A short documentary film published online this week by the New York Times follows journalist Mario Guevara as he covers the immigration beat for his paper Mundo Hispánico, the largest Spanish-language news organization in Atlanta. Mundo Hispánico has hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook who interact as civically engaged citizens with Guevara in response to his coverage of ICE raids and deportations.
Part of Guevara’s appeal is his unequivocal commitment to the immigrant community. He himself came to the U.S. as a political refugee from his home country of El Salvador. There, he worked as a journalist and made many enemies who had issued threats upon his life. In the film, he doesn’t elaborate on his experience as a journalist requesting asylum, but he hints at the difficulty behind the decision, revealing that he did not expect to work in journalism ever again. Instead, he imagined he would have to find work in America as a dishwasher or construction worker.
In the Times documentary, entitled “The Abandoned Vans of Atlanta,” director and producer Jesse Moss tells the story of detainment and deportation through the presence of commercial vans on the streets of Atlanta whose owners have “disappeared.” With the likelihood that an immigrant is driving these vans — clearly, they are vehicles driven by someone who works in construction — ICE agents have been targeting the drivers as a way to bust undocumented workers; it’s unclear if they are blindly targeting them or if they have been given orders to track specific non-citizens. Sometimes the detainees’ families don’t even know where their loved ones have gone, so Guevara traverses the city with his camera in hand, widely distributing footage of the abandoned vans in order to locate or at least identify the owner.
In essence, Guevara is taking stock of who in the immigrant community has gone missing, so it would be accurate to describe him as a watchdog in the community. That, ultimately, is what good journalists do. Guevara does not publish anything unless he is certain it is true. He also doesn’t “take sides,” though his status as an immigrant might lead both his supporters and detractors to assume he has sympathies that might conflict with his reporting. If something is amiss with law enforcement, he reports on that; likewise, if something is amiss in the immigrant community, he reports on that as well. “I have to be completely impartial, that’s the hardest part of my job,” he said. Sometimes, that requires him to help facilitate the detainment of undocumented workers. “I have to play the middleman. This is impartial journalism.”
It’s also award-worthy journalism. This week, Mundo Hispánico announced that it had been nominated for 10 regional Emmy Awards, including one nomination for Guevara for his coverage of arrests that took place inside of a predominantly Latino church. Mundo Hispánico is up against national entities like Telemundo, but has been able to thrive as a news organization because of the quality of its journalism, covering stories that get overlooked by other media outlets in the city. “Atlanta has this reputation of producing maverick-type media entities,” Rene Alegria, who leads digital operations for Mundo Hispánico, said recently to Atlanta Magazine. “What a brilliant place to have a Hispanic media entity!”