Nina Bernstein, Back on the Pro-Immigration Beat

Do illegal immigrants really raise wages for U.S. workers? And did the detention of Muslims after 9-11 equal the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Journalist Mickey Kausonce called New York Times reporter Nina Bernstein "the most tendentious and biased reporter on the paper - that would be the famed liberal bias." (And that's some stiff competition!)

Her two recent stories involving aliens in America don't do much to prove that impression wrong, with one optimistic piece on the prospects of illegal immigrants in America, and another comparing the detention of a Muslim with an expired visa after 9-11 to the mass interment of Japanese people in America, most of them citizens, during World War II.

After turning last spring's rallies in support of illegal immigration into politically mainstream protests, Bernstein on Saturday provided another soft-focus celebration of immigrants at an unusual House hearing at Ellis Island in "Where Millions Entered U.S., a Debate on Letting in More." (One suspects the setting provided an unfair home-field advantage for the pro-amnesty side.)

"It was the perfect setting for a Congressional hearing on immigration, all the speakers agreed - the Great Hall on Ellis Island, where from 1892 to 1953 more than 12 million immigrants waited to be let in to America.

"But the meaning that could be drawn from the backdrop was a matter of disagreement yesterday as the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration heard testimony from scholars and immigration officials."

To her credit, Bernstein let critics of unchecked immigration have their say. But the thrust of the article was the highly debatable idea that more immigrants (even illegal ones) actually raise wages for U.S. workers.

"But the testimony of several scholars painted a more optimistic outlook - and a less golden picture of Ellis Island's past.

"Dan Siciliano, who teaches corporate governance at Stanford Law School, cited recent research showing that the record immigration between 1990 and 2004 had helped to increase wages in the United States, contradicting older research that predicted the opposite would occur. He said that immigration - including illegal immigration -increased the wages of the native-born by an average of 1.8 percent, and by as much as 3.4 percent among 9 out of 10 native-born workers with at least a high school education.

"Mr. Siciliano, a research fellow at the Immigration Policy Center, an organization affiliated with groups that support liberalized immigration, said the older studies failed to recognize that immigrants create jobs as well as fill them."

Bernstein returned to the topic with a front-page story for Tuesday's Metro section, "Echoes of '40s Internment Are Seen in Muslim Detainee's Suit." (The online headline is at least less loaded with the sense of parallel historical injustices: "Relatives of Interned Japanese-Americans Side With Muslims.")

The story is ostensibly about the ongoing lawsuit of Ibrahim Turkmen, who was arrested in New York City after 9-11 because of an expired tourist visa and spent four months in jail in New Jersey. But his story is almost nowhere in the actual article, which focuses on Yasui, who with two others is filing an unusual friend-of-the-court brief in Mr. Turkmen's case.

The story came complete with two propaganda photos from the '40s, one showing a group of evacuees lined up at an "assembly center" in California, the other a Japanese family awaiting an evacuation bus.

"Holly Yasui was far away when a federal judge in Brooklyn ruled last June that the government had wide latitude to detain noncitizens indefinitely on the basis of race, religion or national origin. The ruling came in a class-action lawsuit by Muslim immigrants held after 9/11. But Ms. Yasui, an American citizen of Japanese ancestry, had reason to take it personally.

"Her grandparents were among thousands of Japanese immigrants in the United States who were wrongfully detained as enemy aliens during World War II. And her father was one of three Japanese-Americans who challenged the government's racial detention and curfew programs in litigation that reached the Supreme Court in the 1940s.

"Now, Ms. Yasui, along with Jay Hirabayashi and Karen Korematsu-Haigh, a son and a daughter of the two other Japanese-American litigants, is urging an appeals court in Manhattan to overturn the sweeping language of the judge's ruling last year.

"The ruling 'painfully resurrects the long-discredited legal theory' that was used to put their grandparents behind barbed wire, along with the rest of the West Coast's Japanese alien population, the three contend in an unusual friends-of-the-court brief to be filed today in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

"'Their interest is in avoiding the repetition of a tragic episode in American history that is also, for them, painful family history,' the brief states.

"In recent years, many scholars have drawn parallels and contrasts between the internment of Japanese-Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the treatment of hundreds of Muslim noncitizens who were swept up in the weeks after the 2001 terror attacks, then held for months before they were cleared of links to terrorism and deported.

"But the brief being filed today is a rare case of members of a third generation stepping up to defend legal protections that were lost to their grandparents, and that their parents devoted their lives to reclaiming."