Republican strategists admitted to BuzzFeed that a "loud minority" of voices that includes conservative media have helped hinder congressional action on immigration reform. Strategists and lawmakers maintain that this "small cadre of Republicans in the House, talk radio hosts and activists," use the "perceived threat of xenophobia" to drive opposition to reform and make House Republicans leery of the issue.
Indeed, right-wing media figures have repeatedly used racially tinged language to stoke fears of immigrants and force lawmakers to obstruct immigration reform. In fact, the front page of the Drudge Report this morning provides the perfect example:
Drudge linked to a column by conservative pundit Ann Coulter, a frequent guest on Fox News, who wrote that the Republicans' planned push for immigration reform will "wreck the country" and "solves" only "the rich's 'servant problem.' "
Another example is Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham, who on her radio show today played on nativist fears of immigrants to raise opposition to immigration reform.
In a January 29 article, BuzzFeed reported:
[A]lthough there are a variety of reasons for inaction, one Republican lawmaker recently offered a frank acknowledgement for many members, there's one issue at play not often discussed: race.
"Part of it, I think -- and I hate to say this, because these are my people -- but I hate to say it, but it's racial," said the Southern Republican lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "If you go to town halls people say things like, 'These people have different cultural customs than we do.' And that's code for race."
There are a range of policy reasons for opposing plans to liberalize immigration or to regularize undocumented immigrants in the country, ones revolving around law-and-order concerns and the labor market. But that perceived thread of xenophobia, occasionally expressed bluntly on the fringes of the Republican Party and on the talk radio airwaves, has driven many Hispanic voters away from a Republican leadership that courts them avidly. And some Republicans who back an immigration overhaul, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and one of the Republican Party's most vocal champions of a pathway to citizenship, acknowledge that race remains a reality in the immigration debate.
BuzzFeed went on to report: "Talk radio, particularly regional and small-market talkers, have also kept up the pressure, Republicans said, explaining that the airwaves back home are constantly filled with talk of 'amnesty' that makes backing new laws difficult." The article quoted Republican strategist Brian Walsh saying that Republicans are " 'listening to a loud minority ... [but] those who oppose this haven't been challenged to say, 'What's their plan?'"
CNN cast President Obama and the Democrats' continued push to pass comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship as a false choice between bipartisan compromise or playing politics, arguing that if Obama rejected a Republican deal that included only legal status for undocumented immigrants, he would be risking his legacy over politics.
In his State of the Union address, Obama urged Congress to "fix our broken immigration system," saying:
OBAMA: Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted, and I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades. And for good reason: When people come here to fulfill their dreams -- to study, invent, contribute to our culture -- they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everybody. So let's get immigration reform done this year. Let's get it done. It's time.
During CNN's post-SOTU coverage, chief national correspondent John King stated that to get immigration reform passed this year, Obama "likely would have to accept something from the House, the Republican House, short of what he wants. The president has said, 'I won't sign it unless it gives a path to citizenship.'" King continued:
KING: What if the House does legal status and sends it to the president? And then [House Democratic Leader] Nancy Pelosi and [Senate Democratic Leader] Harry Reid come to him saying, "veto it, we want the issue to attract Latino voters in the campaign." Does the president look at his legacy and say, "I'll take it, that's 80 percent, and then we'll fight for more," or does he take the politics?
New York Times correspondent Jonathan Martin added that "the question comes down to President Obama and also some of the Hispanic advocacy groups: Are they going to cast a path to legal status but not citizenship as something between either a half a loaf as John put it or is it a poison pill?"
KING: In Ronald Reagan days, 80 percent was a pretty good deal. If the president can get a guest-worker program, can get the high-tech visas, can get some of the other things that he wanted that are not related to the big issue that derails this every time, which is citizenship or status or nothing, if he could get status, does he sign that for his legacy, or do the Democrats say, Mr. President, don't give that to Republicans?
However, defining support for a pathway to citizenship as political gamesmanship is faulty for several reasons:
Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham derided Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's plan to attract skilled immigrants to work and live in bankrupt Detroit, saying "we can then wall off Detroit" to keep those immigrants from moving to other parts of the country.
During a January 23 news conference, Snyder announced a plan to lure immigrants to Detroit by reportedly "seeking 50,000 work visas solely for the city over five years." As the Associated Press reported:
The type of visas involved are not currently allocated by region or state, but rather go to legal immigrants who have advanced degrees or show exceptional ability in certain fields.
