Today I came across this lengthy explainer at Vox titled “9 questions about the humanitarian crisis on the border, answered.” The piece is clearly meant to be a review of the overall situation but I was struck by the mild tone, even when discussing the fact that the Biden administration is arguably reviving what used to be called “kids in cages” and not allowing journalists access to the sites to see for themselves. I found myself thinking ‘this isn’t how I remember Vox covering this during the Trump administration.’
And sure enough it isn’t. I looked back and found this piece from June 2019. It’s titled, “The horrifying conditions facing kids in border detention, explained.” Here’s a sample:
At any given time, for the past several weeks, more than 2,000 children have been held in the custody of US Border Patrol without their parents. Legally, they’re not supposed to be held by border agents for more than 72 hours before being sent to the Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for finding their nearest relative in the US to house them while their immigration cases are adjudicated.
In practice, they’re being held for days, sometimes weeks, in facilities without enough food or toothbrushes — going days without showering, overcrowded and undercared for.
Late last week, the conditions of that detention in one facility in Clint, Texas, became public when investigators, checking on the US government’s obligations under the Flores agreement (which governs the care of immigrant children in US custody), were so horrified that they turned into public whistleblowers and spoke to the Associated Press about what they saw…
The story gained even wider traction after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) reference to the detention facilities as “concentration camps,” and the ensuing debate over whether that term was appropriate.
You get the idea. The Trump administration was openly saying it had a crisis on its hands but the press was in full outrage mode. There was outrage about the 2,000 children being held by the CBP longer than 72 hours, horror over the conditions they were in. And as noted above, AOC was comparing the facilities to concentration camps. Vox, at least in this piece, wasn’t willing to disagree with her.
Now let’s jump forward to two days ago and see how Vox is covering the situation now. There are approximately 5,000 children in the same conditions with 3,000 being held over the 72 hour limit. The situation is twice as bad as it was in 2019. Is Vox twice as outraged?
The southern border is presenting President Joe Biden with a major humanitarian, political, and logistical challenge.
The left is criticizing the administration’s inhumane treatment of record numbers of unaccompanied migrant children arriving from Central America as thousands are being kept in jail-like facilities — the same “cages” that drew condemnation in 2019 under then-President Donald Trump. The right is falsely claiming that Biden inherited a secure border from his predecessor and that his policies have led to a national security crisis.
Meanwhile, media coverage of the border has been hyperbolic, depicting a “surge” of migrants overwhelming the US border. Five of the nine reporters at Biden’s press conference on Thursday asked questions about immigration.
Wow! The tone is quite different. In the very first paragraph, Vox adopts the language the Biden administration has been using, calling the situation a “challenge.” Then in the second paragraph the author claims the left is criticizing the administration for keeping kids in “cages.” Really? Because most of the people I’ve seen bringing up the “kids in cages” language have been on the right. And I certainly don’t see anyone on the left talking about concentration camps this time around.
In the third paragraph, the author accuses the media of being hyperbolic about the situation! Hello, Vox 2021 I’d like to introduce you to Vox 2019. Clearly, you haven’t met. The rest of the story is more of the same. It eventually does circle back to the kids in cages issue. Are you ready for the outrage?
At times over the past seven years when resources at the border have become overwhelmed by arrivals of families and unaccompanied children, however, children have been kept in those facilities beyond the legal limit. That is why the Obama administration, the Trump administration, and now the Biden administration have been accused of keeping “kids in cages.”
In recent weeks, there have been reports of children in the facilities sleeping on gym mats with nothing but mylar blankets to keep them warm and not being permitted to go outside or take a shower for days at a time. The Biden administration has so far prevented the media from touring the facilities, which would offer better insight into the conditions.
BuzzFeed reported that, as of Wednesday, more than 3,000 children in the facilities had been there longer than the legal limit.
Yes, the situation is comparable to the one in 2019. Yes, kids are still seeping on floors under mylar blankets. Yes, the Biden administration is keeping the media from seeing what is happening. And yes, there are more kids now than before. And despite all of this there’s no real outrage. No horror. Vox buried this about halfway down into a piece that is several thousands words long (There are 9 topics and this is number 5).
The stuff that used to be headline-worthy and cause for outrage is now just a bullet point which gets three very brief, anodyne paragraphs. I wonder what changed?