UPDATED: Et Tu, Katie?

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On April 7, 2008, Katie Couric and CBS Evening News took a page from the Lou Dobbs playbook in presenting a misleading and inaccurate portrayal of the role of immigrants in U.S. society. In this report, Ms. Couric and CBS News fall well short of the journalistic standards set by former CBS News anchors Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite.

The CBS News account, entitled “Illegal Immigrant Births - At Your Expense”1 portrays a young immigrant mother named Fabiola who has just given birth to a son in Texas. In presenting this young mother’s experience, CBS reporter Byron Pitts falsely suggests that the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants are an economic drain to the State of Texas. CBS then proceeds to mislead the American public by reporting that undocumented parents of U.S.-born children enjoy a significantly “easier” way to become citizens upon giving birth to children in the United States and that undocumented mothers of infants need not fear deportation.

First, the impact of immigrants upon the U.S. economy is overwhelmingly positive.2 In suggesting that immigrants are a drain on the Texas economy, CBS even ignores a recent official report issued by the Comptroller of the State of Texas, who found that undocumented immigrants produced $1.58 billion in state revenues in FY05, which significantly exceeds the $1.16 billion in state services they received. While the Comptroller’s report does not examine local health care costs, it does find that the absence of undocumented immigrants in Texas would have caused a loss to the gross state product of $17.7 billion. The net economic benefit to Texas far exceeds the $200 million that CBS suggests is spent by the South Texas Health System.

CBS’s biased reporting is particularly evident in the following exchange between CBS reporter Byron Pitts and the CEO of the McAllen Texas Medical Center:
McAllen is part of a large hospital system. Like all hospitals, it is mandated by law to treat all emergency-room patients, not verify citizenship.

"We have uncompensated care of over $200 million a year," [the CEO of the McAllen Texas Medical Center] said.

"Of money that you'll never see again?" Pitts asked.

"Yes," he said.
This segment of the report is both internally contradictory and misleading. The hospital system reports that it does not check immigration status; then, its CEO suggests that $200 million in health care costs are attributable to the 2,400 children born to undocumented immigrants. If the hospital does not verify citizenship, how does it calculate the costs of immigrant care? Further, how does the hospital distinguish costs associated with legal immigrants from those associated with undocumented immigrants? The $200 million figure, which CBS does not confirm independently in its report, apparently covers all health care costs for undocumented immigrants, while the report itself focuses upon the costs of childbirth. The “fuzzy math” of the CEO of the McAllen Texas Medical Center is, on its face, problematic, but even more problematic is the fact that CBS reports it without examination or qualification. By now, we have come to expect such bias and error from Lou Dobbs, but not from the network of Murrow and Cronkite.

A fair and accurate news report would highlight the economic and social benefits of immigration to Texas and the nation rather than presenting a narrow and exclusive focus upon immigration’s costs.

Even more troubling, perhaps, is the report’s misleading suggestion that undocumented immigrants receive significant protections from deportation upon the birth of a U.S. citizen child. Under U.S. immigration law, a person seeking protection from deportation or “cancellation of removal” must establish, among other things, that removal would cause “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” to their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident child, spouse, or parent.3 This is a very high bar, one that parents living in the United States for 15 to 20 years with multiple U.S. citizen children have not been able to overcome.4 U.S. immigration authorities have, in fact, separated countless U.S. citizen children from their undocumented parents, with tragic consequences.5 The young mother depicted in the report has been placed in a vulnerable position by Couric and CBS, who expose her and implicitly lead her to believe that she is protected from deportation. It also misleads the American public into thinking that birthright citizenship is an unfair benefit to immigrants rather than a core principle of U.S. constitutional law.

The CBS News piece also casually mentions that some Members of Congress want to test whether the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution extends citizenship to children born in the US to a parent who is an unauthorized immigrant.

Limiting the Fourteenth Amendment is no casual activity. CBS News ignores one hundred and ten years of constitutional law and the U.S. Supreme Court's clear ruling that the Constitution means what it says: All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.6 Further, the doctrine of birthright citizenship actually goes back 400 years in English common law and was adopted by the Founding Fathers.7 Abandoning the doctrine would be a radical step, and it would require an amendment to the Constitution that would leave children born in the US stateless or deem them citizens of countries they have never seen.

In conclusion, Truth in Immigration is disappointed that Katie Couric and CBS News have chosen to race to the bottom of the immigration debate and challenge Lou Dobbs for the mantle of most anti-immigrant news program on U.S. television. Anti-Latino falsehoods deserve no time on our public airwaves. Truth in Immigration will continue to monitor CBS News, correct any anti-Latino myths that it broadcasts, and strongly encourage legitimate news operations to eliminate inaccuracies in their reporting about immigrants and Latinos.
1."Illegal Immigrant Births - At Your Expense." CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. CBS News, April 7, 2008
2. See, e.g., President’s Council of Economic Advisors, "Immigration’s Economic Impact," (noting "that [the fact that] immigration has fueled U.S. macroeconomic growth is both uncontroversial and unsurprising.")
3. Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) § 240A (b)(1) , 8 U.S.C. § 1229b(b)(1)
4. See Matter of Andazola-Rivas, 23 I. & N. Dec. 319 (BIA 2002), Matter of Monreal, 23 I. & N. Dec. 56 (BIA 2001)
5. Miriam Calderón. "Paying the Price: The Impact of Immigration Raids on America’s Children." NCLR and Urban Institute, Oct 31, 2007
6. U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649, 694 (1898) (citing U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1)
7. Wong Kim Ark, 169 at 658, 667, 689.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund