The Trump administration has effectively made it US policy to separate some immigrant families seeking asylum at the US border. It is jailing parents for illegal entry — and because the children can’t follow them to jail, they are separated and sent to either foster care or federal detention centers where they are held in cages.
This policy has been met with outrage from Democrats and even prominent Republicans. All four living former first ladies and Pope Francis have condemned family separation. It’s a wildly unpopular policy; between one-third and nearly half of Republicans oppose it, depending on how you ask the question.
When the policy does get attention, it has often been framed with the decidedly pro-Trump bent that this entire saga is Democrats’ fault.
This rhetoric mimics that of President Trump, who has tweeted that it’s the Democrats who are responsible for a policy he has put in place:
The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda. Any Immigration Bill MUST HAVE full funding for the Wall, end Catch & Release, Visa Lottery and Chain, and go to Merit Based Immigration. Go for it! WIN!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2018
In short, Trump has again created chaos — and blamed it on Democrats.
And once again, Fox News is reinforcing his stories.
This goes back to an old right-wing playbook
For Trump and Fox News, every immigration problem is something caused by Democrats.
Fox News host Sean Hannity said on Monday, “In fact, the Obama administration, not the Trump administration — they’re the ones who actually started the policy of detaining minors younger than 18 for months.” Hannity tried to paint family separation as a continuation of an Obama-era tactic, which is false.
To be sure, Democrats are not blameless. President Obama did deport more people than any president before him and was lambasted by the left for it. And 1996 immigration reform, signed by President Clinton, helped create many of our immigration problems by making more people deportable while also making it hard for people to get legal status.
But during Trump’s presidency, Fox News has framed all immigration problems as something Democrats caused and refuse to fix. This includes the Muslim ban, shutting down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and now family separation.
In fact, even before Trump was elected, Fox News host Tucker Carlson appeared on Fox & Friends in September 2016 to say that Democrats were “pushing through immigrants” to citizenship because the party wanted to get them to vote against Trump.
Let’s step back and take stock of the absurdity here: The White House could end family separation whenever it wants to, and Congress is controlled by Republicans. But the story on Fox News is that Democrats have created this family separation problem, and that’s why Trump and congressional Republicans can’t fix it.
Fox News is playing defense for Trump
The Trump administration has given several explanations for why it has implemented this policy.
One of the biggest gaffes in this effort was from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who quoted the Bible in reasoning why the administration needs to separate families. Trump won 81 percent of white born-again and evangelical Christian voters in 2016, but this didn’t sit well with Sessions’s own church:
Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.
Fox News, however, shielded its viewers from this story.
We are again seeing an alternate reality on Fox News that protects Trump.
To demonstrate why Fox News’s alternate reality matters so much, we can look to two polls that framed family separation slightly differently.
In one Ipsos poll, Americans were asked about family separation but not given the framing the Trump administration is using to justify their actions. The poll just asked whether it’s okay to separate parents from children to “discourage others” from crossing the border illegally. Only about 46 percent of Republicans agreed, while 33 percent disagreed.
But in another poll by Quinnipiac, respondents were given the Trump administration’s rationale, which hints that migrants were using asylum as an excuse to enter the country illegally:
As you may know, some families seeking asylum from their home country cross the U.S. border illegally and then request asylum. In an attempt to discourage this, the Trump administration has been prosecuting the parents immediately, which means separating parents from their children. Do you support or oppose this policy?
About 55 percent of Republicans said they agreed with the policy.
With that power, the network is trying to convince its audience that an unpopular Trump policy — one he could singlehandedly reverse, and one his party could fix — is actually the fault of the opposing political party.