Sarah Palin, big political lies and the U.S. immigration debate

By Bernd Debusmann
July 23, 2010

The prize for the biggest political lie of 2009 went to Sarah Palin, the darling of the American right, for injecting fictitious “death panels” into the health reform debate. This year, fact-benders are hard at work to control the debate on another controversial topic, immigration. Competition is intense.

It comes from opponents of immigration reforms that would  simultaneously offer better control of the 2,000-mile U.S-Mexico border, a new visa system, and a path to legal status for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, the majority Mexicans, who are already in the country. The official term for this is “comprehensive immigration reform.”

But influential politicians insist there must be no reform before the border is entry-proof to illegals, and they portray the frontier as a virtual war zone, on both sides of the line.

There is Arizona’s governor, Jan Brewer, who is talking about the discovery of decapitated bodies on the American side of the border. There is Senator John McCain, who has said violence along the border is the worst he has ever seen. There is a letter 12 members of congress (10 Republicans, two Democrats) wrote to President Barack Obama saying border violence is increasing “at an alarming pace.”

None of this stands up to factual scrutiny though perhaps none of it is quite at the toxic level of the claim Palin put on her Facebook page last year — that the government’s proposed health care reforms included setting up panels that would decide whether elderly or disabled Americans were worthy of continued health care or should be let to die.

This was entirely fictitious but it “set political debate on fire,” said the Pulitzer prize-winning fact-check site, which rated the death panels the biggest political lie of 2009, based on a poll of 5,000 readers. The death panel canard contributed to the rapid growth of the anti-government tea party movement and threw doubt over the passage of the health reform bill. It finally passed in March, against unanimous Republican opposition.

On the emotional issue of immigration, perception trumps reality and the widely-held perception is of an “unsecured border” (McCain’s phrase) and a cross-border invasion by criminals rather than people in search of work and a better life. There has been no corroboration of Governor Brewer’s claim that 87 percent of illegal border crossers have prior criminal records.

The perception that the federal government has failed to fulfill its obligation to keep illegal immigrants out prompted Arizona, the main gateway for unauthorized entry, to pass its own law, the toughest in the country. It makes it a crime to be in Arizona without identifiation papers. The Obama administration says immigration is a federal prerogative, not a matter for a state to decide, and is trying to strike down the law which is scheduled to take effect on July 29.


Early in July, in his first major speech since taking office, Obama described the present immigration system as broken, complained that reform had been held hostage to political posturing and special-interest wrangling and said that “the southern border is more secure than at any time in the past 20 years.”

Statistics bear this out. Since 2001, the number of Border Patrol agents has more than doubled, from 9,000 to more than 20,000. According to FBI crime numbers, violent crimes in states along the border have dropped steadily over the past decade and are among the lowest in the country now.

That is in stark contrast with sharply escalating violence on the Mexican side of the border, where beheadings and gun battles have become routine, often within sight of the U.S. cities on the north bank of the Rio Bravo. In Ciudad Juarez, the main battle front in Mexico’s drug wars, the daily death toll has been running at eight since the beginning of the year. Across the bridge, El Paso is one of the safest cities in the U.S.

Even Phoenix, Arizona’s capital, counts among the safest big cities in the country, according to FBI statistics. But the perception that there are waves of violent criminals storming across the border is becoming so widespread that 78 percent of respondents in a CBS/New York Times poll last May said more should be done to keep illegal immigrants out.

Doing so has a perverse unintended consequence, according to Doris Meissner, who headed the Immigration and Naturalization Service for seven years. In an opinion piece co-signed by another former INS official, James Ziglar, she wrote in the Washington Post: “Today, our borders are more secure than ever – so those here illegally stay because re-entry is perilous.”

But displays of armed force play well in American politics, which is why Obama ordered the deployment of 1,200 National Guard troops to the four states bordering Mexico. They are scheduled to arrive on August 1.

