While Nobody Was Reporting, the Border Was Declared Secure

By Jerry Kammer, February 22, 2013

Bloomberg Businessweek has now joined the cheering section for "comprehensive immigration reform". This week it features a story under a headline that proclaims "While Nobody Was Looking, The Border Got Secured".

But this declaration – which is ridiculed as absurd by residents of U.S. side of the Mexican border – is more the fault of the editors who wrote the headline than it is of reporter Elizabeth Dwoskin, who wrote it.

Call it a glaring example of the dreaded journalistic malady HSD, Headline-Story Disequilibrium. Its principal symptom is a fevered disconnect between what a headline claims and what a story demonstrates.

Dwoskin's principal material is a list of fiscal metrics of President Obama's efforts to bring order to the border.

"Obama has poured money and resources into border security", she writes. "In his first term, he spent $73 billion on immigration enforcement. That's more than the budgets of all other federal law enforcement agencies – the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshals Service – combined, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research group. (Bush spent $37.4 billion on immigration enforcement in his first term and $60 billion in his second.)" (For CIS's critique of these numbers, see here.)

She precedes the statistical snowstorm with this bit of sophistry: "The line between Mexico and the U.S. is now more secure than it's been in decades."

There is no doubt some truth there. Just as there would be if you said your roof was more secure than ever because you managed to patch 500 of the 900 holes through which your living room was chronically flooded before you got around to fixing it.

Dwoskin's own numbers acknowledge the problem, even if the headline doesn't. She reports that while 850,000 people were apprehended for illegally crossing the Mexican border in 2007, the number fell to 357,000 last year.

But is anyone comforted by the reality of one thousand arrests every day? Particularly when Border Patrol officers still acknowledge that for every person they arrest, several more get away?

Dwoskin presents this quote from Homeland Security Janice Napolitano during her visit earlier this month to the border south of San Diego: "I believe the border is secure."

Napolitano actually said a little bit more than Dwoskin quoted. The secretary followed that statement first with an embellishment and then, perhaps sensing that her nose was getting longer, a qualifier: "I believe the border's a safe border. That's not to say everything is 100 percent."

Bloomberg, one of the few news organizations that has remained financially sound in recent years, would perform a true journalistic service if it would send a reporter to spend some time along the border. Then its readers could learn what we learned from residents of south Texas last week during our annual CIS border trip.

All along the Rio Grande Valley we heard border residents say that the flows of illegal immigrant traffic are heavy and growing, especially as the world learns of President Obama's plans for a sweeping legalization of illegal immigrants. And in Brooks County, about 70 miles north of the border, we met with local people astonished at what they call frightening increase of foot traffic through their ranches as illegal immigrants walk around Border Patrol checkpoints at Falfurrias and Sarita.

They are also dismayed at the record number of illegal immigrant deaths in the attempt to cross the parched lands. One hundred and twenty-nine died last year, nearly doubling the total of the year before.

This is what one of the ranchers told us about Secretary Napolitano's border security pronouncements: "She's so far out in left field she can't see home plate. She has no clue what's going on out here in the brush country.... It makes us so angry. We're the ones living with this. When she's up there saying, 'Our borders have never been more secure', it just makes me want to puke."

Elizabeth Dwoskin is a good reporter. She would be an even better one if she saw the border through the eyes of its people, rather than through the eyes of Janet Napolitano.