How Trump Manipulates Media Coverage Of His Immigration Policies

Leading up to his joint address to Congress, media outlets helped President Donald Trump misleadingly cast himself as sympathetic to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, known as “Dreamers,” and other immigrants. Trump’s manipulation tactics became evident again when media outlets uncritically parroted his claim that he was open to comprehensive immigration reform hours before he gave his address, which demonized immigrants as criminals and falsely claimed that they are a drain on the economy. As the Trump White House once again steps up its efforts to misrepresent its immigration stance, it is important media not be spun again.

Trump White House Continues To Downplay The Extreme Nature Of Their Immigration Policy

White House Senior Staffer Carlos Díaz Rosillo Bemoans Univision's Reporting Of ICE Detaining Dreamers. During a guest appearance in Univision’s Al Punto, Director of Policy and Interagency Coordination Carlos Díaz Rosillo downplayed the detention of multiple Dreamers, saying that “we are seeing [those reports] on Spanish-speaking news programs, but that is a minority” and laments that “the exceptions are being focused on.” From the March 5 edition of Univision’s Al Punto:

FELIX DE BEDOUT (HOST): And, finally, I'd like to ask you about an issue that has worried us a lot. The president has said that the students, the Dreamers, are not a priority for deportation, but here on our news shows we have permanently been reporting incidents where young Dreamers are arrested, including some of them are in danger of being deported, like one young woman of Argentinian origin who attended a demonstration in favor of undocumented immigrants, and today she is detained and in danger of deportation. Are DREAMers priorities for deportation or not?

CARLOS DÍAZ ROSILLO: Look, you are right about what we are seeing on the Spanish-speaking news programs, but that is a minority. The number of people who have been deported, the vast majority, are people who have committed violent crimes. Not all of them, we can agree, and the exceptions are being focused on. The president has been very clear. He gave a list of the priorities. The priorities are not the Dreamers. [The priorities] are those who have committed violent crimes. On the program Al Punto, Jorge [Ramos] last week presented a graphic that demonstrated clearly who are the priorities. But, as we all know, people who are here illegally are subject to deportation even if they are not a priority. The priority is going to be and has been since the president entered office those who have committed violent crimes and who are not benefitting American society, not Dreamers. [Univision, Al Punto, 3/5/17]

Sean Spicer Ignored Trump's Extremism, Claiming “If There's Someone Who  Has The Ability To Strike A Deal” On Immigration, “It's [Trump].” White House press secretary Sean Spicer responded to a question about Dreamers being deported and Trump's perceived openness to comprehensive immigration reform with vague claims about the president hoping to “tackle this holistically” and a promise to “move forward with [it] and as a comprehensive thing.” From the March 8 White House press briefing:

MARIA PEÑA: So, the president's on the record saying he supports some sort of legalization for many of the undocumented people in the country and, you know, there's a Dreamer that was caught in the raids in Seattle, Washington. We don't know if he's going to be released or not. Does the president want to or plan to meet with Dreamers to talk about what's on his mind about, you know, gathering ideas for some sort of legalization? And, if so, when will that meeting occur? 

SEAN SPICER: The president, I think, has been -- has talked about how he wants to tackle this holistically, and back to Chris' question a second ago, I think he's made clear that if there's someone who has the ability to strike a deal, to get people in a room and acknowledge we have to stay true to our principles, that we can get a deal on a way to fix our broken immigration problem, it's him. We are not at that phase yet. This is something that he's talked to senators about. And I think that as we continue to move forward, obviously the focus is on Obamacare, repealing and replacing it with this program. But it is something that we're going to continue to move forward with and as a comprehensive thing. Not just the illegal issue, but the visa issue, how we deal with the other folks that are in this country. But stay tuned. We've got more to go on this. We'll go further. [White House press briefing, 3/8/17]

Deportations Continue To Terrorize Nonviolent Undocumented Immigrants And Separate Families

Husband And Father Of Two Deported After His Granted “Protection Was Not Renewed By Mistake.” The Washington Post printed an Associated Press story reporting that Jose Escobar was deported “following new enforcement rules enacted by President Donald Trump,” which Escobar’s lawyer said reflect an “immigration policy that’s going after good people.” According to the AP, “After Escobar came to the U.S. as a 15-year-old, he was granted temporary protection related to not being able to safely return to his country. But after his protection was not renewed by mistake, a judge ordered him removed in 2006.” [The Washington Post, 3/3/17]