And when will the president begin to tackle comprehensive immigration reform? Campaigning for the presidency, he said he would take on the issue within his first year. That deadline is seven months past. No new timeline has been set.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Slavery is not dead in the USA. I feel that by using cheap labor without giving these workers rights like medical and other benefits big corporations and small are making large profits. This is defacto slavery.At times when an employer does not want to pay a Mexican, he gets ICE to get rid of a disgruntled illegal who complains that his rights are infringed.Theese immigrants come to work-what is wrong in having a day pass to cross and return in the evening.Corporations can build low cosr hosuing accros the border.All this is not inviting because they come with employer responsibility-this is not wanted-Slaves are cheaper for the so called country that promotes human rights!!

Posted by Vincent | Report as abusive

The biggest lie of the year is that “poor people” are the problem. We have singled out the poor when it comes to immigration policy, health care, jobs, and spending. What is happening right now is nothing short of a war on poor people and their interests. So much for the American dream. If you’re not rich right now, forget about it.

And I say that as a Republican who is quite wealthy already. I lament the fact that what the Republican Party is talking about right now is “how to keep mine” and not “let’s level the playing field so everyone can have a piece of the American dream.”

OK Palin was his choice in 2009 for her claims of impending death panels …. fast forward 10 month and Obama announces he will appoint (not even nominate) Donald “We Must Redistribute Wealth” Berwick 07/08/obama%E2%80%99s-new-health-care-cz ar-donald-berwick-%E2%80%9Cwe-must-redis tribute-wealth%E2%80%9D-video/

And now this Debusemann calls Phoenix safe? Seriously have you been to Phoenix recently?

People ask yourselves – are you going to continue to believe what these liberal propagandist spoo feed you? Or will you believe your own eyes?

Posted by Roscoe D. Contreras | Report as abusive

OK Palin was his choice in 2009 for her claims of impending death panels …. fast forward 10 month and Obama announces he will appoint (not even nominate) Donald “We Must Redistribute Wealth” Berwick 07/08/obama%E2%80%99s-new-health-care-cz ar-donald-berwick-%E2%80%9Cwe-must-redis tribute-wealth%E2%80%9D-video/

And now this Debusemann calls Phoenix safe? Seriously have you been to Phoenix recently?

People ask yourselves – are you going to continue to believe what these liberal propagandist spoon feed you? Or will you believe your own eyes?

Posted by Roscoe D. Contreras | Report as abusive

i beg to differ, there are many ‘biggest lies’ one can choose from, but Sarah Palin’s rhetoric, while clearly emotional, was accurate. there are ‘death panels’ in almost all of the european healthcare systems and, given the Obama pick to ‘ration’ the new not quite universal access healthcare system, adds a lot of weight to the credibility of Palin’s comment. i guess you could call her a liar because it’s hard to consider one person a ‘panel’.

furthermore, there is the lie that media were doing their job in electing Mr. Obama to the Presidency, as evidenced by the journolist, the lie about global warming, the lie about Mr. Obama’s “intellect”, the lie about honesty in the main stream media. i could go on, but there isn’t much point.

as for the illegal immigration debate, illegal immigration is illegal. one does not pick and choose which laws one will obey, if one did so, we’d have anarchy. nor should a government be picking and choosing which laws are worth enforcing.

should there be a ‘guest worker’ visa ? well, there is one – it’s called the H1B visa. perhaps there should be one for unskilled workers from Mexico too, but illegally crossing the border needs to be stopped first. we tried it “your way” in the ’80s and we are right back where we started. now we should try it the other way.

first, we deal with securing the borders – yes, south AND north. then we can start to discuss what to do about those already here illegally. and to be clear, i’m in favour of temporary work permits that are not renewable after ‘some’ period of time. if these people are so talented and such hard workers and responsible then their native countries need them to help pull them out of the third world mire for the greater good of THEIR fellow citizens.

Posted by robert | Report as abusive

The biggest lie floating around nowadays is the assertion that there are only “11 million” illegal immigrants in the US.

This number has assumed totemistic potency, as it has magically remained constant despite an influx of hundreds of thousands of “migrants” annually.