Under the governor's unique proposal, one-quarter of the nation's 40,000 annual EB-2 visas would be designated for such immigrants willing to live and work for five years in Detroit -- a city amid the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history whose neighborhoods have been hollowed out by a long population decline.
"Let's send a message to the entire world: Detroit, Michigan, is open to the world," Snyder said during his news conference, which came a day after he backed plans to commit as much as $350 million in state funds to help shore up Detroit pension funds and prevent the sale of valuable city-owned art.
Under the plan, according to the AP, "Detroit would be allocated 5,000 visas in the first year, 10,000 each of the next three years and 15,000 in the fifth year."
On her radio show, Ingraham criticized the plan, asking, if immigrants move into the city, "is there going to be finally a border enforced in our country? Except it's going to be around Detroit?" From the show:
INGRAHAM: The people of this country, they're smart enough to know that they don't want to go anywhere near Detroit. Right? But we need to get these people from other countries to live and work in Detroit to save us because we can then wall off Detroit, apparently, so they can't then move to other parts of the country. Is that what Rick Snyder is gonna do? Is there gonna be, you know, is there gonna be finally a border enforced in our country? Except it's going to be around Detroit. This is the craziest thing I've ever heard of.
As of this month, Michigan's unemployment rate is higher than the national average at 8.4 percent. Its population has fallen from 1.8 million in the 1950s to 700,000 residents today. Michigan is reportedly "the one state in the nation to see its population drop" from 2000 to 2010.
Fox News hosted Sen. Jeff Sessions to amplify false conservative claims that immigration reform would negatively affect the U.S. economy and has a detrimental impact on Americans' wages. Sessions made similar claims in a USA Today op-ed published the same day, using misleading data from anti-immigrant groups to argue that the Republican push for reform is tantamount to "self-sabotage."
As The New York Times reported, congressional Republicans will unveil principles for immigration reform this week, in which they are "expected to call for border security and enforcement measures, as well as providing a path to legal status -- but not citizenship -- for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country." President Obama is also expected to address the issue during his State of the Union address on January 28.
In the run-up to these efforts, conservative media have attempted to hijack the debate with misleading data and bogus arguments.
On Fox News' The Real Story, host Gretchen Carlson allowed Sessions to repeatedly advance the myth that, in Carlson's words, immigration reform "could mean fewer jobs for Americans who are struggling, and quite frankly, already live here." Sessions stated:
SESSIONS: We really do have a huge problem. We have the lowest percentage of Americans actually working today than since 1975. Wages have declined in America relative to inflation since 2000. American working people are hurting; many of the jobs created today are part-time so it makes no sense to me at all to see a dramatic increase in the legal flow of immigration while we're not even reducing the illegal flow.
He went on to repeat the bogus statistic from anti-immigrant nativist group NumbersUSA that immigration reform legislation, such as the one passed by the Senate in June 2013 and endorsed by the Obama administration, would import 30 million new immigrants into the country. FactCheck.org criticized the number as "inflated and misleading," noting that the legislation would add "an estimated 6 million new foreign job seekers over the next 10 years."
Sessions, who has been profiled as one of the most "persistent and vocal foe[s]" of immigration reform and who led the effort to quash the Senate bill in 2013, later argued on Fox that the "Republicans need to stand up for the American worker," who he claimed was "the person in America today that's been ignored" and whose "interests are being ignored." He concluded: "Somebody needs to stand for them and the party that does that will be rewarded by the American people in elections."
Sessions took a similar stand in his USA Today op-ed, writing:
Republicans have the opportunity to give voice to the working and middle-class Americans whose wages and job prospects have eroded drastically in recent years. House GOP leaders are reportedly planning to release their "immigration principles" this week. Unfortunately, leaks reveal the leaders' plan mirrors central elements of the president's plan, combining work permits for millions of illegal immigrants with large permanent increases in the flow of new workers from abroad. This would be an extraordinary act of self-sabotage.
The choice is clear. Either the GOP can help the White House deliver a crushing hammer blow to the middle class -- or it can stand alone as the one party defending the legitimate interests of American workers.