California Man Who Has Lived In The U.S. For 25 Years Arrested While Dropping His Daughter Off At School. On March 3, ICE arrested Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez, a 48-year-old restaurant worker who was the only source of income for his wife and four children, according the Los Angeles Times, for years-old misdemeanor convictions. [Los Angeles Times, 3/3/17]

Grandmother Of San Diego Military Veteran’s Family Deported By Agents In An Unmarked SUV. The Los Angeles Times reported that “a grandmother known as the ‘backbone’ of a San Diego military veteran’s family was sent back to Mexico … more than two weeks after she was picked up by immigration agents outside her house in unmarked SUVs on Valentine’s Day.” ICE did not answer questions surrounding Clarissa Arredondo’s deportation. The Times noted that “The San Diego Union-Tribune could not find any record of convictions for Arredondo in either federal or California state court record systems.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/4/17]

Arizona Man Deported After Showing Up For Routine Check-In Meeting With ICE. Juan Carlos Fomperosa Garcia, who, according to The Arizona Republic, “had a work permit and is a single dad of three U.S. citizens,” was arrested and deported on March 2 upon arriving at a check-in with ICE. [The Arizona Republic, 3/2/17]

OPB News: “ICE Has Confirmed That In Oregon” It Has Detained At Least Five Immigrants “Who Do Not Have Criminal Records Aside From Offenses Related To Their Entering The Country Illegally.” Local Oregon news outlet OPB News detailed the story of Roman Zaragoza-Sanchez, who was detained on Valentine’s Day, as well as those of four other undocumented immigrants. None of them had prior criminal convictions. [, 3/2/17]

How Trump's “Great Heart” Was Reported 

DHS Claimed Increased Deportation Efforts Will Not Impact DACA Recipients

USA Today: “DHS Issued A Sweeping Set Of Orders” On Immigration, But Says That “Protections Granted” Under DACA “Will Continue To Be Honored.” USA Today reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) guidelines for deportation priorities are “sweeping,” but that according to DHS, beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) will “be spared for now.” But the article also noted that the DHS “memos instruct all agents … to identify, capture and quickly deport every undocumented immigrant they encounter.” From the February 21 report:

The Department of Homeland Security issued a sweeping set of orders Tuesday that implement President Trump's plan to increase immigration enforcement, placing the vast majority of the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation.

The memos instruct all agents — including Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — to identify, capture and quickly deport every undocumented immigrant they encounter.


One group appears to be spared for now. Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said Tuesday that deportation protections granted by President Obama in 2012 to undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children will continue to be honored so long as those immigrants abide by the rules of the program.

More than 750,000 undocumented immigrants have been granted deportation protections under that program, known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA). [USA Today, 2/21/17]

Trump: “We’re Going To Show Great Heart” On DACA. reported on the (DHS) memos, writing, “While the memos leave DACA and DAPA as an exception, they also make clear that any undocumented immigrant charged with a crime is now eligible for removal and no undocumented immigrants will be exempt from deportation proceedings.” The CNN report included Trump’s statement that “we’re gonna show great heart” and that “you have some absolutely, incredible kids, I would say mostly. They were brought here in such a way -- it's a very -- it's a very, very tough subject.” From the February 21 report:

Newly released memos from the Department of Homeland Security leave intact two specific executive orders from President Barack Obama that granted protection from prosecution for so-called Dreamers, young immigrants who were brought to the US as children, and a second one that included parents of US citizens and legal residents.

“None of this affects DACA,” the name of the deferred action program, a Homeland Security official told reporters Tuesday. While Obama's second executive order (DAPA) was untouched by the Trump administration, it has been blocked by the courts and is still tied up in legal action.

The preservation of the Obama-era policies comes after Trump has attempted to tread carefully on DACA, walking a line between Republicans who want the program cut entirely, and the political and practical impact of eliminating protections for undocumented immigrants.

“We're gonna show great heart,” Trump said in a news conference last week. “DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you.”


While the memos leave DACA and DAPA as an exception, they also make clear that any undocumented immigrant charged with a crime is now eligible for removal and no undocumented immigrants will be exempt from deportation proceedings. [, 2/21/17]

Media Reported That Trump Has A “Soft Spot” For DACA And Is Leaving The Program “Exactly The Same” “For Now”...

