Incurious Journalist Covers Fired Immigrants, Doesn't Question Legal Status

Jennifer Medina sympathetically covers the plight of California immigrants who were fired for failing to come up with proof of legal residence, but fails to ask the obvious question: Were they in the United States illegally or not?

'Immigrant Worker Firings Unsettle a College Campus,' Jennifer Medina's sympathetic report from Claremont, Calif., on immigrants without proof of legal residency being fired from the Pomona College cafeteria, blamed the firings on union-busting on the part of campus administration and failed to pose the obvious factual question: Were the workers here illegally or not?

The dining hall workers had been at Pomona College for years, some even decades. For a few, it was the only job they had held since moving to the United States.

Then late last year, administrators at the college delivered letters to dozens of the longtime employees asking them to show proof of legal residency, saying that an internal review had turned up problems in their files.

Seventeen workers could not produce documents showing that they were legally able to work in the United States. So on Dec. 2, they lost their jobs.

Now, the campus is deep into a consuming debate over what it means to be a college with liberal ideals, with some students, faculty and alumni accusing the administration and the board of directors of betraying the college's ideals. The renewed discussion over immigration and low-wage workers has animated class discussions, late-night dorm conversations and furious back and forth on alumni e-mail lists. Some alumni are now refusing to donate to the college, while some students are considering discouraging prospective freshmen from enrolling.

For the last two years, many of the dining hall workers had been organizing to form a union, but the efforts stalled amid negotiations with the administration. Many on campus believe that the administration began looking into the employees' work authorizations as a way to thwart the union effort, an accusation the college president, David W. Oxtoby, has repeatedly denied. But that has done little to quell questions and anger among the fired workers and many who support their efforts to unionize.

Medina briefly let legal reality intrude:

Dr. Oxtoby and the college's trustees repeatedly said there was no choice but to fire the workers. In a letter from the law firm, lawyers for the college said the college would have left itself open to investigation and punishment from federal immigration authorities had it not fully examined the employment files.

Not once did Medina, a journalist, raise the obvious factual question: Were the cafeteria workers in the United States illegally?