That Crisis at the Border? Unethical Reporting

This weekend, it was unsurprising to find yet another story from a mainstream media outlet – this time, the Washington Post – declaring a “crisis” at our southern border.

By Alex Yellin

This weekend, it was unsurprising to find yet another story from a mainstream media outlet – this time, the Washington Post – declaring a “crisis” at our southern border.

For weeks, otherwise reputable outlets like The New York Times and Axios have appeared to be in a disturbing competition to be the first to decisively demonstrate that the Biden administration’s rollback of cruel and illegal Trump-era immigration policies is a disaster of mammoth proportions.

This type of misguided, misleading reporting is old news to those who have tracked issues of American immigration over the last two decades. Despite consistent polling showing that the majority of Americans support rebuilding America’s refugee program, some immigration reporters continue to operate under (at least) two deluded assumptions:

First, migration is bad; and second, undoing the inhumane policies designed by former President Trump and Stephen Miller to inflict the greatest suffering possible on those seeking U.S. protection will drive people en masse to our shores.

On that first delusion: migration is not a bad thing. My grandparents and great-grandparents came here as immigrants, and mine is not a unique story. For Americans reading this, it’s far more likely than not that your ancestors came to the U.S. as immigrants or refugees as well.

Immigrants and refugees are part of what make our nation great. The U.S. has long been a beacon of hope, safety, and freedom for people all around the world.

Second, the idea that humane immigration policies draw hordes of people here. The prospect that people making the decision to flee for their lives are basing that decision on changes in U.S. immigration policy is both woefully self-centered and laughably wrong-headed.

When a family decides to uproot themselves to seek protection in the United States, they are doing so because their lives depend on it. They’re fleeing torture, rape, forced conscription, and other horrors. They are coming to the U.S. to seek safe haven because, despite the Trump administration’s best efforts, that is still what America represents to persecuted people around the world.

The Washington Post’s recent reporting has been particularly disturbing because it featured white supremacist, xenophobe, and former Trump adviser Stephen Miller in the service of misguided both-sidism. Framing Stephen Miller as an ideological counterpoint to human rights advocates is a gross misstep.

A mainstream news outlet providing a platform to a known racist whose explicit goal is to keep America white may no longer be news, but it’s still wrong. Miller designed the family separation policy that today leaves hundreds of children orphaned. His record is one of hatred and cruelty; his opinions on immigration reflect that, and should be valued by absolutely no one.

Equally stunning, his views on immigration are explored only around how he hopes they will play in the 2022 midterm elections; he simply cannot grasp – or willfully ignores — the fact that migrants are people seeking protection in the U.S. from real dangers and disasters.

There is room in the policy conversation for a discussion of how we can bring refugees safely into the United States. But there is no room to discuss whether they should be allowed entry at all. America has not only legal and treaty obligations, but a moral obligation, to protect refugees fleeing unimaginable violence.

Still, many journalists do understand how to report on the U.S. border in a way that is both informative and unexaggerated. MSNBC’s Jacob Soboroff, for example, has reliably reported on the growing number of refugees and asylum seekers unable to enter the United States under the Biden administration’s immigration policies. Soboroff and others like him offer a model for ethical immigration reporting that journalists like Nick Miroff could learn from.

Notwithstanding that drama sells papers, and no matter what Stephen Miller says, every human life has value. Otherwise trusted and reputable outlets like the Washington Post would do well to remember that.


Published on March 22, 2021


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