Jose Diaz-Balart Teams Up with Telemundo for a Sympathetic Portrait of 'The Coyote Way'

International human trafficking is a lucrative, exploitative, and deadly criminal enterprise, often operated by ruthless drug cartels who don’t mind branching out into sex trafficking. So it was a little shocking that Jose Diaz-Balart gave a platform to a fellow journalists who evinced some sympathy for the plight of the smugglers.

On the August 14 edition of his eponymous MSNBC program, Diaz-Balart hosted Telemundo’s Julio Vaqueiro, who discussed his recent interview with “a coyote, a member of an international crime syndicate set up to smuggle people across the border.” At no point, however, did Diaz-Balart protest Vaqueiro’s portrayal of the criminal as a necessary helper to “migrants who are putting their lives at risk just to get a better life here in the United States.” [See transcript below. Click here for MP3 audio]

In a shadowy video clip of the coyote, in which, touted Diaz-Balart, he explains “why he does what he does,” the criminal stated, “I feel we are helping, providing them a real solution to the problems that many times the governments make worse.” Diaz-Balart made sure to reassure his viewers that “this coyote...says that he is not part of the Mexican drug cartels” but needs “an agreement with those Mexican drug cartels,” or “the people that he works for just don't make it.”

The MSNBC host followed the interview with a segment on the legality of any future executive action on immigration that can pursued by Obama “beyond what he's already done, with deferred action for DREAMers.” Diaz-Balart invited “legislative analyst from the National Council of La Raza, Laura Vazquez and Republican strategist Adolfo Franco” to discuss how Obama could reconcile his future executive order with his earlier statement that if he expanded DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] that he “essentially... would be ignoring the law, in a way that... would be very difficult to defend legally. So that's not an option.”


But not only did Diaz-Balart fail to be critical of holding coyotes in a sympathetic light, when he asked his Republican guest if he believed Obama has the ability to alter immigration policy, he suggested the president was simply following in the path trod by a revered Republican president:

Bush former Attorney General Gonzalez wrote that the president should act unilaterally in some form on immigration and I remind you of Adolfo, that in 1987 Ronald Reagan, through an executive order, deferred deportation of Nicaraguans living in the United States. 

When Franco responded that those were “completely different circumstances,” and that if Congress did not pass legislation, “our system isn't then the president can step in and just become the Congress of the United States,” both Diaz-Balart and his left-wing guest appeared incredulous.

Diaz-Balart even attempted to interrupt the guest as he described how “the House of Representatives acted last week, they passed a bill that actually changed a 2008 law to alleviate the so-called crisis on the border.” Even though the president may not like how they acted, Franco reiterated, “the House has acted.”        

While Vazquez and Diaz-Balart agreed that DACA has been “transformative” in and is in “the best interest of the country” and that the president “has plenty of latitude to exercise his authority...to decide who should be a priority for removal and who should not” Franco stated that “you’re all ignoring the [constitutional] process.”

Despite Diaz-Balart’s objection that the president can change laws through “executive action,” Franco ended the interview by definitively stating that the president has the power “to implement the laws of the United States,” not to change them. He bluntly concluded that “this is a cynical ploy by the White House to do things, trying to energize Latino voters in November, and provoke so-called impeachment proceedings to energize their base.”

See transcript below:

MSNBC
JOSE DIAZ-BALART
August 14, 2014
10:30 a.m. Eastern
3 minutes and 20 seconds


JOSE DIAZ-BALART: We spent a lot of time on this show talking about the crisis along the border, the recent surge of unaccompanied minors and the families involved and what President Obama calls an you are urgent humanitarian situation. And now, for the first time, we’re hearing from a very different side of this crisis. From a coyote, a member of an international crime syndicate set up to smuggle people across the border, usually from Central America through Mexico all the way to the United States. In an interview with Telemundo, a coyote from Guatemala talked about working with Mexican cartels and also why he does what he does. Take a listen.

SUBTITLES OF COYOTE: I feel we are helping, providing them a real solution to the problems that many times the governments make worse. Those who don’t work with them fail. In fact, they don’t make it, and to say “not making it” is an understatement.

DIAZ-BALART: Joining me now is Telemundo anchor Julio Vaqueiro, he has been covering this aspect of the story for years now. He joins us from Los Angeles. Julio, good morning.

JULIO VAQUEIRO: Good morning Jose, thank you for having me.

DIAZ-BALART: Thank you. For so many years Julio you have spoken to so many just like that coyote. We heard what he had to say. Those who don't work with the cartels, he says, don't make it and neither do the people who try to go through Mexico on their own. How dangerous is this journey?

VAQUEIRO: Well, this is a very dangerous, very dangerous journey and there are not many, many options, people who believe that their lives, or the well-being of their families are on the line. They will decide to move to the north, to the U.S. regardless of the dangers, and yes, they will risk being assaulted by bandits or they will risk even dying or losing limbs as they fall from the train that takes them to the north, or even they will risk being extorted or kidnaped by Los Zetas, this criminal group that controls the route to the north since 2007 and which has made the trip the U.S very, very dangerous for people from Central America.

DIAZ-BALART: And Julio, I want your expertise on this because this coyote who is from Guatemala, who lives in Guatemala says that he is not part of the Mexican drug cartels but without an agreement with those Mexican drug cartels, the people that he works for just don't make it. So there is a very clear relationship between the drug cartels and people being brought into the United States without documents.

VAQUEIRO: Yeah, sure as I said Los Zetas control these routes to the north. And coyotes are charging people to bring them to the U.S., and part of that money goes to Los Zetas they have to pay some money to let them cross the river, for instance, since Los Zetas control the border between Texas and the Mexican territory. So, yeah, that's true, cartels control the whole situation and even if they kidnap some of these migrants, they will also charge families for the rescue, so it is a very difficult situation for migrants who are putting their lives at risk just to get a better life here in the United States, yeah.
           
10:39 a.m.
4 minutes and 56 seconds


DIAZ-BALART: And now to the politics of the immigration crisis here in the United States and the executive action expected by the president may be as early as next week, after Congress went home without any clear action. The ball appears to be entirely in the president’s court. According to Politico this morning, that's exactly what some Democrats in red states facing reelection are fearing this year. But what can the president do legally, beyond what he's already done, with deferred action for Dreamers. I asked him precisely about that last year, about the possibility for example, of including the parents of Dreamers in deferred deportation. Here's what we told me back again.

BARACK OBAMA: Then essentially I would be ignoring the law, in a way that I think, would be very difficult to defend legally. So that's not an option.

DIAZ-BALART That was him saying it's not an option to increase DACA for the parents of DACA kids. And let’s frame the debate with legislative analyst from the National Council of La Raza, Laura Vazquez and Republican strategist Adolfo Franco. Both of you, thank you so much for being with us. And Laura, last year the president did not seem to leave much room for action there, what should he do? Something changed?

LAURA VAZQUEZ: Well I think what has changed is that the House Republican leadership had a year to provide a needed solution that the American public supports and they went home for the August recess without having passed the needed legislation. There's clearly room for the president to use the authority that he has to step in and provide some relief for people who would have benefitted from legislation had Republican leadership acted.

DIAZ-BALART: And Adolfo, I bring you back for example, Bush former Attorney General Gonzalez wrote that the president should act unilaterally in some form on immigration and I remind you of Adolfo, that in 1987 Ronald Reagan, through an executive order, deferred deportation of Nicaraguans living in the United States.

ADOLFO FRANCO: Yeah in a state of emergency in a civil war under completely different circumstances. Actually our president, our constitutional lawyer president, got it right with you Jose, in a number of other interviews where he says I cannot ignore the laws of the United States. I have a lot of respect for Laura, but Laura I have to tell you, the fact that Congress didn't pass legislation the president didn't ask for or asked for and did not act on it. Our system isn't then the president can step in and just become the Congress of the United States. Those are the president’s own words, “I have to enforce the current laws.” What’s tragic here is that the House of Representatives acted last week, they passed a bill that actually changed a 2008 law to alleviate the so-called crisis on the border. They passed legislation that the president initially supported, if you recall and nothing happened. So the House has acted. It hasn't acted the way the president has wanted. But the fact of the matter is our system isn't one where you can say if the Congress doesn't act, I'll act in its place.

DIAZ-BALART: Adolfo, Alright, Adolfo, you failed to mention that the House also passed a thing saying DACA should be removed for the 550,000 kids that have been able–

FRANCO: But that’s their prerogative

DIAZ-BALART: I know! But I’m just saying let’s mention the whole thing but Laura, what do you think the debate going on right now in the White House is all about. Because he said so many times he can't do it--

FRANCO: Correct.

DIAZ-BALART: So what's the debate going on in the White House, though?

VAZQUEZ: Well, they definitely are listening to the constitutional scholars, the former legal counsels at the Immigration Nationality Service, the UCIS, former counsels, who are saying the president has plenty of latitude to exercise his authority, not to create new laws or to change laws, but to use his authority to decide who should be a priority for removal and who should not. And as you mentioned, Jose, we're coming up on the two-year anniversary, when young people were able to step forward and have their cases reviewed on a case-by-case basis to get that temporary relief from deportation that has been transformative and it has shown that it is in the best interest of the country to allow people who have significant ties here, who are part of the fabric of their communities to be able to come forward and contribute.

DIAZ-BALART: And, and who have not–right, and Adolfo I’ll let you wrap it up but these are the folks, parents of kids who were brought here through no fault of their own, and once they have crossed into the border, have not committed any other crime.

FRANCO: But you’re all ignoring the process. Since Laura, since you're concerned about constitutional scholars, they should turn Jonathan Turley, the leading liberal constitutional scholar of the United States who is opposed the president to do any of this. The fact of the matter is, the president is charged with enforcing the current laws. The system, the American system is you change those laws through the Congress. If you cannot do it--

DIAZ-BALART: He has executive action possibility.

FRANCO: To implement the laws of the United States! The president got it right in the first instance two years ago. Now, this is a cynical ploy by the White House to do things, trying to energize Latino voters in November, and provoke so-called impeachment proceedings to energize their base. That's what's behind this, as he did two years ago with deferred action!

Laura Flint
Laura Flint is a 2014 summer intern for the MRC's News Analysis Division.