A front-page article published on February 1 by The Seattle Times, now the Emerald City’s sole remaining daily newspaper, purporting to describe new state demographic trends, is causing outrage at a very critical time. At this very moment the draconian cuts proposed by the Governor to balance the budget, are the subject of contention in the Legislature as advocates struggle to convince lawmakers to preserve at least the semblance of a safety net . The program cuts would disproportionately affect poor immigrants and refugees and communities of color, as the planned terminations cut deeply into a range of services from state food assistance, citizenship programs, Medicaid medical interpreter services, to health insurance plans which now cover noncitizen adults and some 27,000 children enrolled in the Children’s Health program of Apple Health for Kids, among other vital services. In addition, other bills being considered would promote racial/ethnic profiling of state residents, including requiring citizenship checks of applicants for drivers’ licenses to those targeting youth for incarceration on the basis of presumed but not proven gang affiliations.
So it seems like more than a coincidence that the Times story Illegal-immigrant numbers in state jump 35% in 3 years was published the day before the Senate Ways & Means Committee was to hold a hearing on the 2011 Supplemental Budget bill which encompasses all of the cuts. The Times article discussed a just-released report from the Pew Hispanic Center entitled Unauthorized Immigrant Population:
National and State Trends, 2010, about results of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. Beyond just the damage that the inflammatory and dehumanizing language of the article’s title can cause in the court of public opinion , it turns out that reporter Lornet Turnbull got his facts wrong too. Subsequently Jeff Passel, one of the authors of the Pew report, was interviewed by a reporter for local radio station. Passel said that based on the Census data, there was no evidence that Washington’s undocumented population had increased, pointing to the high margin of error in the data analysis and its very small sample size, and more pointedly, that the Seattle Times had not done fact-checking with Pew. The Feb. 3 interview Dispute About Growth Of Undocumented Immigrants In Wash. can be heard in its entirety on the KUOW website.
In these desperate economic times, articles like this one in the Seattle Times serve only to scapegoat all immigrants for the economic woes of the state (and the nation) instead of focusing on the genuine causes of the recession. Over 400 comments have been posted in response so far, most of them of a hate-mongering nature. Recognition that Washington’s regressive tax structure means that all of us contribute at the same (sales tax) rate to state coffers, regardless of immigration status or income, is handily overlooked by the ranters. Interestingly, the Times has posted a partial correction to the article, explaining that undocumented people constitute a small fraction of the state’s population
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that illegal immigrants accounted for nearly 5 percent of the state’s population, giving Washington the seventh highest rate of illegal immigrants in the nation. A Pew Hispanic Center report, on which the story was based, incorrectly attributed the percentage and ranking to Washington state rather than to the District of Columbia. The center has corrected the information in its online report to reflect that illegal immigrants comprise 3.4 percent of Washington state’s population, a rate that does not rank it among the top 10 states.
The story’s problematc title and other content inaccuracies however remain the same, its damage done. Use of attention-grabbing headlines is a journalistic technique of course; likewise fewer readers ever bother to go back to read corrections.