Right wing media, ex-Trump officials, anti-immigrant hardliners and leading Republicans are stoking fears of a “border crisis.” They talked incessantly about a caravan that never made it to the border. They cite unnamed Border Patrol sources to sensationalize a modest uptick in border crossings and releases. They blame any increase on what they call “the Biden effect.”
This drumbeat started before Biden became President:
- In August 2020, Trump favorite Tom Homan, former Acting ICE Director, went on Fox News to blame an increase in border apprehensions on – who else – Joe Biden. In November, Homan said on Fox, “The cartels are celebrating…The border numbers are already going up because they think Joe Biden is going to be the president… ‘It’s a Biden effect. It’s already happening.’”
- Mark Krikorian of the hardline anti-immigrant group CIS (designated a Hate Group by SPLC) in National Review said in December: “The Biden Effect at the border — the surge of illegal immigrants expecting to be let in by Democrats — has already begun, with increasing apprehensions of minors and families.”
- Ken Cuccinelli in Washington Examiner in December: “…you saw the ‘Trump effect’ when President Trump came into office. You’re going to see the ‘Biden effect’ as well. And it’s going to be the opposite. And they’re feeding that, and it’s really bad for America. It’s going to be a humanitarian problem, particularly in the midst of COVID.”
Once Biden took office, the right-wingers pounced with more ferocity:
- Stephen Miller to Fox News on Sunday, January 31: Biden’s immigration executive actions amount to the “end of all immigration enforcement in the United States…”
- Fox News, February 5: “Biden administration’s softer, more welcoming approach will trigger a wave of migrants”: Fox News lede: “A perfect storm of events has the Biden administration’s Customs and Border Protection on its heels in parts of Texas, forcing the agency to begin releasing newly arrived illegal immigrants back into U.S. cities as part of a policy known as ‘catch and release.’ … It raises concerns the Biden administration’s softer, more welcoming approach will trigger a wave of migrants from Central America…”
- Fox News headline from February 5: “Illegal border crossings jumping back up to ‘crisis’ levels: Former DHS secretary:” It quotes former (and unlawfully appointed) Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf stating, “it’s a direct result of some of the things that we have heard this administration do…”
- Breitbart article from February 4: “Joe Biden’s ‘Catch and Release’ Policy Opens the Southern Border”
- House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to rightwing outlet Townhall on February 8: “As part of this administration’s lawless approach to immigration, they have also decided to weaken our security at the border. These actions will only serve to incentivize migrants to flood our southern border…”
Perhaps all this is to be expected from a rightwing media ecosystem that feasts on fear and loathing of the non-white other. Unfortunately, some mainstream media outlets seem anxious to follow suit. Here are some examples:
- Washington Post, December 2, 2020: Biden plans to spurn Trump immigration restrictions, but risk of new border crisis looms.
- New York Times, December 13, 2020: As Biden Prepares to Take Office, a New Rush at the Border.
- Axios, December 14, 2020: Surge in border crossings spells early test for Biden’s immigration plans.
This past Sunday, February 6, the New York Times perfected this genre of framing before facts. The front-page story was titled: “Migrant Families Force Biden to Confront New Border Crisis.” Here’s an excerpt:
President Biden’s first immigration crisis has already begun as thousands of families have surged toward the southwestern border in recent weeks, propelled by expectations of a friendlier reception … The prospect of large numbers of migrants entering the country during a pandemic could create a strong public backlash for Mr. Biden as his administration takes steps to undo the strict policies put into place by his predecessor.
Here’s what is mostly missing from the above narrative: the mess left by four years of sadistic policies authored by Donald Trump and Stephen Miller. Trump and Miller gutted the asylum system, dismantled effective strategies in Central America, and made it nearly impossible for new arrivals to apply for asylum:
- They ended aid and investments in Central America aimed at reducing violence in the communities that generate refugees and migrants.
- They separated thousands of families at the border, shocking the conscience of Americans and the world, with 666 kids yet to be reunited with their parents.
- They ended any chance of applying for refugee status from home countries — including the program that rescued kids in danger — and cut off discussions of refugee processing from neighboring countries, leaving the U.S.-Mexico border as the only viable place to apply for safety and freedom.
- After restricting the asylum rules to make it much more difficult for applicants to be approved, they ended the option of applying for asylum at the border entirely, using the cover of the pandemic to expel all arrivals – even kids fleeing violence and arriving at the border without their parents.
- They built 450 miles of border wall, the antithesis to the Statue of Liberty, a monstrosity that does nothing to intelligently manage the flow of refugees and migrants from Central America and elsewhere.
- They seemed to single out Black asylum seekers from Haiti, Cameroon and elsewhere for harsh treatment.
- They threw those seeking freedom and safety into detention centers that turned into COVID hotspots.
- They based their zero tolerance policies on a false assertion of “catch and release.” The American Immigration Council just released a deep-dive report that found, “data provided by the federal government reveals that 83% of all non detained immigrants with completed or pending removal cases from Fiscal Years (FY) 2008 through 2018 attended all of their court hearings. Among those who were represented by counsel during the same time period, 96% attended all of their court hearings.”
- They dismantled successful and cost-effect case management programs that resulted in 99% of applicants complying with court dates.
The following is a statement from Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
We get it. The Trumpy right wing is praying for chaos under Biden and desperate to avoid a media narrative that blames Trump for the chaos. What we don’t get is why some in the mainstream media are running with this narrative.
There have been upticks and downticks of border arrivals for decades. Some of it has to do with push factors in countries of origin, and some of it has to do with U.S. policies. But with respect to U.S. policies, it seems four years of Trump and Miller might account for more of what is happening – or may happen – than three weeks of the Biden administration.
What is almost always left out by all commentators is the allure of America.
Since the beginning of the American experiment, immigrants and refugees from around the world have sought a new life in America. They have voted with their feet because they believe in the promise of America.
At our best, our country has been able to rise to its challenges and live up to our best aspirations as a welcoming nation. People come to America from across the world, seeking safety, freedom and opportunity. This is a strength of ours, not a legacy to run from or duck.
Trump and his gang don’t get this ‘American effect.’ Biden and his team do.
There’s a way forward in the region, at the border and throughout America. The Biden vision for the region and migration management is innovative, bold and humane. It’s based on the premise that immigrants are an asset, not a threat; that immigration can be better managed by incentivizing safe, legal and orderly admissions; and that refugees should be protected first and resettled if return is not possible, not detained or deported. The desperation on the ground requires this vision to be operationalized as soon as humanly possible.
But as events unfold and this new strategy is put in place, let’s make sure we focus on facts, history, policies and context, and not just a frame anchored in fear mongering and racism emanating from a rogue’s gallery of ex-Trump officials.