Immigration Myths | Media Matters for America

Immigration Myths

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  • An appearance by an anti-immigrant hate group on Fox & Friends inspired a Trump morning tweet

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    President Donald Trump’s February 23 tweet about MS-13 came minutes after Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy spoke to Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies, an anti-immigrant group that has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for its ties to white nationalists. Fox & Friends then reported on Trump’s tweet, hyping his misguided policies to combat the gang and demonstrating the disturbing feedback loop between the president and his favorite morning show.

    Vaughan appeared on Fox to tout her latest study that attempted to link the “resurgence” of MS-13 to U.S. immigration policies:

    Less than eight minutes after the interview ended, Trump tweeted, “MS-13 gang members are being removed by our Great ICE and Border Patrol Agents by the thousands, but these killers come back in from El Salvador, and through Mexico, like water. El Salvador just takes our money, and Mexico must help MORE with this problem. We need The Wall!”

    The Fox & Friends hosts then took the opportunity to reiterate their claims about MS-13 and undocumented immigrants and praise Trump’s policies, which co-host Pete Hegseth called “common sense.” But experts say the Trump administration policies are counterintuitive to combatting the gang.

  • Fox News reported that a border patrol agent was murdered. It turns out they were wrong.

    Fox ran with the rumor that Rogelio Martinez was killed by undocumented immigrants. The FBI has ruled out that possibility.

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    In November, Fox News zealously and repeatedly reported that Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez’s death was a murder committed by undocumented immigrants along the US-Mexico border, despite the fact that a local sheriff said that “evidence gathered at the scene does not suggest an assault.” Yesterday, the FBI also announced that it has found no evidence of an attack.

    Officials from the National Border Patrol Council labor union, many of whom have made their anti-immigrant views quite clear, told reporters that Martinez and his partner were ambushed by immigrants along the border, a claim that contradicted medical evidence and other accounts of the incident that suggested it was an accident. Fox News took the union officials’ account as fact, reporting that the “vicious attack” vindicated President Donald Trump’s draconian immigration policies. Fox co-host Sandra Smith reported the incident as an "apparent ambush," and host Tucker Carlson claimed that Martinez was “attacked at the border in the most gruesome possible way." At one point, Smith briefly acknowledged the possibility that Martinez’s death was the result of a deadly accident, but others on the network continued to report that it was a homicide, with Happening Now co-host Julie Banderas claiming, "a killer killed" and beat Martinez "by rocks."

    In the past, Fox has covered stories involving immigrants in ways that depict them as criminals without reporting all of the facts. Then, when more facts are revealed that refute the network’s reporting, the full context is only mentioned in a brief whisper, if at all. In Martinez’s case, The Washington Post reported that the FBI has released its findings and “has found no evidence of a homicide, despite mobilizing significant resources involving 37 field offices to investigate Martinez’s death.” Predictably, only Smith briefly mentioned the news on February 8; the network has not yet issued a correction for its deceptive reporting:

    SANDRA SMITH (CO-HOST): New questions surrounding the November death of a U.S. Border agent. The FBI now says there's no evidence suggesting the agent and his partner were attacked. Rogelio Martinez died from severe head wounds hours after the two men were discovered lying in a drain near the Texas-Mexico border. The agents had been responding to reports of unknown activity. Martinez's partner suffered head injuries and says he can't remember what happened. The FBI says it will continue to investigate.

  • Laura Ingraham and John Lott tout Lott's debunked study attacking undocumented immigrants

    Lott regularly uses flawed research methods to push his right-wing agenda; this latest study is no exception

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    Fox News host Laura Ingraham hosted John Lott, president of the conservative Crime Prevention Research Center, to defend his report alleging that undocumented immigrants in Arizona commit more crimes -- and more dangerous crimes -- than other Arizonans. But the report, which contradicts virtually every other study, failed to accurately distinguish between undocumented immigrants and legal permanent residents and ignored other factors that likely skewed the results.

    Lott’s report, published January 30 and which purported to “separate non-U.S. citizens by whether they are illegal or legal residents,” claimed that “undocumented immigrants are at least 142% more likely to be convicted of a crime than other Arizonans.” The report also claimed, that “There are several reasons that these numbers are likely to underestimate the share of crime committed by undocumented immigrants.” In response, the libertarian think tank Cato Institute pointed out that the dataset Lott used in fact “does not allow him or anybody else to identify illegal immigrants” (emphasis original). According to Cato immigration policy analyst Alex Nowrasteh, Lott “erroneously assumed” that the data he used, from a category “called ‘non-US citizen and deportable,’ only counted illegal immigrants.” Put another way, he “mistakenly chose a variable that combines an unknown number of legal immigrants with an unknown number of illegal immigrants.”

