How Conservative Media Killed A Charity's Plan To Help Migrant Children In Crisis
Blog ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS
A Texas charity has abandoned a plan to help house child migrants after conservative media outlets used misleading images to suggest displaced children would be living there in luxury conditions. In fact, the same charity operates other no-frills facilities and had planned to convert a hotel in a similar style.
Conservative media have promoted multiple conspiracy theories connected to the humanitarian migration crisis, including the accusation that President Obama "planned" the recent surge of child migrants across the border for political reasons, that migrant children are infecting Americans with rare diseases, and that Obama is allowing violent gang members to cross the border.
The charity, BCFS Health and Human Services, received a federal contract to house the children at the current site of the Palm Aire Hotel and Suites in Weslaco, Texas. In an interview with local TV station KRGV, BCFS officials said the facility would undergo a renovation to create a dormitory-style atmosphere at the facility.
The plans for the new facility had called for 600 beds for children between the ages of 12 and 17. BCFS would have taken the children from Border Patrol custody and housed them for an average of 15 days. The group also operates a facility in Harlingen, Texas, and a temporary facility at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
In a press release on July 16, BCFS announced that it had withdrawn its plans to develop the Weslaco facility due to "negative backlash caused by information misreported to the public."
Conservative media have mostly ignored BCFS' statement that the facility was going to be renovated and have used marketing images of the Palm Aire Hotel to leave the impression that the children would be housed in luxury conditions.
On the July 16 edition of Fox News' The Real Story, host Gretchen Carlson described the facility as "living the American dream on the taxpayer's dime" and highlighted the fact that the resort currently has a pool.
Correspondent William La Jeunesse used his fingers to signify air quotes to describe the "emergency" of the migration situation and suggested the plans for the hotel are a "symbol of bad federal planning."
In a story headlined "Feds to house illegal immigrants at multimillion-dollar hotel," Fox News reporter Todd Starnes wrote on FoxNews.com that "the Obama administration could soon be housing hundreds of illegal immigrant children at a multimillion-dollar hotel complex in Texas, just a few miles from the Mexican border" and highlighted that "the 7-acre site features three swimming pools, lighted tennis courts, concierge service and a Jacuzzi." (The text of the article has since been updated and substantially revised.)
In a tweet promoting his story, Starnes wrote, "Feds to house illegals at hotel - with poolside cabanas and concierge service," but at the bottom of his original story on FoxNews.com, he admitted that "the illegals should not expect concierge service at the poolside cabanas. BCFS tells me it will more than likely fill in the swimming pools with dirt."
The conservative Gateway Pundit blog said, "The beautiful Palm Aire resort and hotel has an indoor Olympic sized pool and an outdoor pool. Free Wi-Fi and cable TV are included in the simply decorated guest rooms." The post used images of the hotel's pools and tennis courts as it described the planned facility as a "resort hotel for illegal alien children."
The post noted that the $50 million contract for the hotel's renovation "is not part of the $3.7 billion emergency funding for the illegal alien invasion requested by the Obama administration as the bill hasn't yet passed but it is a good indication of where the money will go."
Gateway Pundit's post was featured at the top of the Drudge Report, which has been pushing anti-immigrant stories for several days now.
Meanwhile, BCFS told KRGV that the interior of the new facility would look similar to the "dorm room" style of its existing facilities.
Google Maps images of the hotel in 2011 show a much more mundane exterior than the luxury facility described by Fox and others.