While mainstream media demonize illegal immigrants, Spanish-language media are creating "an atmosphere of fear" by repeatedly covering family members being torn away from loved ones, an expert in immigration policy said Tuesday.
"The media exaggerates immigration issues, making it worse than it seems," Robert Suro, founder and former director of the Pew Hispanic Center, said during an appearance at Arizona State University. "The overplay of Latinos being shipped away on buses has got to end."
Suro, who is a journalism professor in the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, is a former foreign, domestic and Washington reporter for The New York Times and The Washington Post.
In a talk before students and faculty members at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Suro said the media are portraying illegal immigration as an epidemic.
But he noted that studies have shown illegal immigration has fallen sharply in the past year as the U.S. economy has slowed.
"Originally immigrants found work in the housing market; now that employment has dried up," Suro said.
Suro said the Spanish-language media also have caused illegal immigrants to leave and have caused prospective border crossers to stay in Mexico by suggesting that immigration enforcement tears families apart.
"The Spanish media constantly shows loved ones being taken away on buses," Suro said. "It is the prominence of those stories that has created an atmosphere of fear."
Ricardo Torres, CEO of Phoenix-based Latino Perspectives Media, publisher of Latino Perspectives magazine, said Spanish-language media are trying to show the human impact of enforcement to counteract mainstream media's portrayal of illegal immigration. He agreed that the tone of coverage sends a message to immigrants.
"Headlines range from X number of people being deported to X number of people being investigated," Torres said. "This creates fear among Latinos."
Rick Rodriguez, a professor and former newspaper executive who heads the Cronkite School's Southwest Borderlands Initiative, agreed that the Spanish-language media's coverage has frightened many immigrants. But he said it's also been an effective way to get the news out.
"Although Spanish media presents their facts using scare tactics, it is better that getting your information from rumors," Rodriguez said.