Today, April 17, 2013, "a bipartisan group of lawmakers formally filed an 844-page immigration bill on the Senate floor early Wednesday, setting the stage for months of public debate over the proposal," reported the Washington Post. The time has come once again for what is presumed and very likely to be a long legislative battle on how to change our broken and outdated immigration policies. While elected officials and interest groups are arguing over policy, the public will be watching the developments and forming opinions through the media lens. For that, it is critical that proponents of positive policy reform, American values and rights for Americans and immigrants alike should continue to think strategically about the stories they tell to the public through the media.
In support of strategic media outreach, The Opportunity Agenda analyzed newspaper and television coverage from September 2012 through February 2013, building on years of periodical auditing of the media discourse.. Based on the findings of this audit and years of experience working with advocates and others on immigration, we crafted a set of recommendations on how to more effectively leverage this moment in time to dominate coverage with messages about positive immigration policies, which embody our American values and move us forward together.
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. In the pre- and post-election coverage we studied, journalists quoted conservative spokespeople almost twice as often as progressive voices. Naturally, conservatives’ dramatic shift from largely opposing to largely supporting immigration reform captured the media’s attention. However, progressives and other traditionally pro-immigrant advocates must be careful to prevent this trend from continuing throughout the legislative battle for reform.
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 Replace the current notion that there is a “line” immigrants must get into for citizenship with a description of the outdated and problematic processes that exists now.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, e.g., consequences of laws such as Secure Communities, and the positive and diverse contributions of immigrants to American society.
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.
For the full report on the findings, click here.