Weekly Roundup 6/27/2011

My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant
Jose Antonio Vargas, The New York Times Magazine, June 25, 2011

Synopsis: The stunning admission by the young Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas that he has lived in the United States since age 12 as an “undocumented immigrant” has provoked widespread comment since it went online at midweek (June 22). Vargas compellingly relates his immigration to the United States on what he later learned was a fake passport obtained by his mother in the Philippines and the difficulties since then while living in the United States with a fake “green card” obtained by his grandfather, a naturalized U.S. citizen. Vargas, now an unaffiliated journalist after having worked for the Washington Post and HuffingtonPost, has created a Web site, http://DefineAmerican.com, to promote immigration law reform.

Takeaway: Vargas’s “coming out” poses a host of questions: most significantly for him, whether the government will move to deport him, as some anti-immigrant conservatives have been urging. For journalists, the episode raises the question whether job applicants of Hispanic or Asian background will be more carefully scrutinized before being hired. The black online magazine The Root compiled some of the reaction here.

For background, see Alan Greenblatt, “Immigration Debate,” CQ Researcher, Feb. 1, 2008, updated Dec. 10, 2010.

-Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


Why Laying Off Ag Reporter Philip Brasher Is Bad for Food
Paula Crossfield, Civil Eats, June 24, 2011

As a veteran of the trade press, I know firsthand that, while reporting intended for an industry audience often breaks significant stories, trade papers’ content is skewed away from the interests of the general public toward the immediate concerns of business. Reporting on health care, I sat in many an overflowing room for a Medicare discussion…and many a nearly empty one for talk about Medicaid, whose low-dollar payments and low-dollar patients are of little interest to most medical providers. Beat reporters in the popular press are the only ones to cover many of the most far-reaching questions in every field, and that’s why this piece on the downsizing of a long-time Washington agriculture reporter from the Des Moines Register caught my eye. From farm subsidies’ effect on economies here and abroad to the conundrum of how to create food policies adequate to sustain us as energy shortages and climate change loom, agriculture policy grows only more crucial. I’m inclined to agree with Civil Eats editor Crossfield when she says: “I fear that without journalists like Brasher to shine a light on food policy, the public will remain critically uninformed and policy decisions will continue to be dominated by industry players in Washington.”

For related material, see my CQ Researcher report, “Global Food Crisis,” June 27, 2008, and Peter Katel’s report, “Food Safety,” Dec. 17, 2010.

-Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


The Invisible Army
Sarah Stillman, The New Yorker, June 6, 2011

Outside military circles – that is, for the vast majority of Americans – the consequences of the wars that U.S. forces have been fighting for nearly 10 years are easy to overlook. Of these consequences, perhaps the least-known involve the tens of thousands of contract employees who cook, clean, build and otherwise keep military bases running in some of the most dangerous places on earth. As Stillman notes in her vivid piece, the vast majority of these workers come from poverty-wracked countries in Asia and the Pacific, and many of them are women. At least some of them, Stillman’s reporting makes clear, are recruited under false pretenses – promised vastly more money than they’re actually paid, and not even told they’ll be working in war zones. And then there’s the serious sexual harassment, including rape, to which some of them are subjected. Told by one woman that she’d been raped repeatedly, Stillman writes that for several days, she called the Army’s sexual-assault hotline. “The number simply rang and rang,” Stillman reports.

-Peter Katel, Staff Writer