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Capstone series makes issue a human one

We are pleased to have the Southern Oregon University Journalism Capstone project back in print at the Ashland Daily Tidings. The eight-part series, which began Monday on our front page and will continue into next week is part of the graduation requirements for SOU's journalism majors.

Though students completed much of the work for these stories last year, they have particular relevance this week with pivotal news on immigration in America coming from a seminal court trial in Scranton, Penn., and President Bush completing a tour of Latin American countries in the hope of using what political leverage he has left to broker a bipartisan solution.

The president favors sweeping legislation that toughens border security, makes temporary worker status easier and seeks a more permanent solution to the millions of illegals already living in the United States. But such legislation faces opposition from those who wish to show no leniency to people already living and working among us on one side, and from those who resist tougher immigration laws on the other.

The series of stories produced by the students of Southern Oregon University does not attempt to navigate and explain this political mine field that in recent years has threatened to explode into full-scale racial war. Nor do they attempt to offer solutions that for decades have eluded our political leaders at most every level.

What they do, and do well, is add a needed element of humanity to the abstract political debate. They tell stories of the people intimately involved in this problem, right here within our Valley, that raise questions to be more fully considered. For example, where does a teenager, raised and educated since infancy in the United States, go "home" to if tougher immigration laws force her family's deportation? Or, how does an agency work to assist people and find local solutions when the national problems seem so hopelessly muddled? And, how do just four agents patrol and enforce immigration laws in a geographic region roughly 38 times the size of Rhode Island?

These are important questions to consider, just as we must accept and consider the strident opposition to any form of compromise. Nobody wants to say race fuels situations like the one in Scranton. It is far easier to simply call it crime, that is, the rise of local crime by Hispanics, or the lack of compassion for anyone who broke the laws and came here illegally in the first place. But racial tension, and misunderstanding, certainly adds to the debate.

A national solution will surely be a difficult one. Locally more is possible in the short-term. We can't fathom a guess about the end result, but thanks to this series by the students of SOU, we do gain a better portrait of our neighbors to whom this issue is among the very highest of priorities.