It’s kind of like a dirty secret no one wants to spread: We’re making money off illegal immigrants.
I’ve heard it from reverends, lawmakers, attorneys and colleagues. “Just follow the money, Vallery.”
So I did.
I’m sure it’s upsetting to some. And the irony isn’t lost to the intelligent ones–We are making money off people many want out of here as quickly as possible.
The rate? About $54 a day (if they’re locked up on immigration-related charges) and $19 an hour for driving them to and from jails, according to county sheriff’s department officials. It results in millions in revenues for many counties in the state.
But at its purest form, this story was just way for me to shine a mirror on ourselves.
It’s a little more complicated, perhaps, than we’d like to think.
On Thursday baseball star Cal McLish, 84, died. McLish pitched 15 seasons in the majors and coached many more. And than as a scout and instructor, likely gave many players a start in their careers.
And while he probably never knew, McLish was my first journalistic interview. It was back in sixth or seventh grade and we probably had some type of assignment to interview somebody noteworthy. I believe it was for English class, but those details are vague in my mind.
What I do remember is thinking how much I didn’t want to interview somebody. That was until my dad suggested McLish. My dad, and also my little league baseball coach, knew I was baseball crazy. And he knew McLish from the golf course.
I don’t remember everything McLish told me during that interview, but I do remember how he made a wide-eyed, baseball-crazy boy feel at ease.
I remember what he told me when I asked him how he pitched Ted Williams: “Throw him low fastballs and hope he just got a single.”
I remember thinking how hard it was going to be to spell his whole name, Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish.
I remember him telling me how he pitched in an all-star game and retired Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Ernie Banks, among others.
I remember making an “A” on the report.
And I remember what a nice man he was. I’m pretty sure I left with his autograph that day.
I probably would have gotten into journalism even if I hadn’t interviewed McLish all those years ago.
But what I do know is that when I’m getting ready to do a difficult interview, I often flashback to that first one. And for a moment I smile.
So, thanks Mr. McLish for making a young boy an experience he never forgot.
The Stonebriar neighborhood in northwest Oklahoma City is a quiet, family addition that looks like many other areas around Edmond–Brick homes around 2,00o square feet. Tall privacy fences. Perfectly manicured Bermuda grass.
Well landscaped lots (homeowners are required to spend no less than about $1,000 on flowers, grass, trees and shrubs).
Trash cans be kept out of sight unless it’s trash day.
Only ”for sale” or “for rent” signs can be posted in lots.
Home prices in the new neighborhood start at about $200,000.
Heather Drapeau didn’t mention being surprised by a request to remove several signs posted in the windows and on the fence around her home. She didn’t say if she’d read the homeowner’s association covenants, but she doesn’t see it as a neighborhood rules issue. She thinks her opinion is as valid and protected as her neighbors’ who she says display signs supporting the Edmond North high school Huskies. Drapeau says the neighborhood association looks the other way at those signs, but one of hers that says, ”For Peace Bring The Troops Home Now,” is inflammatory.
“They want this neighborhood to look like all of the other cookie-cutter neighborhoods around here,” Drapeau said.
“But I’m going to keep rattling my saber.”
The former military combat medic has promised to keep the signs up and has no issue going to court about it, she said.
We’ll keep an eye on this story and see how it turns out.
It’s been more than a month since my coworker Ron Jackson and I returned from an immigration fellowship hosted by the Institute for Justice and Journalism and the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.
The fellowship, called Immigration in the Heartland, was designed to immerse journalists in the issues, arguments, faces and facts surrounding the immigration debate in the country. We heard from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, lawmakers, community leaders, naturalized citizens and undocumented immigrants. We talked to lawyers, judges and talking heads. Husbands, single mothers and students attending school in south Oklahoma City.
Most of the week-long fellowship took place in Norman and Oklahoma City. But we also spent time at immigration court in Dallas and other federal offices.
One of the requirements of the fellowship is that the journalists produce stories on the issue. This weekend, Ron and I will publish the first group of what we plan to be a series of stories about immigration in Oklahoma.
As Oklahoman and Miss USA first-runner up Morgan Woolard said, “It’s one of the most hot button issues in our country today.”
My hope is these stories will educate and foster informed debate on the issue. Keep an eye out for the stories here on Newsok and in The Oklahoman.
Below is a phrase net built from the text of stories published with my byline in April 2010. Phrase nets visually display how words are connected in text.
In simpler terms, this is what swirls through my head when I’m trying to sleep at night. Kind of disturbing, isn’t it?
(Click on the title of the visualization, “Estus April 2010 phrase net,” to view it in a full browser window. My favorite view is the final view, which connects word one with word two using a space.)
Reporters get all manner of bizarre tips from the public. Such a tip led to last week’s story on a crucifix some said showed a large penis on Jesus. The story has since gone international, having been picked up by blogs and news sites worldwide. It has received tens of thousands of hits on NewsOK.
And it all started with a phone call. That’s somewhat remarkable considering all the dead ends we typically run into when we get calls from the public that seem as outrageous as this call about Jesus’s genitals.
Many of the strangest calls I’ve taken as a reporter came years ago when I worked the Saturday police beat. Something about Saturdays just seemed to ignite strangeness in people.
One of my regular Saturday callers often phoned asking what I could do to stop a group of men (whom she called “beefcakes”) from stealing a bird feeder from her back yard garden. Supposedly, this theft was occurring hourly. Another regular caller was convinced that a local funeral home had kidnapped her family, tapped her phones, stolen her identity and then sold that identity to the National Security Agency, which was trying to repossess her home and have her “locked up” for “knowing too much” (I later traced her phone number to a public housing unit, but that’s neither here nor there).
