Right-wing media have misrepresented President Obama's remarks to falsely accuse him of hypocrisy on immigration policy.
On June 15, Obama announced a change in the Department of Homeland Security's immigration policy that will allow certain young immigrants to remain in the country.
Right-wing media have since pointed to three Obama remarks to claim the president himself believes the immigration policy change is illegitimate. In fact, each of Obama's statements is consistent with the new policy.
In all of the statements the right-wing media highlighted, Obama stated that while he can't unilaterally change the law, his administration can use its prosecutorial discretion to focus on criminals rather than law-abiding immigrants, and that is just what the DHS policy change does.
Right Wing Media Misrepresent Remarks Obama Made At Univision Town Hall Meeting
Right-wing media, such as MichelleMalkin.com, The Blaze and the Daily Caller, seized on remarks made by Obama during a March 28, 2011, Univision town hall meeting. Each of these websites highlighted Obama's comment that he could not "suspend deportations through executive order." The Blaze concluded that Obama was acknowledging that the immigration policy change "would be a rank violation of the separation of powers."
Obama's comments during the Univision event were actually perfectly consistent with the DHS policy change. On Friday, Obama did not announce an executive order on immigration; rather DHS said it will use its discretion to allow certain young immigrants to remain in the country on a "case by case basis."
And at the Univision event, Obama said that the administration is using and will continue to use its discretion to focus on deporting immigrants "who've engaged in criminal activity" rather than non-criminals. Obama also highlighted the fact that while deportations of criminal immigrants are up under his administration, "deportation of non-criminals are down."
This is consistent with the DHS policy, which states that criminals are not eligible to remain in the country while certain young non-criminals will be allowed to stay.
Bill O'Reilly brought Karl Rove onto his Fox News show for a dizzying spin session about the Obama administration's announcement that it will allow some young undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. In a short span, Rove managed put forward numerous falsehoods about the new policy and the recent history of the immigration debate.
Here are four facts about immigration -- and how Rove tried to jam them up:
1. The change in deportation policy for young people is legal. The Department of Homeland Security announced that it will exercise its prosecutorial discretion and consider exempting some young immigrants from deportation. This is consistent with current law and has decades of precedent. But on The O'Reilly Factor, Rove claimed that President Obama is saying that "we will selectively apply the laws of the United States" and that "[w]e will exempt a class of people from the statutes. There's no authority, I think, to do that."
2. The new policy will be applied case by case. The DHS press release describing the policy change says, "Under this directive, individuals who demonstrate that they meet [certain] criteria will be eligible for an exercise of discretion ... on a case by case basis." On The O'Reilly Factor, Rove falsely asserted that Obama is saying that "we will selectively apply the laws of the United States, not individual, case by case by case, but by class."
3. Comprehensive reform legislation was introduced in Congress under Obama. In December 2009, Democrats introduced a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the House of Representatives. On The O'Reilly Factor, Rove falsely claimed that in August 2009, Obama promised to introduce comprehensive legislation, but "nothing has happened."
4. Republicans led the way in killing 2007 reform legislation. In June 2007, Senate Republicans played a dominant role in killing comprehensive reform legislation, which was backed by President Bush. A majority of the Democrats in the body voted to advance the legislation, while a majority of the Republicans voted to block it. Rove dubiously claimed that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid "was the guy who screwed up comprehensive immigration reform in 2007. He really is not a fan of comprehensive immigration reform."
From the June 18 edition of The O'Reilly Factor:
Following the announcement that the Department of Homeland Security will stop deporting certain undocumented immigrants, Lou Dobbs incorrectly claimed on his Fox Business show that "a good portion" of those affected were "adults when they came here." In fact, the policy change applies only to immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before they were 16.
Today, the Fox "straight news" program America Live hosted Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), to discuss the legality of President Obama's new immigration policy, which will potentially exempt certain young undocumented immigrants from deportation and allow them to work here legally.
As Media Matters has previously documented, FAIR is an anti-immigrant organization considered a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Not only does it have a history of using extreme, violent, and offensive language aimed at undocumented immigrants, but it has extremist ties as well.
Unsurprisingly, Stein spent the interview, which also included immigration attorney Francisco Hernandez, falsely suggesting the change in immigration policy is lawless. Stein characterized the change as an "outrageous power grab" and said that "the president's responsibility is to faithfully execute the laws of the United States. He does not have the right to completely rewrite the immigration law, give out these kinds of benefits."
