Media outlets rightly fixated on Rep. Steve King's (R-IA) anti-immigrant comments smearing young undocumented immigrants and the resulting backlash and action those comments drew. However, the fact that Iowa, the state King represents, would benefit economically from the comprehensive immigration reform he continuously argues against is the bigger story.
In a July 18 interview with Newsmax, King attacked DREAMers -- undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country illegally and are younger than 35 -- claiming that for every one who's a valedictorian, there are another 100 who "weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."
In subsequent interviews with CNN, Radio Iowa, and Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham, King stood by his remarks even as he was repeatedly rebuked by fellow Republicans and immigrants rights' activists.
On August 1, as a parting gift to hundreds of Republican lawmakers before their five-week August recess, immigrants and activists delivered cantaloupes to House offices with a placard that reportedly read:
This cantaloupe was picked by immigrant hands in California. You gave Steve King a vote. Give us a vote for citizenship.
As these media noted, the action was inspired by King's anti-immigrant comments and the amendment he sponsored to stop an Obama administration program that grants two-year deportation reprieves to DREAMers who qualify. All House members who voted for the measure received the gift of a cantaloupe.
But while King continues to be excoriated for his remarks, media shouldn't waste an opportunity to bring fuller context to his position and how it would impact the state he represents.
Indeed, though King remains staunchly opposed to immigration reform, Iowa would likely reap numerous economic benefits from reforming the nation's immigration laws.
In a July 2013 analysis of the potential economic benefits to state governments, the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy reported that Iowa could see a boost of about $18.1 million in tax revenue from newly legalized immigrants -- with most of it coming from income taxes. If undocumented immigrants in Iowa were granted legal status and legally allowed to work in the state, their income tax contributions would more than double from an estimated $12 million to $26.6 million.
Overall, the state and local tax contributions of newly legalized immigrants in Iowa would jump to an estimated $82.2 million from $64 million. Their effective tax rate would rise from 6.5 percent to 7.6 percent, aligning their tax contributions with residents of similar incomes.
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."
Fox Business' Stuart Varney flirted with the idea of denying food stamps to undocumented or legal immigrants and their children, asking whether they had "a right" to access those benefits, and even suggested that immigrants were taking advantage of the benefit by falsely claiming they were starving.
During a segment discussing a recent letter from Republican donors urging House Republicans to support and pass comprehensive immigration reform, Varney veered the discussion to benefits by saying, "I'm interested in the idea that they cannot be refused any or all government services. They can't." When Fox News senior legal analyst Andrew Napolitano explained that the Supreme Court has ruled that noncitizens should be provided the same basic social services as citizens, Varney went on to suggest that immigrants should be left to starve rather than receive the same food stamps benefits as citizens:
VARNEY: OK. So they must be served in an emergency room. Must have health services. OK, got that.
VARNEY: Must be educated. Their children must go to public school.
VARNEY: They've got every right to do that.
NAPOLITANO: Yes. Yes.
VARNEY: Food stamps. They got a right to that?
NAPOLITANO: Well, the case does not subsume -- the case does not address food stamps. But if a person were below the poverty level and starving, the federal government would have the obligation to alleviate that starvation.
VARNEY: So all you've got to do is, "I'm starving, boys. Feed me."
Varney then brought up the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is a refundable tax credit for working individuals and families with children, asking whether immigrants who pay taxes also had a right to receive it.
In fact, undocumented immigrants are ineligible to apply for public benefits, which include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. Legal residents are also ineligible for the program unless they meet certain requirements, including living in the country for at least five years or being a refugee.
As members of the conservative media continue to complain about the deficit, these same media figures are attacking the immigration reform bill that is expected to reduce the federal deficit.
Rush Limbaugh, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham, and Fox News host Sean Hannity have continually attacked President Obama for supposedly failing to reduce the deficit. Limbaugh went so far as to ask someone to show him any time Obama has "formulated policy or made statements that would successfully reduce" the deficit. Yet these same figures have attacked the immigration reform bill, which the Congressional Budget Office has estimated could lead to savings of about $175 billion over the 2014-2023 period and could decrease federal budget deficits by about $700 billion by 2033. Conservative media hosts also failed to mention the other economic benefits associated with the bill, including long-term increases in gross domestic product and wages.
During a radio interview with Rep. Steve King -- the Republican congressman from Iowa whose comments likening undocumented immigrants to drug smugglers continue to draw fire -- Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham said she understood what he was saying but that he "could've worded it differently." She added: "I think you have to be smarter in the way you use your language."
Ingraham went on to accuse media outlets of refusing to cover crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and cited a number of such cases to suggest a link between violent crime and immigrants in the country illegally.
Following the interview, she addressed calls for him to apologize and asked: "Is he right in refusing to back down on this and give in to the PC pressure from the left and right? Is Steve King right on this or not -- to apologize?"
In fact, as The Wall Street Journal reported, King's suggestion that most undocumented immigrants are drug smugglers "is not politically incorrect. It's simply incorrect."
