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.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) claimed that Fox News CEO Roger Ailes favors immigration reform and that Fox News has been balanced in its coverage, which contradicts reports of Ailes' hostile stance towards immigrants and the network's ongoing demagoguery of the issue. Graham has previously noted the influence that the Ailes-run Fox exerts over conservative voters, and is facing a race this year with several primary challengers to his right where the support of Fox viewers could be key.
From the January 2 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review cited deceptive statistics from the Heritage Foundation to attack the immigration reform effort, falsely claiming that the Obama administration is not enforcing current laws and arguing that it would continue this practice under a comprehensive immigration reform law.
A December 15 editorial by the Tribune-Review cited a post by the Heritage Foundation to claim that "the deportation of illegal aliens, in fact, has sunk to its lowest level in 40 years" and that the Department of Homeland Security has accepted 81 percent of 580,000 applicants for provisional legal status under a program called the Deferred Act of Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The Tribune-Review argued that these numbers show that the Obama administration is not committed to border enforcement and therefore should not be trusted to roll out a comprehensive immigration reform plan.
But the Tribune-Review's analysis should be taken with a grain of salt since its Heritage Foundation numbers come from "secret numbers" obtained by the anti-immigrant nativist Center for Immigration Studies, which is known for fabricating information and pushing misleading studies.
Ignoring the dubious source of the numbers, the editorial still fails to take into account the nearly 2 million people the administration has deported over the course of President Obama's tenure. The pace of deportations under Obama's administration is actually faster than the previous Republican administration. Even with possibly decreasing deportations -- which could also be a result of lower numbers of undocumented immigrants due to alternative enforcement measures coupled with the administration's priority of deporting high-risk individuals given its finite resources, the cost of deportation, and the current backlog of cases -- the Obama administration has prosecuted a record number of undocumented immigrants in 2013.
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.
Fox News continued its campaign against undocumented immigrants getting an affordable college education, railing against a lawsuit in Georgia that asks the state's universities to grant in-state tuition to immigrants who are considered lawfully present under the deferred action program. To make its case, Fox cited the fallacy that their parents don't pay taxes, and argued that this was an issue "of fairness."
It's indisputable fact however that at least three-quarters of undocumented immigrants pay federal taxes and an even larger number pay state and local taxes. Moreover, reports show that the notion that undocumented students are somehow cheating Americans out of a college education is untrue.
As the Associated Press reported on December 5, a group of undocumented students in Georgia filed a lawsuit against the state's university system stating that they should be granted in-state tuition as they are now lawfully present under the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. According to the Department of Homeland Security:
An individual who has received deferred action is authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to be present in the United States, and is therefore considered by DHS to be lawfully present during the period deferred action is in effect.
Discussing the lawsuit on Fox News' Hannity, host Sean Hannity dismissed Five co-host Bob Beckel's argument that undocumented immigrants have a right to an affordable college education, replying: "So laws don't matter in Obama-Beckel's world." Five co-host Andrea Tantaros added that she's "very sensitive to the immigrant community" because her father was an immigrant and that "you do feel sorry for the children that were brought here." She went on to say: "However, their parents, Sean, have not been paying taxes. They have not been on the books. Their parents broke the law. It's a crime." She concluded: "It's an issue of fairness."
In fact, the federal government has estimated that about three-quarters of undocumented immigrants pay billions of dollars in federal payroll taxes each year. In a 2010 study, the Brookings Institution found that the "consensus of the economics literature is that the taxes paid by immigrants and their descendants exceed the benefits they receive--that on balance they are a net positive for the federal budget."
From the December 5 edition of Cumulus Media Networks' The Mark Levin Show:
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From the December 5 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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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.
Right-wing media are dismissing President Obama's and Congressional Democrats' work on filibuster reform, a diplomatic agreement with Iran, and immigration reform as merely attempts to distract from the Affordable Care Act.
Rush Limbaugh dismissed the results of a new immigration poll showing that a majority of Americans favor an immigration process with a path to citizenship for the country's undocumented immigrants, saying that what the poll does is show only that people "do not want to be seen as bigots" or anti-immigration. He characterized it as the "Wilder Effect in reverse."
The Washington Post explained the "Wilder Effect" this way:
[T]he "Wilder effect" -- where whites overstate their support for black candidates -- merged with the "Bradley effect" -- where whites say they have no opinion when they really support a white candidate in match-ups between white and black candidates - in lore, casting doubts on the accuracy of polls in such contests.
The survey to which Limbaugh referred, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), found that throughout 2013, "there has been consistent bipartisan and cross-religious support for creating a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the United States." PRRI continued:
Today, 63% of Americans favor providing a way for immigrants who are currently living in the United States illegally to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements, while 14% support allowing them to become permanent legal residents but not citizens, and roughly 1-in-5 (18%) favor a policy that would identify and deport all immigrants living in the United States illegally. This support for a path to citizenship has remained unchanged from earlier this year, when in both March and August 2013 an identical number (63%) supported a path to citizenship for immigrants currently living in the United States illegally.
Discussing the poll, Limbaugh argued that results were skewed because respondents were saying they favored a path to citizenship when they in fact did not. He explained that "nobody wants to be called" a racist, and that's what accounted for the high favorability. He added: "This is not something most people want and so they just lay down and they don't say what they really think." He continued:
LIMBAUGH: This is a hot-button issue and it does involve what people think is race and ethnicity and the pollsters know this but they're not using the word amnesty. If they go out and ask the question, should undocumented aliens who are here illegally be automatically granted citizenship, what do you think the poll would show? And that's what the pollsters are attempting to say is happening.