Mary Sanchez

MARY SANCHEZ is a weekly syndicated columnist with Tribune Media Services, specializing in immigration, race, politics and culture. She also is a metropolitan columnist with The Kansas City Star. Sanchez has also written a column for the Poynter Institute focusing on how journalists can cover racial issues with more depth. She has been a correspondent for EFE, a wire service based in Madrid, Spain. Cell: E-mail: Work: 816-234-4752.

Story Behind the Story

By Mary Sanchez

Jan. 29, 2011

The demands of immigration were daunting and relentless in 2010.

I don’t expect the topic to lighten its call to journalists anytime soon. In fact, the peak might arrive in 2011.

I use the term “demands” because as a columnist, I often listen for what tone, what voice on the news of the day seems to be beckoning the reinforcement of an opinion piece.

People absorb news stories either in print, online, radio or through television and almost instantaneously begin forming an opinion.

They don’t want to be told what to think, but they appreciate seeing their view either upheld or disputed by others. They want the perspectives that are shaping their opinions validated by facts, or debunked fairly. That is the hallmark of columnists.

But when I accepted the Immigration in the Heartland fellowship it was initially with the intention of peeling away a significant piece from the processes of immigration and examining it with analysis and conclusions, but largely with the eyes of a reporter. A longer piece, a series even, was envisioned.

Then, reality hit.

The churn of near daily column deadlines is ever-pressing. And immigration continuously kept calling out. A quick scan of the year’s columns shows I wrote two dozen columns with an immigration theme.

In retrospect, I should have realized this would be the case.

The 2010 elections certainly laid the groundwork. Immigration, whether pitched as a positive or a negative factor, has long been fertile territory for candidates on the prowl for votes. The recession fed anxiety about just who might be filling jobs that U.S.-born workers no longer hold. Global terrorism threats and realities made anything even remotely linked to Muslims of heightened interest.

For extra inspiration, one of the main architects behind many of the harsher immigration laws being passed by states nationally resides in my community.

Kris Kobach, formerly a constitutional law professor and now the Kansas Secretary of State, works with FAIR. But he lives in a suburb of Kansas City and has long been a valued source. Agree or disagree with his stands, (I usually disagree if the issue is immigration), I value his willingness to speak and explain his positions.

Even if you oppose someone’s views, they are your source. It’s a delicate balance to pen criticism and then still expect someone to speak with you the next go-round. But if you plan to write columns routinely on the topic of immigration, accepting this reality is crucial.

I wrote four columns specifically on Kobach in 2010. We’re still speaking.

And yet, it is counterproductive to overload readers on one topic. The pitfall for any columnist is to become too predictable. You do not want to be dismissed by readers who assume they already know your view. And yet, there must be a rational, consistent nature to how you reason, approach issues. Readers will notice, so if you deviate from a past opinion, it must be explained.

So it was with this in mind that I spent the year carefully choosing when to address immigration and when to hold back.

By job description, I’m a generalist, able to comment on national, international and local events. Some of my work is syndicated for Tribune Media and therefore widely available. I also write metropolitan columns for The Kansas City Star.

So some thought is given to which pieces need the national prominence, and which are better left primarily for local readers. Sometimes timing made the decision. A topic without shelf life and a strong local angle goes to the metropolitan pages.

Immigration in particular offers the columnist the ability to tease out the attitudes and opinions that underlie a view of immigrants, particularly those illegally present in the country.

Simply explaining the fallacies behind many American’s belief that their ancestors all arrived perfectly legal and speaking English can be extremely eye-opening. But it must be done with finesse, not overly harsh tones.

Occasionally, I coordinate with other columnists.  Readers do not need to have all three of the Star’s metro columnists writing on the same topic. And sometimes, it holds more impact for readers to have someone other than a Latino address the issue.

“I wouldn’t expect anything different from someone with your last name…” goes a common criticism.

