The Border Crisis in Texas: How the Media Report the Story

By Jerry Kammer on June 13, 2014

(Part one of an occasional series)

In the ongoing battle to frame the story at the Texas border, the Obama administration is winning with much of the media. Many journalists have joined the White House in framing the story only as a humanitarian crisis. They focus their concern on an undeniably poignant human drama that involves many unaccompanied minors fleeing violence and poverty in Central America who cross the border illegally into the U.S. Many seek to rejoin parents who have already completed that perilous journey.

The administration's constricted frame of causation makes no room for the problem of U.S. policies that have become common knowledge throughout Central America. These policies have become a powerful engine, pulling large numbers of adults and children across the Rio Grande.

On MSBNC this morning, "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski devoted two program segments to a discussion that must have delighted the Obama administration and exasperated those who say attention must be paid to both crises on the border.

The first features the story of the children, their faces etched with vulnerability and need. The second does not have an immediately identifiable face. It exerts its influence less dramatically, in communities across the United States.

Brzezinski presented video clips that showed dozens of children and women lying or sitting filling the bare floors of a Border Patrol station as they waited for the government to process them, then reunite them with their parents.

Brzezinski gave voice to her own sense of desperation: "With video like this coming in, and the stories of children coming in, doesn't the debate change? she asked plaintively. "Doesn't the dynamic change? Doesn't the whole concept of what some people might consider an immigrant to be change, I hope?"

Later in the program, Brzezinski spoke with the Rev. Jim Wallis, an advocate for illegal immigrants and author of a new book, (Un)common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided. As she introduced Wallis and the book, she said the video from the border provides "a real look into the faces behind this controversy."

Wallis, an advocate of the comprehensive reform bill passed last year by the Senate, said there is a need to tell stories of individual lives in order to "change our hearts and minds" about the need for the reform.

"We've lost this ancient idea called the common good, looking out for each other and not just ourselves," Wallis said. "It has become terribly uncommon.... I think immigration reform is the moral test of this Congress."

Wallis's expansive message of inclusion in the name of the common good has a counterpoint in a message I received this week from a DHS official on the Texas border who called the situation there "a perfect storm," brewed from multiple troubles. This is his list of those troubles, lightly edited for clarity:

  1. Poverty and crime in Central America.
  2. Mexico's wave-them-through policy on its Southern Border, where flimsy rafts conduct a brisk commerce in human beings across the Suchiate River.
  3. The widespread perception that U.S. policies under the Obama administration have put out a welcome mat in the form of the "permisos."
  4. Obama administration policies that focus law enforcement resources in the interior of the U.S. on dangerous criminals, giving an effective pass to non-violent illegal immigrants.
  5. A misinformed American public that receives a biased media message that shows sympathy for an illegal immigrant population labeled selectively as orphans and abandoned children, while demonizing the men and women charged with securing the border by accusing them of inhumane treatment.