Fox News coverage is stepping up its demagogic coverage on immigration. In addition to pushing long-running claims about migrants bringing in diseases, the network is now also spreading claims that all migrants coming to the U.S.-Mexico border are really part of a dangerous plot by drug cartels, or may even act as criminal sleeper agents ready to take orders. Such hateful rhetoric against migrants can have deadly real-life consequences — for which Fox has a history of avoiding any sense of accountability.
Fox spreads conspiracy theories about cartels controlling migrants and “flooding the zone”
Last week on Fox’s panel show The Five, co-host Jesse Watters made an explicit and conspiratorial claim: The migrants will have to act as sleeper agents in America for the drug cartels, otherwise the cartels will “kill their family back home”:
On Tuesday, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott appeared on America Reports with John Roberts and made an absolute statement that “100%” of unaccompanied minors were crossing with the “assistance of drug cartels.”
He also claimed this pattern was really part of a diversionary tactic: “The drug cartels — they make money off the kids who come here, and then they do something else. Once they get kids flooding across the border, and the Border Patrol agents have to deal with those kids, that's when the drug cartels — they bring in the more dangerous criminals. … So the cartels know exactly what they're doing. It’s called flooding the zone. Preoccupy the Border Patrol. And that's when they can wreak the havoc.”
Human smugglers are not the same as the drug cartels
The Texas Tribune in 2019 profiled the human smugglers, also known as “coyotes,” who guide migrants over the border. While they are commonly associated with the cartels in the public mind, their link to the cartels actually comes from having to pay bribes as they navigate through the cartel territories.
One coyote, who kicks back $1,200 per migrant to the cartels to move through their territory, explained the economics of it: “Since drugs aren’t booming, their business now is also people. … It gives them more profit. It’s easy money and fast.”
Latino USA reported in 2014 that smugglers “work as loosely knit groups of people who operate independently” across multiple countries — and not under the control of the drug cartels. But the smugglers have to interact with them and pay money along the routes.
As one coyote also told Univision in 2016: “If we don't pay, the cartel will kill us.” So while the cartels’ influence along the border is significant, it is simplistic to assume that all individual migrants or smuggling operations are under their direct command.
Why Fox’s smears are dangerous
In recent months, Fox host Laura Ingraham has alleged that immigration is part of a real “insurrection,” in a rhetorical flourish meant to distract from the assault on the Capitol in January by supporters of former President Donald Trump. She also claimed last week that there is “a purposeful repopulation of America” — a renewal of the “great replacement” conspiracy theory that has been promoted in far-right circles and right-wing media such as Fox.
Such rhetoric can have dangerous consequences as we saw in El Paso, Texas, in August 2019 when a gunman killed over 20 people in a Walmart after declaring in a manifesto: “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas. … I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.”
But in the days to come, Fox’s “news side” pointed fingers at such possible factors as video games and ISIS terrorism that may have led tot he shooting, while prime-time opinion host Tucker Carlson declared that white supremacy is a “hoax.”
Nowadays, Carlson is telling lies about Biden’s immigration policies supposedly releasing sex offenders into “your neighborhood,” describing the Biden administration’s immigration policy as “act of aggression … designed to humiliate you and demoralize you,” and claiming immigration is “obviously a humanitarian crisis, mostly for Americans.”
Fox’s continued dangerous rhetoric on immigration shows it has learned nothing from the past, and there’s no telling what the next cost might be in human tragedy and violence.