Personally, I love pulling out my mother’s lineage here, her three direct descendents who fought in the Revolutionary War and my ancestor’s well-documented arrival in 1640.

But I also view the comment as a call to be very clear and factual when backing up my opinions. I cannot remain relevant if viewed as speaking only from emotion, without factual grounding for my beliefs.

Words matter greatly in achieving this endeavor.

I routinely interchange the terms illegal immigrant and undocumented immigrant in columns. This riles some immigration reform advocates. But using only the term undocumented gets a piece dismissed as pandering political correctness by the very people I wish to reach. If you are not being read, you accomplish nothing.

My favored compliment from a reader is something to the point of: “I don’t always agree with you, but I always learn something.”

Efforts to repeal or recast the 14th Amendment are a perfect example. I did one piece addressing the issue overall, the fallacy of the term “anchor baby.” In a second piece, I apologized to the Native Americans and Chinese living in the United States in the 1860s. Their history is left out by those who think the 14th Amendment only addressed the descents of slaves. New information for many readers.

So much of what was studied during the Immigration in the Heartland fellowship will continue to be precursors for future reporting, mine and that of new fellows.

The future is ours to craft as a nation in regards to immigration.

I do believe journalists will play a significant role. Informing, probing and, yes, especially in the case of columnists, forcing people to deeply think about their views.

Here is how I framed that thought in a recent column:

“The U.S.-Mexico border has no Statute of Liberty asking for “your tired, your poor,” no Ellis Island for future generations to romanticize. And yet the migrants who traversed that border in the massive wave of the past few decades — they are now part of the United States. Like it or not, their children and now their children’s children are reshaping the nation’s demographics. How do we want their chapter of U.S. history to read?”

Post-Conference Columns

“14th Amendment outlines just what framers meant,” Jan. 17, 2011

The goal of some Republican members of Congress today is to undermine the standard of citizenship for every baby born on U.S. soil sealed by the 14th Amendment. The new vision is that the children of undocumented immigrants, the vast majority being Latino, shouldn’t be included. To drum up support, backers trounce on historical accuracy.

“The drug war doesn’t stop at the border,” Dec. 6, 2010

Over the border and through the cartels to Abuelita’s casa we go… The United States is forever proclaiming its war on drugs. But if you want to know what a real drug war is, behold Mexico.

Read more:

“They don’t need no education,” Sept. 24, 2010

How do you inform a young adult that their dream of a college education is collateral damage of the present insanity of American politics? If that person is an illegal immigrant to the United States, brought as a child by his or her parents, those dreams took a blow this week after the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, also known as the DREAM Act, died in a Senate filibuster.

“Kobach’s record is light on successes,” Sept. 19, 2010

So now Kris Kobach’s campaign has degenerated into expecting props for merely floating dreams of rewriting the U.S. Constitution… I realize this appeals to some people. But as I’ve pointed out before, it’s fantasy that a baby can “anchor” a family of illegal immigrants to the U.S. Besides, it is extremely difficult to alter the Constitution for good reasons. Not something to tinker with, especially just to win votes.

“Is the Great Mosque Debate Making Us Stupid?” Aug. 23, 2010

Nearly nine years ago, with the ashes of the World Trade Center barely settled, then-President George Bush proclaimed Islam a religion of peace. And no one complained. No one second-guessed him…Now, it seems, that moment of national clarity is fading into the mist.

“Don’t Tread On The 14th Amendment!” Aug. 13, 2010

Election year scripts are pretty well established in American politics. For Republicans, the script usually involves a polarizing issue, invariably some imagined threat to the nation or its traditional values, around which the party’s handmaidens in the conservative media can be counted on to help whip up hysteria. This year they’ve gone for broke with a proposal to revise the U.S. Constitution.

