Barrier seperating Mexico from the US. (Photo: flo razowsky)
President Obama recently stood in front of the nation and made a historic, and much anticipated, announcement on immigration policy. His executive action will spare millions of mothers, fathers, workers and students from the threat of deportation, and was the result of the work of a mobilized and passionate immigrant rights movement.
However, as audiences leaned forward to absorb the details of the president’s announcement, advocates and activists around the country were likely not surprised to hear him begin the list of actions he intended to take with the US-Mexico border. We know by now that political discussions of immigration policy almost always begin with the border region, regardless of party or ideology. The political mindset holds that the persuadable public needs to hear about “border security” before they can care about relief for undocumented Americans.
But assuming this 1) greatly underestimates audiences’ compassion, understanding and obvious support for a roadmap to citizenship, and 2) only serves to reinforce a “law and order” narrative that works against pro-immigrant messages in the long term. We know from messaging experts and research that how you start the conversation matters immensely and significantly influences where you’re able to take audiences in the end. The more people hear about the need to “secure” our borders and uphold the “rule of law,” the more difficult it is to pivot them to the compassionate part of themselves that wants to protect the rights of immigrants, preserve families, and rely on values like community and opportunity over protection and security.
It is therefore crucial for immigration advocates – and all of us as a movement – to speak out and work to replace the dominant narrative around the border with a proactive, values-based story about what kind of communities we all want to live in. And to condemn what none of us want: an outsized police presence with no oversight, human rights violations and a militarized zone running through our communities.