These findings present several important implications for messaging and audience engagement around sanctuary cities, deportation, and related immigration policies.
Narrative, Messaging & Storytelling Recommendations
Frame sanctuary cities in terms of strong, safe, and connected communities, while avoiding associations with crime and violence: Both public opinion research and social media data indicate that the administration’s conflation of immigration with issues of crime and public safety gained traction in 2017, particularly following the introduction of SB4 by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. It is important to challenge and reframe the discussion, and refocus public attention on commonsense policies that already have high levels of public support. It is also necessary for immigrant rights advocates to educate persuadable audiences about pathways to citizenship, uplifting the many successes of programs like DACA. At the same time, advocates should avoid myth-busting, which may simply reinforce the connection between crime and sanctuary policies in people’s minds. There are subtler ways to reframe, such as focusing on what happens when immigrants can more fully participate and contribute. This requires talking about immigrants as more than just “immigrants,” but as parents, students, neighbors, etc., in order to give an alternative idea to move to.
VALUE: Our country is changing, getting more and more diverse. It might make some of us uncomfortable, but it is our reality, and a constant throughout our history.
PROBLEM: Politicians play on this fear, trying to divide us. They push unwise and divisive ideas like ending deferred action, defunding states which provide legal protection to undocumented immigrants, or singling out Muslim Americans because of their religion.
SOLUTION: If we take the bait on these issues, it makes our country weaker, not stronger. Our nation is stronger when every one of us can contribute and share ideas, and when everyone’s basic rights and dignity are respected.
ACTION: We need to embrace ideas that unify us as a diverse people and make our country stronger, and we need to speak out against discrimination and prejudice when we see it.
Define for your audience what sanctuary policies are and do: In order to effectively communicate the importance of sanctuary jurisdictions, we must define what such communities are, and what they provide for their residents. Sanctuaries are the last refuge of the hunted. While we want to be careful about evoking that, the connection to that place of safety when a person is hunted and exhausted is an emotionally powerful one. Drawing on these themes of safety and refuge can help audiences better understand the critical role sanctuary jurisdictions play.
Use other descriptors to describe sanctuary policies: “Sanctuary cities” has become something of a buzzword in media coverage and political discourse, but it often goes undefined and does not speak to the variety of ways that sanctuary policies are implemented in communities and institutions across the country. Findings from our public opinion analysis also indicate that members of the public are more likely to support policies like DACA, DAPA, and a pathway to citizenship when the services the programs provide are clearly defined. Advocates should use sanctuary with other descriptors that add on to that word, like “places where everyone, including our immigrant neighbors, can contribute and participate.”
Explain how sanctuary policies benefit all residents: Our analysis of public opinion data shows strong public sup- port for pro-immigration policies such as DACA, and opposition to widespread deportation. However, public opinion data also reveals that low-income Americans are less likely to want to reside in sanctuary jurisdictions than their higher income counterparts. This disparity is likely a product of anxieties related to competition for jobs—a source of anxiety that the new Administration has leveraged to sow fear and distrust. It is necessary to address these concerns, while also not perpetuating stereotypes about the types of jobs undocumented immigrants usually occupy. Advocates should talk about the importance of communities sticking together and not letting corporate interests and politicians divide us.
Promote sanctuary policies with other solutions that expand opportunity for all: In the survey research examined, respondents were significantly more likely to support an immigration policy when they were given the details about what the program would provide, or examples of the real-world impact on immigrant communities. Explaining in plain terms what a policy entails is a vital part of telling an affirmative story that is specific, but also a systemic.
Connect sanctuary policies to policies your audience support: A number of pro-immigrant policies receive high levels of support from the public. Lifting up these popular solutions while explaining and promoting more complex or less popular ones can help to build broader and more lasting support. Solutions with the greatest support include:
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
A pathway for citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the country.
