Right-wing news outlets Fox News, OAN, and Newsmax are scapegoating immigrants for the recent explosion in COVID-19 cases across the U.S., after all three networks have spent months belittling public health restrictions and spreading misinformation about the vaccine.
Fox, OAN, and Newsmax have all spread wide-scale misinformation about COVID-19 and smear campaigns against its vaccine since the very beginning of the pandemic. In the span of only a few months, Fox News alone was responsible for pushing 325 segments that actively undermined coronavirus science, and a recent Media Matters study found that the network spent nearly 60% of vaccination segments in a two-week period attacking vaccination efforts. OAN hosts have highlighted fringe conspiracy theories claiming that COVID-19 was created for the purpose of “globalist population control” and that the stay-at-home orders were a plan concocted by Democrats to gain more power. Newsmax hosts and guests have also spread disinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines, including speculating about the possibility of forced vaccination, comparing the prospect to Nazi Germany, and telling their audience that vaccines go “against nature” because diseases are “supposed to wipe out a certain amount of people.”
More recently, this deliberate disparaging of COVID-19 science and vaccinations by right-wing outlets have led to real-world consequences -- namely, a breakdown in trust in the vaccine as well as higher infection rates in their audiences. The latest attempts by Fox, OAN, and Newsmax to fault immigrants for recent COVID-19 outbreaks are both insincere and factually inaccurate.
Blaming immigrants is not a new tactic in the networks’ coverage as it has served as an effective explanation for all three outlets at some point in time during the pandemic. However, as the delta variant of COVID-19 has accelerated its spread in the U.S., attacks from right-wing media have picked up -- despite evidence that immigrants at the border are not primarily responsible for recent COVID-19 outbreaks. The Washington Post’s Phillip Bump pointed out in July:
Nationally, the number of ICU patients is up 137 percent since July 1 and the number of filled beds is at 32 percent of the recorded peak. In Texas, the figures are 164 percent and 39 percent — only slightly above the country overall. That doesn’t provide evidence to suggest that the state with the longest border with Mexico is being infected by new arrivals.
Nor is it the case in Arizona, California or New Mexico.
What the hardest-hit states do have in common is relatively low vaccination rates.
Immigrants are also not “being shipped all over the country,” as these networks have claimed, but instead many are being transported to a different part of the border en route back to Mexico in a practice known as “lateral flights.” Furthermore, immigrants who are detained after crossing the border (and are not among the hundreds of thousands who have been expelled under Title 42) are largely tested and sent to local health officials if they show symptoms. The main issues related to immigration and COVID-19 have been U.S. bureaucratic failures, whether it is subjecting immigrants to Customs and Border Patrol superspreader facilities or excluding them from vaccination programs.
The efforts from Fox News, OAN, and Newsmax to scapegoat immigrants for COVID-19 outbreaks is likely in part responsible for 37% of unvaccinated people and 30% of vaccinated people blaming the recent rise in cases on “people from other countries traveling to the U.S.” in an Axios-Ipsos poll. But the narrative that immigrants are to blame obfuscates the actual causes for the surge.
- On July 27, OAN host Dan Ball said that the number of “illegals” coming with COVID-19 is “astronomical,” repeating an unverified claim that it is “20-26%” of all undocumented immigrants coming in through the border. In reality, recent COVID-19 positive rates among immigrants are roughly 8%, which is lower than the overall rate in border states like Texas and Arizona.
- Ball also alleged on July 28 that one of the “major” causes behind the surge in COVID-19 outbreaks is due to the “thousands upon thousands of illegal immigrants coming into the country."
- On July 29, Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich said that “the Biden administration is perfectly happy to finish the job by taking these people and putting them on buses without properly testing them or quarantining them and sending them to American communities all over the country,” putting law enforcement at risk because “they clearly don’t care about American citizens getting COVID from illegal immigrants.”
- OAN host Natalie Harp blamed the “hordes of illegals pouring over the border” for a 900% increase in positive COVID-19 cases in Texas. Harp failed to mention that the 900% number is based on only 135 immigrants who were in Texas detention.
- Newsmax host Greg Kelly said on July 29 that migrants are “coming in like crazy,” causing an “immigration crisis” because “we have no border” and “a lot of them have COVID.”
- Speaking with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on August 4, Fox News host Sean Hannity alleged that Americans who become infected “can blame Joe Biden for COVID” because the border is “the biggest superspreader in the country,” adding that “Joe’s illegal immigrant population” was entering the U.S. without getting tested and spreading COVID-19 “all over the country.”
- The next day, Newsmax host Rob Finnerty suggested that the “thousands of illegal migrants crossing the border every day, largely not being tested,” are connected to the spread of the delta variant of COVID-19.
- On August 4, Newsmax guest Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) blamed record numbers of migrants coming over the border, “many of whom have COVID ... are being shipped all over the country,” fear-mongering that they are “coming into your communities.”
- OAN host Christina Bobb stated on August 1 that if the Biden administration “really were concerned about the delta variant, it would close the border to immigrants."
- Fox News host Pete Hegseth said that the U.S. is “asking for COVID to walk across our border” without supposedly effective ways to stop immigration, such as a border wall.