Right-wing media have singled out a provision in the Democratic budget resolution passed by the Senate last week that would create a pathway to citizenship for qualified immigrants, using the proposal to continue their onslaught of anti-immigrant rhetoric.
The budget resolution includes a number of notable reforms, among them the creation of a pathway to citizenship for qualified immigrants. Although not explicitly stated in the language of the bill, based on other legislation currently being considered in Congress, the provision would likely provide lawful permanent status for essential workers, refugees, and DACA recipients. For the latter category, there is a renewed sense of urgency to pass protections after a recent order from a federal judge suspended applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects the recipients from deportation.
For conservative commentators, fear of immigrants has long been a tool they cheaply wield for political gain. In 2021 alone, their seemingly endless barrage of racist anti-immigrant rhetoric has targeted Haitian refugees, young children, and, most recently, Afghans seeking relocation. In addition to their hypocritical objections over the fashion in which Democrats are pushing for reform in the budget, conservative figures have retrofitted their familiar dog whistles for this new proposal, claiming immigrants are bringing disease and crime to this country, insisting any “amnesty” will lead to an “immigrant invasion,” and giving a platform to known hate groups.
A consistent thread in the right-wing coverage has been the characterization of immigrants as violent criminals. There are numerous cases to which one could point, particularly in Fox News’ coverage of the budget, but let us take a few recent examples.
- Fox News Primetime hosted white nationalist Stephen Miller, the architect of former President Donald Trump’s immigration policy, who claimed the proposed path to citizenship was a ploy by Democrats to earn votes. He urged Republicans to “make the case to midterm voters that the Democratic Party is putting the safety and security of you, your family, and the whole country in grave danger” and claimed “the deadliest foreign policy failure by far of this administration is the crisis on our southern border. The drugs, gangs, and crime will claim thousands of lives in America this year.”
- Similarly, the Washington Examiner posted an op-ed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), in which he claimed the budget proposal would create “a new backdoor amnesty” that “would surely foment a new wave amid a pandemic” and that Democrats wanted to make “those with criminal records” citizens.
- On the August 10 edition of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, network contributor Newt Gingrich said, “This bill is a further reminder that the Biden administration is committed to treating illegal immigrants better than they treat Americans.” Gingrich also repeated misinformation about the transportation of detained immigrants, saying, “We have no idea where they were sent. We have no idea how many of them have COVID. We have no idea how many of them have criminal records.” The July 30 edition of the show featured guest host Brian Kilmeade, who brought on Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) to discuss the issue. Kilmeade reacted to the proposed immigration reform's inclusion in the budget, saying, “Do you know what the border is going to be like if he's going to legalize illegals, just slipshod 8 million?” Scalise responded affirmatively, saying that “we’ve already got ... a super-spreader crisis” at the border, and claimed Democrats “want to do the whole liberal wish list in the reconciliation bill.”
The claims from right-wing media that providing a pathway to citizenship would drive an influx of additional immigrants have also been on full display.
- An article from the Washington Times on August 11 described “reports of illegal immigrant sex offenders being released into communities,” and claimed, “Worries about the immediate problems on the border did not derail Democrats from their overall goal of a broad amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants.” The article quoted Rosemary Jenks, vice president of NumbersUSA, an anti-immigrant group which is part of the Tanton network. Jenks was quoted saying Democrats “have every intention of moving forward with their amnesty, even if it means defending criminal aliens and even though they know it will drive even more illegal immigration.”
- On Fox News’ The Five, guest co-host Brian Kilmeade responded to co-host Dana Perino’s assertion that immigration reform might be thrown out of the budget by saying the “parliamentarian will be the hero” (the Senate Parliamentarian has final say on whether provisions qualify for inclusion in the budget). Kilmeade later claimed, “If you say 9 million are now legal, great, we’re going to get another 10 million raging at the border, and we have an administration that doesn’t really care about our border.”
- An earlier article from July 14 from the Washington Examiner used a poll from the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group also belonging to the Tanton network, to claim that “moves to include immigration for millions of illegal immigrants in an infrastructure bill” would be a "career-ending vote for Senate Democrats.” According to the piece, the poll found that “most blame President Joe Biden for the border crisis and that a large majority believes that providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the legislation would only make the crisis worse.” It also claimed, “57% agreed that ‘such legislation would encourage more people to enter the country illegally and make an already difficult situation worse.’”
The work of passing the budget will continue when the House returns from recess on August 23. Based on the pace conservative media have set this year, it seems unlikely that the incessant right-wing fearmongering around immigrants will end anytime soon.
Correction (8/20/21): This article originally labeled NumbersUSA as a hate group. In fact, NumbersUSA is part of a network of organizations, several of which have been labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as hate groups. However, NumbersUSA itself has not received that designation.