Fox News on the US/Mexico border
Molly Butler / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

Fox moved the goal posts on immigration after CBP report shows fewer migrant encounters at the border

Fox News undermined new data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection showing that total migrant encounters at the U.S. southwest border decreased in both March and April 2024 by focusing instead on a slightly different statistic, “gotaways.”

The new CBP data countered Fox’s prediction that there’d be a perpetual influx of migrant encounters at the border until President Joe Biden is removed from office. But Fox is continuing to fearmonger about a so-called migrant invasion via a report on gotaways that Fox’s website released the same day as CBP put out its April report on lowered encounters. Subsequent Fox reporting emphasized the number of gotaways rather than the decreased number of encounters.

  • With migrant encounters down significantly — reportedly thanks in part to recent diplomatic work with Mexico — Fox News shifted focus to a different statistic

    • U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported that total migrant encounters on the southern border decreased significantly in April 2024. According to CBP, “encounters between ports of entry along the southwest border were 6% lower than in March 2024 and 30% lower than April 2023.” This is the second month that encounters at ports of entry decreased – encounters were about 4% lower in March 2024 than in February 2024. Encounters refer to migrants intercepted by CBP who were either detained or deported. [Customs and Border Protection, 5/15/24; 4/12/24; Customs and Border Protection data set, accessed 5/20/24; Glossary, Office of Homeland Security Statistics, accessed 5/22/24
    • The early 2024 decline in migrant encounters is surprising as immigration usually spikes during the spring. According to the Washington Office on Latin America, “This is only the second time this century that migration has declined from February to March.” [Washington Office on Latin America, 4/18/24]
    • According to an NBC news report, Mexico has helped keep border crossings down by stopping nearly three times as many migrants as it did last year. Mexico increased its border crossing interceptions following a December call between Biden and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and visits from Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. [NBC, 5/15/24]
    • On the same day that CBP reported fewer encounters at the U.S./Mexico border, Fox News published an exclusive report alleging that gotaways increased over the past few years. The term “gotaway” refers to a migrant who was detected crossing the border by cameras or sensors but not directly intercepted or detained by the CBP. The report, co-authored by border correspondent Bill Melugin, was based on CBP data retrieved from a Freedom of Information Act request. It claimed there were 1.6 million gotaways in the two years of fiscal years 2021 to 2023, compared to 1.4 million from the decade of fiscal years 2010 to 2020. [, 5/15/24]
  • Fox has spent months fearmongering about an ever-increasing number of migrant encounters at the southern border

    • Anchor Bill Hemmer noted that there had been nearly 1 million encounters by March 1, asking, “Where are we come November?” “Border encounters – you’re almost at a million. It’s not even five months in the current [fiscal] year,” Hemmer complained. “Where are we come November? Where are we this time next year?” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 3/1/24]
    • Fox contributor Marc Thiessen emphasized rising encounter numbers. “Biden has broken the record every single year for the most encounters at the southern border. He broke it in 2021. He broke it in 2022. He broke it in 2023. And now, in 2024, he is finally taking executive action to do something about it?” Thiessen said, adding, “It’s a little bit late and I don't think it’s gonna work.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 2/28/24]
    • Thiessen claimed migrants are “detrimental to the interests of the United States” and slammed Biden for not using his executive authority “before we let in 7.2 million illegal migrants,” referring to the number of encounters during Biden’s administration. “He has complete authority to determine who gets in, when they get in, for how long they're allowed to come, and the only restriction is that he has to determine — if he wants to keep somebody out — to determine that it's detrimental to the United States that that alien come in,” Thiessen said. “The 7.2 million people coming into this country illegally is detrimental to the interests of the United States.” [Fox News, The Story, 2/22/24]
    • Fox anchor Bret Baier said the number of encounters at the southern border is “staggering” and asked “what’s preventing” Biden from using an executive order there. “If you look at the border crossings, just the former president to the president, 2.4 to 7.9 [million]. Now we get word that a million encounters by CBP have happened since October 1. It's staggering.” Baier asked: “Is there anything preventing President Biden from going down to the border … and saying, listen, they didn’t give me everything I want, and they didn’t do the bill, but I have things I can do, and here it is: remain in Mexico, catch and release end, you know, do it by executive order. What’s preventing him from doing that?” [Fox News, Special Report, 2/7/24]
    • In January, Melugin reported that migrant encounters “have now quadrupled” since Donald Trump’s last year in office. “The numbers, just jaw-dropping,” Melugin stated. “CBP sources telling Fox in the month of December alone, there were more than 302,000 migrant encounters at our southern border. That is the highest single month ever recorded in U.S. history, and you can see how it compares to recent Decembers in past years, including a couple of Trump years. Trump’s worst December was in 2020, when he had about 74,000 migrant encounters. We have now quadrupled that this last December.” [Fox News, The Story, 1/3/24
  • Now that encounters have decreased, Fox has focused on gotaways

