Al Jazeera America is set to debut a new original series called "Borderland" that will attempt to take viewers beyond the debate on illegal immigration and tell the stories of the undocumented immigrants who attempt to cross illegally into the United States and the residents on the border.
Al Jazeera America's focus on the human side of the border story is in sharp contrast to the way Fox News and other right-wing media outlets discuss illegal immigration and undocumented immigrants.
In a press release announcing the series, which is set to begin on April 13, Al Jazeera America stated that "Borderland" "reflect[s] the channel's commitment to outstanding investigative journalism focusing on the human side of important, underreported stories, arising out of such national issues as immigration." Al Jazeera America president Kate O'Brian went on to say:
"Immigration is one of the most divisive topics in our country, and it is easy for the real issues to get lost in the noise of politics. ... Borderland looks at the issue in an entirely fresh and compelling way -- allowing the viewer to become immersed in the experiences of actual border runners."
In "Borderland," six Americans of all ideological stripes are tasked with retracing the journey of three migrants who died while attempting to cross illegally at the U.S.-Mexico border. "To make the story relatable," Al Jazeera America stated, "the filmmakers said participants on the trip faced the same dangers as the migrants whose stories they were charged with retelling." Filmmaker Ivan O'Mahoney explained:
"We wanted to expose them and immerse them with the families and the people that lived on the other side [of the border], including relatives and friends, and include random interaction on the way. ... If you manage to make a personal connection to a migrant, it becomes a meaningful part of your world."
Filmmaker Darren Foster added: "If you can get to the humanity of any story, people will see beyond their personal viewpoints." Referring to the participants, he continued: "They certainly understood we are talking about human beings and lives, not statistics."
Fox News and Fox News Latino are reporting on the Obama administration's enforcement record differently in a perceived effort to cater to their respective audience. At Fox News, the emphasis is on hosting extreme voices to discredit the Obama administration's record. At Fox News Latino, however, there is no equivocation that the Obama administration is nearing its 2 million deportation threshold.
The most recent example of this divide between Fox News and Fox News Latino includes how they treated a flawed report by the Center for Immigration Studies that cast doubt on President Obama's deportation record. Fox News used it to attack Obama and push the narrative that the administration isn't deporting enough immigrants that warrant deportation. This followed weeks in which the network repeatedly tried to discredit the administration's deportation record, claiming that administration officials are "fudging" the numbers on deportations.
The network misled its audience, telling them that the Obama administration was "destabilizing the nation" with its enforcement policies by releasing undocumented immigrants who had committed crimes. It led to one contributor calling Obama the "releaser-in-chief." Hosts on Fox News' daytime programming went even further, accusing the administration of releasing immigrants who had committed rape and murder. Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy commented after one segment: "That's crazy."
This sentiment continued at FoxNews.com. One story about the administration's immigration enforcement policies included this image with a headline asking: "Are America's Streets Threatened by a Criminal Alien 'Crisis'?":
Though Fox Business host Lou Dobbs was the only Fox host to question the accuracy of CIS' report, he nevertheless agreed that "some" of the immigrants not deported by the Obama administration were convicted of rape and murder.
In stark contrast to other Fox News outlets, Fox News Latino provided far more balance in its reporting on the Obama administration's enforcement policies -- and without any of the alarmist or derogatory language that is popular on Fox News.
Fox News used a misleading report from an anti-immigrant organization to baselessly claim the Obama administration is now releasing immigrants who have been convicted of rape and murder. In fact, those crimes, classified as Level 1 offenses by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), are automatically subject to deportation.
On March 31, the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies reported that in 2013, ICE released nearly 68,000 immigrants who had been convicted of some type of crime. According to CIS, that number represented 35 percent of all immigrants convicted of a crime that CIS had come into contact with in 2013. CIS did not describe the specific crimes these immigrants had been convicted of but nevertheless concluded that the "release of so many convicted criminals back into U.S. communities, when they could be removed to their home countries, is a large-scale abuse of authority that inevitably leads to public harm."
Fox News seized on the report to repeatedly argue that the Obama administration "is destabilizing the nation by allowing hordes of dangerous illegal aliens to invade the country," as Fox News Radio's Todd Starnes put it.
Fox hosts have since escalated those claims, asserting that immigrants who were released were those convicted of rape and murder, even though the CIS report makes no such claim.
On Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy stated: "That's kind of scary that we released close to 70,000 people who had criminal convictions. I know some of them were drunk driving, but they did include murder in some cases and rape as well. That's not the way it's supposed to work." Guest Jessica Vaughan, CIS' director of policy studies, replied: "Well, ICE has not released all the details on the exact crimes that these people are associated with, but it is concerning that interior immigration enforcement has deteriorated."
Later on America's Newsroom, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs noted that CIS is a "restrictionist advocacy group" "and therefore you have to take their numbers with a grain of salt." But Dobbs went on to push the same wild claim, saying that "some" of the immigrants released were found to be guilty of crimes "running up to rape, murder and far down as taking off."
In fact, any immigrant -- legal or undocumented -- who has been convicted of an aggravated felony such as rape or murder is automatically subject to deportation, without the benefit of a court hearing.
As the Washington Post explained:
Immigrants convicted of such crimes are automatically required to be detained by federal immigration authorities after they're released from criminal custody and can then be summarily deported without a hearing before a judge. Aggravated felons are also ineligible for asylum or reprieve from deportation by a change due to family hardship, and they're prohibited from ever returning to the United States without special permission from the government. (Permanent residents are granted a hearing, but the judge still has limited authority to prevent deportation.)
Right-wing media are trumpeting a report from Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions claiming that the Obama administration has failed on border enforcement because nearly all of the immigrants the federal government deported last year were criminals, while undocumented immigrants without criminal convictions did not face high rates of removal. Indeed, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 98 percent of immigrants removed in fiscal year 2013 were classified as "convicted criminals, recent border crossers, illegal re-entrants or those previously removed," which is "in line with [the] agency's enforcement priorities."
The fact that conservative media see outrage over the news that the administration met its stated enforcement goals shows that the only action they will accept on border enforcement is really the mass deportation of all undocumented immigrants, regardless of their ties to the United States. But that is an impractical policy that has been derided even by Republican lawmakers.
On March 26, Sessions released a report condemning the Obama administration's record on border enforcement, claiming that the ICE record is evidence that "the Administration has carried out a dramatic nullification of federal law."
The Daily Caller seized on the Sessions report to blast Obama administration immigration policies that it claimed "have provided a de facto amnesty for most of the illegal immigrants living in the United States." It went on to complain that "99.92 percent of illegal immigrants and visa overstays without serious crime convictions or repeat immigration offenses did not face deportation."
National Review Online added that the administration is "shielding most illegal immigrants without separate criminal convictions from deportation" and uncritically quoted Sessions' claim that these priorities are "an open invitation for a future immigrant to overstay a visa, or enter the U.S. illegally, knowing that they will be immune from enforcement."
A Breitbart News article with the headline, "Sessions Report Demolishes Obama 'Deporter In Chief' Myth," stoked national security fears, stating that "Sessions' staff notes that ICE officers who communicate with his office say that there is likely some other serious security risk for allowing them to stay in the country that is cause for their removal." The article went on to highlight several instances in which undocumented immigrants were released from federal custody because they represented no threat to public safety.
On his radio show, Mark Levin used the report to make the point that "those terrorists on 9-11, they overstayed their visas."
The Department of Homeland Security has always maintained that ICE "must prioritize which individuals to pursue" because the agency "receives an annual appropriation from Congress sufficient to remove a limited number of the more than 10 million individuals estimated to unlawfully be in the United States."
This discretion has been widely applied by immigration officials for more than 30 years. And as the Immigration Policy Center has noted, the Supreme Court has made it clear that "an agency's decision not to prosecute or enforce, whether through civil or criminal process, is a decision generally committed to an agency's absolute discretion."
Fox News responded to the announcement that President Obama has ordered a review of his administration's deportation policies by casting doubt on his enforcement efforts, claiming the nearly 2 million deportations number is inflated because it includes both removals and returns. In fact, whether undocumented immigrants apprehended at or near the border are removed or returned, both methods result in their expulsion from the country; moreover, data show the Obama administration has removed a record number of immigrants.
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.
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly typified conservative media's absurd arguments on border enforcement, claiming that President Obama is not committed to addressing the issue because he can't stop immigrants from coming into the United States illegally in the first place. O'Reilly also dismissed the Senate immigration bill's border surge provisions, arguing that "money doesn't stop drug smuggling or people smuggling."
