The Tired, Poor and Huddled Immigration Narrative of The New York Times

Jun 22, 2014
3:43 PM

The distance from Guatemala City to El Paso, Texas, is roughly the same distance as from El Paso to The New York Times headquarters in Manhattan.  Amazingly, but unsurprisingly, rumor mills, half-truths, petty self-interest, and sheer desperation are as effective a means of opinion formulation at the Gray Lady as it is the downtrodden kids in Guatemala risking their lives to escape the persecution of violence in their country.

But one wonders that if Ross Douthat —a Harvard grad and presumably smart person with all the advantages and resources at his disposal from the “paper of record”— can so easily take the assignment to capitalize on the misery of children for a paycheck and be so misleading, how we can be so sure that children in Central America can be so confident in their own information networks about the U.S. border several thousand miles away?


To be sure, rumors fed by self-interested parties and institutions are always part of the decision-making process to leave home for another country. Whether it be drug cartels selling a desperate family a service to take their kid to the promised-land, or the NYTimes trying to sell a newspaper, it’s important that rumors have some inkling of truth in it to work.

And work they do, for even Hillary Clinton has been compelled to speak up about this in a way that is so unimaginably insensitive to the plight of these people that one wonders where the line is between conservatives and liberals on immigration. This, folks, is who Latino organizations who will surely be working overtime for in two years.

In this sense, it’s an easy sell—for the cartels as well as for Ross Douthat trying to whet the nativist imagination that despite the decade-long American orchestration of the greatest forced removal of Latinos from the United States in history, somehow this is an open invitation to cross our border.

If one had any sense to pay any attention to Spanish media before writing about Latin immigration, President Obama’s immigration policy can be summed up in a single word: punishing.  And if one thing is certain, everyone in the United States can agree that our immigration policy hasn’t changed much since before many of these children were even born. Whether you are an anti-immigrant nativist or an open border advocate, both sides agree that our immigration policy has gone nowhere for far too long.

So where does that leave us? Ross Douthat thinks his readers will buy the narrative that these are children sophisticated enough to know about the intricacies of an immigration policy most of his readers know only by rumors, anecdotal evidence, and information fed by self-interested institutions. And I guess that’s the point.  Douthat is merely providing what his readers, liberal and conservative, expect from The New York Times, equal time to both sides of the argument.

Of course, as the mouthpiece for one of those self-interested institutions, he should feel somewhat compelled to shoulder the responsibility of being accurate about our sad saga of immigration rather than spinning a narrative based on kernels of truth that haven’t changed on the ground for migrants for almost a generation.

Unsurprisingly, kidnappings and terrified children somehow stirs the humanitarian heart strings of The New York Times when nothing but cheap self-congratulating back-patting can be gained while doing precisely nothing, but when Latino kids close to home are subject to kidnappings, terror and the meat grinder of immigration, well, someone call Ross Douthat. 

Or Hillary Clinton.

I can’t tell the difference any more.


Stephen A. Nuño, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University.