Covering the Border Wars

Article excerpt

The Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border is one of die most dangerous places in die world to be a reporter. As difficult as it sometimes is for American reporters to get access to government meetings, records and court proceedings, at least they don't get jailed, beaten, shot or beheaded when covering a corrupt American politician or drug boss.

As Stephen Miller's cover story illustrates, every time a Mexican journalist writes a story about Mexican drug cartels, they risk assassination. Some Mexican journalists are seeking asylum in die U.S., while American journalists have dramatically cut back on how often they cross the border to report stories. As a result, citizens on both sides of the border are deprived of information about how dangerous the situation really is.

But that's not the only border story. Every month we get several calls from reporters in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas seeking help to pry information out of the federal government about illegal immigrants they have in custody: Where were they picked up? Are they charged with a crime? What's going to happen to them? Most of them disappear into a bureaucratic black hole in the desert.

It wasn't always this way. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, the federal government dramatically changed the way it manages cases involving foreign nationals - not just for the 1,200 mosdy Muslim, Arab men secredy arrested after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, but routine arrests of illegals along the Mexican border as well.

Prior to 9/11, reporters seldom had trouble covering deportation hearings. But in September 2001, then-Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy ordered immigration judges to close immigration hearings and seal all immigration proceeding records.

Although media and civil rights groups fded lawsuits, the results have caused nothing but frustration and confusion. In Detroit Free Press v. Ashcroft, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati (6th Cir.) found in 2002 that across-the-board closure of immigration proceedings was unconstitutional under the First Amendment's presumption of openness.

About one month later, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia (3rd Cir.) ruled in North Jersey Media Group, Inc. v. Ashcroft diat a blanket closure of immigration courts was justified by the potential direat to national security. …