5 Tips for Talking About Border Communities Without Talking about a Wall

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Messaging Memo
Published: 2017

The border region is in the headlines again with the president’s executive order on building a wall along our southern edge. In countering this proposal, it’s important that our communications tell a bigger story about the region instead of only giving the wall more air-time. Below are five ways to counter the notion that a wall is necessary, while also putting forth a positive vision of the border region and what it means to our country.

A list of the 5 tips for talking about the US-Mexico border without talking about the wall

1. Humanize the discussion. Consider terms like “border communities,” “border region,” and “borderlands.” The border is more than a line, and referring simply to “the border” reinforces the idea that we’re only talking about a wall and how to protect it.

  • Focus on the people, culture, and history of border communities and stress that those communities suffer when misguided and wasteful policies cause human rights abuses and disrupt communities.
  • Naming specific communities–San Diego, El Paso, Tucson–can help audiences visualize the communities affected by irresponsible policies, and to counter the people-less desert scenery sometimes conjured up by evoking “the border.”
  • Sample language: The border region is economically vibrant and culturally diverse–home to millions of people from San Diego to Brownsville. Families whose roots here go back centu-ries share the region with newcomers from around the country and around the world. It’s an economic cornerstone and international trade hub, and 1 in 24 jobs across the country depend on it.
  • Sample language: Millions of people live in the border region or many people know someone who does. Border communities have much to offer the nation economically and culturally, but some politicians’ irresponsible insistence on excessive border enforcement have stunted and overshadowed the region’s contributions.

2. Stress that communities need to have a say in decisions that affect them. Border communities’ voices have been drowned out or ignored in political debates around immigration. Underscore that any policy must be responsive to the expressed needs of border residents.

  • Sample language: We live in a democracy, and Americans strongly believe that we should all have a say in decisions that affect us. But when it comes to policies that affect the border region, politicians often ignore community voices and needs. For example, over protests from the community, the region has grown increasingly militarized as we dump money into drones and checkpoints, and talk of unnecessary walls. Instead, let’s look at policies that bolster trade at the border and invest in critical infrastructure projects.
  • Sample language: Border communities want safe, efficient, and effective border policies that respect the culture and community of the borderlands.

3. Talk about how current border policies and spending result in violations of our values. We are a country that believes in community, fairness, and human rights. But misguided policies that allocate spending toward drones, walls, and family detention facilities do not uphold these values.

  • In describing the all-too-frequent tragedies that occur in the border region, balance those stories with specific policy solutions that will help to prevent them.
  • Stress that Border Patrol must be held accountable. We need to redirect resources to better training and equipment like body-worn cameras that will help ensure the protection of human rights.
  • Sample language: For decades, failed border enforcement policies have exacerbated mi-grant deaths, destabilized local economies, and debilitate protections to civil liberties.
  • Sample language: Instead of pouring more money into unnecessary and excessive drones, walls, and police forces, we need investments in ports-of-entry and infrastructure. Instead of giving border patrol free reign and tacitly accepting human rights violations, we need hold agents accountable and expect them to protect human rights.

4. Repeating myths isn’t helpful, even when attempting to discredit them. It’s important to pro-mote truthful stories about border communities instead of providing further publicity to false reports about terrorists, drug cartels, the need for a wall, and so on.

5. Don’t rely on “border security” as an attempt to bridge partisan divides. Some attempts to sound “reasonable” on immigration will start by acknowledging the need for border security. However, doing so suggests that the border region needs more security, which it does not. These kinds of attempts to garner more conservative support are not helpful to the movement, and are actively harmful to the millions of people who live in border communities. We can advocate for a pathway to citizenship and other policy solutions without reinforcing the myth that the border is not secure.