The illegal-immigration issue has always been one fraught with politicking. We always hear the same refrain from both sides: that people are suffering and living in the shadows; that we must find a solution for them as well as a way to solidify our border security. And yet nothing ever gets done.
The impression of some in the press seems to be that nothing gets done because of a lack of public pressure. If only they could somehow jar American sensibilities into solving this problem once and for all!
Certainly, that’s the motivation that lies behind the sudden media enthusiasm for covering the phenomenon of Immigration and Customs Enforcement separating children from their illegal-immigrant parents at the border. For the last week, the attention has been nearly wall-to-wall — and the moral preening has hit an all-time apex. MSNBC is now analyzing Biblical verses while asking, “What Would Jesus Do?” (Does this mean Trump has finally won the War on Christmas?) Chuck Todd of NBC News is accusing Republicans of holding kids “hostage.” Media members are breaking land-speed records to rush down to the border in order to shout their outrage over the holding pens in which the authorities are holding small children.
Presumably, all of this is designed to effectuate change.
Instead, it achieves precisely the opposite.
That’s because the media coverage of the illegal-immigration issue has always been shot through with emotionally manipulative falsehoods. In this case, that manipulation has been particularly extreme.
We’ve heard that the Trump administration has heartlessly sought to rip toddlers from the arms of their weeping mothers in order to punish illegal-immigrant parents who are merely seeking asylum. But the truth is more complex: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that even accompanied immigrant minors must be released from custody within 20 days. That means that if their parents do not arrive at a point of entry to claim asylum, and instead violate the law by crossing the border illegally, they will be arrested — and their children must then be separated from them by the working of the law. The only possible solution, without a change to the law itself, would involve releasing illegal-immigrant parents along with their children into the general population.
We’ve also heard about the terrible living conditions in the holding centers for these children. Likely, some of that is true — although the stories from various sources conflict. But those facilities were overburdened for years before Trump took office; in fact, the media covered these same facilities and pointed out the problems therein during the Obama administration. In other words, this isn’t a Trumpian attempt to dump kids in hellholes. It’s a longtime problem that has yet to be solved.
In reality, all of this could be solved with simple legislation. The House of Representatives is actually set to take up the issue of family separation in both versions of the immigration bill being presented in the House. But Democrats probably won’t sign on to either bill — and it’s unlikely they’d even sign onto an independent piece of legislation designed to allow children to stay with their illegal-immigrant parents until their cases can be adjudicated. That’s because thanks to biased media coverage — and, in some cases, outright falsehoods — Democrats are winning the public-relations war. The longer the Democrats prevent a solution from arising, the more they gain in the public-opinion polls. So they have little incentive to come to the table around an immigration solution — their better political option remains to wait Trump out and let the press inflict damage on him. There’s a reason every Republican attempt at immigration reform has stalled out over the past two decades — and there’s a reason Democrats have celebrated every time they have. There’s also a reason that Democrats with unified control of the presidency and Congress attempted no serious immigration reform. Better to let the problem fester for political gain than to attempt to solve it.
If the media truly wished to contribute to a solution, all they’d have to do is cover the issue honestly. Yes, Trump is enforcing the laws against crossing the border illegally more harshly than the Obama administration did. But he didn’t create the separation policy. Yes, Trump has spoken with great passion in favor of stronger border controls. But he’s also offered a bigger amnesty for so-called DREAMers than even Barack Obama did.
Instead of using truth as a guide, however, the press continue to suggest that base animus animates conservative feelings on immigration. This leads to a political prisoner’s dilemma in which everyone’s best option is stasis: Republicans are best off doing nothing, since they’ll earn nothing but scorn for any action they take from the press anyway, as well as the undying enmity of many in their base; Democrats are best off doing nothing, since they can count on the press to clock Republicans for any immigration failures. The only ones who lose out are the American people.