The Existence of Human Beings Is Not a “Crisis”—Our Nativist Response Is

A dehumanizing Washington Post editorial shows everything that’s wrong with how U.S. media covers migration.

In American media, the mere existence of migrants is, very often, curiously referred to as an “immigration crisis.” NBC’s vertical is “immigration border crisis.” CNN frequently uses the label “U.S. border crisis” when introducing relevant news stories. The Washington Post’s Phillip Bump tells us it’s a “migrant crisis.” All of which explicitly say or heavily imply that the “crisis” commenced when human beings showed up to the U.S. border. 

But the existence of human beings in a specific place and specific time cannot be a “crisis” in and of itself. The Haitian migrants simply exist. They’ve committed no apparent transgression, no violent crime, they’re not an invading army. They just are. The extent to which the situation creates a crisis, it does so because of the enforcement of an arbitrary border, or how little another group of people don’t want said human beings to exist at that specific place and time. Had these carceral forces not set out to round up, corral, deport, and subject them to the “deterrence” of heat exhaustion and a lack of water, there would be no “crisis,” these immigrants would simply move to the United States as they have for centuries. This trek wouldn’t be easy, given the natural terrain, but it certainly wouldn't be a “crisis” as we see play out on our TVs. The crisis thusly isn’t a “migration crisis” in any meaningful sense—it is a “nativism crisis,” a “violent border enforcement crisis,” or a “not wanting humans of certain origin” crisis.

But these labels are too charged: After all, it’s easier to lay the blame on faceless, powerless immigrants rather than on the scourge of nationalist sentiment or, worse yet, our powerful officials. So we effectively shift the blame to the migrants themselves. Sometimes there’ll be a vaguely humanitarian gesture towards blaming the smugglers, but the end result is always the same: Our otherwise benevolent liberal president and his Department of Homeland Security were forced into shocking, viral incidents of violence against unarmed, poor migrants by a vague “crisis.” There’s little else that could be done about it. 

A truly vulgar editorial by the Washington Post editorial board shows the cruelty of this blame-shifting media pathology. The article starts out by doing the Good Liberal box-checking of feeling bad about what’s going on but focuses, naturally, on the optics of it all: 

The sight of federal officers from the Western hemisphere’s wealthiest country corralling and deporting migrants from the hemisphere’s poorest one is a wrenching tableau, and nothing for Americans to be proud of. That is what is underway now, as U.S. Border Patrol agents unleash a show of force against thousands of desperate Haitian and other asylum seekers camped on the banks of the Rio Grande in South Texas.

The first words, “the sight,” show where the real problem is for the Post. It makes us look bad and is bad for internal and external propaganda. This next section has to be read in its entirety for its rote cruelty:

The episode is a distillation of Washington’s immigration policy dysfunction, tweaked, in some ways for the worse, by the Biden administration’s incongruous messaging. Those Haitians, who make up the majority of some 14,000 migrants packed along the border near Del Rio, Tex., didn’t arrive by accident. What led many or most of them toward the border — in addition to unscrupulous smugglers — was what has turned out for most to be the false promise that a new president, publicly committed to a more humane approach, would relax the previous administration’s draconian policies. Large numbers of them had been living for years in South America, having fled their home country after it was hit by a devastating earthquake in 2010. 

That’s largely what Mr. Biden has done for others, especially Central American families with children, tens of thousands of whom have been admitted to the United States this year. And he did so even as administration officials urged them not to attempt to cross the border illegally. That glaring disconnect, between official dissuasion and on-the-ground leniency, has been received by Haitian and other migrants as an invitation to take their chances on reaching the U.S. border. 

In case it isn’t clear, this is a full-throated endorsement of former President Trump’s explicit strategy of making it so that unsanctioned migration is so brutal, so deadly, so harsh, that future migrants will be deterred. This has been bipartisan policy for decades, ramped up significantly and with a touch of sadistic glee by Trump. But Biden’s great crime was—sometimes—undermining this bipartisan policy, as the Post points out. 

And it’s this modest gesture of humanity (in an otherwise status quo brutal enforcement regime) the Post is condemning here. Biden “admitting tens of thousands of [Central American migrants]” is what has enraged them. The condemnation is couched in hand-wringing editorial-board-speak about “mixed messages,” but make no mistake: DC’s most influential editorial voice is condemning the president for incentivizing migrants to come to our border by welcoming too many refugees. The obvious implication of this: Biden needs to be crueler and harsher and deport more migrants to avoid future bad “sights.”

Another political utility of the “immigration crisis” framing is it absolves those in charge of their violent enforcement. By laying the blame on an abstract crisis of humans existing, and shifting to an equally nebulous “failure of Congress to pass immigration reform,” the buck is passed into nothingness. Biden is not responsible, nor are specific media institutions, or specific members of the Senate or Department of Homeland Security. It’s a general cloud of policy failures with no author, and no direction. 

It’s not just blame-shifting—even our nominally enlightened press like the New York Times traffics in dehumanizing language. As FAIR’s Olivia Riggio noted:

“Squalor,” “surge,” “ventured” onto “private property”—the Times paints the image of an invasion of foreigners.  

Again, the crisis is not “at our border”: it’s in the well-lit, air-conditioned corridors of Washington and New York—at the White House, Congress, the offices of the Washington Post––where powerful people have internalized and made normal widespread cruelty and dehumanization of migrants who happen to cross into the United States. The “crisis” is not one of surplus, unwanted humans: It’s a “crisis” of Fort Apache hardliners in both parties and in mainstream editorial board rooms, determined to create a regime of human suffering so profound, non-porous and feared, it will deter other desperate humans from seeking a modicum of security and sanctuary on the wrong side of the Rio Grande river. 

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