Zoom back for a minute, and consider a few recent headlines and the language New York Times reporters and editors are using to describe asylum seekers and other migrants at the southern border:
- 5/2/19 White House Asks for $4.5 Billion to Cope With Wave of Migrants at Border (print headline)
- 4/22/19 ICE Faces Migrant Detention Crunch as Border Chaos Spills Into Interior of the Country
- 4/16/19 Yuma Declares Emergency in Bid for Help Handling Surge in Migrants
Within each of these articles, loaded and potentially inflammatory terms like wave, influx, surge, crisis, etc., are used to describe the movement of people. We have three journalistic concerns with this type of language — we don’t have to remind the Times that #WordsMatter.
First, journalists, and especially headline writers, should strive to avoid inflammatory language and just report the facts.
Second, these terms are direct echoes of government and anti-immigrant extremist group language meant to imply that immigration is a form of “invasion.” The Times should not be picking up on extremist group rhetoric, even if official government sources are. By way of example, the DHS budget article quotes Russell T. Vought, the acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, labeling the situation at the border a “crisis” and talking about an “unprecedented rise in the numbers and composition of the migrant population.” This biased rhetoric is echoed in the news report.
And third, inflammatory language about contemporary immigration trends ignores historical context. Migration trends are shifting across the globe, but the number of people coming to the United States and the number of immigrant detentions along the border are nowhere near historic highs. And whatever “chaos” or “crisis” we see within immigration bureaucracies should be placed in the context of the “chaos” that the Trump Administration has intentionally sown there.
Furthermore, we ask the Times to examine the troubling, normalizing language used in many reports about armed, anti-immigrant extremists holding migrants at gunpoint near the border. By labeling their criminal activity as merely “detaining” asylum seekers, the media is giving a semi-official sheen to their criminal behavior, and even lifting them up as some kind of public servant when there is ample evidence of their anti-immigrant motivations.
- 4/18/19 Militia in New Mexico Detains Asylum Seekers at Gunpoint
Find more information on immigration reporting and updates on Define American’s #WordsMatter campaign on our website.