Helping NPR with Basic Journalism on Immigration Issues

Published on June 15th, 2018

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
                                                                – Rudyard Kipling

Anyone who has taken Journalism 101 should know the Five Ws—who, what, where, when, why? Sometimes it is given the moniker, 5W1H, with the addition of “how.” In-depth journalism often requires asking several “whys” and “why nots.”

It is sorely lacking in media coverage of immigration issues as demonstrated by a recent NPR story on asylum. Reporter John Burnett interviewed and observed a Guatemalan family of nine on the Mexican side of the border who had travelled across Mexico and tried to enter the U.S. at Brownsville, Texas to claim political asylum. "We've been here on the border for two days asking for asylum,” said the family’s patriarch.

First, let’s assume that the family’s tale of fleeing violence from a drug lord is true—hardly a given since coyotes and immigration lawyers coach would-be asylees on what magic words to use when requesting asylum. Admittedly, violence is horrific in many parts of Central America as it is in much of the world.  I hope no one is suggesting that the U.S. must admit everyone who lives in Niger, Venezuela, Somalia, of Columbia, and Yemen to name just a few beset nations.

As Attorney General Sessions has noted, and ruled, political asylum exists to provide refuge for one facing persecution for membership in a particular group, not for those fleeing generalized violence.  The murder rates in St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans, in Detroit are higher than that of Guatemala.  Are Americans fleeing violent crime entitled to asylum in other countries? 

Then, all parties must acknowledge that there is no obligation for a country to offer asylum to those who have passed through a country of safe passage.  Asylum shopping, passing through one or several countries before claiming asylum, is a common abuse. The European Court of Justice recently ruled that Austria and Slovenia could return asylum seekers from Middle Eastern countries to Croatia, through which they had passed. The Guardian reports that it is common for asylum seekers to burn their fingers to extinguish their fingerprint record of passage through other countries.

Here are a few questions that a competent journalist at NPR could have, and should have, asked the family:

  • How long have you been in Mexico? Why haven’t you asked for asylum here?
  • Guatemala is five times as large as New Jersey. Are you saying there’s nowhere to hide from a drug lord in the 40,000 square miles of Guatemala?
  • Belize and Guatemala share a border of over 500 miles. Why didn’t you walk across the border into Belize?
  • The safe country of Costa Rica is much closer than the United States. Why didn’t you request asylum there? 

The next time you send a contribution to NPR, you might want to include a map of Central America and a primer on the Five Ws.


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