However, as Hernandez pointed out, the policy shift is an exercise of prosecutorial discretion that is consistent with current law. Indeed, American Immigration Lawyers Association president David Leopold explained in a report that "[a]ll law enforcement agencies" have prosecutorial discretion, "including those that enforce immigration laws." As Penn State law professor Shaba Sivaprasad Wadhia noted in a 2009 article, immigration authorities have been using prosecutorial discretion to stop deportation proceedings for more than 30 years.
Furthermore, the new policy is consistent with decades of immigration law.
This is not the first time Fox has given a platform to Stein. In August 2011, America's Newsroom hosted him to attack Obama's immigration policy and defend Alabama's controversial immigration law. In March 2011, Fox & Friends hosted him to push the myth that women come to the U.S. solely to give birth.
From the June 16 edition of Sirius XM's Media Matters Radio:
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From the June 16 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends Saturday:
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From the June 15 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
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Following the Obama administration's announcement that it will grant certain undocumented immigrants the chance to be exempted from deportation, Fox News claimed President Obama had issued the decision as an executive order, implying he did so to circumvent Congress. In fact, the change is an exercise of prosecutorial discretion that is consistent with the current law and has decades of precedent.
From the June 15 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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In response to a Time magazine cover story by journalist Jose Antonio Vargas about how life changes after he and others revealed his or her status as an undocumented immigrant, Fox News hosted a member of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
Vargas, who has previously been the subject of Fox's scorn after he wrote an article last year revealing himself as an undocumented immigrant, wrote an article updating his status in a newly published issue of Time. The article details current struggles by people in Vargas' same situation -- where there is no available path to legal documentation. Vargas also details that "the long-stalled Dream Act is the best hope" for young people to gain a path to U.S. citizenship.
Rather than host a measured discussion on the issues Vargas brought up, Fox & Friends turned to FAIR for a "fair and balanced" debate with immigration attorney Francisco Hernandez. According to the SPLC, "FAIR leaders have ties to white supremacist groups and eugenicists and have made many racist statements. Its advertisements have been rejected because of racist content." FAIR has even promoted people who make violent threats and vicious smears against immigrants.
Today, FAIR media director Ira Mehlman kicked off the debate by saying "I think we've seen this in-your-face attitude before. Back in 2005 and 2006, you had hundreds of thousands of people marching in the streets of every major city in the United States demanding to be rewarded as a result of having broken the law." Attacks on undocumented immigrants such as these were a staple of the 2006 right-wing campaign against immigration reform.
Today's announcement that the Obama administration "will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives" (per the Associated Press) offers an excellent glimpse at how that tension plays out.
Republishing the AP write-up, Fox News Latino used the staid headline "Obama Administration Halts Deportations for Undocumented Children," and attached a photo of a DREAM Act activist in front of the Capitol:
Fox Nation also republished an AP write-up, but their headline and photo selection* spoke to a different tone and audience:
*UPDATE: Fox Nation has since removed the photo from the article, though the photo still appears on their main page.
On January 5, 2011, at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, a group called State Legislators for Legal Immigration held a press event announcing their intention to change meaning of the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment, which has granted citizenship to "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof" ever since it was ratified in 1868. The group wants to force a reinterpretation of the amendment to prevent children of undocumented immigrants from obtaining citizenship, thus removing (in SLLI's view) an incentive for people to cross the border illegally.
Their primary weapon in this crusade is a model bill that says children must have at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen (or resident alien) in order to be eligible for state citizenship. The bill, which runs contrary to over 100 years of legal precedent, was designed so that legislators could take it back to their states, work to get it passed, and then get sued with the hope that the case makes it all the way to a Supreme Court which would then overturn that precedent.
The strategy, the legal reasoning, and the model legislation were devised by the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), the legal arm of the anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Specifically, they are the brainchildren of Kris Kobach, counsel for IRLI and the Kansas secretary of state.
IRLI is not the only conservative organization pushing model legislation on this issue. A similar model bill approved by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in 2008 provides for state legislatures to call on Congress to "enact legislation clarifying the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution as denying citizenship status to children of illegal aliens."
From the April 28 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends Saturday:
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This Wednesday the U.S. Supreme Court will decide if portions of Arizona's controversial immigration enforcement law, Senate Bill 1070, are inconsistent with federal law and therefore must be struck down. Fox has taken this opportunity to push misleading talking points about Arizona's immigration enforcement law and to continue to fearmonger about crime in Arizona.
Right-wing media have attacked a proposed Obama administration rule change that would reduce the amount of time required for undocumented immigrants who are immediate relatives of American citizens to apply for residency as "stealth amnesty" by a "lawless regime." But the proposed rule change would allow eligible immigrants to obtain a lawful return visa without a long separation from their families; moreover, immigrant-rights activists have said that the current system encourages people to remain here illegally.