NY Times: Trump Has A “Soft Spot For Dreamers.” A New York Times article said Trump’s “sympathetic remarks about the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers” are alienating “immigration hard-liners in his Republican base.” The Times article, which suggested the decision about how to handle DACA is “gut-wrenching” and “difficult” for Trump, added that some of his advisors “are concerned that he has repeatedly referred to Dreamers … in such sympathetic and politically loaded terms” like “kids.” From the February 26 article:

President Trump’s sympathetic remarks about the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers — “these incredible kids,” he has called them — were a surprising turn for a man who had vowed during the campaign to “immediately terminate” their protections from deportation.


The problem that Mr. Trump faces as he worries aloud about how to handle the young immigrants, who were brought illegally to this country as small children, encapsulates the beating heart of the difficult choices confronting him. In theory, it is a question of laws and numbers, but in practice it is an emotional and often gut-wrenching matter of human lives affected and families at risk.


Inside the White House, the president’s advisers are concerned that he has repeatedly referred to Dreamers, many of whom are in their 20s and 30s, in such sympathetic and politically loaded terms. “Our immigration folks are like, ‘Stop calling them kids,’” Mr. Spicer said. [The New York Times, 2/26/17]

CNN’s Jeff Zeleny: Trump Is “Basically Leaving The Docket Exactly The Same For Now” When It Comes To DACA. CNN correspondent Jeff Zeleny highlighted Trump’s claim that DACA recipients would not be affected by the DHS guidelines, reporting that Trump “is saying, for now, that he is leaving that.” From the February 21 edition of CNN’s Inside Politics:

JEFF ZELENY: Without a doubt, some hard line things in here that I think we're going to have to see how these are executed. The local law enforcement agencies aren't equipped to sort of deal with all of this. I mean, it's just one of the problems in the first place, right? But I think one of the other things I'm watching for today as this rolls out are the Dreamers. He’s basically leaving the docket exactly the same, for now, and that's been controversial among some of his supporters because they wanted to see a change in that, but he is saying, for now, that he is leaving that. [CNN, Inside Politics, 2/21/17]

Reuters: Trump Will “Leave Protections In Place For” Dreamers. A Reuters headline claimed that Trump would “spare” Dreamers from an immigration “crackdown,” and the piece noted that the Trump administration “plans to consider almost all illegal immigrants subject to deportation, but will leave protections in place for immigrants known as ’dreamers.’" [Reuters, 2/21/17]

CNN’s Kayleigh McEnany: People Should “Rely On [Trump’s] Promise” That He Is Getting Criminals Out Of The Country. CNN political commentator Kayleigh McEnany insisted that the Trump administration “[doesn’t] want to touch DACA people.” She said people should “focus on the times where the president has said, Sean Spicer has said we want criminals out of this country, we want Americans to be safe, and rely on that promise because I can promise you, President Trump understands that most illegal immigrants are good.” From the February 22 edition of CNN’s New Day:

KAYLEIGH MCENANY: It does cause fear, and I don’t think people should be fearful because the president has clearly said, Sean Spicer clearly said, we don’t want to touch DACA people. We don’t want to touch Dreamers. We want to get --

CHRIS CUOMO (CO-HOST): People who were brought in as children or teens, and then they’ve lived here and they’ve lived well.

MCENANY: Absolutely. And look, most illegal immigrants are very good people who just want a shot at the American dream. And I think people should focus on the times when President Trump has said, Sean Spicer has said we want criminals out of this country, we want Americans to be safe, and rely on that promise because I can promise you, President Trump understands that most illegal immigrants are good. [CNN, New Day, 2/22/17]

… Despite Reports Of DHS Arresting DACA Recipients

While Media Were Reporting That Trump Had Softened On DACA, At Least Four DACA Recipients Were Under ICE Detention.

  • February 10: Daniel Ramirez Medina, a 23-year-old DACA beneficiary, was arrested by ICE in Seattle, WA. As of March 8, Ramirez was still in ICE custody at the Northwest Detention Center. ICE alleged that Ramirez is involved in gang activity, pointing to a tattoo on his arm as evidence, but Real Clear Politics reports that “his lawyers say differently, arguing that the tattoo symbolizes his birthplace, the Mexican city La Paz,” and that the lawyers “assert that immigration officials tried to coerce him into admitting he had gang affiliation and altered official court documents to back up that claim.” [Real Clear Politics, 3/3/17; Associated Press, 3/8/17]
  • February 12: Jesus Alonso Arreola Robles, a 22-year-old North Hollywood resident and DACA recipient was detained by ICE “on suspicion of attempting to smuggle someone into the country illegally,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Robles was released from ICE custody on March 6 after spending three weeks in detention. [Los Angeles Times, 2/23/17;, 3/6/17]
  • February 12: Marlene Montalvo, a Dreamer who says she was wrongly accused of robbery, was detained by ICE for 20 days. [, 2/22/17]
  • February 16: Josue Romero was transferred to ICE custody after being arrested for drug possession. The 19-year-old Dreamer and student at the Southwest School of Art in San Antonio, TX, spent two nights in ICE detention. [The Daily Beast, 2/17/17]

