Ever since Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) announced his plan on April 6 to forcibly relocate legal asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border to Washington, D.C., Fox News has rewarded him with widespread favorable coverage of his obvious stunt. Abbott has in turn promoted Fox’s coverage and gone on the network to further draw attention to his scheme.
In early April, the Biden administration announced “that families and single adult asylum seekers who had been turned away at the U.S.-Mexico border since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic will have their chance to enter the U.S. and make an asylum claim starting May 23.” Abbott responded to the plan by announcing that Texas “would place state troopers in riot gear to meet migrants at the border and bus them straight to the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.” According to The Texas Tribune, Abbott’s office attempted to clarify that what seemed to be a forced relocation program would be “completely voluntary for migrants and would happen only after they had been processed and released by the Department of Homeland Security.”
Fox News immediately began hyping Abbott’s plan, covering his press conference live and then airing more than 30 weekday segments about it in the past eight days, according to Media Matters’ internal database.
Multiple Fox News personalities praised the governor’s planned stunt. Prime-time host Sean Hannity said Abbott is “taking another stand for border security.” Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy said, “It might’ve been a publicity stunt, but it worked for Texas.” Abbott also joined Fox for an interview on April 11 to further publicize his stunt.
On April 13, after the first bus full of migrants pulled up in front of Fox’s Washington, D.C., studios, Fox & Friends provided live coverage of people disembarking. Anchor John Roberts also covered the bus’s arrival, declaring on Twitter that Abbott “carries out his pledge” and noting that the bus was strategically placed “right in front of the building that houses” Fox News, NBC News, and C-SPAN.
During the April 13 White House press briefing, Fox White House correspondent Jacqui Heinrich commented that Abbott was “making good on his promise to send migrants to the president’s doorstep.” Later, Fox host Jesse Watters commented that “Abbott dropped them off right in front of the Fox bureau. Smart move by Governor Abbott, he knows what he's doing there.”
The same day, Abbott tweeted a FoxNews.com story about the stunt and boasted about his plan.
Some Texas politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, had immediately criticized Abbott’s announcement as a “gimmick” and “stunt” when it was announced. Civil rights and immigration advocates have also denounced Abbott’s announcement. Kate Huddleston, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas, said “any forcible busing of migrants across the country would be outrageous and blatantly unconstitutional” and noted that Abbott had “already backpedaled on this heinous plan” by announcing it would be voluntary. Denise Gilman, co-director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, said Abbott’s plan is “of questionable legality” because “everything about the program suggests it would be coercive.”
The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), a Texas-based nonprofit that rose to prominence fighting the Trump administration’s shockingly cruel family separation policies, described Abbott’s plan as “fear mongering to a problem that doesn’t exist,” calling it “disgusting" and an effort to “Make Texas White Again.” Domingo Garcia of the League of United Latin American Citizens said many migrants will likely feel coerced to board buses: “When you have uniformed DPS troopers with badges and guns telling refugees who have just been granted freedom ‘Hey this is a bus that will take you to Washington’ are they going to feel like they’re coerced? Is it really voluntary?” Garcia also pointed out that Abbott’s plan “uses human beings as political pinatas to score political points six months before his election.”
This overabundance of coverage by Fox News follows a misleading effort by the network and other Murdoch-owned outlets to boost Republican policies on COVID-19, especially in Florida. Talking Points Memo just reported that Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a copycat effort of Abbott’s plan, claiming he will bus migrants in Florida to supposed “sanctuary states,” which conservatives falsely believe are too accommodating of immigrants, “including President Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware.” It’s likely not a coincidence that Fox is trying to buff the reputations of Republican politicians as they continue to seek elected office.