New York Times Inflames Immigration Debate

Call the Disinformation Governance Board

By Andrew R. Arthur on May 6, 2022

In a recent post reviewing DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ April 28 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, I referenced statements by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) about a GOP plan for that hearing that had been uncovered “in the newspaper”. In fact, the Republican briefing memo for that hearing was leaked to the New York Times, which summarized it on April 21. “Summarized” is likely the wrong word as the Times reporting was pure spin, and inflammatory spin at that. Perhaps the secretary should call his new “Disinformation Governance Board” (DSB) to investigate the “Newspaper of Record”.

Hearing Briefing Memos. In advance of every hearing on Capitol Hill, Democratic and Republican staffers prepare briefing memos for their members on issues that may arise at the hearing and possible lines of questioning that members may want to consider. The majority often also prepares a general one for all the members.

As a staffer, I drafted more than a hundred such memos, and can tell you that they are generally tightly controlled. I trusted and liked my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, but I never shared any hearing memos with them and was quick to pick up any errant ones that members had left behind.

Which makes the leak of this one even more remarkable. Perhaps someone with access just had an axe to grind.

By their nature, hearing memos are partisan documents (except for the general one prepared by the majority), a combination of facts and tendentious lines of support and attack.

The NYT Article. Given the care with which such documents are handled, they rarely see the light of day outside the hearing rooms and offices of Capitol Hill. Consequently, I should likely give the Times’ reporters the benefit of the doubt for the dudgeon with which they approached this one.

To its credit, though, the Times did not link to the memo in the article, which the paper admits was “marked ‘CONFIDENTIAL — FOR INTERNAL USE ONLY”’. I say “to its credit” because briefing memos are akin in my mind to grand jury testimony, trade secrets, or draft Supreme Court decisions (which are apparently fair game these days).

Because it did not publish the memo itself, however, the reader must rely upon the reporters’ take on its contents. Which leads me to the spin.

The paper begins by referring to the memo as “a road map for how the G.O.P. intends to further weaponize an issue that is already a main thrust of their midterm campaign message against Democrats”, which is likely true. But then in the next paragraph, it states:

The detailed, 60-page guidance memo includes misleading and provocative talking points that seek to portray migrants and refugees as perpetrators of gruesome crimes, especially those involving sexual assault, echoing the language that former President Donald J. Trump used to denigrate immigrants.

Again, the memo was not attached, so there is no way to assess the veracity of this statement. That said, I know Capitol Hill and many of the players involved, so I would question whether that is an accurate depiction.

Keep in mind, the Times article was not an opinion piece — it was a news article and the reader should reasonably be allowed to conclude that they dealing with a straightforward assessment, “just the facts”. I seriously doubt that the memo had the header “Misleading and Provocative Talking Points”.

Crimes Committed by Illegal Migrants. Even though it is a news article, what the reporters denounce as “misleading and provocative talking points” are demonstrably true facts. Consider the following reports of border arrests involving illegal migrants:

That’s just in one recent 10-day period. The Del Rio, Texas, Border Patrol sector reported on May 4 that it “continues to see an increase in ... sex offender apprehensions”, and I seriously doubt that the agents there are the outliers.

Each of those sex offenses is a “gruesome crime”, but here are some other serious criminal migrants recently apprehended at the Southwest border:

  • On April 30, MCS agents apprehended a criminal migrant who had received a 10-year-sentence for “cruelty towards a child”. That was in addition to the three 18th Street gang members MCS agents caught between April 29 and 30. In total, agents have apprehended 54 18th Street gang members in FY 2022, through March.
  • On April 26, Border Patrol agents from Rio Grande Valley (RGV) sector apprehended a Salvadoran 18th Street gang member who had received a California conviction in 2010 for manufacturing/possession of dangerous weapons, for which he was sentenced to 180 days and 60 months’ probation.
  • Between April 23 and 24, RGV agents also apprehended a Salvadoran MS-13 gang member who received 90 days in California in 2007 for “grand theft, burglary, and receiving stolen property”, and a Mexican Paisa gang member who had been sentenced to 60 months for “possession with intent to distribute cocaine”. Some 128 MS-13 and 61 Paisa gang members have been apprehended in FY 2022, through March.
  • On April 14, agents in Del Rio sector apprehended 35-year-old Honduran national Victor Alfonso Cruz-Garcia shortly after he entered illegally. He had been convicted of murder in February 2012 in North Carolina and sentenced to more than 14 years’ confinement. Cruz-Garcia is just one of the 944 criminal migrants who have been caught in Del Rio sector this fiscal year.
  • On April 7, agents from Brownsville, Texas, Border Patrol Station apprehended a Mexican national who had been “arrested in 2010 by the FBI in Houston for kidnapping an adult for ransom”, for which he “was convicted and sentenced to 11 years and three months confinement and subsequently removed from the” United States.

