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CNS' Anti-Immigration Bias repeatedly describes comprehensive immigration reform as "amnesty" -- even as it concedes it's a term used only by critics of reform.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 9/22/2010

The dictionary defines "amnesty" as "a general pardon for offenses, esp. political offenses, against a government, often granted before any trial or conviction." The implication is that there are no preconditions before the amnesty is given., has reported (on April 29 and July 1) that "amnesty" is a term used by "critics" and "opponents" of comprehensive immigration reform -- even though the “pathway to citizenship” advocated by supporters of immigration reform does not fit the definition of amnesty. Indeed, in the July 1 article, writer Edwin Mora quotes Obama defining his immigration reform plan: "We have to demand responsibility from people living here illegally. They must be required to admit that they broke the law. They should be required to register, pay their taxes, pay a fine, and learn English."

That doesn't sound like "amnesty." So why does CNS insist on uncritically portraying immigration reform as "amnesty" when it does not meet the definition of the word?

Over the past year or so, CNS has repeatedly done this:

  • April 15, 2009: Matt Cover repeatedly describes a group, the Immigration Policy Center, advocating a "pathway to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States" as supporting "amnesty," and the center is called a "pro-amnesty group" in the headline.
  • June 17, 2009: CNS editor-in-chief Terry Jeffrey asserted: "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) vowed Monday that the Senate would consider a 'comprehensive' immigration reform bill that would include giving amnesty to illegal aliens—an item he referred to as 'bringing the 11 million people out of the shadows.'" But Reid never said "amnesty" -- that's Jeffrey's imagining. And nowhere does Jeffrey explain his opinion -- which is exactly what this is, despite being presented as a "news" story -- that "bringing the 11 million people out of the shadows" is the exact same thing as "amnesty."
  • Aug. 14, 2009: Jeffrey claimed that President Obama "referred to American opponents of amnesty for illegal aliens as 'demagogues.'" As with Reid, Obama said nothing about "amnesty." Answering a question about "comprehensive immigration reform," Obama said, "There are going to be demagogues out there who try to suggest that any form of pathway for legalization for those who are already in the United States is unacceptable."
  • Oct. 21, 2009: Penny Starr wrote that "Liberal, pro-amnesty advocates" oppose a Republican proposal to "ask all individuals whether they are citizens or lawful residents of the United States" and exclude illegal immigrants from being counted for purposes of congressional reapportionment. While Starr listed several groups as being opposed to the amendment, at no point did she establish that the groups are "pro-amnesty" -- let alone liberal. Indeed, there's not even any mention of immigration reform.
  • Nov. 13, 2009: An article by Starr carried the headline, "Napolitano Announces Obama Administration Plan to Give Amnesty to Illegal Aliens." But the word "amnesty" appears nowhere in the article.
  • Sept. 15: An article by Edwin Mora is headlined "Sen. Reid Pushes Amendment to Defense Bill That Would Allow Illegal Aliens to Attend State Colleges, Get Amnesty," even though the word "amnesty" appears nowhere in the article.

Such pejorative labeling is part of CNS' overall anti-immigration policy. Another, as illustrated in the examples above, is the use of the term "illegal alien." The National Association of Hispanic Journalists calls the term "degrading" because "it casts them as adverse, strange beings, inhuman outsiders who come to the U.S. with questionable motivations. 'Aliens' is a bureaucratic term that should be avoided unless used in a quote."

CNS will actually avoid direct quotes to get the derogatory term in. For instance, a Sept. 15 article by Edwin Mora states that a poll "said that immigration policy should move 'in the direction of stricter enforcement of laws against illegal immigration,' instead of integrating illegal aliens into American society." In fact, the poll question used the term "illegal immigrants," not "illegal aliens"; indeed, at no time did the poll reference "illegal aliens."

And an Aug. 17 article by Adam Cassandra paraphrased "a spokeswoman for the National Council of La Raza" saying that "The United States cannot deport all 12 million illegal aliens in the United States and should stop trying." But no quote from the spokeswoman shows her using the term "illegal aliens."

CNS even tried to drag the immigration issue into the debate over health care reform. In a Sept. 9, 2009, article, Fred Lucas insisted that Obama's claim that illegal immigrants will not be covered by health care reform has been "debunked" because "the proposal provides no mechanism for verifying legal status, making it difficult for insurers and medical personal to know who legally qualifies for federal subsidies under the plan." looked into the claim that lack of a verification mechanism means that illegal immigrants will automatically receive health insurance under reform and found it to be only "half true":

There is explicit language in the House bill that says illegal immigrants should not receive the subsidized benefits. But we find the Republican conference is right that the legislation does not directly mention verification procedures and, for that reason, it's possible that illegal immigrants who are determined to beat the system might be able to get around the ban. But it's likely that the IRS would, at least indirectly, help to police that. And, the health choices commissioner would have the authority to set up a verification system. On balance, we rate the Republican claim Half True.

Nevertheless, a Sept. 10, 2009, article by Jeffrey devised an entirely new rationale of why Obama's claim is false:

It is true that both the House and Senate health care bills as they are now drafted would make illegal aliens ineligible for federally funded health care. But President Obama has stated as recently as last month at a press conference in Mexico that he will seek “comprehensive immigration reform” legislation that will put illegal aliens on a “pathway to citizenship.”


Illegal immigrants won’t get federal health insurance benefits under Obama’s plan because they won’t be illegal immigrants anymore, they will be legal immigrants.

A Sept. 16, 2009, article by Matt Cover gave away the whole thing in its overly long headline: "[Steny] Hoyer Won't Answer Directly Whether Immigration Reform Would Make Current Illegal Aliens Eligible for Federally Subsidized Health Insurance Under Obamacare." Cover followed up the next day in the same vein, asking other senators "whether people who are currently illegal aliens in the United States would become eligible for health insurance subsidies under the proposed health-care reform plan if they were made into legal residents and put on a pathway to citizenship by an immigration reform bill."

CNS then latched onto what it seems to consider its smoking gun on the non-issue: a statement at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute that, as summarized in a Sept. 18, 2009, article by Nicholas Ballasy, "Illegal immigrants would not get government funded health insurance under his health care reform, but said the debate over that plan underscores the need to legalize illegal immigrants so they can get that coverage."

CNS' mission statement claims that " endeavors to fairly present all legitimate sides of a story and debunk popular, albeit incorrect, myths about cultural and policy issues." But by using slanted, pejorative terms like "amnesty" even as it admits such terms are used by only one side of the issue, CNS is perpetuating a myth, not debunking it. And CNS' claim that it's "an alternative news source that would cover stories that are subject to the bias of omission and report on other news subject to bias by commission" is undermined by its own exploitation of that very same bias.

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