IIL Banner 2013
December 2014: Issue 3.4   
In this Issue: 
Immigration as a Media Wedge Issue
Current Research 

Obama's administration decides to continue the use of racial profiling 
Ilya Somin
December 7, 2014
The Washington Post
The truth behind fear-mongering around immigration executive action
Wendy Feliz
November 18, 2014
Immigration Impact

The long and ugly tradition of treating Africa as a dirty place
Laura Seay and Kim Yi Dionne
August 25, 2014
The Washington Post

Don't blame Central American newspapers for influx of undocumented children
Roque Planas
August 19, 2014
Huffington Post

Los Angeles, CA
December 14th-16th, 2014
National Immigrant Integration Conference

Mexico City, Mexico
September 2015
20th Metropolis International Immigration Conference



Immigration as a Media Wedge Issue: Commentary

Humans move. For 215 million or more people today, this movement is across borders to establish themselves as newcomers within foreign nations. How this movement is covered by the media--what stereotypes and adjectives are used, how factual the story is and how much it is told in historic context--is vital to immigrant integration. It creates context.


Society calls it the Fourth Estate: the media. Media writ large bends and breaks governments, shapes and colors all manner of issues and exists in a realm of relative impunity as it determines societal agenda even while providing the most amplified commentary on the issues. "Media" extends to all forms of public communication, and the rapid rise of social media has a vitality and growth curve that is impressive and changing too rapidly for solid research data to be done about its reach. 


Every minute 13 hours of videos are uploaded to 'You Tubes.' Every second 5 million Tweets are shared. The glut of information and social use of media grows and the avenues of clear or effective messaging grow increasingly unclear. Yet, the cumulative impact of social media on an issue remains powerful.  Academic research provides little hard evidence about the persuasive power of mainstream media; while there is a rich body of media analysis, there is no definitive documentation as to its power.


Coca-Cola values media, evident in a $2 billion marketing/advertising budget. It has an inescapable market presence as a result of continued and persistent presence in all manner of media from soccer stadium signage to newspaper advertisements. Media sells and reinforces market choices. Issues, however, have only political rhetoric but little media power, paling in comparison to corporate media messages. To distinguish themselves in the media, wherever more than one commercial media outlet exists, editorial perspectives differentiate one source from the other. Their choice of issues gains audience and differentiation pulls the disaffected into a particular market share.


In this environment, finding 'hot buttons' - issues that excite attention - is a highly valued skill. Both media and elected officials seek similar issues that can engage the community, differentiate one outlet or politician from the next and thus it consumers or voters.


Academics validate the observation that there is a positive correlation between media users and media content. As one source states: "There is extensive observational research linking attitudes and behavior to media exposure. The most common approach is to ask survey respondents about their media exposure and their political views and behaviors. ... It is common to find associations between media usage levels and attitudes and reported behavior (Clarke and Fredin 1978; Miller, Goldenberg et al. 1979; Bybee, Mcleod et al. 1981; Garramone and Atkin 1986; Lieske 1989; Brians and Wattenberg 1996; Dalton, Beck et al. 1998). 


It is clear that people tend toward selection of media that conforms to preconceived notions. For instance, "indeed, recent theoretical work on the economics of media competition is premised on the notion that consumers seek out media sources that share their political perspective. In Mullainathan and Shleifer (2005), consumers prefer news that agrees with their prior views, while in Gentzkow and Shapiro (2005) consumers think that outlets that share their political perspective are more reliable and therefore provide more valuable information. This selection effect will cause an upward bias in the assessment of media influence" (Alan Gerber, Yale, 2005.)  Repeated studies show that when a conservative news source comes into a community, it can increase conservative voting by 8% ( see Gerber). 


What conclusions arise from these studies about immigration as a media wedge issue? It is evident that the language of the civil discourse is normalized by the press. Immigrants and migrants were rebranded as 'illegals' in the US in references that appear to have been popularized by Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2004. His views were regularly reported by both mainstream media and more decidedly positioned press. Listen to media clips from one outlet to hear the adjectives used click here. One result is public repetition and a legitimization of terms and positions. 


