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Immigration Myths

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  • Fox & Friends accuses Vox and ProPublica of defending MS-13 with their accurate reporting on the gang

    Fox hosts keep spreading misinformation about MS-13 even when they are presented with facts

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    On August 10, Fox News’ Fox & Friends devoted multiple segments to attacking a collaborative video by Vox and ProPublica about the gang MS-13 that addressed "the most common misunderstandings about the gang" -- many of which are propagated by President Donald Trump. 

    Fox & Friends accused Vox and ProPublica of “defend[ing] MS-13” and claiming that the gang members “are really not that violent.” Roaming correspondent Geraldo Rivera, in a later segment, even accused the two media organizations of being “almost pro-MS-13” because of their “desire to put down the president.”

    True to form, Fox’s multiple attacks on the Vox and ProPublica report contained a lot of misinformation and race-baiting:

    • Co-host Steve Doocy accused Vox and ProPublica of “ignor[ing] the reality of what is happening on the ground. This is a vicious gang.” In reality, the video did report that the gang has “committed acts of horrific violence, mostly against other immigrants in specific communities.”
    • Co-host Brian Kilmeade incorrectly claimed that Salvadoran refugees fleeing violence in their home country formed MS-13 because they were “angry” at the United States and “start[ed] wreaking havoc” in the country. In reality, the gang initially formed as a measure of self-defense “in neighborhoods dominated by Black and Mexican gangs.”
    • Kilmeade bizarrely claimed that MS-13 “oftentimes” does “not [target] immigrant communities” but instead “working class communities, many of which are Hispanic. It doesn’t mean they are immigrant communities. It means they are Hispanic Americans.” This is false; the gang specifically targets immigrant communities because it can pressure them “by carrying out threats against family members back home.”
    • Former ICE acting Director Thomas Homan, who is a regular Fox guest, misleadingly claimed that “command and control of MS-13 is in El Salvador.” In reality, “MS-13 is a decentralized organization with no clear hierarchy” and “no leader.” It is instead built around local “cliques” that are sometimes “loyal to each other,” but also sometimes have competing interests.
    • Homan also claimed that Trump’s immigration policies are “on point” for combating MS-13, which he said was a border and immigration issue. However, decades of deporting convicted immigrants only made street gangs (including MS-13) larger and more powerful, and MS-13 members accounted for just .075 percent of all irregular border crossings in fiscal year 2017. (ICE has, however, made false accusations of gang affiliation to deport immigrants.)   
    • Roaming Fox correspondent Geraldo Rivera advocated the expansion of stop-and-frisk policies (also known as Terry stops) and any other “aggressive police tactics” to stop the gang, even though there’s little evidence that stop-and-frisk actually works. But aggressive policing does sow distrust in communities, making gang violence more difficult to combat.

    Fox’s absurdist attack on reporting by Vox and ProPublica fits the network’s growing reputation as cable news’ home for white nationalism. The network has long spread a litany of fear, misinformation, and conspiracy theories about immigrants regarding elections, crime, terrorism, and more. The network also spearheads outlandish defenses of the agencies charged with executing Trump’s racist immigration policies, which can be fairly described as a possible prelude to ethnic cleansing

    Under the Trump administration, Fox hosts’ commentary is becoming more explicitly racialized: Kilmeade defended Trump’s family separation policy simply because “these aren’t our kids,” Fox host Laura Ingraham attacked “both illegal and in some cases legal immigration” for erasing “the America that we know and love,” and Fox’s prime-time lead, Tucker Carlson Tonight, heavily focuses on themes of white nationalism and anti-feminism, receiving much adoration from bigots nationwide

    Disclosure: Hannah Dreier, the ProPublica journalist who worked on the report with Vox, is a former Media Matters researcher. 

  • The big problem with the term “catch and release”

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Over the past few months, as President Donald Trump’s administration works to dismantle protections for asylum-seeking immigrants, the use of the term “catch and release” -- a dehumanizing phrase that describes U.S. policies meant to provide certain rights to vulnerable immigrants -- has skyrocketed on cable news networks.

    “Catch and release” is generally used to refer to any policy that allows immigrants to be released from detention while their cases are being processed. These so-called “catch and release” policies recognize the basic humanitarian rights of unaccompanied minors, asylum seekers, and families with children. One such policy prohibits the detention of families for more than 20 days and enforces other standards for detention; another bars the U.S. government from deporting people back to places where they could be harmed or killed; and a third awards “more cautious asylum hearing proceedings for [unaccompanied children], because it is thought that they are more likely to be victims of human trafficking.” Experts have noted that rolling back these protections would lead to severe trauma for immigrants (and benefits for the private prison industry.)

    Many observers have pointed out that the term “catch and release” evokes imagery of a fish or other animal being hunted and then released. The book Governing Immigration Through Crime: A Reader explains the disparaging effect of the term:

    Although the term catch and release appears benign, it actually serves to dehumanize immigrants. The term comes from sport fishing, where it refers to the practice of catching fish and then throwing them back into the water. Using such a term in the context of immigration policing essentially reduces the apprehension and incarceration of human beings to a sport.

