Moving Forward: Three Ideas for Talking About the Moment

As we process, discuss, and continue to respond to the January 6th attack on our democracy and what it means for the days leading up to the Inauguration and beyond, The Opportunity Agenda offers a few messaging ideas for the immediate moment that also advance a long-term vision for justice.

Together, we must put forth a strong and unified message that names the hypocrisy and violence that white supremacists perpetuated at our nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6. We must call for those who inspired and carried out this insurrection to be held to account, and we must uplift the aspirations and vision we are striving for our democracy to be. Our communities and our country’s ideals depend on it.

1. Lay out a long-term vision, framed with values. In crafting your message, uplift the values that serve us in the current moment while also strengthening our long-term narrative. For instance:

Voice: Our Democracy depends on ensuring that all our voices are heard, and votes counted. The history made in Georgia in the runoff election on Jan. 5, with BIPOC organizers and voters leading the way with their organizing prowess, voices, and votes, cannot be overstated, and we must continue to celebrate this #BlackJoy and #JoyToThePolls as progress for our democracy – it is a defining moment for what our country aspires to be. The values of Voice, Community, and Inclusion ruled the day in Georgia and in the nation with record voter turnout – particularly Black, Latinx and APIA voters — and with the historic election of Rev. Warnock to the U.S. Senate. It is progress that we should continue to celebrate and uplift loudly despite everything else we are witnessing and facing.

Safety: We must ensure the true safety of everyone, whether they are working a job during the pandemic, peacefully protesting, or experiencing an encounter with law enforcement. We can use the jarring memory of the January 6th actions at the U.S. Capitol as a stark reminder that we must commit to doing all that is in our power to promote true Safety for all. This means resoundingly rejecting white supremacy’s grasp on our society, our police departments, the White House, and all who enable it. We will not stand for a system that is complicit with the violence promulgated against Black protesters, while at the same time is easy going on white vigilantes who run roughshod on federal spaces.

Dignity: Because we are humans first, and all people deserve to live in peace and dignity. We must remind people that our new future is built upon everyone having a voice, all of us coming together as a community to solve shared problems, keeping each other safe, and helping each other live with Dignity. We cannot go back to business as usual because that is what led to this crisis. We must take bold action to make this country a true, inclusive democracy where we stand with and for each other and where our elected officials and public servants respect our rights, no matter who we are.

2. Emphasize moving forward. Many of the events of the past year have reminded us of some of the country’s worst instincts and darkest history. But we have a moment now to underscore with audiences the message that we can move toward a better version of this nation if we come together to address our shared challenges and go beyond. Emphasize your long-term vision and paint a vivid picture of that future as well as the clear actions we need to take to achieve it. Remind people that to move forward, we have to come together in our diverse experiences, ideas, and strengths to build an economy, society, and country that truly embraces and embodies justice and opportunity. This means fighting for transformational changes, not accepting incremental or piecemeal solutions that leave people out and put us on a sluggish path toward our vision. We have a moment, and we must seize it.

3. Build messages that move your long-term narrative. The events at the Capitol and the actions of this administration, both recent and over the past four years, represent much of what is wrong with our country. But remember to choose your examples carefully to build your story for moving forward. For instance, the hypocrisy of law enforcement’s response to the white nationalist attack on the Capitol compared to their stealthy and violent strong handling of Black Lives Matter protesters over the summer makes a powerful argument for those who are advocating to Defund the Police in favor of building community resources for achieving true safety. Also, those focusing on Democracy work may choose to highlight the president’s attacks on voice and vote that culminated in January 6th’s violence. Spending too much time describing or explaining all the many dimensions of a specific event will likely keep audiences in that experience rather than looking forward – so remember to keep a simple framework for talking about the Values, Problems, Solutions and Actions we are trying to share.

More resources:

Democracy Rising Social Media Toolkit

Speaking Out About January 6,” Frameworks Institute

Our Democracy’s Ideals Depend on Our Actions Today,” The Opportunity Agenda

Reflecting on 2020, Going Beyond in 2021,” The Opportunity Agenda

5 Tips for Talking About the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 (H.R. 6)

On March 12, 2019, Representatives Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), and Yvette Clarke (D-NY) introduced the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019, H.R. 6. The bill combines longstanding efforts to provide a roadmap to U.S. citizenship for undocumented youth, people who have or are eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), people who had or were eligible for temporary protected status (TPS), or people with deferred enforced departure (DED).

Messaging Recommendations

Consider these points when talking about the bill with persuadable audiences:

1. Link the bill to a long-term vision. This is the first of many critical steps we must take to fix our immigration policies. It ends harm to several immediately vulnerable groups, but we need to place it in the context of our longer-term immigration goals: a reasonable and orderly process for all aspiring citizens in service of our collective American dream of a diverse nation that embraces newcomers and new ideas. Also part of this long-term vision is abandoning policies that separate families, divide communities, and encourage racial profiling. Point out that this bill rightly rejects those approaches in favor of an affirmative solution to one aspect of the immigration system.

Sample language: Our immigration laws should serve us and our communities by providing a reasonable and orderly process for aspiring citizens who want to fully participate and contribute. But our current lawsand current administrationmake that impossible and instead regularly threaten people with deportation, racial profiling, hateful and divisive rhetoric, and the militarization of their communities. Those threats are not in line with our values and only move us away from the kind of country we should be: one that welcomes and embraces immigrants and the diversity they bring us; that understands and encourages their important contributions to our culture, society, and economy; and that rejects any policy that divides communities and excludes people. The Dream and Promise Act is an important step toward realizing this vision of a better country. Please call and tell Congress that we need to pass it now.

2. Underscore the values this bill upholds. By rejecting the racism and discrimination that the current administration has promoted and encouraged, this bill redirects us toward our core values: dignity, respect, diversity, and inclusion. Emphasize that Dreamers, and TPS and DED recipients, share those values and have been living in and contributing to communities for, in many cases, decades. Call on audiences to reject policies that hurt anyone but particularly those that needlessly disrupt the lives of people who are just short of being technically American only because our outdated laws stand in their way.

Sample language: We make gains together as a country when we welcome immigrants, ensure that everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and embrace the diversity that immigrants bring as they contribute new perspectives toward our problem solving. Immigration makes us stronger, while policies that aim to divide us only make us weaker. The Dream and Promise Act recognizes the contributions of Dreamers, and TPS and DED recipients, and is a first step toward providing a pathway to citizenship for all immigrants. Call your representatives and urge their support for this critical bill.

Sample language: We are stronger when we work together and when we learn from each other’s experiences. When people from different backgrounds join together we all benefit from the diversity of those perspectives. It helps us find new ways to deal with old challenges. But we are not taking full advantage of this source of strength. Immigration is a core part of the American experience, but we’re not taking advantage of this source of strength. Instead, we’re seeing policies that threaten community members with deportation due to a combination of our neglected and outdated immigration laws and an administration bent on decreasing immigration any way it can, including separating families. The American Dream and Promise Act is one step toward righting some of the wrongs our immigration laws and this administration have inflicted. Urge your members of Congress to support it.

3. Use values to specifically reject calls for more enforcement. Emphasize that this bill rejects trading harms to one community for harms to another. Outline in real-world terms the ways that current enforcement policies harm people, families, and communities. Describe specifically what deportation means: that people will lose their families, communities, and livelihoods and find themselves in a country they may not know at all and/or certainly have limited ties to and puts them in danger.