Those who frame the issue as it is then covered deserve more credit than the intermediate story tellers. There was a propaganda war, waged by public spokespeople, in which blaming immigrants for social ills to newcomers has become de rigueur. Congressman Tom Tancredo of California could frequently be heard blaming immigrants for job loss, disease or crime. Congressman Lou Barletta said "We will get rid of them.  No third world cesspool." He was defending Hazleton, PA from an "assault" of immigrants and few picked up the differentiation of the status (or that no increase in crime or social ills could be attributed to the relatively small number of newcomers). All suffer when political rhetoric is accusatory and fear filled. It took until April 2013 for Associated Press to agree that 'illegal immigrant' was a pejorative term that would no longer be used by its reporters. The NYTimes followed less clearly, but ceased to use 'illegal immigrants' as a descriptive term.


Unfortunately, Europe is following the negative U.S. model. The former reference "irregular migrant" is increasingly replaced by "illegal." Lega Nord (Italy) in a campaign worked the issue in pursuit of increased voters. Deputy Transport Minister Roberto Castelli said Italy needed to protect itself. "This problem could become so unbelievably big that we must ask ourselves if we need to use weapons. . .there is a risk this invasion could grow to millions or tens of millions," he said.


Invasion is not a term readily found before June 1983 to describe immigration. While President Ronald Reagan moved to grant the largest amnesty in US history, he also took to the newsroom a new view of the southern border. He referenced "a tidal wave of refugees - this time they'll be feet people and not boat people - swarming into our country seeking safe haven from communist repression" (June 21,1983, Washington Post). The amnesty was highly effective as one of a series of efforts to incorporate millions of Mexican Americans. At the same time, the rhetoric was highly successful in fashioning a wedge issue that has lived on for 30 years, even now when Mexican migration northward is at net zero. For more information, please click here


Average Americans differ from public figures. Polls indicate broad acceptance of pathways to citizenship. Diversity is familiar, and in most cities and in coastal states the acceptance and inclusion of the foreign born happens with minimal strife or unrest. The perpetual challenge is to be inclusive, integrating as many in as effective ways as possible for the greater good, the good of both our receiving society and the individual migrant.  Where the rhetoric is divisive, regardless of party or purpose, our task is to hold media accountable to facts and our national creed - that we are all created equal and should have equal opportunity.


Westy Egmont, Director
BCSSW Immigrant Integration Lab

The Migration Observatory

The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford aims to provide impartial, independent, authoritative, evidence-based analysis of data on migration and migrants in the UK in an effort to inform media, public and policy debates, and to generate high quality research on international migration and public policy issues. From December 2012 to December 2013, the Migration Observatory conducted a qualitative study that analyzed the language used by 4,000 UK major and local newspapers to discuss Romanians and Bulgarians during this period. The timing of this study is significant, as it directly affected the British government's January 2014 decision to lift work restrictions for this population. This study found that language used to discuss Romanians and Bulgarians often focused on crime or anti-social behavior and that discussion of these groups was often related to travel or migration, with strong language relating to scale (flood, flock, etc.). This report builds on the Migration Observatory's Migration in the Media project, which examines how UK newspapers discuss issues relating to immigrants, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

Read more about The Migration Observatory> >



Uncertainty, Threat, and the Role of the Media in Promoting the Dehumanization of Immigrants and Refugees.

Esses, V., Medianu, S., & Lawson, A. (2013).  

Journal of Social Issues, 69(3), 518-536.

Immigration policies and the treatment of immigrants and refugees are often contentious issues that create a sense of uncertainty and unease. They are often viewed as "enemies" among Western nations and this research looks to show if the depictions of immigrants and refugees by the media help
 this negative opinion. The uncertainty leads to the creation of a crisis mentality and this study specifically looks at the purported link the media makes between immigrants and disease and immigrants as groups attempting to gain illicit entry, as well as creating false refugee claims and harboring terrorists to enable these negative perceptions. The dehumanization of immigrants and refugees also comes from the historical relationship of the privileged population attempting to maintain their societal position and social dominance over the incoming group. The research shows consistent findings that media portrayals of immigrants and refugees highlight potential threats to members of the host society and lead to dehumanization. The result is less uncertainty for the host population of how to view immigrants and refugees. Moreover, it provides a justification of not integrating these incoming populations.

