Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 23

Communications Research:

Talking Immigration Issues: Three Studies

Acknowledgments
This report was written by Loren Siegel of Loren Siegel Consulting with guidance from Julie Rowe, Eleni Delimpaltadaki Janis, and Juhu Thukral of The Opportunity Agenda. This report is based on research conducted by First Research, Lake Research Partners, and Anat Shenker-Osorio of ASO Communications. The research conducted by Lake Research Partners was managed and funded primarily by the California Immigrant Policy Center with assistance and guidance from The Opportunity Agenda and others. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, with support and guidance from The Opportunity Agenda, helped to fund and shape the research conducted by First Research. The Opportunity Agenda commissioned the research conducted by Anat Shenker-Osorio. This report was designed and produced by Christopher Moore of The Opportunity Agenda. The Opportunity Agendas Immigrant Opportunity initiative is funded with project support from Carnegie Corporation of New York, Four Freedoms Fund, U.S. Human Rights Fund, Oak Foundation, Unbound Philanthropy, and the Ford Foundation, with general operating support from Open Society Foundations. The statements made and views expressed are those of The Opportunity Agenda.

About The Opportunity Agenda


The Opportunity Agenda was founded in 2004 with the mission of building the national will to expand opportunity in America. Focused on moving hearts, minds, and policy over time, the organization works with social justice groups, leaders, and movements to advance solutions that expand opportunity for everyone. Through active partnerships, The Opportunity Agenda synthesizes and translates research on barriers to opportunity and corresponding solutions; uses communications and media to understand and influence public opinion; and identifies and advocates for policies that improve peoples lives. To learn more about The Opportunity Agenda, go to our website at www.opportunityagenda.org. The Opportunity Agenda is a project of Tides Center.

June 2012

Table of Contents
Introduction Findings: The Headlines
Southern States Focus Groups California Focus Groups and Survey 4 5

1 4

Comparison with National Public Opinion Findings Significant Communications Challenges Principal Opportunities Recommendations
Values A Common-Sense Approach Moving Forward Together: Its About All of Us Strategic Considerations 16 16 17 18

6 8 13 16

Conclusion

19

Talking Immigration Issues: Three Studies

The Opportunity Agenda

Introduction
The immigrants rights movement today faces major challenges. The last two years have seen a rash of anti-immigrant laws proposed and enacted around the country; a federal and multi-state assault on the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; problematic federal-state enforcement partnerships which have led to record-high rates of deportation; rogue enforcement operations such as those by Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona; and the failure of Congress to enact either comprehensive reform or even more limited measures, such as the DREAM Act, to fix our flawed immigration policies. Over the same period, there have been some positive developments. The Obama administration announced that it would not seek to deport undocumented college students and certain other categories of immigrants. California passed a cluster of positive immigrant integration laws including the California Dream Act, which allows undocumented students to access state and private financial aid for college; a law prohibiting cities from requiring business owners to use the inaccurate and controversial E-Verify system for checking the immigration status of employees; and a law that prohibits the impounding of cars at checkpoints solely because a driver is unlicensed. Immigrant groups in Nebraska have so far defeated anti-immigrant state proposals and introduced a positive integration bill. The coming years will continue to present critical opportunities to reframe the debate on immigrant inclusion, to inform policy discourse, and to build the effectiveness of immigrants civic engagement, communications, and advocacy. This period is expected to include candidates debates in advance of national, state, and local elections; a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of S.B. 1070, Arizonas anti-immigrant law; numerous policy discussions; and volumes of media discourse, town halls, and other conversations connected to immigrant integration. The federal governments failure to pass reform legislation has shifted the debate to the states and has necessarily led the immigrants rights movement to focus on issues of due process and discrimination. Racial profiling, exclusion from public programs and services, and detention and deportation without due process have become paramount concerns. To date, laws mirroring the repressive law adopted in Arizona have been enacted in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah, and thus far, litigation by both immigrants rights advocates and the U.S. Justice Department has prevented the most egregious sections of these laws from being implemented. On April 25, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the Arizona case and is expected to announce its ruling by the end of June. As the public debate around immigration evolves, it is crucial to adapt our overarching narrative to the changing dynamics of the public discourse.1 In order to meet this communications challenge, The Opportunity Agenda, in close consultation with its partners, undertook a set of research projects in 2011 designed to deepen our collective understanding of how the public is grappling with the network of issues surrounding immigrant integration and immigration policy. Focus Groups in Three Southern States: Given the anti-immigrant laws passed in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, and the fact that these laws appear to have broad popular support, The Opportunity Agenda commissioned First Research Group, based in North Carolina, to conduct a series of six focus groups in the region of the Southeast. The purpose of the research was to identify the
1 In 2008, The Opportunity Agenda worked with 150 immigrants rights groups throughout the country to develop a new core narrative for the movementa set of broad themes and values that will help to connect with persuadable audiences and build support for change. The pro-immigration narrative that emerged from this process has three main elements: (1) Workable Solutions; (2) Upholding Our Nations Values; and (3) Moving Forward Together. They represent a set of ideas about pragmatism, national principles, and progress through cooperation.

