National Public Radio’s (NPR) Ailsa Chang recently interviewed U.S. immigration history professor Erika Lee from the University of Minnesota about “anti-immigrant sentiments” and how they have historically been tied to times of hardship, including “disease, economic downturns and war.” This interview was conducted in the context of the recent presidential Executive Order (EO) temporarily pausing issuance of about ten percent new immigrant green cards. The order is in response to the “invisible enemy” of the coronavirus pandemic and a historic economic downturn which has resulted in 30 million Americans being laid off.
First, listen to the five minute interview.
Next, I’ve offered some commentary about the interview itself, focusing on whether or not it fairly educates the public about historic immigration patterns or the rationale and effects of the recent EO. Finally, I’ll ask you to do the same.
Professor Lee comments that the President’s actions are right out of the “xenophobic playbook,” that contains messaging about immigrants bringing disease, immigrants taking jobs and the need to protect the American worker. She notes that this has happened both historically and “in recent years as well,” yet fails to point to a single event in the last 50 years where any of her examples have actually produced a reduction, or pause, in immigration in the United States.
- The 2008 economic crash sent the stock market plunging and resulted in Americans seeing their real estate values and retirement accounts tank. That didn’t trigger a reduction in immigration.
- In the last 20 years, we’ve had global pandemics of influenza, SARS and Ebola. None of these triggered a pause or reduction in immigration.
- Lee refuses to acknowledge that a real problem even exists, apparently shrugging off the 30 million unemployed Americans and worldwide pandemic as a gimmick used by the President to harness immigration as a political issue. Academia can be somewhat insulating, but Lee can’t possibly be blind to the economic agony around here and the recent deaths of more than 60,000 of her fellow countrymen. And even those conditions haven’t led to a significant reduction in immigration. President Trump’s EO will temporarily affect 10 percent, or less, of the more than one million people admitted to the U.S. each year as lawful permanent residents. That’s not even a short shut-down of our immigration assembly line.
Chang then raises the issue of the deadly 1918 influenza pandemic – the closest comparison we have to the coronavirus today – and whether or not it caused any reduction in immigration. Lee answers that immigration had already dropped off sharply due to World War One and loss of transatlantic ferry travel, but the U.S. still allowed in 110,000 immigrants in 1918. Lee is pushing a false narrative– either intentionally our out of her ignorance of the presidnet’s EO – that we have somehow suddenly shut down immigration. What she fails to understand is that the EO does not affect foreign guestworkers at all, meaning that tens of thousands of them will still enter the U.S. despite the pandemic and record unemployment. And immigrant admissions, for this year alone – when green card issuance inevitably returns to normal – will likely best the 1918 numbers by ten-fold, surpassing one million admissions.
Lee also conveniently treats the President’s decision to halt travel into the U.S., and temporarily pause immigration, as a uniquely American reaction to the current situation. This is preposterous, and the exact opposite is true. Virtually every nation on earth has curtailed immigrant admissions because of the contagious nature of this virus. And the vast majority of the world’s countries – outside of Western Europe and North America – regularly close their borders in response to all types of perceived threats.
What I found most inexcusable about the interview was both Chang and Lee’s characterization of the well-documented fact that American workers regularly lose jobs to immigrants and guestworkers as some kind of “urban legend.” Any fourth grader with a computer could have done a quick Google or YouTube search and found videos like this where Leo Perrero, a real American, offers his first-hand testimonial of how he was fired from his high-tech job at Disney and forced to train his foreign guest worker replacement.
This was not an educational interview for NPR’s listeners, but rather a one-sided indoctrination driven by Chang’s personal desire to badmouth the President. To provide a more accurate and full account of the President’s policies, Chang should have played devil’s advocate with Lee, challenging her false assertions and offering global context showing how other countries in similar situations are reacting to this situation. She did neither.
I’m admittedly not a regular NPR listener, but including this interview in a new segment called “All Things Considered,” is a crime in an of itself. This part of the program should have been called “Our Opinion Considered.”
One final note. Prior to the publication of this blog, FAIR’s President Dan Stein sent a letter to Chang pointing out her apparent bias and urging a fairer approach in the future. Chang refused to acknowledge receipt of the letter or offer any response.
Grade: Remember, you’re not grading Chang or Lee on whether or not you agree with them, but rather how well they present the public with the whole context of the situation and whether they offer a fair and balanced look. On that front, I give them both a solid D (I’m being generous).