal immigrants cost the
government." With that out of the way, the Times immediately presents
another eight paragraphs devoted to the Center's study and its
author. The dissenting opinion we are promised finally emerges in the
form of a single source, granted all of three short paragraphs at the
very end of the piece.
Overall, the media coverage of the report was framed in such a way
that the Center's results are presented coherently, with generous
coverage of the various points and conclusions backed up by
explanations from the report's author. Journalists paraphrased the
study's findings and did next to nothing of their own analysis of the
obvious flaws and biases in the reports' methodology and conclusions.
Instead, reporters left it up to the one or two (in cases where they
were relatively thorough) immigrants' rights advocates they contacted
to poke holes in various aspects of the report. This type of
anecdotal quoting without accompanying narrative analysis,
verification or clarification is particularly unfair to dissenting
For instance, papers in the Los Angeles Newspaper group quoted
Democratic Representative Hilda Solis, who "questioned the study's
numbers and cited other reports that found households headed by
illegal immigrants contribute about $8,100 more than they receive in
benefits." But those studies' methodologies were not meaningfully
compared to the Center's, nor were they even named, in case a curious
reader wanted to further investigate.
In covering a policy debate that has the potential to affect the
quality of life for the over ten million undocumented immigrants
living and working in the United States, the media wields an immense
amount of power. When running a story about a study that accuses
those millions of "cost[ing] the federal government an estimated $26
billion in Medicaid expenses, free lunches, food stamps and other
benefits," (Gannett New Service) and argues that they never be given
full rights in US society, the onus is on reporters and editors to be
extremely sensitive to the potential impact and the fairness of their
A couple of articles pointed out that the study's authors chose to do
their accounting by household, instead of by individual, obscuring
the fact that many households have mixed immigration status.
Therefore, US citizens and documented immigrants are included when
calculating the overall costs attributed in the study to undocumented
But none made a detailed, critical look at the Center's methodology
in calculating its numbers. In the Center's balance sheet,
undocumented immigrants and their children (many of whom are US
citizens) are charged for Social Security, Medicare, unemployment
compensation, food stamps, welfare, tax credits, education, uninsured
emergency health care, running the INS, federal prisons, courts, and
even highway and infrastructure maintenance. Yet they are credited
only for paying taxes and contributing to Social Security,
Unemployment insurance and Medicare.
They are not credited for sales tax, nor is there an acknowledgement
of the benefit provided to businesses by immigrants working for low
wages. The people dubbed a burden on America are not given credit for
working as grossly underpaid migrant farmers and keeping the cost of
food low; they are not credited for looking after people's children
as low-wage nannies; nor are they credited for serving as meagerly
paid construction workers, cleaners and restaurant workers. In short,
the study offers no credit for the enormous subsidy immigrants
provide to companies and consumers by working for a pittance.
Additionally, since the argument seems to be that poor immigrants
cost society because they need services and cannot pay much in taxes,
it stands to reason that a responsible journalist might look into
comparing the tax payments of undocumented immigrants' to those of
American citizens living in poverty. None did.
Perhaps even more egregious than the methodology and the assumptions
embodied by the Center's study, is the policy conclusion that comes
out of it, in favor of a more restrictive stance on immigration.
There should be no surprise that an organization which openly says it
has a "vision which seeks fewer immigrants" would publish a study
called "The High Cost of Cheap Labor" and still miss the point. But
that the media would spoon feed such conclusions to the public
without so much as a peep shows blatant irresponsibility and
disregard for the impact of the press on society.
The Center concludes that even if given legal status, undocumented
immigrants will still be poor and still pay less in taxes. At the
same time, under an amnesty program, these immigrants will be
eligible for more help from the government and their burden on
society will increase. Therefore, writes the Center, amnesty and
legalization programs will cost the government billions of dollars.
Aside from the fact that to a society that valued helping the poor,
such a cost - if it really exists - might be worth it, the Center's
recommendation is very narrow-minded. The authors could just as
easily have recommended implementing an amnesty program that includes
worker and wage protections to help lift undocumented immigrants out
of the shadows of unrecognized poverty and into a higher tax bracket.
But of the newspapers reviewed for this story, not one mentions such
an obvious alternative to the Center's closed border utopia.

Jessica Azulay is Civil Liberties & Security editor at The NewStandard.

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