Sample language: We all want to live in communities where we feel safe and protected. But our immigration laws, and the current administration, make this impossible for millions of our immigrant neighbors, including Dreamers and recipients of TPS and DED. It is well past time to reject policies that further inflict pain on these vulnerable communities. These are people who have already experienced the separation of parents from their American-born children through deportation, have faced legislation that encourages racial profiling and local police cooperation with ICE, and have lived with uncertainty for years because they have no clear pathway to citizenship. They deserve real solutions, as do their communities, families, and employers. Tell Congress to pass the American Dream and Promise Act today.

4. Stress the urgency of this bill for all of us. Dreamers and TPS and DED recipients don’t need or deserve the added disruption to their lives that the termination of these policies has caused. We need a remedy now. Point out the connections that Dreamers and TPS and DED recipients have established in their communities to show how those disruptions affect us all.

Sample language: The administration has proven again and again its appetite for stripping protections away from immigrants, including Dreamers and TPS and DED recipients. Soon all will be at risk of deportation, disrupting their lives and the lives of their families, friends, and communities, as well as that of their employers, customers, and clients.

5. Highlight public opinion. Remind audiences that the majority of Americans want to protect the Dreamers and believe that immigration is core to our identity and important to our economy. Voters also agree that diversity is an important value and that we should treat everyone with dignity and respect.

Sample language: People in this country understand the important role that immigration plays in our core identity and our economy. There is strong support for Dreamers, while most reject the administration’s obsession with the border wall and the militarization of that region. We want real solutions that uphold our values and move us forward together. The Dream and Promise Bill is a step toward that vision.

Building a Strategic Message

One formula for building an effective message is Value, Problem, Solution, Action. Using this structure, we lead with the shared values that are at stake, outline why the problem we’re spotlighting is a threat to those values, point toward a solution, and ask our audience to take a concrete action.

Lead with values and vision. Most communicators agree: people don’t change their minds based on facts alone, but rather based on how those facts are framed to fit their emotions and values. Shared values help audiences “hear” messages more effectively than do dry facts or emotional rhetoric.

  • We are strongest when we embrace the diversity of our nationthis means welcoming and embracing immigrants and treating everyone with dignity and respect.

Introduce the problem. Frame problems as a threat to your vision and values. This is the place to pull out stories and statistics that are likely to resonate with the target audience.

  • Our current immigration laws, and the current administration, are an active threat to this vision. By stripping away protections and threatening the deportation of Dreamers and recipients of TPS and DED, the administration is needlessly injecting chaos and uncertainty into their lives. This is disruptive and cruelto these new Americans as well as to their families and communities.

Pivot quickly to solutions. Positive solutions leave people with choices, ideas, and motivation. Assign responsibility—who can enact this solution?

  • We need immigration policies that provide a reasonable and fair process for becoming citizens and protect people from the disruption and fear they face when they are just trying to go about their daily lives.

Assign an action. Try to give people something concrete that they can picture themselves doing, like making a phone call or sending an email.

  • Call your member of Congress today and tell them to support the American Dream and Promise Act.

Message Examples

 The Dream and Promise Act will make a positive difference in the lives of millions of people.  MoveOn members, supporters in the Congress and others nationwide are sending a clear message that we believe this must be a country that welcomes and celebrates immigrants—not one that demonizes them.

Reggie Hubbard, Congressional Liaison and DC strategist, MoveOn

The Dream and Promise Act would provide permanent relief and a path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants Trump has targeted. It is an important step toward securing justice for all of the immigrant families who live and work in our communities. We recognize that the road ahead is long, but we won’t rest until we have secured permanent protections for all immigrant families, starting with passage of this bill in the House.

Angel Padilla, Policy Director, Indivisible Project

We are building a world where immigrant communities, people of color and all marginalized communities are able to live with dignity and free from fear.

Jonathan Jayes-Green, Co-Founder and Director, UndocuBlack Network

The Dream and Promise Act of 2019 creates a path to permanent status in the United States for DACA, DED, and TPS holders, and through its introduction, Congress is working to uphold the universal human rights to life, safety, and family unity. Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ‘Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person,’ and ‘family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.’ The House’s Dream and Promise Act of 2019 promises to bring our nation’s laws into closer alignment with that vision.

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

The Dream and Promise Act provides a clear, attainable pathway to U.S. citizenship. For Dreamers, people with DACA, TPS, or DED, and others eligible for such statuses who may not have applied, the United States is their home—and, in many cases, has been for decades. We are integral members of our communities and have a future here. By providing permanent protections and a pathway to citizenship for these communities, this legislation recognizes that we are Americans in all but ‘paper’ and deserve to live our lives with security and stability in the place we call home.

The bill does not trade granting protections to some communities for funding harm to others. This is a critical point. This bill does not trade protections for immigrant youth and people with TPS or DED for further militarization of our border communities or expanded immigration policing of our communities or detention of immigrants—a tradeoff that would only inflict more pain on our communities and result in more deportations. It also does not make any changes to existing channels of immigration in exchange for protections.

The Dream and Promise Act shows that our communities will fight together, not against each other. By providing protections for immigrant youth and people with TPS or DED, we are making it clear that our communities cannot be pitted against each other in Trump’s policy games. We are not pawns in some game. And together, we will raise our voices and win the protections we deserve.

Diana Pliego, Policy Associate, National Immigration Law Center, and DACA recipient

It’s time for our immigration laws to catch up with reality. This proposal, the Dream & Promise Act, is an affirmative step towards formally recognizing immigrants as the Americans they already are. This s a major shift in the debate. We are going on offense.

There is an urgency to this legislation because Trump has terminated DACA and is ending TPS and DED. The immigrants Trump has targeted are those with families, businesses, careers, and car notes who are playing by the rules and contributing to their communities. Rather than see them as assets to the country, Trump is targeting them because he feels being as anti-immigration and as anti-immigrant as possible is an asset to his 2020 campaign.

The vast majority of voters, including many who supported Trump, simply do not understand why the President wants to take millions of immigrants who are integrated into American society and make them undocumented and deportable. It makes no sense to ‘undocument’ those who are currently documented and to target the most-vetted immigrants in America—those who have had to come forward periodically to re-apply for DACA or TPS or what have you.

Frank Sharry, Executive Director, America’s Voice

Talking About COVID-19: Value, Problem, Solution, Action

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps America, the systemic injustices in our country are being revealed for what they are: from race-class disparity to immigrant injustice and the carceral state. These injustices have existed for a long time and activists, advocates, and creatives have been working to eradicate them for just as long. Yet today, we find ourselves at a unique and critical moment to step up our advocacy for the communities and individuals most vulnerable – communities of color, immigrant communities, incarcerated communities, and low-income communities.

At this pivotal moment, we must work together – in community – to center and uplift the voices of these disproportionately affected populations. This starts by being conscious about our language and messaging. We recommend using a VPSA (Value, Problem, Solution, Action) format when talking about the coronavirus and its response, and centering your language around inclusion, empowerment, and justice.

