While audiences are by no means uniform in their thoughts about and reactions to immigration, the synthesis of these three studies reveals a number of promising strategies for advocates to reach a range of audiences. In addition, our collective use of language tells us much about our and our larger community’s thoughts on the topics. With strategy, careful consideration of language and stories, and a drumbeat of common themes, we can make significant strides in improving dialogue around these issues, and set the stage for better immigration policy.


1. In 2008, The Opportunity Agenda worked with 150 immigrants’ rights groups throughout the country to develop a new “core narrative” for the movement—a set of broad themes and values that will help to connect with persuadable audiences and build support for change. The pro-immigration narrative that emerged from this process has three main elements: (1) Workable Solutions; (2) Upholding Our Nation’s Values; and (3) Moving Forward Together. They represent a set of ideas about pragmatism, national principles, and progress through cooperation.

2. Secure Communities is a federal initiative that allows state and local police to check the fingerprints of an individual they are booking into a jail against Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immigration databases. If there is a “hit” in an immigration data-base, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is automatically notified, even if the person has not been convicted of any criminal act. Where implemented, the program has led to racial and ethnic profiling, mistakenly targeted U.S. citizens and legal residents, and undermined public safety by making immigrants fearful of reporting actual crimes.

3. Data points are simply items of factual information derived from research—in this case, the use and context of specific words found in a range of written materials.

4. “June 2010 Political Survey,” Pew Research Center for the People & the Press at http://www.people-press.org/2010/06/24/ june-2010-political-survey/.

5. “Transatlantic Trends: Immigration 2011,” German Marshall Fund at http://www.gmfus.org/wp-content/files_mf/ ttimmigration_final_web32.pdf.

6. Public Religion Research Institute, “Pluralism, Immigration and Civic Integration Survey,” August 1-14, 2011. See also Fox News Poll conducted by Anderson Robbins Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R). Dec. 5-7, 2011.

7. “Religion, Values, and Immigration Reform: National Survey,” Public Religion Research Institute, April 2010. An even larger majority (62 percent) had an unfavorable view of “undocumented immigrants.”

8. CNN/ORC Poll, November 18-20, 2011 at http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2011/images/11/22/rel19c.pdf. Sympathy appears to have increased since the question was asked in March of 2010. At that time, 52 percent said they felt very or somewhat sympathetic towards “illegal” immigrants and their families.

9. http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000.

10. http://www.deptofnumbers.com/unemployment/california/.

11. http://www.deptofnumbers.com/unemployment/.

12. John Ellis, “Black Unemployment Jumps to Depression Levels,” Business Insider, June 20, 2011 at http://articles.businessinsider.com/2011-06-20/politics/29972272_1_unemployment-rate-young-black-men-age-cbs-news-reports

13. “HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH 2011: An Update on the Economic Well-Being of the Latino Population,” Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Congress, September 15, 2011, at http://jec.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?a=Files.Serve&Fileid=69f69196-7bf4-410f-a4d4-57af985dda6e.

14. First Research, “Southern Perceptions of Immigration Reform,” October 2011, p.17 (hereinafter “FR”).

15. FR, p. 12.

16. Lake Research Partners, “Developing a Communication Plan on Enforcement Policies for the California Immigrant Policy Center,” March 2011, p. 13 (hereinafter “LRP”); FR, pp.7-9.

17. ASO Communications, “Migrating Our Message: A Language Analysis of Immigration,” May 2011, p. 15 (hereinafter “ASO”).

18. FR, p. 17.

19. Undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children receive a bit more sympathy, even from the Southern participants, most of whom believe it is unfair for those children to be penalized for their parents’ decisions: “I think once you have been here for so long, your parents brought you over here, and your whole life is here…They are just thrust into a society that you’re not even familiar with. Your whole culture is the United States“(FR, p. 18). Latino participants in particular express great sympathy for these young adults and feel that the country’s rejection of them is antithetical to our American identity (FR, p. 8).

20. FR, p.19.

21. FR, p.19.

22. FR, p. 5.

23. In fact, new immigration from Mexico has “sputtered to a trickle.” See Damien Cave, “Better Lives for Mexicans Cut Allure of Going North,” The New York Times, July 6, 2011, at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/07/06/world/americas/immigration. html?ref=immigrationandemigration.

24. FR, p.19.

25. LRP, p. 16.

26. ASO describes metaphor analysis as “cataloging the commonplace non-literal phrases in all speech. Noting patterns in these expressions reveals how people automatically and unconsciously make sense of complexity. Each metaphor brings with it entailments, or a set of notions it highlights as ‘true’ about a concept. Priming people with varying metaphors has been shown to alter not just how they speak but the ways they decide, unconsciously, what ‘ought’ to be done about a given topic.” [from ASO’s 5-page summary dated September 2011].

27. ASO, p.4.

28. ASO, p. 22.

29. ASO, p. 22.

30. ASO, p.20.

31. The Opportunity Agenda recommends that social justice advocates emphasize government as a connector, a planner, able to pave the way for progress. “Our nation’s greatest leaps forward have always come when we have invested in an effective partnership between government and our people. Quoted from “Promoting Equitable and Sustainable Job Creation” http://opportunityagenda.org/files/fieldfile/2010.09.29PromotingEquitableAndSustainableJobCreation.pdf.

32. LRP, p.19.

33. LRP, p.17.

34. FR, p.17.

35. ASO, p.28.

36. ASO, p.32.

37. LRP, p.36.

38. FR, p.10.

39. A survey of Alabama adults conducted in November and December of 2011 showed significant disquiet over the fairness  of that state’s new anti-immigrant law. Although 67 percent agreed there was a need for an immigration law, only 48 percent agreed that the new state law was fair while 37 percent felt it was unfair (Center for Leadership and Public Policy, “2011 Survey on Alabama Immigration Law,” Nov. 1 – Dec. 8, 2011). Extensive media coverage of the ongoing controversy surrounding the law may be having an effect on traditionally conservative Alabamans. Stories about rallies and demonstrations against the Alabama law highlighting the harms to families and children, and reports of incidents like the mid-November arrest and detention of a German manager with Mercedes Benz for not having a driver’s license appear to be chipping away at the law’s initial popularity. (See Associated Press, “Immigra- tion law: Mercedes manager from Germany arrested in Alabama,” November 18, 2011).

40. FR, p. 22.

41. FR, p. 23.

42. FR, p. 24.

43. FR, p. 11.

44. LRP, p. 31.

45. LRP, p. 36.

46. FR, p. 11.

47. FR, p. 23.

48. LRP, p. 6.

49. LRP, p. 34.

50. CIR was described as follows: “Under this proposal, the federal government would manage border security and crack down on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants currently living in the United States would be required to reg- ister and obtain legal status, as long as they have not committed crimes, and then be put on a path to citizenship if they pay taxes, learn English, and show they are contributing to their community.”

51. LRP, p. 21.

52. ASO, p. 10.

53. ASO. p. 29

54. ASO. p. 21