“Immigration Reform Requires More Than Getting Tough Or Feeling Good,” Aug. 8, 2010

Fierce partisans on both sides of the immigration debate would do well to take a breather.  Some of the harshest measures of Arizona’s controversial immigration law have been halted by an injunction. Now if only people would stop spitting fire long enough to realize what this offers the nation: an opportunity to reflect on the problem and come up with a good solution.

“NAACP Has Right Idea On Immigration,” July 12, 2010

“We should organize a protest.” I’m not much for demonstrations, but these were words to lift the soul. It was the instinctive reaction of a national NAACP official who had just learned Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona will appear today in Overland Park.

Letter To Obama:  Stop Namby-Pamby Talk On Immigration,” July 5, 2010.

Grade C. Mr. President. That’s how I rate your speech on immigration, pitched as a message “to make the clear case for comprehensive immigration reform.” Americans don’t need to be mollycoddled with phrasings from the Statue of Liberty and references to the U.S. being a land of immigrants. They need to be spoken to honestly. So please, admit the truth.

France Offers Lesson in How Not to Integrate Immigrants,” May 20, 2010

I am, generally speaking, an admirer of all things French… But my transoceanic lyricism goes flat when I hear about things like France’s preposterous plan to fine Muslim women the equivalent of about $185 for wearing a full-face veil in public.

Arizona Immigration Law Controversy Only in the Early Innings,” May 10, 2010

Baseball — or, rather, the linguistically more appropriate beisbol — is the new grape. Back in the day, the national grape boycott led by the United Farm Workers became one of the most effective consumer pressure campaigns in U.S. history. Dragging on for five years, the boycott hit growers where it hurt.

Open Season on Latinos in Arizona?” April 23, 2010

Arizona has never needed Sen. John McCain more — the “maverick” version of years gone by, that is. The man who understood the inherent evil of demonizing groups of people. The McCain who stood up to strident voices, understanding that fear-based, reactionary sentiments must never be codified into punitive laws.

Protests could block American DREAM,” May 19, 2010

A young woman who grasps the desperation and gravity of Yahaira Carrillo’s protest offered that assessment. Succumbing to the call of civil disobedience can mean deportation to a country that might be your birthplace but hasn’t been considered home for years.

Challenge Kris Kobach’s ideas, not the man,” May 5, 2010

If advocating torture can’t get a professor fired, dabbling with immigration certainly shouldn’t. John Yoo’s career path of writing torture memos, then teaching law is instructive for those who wish that Kris Kobach’s role at the University of Missouri-Kansas City could be curtailed because of his work as an architect of harsh immigration measures in Arizona.

Man behind immigration laws should see effects,” May 3, 2010

The entrées were ordered, the wine poured. And Dan Stein, longtime president of FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, was seated at the head of the u-shaped table. He is the affable wizard behind the curtain of many harsh immigration measures coming into vogue state by state.

One Response to “Mary Sanchez”

  1. Jerry Graf February 5, 2011 at 12:57 am #

    Dear Ms. Sanchez,

    Regarding your recent editorial about birthright citizenship and the 14th Amendment; I sent you the following letter one week ago via e-mail, and I am wondering if you would comment on any of my thoughts:

    I concur that birthright citizenship for children born to mothers who are in the United States LEGALLY is a fundamental principle of the 14th Amendment; however, you and others are stretching the 14th Amendment too far by insisting it applies to children born to mothers who are here ILLEGALLY. There is a world of difference between a person who is present LEGALLY and a person who is present ILLEGALLY, and the differentiation must be made.

