It was the kind of story destined to take a dark turn through the conservative news media and grab President Trump’s attention: A vast horde of migrants was making its way through Mexico toward the United States, and no one was stopping them.
“Mysterious group deploys ‘caravan’ of illegal aliens headed for U.S. border,” warned Frontpage Mag, a site run by David Horowitz, a conservative commentator.
The Gateway Pundit, a website that was most recently in the news for spreading conspiracies about the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., suggested the real reason the migrants were trying to enter the United States was to collect social welfare benefits.
And as the president often does when immigration is at issue, he saw a reason for Americans to be afraid. “Getting more dangerous. ‘Caravans’ coming,” a Twitter post from Mr. Trump read.
The story of “the caravan” followed an arc similar to many events — whether real, embellished or entirely imagined — involving refugees and migrants that have roused intense suspicion and outrage on the right. The coverage tends to play on the fears that hiding among mass groups of immigrants are many criminals, vectors of disease and agents of terror. And often the president, who announced his candidacy by blaming Mexico for sending rapists and drug dealers into the United States, acts as an accelerant to the hysteria.
The sensationalization of this story and others like it seems to serve a common purpose for Mr. Trump and other immigration hard-liners: to highlight the twin dangers of freely roving migrants — especially those from Muslim countries — and lax immigration laws that grant them easy entry into Western nations.
The narrative on the right this week, for example, mostly omitted that many people in the caravan planned to resettle in Mexico, not the United States. And it ignored how many of those who did intend to come here would probably go through the legal process of requesting asylum at a border checkpoint — something miles of new wall and battalions of additional border patrol would not have stopped.
The coverage became so distorted that it prompted a reporter for Breitbart News who covers border migration, Brandon Darby, to push back. “I’m seeing a lot of right media cover this as ‘people coming illegally’ or as ‘illegal aliens.’ That is incorrect,” he wrote on Twitter. “They are coming to a port of entry and requesting refugee status. That is legal.”
In an interview, Mr. Darby said it was regrettable that the relatively routine occurrence of migrant caravans — which organizers rely on as a safety-in-numbers precaution against the violence that can happen along the trek — was being politicized. “The caravan isn’t something that’s a unique event,” he said. “And I think people are looking at it wrong. If you’re upset at the situation, it’s easier to be mad at the migrant than it is to be mad at the political leaders on both sides who won’t change the laws.”
As tends to be the case in these stories, the humanitarian aspects get glossed over as migrants are collapsed into one maligned category: hostile foreign invaders.
(Excerpted from New York Times 4/4/18)