In advance of immigrant rights mobilizations planned for April 5, an anti-immigrant think tank published a misleading report titled “Catch and Release.” In the report, author Jessica Vaughan accuses the Obama administration of releasing “68,000 convicted criminal aliens” in 2013 and abusing its authority through its use of prosecutorial discretion.
The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) published the report on Monday, and its timing is no accident.
Immigrant rights advocates estimate that the Obama administration will hit 2 million deportations sometime this week. “Not One More” protests are planned across the country this Saturday to call attention to the devastating impact of the administration’s enforcement-first approach. The CIS report functions as an indirect response to individual stories of families torn apart by immigration policies, and to record-setting deportations.
The report’s dehumanizing language is consistent with its advocacy of inhumane policies. The very title — “catch and release” — refers to a practice in recreational fishing where fish are unhooked and dropped back in the water rather than killed and eaten or sold. Throughout the report, Vaughan refers to immigrants as aliens, and highlights the “convicted criminal aliens” who have been allowed to stay in the United States. Changing laws that criminalize people are never mentioned. Instead, Vaughan frames immigrants as predators and warns: “It’s not a matter of if, but how many families will suffer harm as a result.”
The racially coded language of “alien” and “criminal” evokes a particular image without being explicit. In parallel fashion, her use of bureaucratic language to refer to immigrants and her focus on statistics illustrate a refusal to engage with the human suffering behind the numbers. By referring to people who migrate to the US as animals, criminals, aliens, and simply as numbers, Vaughan sets the stage for her ultimate conclusion, which is that there must be more interior enforcement, “accelerated removal,” and “more detention capacity.” This jargon means arresting, detaining, and deporting even more people.
The CIS study was amplified by several conservative news outlets and politicians. The report received widespread coverage on Fox News, as documented by Media Matters, with radio host Todd Starnes referring to the study as “indisputable proof that the Obama Administration is destabilizing the nation by allowing hordes of dangerous illegal aliens to invade the country.”
Republican Senator Jeff Sessions responded to the report saying, “The preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that immigration enforcement in America has collapsed.”
Similarly, Congressman Lamar Smith from Texas repeated the study’s central claims, and proclaimed “The Administration disregarded the safety and lives of the American people when they released these criminal illegal immigrants back into our neighborhoods.”
Statements like these play to people’s fears and prejudices. They fuel anxiety about safety and changing demographics, and fuel policies that harm communities of color.
Beyond its use of biased language and fear-mongering, the study plainly misrepresents the data. Vaughan claimed that 68,000 “convicted criminal aliens” had been released in 2013. ICE refuted Vaughan’s numbers explaining that they do not represent people who had been convicted. Furthermore, the study states that ICE only charged 25% of those it came into contact with in 2013. What goes unsaid in the report is that ICE deports far more people than it charges. And while the high deportation numbers are no cause for celebration, willful misrepresentation of the data does not move the conversation forward.
Finally, regardless of the numbers, for CIS it will never be enough. CIS was founded in 1985 by a white nationalist John Tanton, and functions as the research arm of a controversial anti-immigrant network. For them, there will never be enough enforcement. They issue report after report, feigning academic credibility and inserting cooked data and overtly racist claims to mainstream media. Instead of giving them the microphone, media outlets should shut them out, and the rest of us should shut them down.