Our VoiceImmigration

Identifying the racism in the immigration debate and pushing back


Aaron Patrick Flanagan • Nov 06, 2014

With the election behind us, many pro-migrant advocates in the U.S. are wondering what to expect next.

Hopeful that an announcement of administrative relief will be forthcoming from the Obama Administration, we have witnessed a summer when the leaders of the organized anti-immigrant movement toiled to distort ordinary Americans’ views of children fleeing rampant levels of violence still occurring in a trio of small central American countries. They labeled them as gang members and disease carriers.

Then, as a new chapter of America’s paradoxical war on terror erupted, we witnessed them lying about our southern border, distorting facts and issuing fear-provoking narratives that damage our country. One ally of this movement was even caught lying on national TV.

Debates regarding terrorism and “border insecurity” always play louder and longer with mainstream media, producing a troubling confluence of debris for those concerned with advocating for social, civil, and racial justice. Producing troubling confluences is obviously a primary goal of the organized anti-immigrant movement, and provoking “border insecurity” will continue as a prime message theme between now and even beyond an announcement of executive action on immigration.

Receiving less attention nationally, though, are attempts by the most influential and resource-laden communicators who help lead this movement to keep their grassroots base “on message.”

And that message is the old top-line of “immigrants harm American workers, their families, and our economy.”

Shielding racist arguments in economic code words

Quietly in Senate battleground states, some of those communicators launched ad buys full of misleading messages and data conflating immigration with economic sluggishness and the unemployed. In an email to supporters the morning of Election Day, Roy Beck of NumbersUSA, the leading grassroots and federal lobbying group within this movement, identified his targets: “These are the anti-American-worker senators who voted for the S. 744 comprehensive amnesty in June of 2013 but who want you to vote for them today.”

In recent weeks, NumbersUSA has repeatedly urged supporters to sustain distortions stemming from conflations of immigration and American workers beyond the election, and to develop such messages into their primary top-lines and talking points. Much of this is connected to Sen. Jeff Sessions and his working relationship with the anti-immigrant movement, from which he enjoys gushing support. Many like Beck have long known that this message plays well with ordinary Americans who are not personally attached to the broader immigration debate. They also like that this message allows them to remain “ethnically-neutral” while they shield and insulate themselves from accusations of racism.

Of course, this frame pits the “native” versus the “non-native,” hence their inability to shield themselves from accusations of nativism.

And while there is still plenty of racism fueling the messages and strategies of the leading groups within this movement, below are some examples that will allow advocates a window into more closely examining and analyzing anti-immigrant conflations:

  • NumbersUSA launched a $1 million dollar ad buy in key battleground states, resulting in this misleading ad.
  • The laughably named Progressives for Immigration Reform produced this ad. PFIR has long made pitting blacks against Latinos a key aspect of its organizational mission.
  • The Center for Immigration Studies published a report that ludicrously purports that “All Employment Growth Since 2000 Went to Immigrants.”
  • Californians for Population Stabilization produced its own ad.

All of these groups are intricately linked. (See our introductory flow-chart here.) And the levels to which they coordinate on disseminating such messages reflect such intricacies.

Acting on what we know

Through studying the trends that dominate the communications output of the organized anti-immigrant movement (and the organized anti-Muslim movement, for that matter), we at Imagine2050 are working to offer advocates and communicators across the broader field of immigrant and refugee rights discrete opportunities to recognize how opponents of social, civil, and racial justice are seeking to target, to frame, and ultimately to victimize our communities.

While the organized anti-immigrant movement will continue to create noise around “border insecurity,” they are clearly prioritizing distortions regarding our economy and labor force, as well, amongst their spokespersons.

Perhaps they’re hoping that one message theme will distract us from the other.

If we can be of any help to you and your organization, please contact us.

Aaron Flanagan is the Director of Research at the Center for New Community.

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