    But as the Trump administration continues to pick away at these protections, cable news outlets have ramped up their use of the phrase, with Fox News leading the way. An analysis of use of the term “catch and release” on cable news by the GDELT Project using data from the Internet Archive’s Television News Archive demonstrates a huge spike in the term’s prevalence throughout 2018 compared to previous years. Notably, on June 25, use of the term “catch and release” was the highest it has been since at least 2009 across MSNBC, Fox, and CNN:

    Fox and other right-wing outlets have weaponized the phrase to fearmonger about a foreign invasion at the southern border, spreading misinformation about the policy and its effects.

    The Trump administration’s policies to curtail immigrant protections have not deterred immigrants from making the journey to the southern border, as the administration had claimed. In fact, the number of apprehensions of unaccompanied minors at the border jumped 50 percent in May, shortly after Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared an end to so-called catch and release policies. Even so, Fox has argued that the policies encourage unbridled immigration to the U.S.

    Alleged smugglers reportedly make up only .61 percent of the total number of family units apprehended at the border. Nevertheless, Breitbart.com and Fox have pushed the administration’s misleading claim that protections for immigrants enable human smuggling.

    Asylum seekers face a rigorous vetting process to prove their claims and, all too often, those with genuine fear of return are denied asylum. Yet Laura Ingraham argues that immigrants are taking advantage of the policies to falsely claim asylum with the expectation that they will be released and be able to disappear into the system.

    In 2017, 60,000 immigrants attended their court hearings after they were released from custody at the border, compared to 40,000 who did not, and only 25 percent of cases were decided without a defendant in 2016. Yet, right-wing media have perpetuated the myth that the majority of immigrants do not show up for their court dates.

    Like the terms “illegal immigrant” and “chain migration,” “catch and release” is just another tool that nativists use to dehumanize immigrants. And at a time when the president of the United States has painted immigrants as “animals” and immigration as an infestation, mainstream media should avoid using language that might serve to legitimize this deceptive narrative.

  • Fox & Friends makes false claims about immigration to link immigrants to violent gang MS-13

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade, who is known for spreading misinformation on immigration matters, spouted a number of falsehoods this morning in an attempt to link Latino immigrants to the brutal gang MS-13.

    On June 13, Kilmeade interviewed the sheriff of Frederick County, MD, Chuck Jenkins, to discuss the gang’s influence in the Washington, D.C., metro area. Jenkins gained attention in 2013 for embracing a controversial program 287(g), also known as the “show me your papers” law, which has facilitated the deportation of “large numbers of Frederick Latinos caught without papers after being arrested only for driving without a license” and led to the illegal detention of one Latina woman.

    While MS-13, a violent gang, is a serious problem in some communities, Fox News has exaggerated their presence in the course of their anti-immigrant fearmongering. Together, Kilmeade and Jenkins blamed unaccompanied minors and lax immigration policies for the rise of the gang with a host of lies:

    Kilmeade incorrectly linked the influx of unaccompanied minors into the country to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, claiming, “When these kids came flooding across the border, in many cases, the unaccompanied minors, they were picked up under the DACA provision, and they were scattered in these communities.” But long-standing U.S. immigration policy has granted special protections to unaccompanied minors seeking asylum. DACA was implemented as a solution for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and who had already been residing in the country, not as a legal basis for them to be accepted when they cross the border. And there is little evidence that, as many conservatives have implied, DACA encouraged unaccompanied minors to make the journey to the U.S.

    Kilmeade suggested unaccompanied minors crossing the border are affiliated with MS-13. Only a very small fraction are suspected of gang affiliation. According to the acting chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, of the 45,400 unaccompanied minors who were apprehended per fiscal year from 2012-2017, only 159 had confirmed or suspected gang affiliations and 56 were suspected or confirmed to be affiliated with MS-13. It is more widely accepted that young immigrants living in the U.S. who have little access to community resources are forcibly recruited into gangs. 

    Kilmeade encouraged profiling unaccompanied minors with tattoos to identify MS-13 members. Authorities are already using physical indicators like tattoos to wrongly designate undocumented immigrants as gang members in order to detain or deport them. One federal judge recently found that ICE had improperly targeted a DACA beneficiary by claiming a tattoo proved he was involved in a gang.

    Jenkins claimed that there were “well over 5,000” MS-13 members in three Maryland counties located just northwest of Washington, D.C. A White House press briefing statement in February by the acting assistant attorney general put the number closer to 3,000 across the D.C. metro region, and last year U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement put the number even lower, telling The Washington Post that the gang has 900 to 1,100 members in the entire D.C. region and 10,000 across 40 states.

