Before I start, a word: there are outlets that present a fuller picture when it comes to the root causes of current immigration issues, and those outlets that hide behind “journalism” to feed into your fears. It is a digital media game all too common now, because in the end, like Natalie Merchant once sang, “Give them what they want.”
Such is the case with Breitbart Texas (BT), an outlet proudly getting juicy insider information about unaccompanied minors from Central America and repacking it as “breaking news.” The outlet’s managing director tells us,”God bless the men and women of Border Patrol,” so it should be no surprise that BT has become the amplifier of frustrated Border Patrol agents—the same agents whose union runs a Twitter account like a 17-year-old racist.
This week, BT’s latest “shocker” was a detailed report developed by the DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) which, according to BT’s lede paragraph, “reveals that homicide rates in Central America suggest violence is likely not the primary cause of the surge of thousands of unaccompanied minors and incomplete family units illegally entering the United States.”
Now, before digging deeper into this, let’s step back for a minute and point out the language BT is using: “is likely not the primary cause.” That’s like saying that cheese “is likely not the primary cause” for New York pizza.
A history of violence does indeed play a role in all this, and the very same report BT is pushing says so.
A minor detail.
But, you know, a “leaked” EPIC document mentioned “230 total migrants” and that “219 cited the primary reason for migrating to the United States was the perception of U.S. immigration laws granting free passes or permisos” to “OTMs” (Other Than Mexicans), and that “migrants indicated that knowledge of permisos was widespread across Central America due to word of mouth, local and international media messaging—prompting many to depart for the United States within 30 days of becoming aware of these perceived benefits.”
Then there is this right after that text. (Note how we go from “219” to “a large number” and then to just “migrants”):
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) also notes that a large number of migrants interviewed claimed family members in the United States encouraged their travel because the U.S. government would cease issuing permisos after June 2014. Migrants cited Univision, Primer Impacto, Al Rojo Vivo and several Honduran television news outlets for helping shape their perception of U.S. immigration policy.
Yes! Blame Spanish-language TV because you know this is all about “open borders” from the “amnesty lovers” and the end of the United States, right?
In the game to pound us all with one simplistic post-modern Know-Nothing narrative, a lot of key details in the original BT story were overlooked. Details the EPIC report includes, but the original BT story ignores. In the very same report:
EPIC lacks robust law enforcement reporting on alien smuggling networks, drug trafficking organizations, and transnational criminal organizations involvement in UAC and accompanied minor smuggling operations.
EPIC lacks detailed insights into factors contributing to the sudden and significant decline in adult OTM apprehensions for Guatemalan and El Salvadoran migrants in mid-2013 and the continued increase in Honduran OTM and UAC numbers.
EPIC lacks detailed reporting on the extent Central American media outlets have reportedly misrepresented U.S. immigration policies, contributing to the UAC surge.
So on the first page of the report, EPIC states one thing with vague assurances (which BT reports as FACT) and then fully admits later that it lacks intelligence gaps at the end of the report? Which one is it?
“Give them what they want.”
While BT gives your charts about a drop in homicide rates in Central America, bring up the issue that there is no real correlation any more between murders and migrants leaving, the EPIC reports states the following: “UNODC has consistently ranked Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador among the world’s most violent countries for the last several decades.”
“Give them what they want.”
Wait, there’s more:
EPIC assesses that family reunification, rampant gang violence, and poor economic conditions remain traditional migration drivers for Central Americans en route to the United States, based on academic studies and migrant interviews.
Studies and multiple interviews of migrants conducted by the UNHCR in 2013 and US Border Patrol in 2014, noted hopes of reunification with family present in the United States as a principal reason for UAC migration.
In May 2013, UNHCR conducted interviews on 302 unaccompanied minors from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Of the aggregate, 43% indicated violence from gangs or organized crime as a factor for leaving their home country; 22% indicated abuse at home as a factor; while 44% did not cite fear of serious harm as a deciding factor for leaving. Individual country results, however, do indicate societal violence is a predominate factor affecting UAC from El Salvador.
