Sloppy Reporting and Media Bias on Display in the Tampa Bay Times

By Dan Cadman on October 25, 2017

Over the past few years, we at the Center for Immigration Studies have repeatedly showcased instances of media stories about immigration that slant facts, almost inevitably in favor of aliens, in ways that are sometimes outrageously overt and at other times more subtle (see, for instance, here, here, and here).

Sometimes the bias is because journalists are sloppy or lazy and don't want to look further than the assertions of migrant advocacy groups. They accept their statements without question or challenge and without bothering to ask those with opposing points of view what they may think. Sometimes the bias is because the journalists are painfully ignorant of the complex social problems raised by massive levels of immigration, both legal and illegal, in today's America; sometimes it's because of the inherent philosophical lean of the journalists toward a progressive, open borders, post-sovereignty viewpoint. Often, it is some combination of the above.

The latest installment in this long-running serial of deliberate or clueless bias comes to us courtesy of the online version of the Tampa Bay Times, which on October 20 posted this story: "Backlog of immigration cases stymies immigrants in Florida".

The backlog facing the immigration courts is not new, but has become dismayingly large — in the range of 640,000 cases or thereabouts — a figure that exploded exponentially during the Obama presidency. His administration threw up impediments that hindered efficient enforcement and removal of aliens and offered an egregiously inadequate response to the surge of tens of thousands of Mexican and Central Americans crossing illegally into the United States through the Rio Grande Valley and elsewhere, spanning several years.

The subject of immigration court backlogs is, or at least should be, a matter of deep concern to both the right and the left, and it deserves careful, thoughtful attention on the part of journalists who choose to examine the matter. The Center's Andrew Arthur, himself a former immigration judge of significant experience, has spoken more than once about the backlog, most recently with "The Immigration Court Backlog Is Larger than We Know: An administrative closure pig in the backlog python".

Instead of addressing the story on its own merits, the Tampa Bay Times has largely chosen to use it instead as a springboard for the purpose of revealing the "human interest" stories of aliens caught up in the backlog. That's self-evident from the reference in the title to "stymied" immigrants. In truth, the aliens affected are stymied because they've been charged with immigration law violations serious enough to result in being hauled into deportation proceedings. In that context, the backlog is simply an aggravating factor.

Of course, the authors of the piece aren't responsible for the headline: They don't choose it; editors do. Even so, they haven't played it straight. Take this lead-in paragraph, for instance:

It was supposed to be a routine green card renewal for a Thai woman who has called Central Florida home for years.

Instead, federal immigration authorities took her into custody for a decade-old blemish on her criminal record, putting her on a potential path to deportation. The mother of two has been waiting in a detention center since April for a hearing to make her case to stay, said her attorney, John Gihon.

Isn't it interesting how they brush right over that criminal history "blemish"? Exactly what was it? Drugs? Felony theft? Prostitution or vice convictions? We don't know. The journalists apparently didn't bother to ask or, worse, if they did they chose not to tell us. And how about any other adverse immigration history? Had she engaged in any kind of visa or marriage fraud? Was that what triggered the examination of her history when she sought to have her resident alien card renewed? Again, we don't know — and there is no reason at all that we shouldn't, since it would seem reasonable for a journalist to inquire about the adverse factors that led to her being locked up and held for a removal hearing in front of an immigration judge. Wouldn't that represent a fairer balance in the approach to the story?

But that's not the only glaringly lopsided "human interest" story to be found in the article. Consider the following:

For some, the delay could mean the difference between life and death for immigrants and their families.

Gihon, the Jacksonville lawyer, has an Iraqi client who assisted U.S. and allied forces with intelligence in the second Gulf War. For that, he and his family have been targeted by ISIS. The man fled the country and arrived in America in 2014 to seek asylum for himself and his family. His request was not granted, though, and his case was referred to immigration court. He has been in removal proceedings for about 18 months. ... Meanwhile, the man's wife and three children remain overseas in hiding.

Clearly, the journalists accept as a given that what the man's lawyer has to say is unvarnished truth — they don't caveat the language such as "Gihon, the Jacksonville lawyer, has an Iraqi client who asserts that he assisted U.S. and allied forces" or the like.

There are many reasons to question the client's representations. First is the fact that he was denied asylum when he arrived. Clearly, asylum officers — who are, by training, avocation, and philosophical disposition highly empathetic — didn't believe him. More significantly, in their examination of his application, those officers would have had access to military records and information. How is it that his claim apparently wasn't bolstered by anything in those repositories?

And just exactly how did he arrive in the United States? As a "tourist" or a "student"? Did he cross the border illegally from Canada or Mexico? Once again, the authors have given us no window whatever into the circumstances surrounding his arrival.

Finally, there is the signal fact that there are actually two programs written into the immigration laws that provide special immigrant visas to Iraqis and Afghans (and their families) when those individuals have provided significant assistance to the U.S. government in its operations in those troubled, terror-plagued countries — exactly the kind of assistance that this man claims he provided. Yet we find no mention of that in the article, although the programs can be found easily enough by a quick internet search that leads us to the relevant Department of State webpage. Why not? Didn't they check? Wouldn't that be relevant to a story about a man who claims he's been targeted by terrorists for helping U.S. military and intelligence agents?

One is left with the conclusion that, to the newspaper and its journalists, those things were irrelevant, or worse, might have detracted from the effort to paint these "stymied immigrants" in the most sympathetic possible light. That's great stuff if you're an immigrant advocacy group. But it's not so good if you take your journalistic responsibilities seriously.