But Sessions' argument that immigration is inimical to the economy has been thoroughly discredited by a long line of studies. In fact, as the New York Times noted in February 2013: "There are many ways to debate immigration, but when it comes to economics, there isn't much of a debate at all."
Fox News used the case of a woman whose son was killed by an unlicensed, undocumented immigrant driver to distort the debate over granting licenses to undocumented immigrants in Massachusetts. Fox has repeatedly highlighted similar cases over the years to stoke fears that licensing undocumented immigrants would make roads more dangerous when in fact the opposite is true. In fact, such fears have been criticized as "anti-immigrant hysteria."
Current Massachusetts law requires that immigrants prove they're lawfully in the country to obtain a driver's license in the state. However, lawmakers have reportedly scheduled a hearing to debate an amendment to the law next month.
On Fox & Friends, Fox anchor Heather Nauert reported on the proposal, saying that an immigrant advocacy group in Massachusetts "say[s] that giving illegals licenses would make the roads safer, but one mother whose son was killed by an illegal immigrant driver disagrees."
However, the evidence shows that licensing undocumented drivers makes roads safer. An increasing number of states in fact have responded to the problem of unlicensed, undocumented drivers by enacting laws that require them to be licensed, thus making sure they are trained and insured. As the Baltimore Sun editorialized following Maryland's approval of such a measure (emphasis added):
It should be obvious to anyone who depends on a car for getting back and forth to work, ferrying schoolchildren or running errands that the safety of everyone on the road is increased when all motorists have had to demonstrate a minimum level of competence in driving skills and knowledge of traffic laws. Protecting public safety is, after all, the main reason states require drivers to be licensed; the fact that government-issued licenses are also widely used as photo ID cards is an important but secondary consideration in deciding who can legally drive.
What the licenses can do, however, is help ensure that people who want to drive on the state's roads meet minimum safety standards and that their vehicles are registered and insured. Undocumented immigrants are less likely to leave the scene of an accident or attempt to flee from police if they know a traffic stop won't automatically get them deported for driving without a license, and that will greatly reduce the hazard such drivers pose to other motorists as well as make life easier for immigrants who are dependent on cars to get where they need to go.
The Sun went on to note that concerns that these measures have made residents less safe "are unfounded" and that such "objections are little more than the product of anti-immigrant hysteria, often whipped up for partisan advantage."
Canadian pop star Justin Bieber drew media attention today for his arrest on charges of driving under the influence, driving with an expired license, and resisting arrest, with numerous outlets comparing his possible but unlikely deportation with that of the nearly 2 million undocumented immigrants deported under the Obama administration. But Bieber has little in common with the typical deportee and should not be used as an example for reforming the immigration system.
In a post on the case, The New York Times wrote that if Bieber "were poor, obscure and, say, Hispanic," "you'd expect him to be sitting in a holding cell awaiting a one-way trip out of the country." The post continued:
It's just worth pointing out that apart from the humor value of the traffic bust, which followed closely on the heels of Mr. Bieber's infamous neighbor-egging caper, it is in a small way emblematic of the capricious, unbalanced and racially charged way in which immigration policy is conceived and enforced in this country.
The Times added that the "answer is not to treat all immigrants equally badly and deport Mr. Bieber" but that it "is to stop pretending that deportation -- which punishes hard working people but not their employer-enablers -- is an effective tool for dealing with our immigration problems."
Even Fox News, not known for its warm and fuzzy feelings toward immigrants, commented that Bieber "now could be at risk of becoming one of the highest profile immigrants to ever get kicked out of the United States" if he is indeed convicted of those charges. Correspondent Anna Kooiman added: "What will the tweens do then?"
However Bieber, also under investigation on felony charges for vandalism, is hardly the typical face of the immigration reform system. While it's notable for media to debate the shortcomings of deportation policy in light of Bieber's arrest, his case has no overlap with the majority who are deported, many for lesser offenses.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Bieber is in the country on an O-1 nonimmigrant visa, reserved for "the individual who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements." (Though his citizenship was listed as "USA" on his arrest report, it was reportedly a "typo" and has since been corrected.)
The most current data from the Department of Homeland Security shows that the United States issued about 10,500 such visas to foreign nationals in 2012, with another 8,000 issued to their assistants and immediate family. This is out of nearly 9 million nonimmigrant visas issued in 2012. The largest percentage of O-1 visas went to British citizens: current notables include CNN host Piers Morgan and footballer David Beckham and his wife Victoria.
