The most recent edition of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s weekend program Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson included multiple instances of misinformation about immigration, including misleading claims about President Joe Biden’s immigration policies and lies about asylum-seekers. The program airs on 162 local TV stations around the country controlled by Sinclair, including in the border states of Texas and California.
Sinclair’s national news programming has taken a noticeable anti-immigrant tone since Biden took office. A late January segment of Sinclair’s morning news program The National Desk pushed the bigoted and long-debunked myth of immigrant criminality. This program and some Sinclair national news reports embedded in local newscasts on Sinclair stations have also repeatedly turned to former Trump immigration official Mark Morgan for commentary, allowing him to continue spewing lies on Sinclair’s airwaves even after he joined an anti-immigration extremist group.
This past weekend’s broadcast of Full Measure continued Sinclair’s trend of pushing anti-immigrant rhetoric and misinformation.
Sinclair’s Full Measure misleadingly blamed Biden’s immigration policies for any increase in unauthorized immigration
Host Sharyl Attkisson introduced one of her show’s segments by pushing critics’ claims that “the Biden administration's efforts to erase Trump administration policies on illegal immigration … threatens to plunge the U.S. into a crisis far beyond what's been seen in recent years.” She continued, saying, “All concerned blame the uptick on an expected reversal of get-tough policies put in place under President Trump.” A separate interview with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) featured him saying that “Biden is creating” “incentives” for increased unauthorized immigration.
This claim is misleading in several ways. First, as NBC News reported in mid-January, “in the past increases in immigration have occurred around U.S. elections and transitions of power. There was a spike in migration in late 2016 and early 2017, just before Trump took office, and caravans from Central America arrived in southern California in 2018, around the mid-term elections.”
- The Biden administration’s temporary deportation moratorium, which has been blocked by a federal judge, specifically excluded unauthorized immigrants who were not in the U.S. prior to November 1 from protection and made such recent arrivals one of the Department of Homeland Security’s priorities for deportation.
- Biden’s immigration reform legislation won’t give an opportunity for citizenship to any immigrants who were not already present in the U.S. at the start of this year (with certain exceptions), and the Associated Press reported that this January 1 limitation is specifically aimed at “discouraging a surge of immigrants toward the U.S.-Mexico boundary.”
Full Measure fearmongered about coronavirus-positive immigrants entering the U.S.
Attkisson’s long segment on the border also fearmongered that “illegal immigrants will be brought in and released with no COVID testing.” It also quoted a local law enforcement official claiming that “this is just mass transit from one country to another, with a very deadly disease that they could be bringing across.”
But the testing policy at the border is the same as it was under the Trump administration. And the immigrants who are being admitted to the U.S. for their asylum cases, who were forced to stay in Mexico under Trump, are being tested prior to entry. Also, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has stalled the administration’s efforts to provide more COVID-19 resources at the border in his state and lifted public health restrictions, even as he -- without evidence -- blamed the administration for “exposing Texans to COVID” by releasing immigrants from custody.
There’s also the fact that the only numbers available for people released from immigration officials’ custody into U.S. border areas show a lower positivity rate for COVID-19 -- at 6.3% -- than the areas they’re released in. This includes Cochise County in Arizona, where this part of the Full Measure episode was filmed, which has an approximate positivity rate of 12%.
Lindsey Graham’s Full Measure interview pushed a lie about asylum-seekers
During Graham’s interview with Attkisson, he said: “Trump was right about the asylum abuse. Under the old system, if you got one foot in the United States and you claim asylum, we have to process your claim. We release you into the United States. Your hearing is four years in the future. There’s a million and a half people waiting to have their asylum case heard. Nobody shows up -- 90% of the people who were processed and released in the United States never show up for the hearing four years later.”
That last sentence by Graham is a flat-out lie that has been repeated by anti-immigration activists for years, and Attkisson did not rebut it. Recent data show that a sizable majority of immigrants who are not detained attend their immigration court proceedings. Family units applying for asylum that participated in an Obama administration pilot program had nearly perfect attendance for their court hearings and check-ins with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency -- but the Trump administration canceled that program. And multiple studies and analyses have shown that several categories of asylum-seekers had court hearing attendance rates of over 90%.
Attkisson failed to put Trump’s inhumane “Remain in Mexico” policy in proper context
Attkisson made Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” program the main focus of her interview with Graham, saying at the top of the segment: “A big piece of the illegal immigration puzzle that tamped down the numbers at the Southern border was President Trump's ‘Remain in Mexico’ program. Critics say it put asylum-seekers at risk and are cheering on the Biden administration decision to end it. But supporters of ‘Remain in Mexico,’ including Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, have dire predictions.”
But aside from her vague allusion to what critics of the program said, she offered no additional context of the dangers faced by the people affected by that policy, which sent asylum-seekers from Central America to Mexico to await the processing of their asylum cases. A January 2020 report from Human Rights Watch on the policy -- formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols -- noted that “asylum seekers swept up in the MPP program face kidnapping, sexual assault, exploitation, lack of basic necessities, abuse and other dangers in Mexico, with no meaningful access to due process in the United States.” The report elaborated on the dangers that Trump exposed these people to:
Many of the cities that asylum seekers are forced to wait in while in Mexico are dangerous with high risks of kidnapping, extortion, and violence. Some of these cities have recently been or are currently subject to travel advisories by the US Department of State. The State Department has placed the Mexican state of Tamaulipas on its “Do Not Travel” list, saying that US citizens should not travel there due to crime and kidnapping. The Mexican cities of Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo, and Reynosa, all cities where people have been returned under the MPP, are in the state of Tamaulipas. According to a report by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) published in September 2019 that focused on Tamaulipas, “[b]etween June 2018 and July 2019, 45 percent of the 2,315 people (either migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, or returnees) treated by MSF mental health teams in Reynosa and Matamoros reported being victims of violence during their journey through Mexico.” In December, the ACLU and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies wrote to DHS leadership urging the DHS to end the MPP program in Tamaulipas State, arguing that “implementation of MPP in Tamaulipas–one of the most dangerous regions in the world, and the object of a State Department level four travel advisory–should have never taken place given the country conditions evidence available to DHS.”
Asylum seekers face a multitude of risks waiting in Mexico. Human Rights First has documented “at least 816 publicly reported cases of kidnapping, rape, torture, assault, and other violent attacks against asylum seekers and migrants returned to Mexico.” A study by the US Immigration Policy Center at the University of California at San Diego, surveyed 607 asylum seekers who were subjected to the MPP program and found that about a quarter of them reported being threatened with physical violence while waiting in Mexico, with over half of those threats coming to fruition including beatings, extorsion, kidnappings, and robbery. The study found that the longer respondents waited in Mexico, the more likely they were to be threatened with physical violence before they made it to their court date. Upon release of the study, the lead author and founding director of the US Immigration Policy Center, Tom K. Wong, said that “The Remain in Mexico policy has begged important questions about whether there are sufficient safeguards in place to ensure that the lives and freedom of asylum seekers are not threatened. The data show that there are not sufficient safeguards — lives are literally being put at risk.” The Remain in Mexico program has life and death consequences for asylum seekers who the US government is obligated by law to ensure are not returned to persecution.