In the lead-up to President Joe Biden’s inauguration, conservative media spent weeks fearmongering about his immigration policies, arguing that he would allow in an immense number of new immigrants who would overwhelm the United States -- a familiar line of attack used by the right to demonize both elected Democrats and immigrants.
Days before he was sworn in as president, Biden unveiled ambitious plans for an “overhaul of immigration laws” on his first day in office, including creating an eight-year pathway to citizenship. Qualifying immigrants would receive a temporary status for five years and then a green card once they meet certain requirements, becoming eligible to apply for citizenship three years later.
Even before Biden’s plan was officially revealed, conservative media began claiming that it would lead to a country overrun by immigrants. The right’s tactics have included warning of imminent migrant caravans (even though caravans also formed under Trump) and tracking every movement of those currently under way; using the threat of the coronavirus to bash migrants; and warning that Biden’s policies will lead to an unmanageable surge of immigrants at the border. While it is possible that immigration will rise under a more humane Biden administration policy, there’s no reason to assume -- as right-wing media suggest -- that this would have negative effects on the country.
In 2018 and 2019, right-wing media were similarly laser-focused on tracking migrant caravans and sowing fear about immigration from the south. Fox News frequently pushed nativist and anti-immigrant tropes, suggested that immigrants were bringing diseases, and referred to migration as an “invasion,” while right-wing narratives around immigration dominated on social media. In 2019, anti-immigrant rhetoric pushed regularly on Fox News and in other conservative media was echoed in the manifesto of a man who killed more than 20 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in which he warned of a “Hispanic invasion” at the border -- and several right-wing media personalities doubled down on their rhetoric afterward.
Now, conservative media are similarly devoted to whipping up fears of immigration and migrant caravans arriving at the border. After it was reported earlier this month that a migrant caravan of Hondurans had moved into Guatemala, Fox News pivoted its focus to caravan coverage. In the span of just 2 days, January 18 and 19, Fox News spent nearly 3 hours obsessively reporting and commenting on the migrant caravan. Daytime and prime-time Fox shows devoted a collective 42 segments to the caravan, totaling 2 hours and 36 minutes of content, and they teased those segments 32 times. Even as Guatemala dissolved the incoming caravan, Fox News continued to hype its supposedly disastrous potential consequences.
Here are some examples of right-wing media’s coverage regarding immigration since December 2020:
Warning of unrelenting migrant caravans
As Biden prepared to take office, conservative media were warning that his immigration policies would inspire new migrant caravans. Following reporting that a migrant caravan had formed and was moving into Guatemala, right-wing media returned to their relentless fixation on the movements of the caravan (the caravan broke up only a few days later, on January 19, after a crackdown by Guatemalan security forces).
- The Daily Caller highlighted a quote from a Honduran migrant who claimed that Biden is “going to help all of us.”
- Breitbart emphasized the same quote from the Honduran migrant.
- The Daily Wire published an article on the caravan, titled: “With Biden Set To Become President, Migrant Caravans Return, March To U.S. Southern Border.”
- The Daily Wire published a second article on the topic, claiming that “Biden’s immigration policies will spark the return of migrant caravans.”
- Fox News contributor and former acting director of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Tom Homan warned, “You’re going to see a surge at the border that we have never seen before because of the words of Joe Biden.” Homan claimed, “The criminal gangs have already figured out the transportation routes, the caravans are already loaded up and coming, and more is going to come.”
- Newsmax published an article asking, “Could migrant caravans return under Biden?”
- Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee tweeted: "‘No Borders Biden’ prompts caravan to invade USA. Who would have ever seen THAT coming?”
- TheBlaze wrote an article headlined: “Migrant caravan heads for US, where immigrants hope to exploit Biden's reversal of Trump policies.”
- NewsBusters complained, “The media are turning a blind eye towards the migrant caravans that are on their way to America, as even they know that Joe Biden's promise of amnesty is drawing them.”
- The Federalist published an article titled: “Migrant Caravan Heads To US As Biden Preps To Offer Amnesty To Illegal Immigrants.”
- The anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) tweeted, “In the middle of a global pandemic and economic crisis — with caravans already en route — Biden’s top priority on Capitol Hill is a mass amnesty. Let that sink in.”
Using COVID-19 to attack immigration at the southern border
One of the top concerns right-wing media (mostly Fox News and Newsmax) raise about the migrant caravan is that the “unmasked” migrants entering the U.S. will cause a “superspreader event.” These concerns come after Fox News alone complained about COVID-19 health restrictions an astonishing 1,000 times in just 3 months last fall while also pushing anti-mask misinformation to its audience -- making it clear that these supposed coronavirus concerns are just another way for right-wing media to fearmonger about the consequences of the migrant caravan.
- In December, Tom Homan wrote a Fox News op-ed claiming that “Biden's border crisis is already brewing and it will accelerate COVID spread in the US.”
- On Newsmax, The Spectator’s Amber Athey claimed, “The idea of loosening immigration restrictions in the middle of a pandemic when the unemployment rates are exceptionally high in this country is just unbelievable.”
- Newsmax’s Rob Finnerty said to his guest: “We're in the middle of a pandemic. Many of these people are not wearing masks. There are kids that are a part of this caravan. How concerning is that?” His guest, Impunity Observer’s Steven Hecht, responded: “Very. Guatemalan authorities have found more than 20 cases of COVID among these people, and you're looking at, by the time they get to the United States, you're looking at a super spreader event.”
- Fox News guest host Jeanine Pirro, discussing El Paso and Biden’s immigration plan, said, “I mean, the COVID rate is like 50% there. I could be wrong, but that’s — I read that. What about the health of Americans?”
- Right-wing commentator Jon Miller tweeted: “They wagged their fingers in our faces and told us we were unpatriotic if we didn’t social distance and wear a mask. And now Biden has promised to throw these superspreaders a huge welcome party with amnesty if they get here within his first 100 days.”
- Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt said: “You have to think about COVID. Many of them are coming over, they’re all together, shoulder to shoulder — what does that mean for our country?”
Fearmongering about a border surge as a result of of Biden’s policies
In December, conservative media frequently tried to sow fears that Biden was laying out an “immigration welcome mat” that would lead to an unmanageable surge of migrants at the border. To make that point they often relied on commentary from border officials including U.S. Customs and Border Protection chief Mark Morgan, who has a history of hostility toward immigrants.
- Newsmax published an article headlined: “Border officials fear rush of illegal immigration.”
- A Washington Examiner article warned that “migrants are rushing to the US expecting a more 'lenient' border policy under Biden.”
- The Washington Times cited Morgan and the Department of Homeland Security to warn that the number of “illegal immigrant children” at the border is“soaring.”
- The Daily Caller cited Morgan to claim that “Biden’s perceived ‘open borders’ stance will increase smuggling.”
- Breitbart cited Morgan’s warnings that Biden is “sending a message of open borders to the world’s migrants.”
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on Fox News Channel for any mention of “caravan,” “migrants,” or “illegals” or any variation of any of the terms “Mexico,” “Guatemala,” or “Honduras” on January 18 and January 19, 2021.
We included any teasers, passing mentions, and segments about the caravan. We also included larger discussions about immigration or immigration policy if they were held within the context of the approaching caravan.