The Associated Press reports out of Houston that many undocumented immigrant victims of Hurricane Harvey are turning to churches for help.
However, AP's "nut graf" seems like a case of taking a solid story and trying to amp up the volume just a bit too much. I'd still recommend this story — but with a somewhat major caveat. I'll explain in a moment.
But first, the lede sets the scene:
HOUSTON (AP) — Immigrants came from across Houston to a Baptist church gymnasium and stacked dollies with boxes of cereal, orange juice and household necessities like cleaning bleach.
For many of them, the church was the safest place to seek relief after Harvey devastated Houston and left thousands of immigrants fearful of turning to the government for help amid fears they would get deported. A similar response was seen in immigrant-heavy sections of Florida after Irma swamped the state.
“We have to come together as churches to help the undocumented,” Emmanuel Baptist Church pastor Raul Hidalgo said while mingling with victims and volunteers on the church gymnasium’s parquet floor.
But see if anything strikes you the wrong way — as it did me — in this next highly important sentence. This is where AP attempts to explain the big picture and boil down why this news matter:
Places of worship and private charities in Texas and Florida are playing a pivotal role in the recovery effort from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma because so many storm victims are immigrants in the country illegally — and therefore ineligible for federal disaster aid.
Am I reading that wrong or is AP saying that the only reason churches are playing a pivotal role is because of the illegal immigration issue?
If that's the meaning that AP intends, then it ignores the fact that faith-based groups always play a critical role in disaster relief. Perhaps the immigration issue has intensified their importance, but even if there were no undocumented immigrants, places of worship and private charities would still be playing a pivotal role. Right?
Just last week, I highlighted a USA Today story that nailed this important fact:
In my experience, editors always want the most compelling nut graf possible. Sometimes, they push reporters to make a stronger statement than the facts support. I'm not saying that happened with the AP story. But it's a possibility.
In any case, the angle of fearful immigrants turning to places of worship for help is a terrific one. I just wish AP had been a little more precise in how it characterized this development.
Photo of Hurricane Harvey relief effort at Grace Crossing Church, north of Houston, by Bobby Ross Jr.