Sometimes watching cable news is a tiring endeavor. Seeing the same people yelling, the same old political arguments, and the same accusations can be wearying. Indeed, nowadays most cable news shows don’t actually offer very much news—they’re mostly political entertainment.
I’ve gone back to public broadcast news, but not to Brian Williams or Katie Couric: I’ve started to check out Univision news. A Spanish-language television network based in the U.S., Univision devotes a substantial amount of coverage to the oft-neglected Latino community. Unsurprisingly, Univision, is very, very passionate about immigration. This is understandable: many of the anchors and a large percentage of the audience are immigrants, people who have an profoundly personal stake in the immigration debate.
Univision also does not play coy about whose side it is on. If Fox News is at one end of the spectrum, Univision is at the other. When its news anchors start talking about SB 1070—Arizona’s new, extraordinarily harsh anti-immigrant law—you can literally hear the outrage in their voices and see the disgust in their faces. July was the “Month of Immigration,” and probably half of the news spots focused on immigration to America, especially the latest anti-immigration measures throughout the country.
The network is on a crusade to defend immigrants. From a special program entitled “Nation of Immigrants” to commercials in which bland-looking bureaucrats urge Hispanics to vote (“don’t let others represent you”), Univision strides with fists raised straight into the immigration debate. In one news investigation, a Univision journalist reported the story of a migrant farm-worker who through extraordinary good luck and hard work managed to gain American citizenship. The report was titled “Si Se Puede.” Univision gave the guy a medal.
One wonders how effective their news strategy is. Univision’s reporting arouses a politically weak constituency that may otherwise have remained silent. Yet immigration reform also depends upon winning the support of white, suburban America—people who often have little contact with immigrants and wish that “they” would stop speaking Spanish.
When Univision covers or tacitly encourages an immigration protest, it may alienate white America instead of gaining its support. From a partisan politics perspective, a protest composed entirely of Latinos waving non-American flags and shouting in Spanish is probably the wet dream of an anti-immigration political operative. Univision and other advocates of immigration have learned to wave the right flags. From what I’ve seen while watching Univision, they still have to work on yelling in English and getting enough white people to march with them. On the other hand, perhaps nothing can be done to allay the opposition of white, suburban America. Indeed, the strongest impression that Univision delivers is that of a society under siege—with Univision as its lonely defender.
America is becoming more and more hostile to immigrants. You see it in the ever-more conservative laws being passed—in Fremont, Nebraska or elsewhere, many other states are now attempting to copy Arizona. You see it in the historically high number of deportations last year. You see it in the overcrowded detention centers housing immigrants, including children and the mentally ill, without access to health care. You see it in attacks on Latino-Americans living on Long Island or in the list of undocumented immigrants released in Utah by a zealous conservative. You see it, finally, in conservative attempts to change the Constitution so as to deny citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants.
Out of all the pro-immigration coverage in Univision, one report stood out in particular. The report focused on children—sons and daughters of undocumented immigrants who had been born in the United States. Some were marching to Washington in support of a moratorium on deportations, for fear that their parents would be deported and they would be left orphaned. This was exactly what had happened to one teenager who talked, crying as Univision interviewed him, about how deportations had broken apart his family. If things keep on going the way they are, there will be a lot more people like him.