Children as young as 2 have been pulled from their parents and moved to facilities that are, as Laura Bush put it, “eerily reminiscent” of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II. Families are being separated. Kids are sleeping under foil blankets inside cages.
The main reason that this story has received so much attention is simple: It is awful. Of course most of the American voters who were shown images of crying children or who heard audio recordings of them calling out for their parents had an intense negative reaction.
But in today’s splintered and strange media environment, the more difficult question to answer is how so many people did end up seeing these images and hearing these stories. After all, this may now be the most notorious injustice at the American border, but it’s not the first.
“Americans are discovering how our immigration system works, and that is generally a good thing,” tweeted the Washington Post reporter Nick Miroff. “But some of the things that are drawing outrage, like the dog-kennel detention pens at Ursula (McAllen) [the largest Customs and Border Patrol detention center] are not new.”
Americans like to believe in transparency, that, as Justice Louis Brandeis once put it, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” But sunlight no longer shines out solely from newspaper front pages or television broadcast towers. It is Facebook videos and memes, tweet-storms and viral images. That’s not to say that this story bubbled up solely from the corners of the internet, though. Immigration and investigative reporters were on it for more than a year. Senator Kamala Harris first spoke about it in December. But it wasn’t until late May that it became the biggest news in the country. How?