Fox News returns to “migrant crime” fixation as migrant crossings, crime plummet

Fox News screengrab

Fox News is flooding its airwaves with incendiary coverage blaming President Joe Biden for a handful of abhorrent crimes allegedly committed by migrants, as the network doubles down on its effort to use “migrant crime” to help Donald Trump return to the White House.

The network’s coverage relentlessly dehumanizes migrants with constant suggestions that the entire group is composed of dangerous criminals and lacks anything resembling subtext. 

“Joe Biden has blood on his hands,” Fox host and Trump crony Sean Hannity said as on-screen graphics highlighted a list of “heinous crimes allegedly committed by illegal immigrants” during his Monday broadcast.

Fox host Jesse Watters described one alleged perpetrator as “one of Biden’s migrants” who is participating in an “international crime spree” during a June 18 segment. “BIDEN LETTING IN WAVE OF ILLEGAL KILLERS” blared a June 21 chyron on The Five. Fox host Jeanine Pirro argued Monday that “the presumption” for all undocumented immigrants should be that they are pedophiles and murderers. Other Fox shows are airing graphics of migrant mugshots and putting up chyrons “ticking through one migrant crime after the next” during unrelated segments. 

“Let's not forget, the most above the law of all, the illegal aliens being dumped into this country by the millions as they rape and pillage and murder,” Trump adviser Stephen Miller ranted to Watters and his Fox audience on Friday. “They kill 12-year-old girls, 13-year-old girls, 14-year-old girls. And are we rounding them up and deporting all these illegals? No, Joe Biden is flying them in day after day, busing them in, escorting them in to rape and pillage and murder more Americans. That’s the system we’re living in now, Jesse.”

Trump’s election strategy revolves around such fearmongering about migrants. His campaign rhetoric is steeped in inflammatory claims about border chaos and “migrant crime,” and he recently fantasized about setting up a “a migrant league of fighters” in which “tough” immigrants who “come from prisons” would compete against UFC champions. At his bidding, Senate Republicans killed bipartisan border security legislation earlier this year, preserving the campaign issue for him to use in the fall.

Trump’s preferred narrative is both repugnant and inaccurate. Studies show immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, commit violent crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans. And contrary to right-wing claims of a “migrant crime wave” bolstered by Biden’s policy agenda, both violent crime and migrants crossing into the United States from Mexico are in steep decline. 

Those statistics are objectively terrible for Trump — but he has Fox, a propaganda network devoted to his success, running cover for him. Rather than informing viewers about broad national trends, the network’s hosts and anchors are focusing attention on individual anecdotes about horrific crimes allegedly committed by migrants. 

That coverage dramatically increased last week, as you can see from the chart below, which totals 15-second clips from cable news segments discussing migrant crime using the GDELT database. Fox’s coverage has spiked to its highest level since late February, when its narrative revolved around how, in the words of Watters, “There is a migrant crime spree killing Americans and the president is an accessory to murder.”

Chart showing time spend discussing migrant crime on cable news

Fox’s coverage, in turn, is regularly blasted out by the super PAC supporting Trump’s campaign. 

And Trump himself claims that he will bring up these stories of what he calls a “Biden Migrant Killing” during Thursday night’s debate.

Apart from the deception inherent in trying to smear a broad group with the hideous acts of a few members, the anecdotes themselves don’t prove the point the right is trying to make. 

Much of Fox’s attention, for example, has focused on a Salvadoran migrant who allegedly killed Maryland mother Rachel Morin. But as The New Republic’s Greg Sargent noted, the right’s claims about the case “implode under scrutiny.” He wrote:

[T]his particular migrant was repeatedly kicked out under the Title 42 Covid-related health rule first instituted under President Trump and temporarily kept by Biden. This was a near-total ban on asylum-seeking that Trump initiated. Yet this alleged killer entered even though the tightest possible restrictions on asylum were in place. So you can’t blame this on supposedly lax asylum policies by Biden, either (he’s made them as draconian as possible, regardless).

Here’s the rub: Such migrants eventually get in precisely because they keep trying. Some percentage will inevitably be violent criminals, but that number has been really, really tiny under both Trump and Biden. Regardless, presidential “toughness” can’t do much here anyway. Such “gotaways” rose substantially under Trump, as the Cato Institute shows, apparently because Title 42 encouraged repeat efforts to cross. They did rise further under Biden but then came way down again (after Title 42 ended). Toughness didn’t dissuade crossings under either administration.

Contrary to the sinister suggestions that Biden is seeking to import murderous migrants, it is the president who sought additional funding to allow for detention and swifter deportation, and Republicans who blocked it at Trump’s request.

But Fox isn’t interested in the facts — the network is determined to help Trump to victory by stoking its audience's fears that Biden is bringing in migrants who will endanger their families.