Elsewhere in the region, the Albuquerque Journal’s Michael Coleman did a nice preview of the New Mexico delegation’s view on immigration before the Gang of Eight unveiled the current proposal along with a follow story outlining the five-member delegation’s responses. And in Colorado, Allison Sherry of The Denver Post noted the tepid reaction to the immigration proposal among Republican lawmakers.

This coverage is all welcome and worthwhile, though mostly reactive—reporters scribbling down what politicians are saying. In another Sunday front-pager, Dan Nowicki of The Arizona Republic probed a bit of political rhetoric—that unauthorized workers will have to pay “back taxes” before completing their path to citizenship, under the Gang of Eight proposal—and found it raises as many questions as it answers:

Because many undocumented immigrants already do pay their income taxes, by working on the books using fake Social Security numbers and then filing tax returns using government-issued taxpayer identification numbers, and many others earn too little to owe any income taxes, immigration experts speculate that there probably is not as much money waiting to be tapped as some might expect. Determining how much in back taxes is owed by the large share of immigrants who have worked for cash off the books also could prove difficult if not impossible.

And if lawmakers really try, they could end up putting the businesses that hired the workers on the spot, too, and they don’t seem inclined to do that. In fact, the bill includes language that says employers who know they have undocumented employees who are applying for a new provisional legal status would not be considered in violation of laws against knowingly hiring illegal workers.

More tips for journalists

As the debate continues to unfold, there will be more opportunities for reporters to do enterprising work from Washington. While Beltway correspondence tends to be driven by hearings and proposals, news organizations also ought to invest time to investigate the political forces, money, and other interests shaping the debate—to explore not just whether an immigration reform measure passes, but which interests, both large and small, elected officials choose to represent along the way.

For example, in February CJR’s Sasha Chavkin urged attention on private prison companies and the lawmakers they support. Another good place to start is by scouring the immigration bill for carve-outs and set-asides, as Sara Murray of The Wall Street Journal did in an April 21 piece:

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham wants more visas for the meat industry, a major employer in his state. Sen. Charles Schumer (D, NY) pushed for special treatment for Irish workers; his state is home to a large population with Irish ancestry.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio sought help for the cruise-ship industry, a big business in his home state of Florida. And Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado wove in a boost for ski areas.

Oh, and lastly, for Four Corners journalists who want to speculate about the political impact of today’s unauthorized immigrants becoming voters—take your cues from The New Republic’s Nate Cohn and Jordan Fabian of ABC News/Univision, not this overcaffeinated Politico story.

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Joel Campbell is CJR's correspondent for Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. An associate journalism professor at Brigham Young University, he is the past Freedom of Information chairman for the Society of Professional Journalists and was awarded the Honorary Publisher Award by the Utah Press Association for his advocacy work on behalf of journalists in the Utah Legislature. Follow him on Twitter @joelcampbell.