    Latino Decision’s Jose Marichal also noted that Lott’s findings contradict “the academic consensus that undocumented immigrants commit fewer crimes than the general population.”

    On February 6, Ingraham gave Lott a platform to respond to criticisms of his report. He disagreed with Cato’s assertion that he had mistakenly attributed crimes of legal permanent residents to undocumented immigrants, arguing that he used “pre-sentencing reports that” determine “what their citizenship status is.” However, there is no mention of “pre-sentencing reports” in Lott’s study, and he has demonstrated in the past that he has no qualms about pushing blatant lies to support his research. Lott suspiciously ignored that aspect of Cato’s criticism in his written response.

    Lott also claimed that other studies that contradict his findings on this issue are unreliable because, he argued, they “completely mix together legal and illegal immigrants, or they do surveys.” But nearly every reliable study that has examined the crime rate of immigrant populations, undocumented and otherwise, has consistently found that immigrants commit fewer crimes than U.S.-born citizens; none of these studies relied solely on surveys.

    Lott regularly publishes skewed research that supports his conservative agenda, particularly on gun issues. Nonetheless, Fox and other right-wing media outlets treat him as a legitimate figure, and as result, public institutions occasionally have embraced his error-filled work. According to Will Gaona, policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Arizona chapter, Lott is currently authoring a publicly-funded report for Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council (APAAC).

    Lott published his flawed report amid immigration negotiations in Congress that will decide the fate of millions of immigrants, some of whom have lived in the U.S. since childhood. With the help of his conservative media echo chamber, Lott may be aiding the implementation of public policies that are not based in reality.

  • Univision hosts denounce Trump’s characterization of immigrants as criminals at his first State of the Union address

    Univision’s Ilia Calderón: “The president used his speech once again to stigmatize all immigrants”

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    Univision hosts Jorge Ramos, Ilia Calderón, and Enrique Acevedo responded to President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address on January 30 by denouncing his attempt to “once again stigmatize all immigrants,” with Ramos noting, “it must be strongly emphasized that a large part of immigrants in the United States is not members of MS-13”:

    JORGE RAMOS (CO-HOST): This is a president that, particularly at the end of his speech, was reading very slowly -- there was a moment, perhaps the most emotional, for me, was between the parents of Otto Warmbier, the young student who died in the United States after being tortured in North Korea. His parents crying in that moment seemed terribly [moving] to me.

    Difficult, also, is the situation, of course, of those who lost their children to MS-13 gang members. But it must be strongly emphasized that the large part of immigrants in the United States is not members of MS-13.

    ILIA CALDERÓN (CO-HOST): That's right, Jorge. The president used once again his speech to stigmatize all immigrants who came to the United States because the first thing he mentioned in his speech were those young people who died at the hands of gang members. And, like you said, all Hispanics are not gang members.

    RAMOS: Exactly.

    CALDERÓN: There are hardworking Hispanics. There are Hispanics doing things right in this country.

    In a dishonest ploy to usher in anti-immigrant policies that would be counterproductive to improving public safety, Trump and his allies routinely depict undocumented immigrants as criminals and gang members. This racist and xenophobic rhetoric is particularly disingenuous when it comes to MS-13, which has American roots. As explained by Splinter News, “Trump failed to mention that MS-13 is actually a gang that was born in Los Angeles in the 1980s. It only spread abroad because of the U.S. government, and experts have found scant evidence that its American branch is primarily made up of immigrants.” Speaking to White House Director of policy and interagency coordination Carlos Díaz-Rosillo, Acevedo called out this tactic, noting that Trump spoke heavily about the criminality of immigrants, but did not mention their “contributions and value”:

    ENRIQUE ACEVEDO (CO-HOST): Even though the idea of reconciliation and unity was discussed, the entire immigrant community was presented through the filter of criminality, of gangs, like Jorge and Ilia said at the beginning of the program. There was not much about the contributions and value of immigrants in the country. Was it not worth it to mention, at the same time, in the speech, both?

    CARLOS DÍAZ-ROSILLO: But he said something even more important, which is that he wants to give, not only a legal status, but also a path to citizenship for more than 1.8 million young people. It was expected that that would only be granted to 690,000. Almost 2 million young people will benefit if the president's proposal is approved by Congress.

