There are many problems facing the United States today: a faltering economy, a health-care crisis, and the continuing war in Iraq, to name a few. But viewers of some of the most prominent cable news programs are presented a different reality, one in which one issue stands above all others: illegal immigration.
Media Matters Action Network undertook this study in order to document the rhetoric surrounding immigration that is heard on cable news. When it comes to this issue, cable news overflows not just with vitriol, but also with a series of myths that feed viewers’ resentment and fears, seemingly geared toward creating anti-immigrant hysteria.
There are two types of myths we discuss in this report. The first type is the large and most common myths, about crime and undocumented immigrants, and the costs of illegal immigration in social services and taxes. These topics are complex, and there are sometimes legitimate points buried within the arguments immigration opponents make. The second type of myth is the urban legend: that there is a conspiracy to take back the Southwest United States for Mexico; that there is a secret plan to construct a “NAFTA Superhighway” running from Canada to Mexico; that the U.S. is well on its way to surrendering its sovereignty to a “North American Union” (NAU); that Mexican immigrants are infecting Americans with leprosy; and that undocumented immigrants are responsible for a wave of election fraud. These myths are discussed less often, but are notable for their sheer ludicrousness. The North American Union and NAFTA Superhighway are closely related, and indeed are often discussed in tandem (the building of the Superhighway being posited as a step on the road to the creation of the NAU), but since each is also often discussed alone, we examine these two myths separately.