Talking Immigration Issues: Three Studies

The Opportunity Agenda

themes and messages around immigration issues that could influence target audiences to oppose antiimmigrant measures and support more positive immigration policies. Two focus groups were held in each of three different locations, which represented a range of immigration policies, both positive and negativeGreenville, SC (African-American and Latino voters), Birmingham, AL (low-income African Americans and progressive white voters)- where immigration policies have been negative, and Nashville, TN (Asian-American and progressive white voters) where there has been more success in discouraging anti-immigrant legislation - during the months of May and June in 2011. First Research Group prepared a report, Southern Perceptions of Immigration Reform: Influencing the Discussion by Understanding Southern Voters Perceptions of Immigrants, Immigration, and the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Debate. The reports Executive Summary with recommendations is attached as Appendix I. Focus Groups and Survey in California: The Opportunity Agenda partnered with the California Immigrant Policy Center and commissioned Lake Research Partners of Washington, DC to conduct both qualitative and quantitative research focusing on anti-immigrant enforcement policies in general and Secure Communities in particular.2 Lake Research Partners conducted five focus groups with swing voters during the months of November and December, 2010: college-graduate Anglo women (Los Angeles), Latinos and Latinas (Los Angeles), African-American women and men (Los Angeles), and two groups with non-college-graduate Anglo women and men (Riverside). Participants were recruited based on their swing position on immigration, meaning they did not feel strongly one way or the other about whether immigration was good or bad. The focus groups were followed by a survey of 800 registered voters plus oversamples of 100 African-American and 100 Asian-American registered voters. The researchers Message Recommendations on Combating Secure Communities are attached as Appendix II. Language Analysis: To develop a deeper understanding and critique of the language used in the public discourse about immigration, by pro- and anti-immigrant advocates as well as the media, The Opportunity Agenda commissioned the ASO Communications strategic communications consulting firm to conduct an analysis of this language. Using a variety of techniques from cognitive linguisticsa field dedicated to understanding how people process information and communicateASO analyzed 1,200 data points from current language about immigrants and immigration.3 The data sources included materials from both pro- and anti-immigrant advocacy organizations, popular discussion of the topic on blogs and in chat rooms, and media coverage. Based principally on metaphor analysis cataloging the commonplace non-literal phrases that people automatically and unconsciously use to make sense of complexity ASO made a series of recommendations about language to avoid and language to employ when communicating about immigrants and immigration policy. A summary of the consultants report, Migrating Our Message: A Language Analysis of Immigration, is attached as Appendix III. Because this research differs in several key ways from public opinion research, we have not included its insights as findings, but rather include the implications of those insights throughout the report. Taken as a whole, the research findings provide a deeper understanding of public attitudes during this period of mounting frustration with federal inaction. It shows that inaction on immigration compounded by severe economic problems has produced a political environment in which voters are willing to consider increasingly draconian solutions. Today, even traditionally supportive constituencies such as progressive voters are not immune to xenophobic rhetoric.

2 Secure Communities is a federal initiative that allows state and local police to check the fingerprints of an individual they are booking into a jail against Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immigration databases. If there is a hit in an immigration database, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is automatically notified, even if the person has not been convicted of any criminal act. Where implemented, the program has led to racial and ethnic profiling, mistakenly targeted U.S. citizens and legal residents, and undermined public safety by making immigrants fearful of reporting actual crimes. 3 Data points are simply items of factual information derived from researchin this case, the use and context of specific words found in a range of written materials.

Talking Immigration Issues: Three Studies

The Opportunity Agenda

The research also identifies important entry points for steering the public away from repression and toward progressive reform. Focus group and survey findings suggest that in spite of their fears and general lack of empathy for undocumented immigrants, there are lines the public is unwilling to crosslines that they consider inimical to basic American values of fairness, balance, and due process. The findings also show that effective public education has the capacity to alter some of the publics most fact-challenged ideas. For example, the cognitive linguistic analysis makes a number of findings and recommendations about how to reinvent some of the ways in which advocates speak and write about immigrants and immigration so that we do not unintentionally invoke unhelpful metaphors and do begin to break down the barriers and biases that lead voters to support anti-immigrant policies. It is important to bear in mind that this body of research raises as many questions as it answers. Many of the findings are based on focus group research, which is qualitative research that cannot be projected onto a larger universe of people. Such research, however, is important because it allows us to explore participants concerns in their own words, determine their intensity of interest, and discover the sources of their ideas and opinions. The linguistic research reveals how people automatically and unconsciously make sense of complexity, in this case about immigrants and immigration. A series of suggestions emerged from the research about how to use language to win hearts and minds over the long run.

Talking Immigration Issues: Three Studies

The Opportunity Agenda

Findings: The Headlines


We commissioned opinion research in two regions of the country where immigration is viewed as a major issue: California and the Southern states of South Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama. Californias relationship with Mexico is ancient and many generations of Latinos have called California their home. New immigrants have a relatively easy time integrating themselves into the social, economic, and cultural life of the state. However, the South is a different story. New immigrants have been settling there only relatively recently. Fear of the new, combined with the general conservatism of even the more progressive segments of the population, has created barriers to integration and voter support for repressive legislation. Major findings from the research projects include:

Southern States Focus Groups


1. Participants from every group, including African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and persuadable whites, believed that undocumented immigrants, whom they equated with Latinos, were a direct threat to their economic stability. Economic concerns drove their negative attitudes about immigrants. Advocates should not take for granted traditional progressive audiences in this part of the country. Participants across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds expressed strong opposition to illegal immigration. Most participants did not believe that comprehensive reform was necessary. Rather, they tended to support the stricter enforcement of current laws and supported states rights arguments for implementing stricter measures, if necessary. Most participants opposed a path to citizenship because they viewed it as rewarding criminal behavior and as unfair to those who have done it the right way. Participants believed that state and local law enforcement should provide federal lawmakers with the benefit of their knowledge and help them enforce whatever statutes are enacted under the federal umbrella. They saw this as a balanced solution. When faced with facts that they were not aware of and did not expect to be true, participants expressed discomfort with some enforcement realities and said they wanted the system to be fair. They objected to the separation of families during the immigration enforcement process, and to racial profiling. They opposed policies that would allow imprisonment and deportation without a hearing. When researchers exposed participants to a series of facts, they were most surprised by the time and resources a deportation operation would cost. Even the staunchest supporters of deportation reconsidered their support for deportation policies when they learned that it would take 34 years and cost $285 billion to deport everyone who is currently here without documentation. The messages that appealed most to these participants defined the debate in terms of fundamental fairness, maintaining Americas core identity, and reflecting Americas values. For instance, participants were troubled by the possibility that some policies caused due process violations, and in these cases, the danger to the values most people hold about the importance of due process was more compelling than protecting the rights of particular people. 4