As Republicans gear up for an annual retreat later this month where leaders will reportedly unveil principles for immigration reform, conservative media are again misrepresenting facts to mislead about Americans' support for legalization.
As Roll Call reported, the retreat is set for January 29 and will include discussions about immigration reform: "To get their members energized and focused on the issue, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and his top lieutenants are about to unveil a set of principles for an immigration overhaul. They could be distributed to lawmakers as early as Friday, but likely not until lawmakers have settled into the retreat, sources say." The article went on to note "that more and more GOP lawmakers from across the ideological spectrum appear to be growing receptive to giving undocumented immigrants a chance to receive legal status."
In an attempt to hijack the debate, however, radio talk host Mark Levin and the Daily Caller are using the occasion to mislead about Americans' support for immigration reform.
On his radio show, Mark Levin pointed to a poll by Rasmussen Reports to claim that "immigration increases are opposed by the majority of lower-income and middle-income voters," and by a "plurality of African-Americans."
Levin was apparently reading from the Daily Caller, which made the same points in an article previewing the GOP retreat:
A new poll shows that the wealthy and politically well-connected favor the sharp immigration increases that are included in pending House and Senate bills.
The immigration increases are opposed by the majority of lower-income and middle-income voters, and by political moderates and conservatives, according to the new Rasmussen poll of 1,000 likely voters. A plurality of African-Americans oppose the increases.
The article added: "In June, the Senate passed a bill that would triple the inflow of legal immigrants over the next decade."
But this is a false argument that was repeatedly debunked when conservative media first latched onto it in 2013, after its invention by anti-immigrant nativist group NumbersUSA in an online ad against reform.
Conservative media ignored several relevant facts to attack a California Supreme Court ruling that a qualified undocumented immigrant cannot be denied a law license simply for being in the country illegally, including that undocumented immigrants can legally practice law in California and that the broken immigration system is largely to blame for Sergio Garcia's unlawful status.
Conservative media figures have attacked House Speaker John Boehner for accusing tea party groups of undercutting Republican Party interests, claiming that Boehner did so to facilitate passage of "amnesty" in 2014. But the "amnesty" label that right-wing figures affix to immigration reform has been disputed even by Republican lawmakers opposed to reform.
Indeed, the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate imposes severe hurdles and makes undocumented immigrants wait 13 years before they can even begin to apply for citizenship.
As the Washington Post explained:
One of the weaknesses of the public conversation about immigration is that any proposal under which the final result for some undocumented immigrants is citizenship gets labeled "amnesty." But in reality, most proposals put a ton of hurdles between such immigrants' current status and that goal.
The Post included this graph from the Center for American Progress, which drives home the absurdity of calling what basically amounts to a 13-year wait -- that may or may not result in citizenship -- an "amnesty":
As the Post reported on December 12, Boehner criticized tea party and ultra-conservative groups who came out against a recently passed bi-partisan budget deal, calling them "misleading" and without "credibility," and saying they are "working against the interests of the Republican Party."
According to a poll by Rasmussen Reports being trumpeted by right-wing media, a majority of American voters believe the Obama administration is "not aggressive enough in deporting those who are in this country illegally." The poll also found that a majority of white as well as minority voters "oppose a halt to deportations." But these results don't take into account the federal government's record on deportations and are contradicted by a veritable litany of polls taken this year and over the past two years.
Conservative media are promoting the poll as evidence that the country wants more undocumented immigrants deported and that this proves that the current border enforcement and deportation policies of the Obama administration are too lax.
The poll, a national survey of 1,000 likely U.S. voters conducted December 8-9, asked vague and out-of-context questions about a specific category of immigrants (those who overstay their visas) including:
But the first question -- which used the language "make them leave the country" instead of "deport" -- failed to put the overstays in context. According to a February 2013 study, overstays declined by 73 percent between 2000 and 2009 thanks to enhanced security measures by DHS in the years following the September 11, 2001, attacks. The Wall Street Journal reported in April that about 40 percent of the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country are those who overstayed their visas. The article continued:
Little is known about the demographics of the so-called overstayer population, but some studies suggest they tend to be better educated and more fluent in English than those who crossed the border illegally. They also are more likely to hail from European, Asian and African countries. And in many cases, they used tourist visas to enter the U.S.