The media is bungling the facts about immigration

Posted on July 18, 2018

The media is doing a particularly lousy job of covering the Trump Administration’s persecution of non-white immigrants.

Although there are plenty of well-researched stories about the horrors of “zero tolerance,” family separation and imprisoning children in cages, the general public knows nothing about the big picture—because it’s not considered “news.” A few examples:

(1) Unauthorized immigration has been negligible since the beginning of the Obama Administration. The total number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States increased from about 3.5 million in 1990 to about 12.2 million in 2007. Once the Great Recession struck America, about a million unauthorized immigrants left the U.S. and the total number has remained fairly steady at around 11.3 million from 2009 to the present. See the latest estimates from the Pew Research Center, here.

In short, there is no policy problem. Compared to the Clinton and Bush Administrations, unauthorized border crossings have been negligible. A border wall would do virtually nothing. The right-wing story about immigrants is a calculated, cruel fantasy.

So who are the white “nationalists” hating? There are about 44 million immigrants in the United States. One-fourth are unauthorized but have lived as our neighbors in the U.S. for ten to thirty years and three-fourths are legally authorized to be here. That’s who. It’s not about legal status, and certainly not crime or terrorism, it’s about race.

(2) A huge portion of the immigrants imprisoned by the Trump Administration have legal claims as asylum seekers. The media has been calling them “migrants,” which is false. “Migrant” refers in general to someone who is fine in their country of origin but who seeks to emigrate for a better job. (Prior to the Great Recession, many employers encouraged migrants in order to get cheap labor.) And this is how Americans think of the imprisoned immigrants.

But most of them are seeking asylum. Asylum seekers are people who are being persecuted in their country of origin. They sincerely fear to return.

Based largely on the consequences of many nations (especially the U.S.) turning away Jewish refugees before the Second World War, both international law and U.S. statutes provide a legal right to seek asylum. Under U.S. law, a person has up to one year from his or her date of arrival to apply for asylum. It is a disgrace to treat asylum-seekers like criminals—they aren’t.

In fact, it is the Trump Administration that is breaking the law. Earlier this month, a federal court in Washington, D.C. declared that immigration authorities are violating their own rules by denying parole to asylum-seekers who have demonstrated a “credible fear” of returning to their countries of origin.

(3) The Trump Administration has declared war on all kinds of non-white refugees. The Conversation makes the case better than I can:

The mind boggles at the scale and speed of the rollbacks to accessing asylum, humanitarian protection and residence rights, among them:

Withdrawing “temporary protected status” protections against deportation for 200,000 Salvadoreans, plus Haitians, Sudanese and Nicaraguans, living in the United States.

Intervening to undermine asylum protections for women and others fleeing persecution at the hands of non-state individuals, including abusive spouses.

Stepping up prosecutions of unlawful entries across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Turning back asylum-seekers at ports of entry.

Hollowing out protections for children not at immediate risk of human trafficking for sexual, forced labor or other forms of exploitation.

Prosecuting parents who pay agents to bring their children to the U.S.

Prosecuting everyone who enters the U.S. without preauthorization.

The most shocking of these recent changes is perhaps the Trump administration’s order to deliberately remove children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Again, this action was enabled through expanding the uses — and moral and legal thresholds — of immigration detention.

(4) Trump surely does not hate immigrants, it’s people of color he’s targeted. This is an obvious point, albeit one never made by the mainstream media. Donald Trump does not hate immigrants, he is married to one. He also does not have a problem with immigrants who violate immigration rules—Melania broke those rules by repeatedly working in the U.S. before obtaining a work visa. And Trump does not really oppose “chain migration” because that’s how Melania’s parents are (almost certainly) legal permanent residents.

Trump’s monstrous policies are not about immigration, they’re about race.