While horrific conditions in migrant detention centers shocked the world in recent days, the Trump administration ramped up a propaganda campaign lauding its own performance and portraying migrants as dangerous criminals.
This latest clash in the immigration infowar ignited on Tuesday. As images and reports from overcrowded Border Patrol facilities lit up social media, the White House blasted out a barrage of “positive” messages celebrating drug busts, highlighting supposed attempts at human trafficking, and even sharing an individual’s mugshot.
On Tuesday alone, the White House tweeted or retweeted 16 such posts to its 18.7 million Twitter followers. It added 10 more between its official accounts on Facebook (8.6 million followers) and Instagram (4.9 million followers). Two images purporting to show Border Patrol agents rescuing migrants appeared on the latter platform in a span of just minutes Tuesday afternoon.
“Human smugglers endanger migrants' lives and safety,” one read. “Yesterday, U.S. agents rescued a teenage boy with special needs — who could not walk on his own — from the banks of the Rio Grande River.”
The PR blast came a day after lawmakers visited detention centers packed with migrants, sharing information about the squalid conditions with VICE News and other media outlets. On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General also dropped a scathing report on Border Patrol facilities’ “dangerous overcrowding.” Photos published in the report showed men, women, and children squeezed into holding cells and lying on the floors of cages.
Even that official information failed to deter pro-Trump media outlets from following the White House’s lead and shrugging off the severity of conditions. Fox News has pushed the line from Customs and Border Protection that it’s all misinformation, casting doubt on firsthand accounts by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats.
The counter-programming fits a well-worn pattern for the White House and its media allies. The Trump campaign, which infamously launched in 2015 by portraying Mexicans as murderous rapists, has poured piles of cash into Facebook in Google this year in advertisements that similarly demonize immigrants or call for “The Wall.”
Last week, as Democrats took the stage for their first primary debates, Trump’s re-election campaign plastered such messages across YouTube’s homepage — some of the priciest real estate on the internet. It echoed many of the same themes seen on official White House accounts Tuesday.
“Drugs, terrorists, violent criminals and child traffickers trying to enter our country,” an ominous voice began an ad likely seen by millions of people. “But Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer care more about the radical left than keeping us safe. The consequences? Drug deaths. Violent murder. Gang violence.”
Cover: Immigrant families are searched by a border security officer before being transferred to a U.S. Border Patrol facility in McAllen after crossing the border from Mexico on July 02, 2019 in Los Ebanos, Texas. Hundreds of immigrants, most from Central America, turned themselves in to Border Patrol agents after rafting across the Rio Grande to seek political asylum in the United States. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)