Bordering on Untruth? The Media and Mexican Asylum Claims

Published On: Donate

Mexico border 300Some really interesting coverage of the Mexican asylum news story has been coming across my desk.

Below are a few pieces that balance out the substandard reporting by some media outlets. Let’s hope there’s a Pulitzer waiting for the reporter who sorts out the rumors from the facts.

Until then, there’s “Asylum and the Border: Setting the Record Straight,” from Eleanor Acer at Human Rights First’s Refugee Protection Program. She begins her piece as follows:

Over the last few days, several news outlets have produced pieces relating to protection requests at the border that reflect—and sow—confusion about the complex expedited removal system and the asylum process.  Some fact-checking is in order.

A few  pieces claimed that  200 people attempted to enter into the United States from Mexico on a single day last week claiming a “credible fear” of “the drug cartels,”  and mislabeled the expedited removal law’s credible fear process as a “loophole” in our immigration system, implying, wrongly, that it is some kind of unfettered avenue that allows anyone to cross our borders for no compelling reason.  In fact, it is a limited but crucial safeguard designed to ensure that the United States does not summarily deport an individual fleeing from persecution without first assessing their protection request.

Some reports also confuse the passing of a “credible fear” screening interview with an actual grant of asylum, and that initial screening process with the overall immigration removal process.  One report speculated that the surge in protection requests appeared to have been spurred by the “Dream 9,” a group of young people who sought to protest the deportations conducted by the Obama Administration by entering the U.S. detention and deportation system at the border.  Several news reports, including a  FoxNews.com piece, mistakenly reported that these young people were actually granted asylum.  They were not.

Next we have Mary Giovagnoli’s “Fear Mongering via Mexican Asylum Cases,” which she wrote for Immigration Impact. Here’s her crisp opening:

Here’s how an immigration rumor gets started. Take one local Fox news station, mix in a bunch of undisclosed sources complaining about asylum seekers at the Otay border crossing, add in some inflammatory comments from the chairman of the board of the Center for Immigration Studies, and just wait for the story to get blown up and out of proportion by anti-immigrant-fed media sources. For added zest, make sure the story airs shortly after a highly publicized event, like the detention and release of the DREAM9 at the Mexican border, which can be easily mixed up and conflated into some kind of threat to the country’s integrity and security.

This is what happened over the last week with a claim that Mexican nationals were shutting down the Otay border crossing by demanding asylum based on a fear of persecution from drug cartels. Within days, the unsubstantiated and unconfirmed rumors were picked up by various media outlets and ultimately twisted into a declaration from Kris Kobach that immigration reform advocates sought to use the asylum system to force the country to accept the return of 1.7 million people removed from the U.S. to Mexico. Kobach linked the release of the DREAM9—a group of DREAMers who left and then attempted to re-enter the U.S, were detained, and later released pending asylum hearings—into the other rumors, alleging that the DREAM9 were the model for hundreds, if not thousands of copycat claims.

Finally, some of the brighter stars in the media constellation are shedding some light, including Ted Hesson at ABC. In his piece “Fact Check: Do Mexicans Have a Blank Check for Asylum Claims?” he sums up reasons to be skeptical of the claims about this case. Here’s part of what he has to say:

1. Thin sourcing.

The Fox story cites an anonymous source, only saying that it’s “a person who did not want to be identified on camera.” It’s not clear whether the source is a Border Patrol agent or not.

A second source on the story, Pete Nunez, is described as “a former U.S. Attorney and immigration expert.”

Nunez also happens to be the chairman of the board of director for the Center for Immigration Studies, a group whose mission is to reduce both legal and illegal immigration to the U.S.

Fox doesn’t mention that.

2. Hardly anyone gets asylum.

In 2011, asylees only made up 5 percent of the people who received green cards and only 25,000 people were granted asylum. That’s a small fraction of the larger pool of legal immigrants who enter the country each year.

About half of the people granted asylum were from China, Egypt, Ethiopia and Venezuela. In recent years, they’ve been the top beneficiary countries.

On the other hand, only a tiny number of Mexicans are typically granted asylum. While 6,100 Mexicans applied in 2011, only 294 were actually approved.

3. Cartel violence doesn’t guarantee asylum.

If the Fox story is true, and hundreds of people entered the country by claiming that they had “credible fear” of cartels, it wouldn’t necessarily be surprising.

The drug war in Mexico has led to an estimated 60,000 deaths from 2006 to 2012. Some towns feel so helpless against cartels that they’ve actually taken up arms in self-defense.

And the term “credible fear” is used to seek asylum. A few weeks ago, a group of activists crossed from Mexico to the U.S. and were granted an asylum hearing based on the idea that they had a credible fear of harm or death if they returned to Mexico.

But being granted a hearing is one thing. Actually receiving asylum is much more difficult, especially from Mexico.

We’re still waiting on the number of recent asylum claims from the Department of Homeland Security, which would clear up whether anything out of the ordinary is happening. But there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of this report, if not because of the facts, then because of the message.

I’m grateful that these folks are looking deeper than the misleading information that’s been put out about this. Please check out our splashy new infographic to bust more myths.

Image credit: Tomas Castelazo

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