Read more > >




Language use depending on news frame and immigrant origin.  

Fernandez, I., Igartua, J., Moral, F., Palacios, E., Acosta, T. &              Muñoz, D. (2013). 

International Journal of Psychology, 48 (5), 772-784.

Fernandez et al look at the effect of the media on individuals' specific language use in regards to a news story on immigration. Their study further explores the complexity of abstraction, language use and the evaluation of negative affective language in the media. The findings showed that abstract language and negative affective language were more frequent among participants assigned to the news frame on crime. Complex language was used more commonly when the news frame referred to the economic contribution of immigrants. The use of language, when not subject to conscious control, provides interesting examples of the forms of prejudice and how information of groups is processed. Therefore, when news frames were related to a negative story such as a crime, there was a greater negative affective language and higher abstraction that are associated with prejudice. However, when a story was received about how immigrants contribute to a country, it required a higher level of complex languages and more in depth thought processes when the stereotype is broken.

Read more > > 


Immigrant narratives and popular culture in the United States: Border spectacle, unmotivated sympathies, and individualized responsibilities. 

Sowards, S. & Pineda, R. (2013). 

Western Journal of Communication, 77(1), 72-91.

Issues related to immigration have become more prevalent in U.S. popular culture. How the popular media represents immigrant narratives has evolved over time. Looking at the show Ugly Betty, the band Los Lobo's album "The Town and the City" and CNN's "Immigrant Nation," the study views personalized narratives of the immigrant experience contribute to stereotypes through the repetition and accumulation of constructed border spectacles. Audiences tend to interpret individualized accounts through ambivalent readings that entrench their beliefs and attitudes about immigrants and immigration which may create unmotivated sympathies.  This also shows that individual accounts humanize the immigration experience, but individualize responsibility absolve collective responsibility. Instead, it emphasizes that the success of the immigrant experience is based exclusively on hard work and pursuit of the "American Dream."  The representations of the immigrant experience still remain simplistic to a fault and underscore the stereotypes when they instead could show the far more complex reality of the immigrant experience that the ambivalence of the audience turns away.

Portraying immigrants to the public: Mexican workers in the USA and African workers in Spain: Is there a role for social work? 

Martinez-Brawley, E. & Gualda, E. (2009). 

International Social Work, 52(3), 299-312.

This article compares the situation of Mexican/Latino immigrants living in Arizona, USA and Moroccan immigrants in Huelva, Spain. The two regions have received large numbers of regular and irregular immigrants as well as many temporary workers. The formulation of how these immigrant populations are viewed in these two regions has largely been created by the media. Both Mexico and Morocco are exporters of labor, which is also requested by their neighboring countries. The media in both these regions often fails to look at the deeper causes of migration surges and the backlash against it allows for the continuation of negative perceptions of the public from the media portrayal. The role of social workers to play a more active role in advocating for people who are excluded from citizenry and power, as well as promoting a more positive opinion for these populations is explored in this article. Social workers are in a position to foster positive deliberation on immigration and promote better social policies despite the negative popular perception.

The Influence of News Media on Stereotypic Attitudes Toward Immigrants in a Political Campaign

Schemer, C. (2012).

Journal of Communication, Vol. 62(5), pp. 739-757

This article explores the effects of the media on stereotypic attitudes towards immigrants in a political campaign that addressed the naturalization process. In looking at content analysis of campaign coverage coupled with a panel survey, this study suggests that negative portrayals of immigrants in the news produced negative racial attitudes in the public course of the campaign. Further to the point, this study demonstrates that frequent exposure to positive portrayals of immigrants in the media elicits a decline in the negative attitudes produced by the audience. However, the impact of news portrayals on the activation and reduction of stereotypic attitudes is not all-inclusive. The authors highlight how the study's findings were contingent upon people's issue-specific knowledge, which in turn demonstrates that individuals with low to moderate news-related knowledge were more influenced than those with well-informed media understanding, who appeared to be resistant to the effects of media portrayal of immigrants. 