Posted by Zack | Report as abusive

The biggest lie is most widely accepted one, that is the economic ‘Recovery’ story: A well crafted, well timed, and well orchestrated hype & spin campaign.

Posted by zolgozod | Report as abusive

I read this morning that “Authorities” located the bodies of at least 38 people in a series of pits and scattered along the ground at suspected drug-gang dumping sites near the rich Mexican city of Monterrey in northern Mexico. The violence along the border is real. The negative impact these invaders have caused to our economy is real. The fact that Mexican government officials encourage emigration to the United States as their own version of ‘Manifest Destiny’ is real. The border needs to be closed for a while in order to help restore order in our own southern states. The United States may need to enter Mexico to destroy the corrupt and inept government there – regime change it is called – or – just open the border and let people come and go as they please. But don’t be under the impression that the problem is small – it just hasn’t been reported on properly – as appears to be the case in this story.

Posted by Alfred Brock | Report as abusive

Under BORDER PATROL DOUBLED IN SIZE Obama is quoted as saying immigration policys are broken. Then, in the same sentence, the borders are more secure than in the last 20 years. Which is it, broken or secure?
I’m to believe it’s both? I think not!

Posted by Ron | Report as abusive

Why no mention of kidnappings, home invasions, grand theft auto, identity theft or insurance fraud in Arizona?

I’m an average middle-class person who lives in Arizona and over the course of the last 10 years I have:

-Been a victim of identity theft

-Had a car stolen that ended up in Mexico parted out

-Was hit in my car by an illegal alien who didn’t have any liability insurance…or even a driver’s license or registration for that matter

-Witnessed a shooting from gang-related violence

-Personally know someone who was the victim of a home invasion.

How many people who don’t live in the border states do you think can say had all these things happen to them in the past 10 years?

My guess is hardly any at all.

Posted by Scott Henderson | Report as abusive

It is true that southern California is now filled with Mexicans and other Latin Americans in an absolute demographic revolution which involves the importation of third world poverty and strong anti-caucasian hostility. It has destroyed the ability of the working class to continue to make a living in various fields such as construction. The school system has been severely damaged. Ethnic suspicion and hostility have exploded. We have become overpopulated. A former Los Angeles city councilman said,”Wake up and smell the refried beans; we are taking over block by block.” On Spanish language radio it is common to hear people say that they are not illegally in the US since this is really Mexico and that they will reconquer it.

If President Obama and the Democratically controlled Congress allow the tax cuts to expire and implement the other increases as currently planned, that will be the biggest lie of the 21st century.

Raising the lowest tax bracket of 10% to 15%, means a 50% increase in federal taxes to the poorest class of Americans, which is also the largest increase to any class. Small businesses will be hammered with a 90% cut to expensing of capital investment in the first year, while larger businesses will be allowed to expense half of their purchases of equipment. And there’s more tax burdening of the middle and lower classes and the small – mom and pop – businesses:  /Article.aspx?id=541131&p=2

The president, congress and the FRB have financially raped us. Our descendents will be paying for this scam for generations. The real lie about the border issue is the federal government has not done their job protecting the border while we taxpayers support illegal immigrants with schooling, healthcare, and other benefits while they earn untaxed income.

Posted by Gary Hart | Report as abusive

Mr Debusmann:

If you will leave the safety of DC and fly to Austin, I will gladly take you fishing on Falcon Reservoir. There you and I will likely be robbed of all our possessions by Mexican pirates, who run rampant and unopposed on both sides of the lake. As you wrote in January, drug dealing in Mexico “has produced a culture in which there is widespread acceptance of insecurity as a way of life.” Scary enough next door, but now the federal government is asking Texans, New Mexicans, Arizonans and Californians to accept this as our reality. If Chesepeake Bay were overrun by pirates, I expect the shape of the immigration debate would change dramatically.

Posted by Cliff McSparran | Report as abusive

Until this ‘article’, I had be touting and recommending Reuters as a bastion of fact without the influence of political sensationalism and spin.

No More.

