ABC, CBS Spotlight Suffering Illegal Immigrants

Fatherless children.  Abandoned wives.  Uncertain futures. 

Such is the grist of touching profiles on the network news, exactly what CBS Evening News and ABC World News Sunday served up in stories about the difficulties illegal immigrants face when the government seeks to enforce immigration laws. 

The additional element of churches providing sanctuary to illegal immigrants, thereby supporting the liberal political agenda, gave the networks an opportunity to portray churches in a flattering light.  Such positive portrayal of churches is not always evident when the churches are supporting traditional values or ideology.  (Click here and here for recent examples.)

CBS led the bi-network coverage with a feature on a small Iowa town where a kosher meatpacking plant is located.  CBS weekend anchor Forrest Sawyer reported that “900 federal, state and local agents swept down” on tiny Postville, Iowa “armed” with 700 arrest warrants.  The end result was hundreds of people detained, hundreds more on the run and 43 illegal immigrant parents, mostly mothers, wearing electronic monitoring ankle bracelets so they could care for a total of 90 children who were “left behind.”

Sawyer emphasized that the raid happened two months ago and the women were still waiting for their trials and in limbo until their cases were adjudicated.

CBS gave a platform to a local resident who said the action “destroyed so many lives and the town,” and introduced the hero in the piece: the local Catholic parish.  St. Bridgette's is providing money for rent, utility and medical bills to the illegal immigrants and spending $12,000 a week of its own money to provide what it calls a “lifeline.” 

SAWYER: It costs Saint Bridgette's $12,000 a week to keep the families going, and there's no government assistance. Homeland security says it's not their problem and Iowa Human Services says state law prevents them from assisting illegal immigrants. Paul Riel helps Sister Mary run the church's outreach program.

RIEL:  We've all heard about the American dream. Well, this is the American nightmare.

Sawyer reported on two managers at the meatpacking plant who were arrested for providing the workers with access to fake immigration documents.  However, aside from one police officer commenting on the raid, there was not one person featured in the story who supported the enforcement of illegal immigration laws, who stated the fact that these illegal immigrants were breaking the law, or who questioned the church's decision to aid and abet those who have broken the law.

The ABC story, reported by Eric Horng, differed from the CBS story in that the focus was churches providing sanctuary to illegal immigrants.  It also differed from CBS by including a spokesperson for the Illinois Minuteman Project, who said, “We want laws enforced.  We want comprehensive immigration law enforcement.”  But that was the only voice featured that called for enforcing existing immigration laws.  The story was heavily stacked with suffering illegal immigrants, compassionate clergy and immigration officials who spoke of focusing limited resources on “more real threats.”

Horng featured a woman who declared she was “not a terrorist, not a criminal,” and sympathetically portrayed another woman as coming to America to make money to “feed her children” whom she left behind in Mexico.  Horng included interviews with a Methodist pastor and Catholic priest who described their actions as “nonviolent civil disobedience.” Horng also included a former “top” immigration official who said, “There's been basically an unwritten rule (when it comes to arresting illegal immigrants), no churches, no schools, no parks.”

Horng stated uncritically that churches providing sanctuary is “less about hiding from the law than about changing it.”

The mainstream media have a history of bias when it comes to positively promoting liberal ideology.  The coverage of illegal immigration, told primarily through the sympathetic portrayal of women struggling to feed their children, is yet another example.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.