How Trump's “Open[ness]” For Comprehensive Immigration Reform Was Reported

Trump Reportedly Expressed Openness To Immigration Reform At A Meeting With Journalists

NPR: Ahead Of His Speech To Congress, “Trump Said He Was Open To Another Attempt At An Immigration Overhaul.” NPR reported that at a private meeting with television anchors, Trump “expressed an openness to pursuing immigration reform,” but noted, “Exactly what the president is contemplating now isn't clear.” The article added that Trump has criticized previous attempts at immigration reform. From the February 28 report:

In a lunch meeting with television anchors before the president's address to Congress Tuesday — a meeting that has traditionally been largely off the record — President Trump said he was open to another attempt at an immigration overhaul.


As a candidate, Trump shot to prominence by pledging to build a wall on the border with Mexico. In a document posted on his campaign website, Trump criticized the immigration law passed by the Senate in 2013. The House never took it up.


Exactly what the president is contemplating now isn't clear, as AP's Julie Pace reports. The White House indicated Trump is, in fact, open to doing something on immigration reform.

“I do know that the president has been very clear in his process that the immigration system is broken and needs massive reform,” White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “And he's made clear that he's open to having conversations about that.”

This isn't the first time Trump has expressed an openness to pursuing immigration reform. Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that he discussed it with senators he had invited to join him for lunch at the White House. [NPR, 2/28/17]

Media, Reporting On Trump’s Private Remarks About Immigration Reform, Predicted A Possible Trump “Reset”...

NBC News: Trump’s Speech “Could Call For Compromise On A Number Of Fronts,” Including “An Immigration Bill.” Before Trump’s address to Congress, NBC News reported that “Trump could strike a more conciliatory tone,” highlighting his “openness to compromise on immigration.” The article proposed that Trump’s “tough talk on immigration reform [during the campaign] could have just been the start of making a deal on an issue that has vexxed (sic) Washington lawmakers for years.” From the February 28 report:

The Trump administration could be open to providing legal status to undocumented immigrants who have not committed serious crimes, President Donald Trump said on Tuesday, signaling a major shift in his immigration policy.

Trump could make the call for an immigration bill during his first joint address to Congress on Tuesday night in a speech that could call for compromise on a number of fronts.


The openness to compromise on immigration marks a massive departure in the rhetoric Trump used on the campaign trail when he explicitly promised a Phoenix crowd that undocumented immigrants “cannot obtain legal status or become a citizen of the United States by illegally entering our country.”


But Trump's comments Tuesday show he could be coming around to where his rivals were at the outset of the 2016 campaign - and a sign that his tough talk on immigration reform could have just been the start of making a deal on an issue that has vexxed (sic) Washington lawmakers for years. [NBC News, 2/28/17]

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: Trump Made “Bombshell Announcement On A Comprehensive Immigration Bill.” CNN host Wolf Blitzer, who attended the private meeting with Trump, quoted the president as saying, “The time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides.” Blitzer described Trump’s statement as a “bombshell announcement on a comprehensive immigration bill.” From the February 28 edition of CNN’s The Situation Room:

WOLF BLITZER (HOST): New details are emerging this hour of the speech President Trump will be delivering before a joint session of Congress in just a few hours. A source briefed on it tells CNN the president will talk about the economy, health care, education, law and order, in a speech described as “optimistic.” He may also address immigration, a subject he spoke about with a group of journalists today, including me. The president made a major statement and let me quote the president of the United States: “The time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides.”


Let's begin with the president's speech tonight and his bombshell announcement on a comprehensive immigration bill. Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us with the latest. Jim, what are you hearing about whether the president will actually talk about this comprehensive immigration legislation tonight?