Debusmann has every right to publish this piece … but listing it on the front page as a Headline rather than an OpEd is beneath the standard to which I’ve held your organization.

With slanted commentary such as this on your front page, I will no longer use your site as a Homepage and will no longer wait for it to load.

In case you’re wondering, I am not a Republican. Simply an Independent US citizen that is tired of the current political system and the “News” organizations that play into that mess. The combination of facts, pseudo-facts, and truths worded and slanted toward evoking a particular opinion brand this type of trash, the author and the publisher as no better than Grocery Store Tabloids.

Posted by Dan Dickerson | Report as abusive

“Today, our borders are more secure than ever – so those here illegally stay because re-entry is perilous.”

That’s absurd. You can get a free ticket out of here anytime you want: turn yourself in.

Posted by carnigie | Report as abusive

We live near the border. My kids lived in Nogales AZ.
I think you might want to come rent an apartment here and actually live here and watch what’s going on–especially in Nogalas.
It has been published, Phoenix is number 2 in kidnappings.
So, whom do you believe.
Our family is very concerned and as far as HB1070 it’s great! By the way we are Hispanic. Not worried about being asked for ID. We want the illegals out of our country. Especially the OTM’s Other Then Mexicans. They are coming through. The Chines are told to go and register–they plead political asylum.
Thank you for the article.

Sorry, this is baloney. I live on a prosperous island of 20K population by seattle. Every day hundreds of illegal aliens take good paying jobs away from US citizens, in construction, landscaping, & general labor. My friends landscape company got 35 replies to a $12.00 and hour position 29% had masters degrees, another 40% or so had BA’s. Meanwhile 2000 Jamaicans were flown in to work in the apple orchards in Eastern WA and many thousands more (jamaicans) will arrive at harvest because there are no aliens willing to do the work.
If an illegal took your job you’d sing a different song.

Posted by tony | Report as abusive

I personally had high-hopes for our new President including new ideas! Eventhough I’m a “Republican & White” (which I’m proud/being White not Republican). I wanted to give him a “CHANCE!”. Well in my book he has “entirely blown our confidence” in his abilities to govern! No matter which party is in control of the “White-House” it’s always the “Same old-Same old business as usual and HE and his own present administration are proof of that, especially with our “NATIONAL DEBT going thru the proverbial roof!!!


Posted by Jim Davis | Report as abusive

What a load of Marxist rubbish.

Do they actually pay “Dubious man” for this drivel?

The Obama plan has failed and he is a lame duck, along will all the Leftist plunderers of liberty of private citizens.

Posted by Tea Party | Report as abusive

Interesting article. Have you read the American Health Bill? I do believe there is a provision to set up “advisory panels” that would discuss the medical condition of the patient and also take into consideration the cost of the care. In America; a main criteria for medical care has never been the cost but the patient.

Perhaps you could point me to a page in the bill that would explicitly counter this.

Immigration, interesting also. The very Term, Illegal, does mean something to us here in America. WE have,from 1 country, 11 million or more illegal reasons to protect our borders and defend the rights of American citizens. Have you looked at any hard facts about the cost of incarcerating and the # of incarcerated illegal aliens,the medical cost, policing, patrolling, and the diminution of freedom our citizens feel as we are daily, invaded by thousands of illegal entries into our country. A question, how many illegal aliens does your country have even as a % of your population? Instead of taking your cue from some some news articles, why not, look at the FBI reports on kidnappings and crimes committed by illegals in the state of Arizona instead of some colorful little comment about Phoenix.

As far as display of Arm Forces play well in American Politics, I seem to have read The Europeans and other of our Allies were quite happy to see those Arms during 2 world wars. How do you think it would have gone without them?

Maybe you could try and come to America and do a report from the border with Mexico and interview the American Citizens who have the right to live in freedom of fear from Illegality. You might see things more from our point of view.

Good Health to you.

President Obama will never tackle immigration reform. He is not antigovernment. He tackled health care reform and financial reform because he firmly believes all private enterprise has to be regulated tightly, preferably by the government.

