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Border

Gov. Greg Abbott

Youtube Screenshot

After at least 50 migrants were found dead from heat exposure after they were left trapped in an abandoned truck in San Antonio, Texas, this week, some mainstream media outlets became vehicles for right-wing politicians to exploit the horrific event by printing their outlandish comments without sufficient pushback.

On Monday night, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted, “These deaths are on Biden. They are a result of his deadly open border policies. They show the deadly consequences of his refusal to enforce the law.”

It ought to be obvious that “open border policies” are not responsible for this horrifying tragedy; people would not resort to sneaking across the border, the victims of human smugglers, if the border were in fact “open” and easy to cross.

As University of Texas Rio Grande Valley political science professor Terence Garrett told PolitiFact while responding to Abbott’s previous lies about Biden’s immigration policies, “There's no such thing as an open border.” According to Garrett, current border security measures include nearly 20,000 Border Patrol agents, aerial surveillance systems, and hundreds of miles of fencing. “We don’t have an open border,” Garrett said. “That’s absurd.”

Though this week’s horror was perhaps the deadliest human smuggling event in modern American history, these types of tragedies are not a new phenomenon and neither is the predictable right-wing response. After the deaths of 10 migrants in Texas in July 2017 — when Donald Trump was president and Abbott was also the governor of Texas — right-wing media voices called for more border wall construction and the defunding of so-called “sanctuary cities.”

However, recent history shows that more fencing and Border Patrol resources do not actually deter migration. Instead, such policies simply divert migrants into more dangerous routes, while the core issues that lead them to flee their homelands remain unaddressed. In fact, the increasingly intense security along the southern border is in part responsible for greater suffering and death among migrants. Migrants have been killed or injured from falls when attempting to scale the barriers, while others are driven deeper into inhospitable desert regions as they search for accessible crossings.

Mainstream Media Privilege Abbott’s Lies

In a tweet, The New York Times simply publicized Abbott’s smear of Biden without adding any explanation. The linked article from the Times’ live page included Abbott’s full quote, without any direct pushback or inclusion of data about the Biden administration’s continued enforcement efforts or any clear demonstration that the Times realized Abbott’s claim was false.

Other news outlets carried the basic facts that the Biden administration is indeed fully enforcing border security. But they also created a false political balance by still repeating Abbott’s outrageous accusation and not specifically debunking his false claim. The Washington Post, for example, pointed out that Customs and Border Patrol had made 239,416 arrests in May, further commenting: “The agency is on pace to surpass the record 1.73 million border arrests tallied in 2021 — presenting an ongoing logistical and political challenge for the Biden administration.” Immediately following that sentence, the Post still ran Abbott’s baseless accusation that the deaths were purportedly the result of Biden’s “refusal to enforce the law.”

Similarly, The Associated Press quoted immigration advocate Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, who pointed out, “With the border shut as tightly as it is today for migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, people have been pushed into more and more dangerous routes.”

But then the AP immediately quoted not only Abbott, but also former White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, a notorious white nationalist who sought to push asylum entries down to zero during the Trump administration.

The AP did not provide any of this context to readers, instead simply serving as a stenographer for an anti-immigrant zealot: “Stephen Miller, a chief architect of former President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, said, ‘Human smugglers and traffickers are wicked and evil’ and that the administration’s approach to border security rewards their actions.” (As documented above, tough border policies do “reward” human smugglers by fostering the economic and logistical incentives for them to prey on migrants — though Miller would insist upon even tougher crackdowns and more exclusionary policies.)

Following the article’s citation of Miller, the AP then quoted Abbott: “Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican running for reelection, was blunt in a tweet about the Democratic president: ‘These deaths are on Biden. They are a result of his deadly open border policies.’”

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

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Steve Bannon
BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS

In recent weeks, several people close to Steve Bannon, former President Trump’s erstwhile adviser and strategist, received subpoenas to testify before a New York state grand jury about the ex-adviser’s fundraising efforts for a private border wall, which Trump promised to build and make Mexico pay for, CNN reported on Friday.

The subpoenaed testimony will aid the Manhattan District Attorney’s probe into Bannon, which kicked off shortly after Trump pardoned Bannon, CNN stated, citing unnamed sources privy to the investigation.

The subpoenas underscore the intensification of the Manhattan DA’s investigation, which could lead to criminal charges against Bannon. Trump’s pardon may shield Bannon from federal charges, but it does not affect state prosecutions.

Federal prosecutors accused Bannon and three others — Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato, and Timothy Shea — of fraud and money laundering for allegedly siphoning hundreds of thousands of dollars from “We Build the Wall,” a crowdfunding campaign for Trump’s border wall that raised $25 million.

Prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York said Bannon siphoned $1 million from We Build the Wall through a non-profit group he controlled to “secretly pay” Kolfage, a disabled Air Force veteran and face of the crowdfunding initiative. Bannon was also accused of diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars for his personal use.

“We’re off the coast of Saint-Tropez in southern France, in the Mediterranean,” Bannon said, sitting beside Kolfage on a yacht in 2019. “We’re on the million-dollar yacht of Brian Kolfage. Brian Kolfage, who took all that money from ‘We Build The Wall.’ No, we’re actually in Sunland Park, New Mexico.”

However, the looming investigation is not the end of Bannon’s legal woes. He was charged with contempt of Congress for failing to comply with a subpoena issued by the House Select Committee, a congressional panel investigating the January 2021 insurrection. Bannon pleaded not guilty.

News outlets asked Bannon’s lawyer about the subpoenas, and he replied, “I am unaware of these matters.”

According to the 2020 indictment, Kolfage, who promised not to pocket a single cent of the donations, spent his million on home renovations, a boat, and even plastic surgery, among other things.

Trump, who made building a “big, beautiful wall” a central part of his 2016 election campaign, later criticized the effort — which, in 2019, constructed one mile of an 18-foot-high fence on a private property it owned — saying it was initiated “only to make me look bad.”

Trump pardoned Bannon before leaving the White House but not his three co-conspirators. Last month, Kolfage and Badolato pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, and Kolfage also pleaded guilty to tax-related charges. Shea pleaded not guilty to wire-fraud, tax-related, and records-falsifying charges and is now on trial in federal court.