JIM ACOSTA: Wolf, we are told he will. We are told the president is expected to signal an openness to a compromise immigration bill in his speech to Congress tonight. Part of that bill, a possible path to citizenship for the so-called Dreamers. Those are the kids who are brought to the U.S. illegally. The president is also talking about a bill where undocumented immigrants who have not committed a crime can stay in the U.S. legally. That is a big shift from where he has stood in the past. It's just one of a number of big-ticket items for President Trump, who will be delivering perhaps his most important speech since his inauguration. [CNN, The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, 2/28/17]

MSNBC’s Greta Van Susteren: “There May Be Some Immigration Proposal By The President.” MSNBC host Greta Van Susteren spoke to Trump supporter Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), saying that Trump dropped a “political bomb” by raising the possibility that he is open to compromise on immigration. McMorris Rodgers responded that the “first step” to immigration reform is “to secure the border,” noting that Trump is “delivering on that.” From the February 28 edition of MSNBC’s For the Record with Greta:

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN (HOST): One of the political bombs that was dropped about an hour ago ... was the news there may be some immigration proposal by the president. And in fact the president is quoted as saying the time is right for immigration bill if both sides are willing to compromise. Is the Republican base, which is so passionate about issues of immigration and securing the border, is there any room for compromise with them, do you think?

REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS (R-WA): I think for the Republican base, they want to see the border secure. And that is one of the planks of Donald Trump's presidency was that that was going to be his priority. And he’s delivering on those promises. He’s following through. People like me have long said that if we want to fix what is a broken immigration system that we’re going to have to secure our border. That has to be the first step. But there's many aspects to immigration reform. But it starts with getting our border secure. [MSNBC, For the Record with Greta, 2/28/17]

… But Trump’s Speech Was Consistent With His Usual Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric And Included No Mention Of Comprehensive Immigration Reform

CNN’s Sara Murray: A Trump Official “Admitted” That Trump’s Message About Compromise On Immigration “Was A Misdirection Play” To Get “Positive Press Coverage.” After it became apparent that Trump had misled journalists by teasing a possible announcement on immigration reform, CNN correspondent Sara Murray labeled the move a “bait and switch” n designed to give the Trump administration “positive press coverage” leading up to his speech to Congress. From the March 1 edition of CNN’s Inside Politics:

SARA MURRAY: Let's just change gears entirely and talk about the bait and switch that the president pulled when it came to immigration yesterday. He had this meeting with the anchors, he talked about a path to legal status. Basically they fed up things that they thought these anchors would like, that they thought would give them positive press coverage for the next few hours. A senior administration official admitted that it was a misdirection play. And you will note that when the president was actually out there speaking to the American public, he didn't talk about a path to legal status. He talked about reforming the legal immigration system so it's merit-based. That means fewer low-skilled workers, fewer people coming on family ties, more people coming on high-skilled visas. That is still closer to a Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon framework of the world than Gang of Eight, who pushed comprehensive immigration reform.

JOHN KING (HOST): Interesting twist, although it does make you wonder, so we're not supposed to believe what the seniormost official at the lunch says, who then they allowed it to be the president's name says, we're not supposed to believe what they say, maybe we shouldn't believe what they say. [CNN, Inside Politics, 3/1/17]

Trump’s Speech To Congress Was Filled With Lies About Immigrants. In Trump’s speech to the joint session of Congress, he continued the demonization of immigrants that he campaigned on. The president repeated skewed data and nativist talking points to falsely claim that immigrants are “straining … public resources” and that they make American communities less safe. [Media Matters, 3/1/17, 3/2/17]

Senior White House Official Told Bloomberg That Trump’s Speech Was “Nationalism With An Indoor Voice.” While many pundits praised Trump’s tone, a White House staffer acknowledged that Trump’s speech was “nationalism with an indoor voice,” according to Bloomberg’s Joshua Green. That claim is bolstered by Trump’s announcement of a new government office designed to assist victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and the guests he invited to the speech who had been impacted by such crimes. Both moves were meant to falsely paint immigrants broadly as criminals.. [Media Matters, 3/1/17]

BuzzFeed: “A Day After Trump Met With News Anchors,” Another Dreamer Was Detained By ICE. BuzzFeed’s Adrian Carrasquillo reported that Trump’s speech “was lauded by pundits as an example of Trump becoming presidential,” yet “Democrats and activists were troubled by his invitation to multiple family members of victims of violence by undocumented immigrants and the creation of an office to chronicle the crimes of people in the country illegally.” Carrasquillo explained that Trump’s actions contradict media reports that Trump struggles with how to address DACA, writing, “Trump’s pen has already done what he says his heart is struggling with.” Carrasquillo also pointed out that one day after Trump’s meeting with news anchors, “DREAMer Daniela Vargas was detained by federal agents moments after leaving a news conference where she spoke about her fear of being deported.” [BuzzFeed News, 3/3/17]