2. 3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

Talking Immigration Issues: Three Studies

The Opportunity Agenda

California Focus Groups and Survey


1. Focus group participants across gender, racial, and ethnic spectrums worried that immigration created competition for scarce jobs. They also believed undocumented immigrants benefited from advantages in American society but did not contribute via taxes and that they reaped benefits they did not sow. Californians believed the system was broken. They were solution-oriented, and in the absence of any other solution, they defaulted to tougher enforcement policies. But given the solution of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR), including a path to citizenship, they overwhelmingly agreed with that approach and rejected an enforcement-only policy. When researchers introduced CIR as a potential solution to many immigration issues, voters embraced this idea, and their support for a more aggressive enforcement system decreased. Facts and statistics about immigration helped bring clarity to the discussion. When confronted with data that challenged core beliefs, however, voters did not reject their core belief; instead, they rejected the data. Advocates should not anchor their messages in facts. Balance and fairness were the key values that voters wanted to see reflected in immigration policies. The strongest critiques of the Secure Communities program were that it lacked transparency, enforcement was inconsistent and unfair, it didnt give local government a voice, it did not apprehend criminals, and it did not make communities safer. Messages should sound hopeful and be solution-oriented, acknowledge this is a serious and important issue, emphasize that immigrants want to integrate and contribute, and invoke the values of balance and fairness.

2.

3. 4.

5. 6.

7.

Talking Immigration Issues: Three Studies

The Opportunity Agenda

Comparison with National Public Opinion Findings


The focus group research findings are both consistent and at variance with recent national public opinion survey findings. High levels of joblessness have historically led to the scapegoating of immigrants in this country. The fears and insecurities expressed by participants in both the Southern and California focus groups are consistent with recent national surveys indicating that the perception that undocumented immigrants are a direct threat to American jobs may be increasing. A June 2010 Pew Research Center survey showed that at that time, only 30 percent thought undocumented immigrants took jobs away from Americans. 4 But a survey conducted in August-September of 2011 found that 57 percent of U.S. adults felt that waya significant increase in a relatively short period of time.5 The hostility of Southern focus group participants to comprehensive reform and their expressed reliance on enforcement-only approaches are not reflected in national survey data. Californians beliefs are more representative of U.S. public opinion overall that the system is broken and that comprehensive reform, which combines better enforcement with a path to citizenship, is the right solution to the problem. Prioritizing enforcement while at the same time supporting CIR is the norm in the U.S. today. An August 2011 survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute asked respondents to choose which of two statements came closest to their own views: First Statement: The best way to solve the countrys illegal immigration problem is to secure our borders and arrest and deport all those who are here illegally. Second Statement: The best way to solve the countrys illegal immigration problem is to both secure our borders and provide an earned path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the U.S. Thirty-six percent chose the first statement and 62 percent chose the second.6 The across-the-board hostility towards undocumented immigrants expressed by many Southern focus group participants who are members of constituencies thought to be persuadable, such as progressive whites and African Americans, was also out of step with opinion nationwide. Most focus group participants opposed a path to citizenship on the grounds it would reward criminal behavior. As noted above, most Americans support a path to citizenship if certain conditions are met and although a majority of 55 percent say they have an unfavorable view of illegal immigrants,7 a larger majority
4 June 2010 Political Survey, Pew Research Center for the People & the Press at http://www.people-press.org/2010/06/24/ june-2010-political-survey/. 5 Transatlantic Trends: Immigration 2011, German Marshall Fund at http://www.gmfus.org/wp-content/files_mf/ ttimmigration_final_web32.pdf. 6 Public Religion Research Institute, Pluralism, Immigration and Civic Integration Survey, August 1-14, 2011. See also Fox News Poll conducted by Anderson Robbins Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R). Dec. 5-7, 2011. 7 Religion, Values, and Immigration Reform: National Survey, Public Religion Research Institute, April 2010. An even larger majority (62 percent) had an unfavorable view of undocumented immigrants.

Talking Immigration Issues: Three Studies

The Opportunity Agenda

(67 percent) also say they are either very or somewhat sympathetic to illegal immigrants and their families.8 First Research further reports that many of the Southern focus group participants regurgitate the harsh and often erroneous rhetoric of the anti-immigrant movement.

8 CNN/ORC Poll, November 18-20, 2011 at http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2011/images/11/22/rel19c.pdf. Sympathy appears to have increased since the question was asked in March of 2010. At that time, 52 percent said they felt very or somewhat sympathetic towards illegal immigrants and their families.

