Los Angeles Herald Examiner (May 6, 1988)

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (May 6, 1988)

Title – “Unjust Anywhere”

For minorities, the quality of justice received often depends on where they live. Latinos in Los Angeles are more fortunate than those who dwell in the crevices of society, where national and international media seldom venture. Latinos here, though lacking real power, can count on the news media to spotlight the more flagrant abuses of the legal system.

For millions of Latinos who live in cities such as Tucson and Albuquerque and in semi-rural areas of the Southwest, this is not always the case. The injustices frequently remain a local matter, unheard of and unseen by the rest of America.

Consider the case of Demetria Martinez, 27, who lives in Albuquerque. Under any other circumstances, she would be the model minority member, the sort of person President Reagan is fond of showcasing during State of the Union addresses.

Demetria graduated from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in 1982. During her senior year, she was a Woodrow Wilson scholar; in 1981, she was an intern in the New York bureau of Time magazine.

After graduating, she returned to her native Albuquerque, where she now works as a freelance reporter, specializing in religion, for the Albuquerque Journal and as a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter. Demetria is also a prize-winning poet.

On Dec. 10, 1987, Demetria Martinez was indicted by the Department of Justice on charges of conspiring to violate United States immigration laws. If convicted, she could face up to 25 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines.

The circumstances leading up to Demetria’s indictment began in late August 1986. Rev. Glen Remer-Thamert, a Lutheran minister, invited her to accompany him to Juarez, Mexico, to report on the plight of two Salvadoran women seeking sanctuary on behalf of their unborn. To Demetria, there were striking parallels between the predicaments of the two women and those faced by Mary and Joseph: The babies were due in December and the mothers were seeking sanctuary for their unborn. What stood in their way was the modern-day equivalent of King Herod – the Justice Department. Demetria decided to gather information for a story.

She interviewed the two women and returned to the United States. The Rev. Remer-Thamert has acknowledged that he helped bring the Salvadorans into the country. (He also has been indicted on conspiracy charges.) Once they were across the border, Demetria subsequently re-interviewed the women. Over a year later, she was accused of inducing the Salvadorans to enter the country illegally and aiding in their transportation.

At the time, there was intense interest in the sanctuary movement. Then-Gov. Toney Anaya had declared New Mexico a sanctuary for Central America refugees. Many religious people supported the so-called Theology of Sanctuary, which has roots in the Old Testament. For example, in time of famine, Jews routinely sought and received refuge and protection in Egypt. During the Middle Ages, churches carried on the custom by becoming sanctuaries to protect the downtrodden from tyrannical civil authorities. Inspired by this tradition, a movement, centered in Tucson, to grant sanctuary to the victims of war and oppression in Central America sprang up in the United States about six years ago. Today, some 450 congregations nationwide participate.

The Justice Department has long sought to break the sanctuary movement. In May, 1986, a federal jury convicted six church workers, including a founder of the movement, of conspiring to smuggle Central American refugees into this country.

Demetria is the first reporter to be indicted on similar charges. In his haste to file the case, U.S. Attorney William Lutz allegedly violated Justice Department guidelines that require express authority from the attorney general before indicting a member of the news media. Federal public defender Tova Indritz has requested that the conspiracy charges against Demetria be dismissed on the ground that her due-process rights were violated. Her case enters the pre-trial stage on June 7.

The Justice Department has principally tried to discredit Demetria’s credentials as a reporter and questioned her statements that she was merely reporting a story.

Commendably, both the Albuquerque Journal and Albuquerque Tribune have editorially supported Demetria, pointing out the potential chilling effect of a successful prosecution of her would on the First Amendment rights of reporters. Labeling the charges a clear case of intimidation, the two papers have editorialized that Demetria is a journalist, that she has a well-established interest in religious issues and that it cannot be doubted that she was gathering news.

Demetria Martinez’s case should concern us all. It represents yet another, though more radical, attempt by the Justice Department to end the sanctuary movement where it began – in the Southwest. By going after a reporter, the department also has signaled its willingness, despite the First Amendment, to undercut the press’ role as a check against government abuse.

One of the pieces of evidence introduced against Demetria is a poem, “Nativity,” composed by her. (The news story never got written.)

Sister I am no saint. Just a woman

who happens to be a reporter.

a reporter who happens to

be a woman.

Watching you vomit morning sickness

a sickness infinite as the war in El Salvador,

a sickness my pen and notebook will not ease,

tell me, Por que estan aqui? (Why are you here ?)

 

What does this poem prove? Perhaps, that model minorities such as Demetria continue to care. I sure hope that we also care what happens to Demetria before it’s too late.