How Biden torched the myth of "border crisis," and why the media is desperate to hold onto it

Before President Biden's press conference on Thursday, the Washington Post released an analysis of migration patterns at the border, and it found something that refuses to fit the narrative much of the media is running with, that the current increase in unaccompanied children coming across the border is attributable to the fact that the President is too decent a human being.

The Post's analysis, which uses apprehension data from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), shows that increase in the migration follows a predictable pattern that existed under the Trump administration, plus a small increase from the pent up demand from the pandemic year of 2020. The migratory patterns pick up in the spring and die down in the summer, when traveling through the desert is a death sentence.

The 2020 downturn in migration - a time during which not only had the United States closed its borders with Mexico but Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras all closed their own borders and instituted internal lockdowns in light of the coronavirus outbreak, making it exceedingly difficult for migrants to travel - artificially curbed the flow of migrants. The border restrictions between Mexico and other northern triangle countries began to be eased in mid September, and the status quo of the quasi-open border between Mexico and Guatemala was restored in mid October. Mexico has, however, announced another closure of its southern borders effective last week and lasting through April, and effects of that on migration remains to be seen.

To demonstrate how critical the flow of people internally between the northern triangle countries and Mexico is to migration patterns, here is a map for the uninitiated:

President Biden himself pointed to the statistics reported by the Post, stressing that in 2019, migration between January and February increased by 31%, compared to 28% between January and February of this year. The President pointed out that unlike now, no one in the media claimed back then that migration was out of control because Donald Trump was a nice guy. This broke down the false narrative on migration that the media had been pushing - apparently on the strength of interviews - that Joe Biden's compassion was motivating families to set their young on dangerous journeys over a dangerous path to an unknown land.

As the Post reported,

Scholars consistently find that border security policies do not necessarily deter migration; rather, they delay migrants’ decisions to travel and change the routes they take.

The President's utterance of facts may have been an embarrassing poke in the eye of the national media, and appears to have offended some of them - including the otherwise stellar reporter Yamiche Alcindor of PBS NewsHour. Alcindor defended her reporting that implicates Biden's demeanor for the uptick in migration, saying that she interviewed some people for whom that is a reality. As Speaker Pelosi once pointed out, the plural of anecdote is not data, and it is the job of journalists to report the actual data, not just anecdotal interviews. 

But the really offensive thing about this whole ordeal is that there was an entire room full of highly decorated media veterans in the room with the president, and none of them had apparently bothered with even a googling forced-migration, let alone studied either the data or the historical facts on the root causes of migration.

The root causes of migration have nothing to do with how hospitable and welcoming the conditions in the destination country are. People who are fleeing violence and extreme, deadly poverty are motivated by survival, not the lures of a red carpet. Indeed, most refugees across the globe migrate to places that are inhospitable, places they are treated as second or third class citizens, and conditions American law doesn't even contemplate, just to survive.

Think, for example, of Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh during what can only be characterized as an ethnic cleansing in Burma. Tens of thousands of Rohingya families are still living in refugee camps - the largest of which burned down this week - in Bangladesh, itself one of the world's most impoverished countries.

Consider the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, two-thirds of whom live in poverty. Nearly half of the refugee children are unable to attend school, and tens of thousands remain in refugee camps.

Sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for 26% of all refugees worldwide - over half of whom are women and children - people are fleeing violence, murder, and rape, and the support for refugees within Africa is severely underfunded.

War. Famine. Ethnic cleansing. Natural disasters Terrorism. Religious, social, and political persecution. Extreme poverty. These are the causes of forced migration. That is what both lived experience and the data say. Ask anyone one who studies or works with refugee populations. No one will say, "Oh, yeah, they were meticulously planning their movement around what a nice guy their destination country's leader is."

More than being counterfactual, though, the media narrative of "Biden Mr. Nice Guy, therefore border crisis!" belittles the experience of the refugees themselves, especially of children. It also adapts the right wing frame that Americans must be cruel and heartless or brown people will take over the country, rather than reminding Americans that we have an obligation both to treat people humanely and lead a global response that addresses the root causes of forced migration.

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