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Bigotry Towards Chinese Immigrants, Republicans’ Latest Racist Political Attack on the Border

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In recent months, there has been an increase in Chinese nationals encountered along the southern border seeking asylum from the repressive government in China. Blowing past the humanity of migrants seeking safety, Republicans have gone straight to racist fearmongering and conspiracy theories. Following an all too familiar pattern, Republicans and Fox News use misleading statistics and out-of-context images of migrants to demagogue the border. Their latest version puts a dangerous target on the backs of the AAPI community, harkening back to the long history of racism directed towards Chinese immigrants.  

On March 20, Fox’s Maria Bartiromo began one of her segments showing a large graphic warning of a 920% increase in Chinese nationals encountered along the southern border. Bartiromo uses this statistic to give a veneer of legitimacy to the baseless, racist conspiracy theories to follow. She strips the statistics of critical context, the numbers of encounters of migrants are up, true, but “encounters” do not equal the number of migrants paroled into the U.S. to continue the process to claim asylum. Generally, most people seeking asylum are turned away. Additionally, the numbers of encounters have been inflated by the failed Title 42 policy as repeat attempts to seek asylum are counted multiple times. The numbers here are also small, with Chinese nationals representing .004 percent of all total encounters, with 4,366 encounters since October, up from 1,176 in FY2022.  

Bartiromo then laid out a racist conspiracy theory that paints asylum seekers fleeing China as undercover foreign agents who are part of some undefined nefarious attack on the U.S. “We don’t know what Communist China is up to, maybe they’re directing people to come into America to set up shop for some reason, for a later conflict,” Bartiromo wildly speculated. Meanwhile, her guest, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, nodded along. For his part, McCaul compared asylum seekers to spies and terrorists, claiming they represent a “clear and present danger” to the nation. Continuing to spin her racist conspiracy, Bartiromo asked rhetorically, “is this a warning signal that the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] is planning something in America, later, and has people here?”

The next day on March 21, Fox’s Griff Jenkins shared a video on Twitter of some asylum seekers being paroled into the U.S. legally with a future court date to an organization that will help them navigate the next steps in the difficult asylum process. Several Republicans jumped on the video, retweeting it to push bigoted political attacks, like Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH), who wrote, “Biden is releasing illegal aliens from China with little more than a piece of paper promising they’ll eventually appear in court. Will they spy on Americans? Collect intelligence on our military installations?” 

Beyond the racist undertones, Vance is blatantly wrong in his characterization of the migrants in the Fox video as they are being paroled legally into the country as they continue to pursue their asylum claims. It is also important to note that the statistics are clear. Almost all of those released show up for their future court dates. As a report from the American Immigration Council concludes “that an overwhelming 83% of immigrants attend their immigration court hearings, and those who fail to appear in court often did not receive notice or faced hardship in getting to court;” a percentage that increases to 96% when the non-detained immigrant is represented by a lawyer. 

Unfortunately, Vance and McCaul are far from the only Republicans pushing the bigoted conspiracy theory that migrants fleeing China are part of a coordinated attack on the U.S. For example:

  • Rep. Cory Mills (R-FL) tweeted: “The CCP and other adversarial nations want to destroy America and here’s Biden releasing them in America. Just like the unvetted Afghans, Yemeni males on terrorist watchlists, and dozens more from numerous other nations.”
  • Rep. Ben Cline (R-VA) tweeted: “We know that the Chinese Communist Party will do ANYTHING to spy & steal Americans’ data. Now, the Biden admin is releasing Chinese illegal aliens into our country without an appropriate investigation. It’s not about if but when we are hit again at home.”

Worse, another Fox employee, Will Cain, replied to Jenkins’ video sharing a segment the same day that mainstreamed the white nationalist great replacement conspiracy theory trying to tie the migrants from China into the racist fiction. Laden with anti-Semitic tropes, Cain pushed the racist conspiracy theory that the increase of non-white migration is part of a coordinated plot to replace white people and take control of the nation, funded and coordinated, allegedly, by George Soros, a popular Jewish target of far-right conspiracies and lies. 

