Illegal immigrants and crime
A colleague at another newspaper sent out an inquiry this week about policies on crime suspects who are also illegal immigrants. When should that element be included in a story?
The message included citations of a number of Web sites at which the issue has been addressed:
From the Greensboro, N.C., paper (an editor's blog and reader reaction)
From the Poynter site (Houston Chronicle writer)
From the Poynter site (Reaction to the Houston Chronicle writer)
From the LA Times ombudsman (with reader reaction)
This was my answer:
I think that immigration status should be treated like that other potentially inflammatory subject, race. Don't introduce it unless it is an essential element of the story. If an illegal immigrant is involved in an automobile accident, for example, and it turns out that he acquired a driver's license fraudulently, then his status is a legitimate element. When I look at something like the Poynter post and see people writing about "preserving our culture," I don't want anything to do with that. We shouldn't shy away from difficult topics, but we also shouldn't needlessly inflame the public.
Though The Sun has no formal policy on identifying crime suspects as illegal immigrants, we do have a policy of not introducing racial identifications into our stories unless there is a clear purpose. You can read about that, and the heat I took from readers, here and here.
Fresh comments about my being a feckless twit may be made below.