  • Value: When it comes to addressing COVID-19, we are all only as safe as those members of our community who are most at risk. We are all in this together, and therefore must make sure our messaging around this virus and its containment avoids racist, xenophobic, and biased thinking. We must remember to uphold the value of unity at this time. Through unity – in community – we can overcome what lies ahead.
  • Problem: While the coronavirus does not discriminate against race, ethnicity, nationality, or socio-economic status, stigma and misinformation do. Racist, xenophobic, and unscientific language and messaging – rooted in fear and misinformation – has been circulating during this outbreak, both among the public and within the Trump administration. If left unchecked, this will create a culture of fear and discrimination that hinders efforts to stop the virus and efforts to help communities most at risk.
  • Solution: As social justice leaders and communicators, it is our job to calmly and directly push back against the fear and stigma surrounding COVID-19 with powerful language of inclusion, unity, empowerment, and justice. This will help us be allies to communities of color, immigrant communities, low-income communities, and incarcerated communities, who are likely to be disproportionately affected by this pandemic and the narrative surrounding it.
  • Action: We must continuously call out messaging based in fear and misinformation for the racist, xenophobic, and implicitly biased language that it is – particularly when coming from the Trump administration and the media. We must work together in collaborative conversation to make sure that communities and populations most at risk are receiving the attention and services that they deserve, and that they are not being stigmatized when those services are provided. We must also remember to always use language that is based in justice and equity. The solutions for getting through this pandemic lie in unity and community. We must uplift these values together and remind others to do the same.

Talking About Covid-19: A Call for Racial, Economic, and Health Equity

Justice Reform & Human Rights in a Time of Crisis: Releasing People from Detention

During these times of crisis and uncertainty, it is critical to pull together as a community to ensure that we are all protected against the global threat of COVID-19. Our collective survival demands nothing less.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposes the systemic inequities in this country’s incarceration and detention policies. This crisis presents a stark moment to address a health and safety threat to all of us, as well as to strive for justice and address systemic inequities directly. For example, a patchwork approach to bail policies and pretrial detention means that too many people are detained without having been convicted of anything, leaving far too many people unjustly serving while also facing what are de facto death sentences due to prison conditions and the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Because there have been an increasing number of infections within the confined spaces of many jails, prisons, and detention centers, it is more important than ever to continue advocacy for justice reform and the release of people who have not had due process. Below are important values to uplift to ensure that your communications are rooted in shared values.

Our Shared Values

Highlight these shared values to illustrate the importance of releasing people from detention facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Human Rights and Dignity. We must protect the human rights of everyone, including people who are currently detained or incarcerated. Our commitment to human rights and respect for the dignity of human life depends on immediate action. Failing to prevent avoidable death during this pandemic would threaten our commitment to basic human rights and respect for human dignity.
  • Our Identity. How we respond to this crisis will define our identity for generations to come. Ensuring that we respect the dignity of people who have been detained in our bloated detention system is critical to our legacy. We must be able to reflect on our collective response to this crisis and be able to say that we did the right thing, leaving no one behind.
  • Shared Responsibility/Community. We should come together as a community to protect the most vulnerable among us. Many people who are detained or incarcerated are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, and we have a responsibility to provide them with a safe environment and protect them. We need to band together as a community and develop a plan to quickly remove vulnerable populations from detention.
  • Community Safety. The COVID-19 pandemic makes clear that the use of detention and incarceration for social problems threatens actual public safety and public health as the virus spreads within the carceral system. Reducing incarceration and releasing people from detention facilities across the country would help us achieve true community safety by protecting the health and safety of everyone in our communities, including individuals who are detained.

Sample VPSA Message

In order to deliver a consistent, well-framed message, we recommend structuring messages in terms of Value, Problem, Solution, Action. In particular, leading with shared values instead of dry facts or hot rhetoric helps launch a conversation and provides a foundation to transition into more complex messages.

Value: The COVID-19 pandemic is a clarion call for communities everywhere to come together. We are all in this together because we are all only as safe as those members of our community who are most at risk.

Problem: People throughout this country are detained in crowded detention centers, jails, and prisons. These systems of detention and incarceration are unsafe, unsanitary, and unable to provide an environment of safe, physical distancing during this global health crisis.

Solution: Government officials should begin to rapidly release vulnerable people from our bloated and crowded detention facilities so that they can practice physical distancing and, at the same time, be able to experience due process — particularly those who have not stood trial but are still detained.

Action: Please call/email/Tweet/Facebook message your local politicians to demand that they release the most vulnerable people from prisons, jails and detention facilities.

Talking About Imprisoned Children at the Border

There is much to say about the horror of watching our government imprison and mistreat children. Responding to the outrage with solutions that will move audiences beyond feeling dismayed, disgusted and helpless is very difficult. But it’s crucial in pushing officials to not only end these practices, but also to move us toward productive and real fixes to our outdated and inhumane immigration policies.

The Opportunity Agenda suggests building messages using a Value, Problem, Solution, Action (VPSA) construction. Leading with values can help audiences see past rhetoric and centers the conversation on what really matters instead of disagreeing over the interpretation of news media coverage, politics, policy or the history of immigration laws. Then move to define the problem as a violation of those values and pivot quickly to solutions, both short- and longer-term. Finally, give your audiences a concrete action(s) so that they can see themselves move on the issue in some form right away.

VPSA Language Examples

Value: This is about our national identity, and what we aspire to be as a country. We should strive to be a compassionate and humane nation that respects the value of family and the dignity of migrants, particularly children. We claim a set of ideals that we’ve never lived up to, but we owe it to ourselves and future generations to do everything we can to achieve them now.

In our nation’s treatment of children and families seeking asylum, we are making critical choices about who we are as a nation. This is a historic moment where WE can help shape our own legacy and the type of nation we leave for future generations.

Define American

This is not a perplexing scientific puzzle. This is a moral disaster. There has to be some way to communicate, in unequivocal terms, that we are inflicting punishments on innocent children that will have lifelong consequences.

Dr. Jack Shonkoff, Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University

Problem: This administration’s anti-immigrant and racist policies and actions are setting us back morally and ethically. It should go without saying that we should not treat children, or anyone, this way, and yet the administration continues to defend its practice and argue for more funds to support it. Throwing money at brutal and inhumane conditions under the guise of “making our country great again” is not only not the answer, it is wholly unacceptable. This assault on our values harms not just the families and children at the border, but all of us watching what our country is condoning. This is a systemic problem that requires action from all of us.

In my time as a border patrol agent, I’ve developed a unique perspective on twenty years of border policies. I resigned from the border patrol due to corruption, and a lack of ethics and morality. What we’re seeing today is the result of an agency allowed to run with no oversight whatsoever. Years of walls, more agents, guns, planes, detention camps and trillions of dollars has done nothing to make our border communities safer. Using law enforcement to address a humanitarian need has never worked and never will. The Border Patrol needs to be held accountable, border communities have the right to have a voice in how they are governed.

Jenn Budd, former border patrol agent

CBP, along with ICE, have a culture of impunity and we are witnessing the consequences in the stories being told by children who are being abused. Cruelty at the micro level of individual officers treating individual detainees abusively is reflective of the cruelty that starts at the top, in the White House and at DHS and CBP HQ. Let’s be clear, the revelations follow a consistent and disturbing theme that has more to do with dehumanizing cruelty than it does with a lack of resources or overcrowded conditions.

Douglas Rivlin, America’s Voice

Solution: The government must release these children immediately. And in addition to the range of crucial short-term fixes to the outrageous imprisonment of children, we need long-term solutions to the outdated immigration and asylum policies that allowed this situation to happen in the first place.

Border policies should focus on genuine threats and recognize that migration, in and of itself, is not a threat, nor should it be a crime. Migration is the human experience of seeking life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Facilitating the humane and orderly movement of people across the border increases public safety.

