Chasing the DREAM Act: News Judgment Trumps Partisanship

June 20th, 2012 · No Comments · Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

When a reader approaches the Albuquerque Journal expecting a conservative slant, one’s view is colored to the point it can be surprising when the paper appears to favor, or give top billing to a “liberal” idea – such as President Obama’s policy announcement regarding the partial implementation of the DREAM Act for young immigrants.

Conversely, the conservative who thinks the Journal has a liberal slant may see the play as favorable to Obama. (That same reader might see the Journal as overzealous in doggedly covering – and questioning — the Public Education Department’s bend-over-backward eagerness to comply with a GOP information request – a topic my colleague Arthur Alpert covered here.)

But the Journal’s coverage of the immigration policy revelation offers up an interesting lesson for Journal readers on both sides of the political aisle.

Yes, the Obama announcement – that he would administratively ease enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws for a certain group of young people — smacks of election-year opportunism. Because this is obvious to any political observer, the announcement could have been given dismissive treatment and downplayed by an overtly partisan (in this case, conservative) paper.

But Saturday morning’s Journal gave the president’s Friday announcement full play, putting it at the top of the Saturday morning Journal on the front page (the same treatment it was given by the “liberal” New York Times).  The headline, “Obama Eases Policy on Immigration,” was in large type, and a boxed summary – “Applause at UNM” — alerted readers to a local reaction story on A2, quoting University of New Mexico students supportive of the measure.

Importantly, the story itself, played so prominently, combined Associated Press coverage of the announcement (and reaction from Obama’s general election rival, Mitt Romney), with Journal staff reports capturing reactions from local candidates for national office and from the governor – putting these New Mexicans on the record for voters who care about the issue.

This is how the announcement deserved to be handled, and coverage continued with an in-depth AP follow-up Sunday (properly labeled as an analysis) on the political risks and potential gains for the president. This was followed by a two-story package Monday (June 18), the first of which focused on Romney’s initial refusals to answer whether he would overturn the executive order if elected. The second focused on the plight of recently deported immigrants for whom the order came too late.

All of the coverage is simply good journalism.

The political opportunism of Obama’s announcement is obvious as it came a week before the president planned to address the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials’ annual conference in Orlando, Fla., at which Romney is to speak on Thursday (June 21).

Because of that, the Journal took a swipe at Obama in its official editorial reaction to the announcement (Tuesday, June 19), saying:

. . .let’s call this policy change what the president and activists will not: an election-year ploy, an end-run around the nation’s three-branch system of checks and balances, and temporary amnesty.

Yet, while criticizing the president, it reminded readers that previously “The Journal has taken an editorial position supporting the DREAM Act.”

In support of that position, the Journal lamented Congress’ refusal to consider it:

On Aug. 1, the proposed DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) turns 11. Congress has had more than a decade to adopt some kind of pathway to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who go to college or serve in the military.

Yet Washington has never been able to agree on this legislation that is both humanitarian and which would allow the nation to reap the workplace rewards of its educational investment in illegal immigrant youths.

The Journal points out what Obama’s announcement fails to do, and therefore points up what still needs to be done:

The move does not create a path to citizenship, assuage the fears of parents here illegally, resolve the dilemma of the rest of the illegal immigrants, or require much of an investment from recipients.

Nor does it help the families who are already fractured by America’s lack of a comprehensive immigration policy or the young people who have already left the only home they’ve ever known for the foreign birthplace of their parents.

I’m not sure what the editorial is getting at when it concludes that critics on “both sides are right” in calling the new policy “too much amnesty or not enough of a long-term solution.”

How this can be too much amnesty is unclear, unless it’s meant as Obama going too far in terms of authority. (Cal Thomas this morning goes so far as to say that with this announcement, and the administration’s use of drones, the president “acts as if he is God.”)

But those very limits make it impossible for Obama to come up with “enough of a long-term solution” on his own. That power – and duty — is in the hands of Congress.

The editorial provides a shocking reminder that this is a proposal that has been on the table 11 years.

With that in mind, here are the candidate positions on Obama’s announcement and the DREAM Act, courtesy of the AP/Journal June 16 story:

During the Republican presidential primaries, Romney said he would veto the Dream Act, with its pathway to citizenship.

(After Obama’s announcement) Romney said Obama’s decision will make finding a long-term solution to the nation’s immigration issues more difficult. But he also said the plight of illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children is “an important matter to be considered.”

Steve Pearce, running for the U.S. House seat he abandoned to run for Senate two years ago, said:

“I am appalled that Mr. Obama once again believes he is above our Constitution.”

The state’s two Democratic House members, Reps. Martin Heinrich, who is running for U.S. Senate, and Ben Ray Lujan:

. . .were supportive of the policy change but said Congress must go further and enact the Dream Act.

Republican former Rep. Heather Wilson, who is running against Heinrich for U.S. Senate:

“Unfortunately, the (Obama) decision today is temporary and leaves many questions unanswered. Because of the uncertainty, I think it is unlikely that many young people will apply for this program,” she said.

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  • Cheryl Everett

    I also applaud the Journal’s news coverage of President Obama’s act of mercy, though I think many of us are waiting for the other shoe to drop. But whoever wrote the headline for today’s Cal Thomas op-ed (“The Emperor’s Naked Ambition”) went far beyond the vitriol in Thomas’s column itself (already a low bar to limbo under). The Journal often does this with conservative op-ed pieces (which increasingly outnumber liberal columns). I think the head-line writer should be identified by name and be accountable for raising the venom to even more lethal levels than writers like Thomas, Krauthamer et al devise by themselves.

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