Breitbart’s awful article on Central American refugees

Usually, I don’t do this kind of post, but this article represented such an egregious trampling of journalistic principles that I thought I’d point it out. Here’s Breitbart’s lede:

An elite, law-enforcement sensitive El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) intel report from July 7, 2014 was leaked to Breitbart Texas and reveals that homicide rates in Central America suggest violence is likely not the primary cause of the surge of thousands of unaccompanied minors and incomplete family units illegally entering the United States.

So, the highest homicide rates in the world are not driving emigration from Central America. Sounds plausible. Please explain.

The leaked EPIC report discusses the motivational factors of the illegal immigrants in their choice to migrate to the United States:

(U//LES) In late May, the U.S. Border Patrol interviewed unaccompanied children (UAC) and migrant families apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley. Of the 230 total migrants interviewed, 219 cited the primary reason for migrating to the United States was the perception of U.S. immigration laws granting free passes or permisos to UAC and adult female OTMs traveling with minors. Migrants indicated that knowledge of permisos was widespread across Central America due to word of mouth, local, and international media messaging—prompting many to depart for the United States within 30 days of becoming aware of these perceived benefits, according to the same reporting.

Undoubtedly, a desire to reunify with family members and hopes of being granted asylum play a role in driving migration. But surely, if news of “permisos” had spread throughout Central America, so has the news about the extreme perils of the journey north and the oftentimes inhumane treatment of child migrants apprehended after entering the US. Would migrants really take these immense risks (many make multiple attempts) if the situation in their home countries weren’t absolute hellish?

But, the report essentially admits EPIC have no idea what they’re talking about:

Although EPIC lacks reliable reporting of Central American newspapers broadcasting the perceived benefits of U.S. immigration policies, several U.S. media outlets since June 2014 have identified Central American newspapers that have enticed minors to travel to the United States.

What does that even mean? EPIC “lack reliable reporting” on publicly-available Central American media reports? Media reports that are apparently broadcast so widely and regularly that their assertions about “free passes and permisos” are common knowledge among the general public in these countries, including children who are often too frightened of police and gang violence to even go to school?

Another thing Breitbart obscures is the fact that EPIC is a government agency. According to their report, “EPIC is a widely respected intelligence analysis group and was initially staffed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).” The report does mention that the government agencies “currently represented at” EPIC include the whole alphabet soup of law enforcement, including:

…Drug Enforcement Administration; Department of Homeland Security; Customs & Border Protection; Immigration & Customs Enforcement; U.S. Coast Guard; Federal Bureau of Investigation; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Marshals Service; Department of Transportation; Internal Revenue Service; U.S. Department of the Interior; National Geospatial–Intelligence Agency; U.S. Department of Defense/IC; Joint Task Force–North; Joint Interagency Task Force–South; Texas Department of Public Safety; Texas Air National Guard; National Guard Counter Narcotics Bureau; Department of State; Bureau of Indian Affairs; Union Pacific Railroad Police; Kansas City Southern Railroad Police; El Paso Police Department; and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.

In other words, this report was produced by an organization whose members and employees have a stake in continuing the drug war and increasing the militarization of the border. Unsurprisingly, their conclusion is that the problem is not a result of failed drug war policies that simply push violent criminals around the region without actually solving underlying issues.

According to EPIC, no real recalibration of US policies is necessary. We just need to make the kids more afraid of coming to the border than they are of staying in their crime- and violence-ravaged home countries. Or something:

EPIC assesses that UAC flow to the border will remain elevated until migrants’ misperceptions about US immigration benefits are changed. We further judge that this process could take the remainder of 2014 given the time needed for bi-lateral coordination efforts—such as information and enforcement campaigns in Mexico and Central America—to take hold.

Most independent research on the causes of migration from Central America, as well as a plethora of anecdotal reports, suggest that violence is one of the prime factors behind unaccompanied child migration. It’s quite disappointing (though not entirely surprising) that Breitbart would basically reprint misleading government propaganda regarding this issue.

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