Andrea Guerrero, Alliance San Diego

Communities along the U.S.- Mexico border are vibrant, warm and welcoming. However, because of the current enforcement-only policies, at least seven children have died in recent months either while in U.S. Custody or after being detained. Meanwhile migrant families are crammed in dangerously overcrowded cells for days at a time, sometimes in soiled clothes and without access to adequate hygiene. This is unacceptable. A New Border Vision calls for an appropriate humanitarian response to current human needs. A non-law enforcement approach must include sufficient, trained personnel who can provide adequate and efficient medical assistance, resources and support, and welcome residents and newcomers alike to our region.

Cynthia Pompa, ACLU Border Rights Center

Immigration detention is not the answer: not for asylum seekers, or for anyone else. It’s a punitive system where lives are in jeopardy. Instead of overcrowding and expanding the deadly system, people need to be released now. Congress must cut funding for detention in FY20, reject the administration’s supplemental request for detention funding and put an end to Trump’s massive expansion of immigration detention now.

Silky Shah, Detention Watch Network

Action: The urgency for action is now. We must mobilize, call our representatives, and vote. We need to bring along the final persuadable skeptics who have resisted the idea that this administration is dangerously anti-immigrant.

Full VPSA Example

As a company that helps children become their best selves—curious, creative, caring, and confident—we want kids to understand the importance of having moral courage. Moral courage means standing up for what we believe is right, honest, and ethical—even when it is hard.

Our company’s core belief, stated each month in Highlights magazine, is that “Children are the world’s most important people.” This is a belief about ALL children.

With this core belief in our minds and hearts, we denounce the practice of separating immigrant children from their families and urge our government to cease this activity, which is unconscionable and causes irreparable damage to young lives.

This is not a political statement about immigration policy. This is a statement about human decency, plain and simple. This is a plea for recognition that these are not simply the children of strangers for whom others are accountable. This is an appeal to elevate the inalienable right of all children to feel safe and to have the opportunity to become their best selves.

We invite you—regardless of your political leanings—to join us in speaking out against family separation and to call for more human treatment of immigrant children currently being held in detention facilities. Write, call, or email your government representatives.

Let our children draw strength and inspiration from our collective display of moral courage. They are watching.

Highlights Magazine

Additional Messaging Suggestions

1. Stay out of the legal and political weeds. It’s important to underscore that the lengthy and inhumane detention of children, often separated from their families, is not only morally indefensible, but also illegal. That said, a too-involved description of the laws that should be protecting migrants, asylum seekers, and all children will only give the impression that the situation is legally complex and therefore difficult to fix. Provide a brief and straightforward explanation of the law or policy in question:

Roughly one year ago, the administration’s family separation policy supposedly came to an end, following an executive order and subsequent court order banning the practice. The court’s decision, however, applied only to some parents traveling with children. It therefore did not prevent the U.S. government from continuing to separate children from other adult relatives and caregivers, including aunts, uncles, and older siblings.

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

We believe our nation and its leaders have both the moral and legal responsibility on behalf of those who seek safety in our land. The U.S. has an international legal obligation to do so by virtue of having acceded to the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees and, therefore, must implement those duties in good faith. It also has an obligation to do so under its own domestic law, and executive orders should not attempt to set aside these legal responsibilities.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) with ELCA ecumenical and inter-religious partners

Then move quickly to the solution including what needs to happen, and who needs to do it:

Detention of children and adults alike is not the answer. Rather than building up the infrastructure of a system that is riddled with abuse where lives are in jeopardy, Members of Congress should be calling for the closure of detention centers across the country and advocating for people to be released.

Silky Shah, Detention Watch Network

2. Avoid implying that the detention of children and separation of families is a new, or recent, phenomenon or something “we just don’t do.” Talk about who we should be without repeating historical (and current) myths about adherence to ideals. It’s important to remember that there are many instances in our country’s history during which our government separated children from their families, and imprisoned people unjustly.

What I saw today is simply not who, we, as a country should be. This is cruel and inhumane treatment and we cannot allow it to continue on our watch.

Representative Pramila Jayapal, (D) Washington

Instead, use history to show how backwards and shameful our obsession with detention and incarceration is, and what it’s led us to do or accept in the past.

Fort Sill is a site steeped in layers upon layers of historical trauma. Over 700 Japanese Americans were detained there during WWII, and one man, a Japanese immigrant and father of 11, was shot and killed while suffering a nervous breakdown and trying to escape. Before that, Fort Sill was a prisoner of war camp for members of the Chiricahua Apache tribe who were forcibly relocated there from the Southwest. It also housed a boarding school where Native American children were separated from their families and subjected to cultural genocide. Fort Sill has always been a violent place — and it is time for that violence to end. “Never Again” is right now. It’s happening all around us, every day. We must be vigilant in showing up and demanding that sites like Fort Sill be shut down. No one showed up for Japanese American families like mine in 1942, but we can and we must show up for immigrant children and families today.

Tom Ikeda, Densho

Forcibly yanking children from their parents is of a piece with some of the darkest moments of American history: the internment of Japanese Americans; the forcible separation of American Indian children into special boarding schools; slavery.

Ashley Fetters, The Atlantic

3. Link the separation of families at the border to the separation of families that raids and deportation cause. Paint a broader picture of the intended effects of the administration’s anti-immigrant and inhumane policies and rhetoric.

The Trump administration has been making changes both small and drastic to U.S. immigration policies. While Trump’s cruel policies at the border and his ramping up of deportations and ICE raids have garnered the most attention and outrage, his other efforts to transform legal immigration have been no less radical. As administration officials and conservative commentators have said, deportations alone may not halt the demographic changes taking place in the country — so the administration is aggressively reshaping the legal immigration system.

American Friends Service Committee

4. Keeping families together is not enough. While insisting ICE and Border Patrol not take children from their families is important, we need to insist that the alternative of locking up families together is also not acceptable. In fact, we should question if any detention at all is acceptable.

I should note that there is a big distinction between having access to a caring, supportive adult in a home setting versus a detention facility. While a parent may technically be present in family detention centers, the conditions of confinement and a parent’s limited power to parent their children all have adverse impacts not just on the child, but on the parent-child relationship. In fact, studies on family detention have shown that both parents and children frequently view staff as the ones who have control in these settings, sometimes even in disciplining children. It is important for children to feel safe, and children primarily look to their parents to provide them protection so that they feel safe. Yet, in detention settings, children actually watch their parents lose power. They see the way that their parents are humiliated either through direct insults or by being refused simple requests—like access to drinking water or to use the restroom. Often, children lose respect for their parents, feel resentment and anger towards them, and ultimately lose their sense of security.

Wendy Cervantes, First Focus on the Family

Talking Border Issues Amidst the Government Shutdown

Headlines about the U.S.-Mexico border continue to fill our news feeds and screens as the government shutdown provides an inexcusable vehicle for the president’s obsession with building a wall. Accompanying – and sometimes undergirding — these headlines are distortions of the truth, misleading information, and outright lies. Worse yet are the heartbreaking and troubling stories about their impacts, including the administration turning its back on refugees, imprisoning and separating families, and tear gassing asylum seekers, along with – most importantly – the tragic deaths of two children while in government custody.

These are among the reminders of why our values must not be compromised when addressing current actions, and why this moment provides us with even more opportunities to uplift our values as effectively as possible.

Below are five tips on how to discuss the border region and the broader immigration, refugee, and border policies amidst the government shutdown and other current events.