Posted by Santokh Walha | Report as abusive


Keep your nose out of our business!!

Posted by required | Report as abusive

“Today, our borders are more secure than ever – so those here illegally stay because re-entry is perilous.” Are you kidding me?

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive

This was a great article – thank you for pointing out just how rediculous the GOP has become with their inflamatory rhetoric. I grew up in the south west (AZ, NM, TX) and what they are saying about the violence and the invasion of illegal immigrants just isn’t true. The situation has become more of a humanitarian concern than a security concern. People that do enter the country illegally from Mexico are desperate for a better life – they’re not up rooting everything they know to start new crime sindicates in the US – they’re fleeing poverty and corruption in hopes of something worth living for. It’s sad that there are some people that would rather demonize these people and pretend that they are a security threat rather than find ways of making progress with our naturalization/immigration process. I guess to those people it’s OK if others suffer as long as they themselves are taken care of.

Posted by J Alarid | Report as abusive

democrates blokced this issue during Bush term,they need it NOW! for they conveniance and trickery that suit the so well, and the other hand, I know how the hispanic organizations going to keep their claws on latinos,similar like NAACP does with the black people.

Immigration reform is a complex issue and diffcult succinctly address here. If the strategy to eradicate illegal border crossings unintentionally “traps” migrant workers inside the United States, then there needs to be a legal mechanism that allows for highly mobile workers the “right to work” without granting full United States citizenship. This immigration solution could also theoretically grant US entry/exit privileges to workers seeking temporary employment in the United States. This effectively separates “immigrants seeking a better way of life” from the ruthless criminal enterprises terrorizing our inner cities with their violent drug culture by providing legal status based on a US-based employer legally hiring them to work in the USA. The argument that creating this class of visa creates an underclass of unskilled laborers trapped at the bottom of the labor market incorrectly assumes that migrant workers are somehow less able to gain better skills as they work and will not progress as others do in the job market. When Mexican citizens have paid into the US tax system for a pre-determined number of work quarters (similar to what US citizens already must do to qualify for Social Security benefits), then they should have the right to petition for the all benefits of US citizenship because they will have earned the right to apply for it.

Simply because Mexico has an active, violent, drug war raging on their side of the US/Mexico border does not entitle citizens of Mexico to favored immigration status in the United States.

Posted by Ken Haumschilt | Report as abusive

That you have not accepted a single comment for this horribly slanted, inaccurate commentary is extremely surprising and disappointing.

Posted by Gary Hart | Report as abusive

Your statement: “The perception that the federal government has failed to fulfill its obligation to keep illegal immigrants out –” insinuates that the facts belie as much. Clearly, having granted 2.7 Million persons amnesty in 1986, with the signing statement that, “It will remove the incentive for illegal immigration by eliminating the job opportunities which draw illegal aliens here” has in fact failed.

Your journalism (given the benefit of the doubt) is disingenuous by design — eg: duplicitous, deceitful

Posted by Scot | Report as abusive

It’s not violent crime that is the problem, although illegal uneducated immigrants, often at the bottom of the economic ladder, turn to gangs and crime to survive. No it’s the significant costs of supporting them and their families that are breaking our municipalities and states and in increasing costs to taxpaying citizens. (1) Identity theft: Illegals need social security numbers to work and so identity theft is almost certain. (2) uninsured motorists and hit & run insurance costs: illegals drive without licenses, insurance, and testing–they flee an accident if possible in fear of detection. (3) Over-crowded, slowed schools: illegal attend schools bringing their ESL problems slowing down education for everyone and adding ESL teacher expenses. California state (and CA taxpayers) paid $14 billion in emergency room primary care for illegal in 2009. For a state with a $2 billion deficit, that’s real money. Illegal immigration is very costly even not counting any violent crime. It’s a crime that leads to more crime and needs to be stopped.

Posted by Daniel | Report as abusive

Debusmann’s journalism is clouded by his political views which prohibits an unbiased reporting of the truth.

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