Discussing President Obama's November 25 immigration speech, O'Reilly speculated about the chances of passing immigration legislation, saying: "The problem here is that nobody believes President Obama will secure the border. They believe he'll give the pathway to citizenship but nobody believes he's gonna stop more people from coming in to follow the same pathway."
When contributor Juan Williams noted that the Senate-passed immigration bill includes substantial funding for border enforcement measures, O'Reilly replied:
O'REILLY: Money doesn't stop drug smuggling or people smuggling. You've got to have the will to do it and that will has to be imparted and you've got to put commanders down there, people who are really, really committed to stopping the chaos on the Southern border, and nobody, Juan, nobody believes the president of the United States is committed to do that.
O'Reilly went on to repeat Fox News' talking point that Obama's speech was an attempt to "deflect" from the problems with the Affordable Care Act's rollout. Guest Mary Katharine Ham agreed, saying that "the timing is interesting." She went on to promote the discredited conservative myth that Obama could have passed comprehensive immigration reform early in his first term if he had "made it a first priority" when "he had 60 senators." She continued: "But he put it off because he liked using it as a cudgel before the 2012 elections."
O'Reilly's point that Obama isn't serious about border enforcement because he's unable to prevent immigrants from crossing into the U.S. illegally or from overstaying their visas is absurd. There are a host of reasons that prompt illegal crossings, which can range from economic to family reunification.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) debunked the Fox News claim that Mexicans are taking advantage of a "loophole" in asking for asylum at the border to gain entry into the United States. DHS reportedly called Fox's reporting "overstated" and said the increase in asylum requests at Southwestern border crossings have been "modest."
On August 12, Fox News repeatedly promoted the flawed narrative that immigrants at Southwestern border crossings were using a "loophole" to enter and stay in the United States illegally by saying key phrases, namely that they have a "credible fear" of the drug cartels. Fox News' reporting throughout the day and week accused Mexicans of gaming the immigration system this way, even though petitioning for asylum based on "credible fear" of persecution is a legitimate and long-standing policy in immigration law.
But Fox continued to advance the myth that "hundreds of illegal aliens are taking advantage of a loophole to cross the border and get asylum here in the U.S.," even using anti-immigrant nativists to add that it was an "orchestrated" scam.
In an August 17 article, however, the Associated Press reported that a DHS report on asylum numbers showed that Fox News' reporting was "overstated":
Requests for asylum in the United States along the border with Mexico have more than doubled over the last three years as immigrants seeking legal entry into the country claim a fear of persecution back home, according to a federal government report.
The so-called credible fear claims reached 14,610 by the end of June, with three months left in the fiscal year, the Department of Homeland Security reported. For the entire 2011 fiscal year, there were 6,824 such claims. The department's report notes, however, that those numbers are a tiny portion of the millions of travelers who legally enter the country each year.
The data was released on Friday, in part, to dispute claims first reported by Fox News that large numbers of Mexican citizens had been showing up at San Diego ports of entry recently to seek asylum, citing the drug violence in their country. Homeland Security Department officials said the news reports had been overstated and called the increase in asylum requests at those ports "modest."
Between Aug. 1 and Aug. 15, the agency said, an average of 30 people per day have arrived at San Diego ports seeking asylum, out of about 170,000 travelers who cross the border there legally each day.
The AP went on to report that DHS "officials say there has been no marked increase in the numbers of such asylum requests from Mexican citizens," and included DHS spokesman Peter Boogaard saying that border activity is "cyclical in nature" and that claims "of credible fear along the Southwest border vary month to month and year to year."
Fox News is turning to anti-immigrant and nativist organizations to further its failed narrative that Mexicans are gaming the immigration system by seeking asylum in the United States.
On August 12, Fox News repeatedly accused Mexicans coming into the United States from the U.S.-Mexico border of "taking advantage of a loophole" to enter the country, by invoking certain phrases like "credible fear" of drug cartels. In fact, petitioning for asylum based on "credible fear" of persecution is a legitimate and long-standing policy in immigration law.
Throughout the day, Fox News hosts and guests continued to push the narrative that immigrants were using these "bogus" asylum claims only to eventually disappear into the country after failing to attend their immigration hearings. As correspondent William LaJeunesse put it: "It's about overwhelming the system and getting released, getting a court date for which no one shows up."
To back up these assertions, Fox News relied on Pete Nunez, whom it identified simply as a former U.S. attorney for Southern California, to reinforce this last point. In numerous segments, Nunez claimed:
NUNEZ: Hundreds of thousands of people have never returned and the list of people for whom warrants are outstanding is phenomenal. So, yeah, we have a long history of people absconding from immigration hearings of one sort or another, they just blend back into the community.
