[MUSIC UP AND UNDER] This week, police chiefs from around the country met with Attorney General Eric Holder to express concerns about Arizona’s new immigration law. That’s SB 1070, which gives Arizona police the power to stop anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally. The passage of the law created a firestorm around the country and was front page material from coast to coast. Every so often, when an ongoing local story breaks out nationally, we like to speak to the beat reporters who watched the out-of-town media converge, one such, The Arizona Republic’s Daniel Gonzalez, a reporter with six years of experience on the story and a distinct personal connection to it. He himself is Latino, with an immigrant father. Gonzalez says this isn't the first time Arizona has found its immigration troubles dominating the national headlines.
DANIEL GONZALEZ: The last time was, I think, 2005 when we had armed civilian patrols volunteering to go to the border and patrol the border themselves, the – the Minuteman groups. When that happened, we had a lot of national attention. Shortly after that, President Bush ordered the uh National Guard to be deployed along the border. That was in 2006. They were here for about two years. We've got this ongoing problem, and the national media wakes up to it, you know, every year or two when something like this happens, and there’s a lot of attention. And then it kind of fades, but the problem remains.
BOB GARFIELD: Tell me about cable news in this current outbreak of interest attendant to the passage of the law. Has it been a caricature? Has it been fully contextualized?
DANIEL GONZALEZ: What I find somewhat troubling is these kind of portrayals of Arizona as it has become this completely lawless, out-of-control place where the drug smugglers are just kind of running rampant and, you know, illegal immigrants are - have made Arizona a very dangerous place to live. Not to diminish the problems associated with those activities - Arizona is a major corridor for marijuana smugglers – but it’s not like the general population is affected by those things. They're mostly isolated in neighborhoods where there are large immigrant populations, and mostly people who are involved with those kinds of activities.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, one gaping hole in the national coverage, it seemed to me, was failure to notice that for all of the problems that illegal immigration and the drug trade has wreaked on Arizona this past decade, that actually in the last year or two the problems seemed to have subsided somewhat, have they not?
DANIEL GONZALEZ: Yes, that’s very true. I mean, back in the middle part of the last decade, when illegal immigration was peaking, the number of apprehensions along the southwest border, which, you know, includes California, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico, was 1.2 million, and about half of those apprehensions were in Arizona. We had about 500,000 apprehensions a year. Those numbers have dropped significantly in the last two years. Now, in this last fiscal year, the number of apprehensions was around half a million along the entire border. Here in Arizona there were around 250,000.
BOB GARFIELD: And not because the border is more porous and that they simply aren't being caught, but because the security measures have been increased. Do you know which is the answer?
DANIEL GONZALEZ: Well, I think if you talk to the activists they'll tell you that border security has made an impact. The more difficult it is, the more expensive it is, the more smugglers are going to charge. But the much larger factor is the economy. Most people are coming to the United States for a job, so when the economy was booming that’s when the illegal immigration was booming.
BOB GARFIELD: I want to ask you about some personal stuff. Your name is Gonzalez. You are the child of immigrants, yourself. How has your beat been more challenging and less challenging because your name is Gonzalez?
DANIEL GONZALEZ: It’s more challenging because there are folks in the community who will see the name Gonzalez and presume that I will be writing from a point of view that is more sympathetic to immigrants and not include the other side. On the other hand, being Latino, I think, does give me a certain advantage. When I go out to interview folks who might be fearful of authorities, fearful of these kinds of immigration laws, and a Latino shows up at their doorstep to interview them who speaks Spanish, I do see that there is more willingness to open up to that person.
BOB GARFIELD: The Hispanic population is less suspicious of you. What about the Anglo population, are they more suspicious of you?
DANIEL GONZALEZ: When I've actually been talking to people who represent the side that would like to see a much stricter enforcement of immigration laws, I have never detected any kind of animosity. But, I do know that that does occur because we'll have callers who will call in to the newsroom and they'll want to talk to a reporter about this issue, and the news assistants will say, well, our reporter who covers that is Daniel Gonzalez and I'll transfer you to him, and the caller’s response would be, I don't want to speak to a Mexican reporter, I want an American reporter.
BOB GARFIELD: I want to ask you, Dan, though, about one area of conflict of interest that may not be so obvious, and that is that this law, which essentially mandates that police who are in contact with someone in Arizona ascertained their legal immigration status, you may well be affected, right? I mean, you may be stopped for “driving while Gonzalez.” And I wondered if that central fact in any way plays into how you’re covering that story. At the end, is there a conflict?
DANIEL GONZALEZ: Um, no. I mean, if anything, that would help me be a better informed reporter, because I can be able to describe to readers who might be skeptical that this is taking place or might not understand what’s wrong about targeting people based on how they look, that’d help me explain to folks why that’s dangerous and why that’s a problem.
BOB GARFIELD: Dan, thank you so much for joining us.
DANIEL GONZALEZ: Well, thanks for taking the time to talk to me.
BOB GARFIELD: Daniel Gonzalez covers immigration for The Arizona Republic in Phoenix, Arizona.
"Shrines & Sh*t"
by Gentle Friendly