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Discretion in the Criminal Justice System

      Discretion is arguably the most important tool in a criminal justice professional’s arsenal. Without it, we would be robots. Even the ...

Media Bias and the Migrant Caravan of 2019


    Labels are a tool used by the media to harbor specific feelings about a group of people to their audience. There has never been a time throughout history where we have been less surrounded by media than we are today. It’s on our televisions, on our computers, and even in the palm of our hands. We go to the news for information about the world around us, but when that information is disseminated through a filter that aligns with someone’s viewpoint, it is our job to put that bias on the side in order to understand the raw information being conveyed. When the media uses words such as, “rapists, criminals, and gang members,” in its reporting, it is attempting to paint a false scenario that is up to us to scrutinize fully and completely.

    In 2019 there was a large migrant caravan that was heading for the United States to cross the border illegally. The people were escaping the “barbaric crime and poverty” of Honduras, with safety in numbers being the primary reason for the size of the travelling group. (2019, Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health, 1280 - 1282) Along the way, these migrants were subjected to assault, the force-able taking of their documentation, deportation, and even murder. One unaccompanied minor named Jonathan had his phone and wallet stolen, was subjected to a tear-gas attack at the U.S. border, and watched a five-month old baby pass away. (2019, Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health, 1280 - 1282)

    There is an estimated 400,000 Central Americans that cross through Mexico and move North into the United States every year. (2019, Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health, 1280 - 1282) When the migrant caravan began its journey from San Pedro, Honduras In October 2018, there was around one-hundred people. That number increased to more than 7,000 by the time the caravan reached the Mexico – Guatemala border. (2019, Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health, 1280 - 1282) This means that there is obviously a huge desire to move north into the United States despite the risk along the way.

    If they make it to the border, the treatment by the United States is hardly any better. Because of the zero-tolerance policy, migrants crossing into the United States can be charged with a crime. When they are charged with a crime, they are detained and separated from their children. President Donald Trump signed an executive order to end the separation in June of 2018, but data from the border still suggests that as many as five children per day were still being separated from their families through the end of the year. (2019, Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health, 1280 - 1282)

    If you are wondering how atrocities can happen on U.S. soil, you can place a large part of the blame on the media. During the migrant caravan “crisis,” there were multiple stories being pitted against each other for the American people. While some were claiming that these people needed a better life and that we should welcome them with open arms, Trump and the more conservative outlets were claiming that over 600 criminals were travelling with the caravan and wished to enter into the United States to cause disruption. (Clarke, 2018, University Wire) In reality, there were a few criminals travelling with the caravan, but to know an exact number is incredibly doubtful and claiming that all members were criminals hurts the legitimacy of the people seeking asylum for a better life.

    A photo circulated on Facebook in 2018 depicting a Mexican police officer with deep gashes on his head. The photo was taken at a student protest in Mexico in 2012 and had nothing to do with the migrant caravan six years later. Still, it was shared and distributed by conservatives on social media with the caption, “"And WE are supposed to believe these are just poor, helpless refugees seeking asylum??? I am 100% behind POTUS deploying our military to protect our border and keep them out." (Timberg, Davis, & Tran, 2018, The Washington Post) This is a bold, flat-faced lie that can hurt people when shared on a media outlet.

    Social media is a finnicky source. There is no way to know the truth behind a picture without gathering more evidence for yourself first. Reporters have to interview people and present their best version of the facts, no matter how they spin the information which already makes them a bit more reliable. Social media does not have these limitations, making it extremely dangerous for the average individual reading the content. Usually it is just one or two photos with a sentence. The reader is supposed to gather all of the information from just this little snippet of data. This is why it is important for people to always fact-check information before posting something that could be destructive towards a specific group of people.

    Despite the ramifications of the media and the labeling of migrants, some positive aspects of social media are actually paving the way for migration. In a journal published by Erasmus University out of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, there are four ways in which social media transforms migrant networks. (Dekker & Engbersen, 2014, Global Networks Vol.14(4), 401-418) They allow migrants to be able to keep in contact with their home network despite migrating hundreds or even thousands of miles away, as well as, “address weak ties that are relevant to organizing the process of migration and integration.” (Dekker & Engbersen, 2014, Global Networks Vol.14(4), 401-418) They also establish a new network in the area that they have migrated to, and they allow migrants to coordinate on unofficial channels and help each other become “street smart” before they reach their destination. (Dekker & Engbersen, 2014, Global Networks Vol.14(4), 401-418)

    The use of social media by migrants helps them establish community before they reach their settlement location, keep ties with their family back in their home country, and learn things about their new home. (Dekker & Engbersen, 2014, Global Networks Vol.14(4), 401-418) While these are extremely important to the migrant’s experience, the most important thing that it does, arguably, is that it allows a flow of information between members of the group and creates a support network so that they do not have to go at it alone.

    Bias in the media will not go away on its own. This is why it is important for the public to be educated and understanding of the ways in which the media attempts to reinforce their viewpoints in ourselves. Social media is no different as this time we are being reported to by our own community of people who most likely have their own bias. When disinformation campaigns are released on the public with shock words to incite fear, such as the way the media covered the caravan incident, that fear grabs hold and causes people to act irrationally. This is why you have such groups as the minutemen in Arizona that regularly patrol the border or the egregious amount of people that are completely fine with toddlers and young, helpless children ripped away from their families and held in captivity for an undisclosed amount of time. Media, both social and corporate, contribute to xenophobia by enacting a bias on the populace against migratory peoples.


Sources pulled from:

Clarke, S. (2018, December 1). Top five media lies on the migrant caravan. University Wire

Dekker, R., & Engbersen, G. (2014). How social media transform migrant networks and facilitate migration . Global Networks Vol.14(4), 401-418.

Isaacs, M. (2019). Migrant Caravan. Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health, 1280 - 1282.

Timberg, C., Davis, A. C., & Tran, A. B. (2018, October 24). How years-old photo of bleeding officer is being used to stoke fears about migrant caravan. The Washington Post. Business Insights Global.