Diana Correa has been executive producer of HITN’s “Destination Casa Blanca” with host Ray Suarez since November, 2008. She has produced interviews with state officials, members of Congress and White House officials. Additionally, she served as field producer and reporter for “Destination Casa Blanca’s” coverage of the 2008 presidential election, including the conventions and election night. More recently, Diana produced a series of “Destination Casa Blanca” shows dedicated to immigration topics, and a half-hour documentary titled “Buscando un Sueño,” portraying the lives of two undocumented students fighting for the DREAM Act. Diana’s project for the Heartland program aired on May 5, 2011.
2011 Project Series
Story 1: In pursuit of a better life
High school student Raquel and her family are having a hard time adapting to their new life in Oklahoma, but Raquel faces the obstacles with a smile in pursuit of her dream of becoming a professional singer and a music professor.
Story 2: The burden of the immigration debate
Dr. Raúl Font, assistant superintendent of instruction of Santa Fe Schools in Oklahoma, explains that the pending immigration bills in the state are having a direct impact in most of his students, whether they are undocumented or not.
Story 3: From undocumented to entrepreneur
Marcelino Garcia arrived in Oklahoma in 1979, made his way from bus boy to general manager and then restaurant owner at the same time that he went from “illegal alien” to U.S. citizen.
Story Behind the Story
I have been following the immigration debate ever since I can remember and, far from getting closer to a solution, it seemed to be getting more complicated. Then came April, 2010, and SB 1070 was passed in Arizona and things took an even more drastic turn, causing passionate reactions from both sides of the debate. Many state legislatures across the country suddenly felt that laws like SB 1070 were the best way to fill the void left by the inaction of the federal government; human rights organization and other advocates began campaigning against racial profiling, and economists and entrepreneurs began questioning the negative impact these laws could have in the already troubled economy. But my questions were: What about those who are entangled in the middle of it all? What impact does all the political rhetoric have on them? What about those who have been settled in a community for years and are now feeling rejected by it?
I found my answers by taking part in IJJ’s 2011 Immigration in the Heartland fellowship and doing reporting in Oklahoma, where the Latino population has nearly doubled during the past decade, and where the Legislature was contemplating an Arizona copycat bill and other anti-immigrant legislation. The Latino community in South Oklahoma City lives in constant fear. They have to drive to go to work, but those without legal status don’t have a driver’s license. And yes, racial profiling does exist. I met with a man about to be removed from the country after being stopped during a “routine traffic inspection.” No traffic violation, no violent crimes, but he was carrying gardening tools in his pick-up truck, indicating that the stop was a result of profiling, not of a violation. And we had the opportunity to hear from Oklahoma’s author of the “Arizona Plus” legislation, State Sen. Ralph Shortey (R-Oklahoma City). When asked about methods to avoid racial profiling, he admitted that “even in south Oklahoma City, there are pure racists. I mean I’ve talked to them on their doorstep. They simply tell me they don’t like these people because of their color.”
But the state of constant fear goes beyond those who live in the country without legal documentation. Despite what many may believe, most of these families are of mixed status and they fear for their family members, their friends, their neighbors, and classmates because young kids are also in the midst of this big mess.
The fellowship not only gave me the deep connection with the human aspect of this debate, but I also got a lot of feedback about how the process works and learned that many of these people are not just taking advantage of a broken system. They are just trapped by it. Despite common belief, there is a large number of them who are already waiting “in the back of the line” to do things the legal way. It just so happens to be that the line is 14 years long, and in the meantime, they have a family to feed. I went to an immigration court and learned that even with legal representation the process is so complicated that even many lawyers are not well prepared for it.
I took all I had learned and gathered and decided to use it for a full show. HITN’s “Destination Casa Blanca,” hosted by PBS Senior Correspondent Ray Suarez, is a weekly public affairs show that offers an in-depth analysis of current issues such as health care, immigration, and education from a Latino perspective. I am the program’s executive producer. The show gave me the perfect platform to use the material I had from Oklahoma.