    The privilege of citizenship can no-longer be granted to children born in the United States when the mother is not authorized to be here legally under the jurisdiction of the United States. These children are here as illegally as the mother and, in my opinion, altering policy and law in this manner does not conflict with or require further amendment to the Constitution for several reasons.
    – The words of the 14th Amendment indicate that birthright citizenship applies to “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof”. A person who is here illegally and without the knowledge of the government of the United States, and who is in the very act of defying the laws of the United States, cannot and should not be considered under the jurisdiction of the United States.
    – I have seen nothing in the record of the original congressional debate regarding the 14th Amendment that indicates that the originators were considering ILLEGAL aliens at the time of the amendment. There was, as you point out, extensive discussion regarding the application of birthright citizenship to children of non-citizens, some of which was highly racist and fortunately ultimately over-ruled. I am not aware, however, that any of this discussion focused on the children of people who were not only non-citizens but also present in defiance of laws (Illegally present).
    – Certain Supreme Court decisions, including one you named, that are often cited as supporting the traditional overly-liberal interpretation of the birthright clause actually do not address the situation of children born to illegal aliens in the United States.
    o The frequently cited case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark (1898) dealt with the citizenship of a child of non-citizen but legal Chinese immigrants.
    o Another frequently cited case, Plyer v. Doe (1982), dealt with the education of children brought to the US as illegal aliens, but not born here. While the ruling in Plyler v. Doe may be seen to have bearing on the interpretation of the words “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” in the 14th Amendment; the decision was a 5-4 split of the Court, with the dissent indicating that the Court was overstepping its bounds and that the matter should have been resolved legislatively; in other words, as a matter of policy not constitutional law.
    – It is additionally interesting that, in the Wong Kim Ark decision, the Supreme Court indicated that birthright citizenship of the 14th Amendment would, in fact, be excluded for “members of foreign forces in hostile occupation of United States territory”. While application of the term “hostile occupying force” may seem a bit harsh it is not unreasonable, considering that there are now in excess of 12 million illegal aliens (a number many times the larger than the combined US military forces) occupying the territory of the United States in defiance of our laws; and it is worthy to note that the Court was definitely allowing an exclusion of citizenship for the children of people who are present without permission and against the will of the people of the United States.

    There may be differing opinions on this issue, and legislative and judicial action will be required; but I think that a change of law in this matter should not require a change to the Constitution.

    Add this rejection of birthright citizenship for illegal aliens to three other principles for immigration reform, and we can eliminate the incentives drawing illegal aliens into the US:
    – First, any reasonable immigration reform policy must recognize that application for legal entry into the United States is something that must always be done from outside the United States, or while visiting the United States legally. No person who is in the United States in violation of immigration law (illegal alien) should ever be granted legal status without leaving and then applying for legal re-entry from the outside via the appropriate and legal procedures. Any law that conflicts with this requirement invites illegal entry by rewarding it, and is absolutely unacceptable.
    – Second, any person who has violated immigration laws of the United States and who is caught in the United States illegally must be deported and forever barred from re-entry. There can be no exceptions. This does not mean the United States must engage in “round-ups” or “mass deportations”, it just means that illegal aliens must be deported as they are caught.
    – Third, any reformed immigration policy must absolutely recognize that no person who is in the United State illegally is entitled to any benefits or services supported by public funds; and that identification and proof of legal status is an absolute requirement for application for any such benefits and services. This does not imply that emergency services and emergency healthcare should be withheld; however, once the emergency situation is resolved, deportation of persons here illegally must follow.

    If birthright citizenship for illegal aliens is eliminated and the other principles are applied, this will stem the wave of illegal entries and facilitate other reforms that are necessary to ease restrictions and bureaucracy involved with legal entry. We will be free to discuss any other reasonable reforms that would facilitate the legal application process. We can discuss and implement laws allowing more legal entries. We can discuss and implement making requirements less stringent. We can discuss and implement streamlining the path to permanent residency and/or citizenship. We can discuss and implement a controlled and legal guest or migratory worker program. We can discuss and implement tougher enforcement and consequences for employers who employ illegal aliens. We can discuss any reasonable reforms, as long as it is recognized that the United States has an absolute right and duty to protect its borders and control entry of any and all persons from other areas of the world. What we can not have is any law which provides any incentive to enter or remain in the United States illegally, or which provides any hope that by entering or remaining here illegally there will be a path to permanent residence or citizenship.

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