I could go on, but you get the point.

“Guidance for Enforcement Action at Protected Areas”. The Times also complains that the GOP memo “misrepresents a Biden administration policy designed to humanely enforce immigration laws as one that would bar law enforcement from surveilling sex offenders near schoolyards.”

The sharp-eyed observer will quickly spot the subjective adverb in that excerpt (“humanely”), but the more objectionable issue is that the reporters never explain how that description of the Biden administration’s “protected areas” policy is a “misrepresentation”.

As my colleague Jon Feere has demonstrated, the memo’s assessment is actually quite apt, while my take explains why that the policy’s coverage is universal.

No Opposing Viewpoints. That Times article suffers from an absence of views contrary to those expressed by the reporters — which once was the touchstone of objective reporting.

For example, it quotes “Kerri Talbot, deputy director for the Immigration Hub, a pro-immigrant organization”, who asserts: “Republicans continue to use immigration as a political cudgel to scare voters at every turn, knowing they have killed serious immigration reform at every turn”.

With due respect to Talbot, recent Gallup polling revealing that 60 percent of Americans are already “worried” about illegal immigration (with 41 percent worried “a great deal” about the issue) suggests that voters hardly need any prompting from Republicans to be “scared” about the prospect of hundreds of thousands of migrants entering the United States illegally every month.

The Times further reports that Talbot “ridiculed Republicans’ immigration agenda, charging that ‘they want to build a $15 billion wall that a $15 handsaw can cut through.’”

While estimated costs for border barriers run up to $15 billion (Trump was only seeking $5 billion during the 2018 government shutdown), my colleague Steven Camarota has explained that such costs would be more than offset by a consequent decline in the level of illegal immigration.

It is astounding, however, that Talbot’s assertions concerning a “$15 handsaw” cutting through the border fence passed without challenge.

I am not sure if she or the Times’ reporters have seen the fence, but it is 30-feet tall and built out of concrete reinforced steel. Perhaps the $15 dollar handsaw could in time make one cut through it (if it never went dull, which it quickly would) but it would take as long as it took Andy Dufresne to chip his way out of Shawshank State Prison to breach it. In either case, such activity would draw the attention of agents, more than enough time for the Border Patrol to intervene.

The Times also cites to a Cato study on rates of immigrant illegality but fails to cite the Center’s analysis explaining why it is difficult to accurately measure such illegality. In any event, however, such studies miss the point. As the foregoing explains, some illegal migrants are criminals, and they have no right to be in the United States. It is an unacceptable for DHS to allow any of them into the United States to prey on the American people (both citizens and legal immigrants).

Further, thanks to the Biden administration’s border policies, Border Patrol lacks the resources to stop hundreds of thousands of “got-away” migrants who don’t want to be caught. Even if CBP can screen the tens of thousands of migrants it releases monthly (which I doubt it can effectively), nobody vets those got-aways before they proceed to the interior, and they are evading apprehension for a reason.

Call the DGB. I am not telling Times Editor Dean Baquet or Chairman A.G. Sulzberger how to run their paper, but there is a lot of what I would term “propaganda” in a news piece criticizing “misleading and provocative talking points” in what was supposed to be a confidential (and deliberately tendentious) memo.

I hazard to use the term “disinformation” to describe aspects of the article, because disinformation is in the eye of the beholder. Mayorkas recently told Congress, however, that he is creating a "Disinformation Governance Board" (DGB), to be headed by one Nina Jankowitz, who then tweeted:

If the goal of the DSB is to “coordinate countering misinformation related to homeland security”, I know a place they can start: A New York Times article attacking alleged “misleading” GOP talking points that are in a memo that was never meant for public consumption.

None of this is to say that all illegal migrants are criminals or national security risks, but there are some who plainly are. Stopping their entry is the mission of the Department of Homeland Security. The New York Times’ slogan is “all the news that’s fit to print” — which includes news and facts that don’t necessarily fit the paper’s agenda.