National Catholic Reporter
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Issue Date:  September 19, 2003

From the Editor's Desk

Dangerous and deadly game

I was with a group of journalists recently when the leader of a seminar session posed the question: “Who’s missing?” The question was about who was missing from our publications’ stories, or newsrooms, or source lists. The answers came quickly and just as quickly came other implications: What points of view are you not considering? What books are you not reading? What questions, themselves, are missing from your brainstorming sessions?

It is a humbling and enlightening exercise.

If there was a common thread to the answers, however, it is that the missing more often than not are those hidden in plain view in society. The people on the margins. Often people of color, or gays and lesbians, children, the poor.

~ ~ ~

Editor-at-large Arthur Jones and photographer Rick Reinhard found some of the missing-in-plain-view during a trip along a portion of the U.S.-Mexico border. We are used to tossing around the term “border story,” almost as if it’s become a separate class of coverage. More desperate attempts to emigrate, more dismal death in the desert or by drowning, more pleas for sanity and some consistency in our immigration policy.

With our heads turned to other trouble spots in the world and our treasury pouring into the war effort in Iraq, it is easy to ignore the border story.

The policy makes so little sense as it stands now, and the arbitrariness of it is evident in Jones’ reporting. The game is this: We have an abundance of laws to stop illegal migration, but we also have a need for cheap labor. So, even the border patrol knows, we can never entirely shut down the flow.

But it is a dangerous and even deadly game, and it is the poor who pay dearly when they lose.

Regular readers may be struck, as I was, at the culture of walls at the heart of this week’s cover story and the story on the cover two weeks ago. That one depicted the ever-expanding security fence or ghetto wall, depending upon from which side one is viewing the matter, in the Palestinian Territories.

Each wall is supposed to secure one population from another. I’d say each is a miserable failure. It doesn’t work there and it doesn’t work here.

Jones told me that a wall parallel to the original barrier in the San Diego/San Ysidro area is being built and that there is talk of building a third one. We could have walls all the way to Helena, Mont., before this is over. And people desperate to make a living and yearning for a shot at dignity and opportunity would find a way to get by them all. We need a more comprehensive agreement with our neighbors to the south, particularly one that helps them create decent jobs at home. NAFTA doesn’t do that. In the choice between working in a maquiladora or scavenging on a dump, Mexicans make more at a dump (NCR, Jan. 17).

The United States has to acknowledge its dependence on foreign labor for jobs that U.S. citizens won’t do at the wages offered, so that families are not torn apart by the dangerous trek north, and so that workers are able to advocate for simple rights without fear of deportation.

More walls and heftier border patrols are not the answer.

~ ~ ~

Keep an eye out in coming weeks for a special four-page pullout section containing an essay by Eugene Kennedy titled “Healing the Wound: The Sacraments and Human Sexuality.” Kennedy brings his long experience as a psychologist, writer and church observer to the deeper currents running beneath the roiling waters of the sex abuse crisis.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, September 19, 2003

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