New Immigration Media Coverage Analysis and Strategies
April 30, 2013
With an immigration bill in the Senate, winning the media battle is as important as winning the legislative battle. To support advocates' strategic media outreach, we analyzed newspaper and television coverage from September 2012 through February 2013 and crafted a set of recommendations on how to dominate the discourse with our messages. (Read the abbreviated findings or skip to media strategies for pro-immigration advocates).
- A media focus on the politics of immigration and, particularly, Latino voting patterns in the 2012 national election.
- A major shift in sources and quotes, with conservative and Republican voices playing a leading role, largely in support of positive immigration policy reform.
- Virtual unanimity in op-eds and other newspaper commentary in support of immigration policy reform, frequently including the call for an explicit path to citizenship.
- Little in-depth coverage of immigration enforcement issues, or of state anti-immigrant laws.
- Largely sympathetic coverage of immigrants, and particularly immigrant young people, but inadequate coverage of the everyday struggles of immigrants.
- A slight reduction in the use of the term “illegal” to describe undocumented immigrants, though the term remains ubiquitous in reporting.
The presidential election and conservatives’ shift to a pro-reform position on immigration reversed a multiple-year trend of pro-immigrant spokespeople and Democrats outnumbering conservative spokespeople in related news coverage. Republican politicians and other conservative voices made up 43 percent of all spokespeople imnews. But for the first time, most of them were advocating for some kind of comprehensive policy reform. By contrast, our 2012 analysis of media coverage of the Supreme Court case Arizona v. United States found 3 percent of quotes were conservative advocates, and those ran overwhelmingly counter to the integration and human rights of immigrants.
Supportive Commentary and Sympathetic Coverage
Our random sample of print opinion pieces produced only commentary in support of immigration policy reform. A third of them explicitly called for a “path to citizenship,” a few of them called for the passage of the DREAM Act, and half of them talked generally about providing legal status for immigrants currently in the U.S.
Another notable finding is that depictions of immigrants were overwhelmingly sympathetic during the period that we studied. This is in part explained by increased media focus on younger immigrants. Media have long struck a sympathetic tone when discussing or featuring young people who came to the U.S. as children. Young immigrants were mostly portrayed as eager to complete their educations and and officially become contributing members of American society, and as not at fault for their immigration status. Last but not least, young immigrants were hardly ever identified by their legal status, in contrast to descriptions of immigrants everywhere else in the coverage (who were usually referred to as “illegal” or “undocumented”).
1. Because the discourse concerning immigration policy reform lacks details about specific proposals on the table or their expected impact on communities, provide reporters and other audiences with greater detail on the proposed immigration policy changes and the implications.
2. Advocates should seize media’s increased attention to immigration policy reform to become a dominant source of information for reporters.
3. Replace the current notion that there is a “line” immigrants must get into for citizenship with a description of the outdated and problematic processes that exists now.
4. Further highlight the harmful consequences of harsh immigration enforcement in communities around the country by using examples, such as the need for well-trained police departments that keep us all safe and are not distracted with immigration enforcement duties thrust on them.
5. Underscore that a significant majority of Americans support policy reform that includes citizenship.
6. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals has generated increased discourse about the lives of immigrants in the U.S. Leverage this opening to see that more stories of immigrants of all ages are reaching journalists across the full spectrum of immigration issues.
7. Continue to talk about immigrants as contributing members of society and about the values shared by immigrants and native-born Americans, such as hard work and family, themes now echoed not only by pro-immigrant advocates but also by politicians of both major parties.
8. Pitch stories and contribute commentary that move coverage from a largely political frame to a narrative of shared values, positive contributions, and moving forward together.
9. Elevate due process and human rights violations—and particularly instances of racial profiling— which currently receive inadequate coverage. Connect the dots for reporters between human stories, systemic practices, and community impact. Make it clear that these are important concerns for Latino voters, along with many other Americans of all backgrounds.