Coming to America
If you'd told me, when we produced our first issue of Desert Exposure back in April 2003, that by this fall we'd be publishing 64-page issues and that one of them would include a nearly 10,000-word package about illegal immigration, I wouldn't have believed it. But here we are, thanks to the support of our wonderful advertisers, publishing a bulging 64-page October issue, after an equally fat September edition. The pages made possible by all that advertising give us the room to treat complex, controversial topics such as illegal immigration, the Minutemen and the border "state of emergency" at the depth they deserve and demand.
The response from our readers-who say that not only do they actually read even such long articles but that they particularly value our balanced, in-depth coverage in this era of "sound bites"-also makes such projects possible. At 9,700 words (but don't panic-that includes three boxed "sidebars"), I believe that this issue's "Borderline Insanity" is the largest story ever to appear in Desert Exposure. It just tops our September 2004 investigation of the pros and cons of trapping, and our May 2004 look at rancher Kit Laney and his anti-environmentalist backers.
That Laney story, "Range War," was our first major foray into controversial territory. People warned us that we'd make somebody mad, that caravans from Catron County would come down to protest or burn brands into our lawn (good thing we don't have a lawn). That story and subsequent articles on "hot topics" certainly generated plenty of letters to the editor. But we didn't lose a single advertiser over it. I think readers and advertisers both respect that we try to play fair and present both sides of any controversy we cover, as even-handedly as possible. The finished article may come to some sort of rough conclusion about the controversy, as the evidence we assemble piles up, but we never go into such an investigation with minds already made up.
This issue's illegal-immigration opus is a prime example. As I attended Rep. Steve Pearce's "Immigration Listening Tour" this summer, followed the controversy over the Minuteman Project and began assembling a stack of research that's now about three inches thick, I really didn't know what to think about New Mexico's border woes. If I came to this article with any bias, it was probably in the opposite direction of where the story ultimately points, if it points anywhere at all in the confusing, frustrating muddle of America's battle against illegal immigration.
My own ancestors on my father's side, after all, were poor immigrants themselves when they arrived in this country from Sweden in 1876. As great as the contrast is today between the poverty of much of Mexico and the opportunity in America, conditions in rural 19th century Sweden were at least as harsh. According to a short biography written by one of his sons about my great-great-uncle, who immigrated with my great-grandfather, the winter before the brothers left for America, the family's cow starved to death. My great-grandfather lost his winter coat, so he had to stay indoors all winter because the family couldn't afford to buy another one.
And yet the descendants of those two poor Swedish brothers epitomize the American dream. Not only did they go to college; many became college professors. That son who wrote my great-great-uncle's biography became one of America's leading geologists, with a building named for him at the college in the town where the family settled. The American melting pot worked for my family, and so I'm naturally leery of any hint that later waves of immigration might be keeping themselves more apart. (In fact, though, as I discovered researching this issue's lead feature, the evidence indicates that today's Hispanic newcomers are becoming part of the American mainstream, even as they share their unique heritage-much like the Scandinavian immigrants of the latter 19th century.)
My Swedish ancestors also arrived in America legally, of course, so I confess to a similar innate wariness of any immigrants who "don't follow the rules." So, while deploring the call to vigilantism of the controversial Minutemen, I guess I could empathize with their frustration, that feeling "something has to be done" about our porous border.
As a journalist, though, I couldn't let those unfocused if deep-seated feelings bias my investigation. I tried to go into this project with eyes wide open, willing to be convinced-by the evidence-of any possible point of view.
But I wasn't prepared, I admit, for the mounting evidence that America's whole attack on illegal immigration may in fact be backfiring. Those calls for "beefing up" enforcement on the border? It turns out that's exactly what's been happening, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. We can all see the sad results, including the record number of deaths among would-be border crossers. The only type of enforcement that hasn't been beefed up, ironically, is that against US companies that hire and exploit undocumented workers-enforcement against that law-breaking has become a joke.
So this issue's deliberately provocative cover line is accurate, at least when it comes to the author of "Borderline Insanity": Pretty much everything I thought I knew about illegal immigration turns out to be wrong. Whether there's a hint of a solution to this seemingly insoluble problem someplace in those 9,700 words, I'll leave up to you, the reader, to decide. I know I'll think differently about this issue from now on. Agree or disagree by article's end, I hope you'll invest the time to investigate for yourself.
On a lighter note, one of our previous, er, investigations has recently won an award for author and frequent contributor Jeff Berg. The American Association for Nude Recreation gave its 2005 "Public Relations Non-Nudist Media Award" to Jeff's "Welcome to Nude Mexico" article in the October 2004 Desert Exposure. According to the Suntree Travel Club in Las Cruces, which was the subject of the story and which nominated Jeff's work, the judging was held at the association's national convention at the Caliente Nudist Resort in Land O' Lakes, Fla. A photo of Jeff accepting the award-we dare not speculate about his attire in said photo-will appear in an upcoming issue of the Kissimmee, Fla.-based association's newsletter, The Bulletin. (We also have a number of far livelier suggestions for retitling the group's newsletter, of which we will only share "The Naked Truth.")
Needless to say, we-ahem-blush with pride to have a Desert Exposure article so honored, and extend to Jeff our unadorned congratulations.
David A. Fryxell is editor and publisher of Desert Exposure.