Fox News' reporting on undocumented immigrants was discredited not once, but twice this week. On Wednesday, new reporting suggested that the death of Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez -- which Fox had immediately declared “a vicious attack” by undocumented immigrants before any investigation had taken place -- may have been the result of a traffic accident. And on Thursday, a jury found Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, an undocumented immigrant who Fox had dedicated significant airtime to accusing of cold-blooded murder, not guilty of the murder charge. The revelations demonstrate Fox's habit of jumping to conclusions and distorting facts in order to hype crime committed by undocumented immigrants for political purposes.
On November 18, Martinez and another Border Patrol agent were discovered badly injured in a ravine area along the southern border, where they were responding to a sensor that had been triggered that signaled movement along the border. Border Patrol union officials claimed the agents were attacked with rocks by a group of undocumented immigrants. However, a local sheriff told Dallas Morning News that “the evidence is not obvious as to what happened out there” and that “the injuries to [Martinez], after talking to his doctors, were consistent with a fall.” On November 29, Dallas Morning News reported more updates, writing, “Evidence gathered at the scene does not suggest an assault, multiple sources with direct knowledge of the investigation say. The possibility that Rogelio Martinez and his partner were sideswiped by a tractor trailer’s side mirror on a moonless night is growing theory, they said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.”
Nonetheless, Fox was quick to report the union officials’ account as fact. Fox host Tucker Carlson claimed that Martinez was “attacked at the border in the most gruesome possible way,” asking, “Will this change any minds about addressing illegal immigration and securing the border once and for all?” Host Laura Ingraham described the incident as “a vicious attack” and used it to justify Trump’s call for a border wall. Sandra Smith reported it as an “apparent ambush.” Even after Fox finally acknowledged Tuesday morning that “investigators also say they have not ruled out an accident” and that the sheriff was “cautioning people not to jump to conclusions just yet” because “there is some discussion that these agents fell … by accident,” Fox anchor Julie Banderas used the incident as a way to misleadingly sow fears about immigration and sanctuary cities:
Fox's coverage of Martinez's death is reminiscent of how the network covered the death of Kate Steinle, who was accidentally shot by an undocumented immigrant in 2015. For years, Fox has pointed to Steinle as justification for cracking down on so-called sanctuary cities, exploited her death to paint immigrants as criminals, and even proposed anti-immigrant legislation based on a distorted view of the case. As it turned out, the defendant in the Steinle case was acquitted on charges of murder, manslaughter, and assault with a deadly weapon, and was convicted only of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Similary, Tucker Carlson repeatedly had touted a case out of Rockville, MD, in which two undocumented immigrants were accused of raping a 14-year-old girl. As The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple wrote, “Carlson demagogued a rape case involving immigrants. Then they were cleared.”
It may turn out, once the investigation has been completed and the facts established, that Martinez was in fact murdered. Fatal on-duty attacks on Border Patrol agents are extremely rare, but they happen. But as the investigation continues and the evidence points toward an accident, it is eminently clear that Fox has little interest in waiting for the facts of the case and instead prefers to once again exploit a tragedy to criminalize all immigrants and push for their anti-immigrant policy agenda.