And then there’s The Growler, who earned his nickname because of the unmistakable growl in his voice. The Growler did not restrict his calls to Saturdays. For a couple years, it seemed he called at least one reporter a day with some sort of complaint or conspiracy theory. The Growler would always call sometime between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., meaning he’d never actually speak to the reporter because they weren’t at work yet. Instead, The Growler left long, meandering messages that were often cut off by our voicemail system because they lasted too long. No matter; the Growler would simply redial and finish ranting. Years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to start my day with three or four voicemails from The Growler. He was usually hacked off about something he’d just read in the paper that a government official had done or said. For whatever reason, The Growler hasn’t called in years. I do miss him, even though I’ve never actually spoken to the man.
My colleagues have all encountered countless daffy tipsters like these. My point is we get a lot of crazies calling up here. Just the nature of the business. So when I got a call last week from a woman claiming there was a large, erect penis on Jesus on a crucifix in a local Catholic church, you’ll understand why I didn’t take it seriously at first. Then other folks started calling, and a picture of the piece in question appeared in my e-mail. We knew then we had a story.
Just proves that sometimes picking up the phone is all it takes to find a story. Never know who – or what – awaits on the other end of the line.
If you’re not crazy and have a tip, call me at (405) 475-3481.
Happy Monday from OPUBCO HQ, where we had some great stories in the paper and online this past weekend. Here’s what you might have missed if you were out doing yard work like everyone else in my neighborhood:
–Watchdog reporter Ann Kelley and photographer Jim Beckel were in the right place at the right time on Friday. They were in Fairview getting an exclusive interview with the adoptive parents of the Liberian girls when the state sent a social worker to pick up the girls. That story appeared in Saturday’s paper. Then on Sunday, Kelley had the main story, a long-sought-after interview with the parents. (Read previous stories on this issue at our DHS coverage page.)
–State Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, continues to dodge questions about his campaign finance reports. We had a follow-up story on Sunday about Terrill’s amended reports with the state Ethics Commission. He did not list almost $13,000 in campaign contributions last year until reporters with the Oklahoman asked him about discrepancies between his reports and the reports of several political action committees. Terrill, who was fairly open about the discrepancies a few weeks ago, has declined to answer follow-up questions from the paper. (Take a look at Terrill’s latest Ethics Commission amended report and copies of canceled checks here.)
–Most Oklahoma Catholics know the story of Okarche’s Father Stanley Rother, who was murdered in Guatemala’s bloody civil war almost 30 years ago. Even if you’ve heard the story before, it’s worth checking out reporter Ron Jackson’s Story of the Ages, a multimedia package about Father Rother.
Within a month, Rother reluctantly fled for his life after being told he was on a government hit list. Finally, after months of agonizing, Rother concluded his place was among the people of Santiago Atitlan.
“I said, ‘Why do you want to go back?’” recalled Tom Rother, Stanley’s brother and the youngest of five children. “I said, ‘They’re waiting on you, and they’re gonna kill you.’ He said, ‘Well, a shepherd cannot run from his flock.’
–Watchdog reporter Randy Ellis details the difficulty some surviving spouses of disabled veterans are facing when it comes to benefits.
–Education reporter Megan Rolland had a story today comparing the budget woes–and plans–of the Oklahoma City and Tulsa school districts.
–Metro reporter John A. Williams had an interesting story about how Census officials are reaching out to the gay and lesbian community.
–Nonprofit journalism group ProPublica had a very detailed look at a secretive hedge fund that played a key role in delaying the fallout from the current financial crisis.
From what we’ve learned, there was nothing illegal in what Magnetar did; it was playing by the rules in place at the time. And the hedge fund didn’t cause the housing bubble or the financial crisis. But the Magnetar Trade does illustrate the perverse incentives and reckless behavior that characterized the last days of the boom.
Many respected orators and philosophers have said that the true test of a great civilization is how it treats its weakest members.
This truism was in the back of all of our minds when we started working with reporters at the Tulsa World to investigate the state of group homes in Oklahoma. But to know this; to publish a piece of journalism– It wasn’t an easy task.
First, there was learning the lingo: “Intermediate Care Facility for the Mentally Retarded,” and “Residential Care Facility” were terms I’d heard but wasn’t too familiar with what they meant. They are the two types of group homes we investigated in the project.
And we really did have a conversation about whether to use the word “retarded” like the state still does. I know this remains a touchy subject for many people. We made our decision to use “mentally disabled” based on Associated Press style guidelines. However, many newspapers continue to use the term “retarded.”
Also, it seemed like it took forever to get a grasp on things. The stacks of files on our desks and voluminous records on our computer hard drives were definitely daunting and time intensive. Sometimes it was frustrating (I’m speaking for myself here). But now we’re starting to see the light at the end of this long and cluttered library of reports and inspections.
From start to completion, the whole project took a little over six months. We literally got to a point when we were so focused on the little details that it was difficult to see the big picture. Was it significant enough to include that residents at some of these homes complained of not having toilet paper? Should we detail in our stories allegations that weren’t substantiated by inspectors but nonetheless raised eyebrows? Do we fault a home for having ants or dust bunnies under beds?
In the end, I think both newspapers settled on different things. What you read in the Tulsa World will be different than what you read in The Oklahoman, but only because there was so much information that the choices were difficult to make. None of the choices are better or worse, just different.
But make no mistake; this was a joint project–One that required the eyes, minds, patience and perseverance of about a dozen reporters and editors at newsrooms in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
In the end, I’m sure I can speak for everyone when I say this is what investigative journalism is all about. Getting those records, scouring them and shining the light of day on things that otherwise might have been obscured.
The Oklahoman will publish the Oklahoma Group Homes project on Feb. 21 and 22 and online at www.newsok.com.