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Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Wednesday, April 03, 2024

'An environment of distrust': How Elon Musk amplifies falsehoods about immigration, 2024 voting

A video viewed by millions of users on X details an elaborate scheme to grab power by President Joe Biden and prominent Democrats. The video shows people racing to the U.S. by land, air and sea and flashes headshots of men of color. The narrator warns that the federal government wants to keep them "in the country at all costs," even if they committed rape or murder. Mail ballots sit in overstuffed bins as the narrator warns noncitizens can vote without verification. "This is actually happening!" wrote Elon Musk, the owner of X. It’s not. There is no evidence of the Biden administration importing immigrants so that Democrats win elections. In the last three months, Musk has flooded X with about two dozen posts that speak to that central conspiracy theory. Here’s a sampling of his false or misleading posts about immigrants and voting, fact-checked: Musk said "illegals are not prevented from voting in federal elections." (Federal law says only U.S. citizens can vote in presidential and congressional elections.) Musk said automatic voter registration includes "no citizenship verification" and ballots are mailed out, "making fraud traceability impossible." (States take steps to ensure registrants are U.S. citizens and election officials take steps to prevent voter fraud. Ballots cast by noncitizens are extremely rare; violators could face jail time or be deported if they are in the country illegally.) Musk said migrants will give Democrats more seats in Congress, a step toward one-party rule. (Two reports published before the 2020 census projected that not counting immigrants in the country illegally would basically have been a wash, favoring neither party.) Musk said a bipartisan border security bill’s long-term goal was "enabling illegals to vote" and would do the "opposite of securing the border." (The bill included funding for border agents and security. It did not give people in the U.S. illegally voting power nor did it include a path to citizenship.) Musk accused the Biden administration of "importing voters" who are "unvetted" and pose a national security threat, saying "it is highly probable that the groundwork is being laid for something far worse than 9/11." Factually speaking, there are high-profile cases of immigrants in the U.S. illegally being charged with crimes, including murder. But research shows that immigrants are no more likely to commit crimes than people born in the U.S. A 2023 Stanford University study found immigrants are 30% less likely to be incarcerated than people born in the U.S. Musk told former CNN host Don Lemon that immigrants in the country illegally have a "very strong bias to vote Democrat," though he neither explained what he had read to reach this conclusion, nor cited any examples. Election officials who have seen these claims for years say fears of noncitizen voting are overblown and ignore states’ safeguards to prevent and detect fraud. "Tying immigration policy to election security is like the sleight of hand a magician uses to trick voters into seeing something that's not there," said Amanda Gonzalez, Jefferson County, Colorado, clerk and recorder. With reshared posts and riffs, Musk joins former President Donald Trump as a top voice sowing doubt about the 2024 election’s integrity amid historic levels of border encounters. (Musk has not endorsed Trump but said in March, "We need a red wave or America is toast." "It seeds the ground and continues to build a foundation for more and more people to deny election results that they don’t like and therefore engage in a violent assault on our democracy because of it," said Zachary Mueller, senior research director for America’s Voice, a pro-immigrant group. "I don’t think that’s hyperbolic. We have seen that on January 6." Our efforts to reach Musk through Tesla, SpaceX and X’s press or investor offices were met with no response or automated replies. How Musk ‘helps share information faster than anyone else’ on X Musk has leveraged his influence to boost a specific type of migrant footage: short and out of context. Content creator Nick Shirley, 21, has made national headlines by interviewing migrants who have crossed the border and arrived in cities such as Denver. His mom, Brooke Shirley, holds the camera as he asks questions in Spanish. On Feb. 5, Nick Shirley shared a 22-second video of his conversations, writing on X: "Confirmed: Migrants for Biden 2024." The framing makes it look like the migrants told him they intend to vote for Biden in this election. The details are less certain: Nick Shirley asks, "Do you have the right to vote?" According to Shirley’s subtitle, one man replies, "Those that entered legally, have access to vote." PolitiFact’s bilingual journalists, with native Spanish fluency, listened to the man’s intonation and heard him asking a question: "If we entered illegally, do we have the right to vote?" The clip doesn’t show whether Shirley answered the man’s question. The clip then shows a different angle of Shirley and the man (and other people around them), and Shirley asking:"Who are you going to vote for?" Biden, they said. But the YouTube version of Shirley’s interview shows him asking longer questions with caveats such as "And if you could vote, who would you vote for," and "If you have the privilege to vote, who are you going to vote for?" The X version caught the attention of Collin Rugg, co-owner of the conservative Trending Politics website. He shared it to more than 960,000 followers on X, compared with Shirley’s 11,500. Musk replied to Rugg a half-hour later with a simple "!" "It’s all part of the plan," Rugg responded. Other influential accounts shared the video, and Shirley appeared on Fox News. Musk "helps share information faster than anyone else on the platform," Nick Shirley told PolitiFact. "My videos have been seen by millions of people." The Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington used this example to show a pattern: Someone such as Shirley produces video evidence. News brokers such as Rugg use it to make claims about noncitizen voting. High-profile users such as Musk share the posts to their massive audiences. "That story tells us about how evidence does not change the narrative," said Mert Can Bayar, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington. "The narrative defines the evidence." The Center for an Informed Public counts Rugg among a new wave of accounts that have grown politically influential since Musk bought Twitter in October 2022. How Musk’s posts about migrant voting conflict with real-world