U.S. Border Patrol Officials in Rio Grande Valley Sector interviewed 195 Central American migrants in February 2014; responses indicated that economic conditions, such as inability to secure employment and insufficient wages, were significant migration drivers to the United States.
Typical: say one thing (it’s only about rumors of permisos) but then follow up with other conclusions.
And what about the fact that Spanish-language TV in the US is a main driver for publicizing the permiso rumors? How does the EPIC report cover that after stating on the first page that a non-specific number of migrants got their information from Univision and Telemundo?
There is no other visible mention of these networks or their shows in the report after being mentioned JUST ONCE.
The report, however, states this:
EPIC judges that alien smuggling organizations and individual smugglers are likely responsible for perpetuating rumors encouraging the Central American migration surge to increase their financial gain. Honduran and Guatemalan immigration officials attribute the UAC surge to alien smugglers, or coyotes, preying on mothers and children by motivating them with false U.S. amnesty or asylum rumors, according to Costa Rican press reporting.
Do you see any mention of Univision and Telemundo there? So why mention it at the beginning of the report, and why did BT choose to emphasize that one detail that never gets visibly mentioned in the rest of the report?
“Give them what they want.”
Also, does EPIC not Google “Central + American + newspapers?” Guess not, because the following July 14 article from an actual Central American newspaper provides a more accurate picture than what the EPIC report says, that “Honduran and El Salvadoran press have reportedly advertised the DACA policy, accommodations for detained UAC and the promise of reunification with family members in the United States.”
El éxito de estos esfuerzos depende de si la gente en las calles más miserables de ciudades como San Pedro juzga que el viaje hacia el norte es inútil o no. Los primeros indicios de los migrantes y activistas comunitarios de esta ciudad —una de las más plagadas de crimen en el mundo— sugieren que los esfuerzos se quedarán cortos.
“Lo pensaremos durante dos o tres meses y después probablemente lo intentaremos de nuevo”, afirmó recientemente Edras Pineda, un joven de 17 años, mientras otros adolescentes deportados asentían en un centro de recepción del gobierno en esta ciudad. “Uno estudia y estudia y no hay trabajo”.
El trato poco severo a menores no acompañados, estipulado por una ley estadounidense de 2008, alimentó rumores este año —propagados tanto por vecinos chismosos como traficantes en busca de clientes— de que los menores de edad que viajan solos o con un adulto pueden de alguna manera obtener un permiso para permanecer en EE.UU.
En realidad, esos permisos no existen. Pero como la gran cantidad de menores de edad ha abrumado los tribunales de inmigración, algunos menores son entregados a familiares que ya viven en EE.UU. para esperar juicios que tardan meses e incluso años.
Salvador Gutiérrez, de la Oficina Regional de Enlace y Políticas de la Organización Internacional para las Migraciones en San José, Costa Rica, señaló que su organización cree que la avalancha hacia la frontera fue provocada por un rumor que comenzó en Guatemala y se extendió rápidamente por toda Centroamérica.
Tales rumores han surgido en el pasado y ha tomado meses e incluso años para desacreditarlos, anotó. Además de los rumores, la violencia de pandillas, una pobreza profunda y la falta de trabajo bien remunerado están impulsando a los migrantes a buscar otros destinos.
“La violencia es un factor que provoca miedo. Pero no hace que un niño se vaya a EE.UU.”, dijo Rómulo Emiliani, el obispo de San Pedro, que trabaja para promover la paz en los vecindarios infestados de pandillas. “El problema número uno es la pobreza extrema, la desesperación de la gente”.
Los miles de menores que México devuelve a San Pedro en buses reciben exámenes psicológicos y físicos, son entrevistados sobre sus experiencias y después liberados.
Para muchos, en especial los que tienen hijos muy pequeños, el sueño ha terminado. Otros, como Pineda y sus amigos, volverán a intentar llegar a EE.UU., dicen los trabajadores de albergues.
