Republican officials, conservative media outlets and right-wing personalities have pushed false “open border” claims thousands of times throughout the past two years. During the 2022 midterms alone, America’s Voice tracked over 600 paid political ads promoting this messaging. But back here in reality, they ignore the fact that the Biden administration has continued to enforce, and has even proposed resurrecting, harsh policies of the Trump administration.
It’s more than clear that the only people who keep pushing these “open borders” lies are Republicans and their political allies including right-wing media. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that this right-wing disinformation has continued to fuel some arrivals at the southern border, by manipulating already-desperate people who are facing violence, government persecution, and extreme poverty in their home countries with luring and false messages about an “open border.”
Alfredo Corchado, a border correspondent with The Dallas Morning News, this week shared a short interview with a Venezuelan migrant “lured by false social media posts,” notably from racist conservative outlet Breitbart. In the clip, the migrant says he fled because of conditions in his country, noting that citizens there are persecuted, are unable to buy food, and can’t even get medical attention unless they have a connection. “You could die from a disease because they uh won’t treat you,” he said in the Spanish-language clip.
When asked what prompted him to try to make an asylum claim, the man said it was because of information he saw on social media. “The news came from Breitbart?” Corchado asked. “Yes, correct,” the man replied. He added that because he’s not from here, he’s not sure if the source is reliable or not. It’s Breitbart — of course it’s not.
We also know that this is in no way an isolated incident. “I met with migrants in Costa Rica that were turned back, and their sense was that they will be able to enter freely,” New York Representative Adriano Espaillat told Caleb Ecarma from Vanity Fair last month, “arguing that the ‘confusion’ stems squarely from right-wing disinformation.” In fact, when Republicans push “open borders” disinformation, they’re abetting criminal human smugglers who target vulnerable people desperate for a way, any way, into the U.S.
“Smugglers are constantly peddling that type of misinformation because they’re looking to feed their bottom line,” Hope Border Institute executive director Dylan Corbett told Vanity Fair. He noted “that traffickers falsely advertise ‘open’ crossings to migrants desperate for a way into the US,” the report continued. Smuggling attempts can end in tragedy. 53 migrants lost their lives following one attempt last year, when migrants suffocated to death inside a sweltering hot tractor-trailer outside San Antonio.
Two of those killed in this single deadliest smuggling incident in U.S. history were just 13-years-old. The two indigenous children, cousins Pascual Melvin Guachiac Sipac and Juan Wilmer Tulul Tepaz, were from Guatemala. Pascual had hoped to reunite with his dad in the U.S., The Washington Post reported.
The fact is that efforts by anti-immigrant actors to sow chaos and disinformation both here and abroad are no accident. Breitbart News, co-founded by white nationalist Steve Bannon in 2007, hasn’t just platformed virulently anti-immigrant lies — like falsely claiming that an immigrant was to blame for California’s 2017 wildfires — but has also colluded with rogue border agents, including sponsoring a podcast by the Border Patrol union. The union’s president, Brandon Judd, is a big fan of white supremacist conspiracy theory and has been embraced by top Republicans.
Speaking of hateful organizations, Tanton network hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform published a post just one day after President Joe Biden’s 2020 inauguration that accused him of “inducing an immigration and border crisis,” the American Independent reported in 2021. That’s some foresight, if true (it’s not). Right-wing voices like Tanton ally and former Trump administration official Thomas Homan were actually blaming Biden for a rise in border apprehensions months before the 2020 election was even set to take place, America’s Voice noted in its March 2023 memo.
Republicans and their allies in the right-wing ecosystem are making a deliberate decision to scream “open borders” disinformation at the top of their lungs — and doing it loudly enough that it’s reaching distressed people looking for any sign of hope. Rather than actually helping them by engaging in good faith efforts to reform our nation’s outdated immigration system, they’re throwing the rock and then hiding their hand.
“While Republicans are hoping to engage — and enrage — their base, the reality is that their relentless messaging has a spillover impact,” America’s Voice continued in its memo. “As it turns out, people in other countries have TVs, newspapers, radios and the Internet too. And the clear message from the Republicans is ‘come, the border is open.’”