The Biden Administration Separates Families at the Border. The Media Shrugs.

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September 19, 2023

Migrant children as young as 8 were separated from their parents at the southern border this summer, an inspector said on Friday. The mainstream media—which savaged former President Donald Trump's separation of migrant families in the strongest terms—hardly bothered to report the news.

The coverage, or lack thereof, fits with a general shift in the media's characterization of immigration enforcement. What was senseless cruelty by Trump is Biden doing the best he can under impossible circumstances. Never mind that Biden's policies helped create the ongoing migrant crisis.

Now: Most major news outlets simply ignored the revelation, made in a filing by federal court monitor Dr. Paul Wise, that children at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection holding facility were held apart from their parents for up to four days this summer. Outlets that did cover the report tended to emphasize, starting in the headline, that the family separations were the result of "overcrowding" and other "challenges."

CNN—"Border Authorities Separated Some Migrant Families Amid Overcrowding in Facilities, Report Says":

The filing, which is part of a years-long court case, underscores the humanitarian and logistical challenges facing the Biden administration following an increase in migrant families crossing the US-Mexico border.

CBS—"US Border Agents Are Separating Migrant Children From Their Parents To Avoid Overcrowding, Inspector Finds":

The report's findings illustrate the operational and humanitarian challenges faced by Border Patrol due to a recent spike in migrant crossings along the U.S.-Mexico border.

NBC News's report was perhaps the least sympathetic and most damning:

Border Patrol Temporarily Separated Families This Summer, Court Filing Says

A CBP official who wasn’t able to give exact numbers for how many families have been separated by the Biden administration said the practice could still be happening.

Still, NBC, like its peers, made sure to pooh-pooh any comparison between the Biden-era family separations and Trump's infamous policy:

The families Wise documented were only temporarily separated while they were in CBP custody, which typically lasts only a few days because of a federal court order requiring their release within 72 hours. The Trump administration, on the other hand, separated families in CBP custody and then sent the children to shelters run by Health and Human Services with no way for parents to learn where they were.

"The situations described within the report are completely different from previous policies of separating families," the CBP spokesperson added. "CBP is committed to family unity: Our policies prioritize the safety and wellbeing of children and ensure that families are released out of CBP custody together."

None of the outlets mentioned that as a candidate Biden called Trump’s family separations "unconscionable" and "abhorrent" or that migrant detention facilities are overcrowded because the president has overseen a historic surge in illegal immigration.

The media have long covered the migrant crisis under Biden as something that is happening to him.

Axios, Sept. 5—"Blue State Migrant Crisis Sparks Political Disaster for Biden":

Why it matters: President Biden is stuck between growing calls to help the Democratic-controlled cities, the politics of the vulnerable issue and what the administration views as legal handcuffs prohibiting much action.

Washington Post, Aug. 31—"Families Crossing US Border Illegally Reached All-Time High in August":

Record numbers of migrant families streamed across the U.S.-Mexico border in August, according to preliminary data obtained by the Washington Post, an influx that has upended Biden administration efforts to discourage parents from entering illegally with children and could once again place immigration in the spotlight during a presidential race.

New Yorker, June 12—"Biden's Dilemma at the Border: America’s broken immigration system has spawned a national fight, but Congress lacks the political will to fix it."

Then: The media showed much less understanding of the challenges Biden's predecessor faced in addressing immigration.

NPR, July 18, 2019—"Journalist Digs Into Years Of Corruption, Dysfunction At Border Protection Agency":

"[Politico's Garrett] Graff: I think that this is a very carefully designed crisis by the Trump administration. I think it seems clear from everything that we have seen over the last three years that the cruelty at the border is the point of the Trump administration's policy.

[NRP host] Terry Gross: What's the point of being cruel?

Graff: It plays to what Trump sees as his base."

Nor did Trump get credit for successfully, if sometimes brutally, containing the crisis that Biden has since unleashed.

"Trump got a handle on the border, which in 2014 and again in 2019 had descended into chaos," National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote in 2021, after Biden ended Trump's "Remain in Mexico" policy and "safe third country" agreements to get asylum seekers to apply in Central America. "Call it what you will, a crisis or a challenge or something else, but Biden is on a path to heedlessly repeat this experience."

On Tuesday morning, CNN reported, "The migrant crisis at the southern border is exploding once again," and Fox News's Bill Melugin said border encounters are "astronomically high and are fast approaching the all time record numbers we saw in May."