    • Citing Melugin’s May 15 report, reported, “Despite the decline [in encounters], separate figures obtained by Fox News revealed there were 1.6 million known gotaways from fiscal year 2021 to fiscal year 2023.” Fox paired the article with an interview in which former Trump adviser Stephen Miller responded to a question from host Laura Ingraham about Democratic action by seemingly invoking the “great replacement” theory: “We are now in our fourth year of the border invasion, Laura. The only thing they are doing is keeping that conveyer belt smoothly running, bringing illegal aliens from outside the country into the country. And if they can’t do it by land … they send airplanes to foreign countries like Haiti, fill them up with illegals, and then fly them into swing states.” Ingraham responded: “And that’s the real goal here, correct? I mean, they want to fundamentally change the country from top to bottom … and that’s why they want to bring in this new population.” [, 5/16/24
    • Former acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said Melugin’s report proves “that under three years of the Biden administration, the gotaways have just skyrocketed.” According to Wolf: “The three years eclipse the decade before President Biden came into office. … What that tells me is that his policies are encouraging, facilitating this type of trafficking and smuggling.” Wolf said the gotaways are “​​individuals that don't want to come into contact with law enforcement. So those are your national security and those are your public safety threats” who “know that if they’re encountered by law enforcement, they’re going to be sent back.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/16/24]
    • Correspondent William La Jeunesse reported that the White House claimed for three years that “the border was secure” but knew “that wasn't true and now we do, too, thanks to those new figures obtained by our Bill Melugin on gotaways.” La Jeunesse, referencing Melugin’s CBP report, said that “figures show more gotaways crossed into the U.S. since Biden took office than the previous 10 years combined.” La Jeunesse emphasized that these numbers were “in addition to the roughly 8 million immigrants who were apprehended by the Border Patrol since the president took office – most of whom were released and will never leave.” La Jeunesse declined to mention that those apprehensions are on the decline. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 5/16/24
    • After comparing the number of gotaways under Biden versus Trump, host Brian Kilmeade asked viewers if they think gotaways are “here to make America great again.” Citing Melugin’s article, Kilmeade noted that gotaways under the last year of the Trump administration were at 151,000. “Prior to that was around 120 – 104,000 for the year. So now they’re up to 670. We think the numbers are high now. The people that we only see the back of their heads or see the dust as they cross, 670,000. Do you think they’re here to make America great again?” Kilmeade did not mention that migrant encounters were down. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/16/24]
    • Miller blamed Biden for the “record number of gotaways that entered over the last three years,” which he said poses a national security threat. Miller said: “In addition to the free and unrestricted entry of foreign terrorists into the country — in other words, for every one that is apprehended, you have an unknown number that successfully evaded apprehension entirely. We know a record number of gotaways that entered over the last three years.” He concluded, “Many of them are no doubt spies, many are no doubt committing espionage in the United States, all of which is inflicted by Joe Biden onto Americans.” Miller did not mention statistics on migrant encounters. [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 5/16/24