Cable news has covered the humanitarian crisis at the Southwest border for the better part of two months, inviting countless lawmakers from both parties to analyze and offer solutions to the unfolding saga. But the guest who appeared on MSNBC’s new 10 AM show this Monday, the eponymously titled José Díaz-Balart, added a new voice entirely: that of the immigrant who made the harrowing journey from Honduras to the United States.
The woman, Maria, talked about her experiences in Spanish, while Díaz-Balart — a Spanish speaker — translated her story for the network’s mostly English-speaking audience. It was an unusual segment for a medium that covers the news through a political lens, featuring policymakers or pundits, but rarely everyday people who are impacted by their decisions.
Since October 2013, approximately 52,000 minors without their parents have been captured at the Southwest border, kicking up a political firestorm in Washington D.C. And if the tone of the ongoing political debate is any indication, lawmakers would do well to listen to their stories.
Maria, a 17-year-old, paid a coyote to bring her into the United States after her brother was killed by a gang and she was threatened with death if she did not join it. Fighting tears, she described to Díaz-Balart the process of crossing the border as “horrible” and explained that she decided to enter the country “just to save my own life so that I could live my dreams, so I could help my family.” Deportation “would be a tragedy, it would be a certain death for me,” she added. “Everything that’s happened to me in my life, I would just know that that would be the last day.” Watch it:
Maria’s story is rarely covered by English-speaking media, but immigrants’ personal narratives are regularly featured on Spanish speaking television.
“It’s a voice I hear repeated over and over,” Díaz-Balart, a 30-year news veteran who also hosts two shows on the Spanish-language channel Telemundo, said during a phone interview with ThinkProgress. “It’s not a silent voice, it’s just not one you hear in English.”
MSNBC was unable to verify Maria’s story, but the general details echo the accounts of other immigrants — children fleeing gangs after being forced to sell drugs, experiencing rape or death threats for failing to comply with the sexual wishes of gang members.
MSNBC connected with Maria through an organization in South Florida that works with undocumented immigrants. “I asked her if she would be willing to come on, the story she tells is just gut wrenching,” Díaz-Balart said, adding that he expects to incorporate more immigrant voices in his MSNBC program. “On Telemundo, we cover it more consistently, and daily, but I don’t see why it’s that much more different,” he explained. “MSNBC and all of the folks of the show were nothing but supportive of this, it’s America reflected.”
“I hope people see in that where we have concern and sensitivity towards people,” he said. “It’s not about activism, it’s about humanity.”
Maria has her first immigration hearing on Thursday morning.