Writer Julia Hahn drives immigration coverage on Breitbart — an ultra-conservative site that helped shape the Trump campaign’s policies and messaging on immigration. Unlike most immigration reporters, Breitbart doesn’t approach the beat through the lens of domestic policy so much as through the lens of crime — painting a bleak and downright scary (and often untrue) picture of immigrants.
Hahn is expected to take a job in the White House under top Trump adviser Stephen Bannon, a former Breitbart executive who is now a chief strategist in the White House. Hahn’s writings suggest she holds the hard-line immigration views Trump pushed on the trail, with a twist. Much of her work argues that the Republican establishment allows a culture of immigrant lawlessness to flourish.
A review of Hahn’s coverage from the past three months shows she has been instrumental in building the anti-immigration narrative on Breitbart, as well as fueling the longstanding divide between Trump’s Republicanism and the party’s establishment faction, with some pretty scathing headlines about House Leader Paul Ryan and the GOP-majority Congress.
While the relationship between Ryan and Trump seems to have largely thawed during the transition, Hahn’s hire suggests that the White House is going to try to keep Republicans in line with the Trump vision for American immigration.
Hahn adds a partisan twist to Breitbart’s immigrants-are-criminals narrative
For Breitbart, immigration is told through a lens of crime. It’s a brand of coverage more reminiscent of a police blotter: cases of vandalism, rape, theft, and terrorism involving an immigrant from [insert Hispanic, Middle Eastern, or African nation here].
In other words, immigrants pose an imminent threat to the safety of American society, regardless of the fact that immigrants are statistically less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans.
Hahn’s coverage adds an important nuance. She blames establishment Republicans — especially Paul Ryan — for allowing this to happen. Here are some of her stories from the past few months:
- In December, she penned “Speaker Paul Ryan goes silent as Refugee program claims victims at Ohio,” censuring the House leader for not publicly questioning the immigration system after a Somali refugee went on a stabbing spree on Ohio State University’s campus. Trump, on the other hand, “was quick to address the attack and the federal immigration policy responsible for the refugee’s presence in the country. Trump tweeted that the Somali refugee behind the attack ‘should not have been in our country,’” Hahn wrote.
- In another piece on the subject, Hahn highlighted Republican involvement in immigration again with “GOP-led Congress oversees large-scale importation of Somali migrants.”
- Just prior to House Leadership elections, Hahn published “GOP Rep: Paul Ryan’s immigration policy not ‘in best interest of America,’” which chastised Ryan’s “expansionist immigration agenda.”
- During the election cycle, she wrote “Tim Kaine Cheers End of White Majority in Spanish Address,” attributing Democrats’ pro-immigration stance to their desire to be in power (repeating the notion that immigrant communities vote Democrat), but not without comparing Kaine and Ryan’s positions on immigration:
Interestingly, while the importation of Democrat-leaning voters diminishes the electoral impact of conservative voters, it is, ironically, Republican officials who have led the push to resettle even larger numbers of immigrants inside the country. Just last month, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan rejected Donald Trump’s call to enact immigration controls so that “immigration levels, measured by population share, [remain] within historical norms.” Ryan, who shares Clinton’s desire for open borders, stands opposed on this issue to nine in ten of his Republican constituents.
- Hahn repeated the comparison with an article headlined “Under Hillary Clinton Presidency, U.S. Muslim population would exceed France’s by 2024,” which stoked fear about Muslim immigration and paired Ryan and Clinton together:
Neither Ryan nor Clinton have explained how importing hundreds of thousands of migrants that come from nations which may hold sentiments that are anti-women, anti-gay, anti-religious tolerance, and anti-America, benefits the United States or helps to protect our Western liberal values.
Many have warned if the U.S. continues at its current record pace of Muslim migration—or if pro-Islamic migration politicians, such as Ryan and Clinton, further increase Muslim migration—the U.S. risks following in Europe’s footsteps.
- In October, she wrote “Paul Ryan Rejects Trump’s Call For Immigration Controls: We Need Foreign Workers To Milk Wisconsin Cows,” turning Ryan’s calls for a visa system that meets American’s economic needs against him.
Most recently, she also penned numerous articles propping up Sen. Jeff Sessions, a hard-liner on immigration issues, for attorney general, and one criticizing Trump’s pick for labor secretary for being pro-foreign labor.
Hahn’s stories are core to Breitbart’s simple and direct narrative: Immigrants disrupt the natural order of a safe and quiet American lifestyle, and threaten the Christian American identity. But they also frame the friction with the Republican Party, making her hire a clear message to the Republican Trump skeptics in Congress.
“This is obviously a provocative act and clearly an intentional act,” Peter Wehner, a longtime Ryan friend who served in three Republican administrations, told the Washington Post. “Bannon is willing to napalm the bridges with congressional Republicans.”
This signals the Trump administration’s dedication to the national identity of white Americans
Between Trump and Breitbart’s worldview, immigration was not discussed as a policy issue during the campaign; it was about the fear of losing a white national identity.
As my colleagues Dara Lind and Matt Yglesias explained during the campaign season, immigration as presented by Trump and Breitbart is not about the "specific contours of visa programs"; it was about identity politics:
The issue is American identity and American security with threats to the former defined as threats to the latter. Trump’s campaign has proven the potency of this brand of politics in a way that more conventional, more professional politicians have already noticed — see the mainstreaming of anti-refugee politics even while the GOP primary was under way — and will continue to remember in a post-Trump party. The campaign has also served to push the most immigration-sympathetic Republicans out of the party while pulling the most immigration-skeptical Democrats and independents into it with a lasting impact on the balance of power inside both parties.
The underlying demographics of the United States are changing in profound ways, and those changes don’t sit well with everybody. For years, those changes were widely discussed in the media but not addressed by the political system. Trump, for better or worse, has articulated fears that research shows have long been present, and it’s worked for him. He may go away, but his key issue won’t.
Framing immigration as an us-against-them debate worked well for Trump, and has developed a readership for Breitbart for even longer. Hahn would be joining the White House from an organization that has actively fueled the sentiments behind Trump’s rise long since before Trump was even considered a viable candidate to lead the Republican Party.
Trump may not have pushed immigration reform on his first day of signing policy-related executive orders, but he has surrounded himself with individuals, from Sessions, Bannon, and Conway to now Hahn, who are strong immigration skeptics.
It’s a signal that what was once angry rhetoric from the campaign could shape policy orders from the executive branch — with a team that isn’t afraid to call out the Republican establishment.