Just weeks before the midterm elections in the United States, anti-immigrant hate groups and the Trump administration are begging American media to take note of a seasonal caravan of peaceful families from Central America. These families are fleeing violence and lack of economic opportunity and hoping to raise awareness about the conditions in their nations of origin.
In 2013, Define American led a successful effort to get the Associated Press to change its style guide. Since then, dozens of news organizations and hundreds of journalists have taken our #WordsMatter pledge, agreeing not to use dehumanizing and factually incorrect language when referring to or writing about immigrants.
Similarly, Define American strongly encourages all news organizations choosing to cover this issue to understand the facts and to avoid use of overly politicized, sensational, xenophobic language when referring to those attempting to walk towards our southern border.
Media should equally be aware of the sources that they are quoting and receiving information from, as some anti-immigrant hate groups are using this to intentionally promulgate misinformation.
How a Toxic Narrative Spreads
Even news organizations that strive to be fair and unbiased can fall into the trap of succumbing to a dominant political storyline, or master narrative. President Trump and the known hate-group FAIR both framed a group of mothers and children traveling to the US to apply for asylum as a “migrant caravan.”
In the example below, inflammatory thought-leaders like Lou Dobbs picked up the narrative and escalated the journey into a “march.” Then, arguably one of our most trusted sources for news in the US, the Associated Press, further heightened the language to an “army.”
*After a public outcry, the AP replaced the above tweet.
- Despite articles sensationalizing “record migration,” net migration to the US is on the decline and has been since 2005. More people are moving from the US to Mexico than are immigrating from Mexico to the U.S., and we are nowhere close to record numbers.
- Humanitarian groups have been organizing similar caravans since 2010. Like caravans before, they’re fleeing horrible violence and trying to go through the legal application process for asylum.
- Despite some suggesting that it’s unprecedented, the migrant caravan from Central America is nothing new. In order to sow greater division, discord, and distrust President Trump and many anti-immigrant hate groups are incorrectly suggesting that the caravan was somehow a ploy by left-leaning groups.
- To sow additional and unfounded fear, anti-immigrant hate groups like the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) are pushing a false narrative that not all families participating in the walk are from Central America. President Trump is providing no evidence of this, but it is clear where he is getting his information.
- This tactic is nothing new. In spring 2018, President Trump tied the issue of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to the caravan, demanding that governors send National Guard troops over Easter weekend to the border. At that time John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio tweeted: “A true leader preserves & offers hope, doesn’t take hope from innocent children who call America home. Remember, today is #Easter Sunday.”
About Define American
Define American is the nation’s leading nonprofit media organization that that uses the power of story to transcend politics and shift the conversation about immigrants, identity, and citizenship in a changing America. It was founded in 2011 by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Emmy-nominated filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas. For more information, visit defineamerican.com.