Last week, the San Francisco Chronicle made the baffling decision to publish an opinion piece by Lou Di Leonardo, a self-styled “founding member” of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), alleging that immigrants were to blame for California’s high housing costs. This claim is absurd and incredibly offensive, with no factual evidence supporting such a causal inference, and is unworthy of any newspaper’s op-ed pages. But there’s an abundance of evidence that ICE and Customs & Border Protection (CBP) are committing a litany of human rights abuses - separating migrant families, caging innocent children in concentration camps, and cramming private for-profit prisons full of migrants forced to endure deplorable conditions—poor sanitation, sexual abuse, drinking out of toilets, and cells too crowded to sleep in lying down.
Recently, nearly 10,000 ICE and CBP employees were discovered to have participated in secret Facebook groups that distributed white supremacist propaganda, and lewd and intimidating comments against members of Congress. The Trump administration’s policy is inhumane almost beyond comprehension, and these agencies must be dismantled immediately, with anyone involved held to account for crimes against humanity. We believe the “path” to U.S. citizenship should not be any longer than the roads leading up to our borders. But we also believe that we must hold our otherwise cherished news media industry accountable as well.
To be clear, we've published plenty of op-eds that our staff disagreed with, and we welcome intellectual diversity. But it is one thing to merely disagree, and another to disseminate falsehoods from a modern-day Gestapo. The latter is not only ethically indefensible; it's also incredibly pointless. If and when the federal government wants to promote any idea, it has no shortage of other options before relying on privately owned media. The Chronicle had no compelling reason to publish this, and so many reasons not to do so.
There is a vast space between circulating intellectual diversity and promoting bigoted, offensive propaganda that even the slightest exercise of editorial discretion can manage. Whether or not a newspaper considers it their mission to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” more basic guiding principles are expected: “do no harm and publish no lies.”
The notion that immigrants contribute to California’s housing shortage is a widely debunked Malthusian myth that would be simply laughable were it not voiced by such a horrible authority. Indeed, California’s population growth does not even primarily come from other states—the largest share of new residents are those born in California. Many Californians are in fact leaving the state due to its unbearable housing costs. The Chronicle is presumably aware that the state’s housing shortage is most readily solved by building more housing, as the Editorial Board has endorsed this position many times in recent years.
Moreover, the Di Leonardo op-ed, like other writeups distributed by major publications this year, appears intended to promote a recent policy proposal by the Trump administration to evict families with undocumented members from public housing. Local housing authorities and Section 8 providers throughout the country are resisting this proposal, which is based on assumptions that have been soundly debunked. To publish something so dangerously and obviously dishonest is, again, beyond shocking.
Since even undocumented immigrants are overwhelmingly law-abiding taxpayers and net job creators, it is clear that more immigration would in fact help to grow our economy, and enable the additional infrastructure needed to sustain this growth.
We have expounded at length on the strong evidence showing that the solution to our housing and climate crises relies on more compact urban growth, rather than suburban sprawl. (But wait, there’s more: suburban sprawl is a huge waste of money.) We did not undergo painstaking years of data collection to arrive at novel conclusions; all the evidence we found is publicly available, and in no way hidden from a century-old newspaper with competent staff. Publishing fact-free nonsense to the contrary is an outrageous dereliction of journalistic ethics.
And frankly, all the evidence pointing to the net benefit of immigration is completely beside the point. No human being deserves the cruel treatment that thousands of migrants are enduring at the hands of ICE. The criminalization of undocumented immigrants, as codified in Section 1325 of the United States Code, is rooted in overt white supremacy, authored by a U.S. Senator who sought to ban interracial marriage via Constitutional amendment. Additionally, virtually no evidence supports the idea that these conditions work as a deterrent, and indeed, there is evidence to the contrary. That’s euphemistic policy-speak for, “people want to come here anyway.”
If homegrown bigots meaningfully opposed the most obvious root causes of current migration, such as the longstanding US foreign policy norm of ravaging and exploiting the poorest countries in Latin America, there would be fewer refugees to worry about in the first place. Of course, this is rarely part of the conversation, because anti-immigration bigotry is the same bigotry behind U.S.-backed coups in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua that continue to impel refugees to seek asylum—a completely legal recourse, by the way—here in the country that receives them so cruelly. Immigrants are no more responsible for our housing crisis as they are for the inhumane conditions they are fleeing. Like the cruel conditions many are kept in, these are all the deliberate outcomes of United States policy.
We see this situation in part because professional news establishments deluded themselves into believing that they could stand athwart rising pro-Confederate fascism as neutral moral arbiters. Yet as revelations of continuing, degrading, brutal and life-threatening maltreatment of refugees continue unabated, it’s apparent this illusion is flimsier than ever. For those of us in communities of recent migrants, or black communities or queer communities or, the list goes on, the false equivocation and procedural tut-tutting of mainstream editorial decorum is cold comfort indeed.
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