Malleable Privacy Policies and Media Manipulation of Minors

By Dan Cadman on August 6, 2014

One of my readers and occasional correspondents is a retired Border Patrol agent. I can't say we are former colleagues; to my knowledge our paths didn't cross while serving in the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service. Still, we share a certain commonality of experience and outlook, so I'm always interested in what he has to say.

Recently, he forwarded me a link to a Time article by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson about his recent trip to the border to take a first-hand look at what's going on with the surge of aliens crossing illegally into the Rio Grande Valley.

DHS Sec. Jeh Johnson

In relation to the article, my correspondent had this to say, among other things: "Anybody who doesn't feel compassion for the children who are involved in this international 'game of political chicken' has a very hard heart, [but what] strikes me about this article is that Secretary Johnson apparently believes, or would have us believe, that the situation of one '10 or 12' year old little girl is representative of all the UACs (unaccompanied alien children) entering illegally. It isn't, and it raises all kinds of questions that he apparently wasn't concerned with. How did she decide to strike out on this trek? Who paid for it?"

These are questions worth asking, although you won't find them being asked or answered much in the media. A couple of other things strike me about the article as well.

First, Secretary Johnson himself seems to know very clearly that the little girl is not, in fact, all that representative of everyone entering through the Rio Grande Valley. But he's learned from his boss: Put a little throwaway line of truth out there while at the same moment distracting attention away from the throwaway, which is there solely as something to refer back to, if everything starts to go sour. (Let's call this "the Benghazi inoculation".) In Johnson's case, it begins with folksy references to Mother's Day and family vacations, and drifts into the following statement:

[W]hen you walk into a border patrol processing center you see a long table with border patrol agents in green sitting on one side in front of computer terminals, and they're conducting interviews of the illegal migrants that have just come in, most often adult men, and they're taking down basic information, name, where you're from, age, and so forth, and so on. (Emphasis added.)

It is only after that quick and forgettable reference that the Secretary moves on to discuss his teary-eyed experience with the little girl who cries for her mother, which of course is where he wishes to direct our attention.

The other thing that I find disturbing is his apparently shameless willingness to use a child for blatant political purposes. Again and again with this administration, whenever a journalist, member of Congress, whomever, asks an inconvenient or potentially embarrassing question about a case – for instance, when an alien criminal is released only to commit some terrible crime shortly thereafter – DHS and its component agencies clam up and say that they can't get into details because it's against their privacy policy.

For the record, the Department's privacy "policy" with regard to illegal aliens is bogus. The federal Privacy Act relates solely and exclusively to "U.S. persons", which is defined within that act as citizens and lawful permanent resident aliens – no one else, and most assuredly not illegal aliens. I have no patience for this expansion of the policy to every alien because I often find such assertions of privacy on behalf of the alien to be the self-serving refuge of agencies hiding scandalous examples of the train wreck that is this executive branch's administration of the country's immigration laws.

But if there is any area in which an expanded application of privacy merits thought and consideration, it is in publicly discussing the plight of any particular minor. Yet, here we find this blatant attempt to generate public sympathy by the secretary's description of a child finding herself in frightening circumstances she cannot possibly understand, and quite probably because she was put in that position when one or both of her parents paid smugglers to transport her thousands of miles northward and illegally into the United States.