The Fix Is In: WaPo's '5 Minute Fix' Column Subtly Spins the Current Immigration Debate

By Dan Cadman on June 24, 2018

The Washington Post regularly publishes a column by Amber Phillips called "The 5 Minute Fix", which captions itself as analysis, as "Interpretation of the news based on evidence, including data, as well as anticipating how events might unfold based on past events."

The Friday, June 22, edition of the column was titled "Your immigration questions, answered". The first paragraph elaborates:

Earlier this week, I asked for your questions about the Trump administration's policy of separating families crossing the border illegally. President Trump abruptly ended that policy under criticism from world leaders, his party and even his family. ... I picked out the most commonly asked ones and called up Kathleen Walker, an immigration law expert who has also lived on the U.S.-Mexico border for more than 30 years, to guide us.

That's a lot of heavy lifting for a short column of give-or-take 1,000 words. The last thing the American public needs is another questionable Dick and Jane primer on a complex subject like immigration. My doubts were further fueled by this statement: "Her [Walker's] answers have been edited for length and clarity." Edited by whom? Other immigration experts, or just your usual run-of-the-mill editorial generalists who wouldn't know if they might be excising something important for the sake of brevity?

I took a look at the column and concluded that it was, in fact, the kind of pablum that contributes nothing toward feeding Americans' hunger for truth and knowledge on one of the more momentous challenges facing our republic today. Worse, it superficially masks its bias in favor of the illegal crossers and against immigration enforcement. First, there are the photos.

One of them shows federal officers looking at documents being presented by an alien. The caption erroneously says, "U.S. Border Patrol agents check passports at the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry, where the U.S. and Mexico border meet in El Paso." No, they aren't Border Patrol agents, they are Customs and Border Protection inspectors. The difference is obvious in the uniforms — Border Patrol agents wear green, inspectors wear blue. Both their jurisdiction and duties are markedly different: Inspectors operate only at ports of entry into the United States to question travelers who are attempting to enter legally; Border Patrol agents operate between the ports to catch illegal crossers. If you can't get something that basic right, why would we trust the remainder of your column?

Another photo shows aliens in a detention center. The caption says, "People who were taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States sit in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Tex." (Emphasis added.)

Is that bias subtle enough to suit you? Yes, detention centers do in fact contain people by use of physical restraints; they aren't allowed to roam around freely, and this is for the safety of the officers as well as other detainees. That's why they are called detention centers. Of course, if you want to spin an anti-detention bias, you use emotionally charged words like "cage".

Then there is this snippet among the Q&As:

If crossing illegally is a misdemeanor, why didn't the Bush or Obama administration lock up people caught illegally crossing the border to the degree the Trump administration is?

At first read, one might think that the Bush and Obama administrations didn't lock up people and criminally charge them for illegal entry. But the key portion of the question is in the phrase "to the degree the Trump administration is".

Those administrations did in fact prosecute illegal entrants as part of various programs designed to deter crossings in high-volume illegal border-crossing areas, but the efforts were neither sustained nor as visible as now, in no small measure because family units and minors weren't involved to the same extent.

Perhaps if the Bush and Obama administrations had undertaken a sustained deterrence campaign at the border, the United States would not be in the pickle we are in now. Over half a million minors and partial family units have illegally crossed into the United States since 2014, and some Border Patrol sectors have experienced jumps of over 500 percent of such crossers. This is without precedent in our long history of border security failures.

Walker's answer is equally disappointing in its obfuscation and misrepresentation of the facts:

What we've done in the past is decide if somebody is a flight risk. If not, they might post a bond and we'll make people wear an ankle bracelet. There are all sorts of things that are an alternative to incarceration. It's less expensive to the taxpayer because we are not providing housing and food and other needs in a federal facility.

In the first place, ankle bracelets are not a be-all, end-all solution because they can simply be cut off, and because operating electronic monitoring programs are not, in and of themselves, cheap. In fact, past government watchdog reports on federal electronic monitoring programs for immigration detainees raised significant questions as to their cost and their effectiveness. What's more, many people are not good candidates for electronic monitoring because they are flight risks. Sadly, this includes women and children, whose track record of showing up for their immigration hearings after release is incredibly low.

Whether "alternative-to-detention" (ATD) programs, as they are called, are in the long-run cheaper to taxpayers is also open to serious discussion. When aliens abscond from these programs, there is a cost to be paid in backlogged, unresolved immigration court cases that already number in the high hundreds of thousands. Then there is the cost of having to re-investigate and re-arrest these individuals to shove them right back into the system; all of the time and resources expended to do that could otherwise be expended on equally critical immigration enforcement programs such as detecting visa overstayers. ATD quickly becomes a very expensive hamster-on-the-wheel proposition.

It all comes down to this: Without actual removals as a consequence to be faced by aliens when they violate immigration laws, the system fails. Aliens from Mexico and Central America (who constitute the vast majority of illegal entrants these days) who are contemplating their own illegal trek see this and decide to take the chance — often enough bringing their children with them or, if they've already gotten a foothold into the interior, by having their children smuggled in at great risk.

When we as a nation are ineffectual at putting a stop to this, we become complicit in the crimes of smuggling and trafficking in minors. Ending this practice is, to me, is the moral compass by which we must be guided.

Finally, to return to the column, it's worth observing that Kathleen Walker — the otherwise unidentified "expert" consulted by Phillips — is "past national president and general counsel of the American Immigration Lawyers Association", the organization of private attorneys many of whom make their living defending aliens in exclusion and deportation proceedings. Do you think that honest disclosure of that fact might have been the right thing to do for a newspaper that, post-Trump, adopted the motto "Democracy Dies in Darkness"?