    After listening to immigrants and Dreamers respond to Trump’s speech with dismay, Ramos summarized their message. Speaking directly to the camera, Ramos declared, “The message is clear, Mr. Trump. We are not members of the Mara Salvatrucha. We're not”:

  • Fox News happily helps Trump administration in a highly misleading effort to blame immigrants for terrorism

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On January 16, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a report in concert with the Department of Justice (DOJ) alleging that, among other things, “three out of every four, or 402, individuals convicted of international terrorism-related charges in U.S. federal courts between September 11, 2001, and December 31, 2016 were foreign-born.” Fox News immediately promoted the study over criticism from homeland security experts, and then went silent about the report’s integrity after it was revealed that the administration had sidestepped DHS experts and statistics to produce it.

    Reporting on the study on the day of its release, The New York Times noted that “the 11-page report, parts of which were confusing and in some respects misleading, highlighted cases in which immigrants were linked to terrorism plots.” MSNBC security analyst Matthew Miller was one of the first to point out that the report “includes people who committed terrorist acts overseas, were arrested overseas and brought here to face trial” and explained that “it also doesn’t count incidents of domestic terrorism,” meaning terrorists who are American citizens and who perpetrated attacks on U.S. soil were excluded.

    Essentially, the report focused on international terrorism, but the way it was presented suggested that immigrants were disproportionately responsible for domestic terrorism, particularly because it was published amid immigration policy negotiations. Adding to the confusion, President Donald Trump tweeted a deceptive summary of the report, excluding the word “international”:

    As criticism around the study mounted, Fox reported on its findings by uncritically parroting the Trump administration line. Fox’s Bret Baier commented that the report includes “some amazing statistics, and scary ones.” Sandra Smith also promoted the misleading study without mentioning its many flaws. Peter Doocy pointed to the study as justification for why “the White House is not budging on immigration talks.” Fox host Julie Banderas used the report to fearmonger about “convicted terrorists in this country who have come over as young adults, if not children, and their families brought them over here, and they went ahead and killed Americans,” even though U.S. vetting procedures make the possibility of that happening incredibly rare. Tucker Carlson, who regularly uses his platform for anti-immigrant misinformation, also gladly hyped the details of the report, declaring, “According to federal numbers released today, America's terror threat is clearly, among other things, an immigration issue”:

    But yesterday, the Daily Beast revealed that career experts at DHS told DOJ officials that DHS does “not track or correlate international terrorism data by citizenship or country of origin, and have warned the Trump administration that doing so risks a misleading portrait of both terrorism and immigration.” As explained by Spencer Ackerman, “The result was that the document released last week did not include the contributions of those career DHS officials tasked with providing professional and objective analysis. They were not asked to participate, and so the document did not reflect their input.” In short, on top of the flawed methodology and cherry-picked statistics, the Trump administration willfully sidestepped homeland security experts to produce a report that would vindicate the president’s insistence on linking immigration to crime and terrorism.

    Fox News is ignoring this glaring problem with the report, demonstrating once again that the network prioritizes its anti-immigration agenda over honesty in reporting.

  • On Fox & Friends, Kris Kobach pushes study from discredited figure to claim Dreamers are prone to violence

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Kris Kobach, Kansas Republican secretary of state and anti-immigration activist, pushed a highly dubious study from criminologist John Lott on Fox & Friends to suggest that recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are highly prone to criminal activity.

    Kobach referenced Lott’s recent study about crime in Arizona to suggest that DACA recipients’ “criminality is twice that of the comparable American population.” Lott is a discredited figure whose studies have been debunked by academics and dismissed by experts.The study also contradicts years of sociological research finding that undocumented immigrants commit fewer crimes than U.S. citizens and ignores the fact that in Arizona, “people who look ‘foreign’ are more likely to be stopped for minor infractions,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). And according to ThinkProgress, “roughly 0.3 percent” of DACA recipients have been “involved in criminal behavior.” During the segment, Kobach listed other lies about DACA, such as calling it "amnesty" and saying that DACA recipients take jobs away from U.S. citizens.

    From the January 17 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): Kris, you know what the raging debate now is. The Democrats want DACA. The Republicans say in exchange for legitimate border security, end of chain migration, end of the lottery system. And we're going to be looking at a lockout because no one can agree. What's your solution?

    KRIS KOBACH: DACA, the amnesty for nearly a million illegal aliens -- the average age is 24. Their criminality is twice that of the comparable American population. We just saw a study out of Arizona. It's bad for America. So if we were to grant a DACA amnesty, you'd have to have, in my opinion, all the things that President Trump outlined and you just mentioned, plus E-Verify. E-Verify right now is only mandatory in a few states. You'd have to make it mandatory everywhere to ensure that the flood of illegal aliens who are going to come in -- every time we have an amnesty, it brings another flood of illegal aliens -- we've got to make sure that they aren’t stealing jobs from Americans as well. So you'd have to have E-Verify in addition to all those other law enforcement measures.