Talking Immigration Issues: Three Studies

The Opportunity Agenda

Significant Communications Challenges


Voters are concerned about economic competition
Fears of job competition and loss and depressed wages were apparent in both California and the Southern states focus groups. This public opinion research was conducted in May and June, 2011 when the nations unemployment rate was 9.1 percent, a figure little changed from the preceding five months.9 The rate in California was considerably higher11.8% in June.10 The three Southern states where focus groups were held were also experiencing higher rates than the national average: Tennessee at 9.8%; Alabama at 9.9%; and South Carolina at 10.5%.11 For African Americans and Latinos, who were included in the focus group research as well as the California survey, job prospects were even dimmer. Business Insider described the African-American rate of 16.2% as Depression level.12 The unemployment rate among Latinos was 11.6%, a figure that had remained more or less constant since the beginning of that year.13 Still in the grip of an economic crisis, the American public was not in a generous mood. Participants in the California focus groups across gender, racial, and ethnic spectrums worried that immigration was creating competition for scarce jobs. Participants in the Southern focus groups perceived an entire class of people who have not only gotten away with crossing the borders without permission but are rewarded with jobs being denied to real Americans and receive government benefits that ordinary Americans are not afforded.14 One of the major research findings was that at the moment these participants believe that the illegal immigration problem is overwhelming and a direct threat to their economic stability.15 The belief that illegal immigration was negatively impacting the countrys economy crossed racial and ethnic lines. African-American participants in both the Southern and California groups accepted the anti-immigrant movements rhetoric about illegals stealing jobs from real Americans (although African-American participants were also more open to the idea that big corporations were to blame for encouraging undocumented workers here because they will settle for lower wages). Latino participants also agreed that undocumented immigrants had a negative economic impact on jobs and wages (although they pushed back on the notion that illegal immigrants are or should be synonymous with the Latino population).16
9 http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000. 10 http://www.deptofnumbers.com/unemployment/california/. 11 http://www.deptofnumbers.com/unemployment/. 12 John Ellis, Black Unemployment Jumps to Depression Levels, Business Insider, June 20, 2011 at http://articles. businessinsider.com/2011-06-20/politics/29972272_1_unemployment-rate-young-black-men-age-cbs-news-reports. 13 HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH 2011: An Update on the Economic Well-Being of the Latino Population, Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Congress, September 15, 2011, at http://jec.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?a=Files.Serve&File_id=69f69196-7bf4-410fa4d4-57af985dda6e. 14 First Research, Southern Perceptions of Immigration Reform, October 2011, p.17 (hereinafter FR). 15 FR, p. 12. 16 Lake Research Partners, Developing a Communication Plan on Enforcement Policies for the California Immigrant Policy

Talking Immigration Issues: Three Studies

The Opportunity Agenda

Given the fact that the economic picture is likely to change only very incrementally in the near term, especially for the more vulnerable segments of the population (African Americans, Latinos, workers without a college education), what does cognitive linguistics tell us about how to change the conversation about the role of immigrants in our economy, and allay fears that they are stealing scarce jobs from real Americans? The analysis suggests that advocates own language can sometimes contribute to the publics mixed feelings about immigrants contributions to the economy: In an earnest desire to garner attention and sympathy for immigrants, at times you portray them as helpless victims. Or problems to be addressed or coped with. And while this surely means the rules regarding immigrants are the problem, sometimes the language implies its the people themselves.17 Further, Its very hard to pivot from victim to valuable members of society. Language that implies that immigrants are the problem (e.g., we must address the more than 12 million immigrants), or that they are akin to animals (e.g., police are on the hunt for immigrants), can be at cross-purposes with the immigration movements goals of garnering support for positive immigration polices. Characterizing immigrants as victims undermines claims that immigrants positively contribute to our economy and our society by implying helplessness that requires protection, and potentially, special treatment.

Audiences had negative perceptions of undocumented immigrants and lacked basic information about the realities of current immigration policy
Focus group participants drew a distinction between the right way and the wrong way to immigrate. Those who immigrate the right way were looked upon with favor. Their immigration was viewed as an opportunity for them to work hard and have a new chance at a successful life. Those who came the wrong way were seen as freeloaders and lawbreakers, i.e., criminals. One participant said: I know that there are a lot of people that come here from other countries that go through the whole process of getting their visa and things like that but I know that there are a large number of people that are illegally living here and gaining health care and not paying taxes and stuff like that.18 Given their negative perceptions, the Southern focus group participants were largely unmoved by the hardships undocumented immigrants faced or their constant fear of detection and deportation. 19 A common sentiment was that those who come here without authorization know the risks involved, up to and including deportation, and are therefore not deserving of our sympathy. Another was that undocumented immigrants dont want to integrate into American society. As one participant put it, I think if you come over here illegal you have no intention of becoming a citizen. Theres no intention there.20 Some of the Southern participants expressed the belief that undocumented immigrants have chosen this path because they are unwilling to do the work required to gain citizenship, that they are here solely to game the system and that the challenges they face are solely of their own making.21 Most of the participants in the Southern focus groups also viewed Latinos as synonymous with undocumented
Center, March 2011, p. 13 (hereinafter LRP); FR, pp.7-9. 17 ASO Communications, Migrating Our Message: A Language Analysis of Immigration, May 2011, p. 15 (hereinafter ASO). 18 FR, p. 17. 19 Undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children receive a bit more sympathy, even from the Southern participants, most of whom believe it is unfair for those children to be penalized for their parents decisions: I think once you have been here for so long, your parents brought you over here, and your whole life is hereThey are just thrust into a society that youre not even familiar with. Your whole culture is the United States(FR, p. 18). Latino participants in particular express great sympathy for these young adults and feel that the countrys rejection of them is antithetical to our American identity (FR, p. 8). 20 FR, p.19. 21 FR, p.19.

