Fox News leads right-wing media in attacking a volunteer effort to educate migrant teenagers in San Diego

Fox News is generating a new right-wing outrage cycle over immigration, this time directed toward a volunteer education program for migrant teenagers being temporarily housed in San Diego. The story is the latest example of Fox News’ visceral attacks on efforts to help migrants at the border and illustrates Fox’s tendency to nationalize local stories in an attempt to stoke its conservative viewers’ anger.

The San Diego County Office of Education recently announced an initiative to provide an education program in English and the arts for nearly 700 migrant teenage girls being held at the San Diego Convention Center. County Superintendent of Schools Paul Gothold said that “all children in California, regardless of immigration status, have a constitutional right to education.” So far, 13 teachers have volunteered to work with the migrants.

Fox News has decided to make this program the next target of the network’s never-ending culture war coverage. On March 29, published a report titled “San Diego public school teachers to give migrant kids in-person instruction before their own students.” The article included a quote from a parent in San Diego, who said that “what is happening right now is immoral” and asked, “Why are taxpaying students put last?” The article also quoted Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who said, “The decision to provide in-person instruction to illegal migrants is outrageous and parents have every right to be angry." 

That night, Fox News @ Night anchor Shannon Bream claimed that her show is “investigating a report that illegal immigrant children in San Diego will be given in-person instruction by teachers” and promised viewers that “we’ll keep you updated” on details around the program. 

The following day, anchor Bill Hemmer credited Fox News for having “broke” the story, and media figures across the network quickly joined efforts to relentlessly hammer the program. According to Media Matters’ internal database, Fox News ran at least 30 segments covering the program between 11 p.m. EDT on March 29 and 2 p.m. on March 31.  

Many of those making these criticisms insisted that their qualms are not with the general idea of educating migrants, but claimed that doing so while other children are still attending school remotely is effectively prioritizing migrant children over Americans. San Diego Unified School District aims to allow all students the option to return to in-person learning by April 12, and the teachers are currently volunteering to help while on their spring break.

Using the story as an opportunity to continue the network’s assault on teachers unions and school closures amid the pandemic, Fox figures called on San Diego officials not to “forget about the Americans” while helping migrants and claimed that “one of the greatest tragedies of COVID has been the teachers unions keeping children out of school.” 

The story serves to insidiously exploit parents’ concerns over their children’s education amid a pandemic and to direct those anxieties and outrage toward migrants arriving at the border, fearmongering that American kids will “take a back seat” to migrant children. It is also not the first time Fox News has made an explicit effort to nationalize a local story, generating outrage among right-wing media and using it to further their narrative, in this case against migrants at the border.

Here are some examples of Fox News’ coverage: 

  • On Fox News @ Night, anchor Shannon Bream read a tweet from San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond, who wrote that “it's great there's in-person learning for” the migrant girls, but “I wish every child in San Diego County was allowed the same opportunity."
  • On America’s Newsroom, co-anchors Dana Perino and Bill Hemmer railed against the volunteer program with Fox Nation host Lawrence Jones. Hemmer complained, “You sit at home and you stay on Zoom for a year, right, or you cross the border and you get free education.” Jones said, “It has become very clear that the teachers unions and the people that are volunteering, in theory, are activists.” Perino concluded that the program will encourage migration and doesn’t “prevent people from making that decision to send their kids alone across the border.” Jones agreed that the program is “creating more incentive.”
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Citation From the March 30, 2021, edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom

  • In another America’s Newsroom segment, Hemmer told Marc Short, former chief of staff for Vice President Mike Pence, that “ broke” the story about the San Diego program, adding, “Meanwhile, their own students are home on Zoom. Figure that one out.” Short attacked teachers unions for trying “to make a political issue about the migrant issue,” declaring “one of the greatest tragedies of COVID has been the teachers unions keeping children out of school.”
  • On Outnumbered, guest co-host Will Cain said, “When we are told we can educate migrant children in person at the border but our students, American students, still have to sit in remote learning, at some point you'd think we'd stand up and go, ‘Enough with all this absurdity.’”
  • Responding to the story on The Faulkner Focus, Fox contributor and The Hill columnist Joe Concha claimed, “Your average parent like me is sitting at home and saying, ‘Wait a minute. Why for them, people who aren't even citizens of this country during a pandemic, getting that courtesy and my child may still be on Zoom?’” Guest anchor Gillian Turner insisted that it isn’t that “San Diego parents would deny migrant children the chance to be educated,” but “the crux of the matter is that you and other parents are upset at this point because you were promised schools would reopen, they haven't reopened.” “Don't forget about the Americans,” she added. The report didn’t mention that San Diego schools plan to reopen on April 12.
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Citation From the March 30, 2021, edition of Fox News' The Faulkner Focus

  • On Fox Business’ Your World with Neil Cavuto, Washington Examiner’s Sarah Westwood emphasized the San Diego school district and teachers unions for hypocrisy, calling it “understandably frustrating to parents to have the in-person education characterized as just a fundamental right when it comes to these unaccompanied minors, and subject of negotiations when it comes to their own kids.” Anchor Neil Cavuto asked why the teachers volunteering to help the migrant children can’t teach their students in the district in-person and said the story “just seems crazy.”
  • During a segment on the San Diego program, The Five co-host Jesse Watters went on a tirade against migrant students learning with American students in general, complaining that “those students aren't going to speak any English. They're not going to know what's going on in the classroom.” Watters argued that students who have been “sexually traumatized, emotionally traumatized” and “physically traumatized” are going to be “dragging down and slowing down the curriculum,” and claimed that the students are from “a very impoverished demographic” and “an agrarian society.”
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Citation From the March 31, 2021, edition of Fox News' The Five

The attacks on the San Diego program spread throughout right-wing media, taking a similar tone to Fox’s coverage:

  • On March 30, the Washington Examiner published an article titled “San Diego offers in-person learning to migrant children before offering the same to residents.”
  • The Daily Wire similarly published an article with the headline “San Diego Teachers Provide In-Person Learning To Migrant Children While Residents Remain Online.”
  • In an article titled “Biden’s Border Crisis Is Displacing Foster Kids And Screwing School Districts,” The Federalist’s Jordan Davidson wrote that “the decision to allow teachers in the convention center angered some parents and district leaders who have repeatedly pleaded for children, especially those struggling with disabilities, to be able to return to in-person instruction.”
  • RedState published an article titled “In San Diego County, Migrant Kids' in-Person Education Takes Precedence Over Your Kid.”
  • The Gateway Pundit’s article on the program was titled “Teachers will be Sent to San Diego Convention Center to Provide In-Person Learning For Migrants While Schools in Same County Remain Closed,” declaring, “This is Joe Biden’s America. Illegal aliens come first and Americans are second class citizens.”