President Donald Trump is turning his anti-immigrant campaign promises into policies by signing an executive order advancing his plans to build a wall across the southern border and expanding the definition of individuals who constitute deportation priorities. Journalists covering immigration policy should keep in mind that a significant segment of the U.S. population views immigration coverage as indispensable in planning their future.
There are 42.4 million immigrants in the United States, with various immigration statuses. Many depend on news to navigate the uncertainty of the current environment on immigration, which makes accurate coverage of immigration policy crucial. Inaccurate coverage, and reports that focus on the politics of the issue or fail to highlight the human cost of these policies, do audiences a disservice.
Following are some elements that media covering the enforcement of Trump’s deportation-focused executive order need to take into account to be accurate and provide clear information to audiences that need it most.
Do: Explain How Trump's Executive Order On Immigration Changes Deportation Priorities
In an executive order signed on January 25, Trump significantly changed deportation priorities to include “convicted criminals, immigrants who had been arrested for any criminal offense, those who committed fraud, and anyone who may have committed a crime.” As The New York Times pointed out, the order “expands the definition of ‘criminal,’” to include anyone who has crossed the border without authorization -- a criminal misdemeanor -- in the priority category for deportation. According to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, under the Obama administration, 87 percent “of unauthorized immigrants now residing in the United States” were not a priority for deportation, as they had not committed serious crimes. Journalists need to emphasize that the new enforcement priorities enacted by Trump “vastly expanded the group of immigrants considered priorities for deportation, including those without criminal records,” if they are to accurately represent the plight of many undocumented immigrants who have not been convicted of crimes and who are being targeted by the administration.
Don’t: Uncritically Parrot Administration’s Statements On Detentions
The administration’s statement -- and Donald Trump’s tweets -- regarding recent raids conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seek to paint all undocumented immigrants with a wide brush by characterizing them as dangerous criminals:
However, according to The Washington Post, “about a quarter” of the immigrants rounded up during recent ICE raids “had no prior convictions,” and immigrant rights groups are pointing out that the recent raids have been “out of the ordinary” and that “most of those swept up were not dangerous.” An immigrant without a criminal record who had benefited from President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) was among those arrested, which calls into question the administration’s characterization of those targeted. Given the mischaracterizations by the Trump administration, it’s important that journalists pay attention to evidence that shows foreign-born residents are less likely than native-born residents to commit crimes, as demonstrated by the American Immigration Council:
For more than a century, innumerable studies have confirmed two simple yet powerful truths about the relationship between immigration and crime: immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than the native-born, and high rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of violent crime and property crime.
In other words, the overwhelming majority of immigrants are not “criminals” by any commonly accepted definition of the term. For this reason, harsh immigration policies are not effective in fighting crime. Unfortunately, immigration policy is frequently shaped more by fear and stereotype than by empirical evidence. As a result, immigrants have the stigma of “criminality” ascribed to them by an ever-evolving assortment of laws and immigration enforcement mechanisms.
Do: Provide A Platform For Immigration Experts
It’s easy for journalists to overlook the complicated nuances and crucial distinctions of immigration policy and to unintentionally misrepresent the situations of many immigrants and thus misinform the general public. Because immigration law is complicated and difficult to navigate, audiences are better served by hearing the insights of experts -- rather than political pundits -- who can thread the needle through the most nuanced aspects of immigration policy. Spanish-language networks do admirable work in providing a platform for individuals familiar with immigration policy, including immigrant rights advocates and immigration attorneys who can answer common questions.
Media Matters spoke to Maria Fernanda Durand, communications manager at the Latino and immigration advocacy/assistance organization Casa de Maryland, who said there are “very few voices, especially in cable news, that actually represent the people that this [policy] is harming.”
Durand remarked on the importance of turning to experts, rather than pundits, to discuss immigration issues, noting that “a lot of people really don’t understand the process -- of how people come over, and the fact that there are very few benefits you’re allowed as an undocumented immigrant -- basically food for your children if you qualify.” Durand added that audiences in general don’t necessarily know that when it comes to fixing the irregularities of their status, “there is no line” for undocumented immigrants to get in -- “there is no path to citizenship.”
Cable news outlets, specifically, still have to make a priority of including Latino and other immigrant voices in the stories they cover. Regarding the representation of Latinos specifically, Durand said: “They're talking about us, not with us. These are issues that affect us all, but we are at the center of it.”
Don't: Lend Your Platform To Nativist Groups
Media appearances by members of nativist groups that promote the work of white nationalists are an ongoing problem. Groups that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has described as part of the “nativist lobby” -- the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an SPLC-designated hate group, NumbersUSA, and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) -- do not deserve to have their images sanitized, but that’s just what happens when media outlets repeatedly reference them and cite their work without accurately describing their focus.
Characterizing these groups as “conservative” organizations that call “for added immigration restrictions” or that favor “stricter control on immigration” without disclosing that their founder, John Tanton, advocates for a “European-American majority, and a clear one at that,” is inaccurate. Doing so omits the full picture of their intentions and helps them access a seat at the immigration policy discussion table, where bigotry should not have a place.
Do: Mention The Real-Life Consequences Of Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Policies
Journalists should keep in mind that the subjects of their stories are people whose real lives are deeply affected by immigration policy. They owe it to these residents -- and their children, parents, and other relatives -- to present their stories in a substantive way, capturing their unique experiences and putting them in context.
Don't: Perpetuate The Use Of Politically Charged Anti-Immigrant Slurs
While multiple institutions and journalistic style guides recommend avoiding the use of the word “illegal” to describe people because it is “grammatically incorrect” and simply dehumanizing, many networks continue perpetuating the anti-immigrant slur. The words media use when they discuss a significant segment of the U.S. population have consequences in molding audience images of these communities. By referring to immigrants in a dehumanizing way, media help reduce them to statistics and deportation targets, instead of presenting them as human beings.