In a July 18 interview with Newsmax, King attacked undocumented youths known as DREAMers -- those who were brought into the country illegally and are younger than 35 -- claiming that for every one who's a valedictorian, there are another 100 who "weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."
While the comments have received widespread condemnation from congressional Republicans, some in the conservative media have defended King, saying that "the facts back King up," in the words of Breitbart.com's Matthew Boyle.
But as the Journal noted, the facts do not back King up:
Fox News has repeatedly given Rep. Steve King (R-IA) a platform to discuss a number of political issues, including immigration, this year but has completely ignored his comments likening undocumented immigrants to drug smugglers -- even as the network has continued to discuss immigration issues. By contrast, both CNN and MSNBC have covered King's comments, which have drawn widespread condemnation from congressional Republicans.
Conservative media figures are coming to the defense of Republican Congressman Steve King following widespread condemnation of his comments accusing undocumented immigrants of being drug smugglers.
During an interview with conservative outlet Newsmax, King attacked the undocumented youths known as DREAMers -- those who would have qualified under the DREAM Act proposal that repeatedly failed in Congress and who could meet the Senate immigration bill's DREAM Act provision -- saying that while he has sympathy for children who were brought into this country illegally by their parents, not all of them are valedictorians:
KING: And there are kids that were brought into this country by their parents unknowing that they were breaking the law. And they will say to me and others who would defend the rule of law: We have to do something about the 11 million. And some of them are valedictorians.
Well, my answer to that is - and then by the way their parents brought them here. And it wasn't their fault. It's true in some cases. But they're aren't all valedictorians. They weren't all brought in by their parents.
For every one who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that -- they weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.
Republican Party leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Sen. Raul Labrador (R-ID), have condemned King's comments as"wrong," "hateful," and "inexcusable." Boehner stated: "What he said is wrong. There can be honest disagreements about policy without using hateful language. Everyone needs to remember that."
However, right-wing media figures have rallied to King's defense. On her radio show, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham cited cases of undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes and brought up instances of gang activity in border states to argue in support of King's comments.
She later stated: "So who's right? Steve King." She then criticized media outlets for supposedly "vilifying" King, adding, "How about actually do some real reporting on how this stuff is affecting young people and spreading across this country?"
Conservative media figures have criticized President Obama's focus on immigration reform, saying that the top priority should be the economy and jobs. In fact, immigration reform is an economic issue: studies show that it would boost economic output and lower unemployment.
Over the past three months, Fox has amplified the voices of two anti-immigrant guests, Michael Cutler and Dennis Michael Lynch, hosting them at least 13 times to rail against immigration reform and bash immigrants. Cutler, a former immigration officer, has an extensive history of associating with anti-immigrant, nativist organizations. Lynch is a documentary filmmaker whose expertise on immigration seems to stem only from directing two anti-immigrant films that have been heavily promoted by nativist organizations.
Right-wing media have cited the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 as a reason to oppose the bipartisan immigration reform bill that passed the Senate June 27. However, the Senate immigration bill learns from and corrects the mistakes of the IRCA through increased border and interior enforcement and the creation of a legal channel for low-skilled workers.
Washington Examiner correspondent Byron York dishonestly criticized the Senate immigration bill as a mere "promise of border security," ignoring the significant border enforcement component of the Senate immigration bill.
On the July 17 edition of America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer and York discussed a recent Fox News poll on immigration which found that 81% of those surveyed are in favor of "strengthening border security," while 74% favor legalization that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently in the country. York responded to the poll by falsely claiming that the Senate immigration bill is weak on border enforcement:
YORK: Well, the key word is first. The big issue is the sequence of those things, because a lot of Americans do favor legalizing the immigrants who are here illegally at the moment and putting them on a path to citizenship. But they want border security to be in place first. And the Senate bill was essentially a promise of border security in place, and the House will want to insist on the reality of border security that's actually done and in place before the process gets underway.
Radio host Mark Levin attacked 21st Century Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch and Fox News Channel for "bias" in pro-immigration reform reporting, continuing to grow the divide between conservative talk radio hosts and the network.
On the July 15 edition of his radio show, Levin -- who has previously called the immigration reform bill a "disgusting disgrace" and a "crap sandwich" -- discussed a recent tweet by Murdoch, chairman and CEO of Fox News' parent company 21st Century Fox, that declared Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) was correct about the immigration reform effort and expressed support for the immigration reform bill. Levin then accused Fox News of biased reporting on immigration reform and accused "a number of hosts" who support immigration reform of not reading the bill:
This isn't the first time Levin has taken issue with what he referred to as "our favorite cable channel." On the July 12 edition of his show, Levin attacked Fox News contributor Karl Rove over his support for immigration reform saying, "you know what number Karl Rove never puts on that whiteboard? His win-loss percentage."
Earlier this month, both Levin and fellow conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh appeared on Fox, but neither was asked about immigration reform, despite their well-known outspokenness on the immigration reform effort. After Limbaugh's interview, he went on his radio show to criticize the network and claim that Fox wouldn't allow him to discuss the immigration reform effort. Yet, after walking back his comments, Limbaugh was allowed to speak on the topic during Fox News' The Five for almost ten minutes.