“No me van a volver a atrapar”, dijo Mayno Escobar, de 17 años. “Ahora ya sé cómo hacerlo”.
Now an English translation (emphasis in boldface is mine):
The success of these efforts depends on whether people in the most miserable streets of cities like San Pedro believe that the journey north is useless or not. Early indications of migrants and community activists in this city —one of the most crime-ridden in the world— suggest that the efforts will fall short.
“We’ll think about it for two or three months and then probably try again,” 17-year-old Edras Pineda said recently, while others nodded at city government’s reception shelter. “You study and study and there’s no work.”
The lenient treatment of unaccompanied minors, mandated by a 2008 U.S. law, fueled rumors this year —spread by nosy neighbors as well as traffickers looking for customers— that minors traveling alone or with an adult may in some way to obtain a permit to stay in the U.S.
Actually, these permits do not exist. But since the large number of minors has overwhelmed immigration courts, some children are joined with family members already living in the U.S. to await trials that take months or even years.
Salvador Gutierrez of the International Organization for Migration in San José, Costa Rica, said his organization believes that the avalanche towards the border was caused by a rumor that started in Guatemala and quickly spread across Central America.
Such rumors have surfaced in the past and has taken months and even years to discredit, he noted. In addition to the rumors, gang violence, deep poverty and lack of well-paid work are urging migrants to seek other destinations.
“Violence is a factor that causes fear. But it doesn’t cause a child to go the U.S., “said Romulo Emiliani, Bishop of San Pedro, who works to promote peace in gang-infested neighborhoods. “The number one problem is the extreme poverty, the desperation of the people.”
The thousands of children who returned to Mexico in San Pedro buses receive physical and psychological tests, are interviewed about their experiences and then released.
For many, especially those with very young children, the dream is over. Others, like Pineda and his friends return to try to reach the U.S., shelter workers say.
“They won’t catch me next time,” said Mayno Escobar, 17. “Now I know how.”
That July 14 report makes no mention of DACA, but it does speak to the many complexities of the root causes. It speaks to the greater realities. In fact, many of the cause mentioned in the EPIC report. And it’s not the only news article that says the same thing. Read this. (Oh wait, that article is in Spanish. It can’t be right.)
Now if BT would stop for a second and realize that presenting just one side of the issue (I doubt it), maybe US media could get more rational about this. Sorry, I forgot, this is the US media we’re talking about. It’s always “either/or.” Nuance and context are non-existent. “Give them what they want.” So that’s the game one has to play. Because why have actual journalism in all this?
Listen, I get it. There is a lot of blame to go around. The US government. US policies in Latin America. The failed drug war. Border Patrol abuses. Central American elites. People exploiting the hopes of children. Rumors of permisos. Obama. Bush. Clinton. NAFTA. The situation is tragic, but I still have hope that Americans can see through the complexities of a very charged and emotional issue. Did I mention that we’re also talking about children here?
But let’s stop with the claim that this is some plot by Spanish speakers because a few migrants said they heard this on Univision and Telemundo. Because if that is the game BT wants to play (like when it connects the tragic act of one man here and concludes that the migrant kids also come from this man’s same country), it will eventually lose. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but it will lose.
BT, likes its parent page, relishes in paranoia with reports that perpetuate outright fear and hate, reports that cause actual politicians who do this. Wait… maybe that’s a good thing, since this country’s xenophobia is now front and center, and the rest of the country can see that the desperate will stoop really low to fool you all.
Like this guy.
Hit it, Natalie.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77) founded LatinoRebels.com in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. A 1990 Harvard graduate in the History and Literature of Latin America, his personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He pens columns on LR regularly. In the last two years, Julito represented the Rebeldes on CBS’ Face the Nation, NPR, Univision, and The New York Times. Recently, he was a digital producer for Al Jazeera America’s The Stream.