by Cristina F. Pereda /translation: Blanca García
- Claudia Nuñez is one of the most prestigious journalists of US Hispanic media
- The situation on the border has changed the way many professionals work, directly affected by the violence
- Nuñez says that migratory flows are not the same as before: “Now they also emigrate because of the violence”
When North American media talks about immigration, violence, insecurity on the border, they talk about thousands of citizens -with and without documents- who live trapped in that situation. Among them there is a handful of journalists, many of them immigrants themselves, who have seen the change on the face of the border from a privileged perspective.
One of them is Claudia Nuñez, one of the country’s most prestigious Hispanic journalists. Her articles for the Los Angeles newspaper La Opinión have earned her numerous awards and they are a window to the true reality of the border. Testimonies from victims of modern slavery, of the failure of George Bush’s fight against sexual exploitation and of an FBI operation to eliminate a human trafficking net. This same week, the journalist is investigating the alleged fraud of customs agents on the border between Mexico and the US, who have been accused of letting traffickers in.
“It is true that violence rates have gone up, but the argument used by politicians, who have linked violence and immigration, is not true”, says Nuñez. “They have manipulated it, it is an issue of drugs, of drug use, of addiction, of weapons and of security. The victims have entered a vicious circle because of the authorities, who want to control the way everything is represented”.
And among the victims, there are also journalists. Although Nuñez says that she feels bad because, in some way, she has a privileged position being able to tell the story from this side of the border: “My colleagues in Mexico live in a much worse situation. After all these years, we’ve never seen anything at this level”. Nuñez is talking about having to modify articles, to take out part of the information, to stop having relatives’ photos in her wallet or to take off her wedding ring when she goes to cover certain stories. “Now it doesn’t matter if you are going to cover a story about agricultural fields, they follow you anyway. They control everything”.
Journalism in between fear and silence
After more than ten years as a field reporter, and in one of the areas of the country that have changed the most in a decade, Nuñez has witnessed the problems that affect Southwestern United States. Even though she covers all sorts of topics, her investigation articles have uncovered in many occasions stories that slip past national media.
“I’ve always been interested in social and human issues, the drug and human trafficking, the violence, the brain drain, everything that surrounds such a drastic change that has happened in so little time”. Nuñez talks about the rise in violence. And about all the fear that has impregnated everything: “There’s so much fear, so much intimidation that many things are not denounced. Fear has silenced a lot of victims, a lot of beatings, a lot of kidnappings”.
And it has changed the way journalists work. The current situation on the border hasn’t only made Nuñez, and so many other local journalists, change some habits and work differently with her sources. Before they felt, seeing her as a Hispanic reporter, that they had a connection with her. They shared information they wouldn’t give to other North American journalists. Now they are afraid of talking and even of people knowing she is a journalist. “I just covered a story in Laredo and I stayed with a family that asked me to never identify myself as a journalist. They are scared”, she states.
It also prevents her from getting the other side of the story. “Even though we try to walk away from stereotypes, it is getting harder every time to have all the sources”, she states. Authorities, government agencies and local organizations now give out less information when they see they are Hispanic journalists.
Journalists and immigrants
In spite of her years as a journalist, of exposing human trafficking nets and bringing to light 21st century slavery, Nuñez still talks about all these changes with a certain surprise. As if she didn’t believe how much the border community has had to suffer. When she talks about immigration, she changes her tone. Like many other colleagues and like her sources, she is an immigrant. She studied in Mexico and she arrived to the United States as a correspondent in 1988. Afterwards came the chance she had never dared to dream about, working for La Opinión – the big West Coast newspaper-.
And meanwhile, an immigrant family, the memories of relatives who left for the US, celebrations for those who came back, and a grandmother who witnessed how everybody came and went.
“When we heard about the reform, for some it is only a political discourse, but for journalists like us who are close to the families we see that it’s not. They are stories of hope, broken dreams and starting over. They are mothers who want a future for their children, who are afraid to go out on the street, to walk by a policeman, obsessed with not drawing attention”, she remarks.
Nuñez is convinced that any immigration reform will be designed solely for those who are already in the country and it won’t change at all the new migratory flows. President Barack Obama promised during the election campaign that he would undertake a reform during his first 12 months in power. He didn’t fulfill it. The health care reform went wrong, it required more negotiations and concessions than expected and immigration fell off the list. Later attempts, such as a law to grant citizenship to young students under the condition of going to college or joining the army, have been held back because of Republican opposition.
The attempts to fulfill “the promise” have been, also, very mild and have given way to more radical efforts such as controversial Arizona law SB1070, which allows officers to check the papers of anyone “suspected of being illegal”. Until then, only immigration agents could do it and only once the person had committed an offense, not before.
Obama’s Administration filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Arizona law, but that hasn’t stopped other states from thinking about passing copies of it or from trying to take away the right of citizenship to children of immigrants without papers who are born in the United States. Two years and too many controversies later, undocumented immigrants are still in the same situation, only more scared.
What has changed is the context of those who emigrate now. “We’re not talking about the waves of immigrants of five years ago, when they crossed the border hoping for a job. Now they have other reasons, and one of them is violence”, states Nuñez. “Now you don’t die because of the desert or the river, it is because the cartel kills you for not paying”
Inside the US, many of those who survived the river aren’t expecting the reform anymore. When the first news of immigrants going back to Mexico came, many of them read them with skepticism. They were stories of the crisis, of the lack of opportunities, of the economic collapse that suffocated and still suffocates many Hispanic families. Now it is a confirmed trend that many, like Nuñez, never imagined.
“I’m telling it now as if I were telling an implausible story, but it’s there, there are immigrants in the consulates asking for double citizenship for their children- who are North American- to be able to go back to their country, there are no kids in some schools because their parents have taken them to Mexico…”, she remarks with a smile. “A story I never thought I’d see in this country”.