Include racial profiling among the problems that sanctuary cities are designed to address: Audiences engaging in online discussions about sanctuary cities and related issues are not generally connecting immigration enforcement by police to increased racial profiling. These topics currently occupy distinct clusters within our monitor, indicating that the current conversation of racial profiling (in relation to sanctuary cities and deportation) occupies a less prominent space within the overall discourse. In addition, our analysis of media coverage revealed that reporting on racial profiling in relation to anti-immigration legislation only occupied a fraction of media reports. In order to better educate the public on the dangers of legislation such as Texas SB4, is it necessary to connect the dots for engaged audiences and detail the intersection between heightened policing of immigrant communities and racial profiling.
Racial profiling harms all Americans: It violates the American value of equal justice that we all depend on. It disrespects and discriminates against millions of young people and others around the country. It threatens public safety and can ruin people’s lives. It is time to end racial profiling and focus law enforcement on evidence and public safety.
We need to be clear: it is unacceptable for those who enforce our laws to stereotype people based on the color of their skin, religion, or nation of origin. Law enforcement should act on facts and evidence, not racial bias. If one group can be singled out based on race or ethnicity or religion, none of us will be safe to enjoy the rights that the United States stands for. The ad- ministration’s attacks on counties and cities that provide support to undocumented immigrants and their families, and policies such as Texas’ SB4, threaten the freedom of all of us.
We are stronger when we find ways to encourage participation and contribution, not ways to divide, exclude and discriminate. We have to condemn, in the strongest terms, those who engage in and encourage racist tactics.
Is it right for a military veteran to be asked for his papers just because he is of Mexican heritage? Is it right for a mother of Asian or Latino background who speaks with an accent to get asked for her papers—right in front of her children—when her White friend next to her does not? Is it right that immigrants who work hard and aspire to be citizens live in daily fear of be- ing stopped, arrested, and deported away from their loved ones? Is it right to create a culture of suspicion in an America that becomes more diverse every day? No. Anyone who engages in or encourages discrimination is flat out wrong. That is not who we are as a country.
Social Media Narrative and Audience Engagement
Lead with values: Identify the core values of: diversity, dignity, community, and family. Starting social media posts with a values-based message reaches persuadable audiences and crosses over into their interests.
Use values-based and action-oriented hashtags: Draw social media audiences in with a values-based hashtag to alert them as to why they should care about the issue. One example of a popular and effective values-based hashtag is #RefugeesWelcome. Action-oriented hashtags create a sense of urgency and purpose. Making actions clear and concise on social media allow users to actively participate in the cause. Action-oriented hashtags can also provide context for who is account- able for the problem and what is at stake. For example, #StopICECold sends a clear message about ICE detention and bring- ing an end to ICE raids.
Avoid myth-busting: In an era of social media trolls and bots, falling into the trap of a back and forth debate on social media distracts from the message. Avoid using hashtags that reinforce the opposition’s narrative. As a rule of thumb, hashtags that include the words “No” and “Not” often myth bust.
Use (and create) hashtags that evoke a narrative: The #BlackLivesMatter movement has shown us that values-based hashtags amplify movements throughout and even beyond social media. Black Lives Matter tells a full story and is a complete sentence. It reinforces the narrative that Black lives do matter, although Black people have not been treated with respect since being brought to the country as slaves. Immigration hashtags that evoke similar stories are: #HereToStay, #KeepFamiliesTogether, #RefugeesWelcome, and #UndocumentedAndUnafraid.
Humanize the issue by creating multimedia: Empathy is valuable currency on social media as it creates a personal connection to the issue. Photo and video are successful ways to portray the humanity of immigrants. Define American’s Undocu-joy series is a prime example of how showing immigrants in their day to day lives makes a powerful impact.
Engaging Strategic Audiences
Key to building wider public support for pro-immigration policies is activating the base of existing supporters while persuading undecided groups over time. That, in turn, requires prioritizing strategic audiences by:
Activating the base: Our analysis of existing public opinion research indicates that Latinx Americans, Black Americans, and self-identified Democrats are highly supportive of the continuation of policies intended to protect undocumented immigrant communities, as well as efforts to challenge the Trump’s anti-immigrant actions. These audiences should be prioritized in outreach.
