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It’s OK to Say the Hero is an Immigrant

News media have made a curious distinction in their coverage of a suspect in a series of arsons this past weekend in the Los Angeles area, and the circumstances surrounding his arrest. Harry Burkhart, the 24-year-old suspect, hails from Germany and is here on a nonimmigrant visa. Many media have highlighted the fact that Burkhart has been upset about his mother’s pending extradition—she faces fraud charges in Germany. Then there’s Shervin Lalezary, the volunteer deputy who arrested Burkhart Jan. 2. Some of the same media have downplayed the fact that he is “Iranian-born,” or was “born in Tehran, Iran, and moved to the U.S. with his family about 25 years ago.” In fact, few if any media outlets refer to Mr. Lalezary as an immigrant, much less a heroic immigrant who saved Los Angeles from additional damage. Where media treat the arson suspect in an immigration-related framework, talking about their immigration status and her pending extradition, they bury the fact that the good guy in this story is an immigrant. Most don’t even use the term. Immigrants, like native-born Americans, are human beings. The overwhelming majority are law-abiding contributors who do the right thing day after day. It is problematic when media outlets use an immigration frame to talk about the one who does harm and glosses over the immigration aspect of the one who does good. In 2012 it’s in to treat immigrants as people. Let’s be sure we treat all immigrants as people.