Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant: The Role of the Media in Shaping Immigration Policy

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44 Mitchell Hamline Law Review 808 (2018)


On February 21, 2017, one month and one day after the inauguration of Donald Trump as the forty-fifth President of the United States, the Washington Post debuted a new slogan: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” This phrase draws on our country’s tradition of recognizing the importance of a free and open press, but is it still true? In today’s world, does the media still play a fundamental role as a check on our government? Furthermore, in areas like immigration law, where considerable power and deference lies with the President and Department of Homeland Security, what is the role of the “Fourth Estate” in holding governmental institutions accountable?

This article examines these questions by analyzing the role of the press in shaping immigration policy by the Obama and Trump Administrations with respect to two groups: Central American asylum seekers—particularly unaccompanied minors and family units—and Syrian refugees. The article first examines how press coverage and public engagement served as a check on the Obama Administration and shaped President Obama’s response to the Central American Migrant Crisis and Syrian Refugee Crisis during his second term. The article then describes executive actions taken by the Trump Administration that adversely impacted Central American asylum seekers and Syrian refugees, and analyzes how media coverage shaped the Trump Administration’s ability to implement policies against these groups.