WATCH: How the Media Went From Denying the Border Crisis to Blaming Republicans for It

March 1, 2024

The mainstream media for years downplayed and denied the border crisis. They largely avoided the term itself and sometimes outright derided it.

Then, in late January, the White House backed a border security bill and congressional Republicans killed the legislation, saying it was too weak. Suddenly, "border crisis" was in the headlines, and news outlets were suggesting Republicans didn't care enough about the out-of-control illegal immigration.

NOW: Ahead of dueling visits to the southern border on Thursday by President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, who are once again facing off for the presidency in 2024, outlets leaned into the crisis. A New York Times liveblog about the border visits featured the word "crisis" 26 times.

Everyone is to blame, especially Republicans, the media agreed.

"Eagle Pass Has Been at the Epicenter of the Migrant Crisis," New York Times, Feb. 29:

When former President Donald J. Trump arrives Thursday in Eagle Pass, Texas, a border city that has become synonymous with the migration crisis, he will be the latest in a parade of politicians using the heavily fortified border along the Rio Grande as a backdrop for the political debate over immigration.

[Amerika Garcia Grewal, an immigration activist and native of Eagle Pass,] said she welcomes the visitors from Washington, but would like to see them come with solutions that help U.S. cities overwhelmed with new migrant arrivals and also treat migrants humanely. Most of the visits from Washington, she said, "are photo shoots."

"Biden and Trump’s Dueling Border Visits Will Encapsulate a Building Election Clash," CNN, Feb. 29:

Joe Biden and his predecessor and possible successor, Donald Trump, will tour different sectors of the border in Texas as they spell out dueling arguments on what everyone now agrees is a crisis.

"Biden Pushes Failed Border Deal in Texas Visit, Blasts GOP for Neglecting Crisis," Axios, Feb. 29:

Catch up quick: Biden's trip underscores a shift in his campaign to more forcefully address a migrant crisis at the border...

It was a continuation of a shift that started a month and a half earlier. Since Jan. 19—when Biden admitted the border was not "secure" and called on Congress to act—the Times has published the terms "border crisis" and "migrant crisis" in 71 news articles, according to the paper's digital archive.

"A Family Ranch, Swallowed Up in the Madness of the Border," New York Times, Feb. 18:

It was a humanitarian disaster. It was a drug crisis. It was a national security emergency. It was a cartel war and an American political battle all playing out during a presidential election year within the remote confines of their ranch.

"Biden’s No-Win Immigration Problem," Axios, Feb. 11:

The big picture: The reality at the U.S.-Mexico border over the last three years is unprecedented—back-to-back-to-back records for migrant encounters by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials. ...

On the right, Republicans are putting the squeeze on Biden. They have campaigned relentlessly on the "chaos at the border"—only to walk away from a bipartisan border deal in Congress that included concessions from Democrats.

"What’s Really Going on at the Border, Explained: What we mean when we say there’s a border crisis," Vox, Feb. 7:

Republicans may be incendiary in the way that they describe what’s happening on the border. But there’s no question that the situation is dire: The number of times U.S. immigration agents intercepted migrants attempting to cross the border exceeded 300,000 in December, up from about 250,000 in the same month last year. That’s more than has been recorded in a given month in over two decades.

"As Trump Vies To Blow Up Border Deal, Migrant Crisis Could Get Worse," Time, Jan. 27:

Getting any border package through both chambers of Congress was always going to be a challenge, but Trump’s urging of Republicans to refuse to help the Biden administration address the situation is prompting predictions that the issue may be dead until after the November election.

Such an outcome could exacerbate an already dangerous dynamic on the border, say immigration experts and lawmakers.

THEN: Back in 2023—when the White House was still claiming the border was secure despite soaring illegal immigration—it was taboo to say "border crisis" in the mainstream media. During the entirety of fiscal year, the third straight record-breaking year for migrant encounters at the southern border, the term appeared in 41 Times news articles, an average of less than four a month. That was less than one-fifth as often as in the 42 days since Biden backed the border bill.

In December, when migrant encounters reached an all-time monthly high, the Times printed "border crisis" in the news a total of three times, including once in a newsletter focused on how to play Wordle.

The unofficial ban on "border crisis" was imposed almost as soon as Biden took office and illegal immigration started to spike. In March 2021, the Associated Press cautioned: "The current event in the news—a sharp increase in the arrival of unaccompanied minors ... does not fit the classic dictionary definition of a crisis" and therefore "we should avoid, or at the least, be highly cautious, about referring to the present situation as a crisis."

The media apparently got the memo.

"Is There a Crisis at the Border? Advocates in Texas Say It’s ‘Political Manipulation,’" Guardian, March 19, 2021:

After four years of racist, chaotic, anti-immigration policies by the Trump administration—as well as growing desperation fueled by the pandemic and extreme climate events—the number of people seeking to enter the U.S. is rising.

But advocates in the Rio Grande Valley, where undocumented migrants have long been relied upon for cheap farm labour, reject incendiary claims that the numbers are overwhelming.

"The Migrant ‘Surge’ at the U.S. Southern Border Is Actually a Predictable Pattern," Washington Post, March 25, 2021:

Evidence reveals the usual seasonal bump—plus some of the people who waited during the pandemic

"The Real Border Crisis," Atlantic, March 26, 2021:

What is the border crisis? Is it the recent surge of migrants, or is it the treatment of those migrants in detention facilities? The answer to that question—or whether you consider the situation at the border to be a crisis at all—most likely determines what you think the Biden administration should do about it.

"It’s Not a Border Crisis. It’s a Climate Crisis." Politico, July 19, 2021:

And it’s not just climate change acting alone. It’s food insecurity. Malnutrition. Poverty. It all ties together.

"Parts of Southern Border in ‘Crisis’ but That Is ‘Nothing New,’ Agency Chief Says," ABC News, March 15:

Ortiz painted a complex and dynamic picture of the southern border in testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee, noting that Border Patrol apprehensions over the past two months have "declined significantly."

"Migrant Crossing Surges Aren’t New. Why Is the Border Overwhelmed?" New York Times, May 10:

Outdated immigration laws, partisan gridlock and conflict abroad are some reasons behind the strained U.S. border with Mexico.

Notably, the prohibition on "border crisis" seemed to soften in September after Democratic New York City mayor Eric Adams warned a flood of migrants would "destroy New York City." Nine Times articles included the words "border crisis" that month, more than double last year's monthly average, including "GOP Gets the Democratic Border Crisis It Wanted."

Outlets like CNN, the Post, and PBS also ran articles in September describing the situation as a crisis. Even the AP broke its own rule and reported there was a "border crisis."