1. Balance short-term and long-term thinking. Before engaging specific topics, such as the government shutdown, the rejection of refugees, or the tragedies that have occurred, take a moment to consider the long-term strategy. Sometimes this step is skipped in the heat of the moment. Yet, it’s very important to keep the long game in mind while communicating in the moment.

  • Consider the larger story we want to tell. While themes like national security and chaos dominate the headlines, providing another side of the story can help to balance audiences’ understanding of the region and its needs, and how the administration’s policies affect everyday life. Include references to the people, communities, economy, and traditions of the border region – even if they are short and in passing. It’s not necessary to tell a complete story, but setting a tone for what the border region actually looks and feels like, and what its residents aspire toward, can help strike balance with the theme of chaos that dominates many stories.
  • Determine which solutions you want to highlight. It’s not enough to repudiate false or exaggerated claims about the national crisis, terrorism or smuggling. We have to talk about what really makes communities safe: properly-trained law enforcement that works with communities, zero tolerance for racial profiling, bigger picture thinking about our place in the world and our responsibilities to it. These arguments are audience-specific and we need to consider how we hope to motivate each target audience.

2. Consider your audience. Once you’ve considered the larger story, and the solutions you want to highlight, consider how your target audiences are hearing current conversations.

  • If you are hoping to energize progressive audiences, for instance, a focus on the president’s harmful obsession with the region—particularly a wasteful wall—may be a good place to start. We already know that for the most part, people are not supportive of a wall.
  • For less receptive audiences, a focus on pragmatism helps. What does the region really need? How do we come up with a solution that protects the commerce of the region, the rights of those who live there and those passing through, and work to make sure that all of our communities can enjoy the safety that border communities already have? For these audiences, arguing about national security is less likely to be effective because doing so just evokes ideas about the military, law enforcement, and the expensive tools they use.

3. Link the shutdown to the president, not the border. If you’re addressing the shutdown specifically, try to move discussion away from the border as much as possible.

  • Frame the shutdown as an inexcusable move of a president who doesn’t understand how negotiation works and who is obsessed with over-simplified solutions that few experts agree will address the problems at hand. These tactics are currently focused on an unnecessary and immoral wall, but have been and will again be redeployed toward other pet projects he’s promised his base.
  • It’s better to redirect the frustration, anger, and uncertainty many audiences are feeling about these issues back at the president rather than further associate those feelings with the border region.

4. Always humanize the discussion. When talking about border region policies, stress the impact those policies have on the people living there. Do the same thing when talking about the shutdown.

  • When talking about refugee and immigration policies, show the impact – including the harms and even death caused by detention. Center on the values of compassion, dignity, respect, and that how we treat others reflects on our own identity as a country.
  • When focusing on the human impact, it’s crucial to be clear that these are system-level problems that require policy-level solutions. We need to ensure that audiences understand that their feelings of horror and sadness about one story or circumstance are not enough. They have a responsibility to translate those feelings into policy change.

5. Stress that border region communities need to have a say in decisions that affect them. Border communities’ voices have been drowned out or ignored in political debates around immigration.

  • Underscore that any policy must be responsive to the expressed needs of border residents. Too often, their voices are drowned out by political discourse and their needs sacrificed for impractical and harmful solutions to exaggerated problems.
  • It’s also important that we lift up the voices of our partners and impacted people in the region and listen to the solutions they are calling for. Some attempts to appeal to swing and conservative voters will start by acknowledging the need for border security. However, doing so suggests that the border region needs more security, which it does not. As our friends at the Southern Border Communities Coalition point out:

The longstanding national dialogue about “the border” has centered almost exclusively on notions of “security” and “enforcement” that should be addressed through increased militarization and a wall. Under this narrative, people outside of the region can only imagine a barren, dangerous, and chaotic wasteland — a patently false narrative that some policymakers and pundits exploit for political gain and to advance policies that are detrimental to the civil rights and quality of life for the millions of people who live, work and travel through the borderlands.[1]

Messaging Examples

On the border region:

The U.S. Southern border region is one of the most diverse, economically vibrant, and safest areas of the country, home to about 15 million people who aspire to enjoy life in a safe and prosperous environment. The Southern Border is a key engine of economic growth; an international trade hub that creates jobs and generates.

– Southern Border Communities Coalition

For more than a decade […] the U.S. government has failed to invest in border communities’ prosperity, opting instead to expand military-style, discriminatory policing of communities in the government’s 100-mile zone and deepen private prison corporations’ reach into taxpayer pockets through costly criminalization and incarceration of migrants—many who find themselves left with few options to return home to the U.S. citizen children and family they love.

– ACLU Border Rights Center

On the shutdown:

In 2013 during the government shutdown, we lost $1 million in federal revenue that we never recovered. We also lost medical providers because they didn’t realize their employment was predicated or dependent upon federal dollars.

– Aaron Payment, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians

So far, Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi have stood strong against Trump’s bullying tactics and we urge them, as well as other members of Congress, to continue to listen to the voices of borderlanders and resist Trump’s destructive wall. The southern border is a place of hope and opportunity, not fear and conflict. It is one of the safest regions in the country, rich with culture, commerce and growth. We stand ready to work with legislators to ensure that border communities are not jeopardized by any further militarization of the region.

– Vicki Guabecca, Southern Border Communities Coalition

This government shutdown is due solely to Trump’s border wall obsession and his refusal to abandon his anti-immigrant agenda, even at the cost of denying hundreds of thousands of federal workers their holiday paychecks and impacting operations at several federal agencies. As negotiations continue, Congress should hold their ground against the border wall, stand up for border and immigrant communities across the country, and continue to reject Trump’s extortionist demands in any future funding negotiations.

– Lorella Praeli, ACLU


Talking About Race and The First Step Act

The First Step Act, which recently passed the Senate with wide bipartisan support, can and should represent change in how our nation thinks, talks, and acts on criminal justice issues. While The First Step Act contains modest positive reforms that are welcomed, it is important to also address the act’s limitations. In particular, the act does not directly address issues of racial bias within the criminal justice system. Because it does not openly address the racial bias in the system, there is a risk that it will exacerbate existing racial disparities. This document provides advice for talking about the limitations of The First Step Act as they pertain to race.

1. Lead with Values, such as Equal Justice, Dignity, and Fairness.

Research and experience show that it is more effective to lead with shared values in advocating for criminal justice reform than policy details, statistics, or political rhetoric. When talking about The First Step Act and race, begin by uplifting the values of Equal Justice, Dignity, and Fairness. Highlight how positive criminal justice reform will uphold our society’s commitment to Equal Justice for people of all races. The First Step Act should aim to ensure that the criminal justice system treats individuals with the dignity and fairness we all deserve. Discuss how everyone should be able to benefit from the provisions of the act, including the many people who are currently incarcerated because of racially discriminatory policies.

2. Focus on Obstacles rather than Outcomes.

Experience shows that most criminal justice problems cannot be truly fixed without addressing questions of race. However, when talking about race, discussing racially disparate outcomes without a greater discussion of the obstacles or problems that lead to those outcomes may cause the listener to respond from an individualistic frame. This makes the listener more likely to blame the individuals adversely affected by the system instead of motivating them to address a problem with the system

Rather than leading with evidence of unequal outcomes alone, we recommend focusing on the obstacles people of color frequently face that lead to harsh and unequal treatment by the criminal justice system and provide concrete examples of these barriers. Discuss the structural and systemic barriers that have led to racial profiling, racial discrimination in how prosecutors choose whether to charge an individual with a crime, and racially discriminatory sentencing outcomes. These are systemic and structural issues that stem from implicit bias, a history of harshly policing communities of color, and widespread use of policies that do not adequately address either of these issues. Explain the need for additional legislation that openly aims to address racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, thereby better promoting equal justice.

