Heckuva Job, Becky!
Rebecca Solnit has done an excellent job of putting the coverage of Katrina in context in "Reconstructing the Story of the Storm: Hurricane Katrina at Five" [Sept. 13]. When Katrina hit, I was working at a newspaper sixteen hours from the gulf. Our news staff was debating who would drive down to find stories—of pillage, devastation, conflict, anything—to resonate with our Midwestern audience. We were after the same stories as other reporters: pain, misery, racism, destruction. Five years later, we see the stories we and the rest of the media missed.
There are cultural explanations for why media didn’t cover what Solnit wanted them to. The way media understand themselves and how audiences understand media are to blame. These are the immeasurable cultural aspects of news work; they create familiar narratives based on myth; they resonate with the mass audience and the interpretive community, journalists. The story of Katrina uses collective memory—how we remember or wish to remember. And collective memory, in turn, fuels the myths and narratives that we saw in news coverage: poor blacks, the hungry, the marginalized, the flooded and destroyed. All the images look the same.
Analysis of news that misses the cultural element of how and why that news was produced limits what we should have learned. Assessments of news coverage must go deeper to seek out the roots that reach into fiction, myth and narrative and resonate with values. If the cultural explanations aren’t explored, what we could have learned from Katrina ends with Katrina.
ROBERT GUTSCHE JR.
Green or Gassy, Cars Gotta Go
A half-dozen letters responded to "Freedom From Oil" [Aug. 2/9] with conventional and constructive suggestions (plus battery-operated clothing) ["Letters," Sept. 27]. Certainly, green cars should be encouraged. There is a problem, however, with the exponential growth of that twentieth-century invention that saved us from the health hazards of horseshit. That sixty-mile traffic jam in China: well, I anticipated that an event—could be on the I-95, or in Tehran, Bangkok or on any of hundreds of autoways—would draw attention to the dysfunctional symbiosis that we, the weak bipeds, the keepers/attendants, have with those stronger, carapaced creatures. That dominant species demands ever more buildings and smoothed surfaces to accommodate its rising population. We, the auto deluded, are being colonized.
Anchor Babies Aweigh!
Right-wing hysteria over "anchor babies" is absurd, but the Fourteenth Amendment is becoming more and more anomalous [Robin Templeton, "Baby Baiting," Aug. 16/23]. The amendment, the intention of which was to grant citizenship to freed slaves, is out-of-date and outmoded. The right of citizenship to all those born on US soil is unique to our country. I hope the furor from the left over right-wing efforts to repeal it is a feint.
The anti-immigrationists’ obsession with the amendment does, however, present progressives with a marvelous opportunity to negotiate immigration reform. Repeal of the amendment, if not retroactive, will cause little hardship. Meanwhile, a quid pro quo could be reforms such as a fast track to citizenship for established and productive "illegals." Repeal could be a win-win situation for immigrants.
I’ve been studying Mexican immigration for thirty years and have interviewed tens of thousands of current, past and prospective illegal migrants; in all that time no one has ever said they wanted to come to the United States to have a baby. They come for economic reasons mostly—responding to US recruitment and labor demand and seeking to use their US earnings to finance a project at home. They don’t plan to stay very long, and would prefer to make a few trips of twelve months or less and return home.
This is exactly what happened from 1942 to 1964, when there was a large US guest-worker program, which at its peak, in the late 1950s, brought in some 450,000 Mexicans annually, mostly men, on temporary visas. There were no quotas, so Mexicans with ties north of the border could settle down. In the late ’50s, settlement by legal immigrants ran at around 50,000 per year.
This changed in 1965, when Washington ended the guest-worker program and imposed quotas, closing off legal entry. Since US labor demand continued unabated, cross-border flows continued, with or without documents, and were overwhelmingly male and circular. From 1965 to ’85 for every 100 entries there were eighty-five departures, yielding a small net inflow. Things changed again in 1986, when Congress criminalized the hiring of undocumented workers and required employers to inspect documents (which caused an immediate boom in fraudulent documents). The United States also began a two-decade militarization of the US-Mexico border.
The militarization of the border made crossing difficult, costly and risky, and rates of return migration plummeted. As male migrants spent more time north of the border, pressures for family reunification mounted, and women and children increasingly joined husbands and fathers.
The militarization of the border backfired by lengthening stays, diminishing rates of return and promoting permanent settlement rather than circulation. In the 1990s net undocumented immigration doubled, not because more people were coming in but because fewer were going back home; and those settling were increasingly bringing in families. When young, healthy, married men and women are united, they do what comes naturally: they have babies. Mexicans do not come here to have babies. They have babies here because men can no longer circulate freely back and forth from homes in Mexico to jobs in the United States. Husbands and wives quite understandably want to be together.
Not only are Mexicans not coming to have babies—they are not coming. According to estimates from a variety of sources, including Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics, net undocumented migration fell to zero in 2008 and since then has been negative, with the undocumented population falling by around 1 million between 2008 and ’09, including a drop of 100,000 in Arizona alone. Where labor demand has evaporated and hostility to immigrants is surging, Mexicans are not coming to drop "anchor babies" or for any other reason.
DOUGLAS S. MASSEY, co-director
Mexican Migration Project;
Henry G. Bryant Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs, Princeton University
Dan Bischoff’s "Rand Paul’s Kentucky Derby" [Sept. 27] cites 18,000 unionized coal miners in Kentucky. The correct number is 800.
Thomas Geoghegan, in "Ten Things Dems Could Do to Win" [Sept. 27], stated that the cap on the Social Security tax is at $90,000. The cap is at $106,800.