One of the most annoying things about the news media is that they allow entities and individuals to make statements without being challenged on the veracity of the statement. This is especially true when it comes to demographic numbers bandied about for a specific cause. Last Tuesday, city council listened to 31 speakers speak on a request for the city to issue municipal identifications to residents of the city.
Let me be clear from the onset, I wholeheartedly support the City of El Paso issuing municipal identification cards to its residents regardless of legal status. As the speakers indicated during their presentations, identifications will solve many issues faced by many individuals, including the homeless, the mentally ill and domestic violence victims. I do not want my comments today to be misconstrued as unsupportive of the issuance of identity documents to residents of El Paso.
However, just as I continually write about political rhetoric and how it is used to manipulate public policy I have to also point it out when it is used to benefit something I happen to support.
According to the advocates of the municipal identity cards, there are 40,000 to 50,000 residents in El Paso without an identity document. From the moment I first heard that number bandied about, I questioned what methodology was used to arrive at the number. In other words, how accurate is that number?
Apparently, from the lack of reporting on the source of that number and the continued use by the news media as a reliable number I am the only one who questions its reliability. Stating that 40 to 50 thousand El Paso residents would benefit from a municipal identification card obviously carries more weight than stating that we suspect about 10,000 would benefit from it. Even acknowledging the truth that no one really knows how many El Paso residents lack identification, in my opinion, would be better.
For me this is important because much of the rhetoric about immigration reform will center on nebulous numbers of how immigrants are abusing the system. The numbers thrown about seem to come out of thin air and the debates end up being driven by them.
During the presentation to city council, the various supporters for a municipal identification took care to point out that the identification was needed by certain population segments carefully avoiding the obvious undocumented immigrants as potential beneficiaries. The Homeless Coalition pointed out that the lack of identification was a barrier to the homeless population. Similarly, the argument was made on behalf of the mentally ill and domestic violence victims. They even through in the transgender population into the mix.
Is El Paso that seriously in trouble that there are 40,000 or more individuals that are victims of domestic violence, or mentally ill individuals with the homeless mixed in as well? Of course not, but the 40,000 plus number hasn’t been challenged by anyone, not even the news media.
Was there a census conducted of people without any identification? Is the number a compilation of various census sources? If so which ones? Human trafficking was also mentioned as being part of the population lacking an identification card.
One speaker even stated that there is “an immigrant population out of Ft. Bliss” that lacks proper identification. This, on the same day that Fort Bliss issued a Press Release telling the community that effective January 28, 2015 “100% identification card check” is being implemented. Therefore, anyone wanting to get on base will require a valid identification card.
From the statement that the speaker made, one-out-of-31, many things can be inferred. For example, are soldiers bringing in undocumented people unto Ft. Bliss, or marrying them, or are there El Paso residents that lack identification that are dependents of the soldiers that cannot get on base now? As you can see, I can go on and on inferring many scenarios.
However, none of those would account for the nebulous 40,000 to 50,000 number being used.
Obviously, the number is being used to get the politicians to agree to issue municipal identification cards. I happen to believe that is a good thing, but is making up a number to get something done the right thing to do?
I do not happen to believe the number because I question how it was derived. As such, I do not believe it is a reliable number to be used to base any argument on. Yet, it seems, from the lack of news media reporting that I am the only one questioning the veracity of the number.
Why is that?
In her report, Diana Washington was the only reporter that bothered to ask where the 40,000 to 50,000 number came from. Washington quoted Gabriela Castañeda as stating that the number, an estimate, came from the Pew Research Center.
Good, I thought to myself, finally, I could look at the source of the number and better understand how it relates to the policy agenda. I Googled for information and I even went to the Pew Research Center’s website and looked for a report on the number of people without identification. It was a futile search. Before giving up, I submitted a request to the Pew Research Center asking them to point me in the right direction. I am sure you know what the response from Pew Research Center was.
“We haven’t done any research on those who lack identification.” There you have it; the much-touted number does not come from the only source quoted.
However, my feeling is that the number that is being bandied about is an estimate of the number of undocumented residents living in the city. This is important because Washington quoted Manuel Escobedo as stating that the municipal identification issue “has zero to do with immigration status.”
Again, to be crystal clear I am an immigrant and I believe everyone should be treated with dignity and respect as well as to be allowed to live their lives irrespective of their immigration status. As a matter of fact, I advocate for an open border status in both Mexico and the United States. Because I suspect that the municipal identification is about facilitating immigrant lives, as well as the other examples given, that fact should not be hidden or distracted from just to make it more palatable to all.
We need to start having the immigration discussion openly and publicly and stop living in the shadows. If the 40 to 50 thousand without identification includes immigrants, then so be it. Don’t keep hiding them in the shadows.
More importantly, I question the number because many public policy agendas are promoted and driven by numbers uttered by proponents and those opposed to policy and yet the news media just regurgitates the numbers without questioning their veracity. Maria Garcia did this on her report on the municipal identification issue for KVIA.
Let me bring the numbers issue closer to your pocket books. What would the scenario be today in regards to EPISD if some reporter had stopped the building frenzy by questioning the notion that Ft. Bliss was going to need as many schools as everyone was talking about.
I clearly remember the rhetoric going through the business groups, we need to build, build and build some more because the soldiers are coming. It was all about the gravy train and no one dared to challenge the notion of the reality of the numbers. The chambers of commerce were giddy about the business opportunities and in the end; the El Paso Hispanic Chamber quietly acknowledged that the local contractors were being bypassed because none of them could be bonded. Oh, they will argue all sorts of excuses today and even tell you they never said that but I was in the meetings where this reality was finally acknowledged. Now, El Paso has too many schools.
Likewise, if some news reporter had bothered to ask the simple question of how is it that a for-profit company, always looking for ways to make more money for investors, looked at the El Paso market for a children’s hospital and promptly proclaimed there was no money in it. Yet, the El Paso illustrious politicians saw so much money in it that they proclaimed a stand-alone children’s hospital would make money as soon as it came online.
How true is that today?
Public policy agendas are promoted on nebulous numbers seemingly plucked from thin air and the news media just eats them up without asking the simple questions.
But, you do not understand, you do not know how little time we have to gather the information and rush it to the viewers/readers is the collective groans from the news media. That excuse is old and tired.
I am a simple blogger living almost 2,000 miles away and yet, to my knowledge, I’m the only one questioning whether the El Paso Children’s Hospital is, in fact, exempt from public disclosure. I am the only one that has challenged that assertion through two open records requests.
The news media just accepts it as fact and doesn’t bother to question the secrecy of the negotiations. Just as numbers coming out of nowhere promote public policy so do the numerous assertions of the public doesn’t need to know that or doesn’t want the information is the reason why El Paso continues to be dominated by the perception of corruption in all its public spaces.