Television news anchor Jorge Ramos has a well-documented talent for cutting through the clutter—and for luring the spotlight to his handsome, silver-haired, voluble self.
So it’s hardly surprising that on tonight’s installment of America with Jorge Ramos—his 10 p.m. weeknight program on the eight-month-old Fusion cable channel, a joint venture of ABC News and Univision, where he also co-anchors the Spanish-language nightly news and hosts a Sunday public affairs program —he’ll be shown swimming the muddy, sewage-and garbage-filled Rio Grande between the Texas city of Laredo and Nuevo Laredo on the Mexican side.
“This is a crisis that won’t go away,” Ramos told The Daily Beast, explaining why he took the plunge to bring attention to the issue of immigration reform and the thousands of unaccompanied Central American children who’ve been making their away across the United States border with Mexico, often at night in the turbid river, where 33 people have drowned since October. “Eventually we will find out who shot down the plane. Eventually—there’s no doubt about it—there has to be a truce between the Palestinians and Israelis. But the immigration crisis will stay with us.”
Wearing blue-jeans and a T-shirt, and accompanied by a cameraman and, for safety’s sake, a team of U.S. Border Patrol agents on two boats who facilitated the stunt, the 56-year-old, Mexico City-born Ramos made his watery, 200-yard crossing on Friday.
“I swam with my cameraman all the way to the Mexican side without actually touching the Mexican side because that’s illegal by treaty,” Ramos said, noting that even though he enjoys dual U.S./Mexican citizenship, he wasn’t carrying his passport. “It’s exactly what you think it is. There are very strong undercurrents, a lot of rocks and plants and a muddy bottom. If you try to stand up you might be stuck because it’s so muddy you can’t actually move your legs. It is very, very contaminated. And it’s dark. It’s impossible to look through the water. It took me about 15 minutes.”
He noted that many of the desperate swimmers—children, fleeing from violence, crime and deprivation in their countries of origin—carry their belongings in black plastic bags, gripped between their teeth. “It’s incredibly dangerous, and it was for me, during the day,” he said. “Imagine what it is like at night for these children.”
Ramos, one of five children of an architect and a stay-at-home mom, arrived in Los Angeles in 1983, at age 24, to take extension courses in TV journalism at UCLA and stuck around legally to become an American citizen in 2008. “We were definitely middle class,” he said. “I worked my way through college”—where he was a communications major at Mexico City’s Universidad Iberoamericana. “And I didn’t have a car,” he added with a laugh.
With his good looks and assured delivery—Ramos had been toiling in Mexican radio and television since his teenage years—he promptly was hired for an on-air job at a local Spanish-language station in L.A. and was soon branching out to Univision, Telemundo, Fox Sports, and ESPN Deportes, and traveling abroad to cover five wars and the fall of the Berlin Wall, while snagging interviews with everyone from Bill Clinton to Fidel Castro. Twice married and twice divorced, with grown-up kids of his own, Ramos has long dated a glamorous, much-younger Venezuelan television personality, Chiquinquira Delgado, and lives in the posh Miami suburb of Coconut Grove. “I won’t answer that,” he said when asked if Marriage No. 3 is looming in his future.
In recent years Ramos has become famous, or perhaps notorious, for confronting powerful government officials. Indeed, he’s known for getting right up in their faces and, with minimum politesse, demanding answers to inconvenient questions, brooking no evasions. “Warning to politicians,” Internet impresario Matt Drudge recently tweeted. “If you see him… RUN!”
Pointing to predictions that the 50 million Latinos in the United States will grow to 150 million in the next few decades, Ramos acknowledges that Latino voters will have negligible impact on this year’s midterm elections, but argues that they will be the deciding factor in 2016, when in order to win the White House, a Republican nominee will need at least 30 percent of the Hispanic votes.
“The Latino community has grown so much that we have a newfound electoral power that we didn’t have before,” Ramos. “We in the Hispanic community are truly tired of both the Democrats and the Republicans promising all of these things during the campaigns and then forgetting about it after the campaigns are over. I even have a term for it—‘The Christopher Columbus Syndrome.’ They discover us during the presidential campaigns and then they forget about us.”
Among those who have felt Ramos’ stinging reminders, up close and personal, are President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner (for their inability or unwillingness to pass immigration reform) and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who became decidedly peeved when Ramos kept pressing him on why, when he was Obama’s chief of staff, a host of fervently promised White House initiatives were either bungled or never accomplished.
“Sometimes you have to ask the question as if it’s going to be your last question—as if it’s going to be the last time you talk to that person,” Ramos said. In the famously prickly Emanuel’s case, he truly might not get another chance. “Maybe not,” Ramos agreed with a chuckle. “But the most important responsibility with have as journalists is to question those who are in power. I honestly believe that.”
Ramos has been especially scathing about what he claims is the clubby comfort with powerful politicians displayed by many American, and particularly Washington, journalists. “You turn on the TV, and you see very bland interviews,” he recently opined to Politico. “Journalists in the United States are very cozy with power, very close to those in power. They laugh with them. They go to the correspondents’ dinner with them. They have lunch together. They marry each other. They’re way too close to each other.”
Ramos sees no reason to soften his broadside. “I’m not changing anything,” he said. “If we had been tougher with the politicians, I think we would have had immigration reform and we wouldn’t have these children at the border. I don’t think we’ve asked the right questions, the tough questions, at the right time, in Washington. And that’s why we are facing this particular crisis right now.”