The great replacement conspiracy theory is a vile lie directly tied to multiple deadly terrorist acts over the last several years. It was chanted in the streets of Charlottesville in 2017, posted online before a man murdered 11 at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, shared in racist screeds before the murder in Poway and the murder of 23 in El Paso in 2019, believed by those who attacked the Capitol in 2021, and copied by the gunman who killed ten people in Buffalo in May 2022

Republican Texas State House Representative Bryan Slaton made the direct connection from the Jenkins’ video to the deadly great replacement conspiracy theory, tweeting: “The Texas Border is not secure. We need to declare an invasion to repel entry, return those who cross the border to the other side, and finish Donald Trump’s wall.”

Dozens of Twitter users without cable shows or seats in congress echoed this same “invasion” rhetoric, commenting on Jenkins’ video. While disturbing internet comments are nothing new, this language of “invasion” has repeatedly been used as the twisted motivation for the mass murder of dozens of Americans over the last several years.  

The following day, on March 22, Fox’s Stuart Varney had Republican House Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Mark Green (R-TN) on his show to continue the drumbeat of anti-Chinese immigrant bigotry and conspiracies. After Varney introduced the segment with more racist fear mongering and more out-of-context stats about Chinese nationals seeking asylum, Green peddled a version of the great replacement conspiracy theory. “This president is more concerned about future votes for his party than he is the security of the American people,” Green told the national audience. He then went on to assert the absurd conspiracy theory that every Chinese national seeking asylum at the border is an agent of the Chinese Communist Party. 

In a congressional hearing the week prior, on March 15, Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA) tried to push a false conspiracy about a link between the increase in Chinese nationals seeking asylum and the  increase in illicit fentanyl. This offensively wrong association between migrants and the fentanyl crisis was quickly dispelled by an assistant director with the investigative arm of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Steven Cagen, who said there is no link between a rise in Chinese migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and illicit fentanyl entering the United States, affirming the point that fentanyl, while urgently serious, is not an immigration issue. 

In late February, Rep. Lance Gooden (R-TX), launched a xenophobic attack against Rep. Judy Chu, questioning her loyalty to the United States because she is  Chinese-American. And after receiving strong bipartisan pushback for his bigoted conspiratorial attack, Gooden doubled down. Responding to the incident, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus wrote:

“Insinuating that Chair Chu is disloyal to the United States because she is Chinese American is categorically wrong. This type of racist targeting and profiling of Chinese Americans by right-wing extremists is not only xenophobic, it is incredibly dangerous. After centuries of being targeted for not being ‘American enough’ and viewed with suspicion based on looking ‘foreign,’ this type of insinuation and fear mongering only further endangers our communities.”

Tragically, this bigoted hostility towards Chinese migration is all too familiar. About 150 years ago, racist panic and violence directed at Chinese immigrants was mainstreamed across the nation and led to the passage of the explicitly racist Chinese Exclusion Act in 1872.  But we don’t have to go that nearly that far back to see the dangers of mainstreaming this bigotry. There was a similar trend in 2020, led by then-President Trump, who conflated attacks on China and the COVID-19 virus. This xenophobic dog-whistling around the virus may have contributed to the rise in Asian-American hate crimes during that time. Early in the pandemic, the FBI warned local law enforcement agencies that “hate crime incidents against Asian-Americans likely will surge across the United States” as people falsely associate them with the spread of COVID-19. At the height of the GOP’s amplification of these xenophobic tropes, Asian Americans were suffering, on average, around one hundred attacks every single day. In August 2020, Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, released a toolkit to encourage her colleagues to avoid inciting anti-Asian sentiment and racism when talking about the COVID-19 pandemic and China. Her counsel was largely ignored, mainly by Trump, who spent millions on television ads that, according to the New York Times, “repeat[ed] xenophobic tropes regarding the Chinese origin of the coronavirus” while frequently invoking the same kind of incendiary rhetoric at his campaign rallies. 

Both recent and distant history shows the violent, ugly path that results from this sort of racist demagoguery. But Republicans and Fox will continue to mainstream bigotry for power and profit, despite the climate of racist violence it creates, until they are held accountable for their actions.