Report From the Southern Border: Interview With Todd Bensman

By Todd Bensman on August 21, 2023

[An interview with CIS's own Todd Bensman by writer Martha Rosenberg was posted this weekend in The American Spectator. An except is below; for the complete interview go to The American Spectator's site.]

Rosenberg: Working as a reporter and now as a Fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, you have done a lot of “shoe leather” reporting at the U.S. southern border — covering the Mexican drug wars and, in the last years, immigration. Unlike so many immigration reporters who rely on second hand reports, you have personally interviewed at least 1,000 immigrants. Why do you do this and how does what you learn differ from the prevailing narrative?

Bensman: I am a classically trained journalist, meaning I went through journalism school for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees and then worked as a newspaper reporter for 23 years before the Internet era changed old standard practices. I learned how to be a reporter during the decade (1993-2003) I worked as a gumshoe reporter for The Dallas Morning News during its power heyday of the 1990s. Old habits are hard to break.

One thing constantly drilled into me for years was that primary sources are the most valuable of all sources and to always first seek information from those, only going to secondary and third sources on any important issue if absolutely necessary … And the beauty of border reporting is that no one ever has to make do with second or third sources, even though that’s what most American reporters do nowadays. You can just go down and talk to the immigrants, who are everywhere south of the border and are fully available and willing to participate. Immigrant testimonies are so valuable because they can be easily tested against non-testimonial political narratives about them coming from non-immigrants who live very far away from the border and rarely visit. From the immigrants, I learned that prevailing narratives very rarely bear any resemblance to the distant prevailing narratives and presumptions about them, about their motivations for crossing and their personal circumstances. 

Maybe the most important thing I learned from the immigrants is that almost all of them pulled the trigger on crossing journeys in quite direct response to immigration-related policies and court rulings that they realized were advantageous at that moment in time to spending fortunes of smuggled journeys and border crossings. And that almost no one is an actual victim of political persecution in need of asylum; nor are they desperate to leave home countries because of danger. They’re almost all economic migrants who will tell you instantly they only left to make more money and came now because American policy was allowing them to enter and stay, an incredible reward for their expense and trouble. Their direct testimonies almost always debunk distant narratives about all these other motives that come out of Washington or from the mouths of distant advocates, think tank researchers, political operatives, and reporters. None of whom will go near a real immigrant to get the truth. Lucky for me, as an old-fashioned writer, I guess! And maybe for anyone who reads me. . . .

[Read the full interview at The American Spectator.]