The Corner

Advocacy Journalism

The Washington Post’s latest four-part series on “Why We Should Win the Pulitzer Prize” bemoans problems in the medical care of detained immigrants. The Post piece (with an accompanying 60 Minutes segment) was a resounding success for the advocacy group that planted it, as was last week’s New York Times story along the same lines. The goal of all this coordinated coverage is to delegitimize the whole notion of detaining illegal immigrants, so as to prevent the government from being able to enforce the immigration law.

In fact, the overripe language of the Post series is worthy of the New York Times, and I don’t mean that in a good way: “unseen network of special prisons,” “the hidden human cost of increasingly strict policies,” “a hidden world of flawed medical judgment,” and so on. Guantanamo Bay shows up in the 11th paragraph, though it has nothing to do with the subject, and the Japanese internment camps of WWII are invoked a little farther on. No mention of German concentration camps yet, but there are two installments to go. And I loved this one:

A proud Statue of Liberty replica stands just beyond the glass doors of DIHS headquarters to remind visitors of the Public Health Service’s historical role in screening and treating European immigrants arriving at Ellis Island at the turn of the last century. Its new role is to keep detained immigrants healthy enough to be deported.

How’s that for dispassionate journalism!

The stories of deaths in detention are individual tragedies, of course, but without a bigger picture, they’re just sob stories. The number and rate of deaths in immigrant have actually been going down. Of the 311,213 deportable foreigners held in detention in 2007, 11 of them died. That’s 11 too many, obviously, but get real. And that’s less than half the number from three years before, when there were fewer people detained. And the death rate in detention for 2005 was 1/79th that of the age-adjusted rate for jails and prisons overall.

Even if there isn’t a crisis, the article plausibly suggests that there are problems in the recruitment and retention of nursing staff and the coordination of care. If so, then this is an issue of resources, not a Dickensian tale of callous bureaucrats. And even there, spending on detainee medical services has doubled since 2003.


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