You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Fox News’s Ugly Eruption Over Biden Immigration Move Has a Hidden Tell

Biden’s new executive action is actually about people who live and have roots here. Right-wingers know they can’t win if the debate is about these folks—so they scream, “Border!”

Stephen Miller holds his hand next to his face
Kent Nishimura/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Stephen Miller, former White House senior adviser for policy, in National Harbor, Maryland, on Friday, February 23

Fox News is already erupting over the news that President Biden is granting legal protections to a half-million undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens. On the network, MAGA diehards are deriding the move as an illegal exercise of executive power, which is rich coming from backers of Donald Trump, who openly vows to throw his political enemies in jail with zero legal basis if reelected president.

But that aside, there’s a key tell buried in all this reaction: It seizes on this new Biden executive action to refocus the argument on the state of the border, which is not seriously relevant to the policy, as it grants relief to longtime immigrant residents. This shows that Fox and MAGA cannot allow the immigration debate to focus on that population, because it is largely viewed sympathetically by the voting public.

“Going rogue on the border,” insisted one Fox News anchor, speaking about Biden’s announcement. In segment after segment collected by Media Matters, Fox interspersed the news with “Biden’s Border Crisis” chyrons, visuals of migrants swarming the border, discussion of drug cartels and great replacement theory, and even migrant mug shots.

Meanwhile, on-air figures insisted the policy will lead to more illegal border crossing and that Biden is “rewarding people” for breaching the border. One even invoked the horrific murder of a young Maryland woman, Rachel Morin, allegedly by a recently arrived migrant, thus insinuating the policy is a massive blow to border security that will unleash more crime and mayhem.

MAGA personalities echoed this line off of Fox as well. “Biden to give unconstitutional amnesty to illegal aliens during a border invasion,” raged Trump immigration adviser Stephen Miller. Arkansas GOP Senator Tom Cotton also linked the policy to the murder of Morin, and the Republican National Committee did the same while railing about Morin’s murder at the hands of a “BIDEN ILLEGAL.”

It’s a disgusting smear. Biden’s action will allow undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens to apply for “parole in place,” letting them temporarily remain lawfully here despite originally entering illegally, while they seek lawful permanent resident status—that is, green cards.

Importantly, federal law already allows U.S. citizens to petition for green cards for undocumented spouses. But under the law many must leave the country first (often for up to three or 10 years) to apply. The new policy would simply allow those undocumented spouses—provided they’ve been here at least 10 years and meet other conditions—to remain lawfully here and get work permits while entering that already existing application process for legal status. This lets them work lawfully and come out of the shadows while preventing the needless breakup of families along the way.

It’s despicable to tar these 500,000 people with this heinous murder allegedly by a vicious thug. They are married to American citizens and have lived here for at least a decade. As FWD.Us details, many have deep roots in communities across the country, have long been working or have started businesses here, and are raising American children.

One particularly absurd GOP argument is that parole for these people will operate as a “pull” factor incentivizing more illegal border crossing. But by definition, it cannot function that way, since it applies only to those who have been here for 10 years as of mid-June, notes Cato Institute analyst David Bier.

“People are coming here because there are jobs, opportunities, and safety,” Bier said. “Not because they plan to sneak across, marry an American, and then hope another president will let them apply for legal residence in 10 years. The theory is laughable.”

Nor is the policy a grotesque abuse of power. According to officials, the parole program’s legal basis is federal law that affords the executive authority to grant parole to undocumented migrants on a case-by-case basis for “urgent humanitarian reasons” or “significant public benefit.” That plainly applies to this population.

Yes, implementing the policy on a lawful case-by-case basis is complicated, and Republicans may sue. But put simply, Congress created the executive discretion Biden is using. Dozens of legal scholars have signed a new letter defending the move as a faithful exercise of that authority in keeping with the law’s intent to give administrations tools to treat certain migrants humanely in unforeseen circumstances.

Marielena Hincapie, a visiting scholar at Cornell Law School, points out that “parole in place” was used by the administration of President George W. Bush to grant protections to undocumented spouses of individual military families, and President Barack Obama made it policy for those families more broadly. “Now Biden is extending this long-established policy used by Republican and Democratic administrations to benefit America families,” Hincapie said.

Given all that history, there’s something highly revealing about the Fox and MAGA descent into such vile demagoguery. Miller, Trump, and others enthuse about launching mass deportations, but they often describe this as the removal of a dangerous, amorphous enemy class within. Biden’s new move highlights that many of those people are deeply connected to U.S. communities and to countless American families. These real people are harder to demagogue, so Republicans are shouting: Look over there at the border instead!

All this confirms a larger point. When Biden announced new limits on asylum in early June, some analysts saw it as evidence that he must embrace stricter border security to win reelection. But that’s only half the story. While the border is a real problem for Democrats, the Biden approach is to combine restrictions on asylum-seeking by unlawful border crossers with reforms making it easier for people to immigrate and integrate in a rules-bound, orderly way.

Biden’s asylum restrictions arguably have indefensibly gone too far. But his recent moves do not vindicate the politics of Trumpism or show that Biden is “getting more Trumpian” on the substance, as we often hear. Their approaches are fundamentally different. Trump vows to expel the whole undocumented population via giant detention camps and even the military. Biden is restricting asylum while also paroling into the country tens of thousands of migrants who apply from abroad each month (broadening legal pathways to shift incentives away from trekking to the border), extending Temporary Protected Status to others where possible, and now, granting protections to hundreds of thousands of undocumented spouses of American citizens.

That combination should allow Biden to draw a contrast with Trump. Biden needs to make this about something larger than the borderabout immigration as a positive good for the countrywhile pitting his humane treatment of undocumented migrants living here or seeking alternative pathways to entry against Trump’s threat to inflict extraordinary cruelty, disruption, and suffering via mass removal of millions.

Time will tell if this contrast will work. But we know this right now: Fox and MAGA need the argument to be all about faceless, menacing hordes of invaders and criminals. The last thing they want is for voters to focus on who all these undocumented immigrants in our midst actually are.