In addition to a conservative radio schism, conservatives in print media have also pitted themselves against one another over immigration, most recently between New York Times columnist David Brooks -- an immigration reform supporter -- and National Review's Rich Lowry and The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, who wrote an op-ed calling on House Republicans to "[put] a stake through" comprehensive immigration reform.
Fox News guest Michael Cutler argued immigration reform would hurt the economy and American workers because naturalized immigrants "will no longer be willing to be exploited."
On the July 15 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, Stuart Varney hosted former Center for Immigration Studies fellow Michael Cutler to discuss immigration reform. Cutler argued against what he called "amnesty," saying that after naturalization and employment, immigrants "will no longer be willing to be exploited" and "legally cannot be discriminated against." Cutler went on to warn that, if immigration reform is passed, immigrants "will have the right to expect that they will be treated equally as Americans":
CUTLER: I had a front-row seat to the '86 amnesty. If you give lawful status to a bunch of illegal aliens who are being exploited, guess what, they will no longer be willing to be exploited. They will demand to be paid on the books, they will have the right to expect that they will be treated equally as Americans, but more importantly, they will have an equal standing in a labor pool that's already unable to find work. An alien who is naturalized or given employment authorization legally cannot be discriminated against, so they could get the same jobs that Americans desperately need to avoid losing their homes to foreclose.
Cutler has taken part in the Black American Leadership Alliance (BALA), which People for the American Way has described as "the latest incarnation of a shifting series of front groups for the anti-immigrant nativist group FAIR [Federation for American Immigration Reform] which has been trying for years to drive a wedge between African-Americans and Latinos." FAIR has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which noted:
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's founder, John Tanton, has expressed his wish that America remain a majority-white population: a goal to be achieved, presumably, by limiting the number of nonwhites who enter the country.
Participants in the BALA march have a history of inflammatory anti-immigrant rhetoric, including Cutler himself who used the Boston Marathon bombing investigation to attack a program that would provide asylum for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States before age 16.
Fox News amplified an anti-immigrant group's message that immigration reform will negatively impact African-Americans and repeated the debunked claim that the Senate immigration bill is a "job killer." In fact, the claim that immigrants steal jobs from African-Americans has been discredited as "a pernicious myth," and economists agree that the Senate bill is a net benefit for the economy.
During a segment highlighting the "DC March for Jobs," an anti-immigrant rally sponsored by the Black American Leadership Alliance (BALA), Fox News host Jon Scott stated that the group is "opposed to amnesty for some 11 million illegal immigrants and they say they are calling the Senate plans a job killer."
Scott proceeded to air comments Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) made at the rally in which he claimed that those who say the Senate immigration reform bill is good for the economy "are misrepresenting the truth." Brooks added: "It makes things worse economically. It makes things worse from an immigration standpoint."
Fox News chief political correspondent Carl Cameron also parroted BALA's claims, including that "the immigration reform bill as passed in the Senate would take away jobs from low-income, particularly black Americans." The segment then segued to remarks from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who falsely claimed at the rally that if the Senate bill were to pass, "wages would ... go down, unemployment would go up," and economic output per capita "would be down for 25 years."
What Fox failed to mention, however, is that BALA "is just the latest incarnation of a shifting series of front groups for the anti-immigrant nativist group FAIR, which has been trying for years to drive a wedge between African Americans and Latinos." The group is rooted in the anti-immigrant, nativist tradition of the John Tanton network that includes designated hate groups with ties to white supremacist foundations.
Moreover, its claims about immigration reform have been thoroughly discredited by economic research.
Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox, broke from Fox News hosts and contributors by tweeting support for the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform bill.
In a July 14 tweet, Murdoch called on House Speaker John Boehner to allow for his chamber to vote on the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform package. Boehner has previously committed not to bring the package up for a vote in the House:
A number of host and contributors of 21st Century Fox's subsidiary Fox News have expressed a view opposite of Murdoch's, either denouncing the Senate plan or calling for House Republican obstruction of any comprehensive immigration reform effort.
On the July 10 edition of his Fox News show, Sean Hannity praised Boehner for not allowing the Senate bill to be voted on in the House, saying, "the decision by the leadership not to take the Senate bill is a good first step" to fixing the immigration system. He also advised that they take their time to get it right.
During the Hannity segment, Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin offered her "qualified applause and praise" of Boehner's commitment to not bring the Senate bill up for a vote.
Additionally, Fox News contributors Laura Ingraham and Bill Kristol have both endorsed Republican obstruction of immigration reform efforts, claiming that any reconciliation of a potential House immigration reform bill and the Senate bill would be disastrous.
Other Fox News figures have staked out a different position, articulating support for the Senate's immigration reform effort. During the July 10 edition of his Fox News show, Bill O'Reilly explained that House Republicans killing the Senate immigration reform bill would "mean the chaotic status quo would remain and the Southern border would not be made more secure." And Fox News contributor Karl Rove said on Fox News Radio that while he doesn't think the Senate immigration reform bill is perfect, he wanted "the process to continue."