May 06, 2008

     There’s an old saying about television ratings: You can’t fall off the floor.
But with her CBS Evening News ratings at abysmally low levels, Katie Couric and crew have proven that their ethics can.

Last month, the network showed it was willing to wallow with lowly hate-mongers, and take its journalistic standards even lower, in a desperate try for a ratings boost.

Its misguided effort brought on the ire of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National Council of La Raza. Deservedly so.

But let me back up, in case you haven’t heard — or if, like almost everyone else in the country, you weren’t watching the CBS Evening News.

It started with a report by CBS national correspondent Byron Pitts that took unfair — and inaccurate — aim at undocumented immigrants specifically, and all Hispanics, in general.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. It’s easy, and all too common, to prey on the weak, who can’t speak for themselves. Pitts followed a woman identified as an uninsured “illegal immigrant” into a hospital in McAllen, Texas, where she underwent a caesarian section to give birth to a new son.

Pitts noted that the woman’s $4,700 medical bill was paid for by emergency Medicaid — part of an estimated $1.1 billion U.S. taxpayers pay every year for the treatment of undocumented immigrants.

He didn’t stop there. Pitts pointed out that the boy, named Eliot, got “instant citizenship” by virtue of his birth here. And, Pitts stressed, that “makes it easier for (his) parents to become U.S. citizens.”

The suggestion: that Eliot’s mother had her baby here to guarantee herself a ticket into the United States and that “real” Americans paid for her care.

Don’t get me wrong, the numbers in the report are right; they’re from a study by the Rand Corporation. But Pitts left out crucial context. That’s what makes the overall report inaccurate.

First, it’s true that Medicaid pays an estimated $1.1 billion a year for the care of undocumented immigrants like Eliot’s mother. But Pitts failed to mention that those same “illegal immigrants” contribute an estimated $8.5 billion every year for Social Security and Medicare taxes — that they never collect. They can’t because of their legal status. They pay in, but they never take it out. So, they create a surplus that the rest of us benefit from, but not them.

Second, it’s also true that it will be easier for Eliot’s mom to gain permanent residency in this country because he was born here. And, someday, she might be able to become a U.S. citizen. But Pitts makes it sound like a slam dunk. Far from it.

Here’s how it really works.

Yes, Eliot will be able to sponsor his mom — in 21 years! Imagine! What insidious planning! You only have to wait two full decades for your children to help you get a legal Green card, permitting you permanent resident status — not citizenship. Then, some five years after that, you can apply to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. So, 26 years after your baby was born, you might gain citizenship. No guarantees.

Less than a month after the report aired, the census released its latest figures. Hispanics now represent 15 percent of America’s population, 45.5 million people. And, more significantly, a full one of every four children under 5 are Latino. That’s 25 percent of the pre-school population — up from 20 percent in 2000.

Thank you MALDEF and NCLR for taking the lead and making sure that the Katie two step does not go unchallenged.

Jose Cancela is Principal of Hispanic USA Inc, a full service Hispanic Market Communications firm. He has also the author of “The Power of Business en Español, Seven Fundamental Keys to Unlocking the Potential of the Spanish Language Hispanic Market”   Rayo / HarperCollins.  <http://www.hispanicusa.net>

jose@hispanicusa.net

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