Fox’s Chris Wallace is slated to moderate the third and last presidential debate in Las Vegas, NV, on October 19, and has chosen immigration as one of the topics the candidates will be discussing. Throughout his tenure Wallace has been inconsistent in the way he’s framed the issue, at times pushing culturally incompetent slurs and using the language of immigration reform opponents, and at others stepping up to criticize Trump for “demoniz[ing]” Mexican immigrants. Which Wallace will show up at the debate stage on Wednesday?
Even though immigration is the “cornerstone” of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign, moderators have yet to bring it up at a general election debate. Wallace has announced he will be the first moderator to do so. While Wallace’s conflicts of interest as a moderator are a problem in their own right -- for two decades Wallace worked for Trump ally and former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, and he defended Ailes amid the sexual harassment allegations that caused Ailes to be ousted from his position running Fox News -- having him frame immigration for discussion among the candidates will also bring its own set of problems. Those issues stem from Wallace’s own inconsistencies on the topic and his promised passivity in the face of a candidate whose immigration positions have been described as “impractical,” “clueless,” and “inhumane.”
When it comes to the immigration debate, Wallace belongs to the camp of those who still use culturally insensitive slurs like “illegals” to refer to undocumented immigrants. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) has long condemned that term for its dehumanizing nature, and both the term “illegals” and “illegal immigrant” violate current Associated Press journalistic standards. Wallace has also previously embraced the language of those who oppose immigration reform, asking whether creating a path to citizenship would be “amnesty.”
While moderating a Republican presidential debate in August 2015, Wallace neutrally introduced an immigration question about Kate’s Law without disclosing the active role Fox News had played in proposing and pushing for the anti-immigrant federal legislation. The proposed law, which sought to establish mandatory minimum sentences for undocumented immigrants who re-enter the country after deportation, failed to pass.
On the other hand, Wallace was critical of Trump’s vitriolic rhetoric against Mexican immigrants during a June 2015 appearance on KFTK’s Allman in the Morning, taking a more compassionate stance by saying it’s not “right” to “demonize a group of people”:
CHRIS WALLACE: I vastly prefer what Jeb Bush -- and I’m not in the tank to Jeb Bush on this, but I vastly prefer what he's saying, which is, which I think is the truth, which is that people come to this country -- and I'm not saying that they should. I mean, a great country has to be able to defend its borders, but people don't come to the United States because they're criminals. I think most people come to the United States because they think they'll be able to provide for their families and have better lives, and to demonize a group of people is -- I don't think it's right.
Many Latinos in the media have been clamoring for a substantive discussion about immigration during the presidential debates, but given Wallace’s announcement that he won’t be pushing back on candidates while moderating, the stage on Wednesday night might just be another platform for Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.