Replacing the Dominant Narrative Around the Border

January 30, 2018 Julie Fisher-Rowe

Insights from The Opportunity Agenda

Unsurprisingly, the president’s recent outrageous immigration proposal includes a colossal budget for the construction of his unnecessary wall along the U.S. Mexico border. Discussion of the wall and its ridiculousness, though, obscure the real conversation we need to have about the border region.

Family members hug at the US-Mexico border
Photo courtesy of Border Network for Human Rights

We can all play a role in supporting our allies in the border region by paying attention to how each of us contribute to the narrative. The current conversations about chaos, crime, and drug cartels at the border have helped usher in the desperation that leads people to support something as ludicrous as a wall, after all. And our insistence that those things aren’t as bad as many are saying often only reinforces the original message.

So, what should we be talking about instead?

We know from messaging experts and research that how you start a conversation matters immensely and directly influences where you're able to take audiences in the end. The more people hear about the need to "secure" our borders and uphold the "rule of law," the more difficult it is to pivot them to the compassionate part of themselves that wants to protect the rights of immigrants, preserve families, and rely on values like community and opportunity over protection and security.

It is therefore crucial for immigration advocates — and all of us as a movement — to speak out and work to replace the dominant narrative around the border with a proactive, values-based story about what kind of communities we all want to live in. And to condemn what none of us want: An outsized police presence with no oversight, human rights violations and a militarized zone running through our communities.

It is therefore crucial for immigration advocates — and all of us as a movement — to speak out and work to replace the dominant narrative around the border with a proactive, values-based story about what kind of communities we all want to live in.

Replacing that dominant narrative is an easy story to tell. We all live in communities, and we value and desire the same things about them: A shared culture and history, a sustainable economy, safe neighborhoods, good schools, solid infrastructure and so on. People living in the Southwest border region want these same things. They want their kids to grow up with fond memories of their communities, to root for sports teams, to pride themselves in their unique culinary heritage.

What they don't want— what none of us wants — is to live in a region with an outsized police presence equipped with the same kind of drones we're flying in war zones. They don't want their kids' childhood memories to include checkpoints and detention facilities, or to live with a law enforcement agency that has no oversight and no accountability. And they don't want to live in a region where excessive border enforcement tactics have resulted in an increase in deaths, both for those in custody as well as those who now look for the most desolate and dangerous sections of the desert to cross into this country with the hopes of providing for their families.

It's possible to tell a story about community and to condemn the kind of excessive enforcement that affects the border communities so negatively and to also respond to the moment. We can, in the short-term, condemn the wastefulness and inhumanity represented by the wall, while also still telling stories of the border region as a cultural and economic hub, home to millions who deserve a voice.