Multiple national news segments from Sinclair Broadcast Group have portrayed migrant flights arranged by Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis as a needed measure to solve immigration problems, while leaving out crucial information about how the effort mistreated these migrants and about Republicans’ longrunning sabotage of new immigration laws.
In mid-September, DeSantis sent two planeloads of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard as part of a cruel political ploy to draw attention to Republican immigration narratives ahead of the midterm elections. Local and national news outlets reported on the “warm welcome” the migrants received from Martha’s Vineyard residents, before they were relocated to an emergency shelter on the Massachusetts mainland to better accommodate their health, legal, and other needs, including immigration processing. Conservative media lied about the welcome the migrants experienced even as they applauded what DeSantis did.
In several Sinclair national segments, each of which typically air during dozens of local news broadcasts on Sinclair-owned or -operated TV stations, Sinclair national correspondents portrayed DeSantis’ migrant flights as a necessity while also withholding crucial information about the misleading nature of the flights, their fallout, and immigration policy from their audience:
- On September 18, Sinclair national correspondent Kristine Frazao highlighted a quote from Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) saying that these migrant flights are border governors “trying to address” immigration problems. In further reports, Sinclair reporters pushed this narrative in their own words.
- On September 19, Frazao said an increase in arriving migrants was “prompting some governors to transport migrants away to big cities and small towns like Martha's Vineyard.”
- On September 20, Frazao described DeSantis’ migrant flights as a “differing approach” and called it “another example of how politics has made finding solutions near impossible on Capitol Hill, despite bipartisan immigration legislation already passing the House.” She also pushed conservative lies that “Biden’s policies have sent the message to migrants the border is essentially open.”
- On September 21, Sinclair chief political correspondent Scott Thuman aired Republican defenses of these migrant flights and said “all sides … point to a failure by Congress to come up with a comprehensive solution.”
- On September 22, Frazao portrayed DeSantis’ migrant flights as part of Republican “state leaders starting to take measures into their own hands” “in the absence of a clear federal immigration plan.” She also pointed to President Joe Biden ending the Trump-era Remain in Mexico policy and winding down Title 42 expulsions at the southern border as contributing to immigration problems.
These Sinclair segments left out a lot of crucial information for viewers. Aside from the September 20 segment, none of them mentioned that the migrants who were flown to Martha’s Vineyard were misled and falsely told they were going elsewhere and would be met with monetary assistance, housing, and job opportunities. Only the September 20 and 21 Sinclair reports mentioned that a criminal investigation was opened (on September 19) by a Texas sheriff into Florida misleading these migrants into a plane trip, and none of them mentioned that many of the migrants are now suing DeSantis and other Florida officials (filed on September 20).
Additionally, Frazao’s September 22 segment ignored reporting from the Miami Herald on September 21 that DeSantis had planned a second flight of migrants, this time to Delaware, but scrapped it after news of the plans broke. The Herald interviewed some of the migrants who were to be on the flight but were then left stranded at a hotel with no food or money without warning.
These Sinclair reports also referenced a lack of new immigration laws without making clear that is the fault of some of the same Republicans who are decrying it. Republicans have for decades blocked legislation to comprehensively reform America’s immigration laws: the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in 2006 and 2013 and Senate Republicans in 2021. Then-President Donald Trump also sabotaged more limited immigration reform for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients multiple times during his presidency.
The Biden administration’s winding down of some Trump-era immigration policies was also highlighted for criticism by one of these Sinclair segments, without necessary context. The Title 42 expulsions actually added to the number of border encounters: Without deportation hearings and orders to stay away from the border, the people who were expelled under that policy were free to attempt to enter the U.S. again and again. According to CBS News, Customs and Border Protection said that 22% of its border arrests in July included migrants who had previously been arrested at the border.
And as for Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy for people seeking asylum, it was incredibly inhumane. A January 2020 report from Human Rights Watch on the policy noted that “asylum seekers swept up in” the program “face[d] 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.”
Data on where asylum-seekers wait for their immigration hearings also refutes the right-wing narrative that these flights are necessary to alleviate pressure in border states. Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent obtained records from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University and found that: “Broken out by state, more than 125,000 people are awaiting hearings at the immigration court in California, and more than 110,000 people are awaiting them at the court in New York. … Meanwhile, approximately 98,000 are awaiting hearings at the court in Florida. For Texas, it’s around 75,000.” As Sargent concluded: “The upshot? The ‘burden’ of migrants is already widely dispersed.”
These multiple Sinclair reports portraying DeSantis’ exploitation of people in desperate need of help as either necessary to create a solution or part of the solution to immigration problems should come as no surprise. Time after time, Sinclair Broadcast Group has shown extreme bias against immigrants in its news coverage, including by repeatedly hosting an anti-immigrant extremist to lie about immigration policy, furthering long-running right-wing media efforts to smear immigrants as disease carriers, and fearmongering that refugees, even those who worked for the United States during wartime, may be terrorists.