3. Discuss Solutions, Not Just the Problems.

When discussing the various problems with The First Step Act, provide solutions that demonstrate the concrete ways Congress should build upon and fix the act.

A. Electronic Monitoring

The act relies heavily on relatively new and substantially unregulated electronic monitoring. This newly advanced, but little studied, method of supervised release tracks individuals’ daily movements and often requires that they ask for permission from a judge or probation officer to leave home. This type of intrusive monitoring perpetuates comic disparities in the system by making it difficult for individuals to maintain employment and requiring individuals to bear the costs of maintaining the monitoring system. Currently there is little regulation controlling the use of the electronic monitoring as a form of supervised release. The use of this technology on people of color creates an additional law enforcement intrusion into the very communities that are already over-policed because of racially biased policies, and may result in a new form of incarceration that will expand in time.

Consider highlighting the following solutions when discussing electronic surveillance:

  • Supervised release programs should avoid invasive monitoring techniques that are overly restrictive and replicate the conditions of incarceration.
  • Electronic shackles should only be used—if at all—once significant constitutional safe-guards and procedures for monitoring racial bias in implementation are put in place to protect against the misuse of this technology.
  • People should never have to pay for electronic monitoring. Electronic surveillance needs more flexibility to allow people to maintain employment and costs of maintaining the system should never be placed on the individual.

B. Racially-Biased Risk Assessment Tools

The act supports the use of risk-assessment tools that rely upon “evidence-based” algorithms to predict the likelihood an individual will commit crimes in the future. While the use of these tools originally aimed to eliminate the bias of judges and prosecutors, research has shown that the algorithms themselves may be tainted by the implicit bias of the creator, which in turn may perpetuate those biases. Thus, the algorithms often unintentionally give higher risk scores to people of color than to otherwise similar whites.

Further, risk-assessment tools, as currently designed, fail to consider the unique circumstances and traits pertaining to an individual. The use of risk assessment tools should be used very cautiously, and the algorithms that are the basis of these tools should be transparent and adjusted with community consultation. Risk-assessment tools should facilitate release and reduce racial bias, rather than exacerbate it.

Consider highlighting the following solutions when discussing the use of risk assessment tools:

  • The data and algorithms that underlie risk assessment tools should be transparent and available for community commentary.
  • Risk assessment tools should be subject to community input and eliminated or adjusted where there is evidence of racial bias in their implementation.

C. Sentencing Carve-Outs

While the act provides meaningful incentives for individuals to earn credit to reduce their sentences by participating in programming aimed to prevent recidivism, a large number of individuals, including immigrants, will be excluded from this opportunity. Excluding individuals convicted of more serious crimes and immigrants from eligibility to participate in programming to prevent recidivism ignores the very individuals who can benefit most from such programming. Our communities may be adversely affected by this exclusion.

Consider highlighting the following solution when discussing the excluded offenses:

  • Everyone deserves access to healing and justice. The First Step Act should be improved to expand the opportunity to earn time-off credits to all individuals who are incarcerated.

D. Lack of Fairness: Retroactivity

Criminal justice reform should benefit everyone—including those currently incarcerated as a result of racially biased policies, including racially discriminatory sentences. While the act provides some much-needed sentencing reform, only one of the sentencing provisions applies retroactively. Because many people were initially incarcerated due to racially discriminatory policies, without retroactive application, the act fails to remedy past racial injustices.

Consider highlighting the following solution when discussing the lack of retroactivity:

  • It’s only fair that people who are incarcerated get access to relief and sentencing reductions provided by reform legislation. Accordingly, all of the sentencing reform provisions should be retroactive.

E. Highlight the Demand for Equal Justice.

While it is imperfect in many ways, The First Step Act is the result of the advocacy of many groups and individuals who are committed to equal justice. Moving forward, we need to acknowledge that even though the Act has passed the Senate, there is still a need for continuing systemic change, and more can and should be done. The next step is for legislators and policymakers to continue to improve upon The First Step Act by explicitly addressing the racial discrimination that exists within the system.

Five Questions to ask when Crafting Messages about Refugees in the Current Climate

In the run up to the 2018 midterm elections, a Media Matters study found that discussions of the “migrant caravan” took over the news cycle directly after Fox News covered it and the president tweeted about it.

What started out as one of Fox News’ pet issues has become a major media narrative thanks to the feedback loop between the network and President Donald Trump. CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC spent a combined 15 hours covering the migrant caravan between Monday, October 15, and Sunday, October 21. Fox News led the charge, covering the story both first and the most — for nearly eight hours. In the same week-long period, CNN covered the issue for four and a half hours, while MSNBC devoted two and a half hours to the migrant caravan.

— Media Matters

It’s moments like this when we can find ourselves caught up in playing defense – there are so many lies to contend with, and so much under attack, including vulnerable people. It can be overwhelming to think of where to start when crafting a communications response, and advocates often fall back on the obvious: refute the lies, throw out more facts, hope that the truth will prevail. But experience shows that this strategy isn’t sufficient for stories like these. We have to think more broadly about the long-term story we want to see, examine news coverage to see where we can fit pieces of that story in, and give audiences alternatives: new thinking and better solutions in how they are viewing the story.

Below are five questions to consider as we strategize how to respond to stories about the refugees while still moving forward the positive, long-term narrative that will build longer lasting support for common sense policies.

1. What kind of values would we rather see in headlines about people coming together to move toward safety and opportunity? 

Compassion, hope, and opportunity are all important values that our audiences tend to share. We should consider how we shape messages to encourage audiences to embrace these values over the themes promoted by the opposition, namely fear and nativism.

As a nation, we should respond to humanitarian situations with compassion and common sense.”

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum

Consistently, as Presbyterians gather at General Assemblies, they decide that we, as a church, must respond with compassion, taking great care to meet the humanitarian needs of groups on the move. In these moments, we are guided by scripture which says, ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that, some have entertained angels without knowing it.’ (Hebrews 13:2, NRSV). These are our sisters and brothers with whom we share a loving God. May we be courageous enough to reach out with open arms and support others in doing the same.

— Amanda Craft, manager of advocacy with the Presbyterian Office of Immigration Issues.

We recommend a Value, Problem, Solution, Action structure when crafting messages to ensure that values are front and center in any communication:

Value: We are a compassionate country that has a commitment to honoring our humanitarian responsibilities. We have long had an orderly system for considering asylum claims that has served us well.

Problem: Divisive fear mongering, unjustified threats, and using asylum seekers to further political arguments rooted in xenophobia do not serve our country or our values well.

Solution: We should process asylum claims according to current laws and rethink our immigration policies that make it impossible for those seeking opportunity to join our workforce and society.

Action: Tell your representatives that you care about how we treat migrant and refugee families and want to see humane solutions instead of threats and bullying.

2. How can we best inject the truth into coverage of this story?

This story, as designed by Fox News, has become a vehicle for the president and others to spread lies and fear and point toward inhumane, cruel “solutions.” There has been a lot of coverage from CNN, MSNBC, and others refuting the misinformation the administration is providing.

