One phrase that stood out last week - amidst all the immigration reporting - comes from a description of the Senate bill claiming that it establishes (among other things) a "minimum 13-year pathway to citizenship." Setting aside the poll-tested, pro-legalization, activist-approved use of "pathway to citizenship," the main problem here is the factually errant depiction that the minimum amount of time a newly legalized foreign national would have to wait to naturalize is 13 years.
The legislative language of S.744 is unmistakably clear about the time frames faced by different groups of unauthorized migrants in the event of its passage. So-called Dreamers and illegal aliens employed in agriculture both have shorter waiting period for naturalization. We’re not talking about a handful of special exceptions here.
These categories contain millions of people.
"Dreamers" are eligible for citizenship in as few as 5 years (Section 2103). Illegal agricultural workers would have an opportunity to obtain citizenship after 10 years (Section 2212). The Immigrants Legal Resource Center (among other sources) confirms this in a chart here.
More curious is the pathway this phrase has trod.
The first printed reports of this myth came on April 16, 2013. A Fox News story included the phrase: "In total, the bill creates a minimum 13-year path to citizenship [emphasis added]…" No author was listed on the piece, though it noted that the Associated Press contributed to the report. The corresponding AP story’s wording is only marginally less false, merely asserting: "The bill would put the 11 million immigrants in the country illegally on a 13-year path to U.S. citizenship."
Also on the same day, a Washington Post story included a similarly erroneous description: "The fastest path to full citizenship would take 13 years, according to the legislation, but it could take longer in some cases, Senate staffers said [emphasis added]."
It wasn't only Washington Post reporters that were duped by the anonymous Senate staffers. Two days later, on April 18th, Sen. Rubio's press shop put out a "Myth vs. Fact" release on S.744 – the bill that he allegedly helped write - that described the legislation with the very quote from the Fox News piece. Maybe his office received the same outline from Sen. Schumer's staff as the reporters.
Two weeks later, on April 30th, Sen. Sessions attempted to at least set the record straight on S.744's shorter pathway for "Dreamers" with this press release. Mr. Sessions pointed out that Sen. Flake had also started repeating the false information.
One might hope that the accuracy of the claim would get another, closer analysis once the leading Senator opposing the legislation called the claim "simply untrue." Instead, the phrase has persisted - and even thrived. For example, the Denver Post ran a story with the exact same wording ("minimum 13-year path to citizenship") in November based on a poll that relied on selling the 13-year wait as part of its questioning. The poll was “paid for by three Republican interest groups including Republicans for Immigration Reform.”
To this day, mainstream media journalists are writing in unison. Politico has been a serial offender, flogging the Fox News phrase in at least three stories (1/22, 1/15, and 1/9) since the start of 2014.
It could perhaps be argued that this aspect of legalization is minor in relation to the big picture of "comprehensive immigration reform." But it remains yet another example of how the MSM's echo chamber can take a partisan talking point, and by failing to check its accuracy, can tilt a story to the partisans' advantage.
If there is a moral to the story, it is that apparently the fears that nobody would actually read (and accurately report on) an 1100-page bill were well founded.
ANDREW GOOD works on the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA and is the former executive director for the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus
Updated: Wed, Jan 29th 2014 @ 10:32am EST