According to the Department of Justice, only 11 percent of immigrants fail to appear for their immigration hearings.
None of the hosts pointed out, however, that while Nunez is indeed a former U.S. attorney for Southern California, he is also the chairman of the Board of Directors at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and a member of the National Board of Advisors for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). CIS is an anti-immigrant and nativist organization whose affiliation with hate groups has been thoroughly documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center. FAIR has similarly been designated a hate group by SPLC.
CIS has a long history of smears and inflammatory rhetoric against immigrants. It has also been exposed as a group that misrepresents evidence and data to substantiate dubious conclusions about immigrants. Frankly, in the words of the Center for the New Community, CIS "has proven not to be a credible voice in the debate on immigration." The American Prospect has charged that "convoluted logic and paranoia is typical of the research" CIS produces.
As to FAIR, SPLC has noted that its "leaders have ties to white supremacist groups and eugenicists and have made many racist statements" and that one of the group's "main goals is upending the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which ended a decades-long, racist quota system that limited immigration mostly to northern Europeans." FAIR has reportedly received funding from white supremacist groups.
Fox News repeatedly trumpeted a report from a local Fox affiliate claiming that immigrants crossing at the U.S.-Mexico border are using a "loophole" to enter and stay in the United States illegally by saying key phrases, namely that they have a "credible fear" of the drug cartels. But as even its own reporting admitted, this so-called "loophole" is long-established asylum policy of allowing foreigners who fear persecution in their own country to state their case in immigration court. Moreover, the evidence doesn't support Fox's claims that these immigrants are using the tactic to ultimately skip out on their asylum hearings.
Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham has repeatedly attacked and mocked the undocumented immigrants known as the "Dream 9," who in July staged a protest at the U.S.-Mexico border to highlight what they feel are unjust immigration laws. Ingraham has accused the activists of not respecting the laws of the United States, saying that "when you come into our home and make it your home, then you've got to follow the rules."
But far from respecting her nation's laws, Ingraham has hypocritically advocated for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, even going so far as to seemingly agree that shutting down the government over the law wouldn't be the end of world.
Discussing the Dream 9 movement in an interview with undocumented activist Cesar Vargas on Fox News, Ingraham criticized the activists for "flout[ing] the law" and mocked their protest as a "stunt" that was "disrespecting our laws." When Vargas explained that the activists are trying to show that their home's immigration laws are "outdated" and that the immigration system is "broken," Ingraham attacked them as opportunists intent on taking advantage of the Obama administration's deferred action program.
She also told Vargas that if the Dream 9 really consider the United States their home, then they should "respect" their home's law, adding: "When I go into someone else's home, I try to follow their rules. So when you come into our home and make it your home, then you've got to follow the rules."
But contrary to Ingraham's accusations, the Dream 9 have broken no immigration laws with their protest. As she herself admitted, all were brought into the country as children. They did not willingly come into the country illegally.
As the Los Angeles Times further explained, the Dream 9 are a group of undocumented immigrants who "staged an unconventional and risky protest last month at the U.S.-Mexico border to spotlight the thousands of people deported under the Obama administration."
The Wall Street Journal's news section has repeatedly parroted the Republican narrative on border security without pointing out that enforcement, not only along the border but in most areas of immigration law, is greater than ever. This uncritical coverage has allowed congressional Republicans to set the terms of the debate on immigration reform even though the Journal's editorial page has charged that these "border security first" arguments amount to obstructionism.
In an August 4 article highlighting an immigration reform proposal that Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is reportedly working on, the Journal gave weight to Goodlatte's statement that "[n]o illegal immigrant would gain legal status before efforts were in place to secure the border with Mexico," and Rep. Cory Gardner's (R-CO) argument that "he didn't want to consider" a plan that included a path to citizenship "until the issue of border security had been resolved."
The article did not explain the facts of border enforcement, much less point out that the Republican narrative on the matter "has become a ruse to kill reform." That's the way the Journal described "the real story" behind Republicans "once again demanding more enforcement as the price of their support" in a June 19 editorial titled, "The Border Security Ruse."