We should use any limited space we have to promote our own story and vision instead of repeating false information, even if to counter it, as doing so often just spreads the lies further. In fact, some of the well-intentioned coverage arguing with the administration’s characterization of the migrants has likely already dug the story, and mischaracterizations, further into audience’s minds than we would want. It’s important to not feed these aspects of the story, to not repeat them, and rather to focus on the ways forward that we want audiences to see.

3. What solutions should we pivot toward?

Giving audiences an alternate vision of the world, including alternate solutions, is just as – if not more – important than only taking a stance against what the administration proposes. Without solutions, we risk exhausting audiences with what appears to be politically-motivated rhetoric among pundits who are only interested in disagreeing with each other. Assuring audiences that we know a way forward, and have concrete examples of what that looks like, can also help to reduce the appearance of chaos that our opponents are trying frighten persuadable audiences with.

WOLA, the Washington Office on Latin America, notes:

[T]his is a manageable humanitarian and logistical problem… It can and should be managed in an orderly way that treats migrants humanely, respects their rights, and follows our legal procedures, as well as the United States’ international commitments on migration.

They then provide a six-point, bulleted list of actions that the U.S. should take.

Welcoming America provides a more general call-to-action, with specific examples included on their website (see question #5):

Building a nation of neighbors starts right where you are: in your community, and there are ways you can make a difference, too. Together, let’s build bridges and demonstrate that our differing identities are assets in making our communities and nation stronger.

4. How are key audiences hearing this story? What’s the right language to use to persuade them to support our solutions? 

While we know that some audiences are hearing this story with a mixture of fear and anger, it’s important to think of how more persuadable audiences might be taking it. One consideration in how they will understand the story is how we talk about migrants and refugees themselves. It’s strategic to show the similarities these audiences have with the folks in the migrant group: a desire to work and care for their family, a pursuit of opportunity, a need for safety. Because we want to emphasize the asylum aspects of this story, it’s tempting to focus on what people are fleeing: violence and poverty. But there are a lot of other outlets doing that work, so it likely serves advocates better to remind audiences, particularly persuadable audiences, of what they might see of themselves in people looking for a better life for themselves and their families.

It’s also important to move away from repeating language designed by the other side to instill fear and anger. There is no need to repeat words like “invasion,” or even “migrant caravan,” even if to argue for better terms. Instead, we should describe the folks coming here as families, parents, workers, students, etc. who are seeking opportunity and safety.

These individuals are largely asylum seekers, families of people who are seeking safety. How we react to them says a lot about how we value them as human beings.”

Teresa Waggener, immigration attorney for the Presbyterian Office of Immigration Issues

“They truly hope that by making this show of collectiveness, by joining this caravan, somebody’s heart will be touched and a miracle will happen.”

Oscar Chacón, executive director of Alianza Americas

“They are pilgrims, coming to a place that once welcomed the immigrant with the lines: ‘Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.”

— Rev. Katherine Rhodes Henderson, Auburn Seminary President

5. What story would we rather see in the headlines?

While it’s true that we don’t control the news cycle, keeping in mind what ideal, or at least better, coverage would look like can help to inform our responses when we find ourselves playing defense in moments like this. Welcoming America provides some good examples of positive narratives around refugees on their site.

Messaging Advice on The Supreme Court’s Muslim Ban Decision

 On June 26, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Trump v. Hawaii, allowing the Muslim Ban to stand.

In a 5-4 ruling in Trump v. Hawaii today, the U.S. Supreme Court stunningly ignored the foundational American principles of religious freedom and human rights. Applying the lowest level of Constitutional scrutiny while also ignoring pre-inauguration tweets and other declarations of racial and religious animus, the Court held that the Muslim Ban was within presidential authority and, instead, focused on the justification provided by the Executive Branch in the language of the Muslim Ban itself.

Recommended Messaging:

What follows are The Opportunity Agenda’s messaging recommendations for discussing the case, pending a more thorough review of the multiple opinions in the case.

With this ruling, the court’s majority has closed their eyes to religious discrimination, which is profoundly harmful to the people in our families and communities, and to our nation’s values of religious freedom and basic rights. Today’s decision allows the president’s self-avowed discrimination based on religion to become a part of our nation’s migration policy. Although the Supreme Court has now spoken, it is the people who must decide the character, values, and direction of this great nation.

We must now call upon policy makers at all levels, including Congress, to return the principles of religious freedom and human rights to that policy.

As noted in Justice Sotomayor’s dissent: “The United States of America is a Nation built upon the promise of religious liberty. Our Founders honored that core promise by embedding the principle of religious neutrality in the First Amendment. The Court’s decision today fails to safeguard that fundamental principle.”

Narrative Themes

The values at issue in this case are religious freedom and human rights. Today’s decision undercuts the core beliefs on which this nation was founded.

When possible, communications on the case should emphasize the following themes:

     1. Our Core National Values

Remind people of the kind of country we want to be, drawing on our best ideals. For some audiences, describing times in our history when we have done the right thing is inspiring.

We believe in religious freedom. We believe in equality of opportunity. We welcome our Muslim, immigrant, and refugee neighbors.

Values: Freedom, Justice, Dignity, Fairness, Opportunity, our Founding Principles.

    2. Our Moral Responsibility

Remind audiences of our responsibilities to our fellow human beings and how we must rise above fear and xenophobia to find our “better angels” as Abraham Lincoln once said. We share responsibility for one another and for protecting and uplifting human rights.

Values: Empathy, Compassion, Community.

   3. Pivot to Solutions: Activism and Lawmaking

Audiences of all backgrounds, particularly those serving the communities directly impacted by cases such as this one, are hungry for solutions and hope in times like these. Remember to highlight what we want moving forward – and how we can get there – in addition to pointing out what we’re up against. Sympathetic audiences need to be primed to feel as though their efforts matter, and that they can be both despairing of this moment in history, while at the same time remembering that our country’s core principle and history is to accommodate all kinds of people. Those in our base need to hear forward-leaning messages about working together to counter and replace bad policies. And undecided audiences need to hear the positive alternatives that are possible.

Values: Pragmatism, Common Sense, Innovation, Determination to Do The Right Thing, Our Shared Responsibility to Fix Flawed Policies, Solidarity.

We recommend structuring messages in terms of Value, Problem, Solution, and Action.  Consider these examples in crafting your messages:



Our nation was founded on the idea that your religious faith and how you worship cannot be used by our government to punish or exclude you. Religious freedom is a bedrock principle of our country and a fundamental constitutional right.


In this case, President Trump blatantly violated that principle, announcing that he would ban Muslims from our country and doing so with respect to countless family members, scholars, and others seeking to visit loved ones or contribute to our society.

And the Supreme Court today allowed that discrimination, willfully ignoring President Trump’s own bigoted statements, thereby giving legitimacy to the Administration’s flawed and harmful policy.


Congress – and policy makers at all levels – must now act to stand against this bigoted ruling, and repair this stain on our national values and constitutional legacy.


Call on policy makers at the local, state and national levels to rebuke this ruling and to do everything in their power to reassert religious freedom in our policies and discourse:



Our nation prides itself on its welcoming spirit. As embodied by the Statue of Liberty, these American values must be the bedrock principle by which the government operates and implements policies today.


However, the administration has shown over and over again that it does not believe in upholding this bedrock principle. In President Trump’s policies, executive orders, cases, and argument in Trump v. Hawaii, the administration has used every tool available to ensure that only certain people and religious faiths are welcome in the United States. And today, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the Administration’s blatantly discriminatory policy and chose to side with the Administration’s ban on Muslims from traveling to our nation.