Talking Immigration Issues: Three Studies

The Opportunity Agenda

immigrants and worried that illegal immigrants are taking over their cities.22 The positive associations that participants acknowledgedthat undocumented immigrants are hardworking and have close-knit family structuresdid not displace their deeply-felt negative views. The negative misperceptions, of course, indicate how little native-born Americans understand about patterns of immigration,23 immigration quotas, and how extraordinarily difficult it is to obtain documentation. It is difficult for participants to perceive the difficulty or expense of obtaining the proper paperwork without an understanding of the obstacles within our own bureaucracy or the existing backlog that keeps families separate for decades.24 Participants also had very little understanding of the difference between criminal and civil law violations. Several circumstances under which immigrants might be here without documentation are civil, not criminal, offenses including a failure to depart after the expiration of a temporary visa. But participants were quick to equate any violation with criminal, further marginalizing immigrants from the mainstream and creating barriers to empathy. Even when the difference between criminal and civil law was explained, some participants were unmoved: Debating criminal or civil laws is lost on most participants. The distinction tends to matter more to those who are less punitive and dismissed by those who want to be more punitive. It ought to be a criminal offense was a repeated statement.25 The linguistic analysis shows a number of examples of how the language of immigration used by the media, by anti-immigrant spokespeople, and, to a certain extent, by pro-immigrant advocates reinforces negative stereotypes about and attitudes towards immigrants, and suggests alternative language that could, over time, change the framework within which Americans tend to evaluate public policy. For example, in a discussion of the role conceptual metaphors play in shaping beliefs,26 the analysis observes that Sadly, the prevailing metaphor here is IMMIGRATION AS WAR: In this framework, immigrants are invaders and America is under siege. The governmentand self-appointed vigilanteseither defend her or fail to do so While advocates do not favor this language, were not immune to it. In our version of immigration as war, the roles are quite different. Immigrants arent invaders, theyre victims. 27 Language that emphasizes immigrants as victims, bills targeting undocumented immigrants or immigrants are prey to unscrupulous employers, has the effect of evoking the immigration-as-war metaphor, which in turn suggests drama, conflict, and chaos, which are not helpful themes when we are advocating for sensible and reasoned policy change. Another popular yet problematic metaphor is immigrants as water. This has been used very effectively by anti-immigrant advocates who repeatedly refer to the border as being flooded and inundated with waves of immigrants. The immigrants as water metaphor also feeds into the anchor baby myth: Here we see

22 FR, p. 5. 23 In fact, new immigration from Mexico has sputtered to a trickle. See Damien Cave, Better Lives for Mexicans Cut Allure of Going North, The New York Times, July 6, 2011, at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/07/06/world/americas/immigration. html?ref=immigrationandemigration. 24 FR, p.19. 25 LRP, p. 16. 26 ASO describes metaphor analysis as cataloging the commonplace non-literal phrases in all speech. Noting patterns in these expressions reveals how people automatically and unconsciously make sense of complexity. Each metaphor brings with it entailments, or a set of notions it highlights as true about a concept. Priming people with varying metaphors has been shown to alter not just how they speak but the ways they decide, unconsciously, what ought to be done about a given topic. [from ASOs 5-page summary dated September 2011]. 27 ASO, p.4.

10

Talking Immigration Issues: Three Studies

The Opportunity Agenda

two domains come together to lend comprehensibility to pairing these two inoffensive words to make a potent pejorative.28 Using words like pipeline and flow tend to tap into this metaphor and makes it difficult to see individual immigrants, just as a single drop of water in the ocean is impossible to spot.29 There is also a great deal of language in immigration advocates communications that implies that immigration is a problem. Phrases like fixing, solving, and addressing the immigration problem, while aimed at the immigration system, bleeds over into how people think about immigrants themselves as an undifferentiated mass of people who are problems rather than assets to society. Language that implies that immigrants dont want to become authorized is also problematic. Phrases like we should require or they should submit to background checks imply that acquiescence must be coerced. Conversely, phrases such as we should allow or we can enable give a more accurate picture of immigrants who seek to abide by our rules and standards but are thwarted from doing so.30 The terms legalization and legal status can also create additional challenges. While most immigration advocates do not use the term illegal many use the term legalization, which still brings to mind a legal framework. In other words, if someone needs to get legal or be legalized, the logic follows that he or she is currently illegal. And people automatically equate illegal with criminal. Once put into the criminal framework, it is much harder to expect audiences to oppose due process violations. On the other hand, advocates use of a path to citizenship provides a solution that is not mired in the legal frame.

Advocates communications are not always clear about the proper role for government
Winning the publics support for the appropriate role of government is one of the greatest communications challenges advocates face, not only in the context of immigration reform, but in all areas of social justice public policy. We criticize the government both for its inaction in bringing about real reform and for its overreaction in violating due process principles. At the same time, we invoke the government as the entity that must make things better. This contradiction adds to the confusion the American public already has about the proper role of government in their lives, and this confusion was evident among our focus group participants.31 Focus group participants in both California and the South expressed frustration with the governments perceived lack of enforcement of existing federal laws. According to the California researchers: Participants blame EVERYONE for the problems they see in the immigration system. They believe the President and Congress are inactive on this issue and have not done enough to secure the border. They believe the Governor and state legislature can do more. They believe some local mayors are running sanctuary cities. They believe local police officers and sheriffs could be more activeThe bad guys in this debateare bad because they are not taking action.32 The perceived lack of action drives participants to throw their support behind those who seem to be doing something,33 including state legislatures. At the same time, some participants have bought into the conservative myth that immigrants are a protected class that receives special treatment from the
28 ASO, p. 22. 29 ASO, p. 22. 30 ASO, p.20. 31 The Opportunity Agenda recommends that social justice advocates emphasize government as a connector, a planner, able to pave the way for progress. Our nations greatest leaps forward have always come when we have invested in an effective partnership between government and our people. Quoted from Promoting Equitable and Sustainable Job Creation http://opportunityagenda.org/ files/field_file/2010.09.29PromotingEquitableAndSustainableJobCreation.pdf. 32 LRP, p.19. 33 LRP, p.17.

11

Talking Immigration Issues: Three Studies

The Opportunity Agenda

government. As one Southern participant put it: When I hear immigrant, the first thing I think about is being illegal, no taxes, how they can come get businesses and flourish and its hard for us to get loans and stuff to start our businesses. They get a lot of perks.34 This caused participants to be even more resentful of undocumented immigrants. In the discourse about immigration, linguistic analysis points out that the government is both hero and villainfor both pro- and anti-immigrant advocates: For us, government is in the wrong on prolonged detention, poor treatment, inadequate visas, slow application processing and a whole slew of errors and omissions. However, it is also the actor we charge with improving the systemFor opponents, federal government has shirked its responsibility in controlling the border and so certain states have valiantly taken up the chargenotwithstanding the frequent criticism, opponents also look to government, even at the federal level, to take charge of this issueWe must articulate the desired role for government in immigration. While this surely includes criticism of its current failures, we cant tar the government completely. Otherwise its very hard to buy that this incompetent entity is up to the task of altering and improving what we have now.35 The analysis also observes that advocates tend to use the passive voice when discussing problems with the system: the detention system has ballooned; three were arrested; detainees are transported. It argues that the passive voice hides responsibility and makes it harder to see who is doing what to whom. And harder to insist that decision-makers do things differently and be accountable for actions they and their subordinates take.36

Immigrant women are largely invisible outside of motherhood


The language analysis reports that discussions of gender and women in particular are absent from the discourse. The exception is in the case of mothers who are often portrayed unfavorably as irresponsible or as using their children to obtain citizenship.

34 35 36

FR, p.17. ASO, p.28. ASO, p.32.

12

Talking Immigration Issues: Three Studies

The Opportunity Agenda

Principal Opportunities
Audiences responded well to values-based arguments
The field of cognitive linguistics tells us that people form their views about issues based more on their existing worldviewand valuesthan on the facts alone: When confronted with data that challenges core beliefs, voters do not reject their core belief; instead they reject the data.37 This round of research found that in spite of their generally negative views about undocumented immigrants, there were certain lines participants were not willing to cross. Among the Southern focus group participants: There was a consensus across groups that in the pursuit of stricter enforcement there must not be an assault on American values. For example, a majority in each group believes that it goes against our values and core identity to provide no recourse for the young adults who were raised to be American and now find all avenues to the American dream blocked no matter how hard they have worked.38 Government actions that troubled these participants included racial or ethnic profiling, separation of families during the immigration enforcement process, and imprisonment without the benefit of due process.39 Some quotes from the focus groups illustrate participants discomfort with enforcement activities they feel are antithetical to American values: If I was a U.S. citizen but I was of Hispanic descent, I walked out of my house and I forgot my license. I would not want the police to take me to jail and lock me up because I was Hispanic.40 It doesnt follow what our country is supposed to be set on. Its actually saying that officials can suspect someone and actually prevent them from receiving a hearing. Thats not innocent until proven guilty. Thats thrown into an underground jail cell and when we get to you we get to you. But we dont do that in this country, remember?41 Some immigrants are held here in prisonlike conditions without lawyers and without the opportunity to challenge their detention before a judge. I dont agree with that. I dont believe it. Yeah, it seems like that shouldnt happen here in this country.42

37 LRP, p.36. 38 FR, p.10. 39 A survey of Alabama adults conducted in November and December of 2011 showed significant disquiet over the fairness of that states new anti-immigrant law. Although 67 percent agreed there was a need for an immigration law, only 48 percent agreed that the new state law was fair while 37 percent felt it was unfair (Center for Leadership and Public Policy, 2011 Survey on Alabama Immigration Law, Nov. 1 Dec. 8, 2011). Extensive media coverage of the ongoing controversy surrounding the law may be having an effect on traditionally conservative Alabamans. Stories about rallies and demonstrations against the Alabama law highlighting the harms to families and children, and reports of incidents like the mid-November arrest and detention of a German manager with Mercedes Benz for not having a drivers license appear to be chipping away at the laws initial popularity. (See Associated Press, Immigration law: Mercedes manager from Germany arrested in Alabama, November 18, 2011). 40 FR, p. 22. 41 FR, p. 23. 42 FR, p. 24.

13

Talking Immigration Issues: Three Studies

The Opportunity Agenda

The Southern states research indicated that Casting the anti-immigration movements enforcement-only approach as thoughtlessly trampling on our nations values while portraying comprehensive reform as an intelligent policy response puts the anti-immigration movement on the defensive while upholding the American values we hold dear.43 The California research found that balance and fairness are the key principles that voters want to see reflected in immigration policies affecting California.44 Between the two, focusing on balance was more effective than highlighting fairness for several reasons: Fairness may seem a more natural fit, but right now life isnt fair for anyone in this economy or any Californian facing the realities of the states budget problems. Trying to grant fairness to undocumented immigrants could create a backlash. Fairness implies more leniency than balance, and voters are not looking for leniency. Balance not only implies reform but also suggests taking action reasonable action where needed to correct the imbalance caused by the current broke immigration system.45

Audiences were more supportive of changing policies after receiving more information about the current system
The fact that Americans, including those considered persuadable on immigration issues, are so unfamiliar with how the immigration system works is a major impediment to winning them over to pro-immigrant policies. By the same token, information from a credible source that leads people to question the conventional wisdom can erode belief in xenophobic myths and open minds to other narratives. The Southern states research suggested that: The communications efforts of comprehensive reform advocates will have to pull double-duty, educating the public before influencing their position. If the attitudes expressed in these groups are reflective of the public at-large, our political discourse has become so fact-challenged that most will have little concrete knowledge about immigration policy. Even among the most sympathetic participants some assertions of abuse or departures from American values go challenged for lack of credibility.46 Certain facts can undermine arguments for stronger enforcement. For example, learning that it would take 34 years and cost tax payers $285 billion to implement an effective deportation program gave even the staunchest supporters of deportation pause (although this information is a double-edged sword since it gives ammunition to those claiming our government has allowed the situation to get out of control). Other examples of facts that seemed to shake participants faith in an enforcement-only approach were: u u u u The absence of any kind of path to legality for undocumented immigrants who arrived here as young children and grew up in the States; The ability of officials to deport anyone they suspect of being illegal without the benefit of due process; The ability to imprison immigrants for minor offenses without the benefit of due process; and The inequality in the visa allotment process.47

43 44 45 46 47

FR, p. 11. LRP, p. 31. LRP, p. 36. FR, p. 11. FR, p. 23.

14

Talking Immigration Issues: Three Studies

The Opportunity Agenda

People are hungry for solutions


Participants in all the focus groups expressed the desire for a solution and impatience with the lack of progress in finding one. Although frustration leaves people open to bad choices, it also gives advocates the opportunity to be the ones who can offer a solution that is actually workable and consistent with American values. The California focus groups showed that left without a solution, people had to find one on their own and tended to default to tougher enforcement policies.48 But they also showed that when offered the alternative solution of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR), participants felt it addressed their major concerns and if it could happen they would be satisfied with this shift in policy.49 This was confirmed by the California survey, which found that 79 percent of voters supported CIR:50 Both CIR and S-Comm are initially popular. Voters want action and, in the absence of an alternative, they will default to aggressive enforcement. However, CIR is more popular, has a deeper base, and a wider audience.51 According to the LRP study, S-Comm tends to get support when people hear messages about its original intent to deport individuals who commit serious crimes, but that support diminishes substantially once they hear messages about the programs lack of transparency, the burden on local governments, and its negative impact on public safety and cooperation among witnesses to crime. In addition to the problems surrounding the proper role of government noted above, the linguistic analysis identified another language barrier that prevents some audiences from embracing the kinds of workable solutions advocates promote: comprehensive immigration reform means so many things as to mean virtually nothing. The public doesnt seem to know what this entails. Further, it reinforces the idea of immigration as problem, just as welfare reform helped vilify public assistance. Finally, its a call to eliminate a bad without hope of building or creating a good.52

48 LRP, p. 6. 49 LRP, p. 34. 50 CIR was described as follows: Under this proposal, the federal government would manage border security and crack down on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants currently living in the United States would be required to register and obtain legal status, as long as they have not committed crimes, and then be put on a path to citizenship if they pay taxes, learn English, and show they are contributing to their community. 51 LRP, p. 21. 52 ASO, p. 10.

15

Talking Immigration Issues: Three Studies

The Opportunity Agenda

Recommendations
We recommend first and foremost that advocates organize messages under a shared core narrative that emphasizes values, common-sense approaches, and moving forward together.

Values
This body of research again underscores the importance of approaching the subject of immigration through a values lens. The more we are able to show that the policies we advocate for are more in line with our nations values than are anti-immigrant measures, the easier it will be to make the case for positive policies rather than only reacting to bad ones. Its also important to communicate the many values that native-born Americans have in common with immigrant Americans. u Open with reminders about our nations core values. While audiences are surprised by, and sometimes moved by facts, they respond best to messages that speak to their core values. Frame messages around fundamental fairness, and Americas core identity. Messages should cast enforcement-only approaches as violations of our nations values, highlighting in particular the importance we place on due process, i.e., everyone gets his or her day in court and everyone must have access to lawyers. For more persuadable audiences that lean towards more progressive positions, we should offer CIR as a more reasoned policy that aligns with our values. Fairness and balance are also important values to emphasize, particularly in discussions of enforcement issues. Emphasize the core values we all personally share. Audiences admired immigrants whom they perceive to value work, family, and the American Dream. In focus groups, much of the discomfort often stemmed from uncertainty about immigrants whom they perceived as not wanting to fully embrace these values. By highlighting the values we all have in common, and immigrants commitment to the idea of being American, we decrease opponents ability to create divisions and us vs. them discussions. Stress that immigrants understand American values, want to (and do) contribute to this country in positive ways, and that they strive to become a part of society.

