“These are not talking points; these are facts,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, told me in a heated interview on MSNBC on Sunday.
If only that was the case. They weren’t actually facts — not his claim that Border Patrol officers have become “babysitters,” nor his reference to an “effective open border” with Mexico.
The reality is that much of our current frenzy over immigration, and the so-called crisis at the southern border, has been driven through a series of cynical right-wing talking points, promulgated by Republican politicians and amplified by a conservative media echo chamber.
The spin they’ve spewed is based on a dangerous mix of lies, half-truths and exaggerations that have spread like wildfire through the rest of U.S. media. In the interest of correcting the record, permit me to rebut and debunk seven of the worst anti-immigration myths I’ve heard and seen in recent days.
The border has not been "taken down"
“The border has been taken down just months into Biden’s presidency. Let that sink in.” — Andrew Sullivan, conservative writer
Sorry, what? In February, U.S. Customs and Border Protection “encountered 100,441 persons attempting entry along the Southwest border,” according to the monthly statistics it released March 10 — but it also expelled 72,113 people.
Does that sound like the “border has been taken down”? Is that a border that is “open,” effectively or otherwise? The inconvenient, and unfortunate, truth is that — despite making an exception for unaccompanied children — Biden has continued former President Donald Trump’s Title 42 policy, issued at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. This policy allows CBP officers to expel migrants without allowing them to make an asylum claim in the name of public health. You would think conservatives would be cheering him on.
Also, in a recent Washington Post analysis, three academics from the University of California at San Diego looked at the data to see if there was evidence of a “surge” at the border. Here's what they found:
We analyzed monthly CBP data from 2012 to now and found no crisis or surge that can be attributed to Biden administration policies. Rather, the current increase in apprehensions fits a predictable pattern of seasonal changes in undocumented immigration combined with a backlog of demand because of 2020’s coronavirus border closure.
The terror watchlist
“They’re now finding people from Yemen, Iran, Turkey. People on the terrorist watchlist, they are catching, and they're rushing in all at once.” — House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
Republicans continue to promote the tired trope that the southern border is a gateway not only for gangs and cartels — but for jihadis, too. Following McCarthy’s racist demagoguery on a recent visit to the border, Fox News reported a congressional source had confirmed “four foreign nationals, whose names match those on the terror watch list, have been stopped trying to enter the U.S. via the southern border since October." Axios also reported it.
First, who was president for the first three of the five months since October? Was it Joe Biden? (It was not.) Second, the fact that migrants have names that “match those on the terror watch list” is meaningless. The watchlist contains more than a million names — how many Muhammads or Mohameds? — and is prone to error. Finally, how many Americans have actually been killed or injured by a terrorist who illegally crossed into the United States via the southern border? Zero. Zilch. Nada.
The "Remain in Mexico" solution
“The solution was Remain in Mexico and Asylum Cooperation Agreements with the northern triangle countries.” — Crenshaw
Crenshaw claimed Trump’s policies to keep potential asylum-seekers from reaching U.S. soil had solved America’s issues at the border in a tweet. He said it on Fox News. He said it to me on MSNBC. But it’s not true. The numbers don’t lie.
While needlessly putting asylum-seekers in harm's way, according to CBP figures the policies did little to prevent people from attempting to cross the border. In December, only 1,092 people, or 1.5 percent, of the 74,018 people encountered at the border were sent back to Mexico under Trump’s Remain in Mexico policy. In fact, American Immigration Council’s Aaron Reichlin-Melnick told me on Monday that of the 1.5 million encounters at the border while "Remain in Mexico" was in place, between January 2019 and January 2021, only around 70,000 migrants ended up in the program — and only a tiny fraction of them obtained asylum.
As for the Asylum Cooperative Agreements Crenshaw touted, “only one actually went into place with Guatemala,” Reichlin-Melnick said, and “not a single person has been granted asylum in Guatemala,” while “the agreements with Honduras and El Salvador never went into place.”
“The solution”? Not so much.
Migrants are not "importing Covid"
“The Biden administration must stop importing Covid into our country.” — Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott
Accusing immigrants of bringing disease into the country has a long, sordid and dangerous history. As the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum noted, “A recurrent theme in Nazi antisemitic propaganda was that Jews spread diseases.”
It also happens to be totally inaccurate. "There's testing happening," Robert Fenton, the acting Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, told Congress in a recent hearing. “What we're seeing is less than 6 percent positive right now, coming across the border.”
That, as The New York Times reported over the weekend, is “a lower positivity rate than currently in Texas (9 percent).”
Asylum claims are not "bogus"
“Most of these asylum claims are, let’s be honest, totally bogus.” — Crenshaw
Yes, the vast majority of asylum claims are rejected, year after year, but that does not make them “bogus.” When Crenshaw made this claim in 2019, PolitiFact rated it as "false," explaining that “just because a case is denied does not mean an individual does not have a valid claim (cases can be denied for procedural reasons unrelated to the merits of a claim).” It added that “asylum cases can be closed or dismissed for many reasons, none of which invalidate an individual’s claim.”
Crenshaw also ignores the myriad ways in which the Trump administration made it much more difficult to qualify for asylum in the United States: from Attorney General Jeff Sessions removing protections for victims of gang violence and domestic abuse to his successor, William Barr, refusing to grant asylum to people if they are targeted for persecution based on a member of their family.
Biden is not spending millions on hotel rooms for migrants
“Biden is spending $86,000,000 to purchase hotel rooms for 1,200 illegal alien families for six months. By that math, he’s spending around $395 a night per room.” — Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo.
The congresswoman from QAnon should maybe stick to guns over math. According to an official statement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency “signed a short-term contract with the non-profit division of Endeavors to provide temporary shelter and processing services for families who have not been expelled. … The $86.9 million contract provides 1,239 beds and other necessary services.”
Got that? There is no mention of “hotel rooms,” only of beds. There is also an explicit reference to the contract covering “other necessary services.” So dividing $86 million by 1,200 serves no purpose whatsoever — other than xenophobic fear-mongering.
(Also: Boebert is apparently unaware that the Trump administration paid millions to a private security company that used, as The New York Times reported, “major hotel chains to detain children and families taken into custody at the border” — a plan that a federal judge nixed last September.)
Biden does not believe in "open borders"
“President Biden believes in open borders.” — Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.
This is a straight-up lie. There is zero evidence for such a fantastical claim. Biden was vice president in an Obama administration that was (rightly) criticized from the left for deporting more migrants than any other administration in U.S. history.
As a candidate in 2019, Biden criticized his Democratic rivals during a televised debate for supporting the decriminalization of border crossings:
“If you say you can just cross the border, what do you say to all of those people around the world who want the same thing. ... The fact of the matter is ... if you cross the border illegally, you should be able to be sent back. It’s a crime.”
Since assuming office, he told ABC News, “I can say quite clearly don't come over. ... Don't leave your town or city or community.”
Does this sound like an “open borders” president? If only.
To conclude: It is our job as journalists to not succumb to hysteria and demagoguery, to provide facts, nuance, context and more — especially on an issue as charged as immigration. This is not some abstract argument or political game. People’s lives are literally at stake.