Fox News' Anti-Immigrant Agenda Has Spilled Over Into Mainstream

Today, Media Matters released a study confirming that Fox News is indeed an anti-immigrant network. An analysis of Fox News guests from April 2010 to June 2011 found that of the guests chosen to discuss immigration issues, more than 60 percent took anti-immigrant positions or held anti-immigrant views. Our data show that anti-immigrant guests outnumbered those with a pro-immigrant point of view by a whopping 3-to-1 margin. This data is especially troubling in light of the fact that during that time, immigration was a paramount issue (and still is), as a number of states were passing or were considering adopting harsh laws against undocumented immigrants.

But that was hardly the only way Fox News influenced the tone of the immigration debate. The network's hosts, correspondents, contributors, and guests constantly employed certain words known to elicit negative feelings about immigrants. Fox News rhetoric abounded with the slurs “illegals,” “anchor babies,” and “illegal aliens,” words news organizations have campaigned against because they can “skew public debate.” Indeed, on September 27, the Society of Professional Journalists voted to recommend that newsrooms ban the use of “illegal alien,” arguing that “only courts can decide when a person has committed an illegal act.” The SPJ resolution also encouraged “continuous discussion and re-evaluation of the use of 'illegal immigrant' in news stories.” The term 'illegal immigrant' is the preferred usage recommended by the Associated Press style guide.

Addressing the resolution, SPJ president John Ensslin wrote:

My gripe with the term “illegal immigrant” is not the phrase itself, but with the loose and imprecise way that it is applied.

I've had the experience of covering large scale immigration arrests at a meat packing plant or vehicle accidents where large numbers of people are arrested.

It's not uncommon, however, for authorities to release several people the next day after determining that indeed they had papers. To call these people “illegal” is sloppy and inaccurate.

My concern is not one of being politically correct as it being precise and accurate.

When police arrest someone on a burglary charge, we don't refer to them the next day as “illegal burglars.” They are burglary suspects.

I don't see why we can't treat immigration cases like any other arrests. A person under arrest is suspected of entering the country illegally until authorities are in fact sure that they did.

During that April 2010 to June 2011 span, however, derogatory slurs about immigrants were heard by Fox viewers in at least 230 segments of its prime-time shows, according to a Nexis database search. Including the rest of Fox News' lineup would no doubt yield a much greater number.

Colorlines recently reported that the “art of choosing words has become big business in politics, for good reason. How a problem or solution is framed can be key to its chances of success.” The website noted that "[i]n the decade since the September 11 attacks, there has been a steady increase in language that frames unauthorized immigrants as a criminal problem."

Colorlines further explained:

Calling someone “illegal” or an “alien” has a whole host of negative connotations, framing that person as a criminal outsider, even a potential enemy of the state. But it does more, by also setting the parameters of an appropriate response. To label unauthorized immigrants as criminals who made an immoral choice suggests that they should be further punished -- that their lives be made harder, not easier. Not surprisingly, then, as rhetoric has grown harsher on both sides (or “tougher,” in the words of pollsters), legislation has followed suit. Border walls have been constructed, unmanned drones dispatched. Deportation numbers have continued a steady, record-breaking climb, while states pass ever-harsher laws.

These policy developments reflect -- and find reflection in -- a segment of the broader culture that is struggling with uneasy feelings about race and the ongoing transformation of the nation. When immigrants are targeted and murdered because of their status, and politicians joke about shooting them as livestock, we've moved to something beyond a simple policy debate. And at its swirling center is “the illegal” -- a faceless and shadowy character who, it can be hard to remember, is actually a person.

And as the website reported, these negative words are no longer the sole purview of the right:

References to “illegals,” “illegal immigrants” and their rhetorical variants now dominate the speech of both major political parties, as well as news media coverage of immigration."

In fact, reviewed the archives of the nation's largest-circulation newspapers to compare how often their articles describe people as “illegal” or “alien” versus describing them as “undocumented” or “unauthorized.” We found a striking and growing imbalance, particularly at key moments in the immigration reform debate. In 2006 and 2007, for example, years in which Congress engaged a pitched battle over immigration reform, the New York Times published 1,483 articles in which people were labeled as “illegal” or “alien;” just 171 articles used the adjectives “undocumented” or “unauthorized.”