    From the June 13 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): You’ve got Northern Virginia, Long Island, and Boston. When these kids came flooding across the border, in many cases, the unaccompanied minors, they were picked up under the DACA provision, and they were scattered in these communities but not to rich schools. You have schools that are struggling, and they make these classes, which are already too big, even more unwieldy, and they don't even speak English, so they need even more support.

    SHERIFF CHUCK JENKINS (FREDERICK COUNTY, MD): That's right, Brian. And, listen, Prince George's County, Montgomery County, this part of Maryland, now into Frederick County, my jurisdiction, was a targeted area for relocation. For some reason -- and we know the MS-13 population in this part of Maryland that I'm talking about is well over 5,000.

    KILMEADE: When a kid comes across and says, “I’m a refugee,” but he’s got neck tattoos, that might be the first clue.

    JENKINS: That is a clue.

    KILMEADE: Yeah. Nearly a dozen parents told the Post they were worried about gang activity at their school. And it happens to be just 10 miles from the White House.

    JENKINS: How can it be anywhere in the United States, Brian? How could we have let this happen?

    KILMEADE: How could it happen again? What have we done to change things?

    JENKINS: Well, we haven't done enough yet. What we need to do is a push from this administration, from the Justice Department, to declare this organization a terrorist organization and clean them up, get them out of here, and get them out of this country.

    KILMEADE: So what kind of support are you asking? Do you need money? Do you need people?

    JENKINS: We need a declaration from the White House, from President Trump, from the Department of Justice to allow local law enforcement to be effective, get in there and clean these pockets of crime out.

    KILMEADE: Yeah. You don't have to dig out the next Nikolas Cruz. They’re sitting there right in front of you, declaring they’re MS-13, daring you to kick them out. And you, sheriff, on with us telling us, “Give me the power to do so.”

  • Conservative media disingenuously demanding context about Trump’s “animals” comment have ignored that same context for years

    Right-wing media have consistently praised Trump’s conflation of immigrants with criminals

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    In the past, right-wing media have praised President Donald Trump’s immigration rhetoric, even as it conflated all undocumented immigrants with gang members. Now, after Trump pivoted from a vague question about MS-13 yesterday to say some undocumented immigrants “aren’t people, these are animals,” right-wing media are attacking mainstream outlets for reporting on the ambiguity of his remark and insisting he was talking exclusively about MS-13 gang members. But those same right-wing media figures, along with Trump, have helped foster an environment in which a mention of the term “MS-13” evokes undocumented immigrants, and this false association is having negative consequences for immigrants across the country.

    During a roundtable discussion about California’s so-called sanctuary laws on Wednesday, a local sheriff said to Trump, “There could be an MS-13 member I know about. If they don’t reach a certain threshold, I cannot tell ICE about them.” In response, Trump talked about “people coming into the country” and made no explicit reference to gang members:

    “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we’re stopping a lot of them. But we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out. It’s crazy.”

    Many in the media reported accurately that Trump had called “some deported immigrants” or “some unauthorized immigrants” animals, and several journalists noted the ambiguity of his comment. But pro-Trump outlets opportunistically attacked mainstream outlets for their coverage, arguing that they had selectively edited his comment or taken him out of context. Infowars described the coverage as a “shocking level of deceit,” and CNN’s Rick Santorum complained that “this is one of the reasons that a big chunk of the country just turn off the media when they start going after the president.”

    Trump’s vague response had made no mention of the gang, and whether he was referring to gang members or undocumented immigrants in general, the dehumanizing effect was the same. As Vox pointed out, Trump’s strategic rhetorical ambiguity allows him to “refer to some specific criminals, call them horrible people and animals, say that their evil justifies his immigration policy, and allow the conflation of all immigrants and all Latinos with criminals and animals to remain subtext.”

    Right-wing media have boosted this type of rhetoric by praising Trump for erroneously hyping MS-13’s presence in the U.S. as a product of lax immigration policies, and many have conflated MS-13 and immigrants themselves. On any given day, trivial news about MS-13 -- a brutal gang founded in Los Angeles that has been able to grow in strength due to stringent deportation policies and mass incarceration -- will be broadcast in the conservative media sphere, almost always laced with complaints about lax immigration policies.

    The reality is that, while many MS-13 members are undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of undocumented immigrants are not MS-13 members, and the right-wing media campaign to conflate the two is having serious consequences.

    Such rhetoric mirrors actual policies being put in place by the Trump administration. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been using dangerously broad criteria to label undocumented immigrants as gang members, giving the agency cover to carry out hundreds of arrests under the auspices of an “anti-gang operation.” Just this week, a federal judge ruled that ICE outright lied to frame one person as “gang-affiliated.” Nonetheless, right-wing outlets dutifully report on the raids, casting ICE agents as heroes and the non-criminal immigrants as animals.

    Whether or not Trump was referring to MS-13 by calling people who cross the border “animals,” right-wing media and agencies like ICE benefit from his irresponsible and coded language, and non-criminal immigrants will bear the brunt of the fallout.