Fox News and numerous other conservative media outlets uncritically presented the misleading conclusions of a May 2016 report by the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which claimed that immigrant-headed households consume more welfare than households headed by native-born people. Right-wing media have ignored criticism from experts pointing out the report’s methodological flaws and exaggerations in order to present immigrants as a fiscal burden.
Right-wing outlets including Breitbart, Newsmax, and The Daily Caller hyped the May 9 CIS report claiming that immigrant-headed households receive more welfare than households headed by native-borns. On May 12, Fox correspondent Eric Shawn presented the study’s claims uncritically during the “Truth Serum” segment of Fox’s The O’Reilly Factor. Host Bill O’Reilly introduced the segment by announcing the story was about “tax money going to support illegal aliens”:
Experts have already leveled criticism at the report. Immigration policy analyst Alex Nowrasteh wrote that “The CIS headline result … lacks any kind of reasonable statistical controls” and that “CIS’ buried results undermine their own headline findings.” The American Immigration Council called the report “fundamentally flawed” and criticized its methodology as “creative accounting”:
The biggest shortcoming of both reports is that they count the public benefits utilized by U.S.-born children as costs incurred by the “immigrant-headed households” of which they are a part—at least until those children turn 18, that is, at which point they are counted as “natives.”
The problem with this kind of creative accounting is that all children are “costly” when they are young because they consume educational and health services without contributing any tax revenue. However, that situation reverses when they are working-age adults who, in a sense, “pay back” in taxes what they consumed as children. So it is disingenuous to count them as a “cost of immigration” one minute, and then as native-born taxpayers the next minute.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), CIS has ties to hate groups in the nativist lobby and “has never found any aspect of immigration that it liked, and it has frequently manipulated data to achieve the results it seeks.” CIS has repeatedly been criticized for publishing shoddy research work that includes the “misinterpretation and manipulation of data” and methodologies that are “deeply flawed.”
These criticisms of the new report received no mention on right-wing media reports on the study. Previous equally flawed CIS studies have been similarly promoted by conservative media, indicating a pattern: CIS publishes a study with anti-immigrant conclusions, and right-wing media ignore facts to report it uncritically, despite expert criticisms pointing to methodological flaws, nuances, or controls that undermine the study’s conclusion. This cycle joins other dishonest strategies from the immigrant smearing playbook that have been repeatedly employed by right-wing media.