Indeed, a Nexis search of the mainstream media uncovers more. For the same April 2010-June 2011 period, the words “illegals,” “anchor baby,” or both were heard in at least 157 segments on CNN, 39 segments on MSNBC, 12 segments on CBS, and 4 on NBC. During that span, The New York Times and The Washington Post published 15 articles, op-eds, or letters, each, that used either of those words at least once to refer to undocumented immigrants. In the Post's case, 14 pieces used the word in quotes, while in the Times, it was 11. The Associated Press published 21 articles in which the word “illegals” appeared -- 15 of those articles used the word in quotes.

Even cases in which news outlets use those phrases specifically to critique them -- as the Times did in highlighting Sen. John McCain's use of the word “illegals” in an editorial criticizing his “pandering” on immigration -- demonstrate the spread of such discourse into the mainstream.

A search of Nexis for these same slurs in major U.S. newspapers uncovered nearly 1,000 articles, editorials, op-eds, and letters in the same span, showing how far right the rhetoric has shifted. One can argue that this is due in part to networks like Fox News who have institutionalized this kind of hateful language against undocumented immigrants.

In a December 2009 research paper that focused on the effect of workplace immigration raids during the Bush administration, Bill Ong Hing, a legal scholar at the University of California-Davis School of Law at the time, warned of the dangers of institutionalized racism. He argued that “the structure of immigration laws has institutionalized a set of values that dehumanize, demonize, and criminalize immigrants of color.” He wrote:

Racism has become institutionalized in our immigration enforcement regime -- a regime that focuses mostly on Latinos, especially Mexicans, and occasionally on Asians.

This Article argues that the structure of immigration laws has institutionalized a set of values that dehumanize, demonize, and criminalize immigrants of color. The result is that these victims stop being Mexicans, Latinos, or Chinese and become “illegal immigrants.” We are aware of their race or ethnicity, but we believe we are acting against them because of their status, not because of their race. This institutionalized racism made the Bush ICE raids natural and acceptable in the minds of the general public. Institutionalized racism allows the public to think ICE raids are freeing up jobs for native workers without recognizing the racial ramifications.

Fox has not only mainstreamed negative speech about immigrants, it has also given a platform to those who continually spew hate and traffic in derogatory stereotypes of immigrants. According to Media Matters data, during the April 2010-June 2011 period, Fox programs frequently hosted Arizona Sheriffs Paul Babeu, Joe Arpaio, and Larry Dever to fearmonger about the southern border and what Fox dubbed “America's Third War.” Babeu appeared 30 times, Arpaio nine, and Dever three times.

In a three-month span between April 22, 2010, and July 9, 2010, Babeu was hosted 18 times on Fox. In one appearance on America Live, Babeu talked of crime in Arizona “that's out of control,” saying, “We have carjackings, home invasions, all of these things where even law enforcement leaders, like myself, are calling literally for troops to be deployed with Senator McCain's plan to the border to stop this.” In another appearance on Greta Van Susteren's show, he argued for S.B. 1070 because “crime literally is off the charts here in Arizona, that we have some of the highest crime statistics in America, and where officers being assaulted, officer-involved shootings, carjackings, home invasions.”

As well, Fox hosted Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has designated a “hate group,” seven times during that span. Stein has a history of using inflammatory anti-immigrant rhetoric, as the SPLC has noted. Four of those appearances on Fox were on Fox & Friends. In one March 30 Fox & Friends appearance, he claimed that the 14th Amendment wasn't meant to apply to the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants, saying:

STEIN: The current interpretation [of the 14th Amendment] is defeating the operation of U.S. immigration and entry controls. We are being taken advantage of, snookered -- now 350,000 children are born here to mothers here who are illegal aliens. I mean, that's the size of the city of St. Louis. This is like waking up and finding an additional 10 people living in your house that you didn't expect all of a sudden, and we're just being taken advantage of.

Mark Krikorian, who has extremist views about immigrants and a fervent anti-immigration stance, proved to be another favored guest of Fox News. Krikorian, the executive director of the “low immigration” Center for Immigration Studies think tank and a columnist for National Review Online, appeared 11 times during that span.

Mainstream media outlets followed Fox News' lead. According to Nexis, CNN hosted Arpaio 23 times, Babeu 13 times, Stein five times, and Krikorian twice. Krikorian has also been quoted frequently in The Washington Post (14 times), USA Today (9 times), The Christian Science Monitor (9 times), and The New York Times (7 times) discussing immigration.