Webster’s dictionary defines “baiting” as the making of verbal attacks against members of a racial group. KPBS, in a three-part radio report and a brief report on its television program, San Diego Week, baited Somalis in a report that had little fact and a lot of unsubstantiated ravings. The report stirred the pot of anti-immigration hysteria enough to get my Congressman, Brian Bilbray, to call for hearings about the “threat” posed by Somalis.
At the outset, it seems to this KPBS listener that the local reporters are under a lot of pressure to air something every day. When there is no news – and how much real news does San Diego generate in a day? – they take what is there and tweak it into some kind of report. Thus, we get amazing conclusions like this from a reporter – I apologize if I do not remember the wording just right – “The doctor says that losing weight is more complicated than some people think.” It is too bad that when all they have is material like that, they can’t just play a song or read baseball scores. As for San Diego Week, the show looks like something out of SC TV’s “CCCP1 TV,” without the charm. Or the real thing.
As for the Somali reports, they are posted by KPBS here and here. The first story, about a woman who came to San Diego as a refugee with her children was relatively harmless except for a factual error about the year the Somali civil war began. The story gives the impression that having Somalis in our city is unique to San Diego. The story does not mention the larger community in Minneapolis, and large communities in Columbus, Ohio, Omaha, Nebraska, and in Toronto. Somalis are also re-settled in Europe. Kenya and Ethiopia are overflowing with Somali refugees. There are many in South Africa.The story then ends with a portent that this series is not going to be about the horrors Somali refugees endured and their struggles in the United States – rather about “red flags within the intelligence community.”
One would expect to hear from the intelligence community in the next report, but we do not. Instead, in the second story, we hear from unidentified “federal agents.” They report that the Somalis come to the United States through a circuitous route, ominously through Cuba, without ID’s, and spend $60,000 to do it. The unidentified federal agents, bolstered by a “former research analyst from the American Enterprise Institute” speculate that a Somali could not have this much money and thus the refugees must be getting the money from Al-Shabaab, which wants to attack America.
What can you say to that load of facts of insinuation? You can say, “Show me the facts!” First, I have represented plenty of these asylum seekers. One did come via Cuba – first from Addis Ababa to Dubai to Moscow to Cuba and then to Central America and then to Mexico and then to the United States. Others came other ways – like as stow-aways in freighters, or from Somalia to Kenya to South Africa to Brazil, to central America to Mexico to the U.S. Somewhat less alarming without a Cuba dimension.
As for the $60,000; I have never heard such a sum. I have heard $6000 and $8000. I asked where the money came from – so did immigration officials and immigration judges. One man explained that his sisters gave their dowries to save their brother’s life. Another saved money sent by her husband in the United States. Another’s father was a dry goods trader and gave all he saved. Another received money from his brother who saved for several years in South Africa. As for the lack of documents, the grim fact is that people from Somalia don’t have birth certificates or drivers license or any other ID. There is no government in Somalia to issue such documents. No one has an ID. And finally, who is this expert formerly from the AEI? More reputable than any of scores of professors, employed think-tankers from unbaised organizations, lawyers who represent Somalis, actual identified intelligence agents? The number of “experts” loosely affiliated with the AEI espousing weird conspiracy theories is quite staggering. This was the best KPBS could do?
The story overlooks other details. When the asylum seeker comes to the border, he or she is arrested and investigated. Detailed interviews take place. Identification from family members or associates is necessary before a person can be released. Fingerprints are run to make sure the person is not known to the intelligence community. And then, before asylum is granted, a trial occurs where the story of the alien is reviewed by an immigration judge and an Immigration and Customs Enforcement prosecutor. Overlooked in the story is the harrowing stories the asylum-seeker tells of death to family members, their own beatings, and torture. The psychological stress to immigration judges listening to these gruesome tales has been documented. The psychological and physical injuries of the asylum-seekers are often identified and reported to the immigration judges by physicians and psychologists. Often the scars and crippling is obvious. These people, with limps and scars and bashed in heads and nightmares and traumas are hardly a band of terrorists. By the time they are granted asylum, there is no doubt their stories are true. They will be killed if they are sent back.
The final report purports to discuss the Al-Shabaab link. The story is not about Al-Shabaab in America, but Somali-Americans who left America to fight with Al-Shabaab in Somalia. There is no documented case of a San Diegan Somali returning to Somalia – just a lot of weird speculation from the ex-AEI “expert.” Would it be surprising if some Somali-Americans left the U.S. to fight in Somalia? An American left Marin County to fight with the Taliban. The West Bank of the Jordan is filled with Americans living on occupied territory. German Americans went to fight for the Nazis. Gandhi left South Africa to fight the British in India.
Finally, my pet peeve. In all the reports, the KPBS reporters refer to the Somalis as coming to the United States to seek “political asylum.” Asylum is the term for what a foreigner receives when he is allowed to stay after coming to the United States and seeking the protections of this country. Asylum is granted if a foreigner can show he will be persecuted based on race, religion, nationality, social group, or political opinion. INA § 101(a)(42). No Somali I ever represented received asylum because of political opinion. Rather, they received asylum because they faced persecution based on their tribal ties – social group. Certainly, some Somalis must receive asylum because of political opinions, though not many. When I contacted KPBS about this, a reporter responded to me that she understood that Somalis receive political asylum for reasons other than their political opinions. What kind of non sequitur is that? It’s like saying that some people like their iced tea hot. If it’s not hot it’s just “tea.” If it’s not political, it’s just “asylum.” If you can’t get the facts right and want to cause damage to a suffering people and instigate animus, fear, and harm, well at least don’t destroy the English language in the process. Posted 10/10/10.