Perhaps no other single political issue is covered with less concern for balance by the Times than the Dream Act, which would provide amnesty for illegal immigrants who come into the country as children, provided they enroll in college or serve in the military.
Depending on the state, the legislation would allow illegal immigrant students to pay in-state rates for college tuition, thus getting a better deal than out-of-state U.S. citizens. They would also be eligible for federal and state education aid such as Pell Grants. The legislation could also provide incentive for more illegal immigration and reward past illegal behavior.
These concerns and others were relegated to a single paragraph in "Coming Out Illegal," Maggie Jones 2,800-word essay for the Sunday New York Times Magazine.
Jones, a contributing writer to the magazine, followed "Leslie," a history major at UCLA "with three part-time jobs and plans for grad school...the only child of a single working mother, Leslie is brave but not reckless: in the wrong place under the wrong circumstances, the T-shirt's two words across the chest - "I'm Undocumented" - are provocative enough to upend her life."
Leslie doesn't seem all that worried, since she posed for a picture for the Sunday edition of a newspaper in her room, with only the top half of her face covered by a curtain.
Initially shy and sometimes self-deprecating, Leslie is also warm, charmingly frank and girlish, with cheeks that easily flush and bangs that she brushes from her forehead as she talks. She is also, by necessity and by experience, resourceful and intrepid.
But alas, "because she is undocumented, she is not eligible for the myriad federal and state aid programs that make college feasible for many working- and middle-class families. No Pell grants, no work-study programs."
Leslie's "Undocumented" T-shirt, along with the rallies she attends and the lobbying she has done in Washington and Sacramento, is part of an effort to change her and other undocumented students' lives through what's known as the Dream Act. The federal bill, a version of which was introduced in Congress in 2001, would create a pathway to legal residency for immigrants who arrived in this country as children, have been in the United States for at least five years and have graduated from a U.S. high school or obtained a G.E.D. To gain status, they would have to finish two years of college or military service. Supporters argue that the legislation benefits ambitious, academically successful students who will go on to professional careers. Without the Dream Act, many of those same young people will be stuck, much like their parents, in the underground economy.
Some 825,000 immigrants are likely to become legal residents if the Dream Act passes, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a research group. But Steven A. Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors strict enforcement of immigration laws and opposes the Dream Act, argues that the legislation would create another avenue for immigration fraud and added incentive for immigrants to come to the United States. He noted that it rewards illegal behavior and takes college spots and financial aid from students who are legal residents.
In the midst of the political wrangling, the Dream Act advocates - most of them in their early to mid-20s - have become the most outspoken and daring wing of the immigration movement. Borrowing tactics from the civil rights and gay rights movements, in the last year they have orchestrated dozens of demonstrations, hunger strikes, "coming out" events - publicly revealing their undocumented status - and sit-ins in federal offices, risking both arrest and deportation.
Jones eventually admitted that no one has actually been deported because of Dream Act activism, but why let that get in the way of the drama?
Jones' relentless fawning matches what the Times has done all year, giving prominent play to their tiny marches involving less than five people, as it did in May and January 2010, while virtually ignoring the massive annual March for Life against abortion.
Jones indulged in melodrama.
Undocumented students often describe their early lives as molded by fear. They had nightmares about immigration agents showing up at the front door. They watched parents or older siblings be deported. So when a group of activists decided for the first time this year to purposefully risk arrest and deportation for the Dream Act, it was a bold move - some called it impetuous - and one that played directly into some students' deepest anxieties.
In May, Carrillo traveled to Tucson with three other Dream leaders: Lizbeth Mateo, the co-founder of Dream Team L.A.; Tania Unzueta, a Chicago advocate who helped jump-start the national "coming out" campaign; and Mohammad Abdollahi, a co-founder of DreamActivists.org, a resource for undocumented students. In Tucson, Raul Alcaraz, an activist who is a legal resident, joined the group, which became known as the Dream Act 5.
Around 11:30 on the morning of May 17, the 56th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, while dozens of Dream Act supporters rallied outside, the five activists walked into John McCain's office, dressed in matching royal blue graduation gowns and caps. (McCain was in Washington.)They sat down in the reception area under an American flag, and for more than six hours they refused to leave, calling for McCain to support the Dream Act and the bill's passage.
Jones continues to press the misguided civil rights era comparison. Wilmington 10, meet the "Dream Act 5."
Yet the Dream Act 5 did succeed in at least some of its goals. While McCain has not changed his position, the sit-in received national and international media attention. Other youth activists, emboldened by the Arizona group, have orchestrated sit-ins and hunger strikes around the country, including in North Carolina, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington.
The Times certainly gave it "media attention," covering the sit-in by the "Dream Act 5," though without that catchy title, calling it "an escalation of protest tactics."