In a May 2 editorial that offered a "border security reality check," the Journal mocked the "porous border" argument and noted that "[c]ontrary to Republican claims that President Obama has turned a blind eye to illegal aliens, the official data indicate the opposite." It continued:
One lesson is that we can continue to militarize the border, but at some point it becomes overkill. The Republicans who claim we must "secure the border first" ignore the progress already made because their real goal isn't border security. It is to use border security as an excuse to kill immigration reform.
The editorial went on to cite relevant data to show that fewer immigrants will come illegally if you "[g]ive people more legal ways to enter and exit America."
A July 9 editorial asking whether the GOP would prove to be a "party of opportunity or closed borders," added: "Too often Americans hear the shrillest anti-immigration Republicans whose only argument is 'secure the border,' as if that is a sensible policy for the 21st century. House Speaker John Boehner's job is to make sure those voices don't carry the day."
Right-wing media are using a new government report showing that there are a million visitors in the United States who have overstayed their visas to argue that the news will negatively impact immigration reform. However, what these media outlets are missing is that passing a comprehensive immigration bill, like the one that recently cleared the Senate, would largely fix the problem of such overstays as the bill mandates the implementation of a biometric entry-exit data system.
On July 30, the Government Accountability Office released a study reporting that as of June 2013, more than one million visitors in the United States have overstayed their visas -- thus the term overstays. GAO defines an overstay as a "nonimmigrant who is legally admitted to the United States for an authorized period but remains in the country illegally after that period expired without obtaining an extension of stay or a change of status or meeting other specific conditions, such as claiming asylum."
In a segment highlighting the report, Fox News host Heather Nauert claimed that the "news could hurt the debate over that sweeping immigration bill that we've heard so much about."
A July 30 Washington Times article similarly asserted that "the report could hurt immigration deal" and falsely claimed that the Senate immigration bill "waters down" requirements for a biometric system. The Times wrote that the bill "say[s] only that there must be a biographic-based system, which means using a photo, and that it be limited to air and sea ports."
While the number of immigrants who overstay their visas has reportedly sharply declined in the last decade, passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill would greatly alleviate the problem. 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 immigration bill that passed the Senate on June 27 mandates the implementation of an exit system that will monitor when foreigners leave the country. It also mandates establishing a mandatory biometric exit data system that would require that all foreigners be fingerprinted when exiting the country." The system would have to be implemented at the 10 United States airports that support the highest volume of international air travel" within two years of the bill's passage. Such a system would then be expanded to 30 airports and major sea and land entry and exit points within six years.
A fact sheet of the bill by Sen. Bob Corker's (R-TN) office stated that the "underlying bill improves the identification of overstays through a fully implemented entry/exit system," and that Corker's amendment "goes a step further by mandating the initiation of removal proceedings for at least 90% of visa overstays - holding DHS accountable for failing to enforce the law and targeting an issue that is at the core of a policy of de facto amnesty."
According to an analysis of the bill as passed by the Senate, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill would not only reduce the flow of illegal immigration, it would also greatly impact overstays. CBO concluded that the security measures in the bill would cut illegal immigration and overstays by "between one-third and one-half compared with the projected net inflow under current law."
CBS' Face the Nation reinforced conservative arguments that the Senate immigration bill doesn't strenghten the border, but ignored the Congressional Budget Office report's finding that the Senate bill could cut illegal immigration in half as a result of the bill's border surge amendment.
Fox News used a dishonest graph to distort the Obama administration's record on border enforcement and claim that the border is less secure. Fox's chart painted a misleading picture of Southwest border apprehensions by using an arbitrary time period and an improper scale -- even as illegal border crossings under President Obama are at historic lows.
In several segments on Fox News, correspondent William La Jeunesse highlighted the graph to claim that the Southwest border "is actually less secure," pointing to what he called the "double-digit surge" in border apprehensions from 2011 to 2013 to make his point:
La Jeunesse reported that the numbers for October-April 2013 were released exclusively to Fox News from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
In a report on Happening Now, La Jeunesse touted the graph and highlighted the fact that apprehensions of Central American nationals have risen 13 percent -- leading him to claim that by this standard more people are getting into the United States illegally.
La Jeunesse gave a similar report on Your World using the same graph.
However, the graph La Jeunesse used suffers from several misleading characteristics. First, it depicts an arbitrary time period: October through April, though we're only a few days into the month, for the years 2011 to 2013 -- which takes into account only half of Obama's first term. Moreover, the graph has a skewed scale -- making the 27,000 jump from 2011 to 2013 seem more dramatic than it actually is.