Incorporating the perspectives of faith communities: Faith leaders/communities have emerged as an important pro- immigrant voice in the media and in social media discourse. Drawing on the religious roots of the concept of sanctuary and highlighting the important role faith-based communities continue to play in providing safety and refuge to immigrant communities is a strategy to reach new audiences within faith communities.
Works Cited Public Opinion Analysis
Barros, Aline, “Merit-based Versus Family-based Immigration Explained,” VOANews, October 11, 2017. Retrieved November 1, 2017.
CBS News Poll, August 2017. Retrieved October 10.
CBS News Poll, August. Retrieved October 10.
CNN/ORC International Poll, March 2017. Retrieved June 20, 2017.
CNN/ORC International, February 2017. Retrieved November 1, 2017.
Gallup News Service, June 2017. Retrieved October 17, 2017.
Gallup Poll, “Americans More Positive About Effects of Immigration,” June 2017. Retrieved October 4, 2017.
Global Strategy Group, November 2016. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
Harvard Harris Poll, “Inaugural Harvard-Harris Poll,” February 17, 2017. Huffington Post/YouGov, September 5-6, 2017. Retrieved November 1, 2017.
Jonathan Easley, The Hill, “Americans Overwhelmingly Oppose Sanctuary Cities,” February, 2017. Retrieved June 1, 2017.
McClatchy-Marist Poll, April 2017.
McClatchy-Marist Poll, August 2015. Retrieved from IROPER database November 1, 2017.
McClatchy-Marist Poll, February 2017. Retrieved June 1, 2017.
Michelangelo Landgrave and Alex Nowraste,”Criminal Immigrants: Their Numbers, Demographics, and Countries of Origin”, Cato Institute, March, 2015. Retrieved October 17, 2017.
Michelle Ye Hee Lee, The Washington Post, “Do 80 percent of Americans oppose sanctuary cities?,” March 2017. Retrieved June 1, 2017.
NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll, Hart Research Associates and Public Opinion Strategies, August 2017. Retrieved October 10, 2017.
Pew Research Center, “10 Demographic Trends Shaping the U.S. and the World,” April, 2017. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
Pew Research Center, “Summer 2017 Political Landscape Survey Final Topline,” June, 2017. Retrieved October 10, 2017.
Politico/Morning Consult Poll, February 2017. Retrieved November 1, 2017.
Politico/Morning Consult, “National Tracking Poll,” August 31-September 3, 2017. Retrieved November 1, 2017.
Quinnipiac University Poll, August 2017. Retrieved October 10, 2017. Rasmussen Reports, “National Survey of 1,000 U.S. Likely Voters,” March, 2017. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
Rasmussen Reports, “National Survey of 1,000 U.S. Likely Voters,” March, 2017. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
Simes, J., & Waters, M. (2014-01-01), “The Politics of Immigration and Crime,” In the Oxford Handbook of Ethnicity, Crime, and
Immigration: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 12 Oct. 2017.
YouGov Poll, “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” September 6-9, 2017, Retrieved October 3, 2017.
YouGov/Economist, September 3-5, 2017. Retrieved November 1, 2017.
Articles Cited: Media Content Analysis
The Boston Herald
The San Francisco Chronicle
Los Angeles Times
The Arizona Republic Tribune Review Greensboro Tribune Review PA
Star Tribune Minneapolis Metro Edition Minnesota Akron Beacon Journal The Dallas Morning News Voice of America News
The Hatchet: George Washington University
The Santa Clara
Register Star (Hudson, NY)
The Press Enterprise (Riverside, CA) Time-Picayune New Orleans
Fort Worth Star-Telegram St. Louis Post-Dispatch The Washington Times
The Miami Herald
FSView & Florida Flambeau: Florida State University The Daily Pennsylvanian: University of Pennsylvania The Philadelphia Daily News
The Daily Review (Morgan City, Louisiana) Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania) Daily World (Opelousas, Louisiana) Pittsburgh Tribune Review
Public Opinion (Chambersburg, Pennsylvania) WFIN - 1330 AM (Findlay, Ohio)
The Washington Times
Metro - Philadelphia
Winston-Salem Journal (North Carolina) The Recorder (Greenfield, Massachusetts) The Houston Chronicle