There’s “no migrant ‘surge’ at the U.S. southern border,” a Washington Post headline declared on March 25, the report asserting there is neither “a surge” nor “a crisis.” The online version of the story was edited later so that it now concedes there’s a “surge” but that it is merely part of “a predictable pattern.”
The same week, the Associated Press sent staff a memo instructing writers and editors not to refer to what is happening on the U.S. southern border as a “crisis.”
Many casual news readers might be surprised to know the Border Patrol reported 100,441 encounters with migrants in February (this figure includes apprehensions plus crossings of migrants at legal ports of entry). Or that as of March 26, Border Patrol had encountered an average of 5,000 illegal immigrants per day over the prior 30 days. Or even that Border Patrol is likely to report 150,000 crossings for March, easily surpassing all records set during the Trump administration.
Univision, whose immigration coverage tends to be tougher and more skeptical than anything produced by the American press, regardless of which party is in power, aired a segment recently in which a human smuggler boasted that business has been booming since President Joe Biden took office.
“In all honesty,” the “coyote” told the Spanish-language network, “there are way too many people. Believe me … with the benefits your new president is now granting, the people found the courage to come.”
You would never know any of this, however, from loosely following the legacy press’s immigration coverage. This is because, unlike when Donald Trump was president, stateside media are taking a somewhat blasé approach to the issue, insisting the public should not see the Biden-era immigration debacle as a crisis, even though the numbers and conditions suggest it absolutely is.
Nothing to see here, say reporters.
“The current events in the news — a sharp increase in the arrival of unaccompanied minors — is a problem for border officials,” Associated Press Vice President and Editor-at-Large for Standards John Daniszewski cautioned staffers in that memo, “a political challenge for Biden and a dire situation for many migrants who make the journey, but it does not fit the classic dictionary definition of a crisis.”
“Therefore,” he adds, “we should avoid, or at least, be highly cautious, about referring to the present situation as a crisis on our own, although we may quote others using that language.”
If reporters are to use the word “crisis,” the memo reads, they must first ask “of what and to whom.”
“There could be a humanitarian crisis if the numbers grow so large that officials cannot house the migrants safely or in sanitary conditions,” it states. “Migrants may face humanitarian crises in their home countries. In theory, there could be a security or a border crisis if officials lose control of the border, allowing people to enter unencumbered in large numbers. But, in general, avoid hyperbole in calling anything a crisis or an emergency.”
“In theory,” what is plainly happening could happen, in other words.
In contrast to the 100,000 migrant encounters Customs and Border Protection reported for February of this year, it reported about 77,000 encounters with migrants in February 2019.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported 78,442 migrant encounters for January of this year. In contrast, the Border Patrol reported 58,317 encounters with migrants in January 2019.
Yet in January 2019, the Associated Press published a fact check that stated: “Few would argue that a humanitarian crisis is unfolding, as the demand for entry by migrants and the Trump administration’s hardline response to them are overwhelming border resources, further backlogging the asylum system and forcing migrants to live in abysmal conditions on the Mexican side of the border.”
The surge of illegal immigrants this year has likewise strained U.S. holding facilities. Maximum capacity limits have been surpassed several times over. The CBP holding facility in Donna, Texas, for example, is at 1,556% capacity, holding mostly unaccompanied minors, many of whom are sleeping on floors. Attorneys for some of these minors claim their clients have not seen the sun in several days.
What was inarguable two years ago should not even be stated now.
As for the Washington Post, which claimed this year that border surges are merely a cyclical phenomenon: The paper published a news report in early 2019, at a time when, again, there were fewer migrant encounters than recorded this year, promoted under the jarring banner, “Border crisis: Surge of families crossing shifts focus to medical, humanitarian needs.”
For the record, the Washington Post, which claimed first the current surge is not a surge, then argued later it certainly can’t be attributed to the current administration’s policies, also reported this year, “Biden’s 2020 election victory drew cheers from migrants stranded in squalid, freezing refugee camps in Mexico, and some rushed across a bridge in the border city of El Paso while chanting his name.”
Biden is not responsible for the massive influx of illegal immigrants that isn’t happening anyway. Just ignore the part where migrants themselves say they’re coming to the United States precisely because of Biden.
The Washington Post is certainly not alone in suggesting the current administration bears little, if any, responsibility for what is happening at the border. Many reporters have likewise adopted this talking point, asserting the president merely inherited a raw deal from his predecessor.
“A lot of these children are part of a problem that the Biden administration inherited from the Trump administration,” said NBC News correspondent Julia Ainsley.
MSNBC anchor Kasie Hunt likewise alleged: “Obviously, this is a problem that the Biden administration inherited from the Trump administration.”
Obviously. Don’t get too worked up over the humanitarian crisis that isn’t a crisis, but if it is a crisis, then it’s Trump’s fault.
All that said, the American press has not been uniformly dismissive. Some good questions were asked last month during Biden’s first White House press briefing. Some reporters did press him on the matter. However, unlike any number of Trump news conferences, in which reporters shouted, carried on, and engaged in heated back-and-forths with the then-president and his staff, Biden’s vague, noncommittal responses went largely unchallenged.
“Will you commit to allowing journalists to have access to [immigration detention facilities] that are overcrowded moving forward?” NBC News’s Kristen Welker asked, referring to the administration’s order denying journalists entry to immigration holding centers.
Responded Biden, “I will commit when my plan very shortly is underway to let you have access to not just them, but to other facilities as well.”
“How soon will journalists be able to have access to the facilities?” Welker persisted. “Will you commit to transparency on this issue?”
“I will commit to transparency, as soon as I am in a position to be able to implement what we’re doing right now,” Biden said, again dodging the question. “You’ll have full access to everything once we get this thing moving.”
“How soon will that be, Mr. President?” the NBC reporter asked for a second time.
Said Biden, “I don’t know, to be clear.”
And that was that. The White House press corps moved on to other issues, including gun control and climate change.
It has been like this basically everywhere in the press since Biden’s inauguration, a mostly incurious American news media unwilling to exert even a fraction of the effort and righteous anger it used in its coverage of the Trump White House.
In late 2018, months after the Trump administration had already ended the practice of child separation, CBS News’s Gayle King remarked after a tour of a detention facility in Texas, “The Statue of Liberty, I think, is weeping right now.”
Roughly three years later, with the Border Patrol on pace to set a record for migrant encounters, CBS White House correspondent Ed O’Keefe opined on-air that the U.S.’s immigration crisis, which the White House claims is not a crisis, is “distracting” the Biden administration from focusing on the supposed success of the American Rescue Plan.
Lady Liberty’s tears are now a distraction. I suppose that’s better than it being a crisis.
Becket Adams is a senior commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.