A Common-Sense Approach
There is an underlying understanding that something is wrong with our immigration laws, and people want to decrease undocumented immigration. Because audiences do not understand much about our current laws, they are open to most suggestions, whether those suggestions are friendly to immigrants or not. Their central request is that someone do something about what they see as an overwhelming problem. u Clearly and consistently state the problem. While we have framed the problem as a broken system in the past, this research indicates that such a description is not clear enough. We should specifically state which bad immigration policies are causing which problems, and who we should pressure to fix them. Communications should be specific enough to avoid implying that immigration per se or undocumented immigrants themselves are problematic. Assign responsibility. We need to name the specific policies that are broken and describe how we must fix them, and who we should pressure to do it. Avoid using the passive voice in

16

Talking Immigration Issues: Three Studies

The Opportunity Agenda

describing problems and instead assign specific responsibility to specific actors. As the linguistic report suggests: Instead of the immigration system has ballooned, try Congress poured funds into detention. Instead of immigration enforcement is plagued by try enforcement officials ignore human rights laws. Instead of detainees are transported, try ICE forcibly separates families. The active voice holds specific individuals or branches of government to account rather than painting the entire government with the same brush. u Criticism alone is not enough. When criticizing bad policies, always offer alternate approaches. Audiences made clear that criticism alone would not sway them from supporting harsh enforcement policies, but they could be persuaded that such policies were not the best approach available. Balance is a driving theme. People want to decrease undocumented immigration, but think that breaking up families and mistreating immigrants goes too far. Ascribe a positive role to government. Be careful about describing government as a villain (in introducing and implementing bad enforcement policies) when it also needs to be the hero of the story. One way to articulate the desired role for government is to describe pro-immigrant reforms as opportunities to move the country forward. Rather than harp on past and present mistakes, framing the current problems as missed opportunities to have a working system, to live up to our ideals, to treat all fairly, allow us to describe what we dont want without completely vilifying government.53 Dont just talk about stopping harm; give audiences hope by describing reform as a chance to do good. Assing a role for states. In the South, acknowledge that states may have some good ideas about how to change our immigration policies but that we need federal-level immigration policies to ensure that our American values of fairness and equality are upheld.

u u

Moving Forward Together: Its About All of Us


We need to find ways to frame discussions about immigrants that include them, rather than just describe them. Immigrant Americans are part of our national and local communities, not guests or intruders, as some frames assert. Meanwhile, we should make the case that anti-immigrant policies hurt all of us, not just immigrant communities. They violate our values, bring out peoples worst instincts, and have unintended consequences that hurt us all for the sake of the narrow ideological agenda of a few people. u Emphasize the whole community, instead of drawing distinctions between us and them. Rather than portray immigrants as victims of bad legislative policies, frame them as willing and enthusiastic contributors thwarted by policies that seek to interfere with those contributions. By portraying immigrants less as a them with which audiences have little in common, we can focus on our similaritiesour shared values of family and work, our common dreams of a better life for our children, our desire to live in safe and thriving communities. We can then tell a story about how certain laws make our shared visions harder to reach. Choose the right spokespeople. Some of the best spokespeople are those who appear to be objective about these laws and interested primarily in the overall health of the community, as opposed to the rights of a specific group or individual. For instance, a member of law enforcement or a retired judge might better overcome an audiences skepticism about the
ASO, p. 29.

53

17

Talking Immigration Issues: Three Studies

The Opportunity Agenda

existence of due process violations than an immigrants rights advocate would. Additionally, those who can report on the systemic, rather than the individual, nature of these violations will likely be the most effective in persuading people that we should change bad policies. For example, members of law enforcement, faith leaders, teachers, and business peopleimmigrant and non-immigrant alikewho can tell stories of the negative impact of policies on whole sectors and communities help to show that these laws are adversely affecting more than just a few isolated individuals. u Talk about all of the roles women play, beyond motherhood. Often it is assumed that messages about mothers are sympathetic to swing audiences. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and in fact, immigrant mothers are often portrayed unfavorably. Instead, we should talk about the range of contributions immigrant women make.

Strategic Considerations
u Know the audience. Dont assume support among traditional members of the progressive base, particularly in the South. People of color and persuadable whites are not all immediately sympathetic to the problems that harsh enforcement policies cause immigrant communities. Audiences still need basic information about what is wrong with our immigration laws and policies and what we can do to fix them. Use facts wisely. Facts are important, but too many confuse the debate. People will reject a fact that contradicts a core belief. Choose facts that reflect fairness and balance. For instance, Only 20 percent of undocumented immigrants caught up in enforcement tactics that can result in deportation have committed the types of crimes that these programs purport to address. Consider language carefully. Using the word illegal is obviously damaging. But proimmigration advocates use of getting legal and a path to legalization may unwittingly support the initial damaging term. If someone needs to get legal, it sounds like they are currently not legal and possibly even lack legal rights. Better language would be: pathway to citizenship. We need a range of terms to replace illegal, not just one term. Possibilities include unauthorized, out of status, without papers, and with no documentation currently. The linguistic report suggests: Describe immigrants in the singular, and with more descriptors (an immigrant worker, a parent, a neighbor). Its not enough to avoid illegal. We need to put a face on immigrants. Defining them as individuals, who not only need but do, who not only struggle but contribute, is critical. Two strategies for this are (1) refer to immigrants in the singular with an indefinite article an immigrant (2) mention them by what they do gardeners, farmers, food producers, care takers and builders. Even making the small shift from undocumented immigrant to undocumented worker or undocumented resident would help.54

54

ASO, p. 21.

18

Talking Immigration Issues: Three Studies

The Opportunity Agenda

Conclusion
While audiences are by no means uniform in their thoughts about and reactions to immigration, the synthesis of these three studies reveals a number of promising strategies for advocates to reach a range of audiences. In addition, our collective use of language tells us much about our and our larger communitys thoughts on the topics. With strategy, careful consideration of language and stories, and a drumbeat of common themes, we can make significant strides in improving dialogue around these issues, and set the stage for better immigration policy.

19

The Opportunity Agenda 568 Broadway Suite 302 New York, NY 10012 Tel: 212.334.5977 Fax: 212.334.2656

www.opportunityagenda.org

The Opportunity Agenda is a project of Tides Center.

Évaluer