practices Musk’s interest in election integrity ignores new or proposed safeguards to prevent fraudulent voting. He posted multiple times in early February when Senate leaders introduced a border security bill. The legislation, co-written by Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., died quickly after Trump denounced it, scuttling its chances of broad Republican support. "The long-term goal of the so-called ‘Border Security’ bill is enabling illegals to vote!" Musk wrote. Noncitizens — which includes people legally and illegally in the U.S. — can’t vote in federal elections. The path to U.S. citizenship can take a decade. The current influx of immigrants would not lead to a significant number of new voters for many years, if ever. Musk later said Democrats "won’t deport" immigrants in the U.S. illegally because each is likely to vote for Democrats "at some point." But Democratic-led administrations have deported millions of immigrants. Musk has warned that U.S. citizens don’t realize their votes will be "rendered meaningless," linking to a Joe Rogan podcast clip about New York City allowing noncitizens to vote in local elections. A judge struck down that law in 2022, so it’s not in effect. A small number of cities in blue states allow noncitizen voting for local contests. Takoma Park, Maryland, has allowed noncitizen voting for mayor and city council since 1993. About 200 noncitizens are registered to vote in elections compared with 11,200 registered citizen voters in Takoma Park. Voting for local elections is held on a separate ballot and location from state and federal elections. Jessie Carpenter, Takoma Park clerk, said if a noncitizen showed up at a polling precinct site to vote in a state or federal election, that person would not be on the roll of eligible voters. "There is no basis for thinking these folks would be voting in state elections," Carpenter said. Promoting claims that immigrants will replace U.S.-born Americans, including at the ballot box, stretches back to the 19th century; in the 1850s, the Know-Nothing Party tried to ban immigrants from voting. What’s new in this era is how influencers such as Musk and former Fox News host Tucker Carlson portray this apparent new-immigrant influence as an assault from the outside, said Casey Ryan Kelly, an expert on political extremism and communication studies professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. They portray it as not just the result of demographic forces, but deliberate motivation by Democratic politicians, Kelly said. "It’s more concerning now because of the ability to spread more quickly outside a small group of white supremacists," Kelly said. About 40 states allowed noncitizens to vote at some point between 1776 and 1926. By allowing noncitizens to vote in local, state and federal elections and run for office, leaders hoped to enable civic education and immigrants’ citizenship, said Ron Hayduk, a San Francisco State University political science professor. In 1996, Congress banned noncitizen voting in federal elections as part of a broader toughening of penalties for people in the country illegally. Since then, there have been rare cases of noncitizens voting — though not enough to swing elections. In 2020, federal prosecutors charged 19 people in North Carolina with voter fraud after they cast ballots mostly in the 2016 election. Sixteen people pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors related to voting as a noncitizen; three cases were dismissed. More than 4.5 million people in North Carolina voted in the 2016 presidential election. Musk’s claims ignore practices by election workers to protect the vote Musk’s citizenship journey seems to inform his views. Born in South Africa in 1971, Musk has said his goal as a child was to get to the United States. He became a U.S. citizen in 2002 after living in Canada, graduating from the University of Pennsylvania and launching businesses, including the online bank that became PayPal. As one of Earth’s richest men, Musk’s voice extends far beyond the X platform. His posts reach other audiences on Instagram, TikTok and conservative news outlets with millions of viewers. Some people discount such narratives by politicians, but Musk’s not being a politician adds "a level of legitimacy," said Mueller of America’s Voice. Musk often shares posts by viral accounts, but Musk told Lemon that if he quotes something "it doesn’t mean I agree with everything in it" and that he views it as something "people should consider." It’s possible to read his posts and reach the conclusion that states fail to ensure that only citizens cast ballots. "Many states automatically register anyone with a driver’s license to vote (no citizenship verification), ballots are then mailed out and ‘ballot harvesters’ pick them up (and) mail them in, making fraud traceability impossible," Musk wrote Feb. 5. About half of U.S. states have automatic voter registration in which eligible people are registered to vote when they conduct other government business, often at the motor vehicles department. But they can opt out, and still must be citizens to register to vote. The rest of Musk’s post makes several leaps; people who register this way do not necessarily vote by mail and ask someone else to return their ballot. Musk ignores that state laws vary over who can drop off mail ballots and how many. Amanda López Askin, the local elections official in Doña Ana County, New Mexico, a border community, said when people ask how the county protects voter rolls, she points to the protections such as voter registration ID requirements and New Mexico’s voter registration form. It warns that if a person is not a citizen, "do not complete this form." "I have a hard time believing there are huddles of undocumented people that are determined to commit a fourth-degree felony for one vote," López Askin told PolitiFact. Fraudulent voter registration or voting by noncitizens often results from misunderstandings or errors. Nationwide, states check databases to verify citizenship status, although those efforts are imperfect. Colorado’s voter registration system compares state and federal data to find matches before registering voters. If the system finds no match, residents must show an eligible ID before they can vote. Musk’s words create "an environment of distrust," said Denver Clerk Paul López. "It’s important for people to know that voter registration is secure, and eligibility is verified through several mechanisms," López said. "Disinformation is dangerous to migrants, election officials, and is overall unhealthy for our democracy." For more information, visit us at https://www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com/.

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