By: David Noack
When he told a N.C. reporter that he was an illegal immigrant, a Mexican man began
a chain of events that caused his own arrest and sparked a continuing controversy
A factually accurate story in the Raleigh News & Observer that mentioned a Mexican man’s violation of U.S. immigration laws has caused such a stir within that North Carolina newspaper that the publisher has given $5,000 to a fund that helps arrested illegal immigrants.
As a result of the publicity he recently received in the News & Observer, illegal immigrant Julio Granados was arrested by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and now faces possible deportation.
The newspaper gave the $5,000 to a fund providing Granados and five other arrested immigrants with food, shelter and clothing as they await their hearings in July.
The Granados incident, which gave rise to angst in the newsroom as well as anger throughout the region’s Latino community, appears to highlight the nation’s ambivalent attitudes about the enforcement of its immigration laws.
The Raleigh controversy began on March 8 with a powerful front-page story about Granados, a personable 21-year-old who had snuck into the country and was working 60-hour weeks in a North Raleigh store so he could send money back to his mother in Mexico.
Arrests after story
Sixteen days after the story appeared, the Charlotte, N.C., office of the INS raided the store where Granados worked and arrested him, along with five others, for violation of U.S. immigration laws. The INS agents were reported to have made a point of waving a copy of the newspaper as they took the men into custody.
The arrests created an uproar in the Latino community. Within days Latino fund drives had raised more than $25,000 required to have the arrested men released on bond.
Anders Gyllenhaal, executive editor of the News & Observer, said the newspaper was surprised that Granados had been arrested after details of his illegal status were published in a front-page story.
In an opinion column following the INS raid, Gyllenhaal said his newspaper had been forced to wonder if it had “failed to think enough about the impact (of its story) on this one, largely powerless, fairly ordinary young Mexican. The answer is yes, and we’d approach this story somewhat differently if we had to do it over again.”
The story was written by reporter Gigi Anders, a former Washington Post Style section reporter who has been at the News & Observer for little more than a year. It was illustrated with photographs taken by Robert Miller. Both spent several weeks ? off and on ? with Granados, chronicling his life.
Feature Became Hard News
Anders, who is Cuban-born and fluent in Spanish, was assigned to find and profile a recently arrived immigrant. But halfway through the story research with a very willing and open Granados, she suddenly found out he was an illegal immigrant.
“I took a deep breath,” she said. “I said, ‘Do you understand your name and face are going in the story? You’re not legal, you’re not documented, you know I have to say that.’ He said, ‘Do you think I might get deported’ and I said, ‘Yeah, you might.’ He kind of scratched his head and said, ‘If that’s going to be my destiny then so be it, my Mom misses me and cries when I speak with her.’ “
“To me that was a green light,” said Anders. She indicated the discovery did not change the focus of the story, but did make it more interesting.
“This is a competent man who I treated as such. I didn’t feel it was my moral, ethical or professional responsibility to protect him from himself. We were speaking the same language, so I thought when he said ‘OK,’ it meant OK,” said Anders, who added that if the editors had decided that the story should be killed, she was prepared to walk away from it.
Called Reporter for a Lawyer
Anders said she first learned of the INS raid when the owner of the store where Granados worked called her and asked her to find a lawyer. She declined and called the office.
Gyllenhaal, the editor, said the owners of that store in North Raleigh ? La Bodega El Mandado ? had originally suggested that the newspaper write a story about Granados.
He said when it was discovered that Granados was illegally in the country, the editors discussed the issue and decided to include those details in the story.
“It was our understanding,” explained Gyllenhaal, “that (Granados) had a pretty clear understanding of what the consequences could be.”
However, he said the newspaper was “surprised” at the INS arrests because, “We’ve written plenty of stories about undocumented workers who never were picked up by the INS.”
Bob Steele, a media ethics expert at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, said the self-examination process that the paper went through after the controversy broke is healthy.
“They could have told the story by leaving out specific information including his name or where he worked. To do so would have diminished the authenticity of the story and might have diminished the power of the storytelling.
“The question of course is, Is that trade-off a legitimate one in order to minimize potential harm when they publish the story to Mr. Granados?” said Steele.
Gina Lubrano, the readers’ representative at the San Diego Union-Tribune, said the newspaper should have exercised greater judgment in naming Granados.
?(March 8 story named an illegal immigrant, whom federal authorities then arrested, sparking controversy ) [Photo & Caption]
?(Julio Granados, arrested after allowing his name to be used ) [Photo & Caption]
?(“This was a competent man who I treated as such,” said reporter Gigi Anders.) [Photo & Caption]
?(Editor & Publisher Web Site: http://www.mediainfo.com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher May 23, 1998) [Caption]