A significant portion of the media’s immigration reporting is both vague and misleading. A recent story in The Cut is a perfect example: Titled “9-Year-Old Girl Detained at Border for Providing ‘Inconsistent Information,’” it purports to call out U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for unreasonably detaining a young child.
We’re told that Julia Isabel Amparo Medina, a U.S. citizen, was attempting to cross the U.S./Mexico border at the San Ysidro port of entry, when CBP officers took the youngster into custody and held her for over 32 hours. Of course, what The Cut glosses over is how the child attempted to cross the border and why she was detained.
Apparently, Julia and her brother Oscar Amparo Medina live in Tijuana and commute to school in the United States. On the day Julia was taken into immigration custody, a family friend named Michelle Cardenas offered to drive the Amparo Medina children to school, along with her own kids. However, when Ms. Cardenas found herself running late and in a slow-moving inspection line, she told the children to “just walk across the border.”
The Cut didn’t think that was a big deal. After all, what else should a busy transnational mom running late for the school day be expected to do? Nevertheless, what The Cut didn’t seem to grasp was how the situation might appear to CBP.
Sending children, who present stolen American passports, through a port of entry without an adult is a common smuggler’s ploy. All U.S. citizens, even unaccompanied children, are entitled to be readmitted to the United States. Children grow and change quickly enough that immigration inspectors will often disregard differences between a minor’s appearance and the photo on his/her passport. So smugglers equip foreign kids with filched U.S. citizenship documents, drop them off at a port of entry, and instruct the children to make their way through the immigration inspection line by themselves. If the kids manage to clear immigration, another smuggler reclaims them on the American side of the border.
Judicial decisions on family separation, and the detention of minors, have turned children into “get-into-America-free” tickets. As a result, CBP is hyper-vigilant about making sure that children crossing the border aren’t “rent-a-kids” being used in “child recycling” schemes, or victims of human trafficking.
So, rather than deliberately terrifying a nine-year-old, as The Cut implies, CBP officers seem to have stopped young Julia and taken the appropriate steps to identify her and return her to an actual family member. Moreover, the whole situation could have been avoided if Ms. Cardenas had simply exercised better judgment. But, The Cut declined to address any of those issues – because they don’t support the “CBP as racist/alien as victim” narrative.
The Cut isn’t the type of media organization you’d expect to produce insightful coverage of a complex issue like immigration. Its pages are filled with the sort of light-hearted fluff that one reads in the lobby of the dentist’s office while waiting for a cleaning. Nevertheless, even pop-culture news outlets should have some kind of editorial standards. If it can’t provide both facts and context, without misleading hype, then The Cut ought to stick to its forte: pieces like “The Divorced Woman Trying to Stop Sleeping With Her Ex,” and “Is It Any Fun to Shop at New York’s New Mega Mall.”