Borderlands Media: Cinema and Literature as Opposition to the Oppression of Immigrants 

By David Toohey  

Lexington Books (March 15, 2012)

Toohey's Borderlands Media: Cinema and Literature as Opposition to the Oppression of Immigrants is an in-depth analysis that explores the immigrant experience using a mixture of cinema, literary and other artistic media spanning from 1958 to the present day. Through extensive analysis and explication, Toohey uncovers a history of power ranging from lingual and visual to more widely recognized class and racial divisions. With special attention to the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, these divisions are analyzed both with an emphasis on how they oppress, but also how cinematic political thought can challenge them. Toohey's Borderlands Media is an essential text for scholars and students engaged in questions regarding the effect of media on the oppression of immigrants and diaspora communities.


Arizona Firestorm: Global Immigration Realities, National Media, and Provincial Politics

By Otto Santa Ana & Celeste González de Bustamante

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (June 7, 2012)

In 2010, the governor of Arizona signed a controversial immigration bill (SB 1070) that led to a news media frenzy, copycat bills in twenty-two states and a U.S. Supreme Court battle that put Arizona at the cross-hairs of the immigration debate. Arizona Firestorm brings together well-respected experts from across the political spectrum to examine and contextualize the political, economic, historical and legal issues prompted by this and other anti-Latino and anti-immigrant legislation and state actions. It addresses the news media's role in shaping immigration discourse in Arizona and around the globe. Arizona Firestorm will be of interest to scholars and students in communication, public policy, state politics, federalism and anyone concerned about immigration policy or Latino politics in the United States.

Migrations and the Media (Global Crises and the Media) 

by Kerry MooreBernhard GrossTerry Threadgold 

Peter Lang International Academic Publishers (December 28, 2011)

Migrations and the Media critically explores the global reporting of migration crises, bringing together a range of original interdisciplinary research from the fields of migration studies and journalism, media and cultural studies. Its chapters examine some of the most important contemporary political, cultural and social issues with which migration is entwined such as in developing existing and new conceptual understandings of how forced migration and other instances of migration are represented and constructed as "crises" in different international contexts. These contexts, include within news narratives on human trafficking and smuggling, asylum seeking and humanitarian reporting, "climate refugees", undocumented and economic migrants and in election debates and policy making. This volume also examines the reporting practices through which migration coverage is produced, including the rights and responsibilities of journalism and the presuppositions and pressures upon journalists working in this area.


Media & Minorities: The Politics of Race in News and Entertainment

by Stephanie Greco Larson 

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (August 8, 2005)

Media & Minorities covers all major media-including television, film, newspapers, radio and magazines, and systematically analyzes their representation of the four largest minority groups in the United States: African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans. Entertainment media are compared and contrasted with news media, and special attention is devoted to coverage of social movements for racial justice and politicians of color. Greco Larson brings sharp insight into how the white-dominated media does a disservice to all their audiences when it comes to their representation of racial and ethnic minorities. The author gives us ammunition for decoding the dominant messages and then combating them, whether through political activism, "culture jamming" or the creation and patronage of alternative media.

ResourcesRESOURCES in Film

God Grew Tired of Us (2006)

God Grew Tired of Us is a documentary about three of the Lost Boys of Sudan, a group of over 20,000 boys who fled the civil wars in Sudan since the 1980s, and their experiences moving to the United States.

Well-Founded Fear (2000)
Foreigners, who fled their home countries and live in the United States, have the opportunity to apply for asylum if a person establishes a "well-founded fear" of persecution in his/her home country.  This documentary provides an in-depth look at the asylum process in the United States by examining the ways in which the United States decides the cases of those applying for political asylum, sometimes with careful consideration, but often with personal prejudices, cynicism and naiveté.


Maid in America (2004)

An intimate look into the lives of three Latina immigrants working as nannies and housekeepers in Los Angeles, a city with nearly 100,000 domestic workers. These women's stories vividly reveal how immigrants are redefining their roles, and underscores the vital role they play in many American households. 
EDITORS: C. Burrell, V. Corbera, W. Egmont, L. Falotico, L. Ferreira, K. Kalliontzi, J. Margolis, J. Nomeland and K. Porter