America is better than this – and our country must not condone discrimination of any sort, including on the basis of religion. We must remember that even with our nation’s history of discriminatory policies, the experiment that is the American democracy can and has proven before that its purpose must be to serve its people and truly be as good as its ideals, for all who live, and aspire to live, here. Congress – and policy makers at all levels – must now act to repair this stain on our national values and constitutional legacy.


Call on policy makers, including your member of Congress, to rebuke this decision. Urge them to bring resolutions and legislation that will correct the Court’s decision in Trump v. Hawaii and ensure that the American rule of law reflects the values inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. We are better than this.


Additional material you may find helpful:

Talking About the Muslim Ban, Trump v. Hawaii (Pre-decision)

Six Tips for Responding to Supreme Court Decisions

Partner Statements on Trump v. Hawaii:

Talking About The U.S. Border: Imprisoned Children, Lost Parents, and Separated Families

Updated October 2020

The administration’s willful separation of children from their parents at the Southern U.S. border is an atrocious violation of human rights and dignity, and part of a broader pattern of cruel, biased, and destructive border and immigration policies. The horror of watching our government press criminal charges against adult asylum seekers while at the same time pulling their children from them for imprisonment in cages captured  national attention two years ago. Now the damage and trauma has been solidified for more than 500 immigrant children whose parents our government can’t locate. In this moment of national reckoning, we must acknowledge the distress and disgust we are feeling and channel this anger into action through voting, organizing, and working with immigration rights allies to make sure this never happens again.

Making sure that the narrative on immigrants is centered on the values of dignity, safety, mobility, and human rights is also crucial. Based on consultation with our partners in the border region, our assessment of the evolving media discourse, and available public opinion research, we recommend framing and discussing the administration’s actions and the alternatives in ways that lead to activation as well as persuasion. We recommend lifting up our shared values as a nation, making clear how the separation and incarceration of children is part of a broad approach and ideology that violates those values, and providing specific alternatives and actions that our audiences can take and policymakers must pursue.

The Opportunity Agenda reminds communicators to consider your audience(s) and build messages using a Value, Problem, Solution, Action (VPSA) framework. We know that doing so helps persuade people of disparate views to see past rhetoric and embrace our shared humanity.  It centers the conversation on positive change that moves us forward together. That’s especially important in this case, allowing the conversation to focus not on disagreements over policy detail or past administrations, but on action and the values we share.

State these values clearly, then move to defining the problem as a violation of those principles and pivot quickly to solutions, both short- and longer-term. Finally, give your audiences a concrete action so that they can move on their concern right away.

Below are some examples of VPSA messaging around the border and what to do about it.


This is about who we are as a country – our national heart and soul. It is also about the children themselves and ensuring their safety and security. The United States must be a compassionate nation that protects children, respects the value of family, and upholds the dignity of all people, wherever they come from.

What I saw today is simply not who, we, as a country should be. This is cruel and inhumane treatment and we cannot allow it to continue on our watch.

– Rep. Pramila Jayapal, (D) Washington

Americans pride ourselves on being a moral nation, on being the nation that sends humanitarian relief to places devastated by natural disasters or famine or war. We pride ourselves on believing that people should be seen for the content of their character, not the color of their skin. We pride ourselves on acceptance. If we are truly that country, then it is our obligation to reunite these detained children with their parents – and to stop separating parents and children in the first place.

– Former First Lady Laura Bush


Holding children hostage for political gain is morally reprehensible and a dark atrocity that we cannot tolerate. What has been less focused on is that while this is happening, the administration is criminally prosecuting the parents of these children, who face up to 20 years in prison for seeking refuge and a better life for their families in the United States.

Separating immigrant parents and children as a supposed deterrent to immigration is a cruel and reprehensible policy. Children are not instruments of deterrence, they are children. A government that thinks any means is suitable to achieve an end cannot secure justice for anyone.

– Bishop Daniel E. Flores, Diocese of Brownsville, TX

If you think about what the Republican Party has stood for, it’s family values and protecting children, so it seems contradictory that they’re engaging in this enforcement activity of ripping kids from their families. It’s really troubling to see that an administration can be so callous. It’s beyond the pale.

– Vicki Gaubeca, Director of the ACLU of New Mexico’s Regional Center for Border Rights

The staggering inhumanity of this president’s treatment of these children belongs in the darkest chapters of our nation’s history—the ones we can never forget and must never repeat.

-Senator Patty Murray (D-Wa)


Tearing children from families fleeing harm is part of a larger pattern by this administration of bigotry and cruelty toward people based on their skin color, religion, and national origin. It is also part and parcel of the administration’s return to flawed over-reliance on incarceration and criminalization. This assault on our values harms not just the families and children at the border, but all of us watching. It is also a stark reminder of the history of discrimination and internment based on race and ethnicity that we must rise above rather than repeat.

Zero tolerance, especially toward immigrants, isn’t just a policy proposal to this president and his allies—it is the ideology that animates the entire Trump phenomenon, and a defining characteristic of the world as they want it to be.

– Chas Danner, New York Magazine


The government must work with lawyers and advocates to find the parents of these children immediately and reunite them.  Families belong in communities, not cages, and not separated across borders. And in addition to the range of crucial short-term fixes to the outrageous separation of children, we need long-term, transformative solutions to the bigotry, flawed immigration rules, disrespect for asylum, and misuse of incarceration that allowed this situation to happen in the first place. We must stand against the administration’s retrogressive vision for a structure of immigration enforcement and criminalization in our country. This moment has the potential to be a turning point toward a positive vision.

The government should be held accountable, absolutely. These families deserve compensation. They’re dealing with children and the parents themselves are deeply traumatized. This has a really broad-reaching impact on societies.

– Cathleen Caron,  Executive Director at Justice in Motion

We are proud to join nearly 300 organizations on this letter to Congress, calling on Members to cut funding for the agencies of ICE and CBP that endanger immigrant communities. It’s time to #DefundHate.

– National Immigration Law Center

There’s big business in borders and lock-ups. Companies like the GEO Group make money when families are torn apart. We don’t belong in cages, #WeBelongTogether in FREEDOM. We demand our government choose people over profits.  


I call on the Trump administration to release all of these individuals immediately, to give them access to attorneys to quickly process their asylum claims, and for them to be immediately reunited with their children […] I will also continue to push to defund ICE, to completely reform the immigration detention system and end mass prosecutions by the Department of Justice, and defund any Department of Homeland Security programs that break up families.

– Rep. Pramila Jayapal, (D) Washington


This administration’s unchecked power must be challenged now. We must mobilize, call our representatives, and vote. Now is the time to bring in the persuadable skeptics who have resisted the idea that this administration is dangerously bigoted toward immigrants and people of color.

So ultimately, we have to turn the tide on Trump’s politics of fear and division — by voting […] The majority Americans, the “coalition of the decent” are disgusted by what they’re seeing on TV and in social media, but we have to put our beliefs into action.

– America’s Voice

We can stop this. Members of Congress have the power to decide which programs and agencies are funded, and how they are funded. ICE and CBP will not be able to continue these atrocities without funds. It’s time for these agencies to be held accountable. It’s time to abolish ICE and CBP. Add your name to demand Congress abolish ICE and CBP.

– United We Dream

Call your local, state and/or national representatives to let them know that you think this is a humanitarian issue. You can find your federal senators and representatives here.

– Women’s Refugee Commission

close search

Hot Topics: