Fox News’ coverage of a recent rise in Chinese migrants attempting to seek asylum in the U.S. has been marked by xenophobic rhetoric and unproven accusations that the migrants, often attempting to escape human rights abuses, are instead coming in for nefarious purposes like spying or drug smuggling.
From the beginning of 2023, the number of Chinese migrants traveling from the Darien Gap, which is a transit point for border crossing between Columbia and Panama, into the U.S. to seek asylum has increased significantly. There are a few factors behind this uptick, including, primarily, that China reopened its borders in January after closing them down at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. Stricter visa screenings and civil rights concerns over oppressive governance have also incentivized Chinese asylum-seekers into making the trek to the U.S. through the border pass rather than flying. Immigration Council’s Aaron Reichlin-Melnick also pointed out that historically, Chinese asylum-seekers have had “high asylum grant rates,” which would likely drive more migrants to the U.S.
People of Asian descent, who have experienced violence and xenophobia in the U.S. since the 1800s, saw hate crimes against them rise 339% from 2020 to 2021. Former President Donald Trump inflamed some of these preexisting xenophobic and violent attitudes toward Asian people by labeling the COVID-19 virus as the “China virus” and “Kung flu,” inspiring a flood of anti-Asian sentiment on social media. Over a three-month period in 2020, Fox News used terms such as “Wuhan virus” 144 times, despite the World Health Organization linking that kind of language to a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes. Chinese immigrants and Asian Americans have also been the targets of brutal attacks and racial profiling.
Fox News’ attacks on Chinese migrants fit into the network’s larger pattern of spreading racist disinformation about immigrants, which has included platforming the "great replacement" ideology and claiming there’s an “invasion” at the southern border. Despite a lack of evidence behind claims that Chinese migrants are here to spy or smuggle drugs for cartels — which has been refuted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — Fox continues to fearmonger about them as a threat to the United States.
Fox fearmongers about Chinese asylum-seekers and pushes baseless conspiracy theories:
- On the February 6 edition of Outnumbered, Fox host Emily Compagno reported that “over the weekend, five Chinese nationals were apprehended and two convicted sex offenders in a five-hour span,” adding that “to ignore the other countries pushing through the Chinese nationals and the like is to also turn a blind eye to a really definite threat.”
- During the February 10 edition of Jesse Watters Primetime, Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Will Cain mocked migrants who had trouble adjusting to Canada’s frigid climate and then turned to “a more serious” and “dangerous” topic: stoking paranoia over the intentions of migrants from China. Fox host Rachel Campos-Duffy responded by referencing the recent shootdown of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon and suggesting the migrants were “human assets” for spying operations by “our Chinese enemy.” “Something bad is going to happen,” Cain concluded, “and we’re going to look back to these years of absolutely open doors and say, ‘How did that bad event begin?’”
- On the February 10 edition of Hannity, guest host Pete Hegseth fearmongered that there has been “a reported 800% jump in the number of Chinese nationals crossing illegally” in recent months, while the show’s chyron raised “concern about Chinese spies.” Fox News contributor Sara Carter and National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd both raised alarm over the migrants, with Carter warning of “asymmetrical warfare” and Judd claiming, “China is involved with every single one of the cartels, and that is a very, very scary issue for the United States.”
- On February 12, Fox anchor Maria Bartiromo suggested the migrants were connected to an intelligence operation, asking Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) why the Chinese government would “need to send Chinese nationals into the southern border” when it “already abuses the student visa program in America, sending people into academia to spy and send information back to the CCP [Chinese Communist Party].” “I think the threat is pretty clear,” Bartiromo added.
- On the March 19 episode of Fox & Friends Weekend, Cain cast suspicion on the intentions of Chinese migrants, asking, “How many among those numbers are here to do ill will for the United States of America?” Guest Lee Steinhauer concurred, adding that “there will certainly be individuals coming from China who have nefarious purposes,” including “espionage, influence operations, things of that nature.”
- On March 21’s Special Report, Fox News correspondent Griff Jenkins reported on an increase in the number of arrests of Chinese nationals at the southern border by suggesting it was connected to fentanyl smuggling operations by cartels.
- On April 2, Bartiromo introduced an interview with Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick by fearmongering that “China has now become the leading country of migrants breaching the border” and promising an answer on “what the Chinese Communist Party is up to now as the border floodgates open even wider.” She later questioned whether Chinese nationals crossing the border were “just good people trying to escape the CCP, or is this something more sinister?”
Fox News also has fixated on the numbers of Chinese migrants entering the US, often failing to include context for the uptick:
- On March 18, Jenkins called the “surge” in Chinese migrant apprehensions an “alarming statistic” and joked that it “makes you wonder if anybody’s left in Beijing, there are so many coming in this area.” Campos-Duffy then commented that there “has to be Chinese spies in there, of course. Of course there are.”
- After Fox correspondent Bill Melugin warned on March 26 of an increase in migrants from countries he “had to Google” because he’d “never heard of them before” and reported “the Chinese numbers are up over 900% right now,” Hegseth mused that “it’s almost like we don’t have a country.”
- On March 29, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed the Chinese government is “sending 16,000 people here” and the number of “illegal Chinese” migrants “crossing the border is up something like 800%.”