A recent segment from Sinclair Broadcast Group’s morning news program The National Desk pushed a debunked myth linking undocumented immigrants to crime, which has long been pushed by Fox News and others in right-wing media. The segment also misleadingly suggested that President Joe Biden's deportation moratorium would let criminals escape deportation.
The January 29 segment, which aired three times during the program and was broadcast to 68 Sinclair-owned or -operated stations nationwide, started off by covering Biden’s 100-day deportation moratorium which has been blocked by a Trump-appointed federal judge in Texas. The purpose of the moratorium, according to a memo from acting Secretary of Homeland Security David Pekoske, is to institute “a 100-day pause on certain removals to enable focusing the Department’s resources where they are most needed.” The memo focuses department resources on deporting people convicted of specific felonies, for example. From the memo:
Due to limited resources, DHS cannot respond to all immigration violations or remove all persons unlawfully in the United States. ... In the interim and pending completion of that review, the Department’s priorities shall be:
National security. Individuals who have engaged in or are suspected of terrorism or espionage, or whose apprehension, arrest and/or custody is otherwise necessary to protect the national security of the United States.
Public safety. Individuals incarcerated within federal, state, and local prisons and jails released on or after the issuance of this memorandum who have been convicted of an “aggravated felony,” as that term is defined in section 101(a) (43) of the Immigration and Nationality Act at the time of conviction, and are determined to pose a threat to public safety.
But the segment from Sinclair’s The National Desk failed to specify the details of the moratorium, instead vaguely referencing “some exceptions” to the policy and claiming “critics are concerned” the moratorium would stop Immigration and Customs Enforcement “from deporting illegal immigrants accused of crimes” -- a vague way of fearmongering about the moratorium enabling some unlikely torrent of criminals. The segment also mentioned an unrelated Republican bill to “allow victims of violence caused by illegal immigrants” to sue “sanctuary jurisdictions.”
Fox prime-time white supremacist host Tucker Carlson pushed a thematically similar claim about Biden’s deportation moratorium, fearmongering that it meant “criminals, rapists, murderers, other people who are dangerous to you and me” won’t be deported.
The connection the Sinclair program makes between undocumented immigrants and crime is common for right-wing media. But the suggestion that there's an inherent connection between undocumented immigrants and crime -- which Fox has repeatedly made over the years -- is not supported by data.
A May 2019 analysis from The Marshall Project on several studies found that higher levels of undocumented immigrants in an area did not increase violent crime and, in fact, slightly lowered property crime. And a research paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in December, which used more complete statistics from Texas, “observe[d] considerably lower felony arrest rates among undocumented immigrants compared to legal immigrants and native-born US citizens and find no evidence that undocumented criminality has increased in recent years.”
Aside from the factual inaccuracy of connecting immigration and widespread crime, this right-wing talking point plays into bigoted stereotypes and helps set the stage for conservatives to push back on humane and overdue reforms to our immigration system.