The nonprofit Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) surveyed coverage of immigration detention -- or stories about immigrants detained by the U.S. government -- in “a variety of media outlets” from 2009 to 2016 and found evidence that right-wing outlets routinely criminalize immigrants in their coverage. The study also found that the nativist Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) is cited more than other data sources.
CIVIC’s report demonstrates that while issues surrounding immigration detention are increasingly visible in the media, coverage in right-wing media outlets like Breitbart.com, The Washington Times, and FoxNews.com is more likely than reports in mainstream media to focus on immigrant criminality.
The survey also found that Breitbart.com reports on immigration detentions at a higher rate than other “new media” outlets do.
While it’s positive that immigration stories are now more visible in the press, the routine criminalization of immigrants in right-wing media narratives has long been a problem and has dangerous consequences. As a paper from Harvard University’s Kennedy School demonstrated, conservative media portrayals of immigrants have had a profound impact on Republican politics, leaving no room for “compassionate conservatism” and creating a space in which anti-immigrant sentiment can be exploited for political gain.
Additionally, the study showed that the nativist group CIS outpaces other immigration data sources in terms of press citations, which is problematic given its perspective. CIS, which has been categorized a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), was founded by John Tanton, whose record includes advocating for a “European-American majority, and a clear one at that.” CIS has pushed white-nationalist literature, and, according to the SPLC, in 2016 “the group hit a new low” by commissioning Jason Richwine, whose doctoral dissertation “endorses the idea of IQ differences between the races,” to write reports and blog pieces. The reliance on CIS shows that media are helping to sanitize the group by elevating its voice and providing its leaders with platforms to spew anti-immigrant narratives based on shoddy research.
The study’s authors also pointed out to a “lack of first-hand migrant accounts in media narratives,” an issue Media Matters has documented in the past.