Much of the news coverage of Haitian migrants camped out in squalid conditions, waiting to cross the border into the United States at Del Rio, Texas, has been been characterized as a “crisis” – a chaotic situation that immigration officials are struggling to control.
But Melissa del Bosque, a longtime border reporter and founder of the new newsletter, The Border Chronicle, says that narrative that’s often pushed in conservative-leaning media outlets often comes directly from U.S. Border Patrol union leaders. And it’s a narrative complicated by the fact that the Border Patrol, and it’s parent agency the Department of Homeland Security, have some of the largest budgets of all federal agencies.
Listen to the interview with del Bosque above or read the transcript below to learn more about why she argues narratives about chaos at the southern border are politically motivated and have been used for years to stoke fear, particularly among conservatives.
This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.
Texas Standard: How is the media shaping the public’s understanding of current immigration issues, like Haitian migrants in Del Rio, for example?
Melissa del Bosque: This is something that’s been going on for a long time and something that I’ve been writing about for a long time up and down the border as a border journalist and someone who’s really paid close attention to this. With the most recent events that we saw in Del Rio with the arrival of Haitians, once again, we saw it portrayed as this sort of out of control, chaotic scene. Border Patrol is overwhelmed. There is a message that’s put out over and over and over again when we have these influxes of migrants and asylum-seekers that arrive at the border. And the message quickly spirals out of control and is repeated endlessly, in the big cable TV news stations of “border crisis, border crisis.”. And we’ve now, by my count, been in a border “crisis” for at least seven years.
Who is benefiting from portraying the situation at the border as something that is spiraling out of control?
It’s very effectively used to stoke, in this case, the base that supported [Donald] Trump – Republican-base primary voters, they’re very much motivated to get out and vote by this sort of panic and fear that is stoked by this idea that the border is being overrun by “illegal aliens,” and that we’re under some sort of invasion. So this sort of fear is stoked and it’s manipulated to turn people out to to vote, basically, and it’s very effective. It’s worked over and over and over again. It really, really got its start under [former Texas Gov.] Rick Perry. Actually, I started writing about that many, many years ago.
How much do the political views of key members of the Border Patrol union influence the group’s actions and priorities?
Right now we sort of have this extraordinary situation where we have the president of the union is Brandon Judd. He’s been the president since 2013. For the first time ever, the union came out and spoke in support of a presidential candidate, which was Donald Trump. That was the first time the union ever did that because Judd and the other union leaders are part of the union. They’re allowed to speak to the media. Whereas rank and file agents cannot. They cannot just speak to the media without permission from their bosses in Washington. So they have this sort of outsized ability to be able to shape the message at the border of what’s happening. And the way they do that is by choosing which outlets they’re going to share access with or give videos to.
You see a lot of leaks on Breitbart and Fox of exclusive video from inside the detention facility and so forth, with the idea of crafting this narrative that this new administration has no control over the border, can’t govern, and therefore we need to keep Trump’s policies in place, which they had helped craft.
I’m sure there are folks out there listening to this right now or who read your piece on this and they’re saying to themselves, “What is she talking about? How can you look at this situation and say that this is a manufactured crisis?” What is your response to that?
DHS, the Department of Homeland Security, is the third-largest federal agency, with [a] multibillion dollar budget. And Border Patrol and ICE have some of the largest budgets in the country. They’re the biggest law enforcement agencies in the country, and there’s no reason why they don’t have the resources or the ability to be able to process 15,000 people in a more efficient, orderly way without this chaotic response that just maximizes suffering for the immigrants who are arriving.