I came back with three interviews and decided to use them as three separate stories because they all brought a different perspective to how immigrants can be impacted by these state-implemented immigration laws.
There was Raquel (whose surname I did not disclose to protect her identity), a cheerful high school senior trying to build a better future for herself and younger siblings. Sen. Shortey claimed that Mexican immigrants residing in Oklahoma City are directly affiliated with the gangs funded by drug cartels, but Raquel and her family would never go to these criminals because they left their country escaping their threats. They are having a hard time adapting to their new life. Raquel and her brother are the ones bringing home the paycheck because their parents are unable to find work. Acquiring a new language has proven very difficult to Raquel, but despite the obstacles she remains positive that things will work out, and wishes they can stay, so that her youngest siblings can have a better future. Meanwhile, she will stay in school to pursue her dream of becoming a professional singer and music teacher.
At the same school, I interviewed Dr. Raúl Font, who not only told me of the wonderful mission of Santa Fe South Schools, doing everything in their power to serve the underserved and giving them a better chance for a brighter tomorrow, but he also told me about all the struggles faced by the immigrant students, undocumented or not. Even those who are born in the U.S. live a constant state of fear because most of them are from mixed status families and have to worry about what could happen to their loved ones. Those who live out of status not only worry about deportation, but about their future. Why go to school if they will be denied a college education? Font and the staff always encourage them to keep going because no matter where they go, they will always have their education. But the staff not only has to teach them math and science, they also have to prepare the students in case they come home to find a family member or guardian has been deported. They call it Plan B. This demonstrates how the unresolved immigration debate impacts people at every level. These students at their tender age have to carry the burden of their status, or their family’s status, and constantly worry about what tomorrow will bring.
I also interviewed Marcelino Garcia, a Mexican immigrant who went from undocumented to U.S. citizen and from dishwasher to business entrepreneur, now owning 12 restaurants and other businesses. But his success is now being shadowed by the implementation of laws like Oklahoma’s HB 1807. He has lost customers, which has affected sales, and he was forced to stop growing his business because he can longer hire undocumented labor force. He has not been able to fill his open positions through regular methods and had to resort to the Hathaway house program. State Sen. Andrew Rice (D-Oklahoma City), said many constituents complain that illegal immigrants are taking their jobs, but the facts show otherwise. The jobs are being posted, he said, and are not being taken by “white Americans.”
But these stories were only going to be used to start the conversation. I needed a panel of experts. While deciding what to get from which interview, I also started thinking who would make up the best panel. I needed a strong and balanced discussion. First on my wish list was Secretary Janet Napolitano. Who better to talk about border security and immigration enforcement than the Secretary of Homeland Security? And for the panel I needed experts from an immigrant advocacy organization and a think tank that promotes stricter immigration control, plus a moderate from each side. After many calls and emails, my wish list was granted. The show opened with an interview with Napolitano only a few days after the killing of Osama Bin Laden, and it was followed by a panel discussion. Each discussion segment was opened by the stories I shot in Oklahoma. The panelists were Clarissa Martinez from NCLR (who was also in Oklahoma during my fellowship), Mark Krikorian from the Center for Immigration Studies, Juan Pedroza from the Urban Institute and Daniel Griswold from the Cato Institute. I was very pleased with the results.
I learned a lot from this fellowship, from all the data, from all the wonderful people I met, and from the other Fellows who had a lot to offer with their reporting experience. I felt like a sponge absorbing all I could, especially as the only producer surrounded by journalists whose job is so similar and yet so different from mine.
But at the end of it all, as I answered my initial questions, a new one opened up. As the immigration debate gets more heated, it is harder for those with no legal status to find jobs and safely move around the communities they’ve come to love. But no matter how bad it gets, when I asked if they would leave, time after time, the answer was no. They would only leave if they were kicked out. Many on the other side of the debate often say if they are so eager to stay, why don’t they just do it the legal way? Which leads me to my question: If there was an easier, safer, and more humane way to be here, wouldn’t they just opt for that option?