Immigration is a significant subject that shapes the history of most countries. In the United States, immigration has contributed to diversified challenges that affect both immigrants and citizens. However, the rise in the number of divisive issues has contributed to the rise of a national debate that sparks a need for policies to respond to the challenges of immigration.
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Although media contributes to shaping policies on immigration, it influences people’s attitudes toward immigration and immigrants. Immigration is closely linked to the rise of criminal activities in the US, and the media plays a central role in determining the direction of this debate. The main aim of this paper is to evaluate the media view in shaping immigration.
The position of media in shaping perceptions concerning immigrants
Media is a significant tool through which the public obtains information. However, the manner in which information is presented influences the viewer’s opinions significantly. In the formulation of immigration policies, public perceptions play a crucial role in influencing policymaking decisions (Demo, 2004). Therefore, the manner in which the media presents the issue of immigration influences the direction of the law.
Using media to facilitate stereotyping of immigrants
Contemporary society has a high prevalence of adverse attitudes toward immigrants. However, the media is to “blame for the misrepresentation of immigrants, thus leading to the negative opinions and attitudes” (Deaux, Reid, Martin & Bikmen, 2006, p. 124). The American population comprises of people from different ethnic backgrounds.
However, most native inhabitants harbor uninformed perceptions regarding immigration. The complicated political and socioeconomic aspects of immigration generate some sort of threat to the people (Demo, 2004). Furthermore, the move by the federal government to grant permanent citizenship to some of the immigrants compounds the threats associated with immigrants.
Recent surveys that include opinion polls across the United States indicate that most Americans advocate the implementation of policies that restrict immigration (Munro, 2014). However, this trend has been prevalent in the past, as highlighted by a study conducted early in the 1990s. According to the findings of the study, approximately 60% of the respondents disregarded immigrants, and thus they subjected them to hostility (Deaux et al., 2006).
However, most researchers blame the media for failing to educate people concerning political, social, and economic factors that contribute to the migration process. Most Americans hold the belief that immigrants move to the US in search of improved economic standards and space for settlement (Fryberg et al., 2011).
In the recent past, the natives have dominated the industry of mass media in the United States. However, currently, the trend is changing with the incorporation of television stations and newspapers that pass information to the readers in languages other than English (Fryberg et al., 2011). With reference to the media’s ability to reach a significant proportion of the population, its influence across the country remains significantly high.
In most cases, the media provides contradicting information in relation to the immigrants’ contributions. Although some forms of media highlight positive contributions of immigrants, the majority have failed to highlight the significant immigrants’ contributions across different sectors in the country. For example, towards the end of the 1990s, studies published in the leading magazines advocated the implementation of strict policies of immigration.
The period between the 1880s and the 1990s was characterized by high rates of immigration into the United States. A significant proportion of the immigrants comprised the Latinos and Mexicans (Soderlund, 2007). Most Americans perceived Mexicans and other immigrants as economic and social burdens as they hardly assimilated into the American culture.
With reference to such perceptions, most magazines focused on publishing surveys concerning the number of immigrants that the government should allow settling in the United States. Recently, the media subscribes to racist patterns, as indicated through excessive coverage of immigrants of Hispanic and Asian descent (Soderlund, 2007).
The media uses different forms of communication to facilitate the stereotyping of immigrants. From the past, media has had a perception that immigrants are a socio-economic problem; hence, their negative portrayal (Valentino, Brader & Jardina, 2013). In most instances, the media focuses on adverse news and publications involving Mexican and Latin immigrants. The media portrays these immigrants as people without education, coupled with the lack of skills to air their grievances. In most programs involving immigrants, the media focuses on images that compound the misperceptions concerning immigrants (Soderlund, 2007).
The majority of television programs air issues that contain images of immigrants caught as illegal aliens or criminals. Through such programs, the media fails to draw a distinction between the reality and the documentation of images in cinema. Although different forms of media have increased their focus on immigrants, they highlight stories in which the migrants are involved in either criminal activities or affirmative action (Valentino et al., 2013).
For example, a survey conducted between 1993 and 1995 helped to uncover the representation of the immigrants by the media. During the survey on some of the influential newspapers in North Carolina, analysis of graphical and textual contents of newspapers revealed that the American society portrayed Latin and Mexican immigrants as either victim of circumstances or criminals (Valentino et al., 2013). Portraying the immigrants as victims denies them the strength and willingness to survive amidst patronizing images of immigrants as constructed by the media. During documentation and airing of news, most television stations air videos of unregistered immigrants as they cross into the United States illegally (Soderlund, 2007).
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Comprehensive review of the media in the United States indicates that the media hardly highlights positive and constructive contributions of immigrants. This sentiment is evidenced through the non-involvement of immigrants as lead characters in Hollywood programs and as models in advertisements. Through such stereotypes, the media succeeds in drawing a racial distinction between the Native Americans and the immigrants (Fryberg et al., 2011).
Media and immigration policies
Media as a persuasive tool and consequences of media’s perceptions
Media uses both central and peripheral routes to explain information and manipulate people’s opinions concerning the issue at hand. Concerning the debate of immigration, media uses primed thoughts and framed stories to influence opinions of the public concerning immigrants. Media, as a social institution, transmits primed cultural frames concerning immigrants. The public largely relies on the transmitted frames to evaluate policies concerning immigration (Soderlund, 2007).
Mostly, media covers destitute situations concerning immigrants. Such information affirms the prevailing perception concerning immigrants, which influences immigration policies significantly. For example, towards the end of the 1990s, media reported images of destitute immigrants. From the coverage, the majority of the people conceived perceptions regarding the needy nature of immigrants, thus leading to the overhaul of rules that governed immigration (Bender, 2010).
Communication through the media entails a significant tool through which people evaluate policies on immigration. In most circumstances, the media relies on particular experiences to frame reports concerning immigrants and trends in immigration (Bender, 2010). The use of a single occurrence to highlight an experience amplifies reactions of the public depending on the political predisposition concerning immigration. Through the persuasive nature of the media, Americans form different categorization of immigrants depending on the social stereotypes as enhanced by media. However, categorizations made by the Americans tend to subjugate immigrants as Americans hold immigrants as people of low status (Munro, 2014).
Some aspects of categorizing immigrants are correct, but they are subject to bias. Bias rises in circumstances in which a group credits success to itself and blames another for its failures. For example, recent studies indicated that a significant proportion of the Americans advocated the identification of people based on their ethnic backgrounds (Munro, 2014). However, the immigrants rejected the idea of ethnic profiling and advocated social diversity to ensure equality between Americans and immigrants. Such differences lead to ethnic prejudice that seeks to insubordinate immigrants. In such situations, Americans attribute their successes to their ethnic background, whereas the immigrants blame the nature of social structures for the challenges that they encounter (Valentino et al., 2013).
The media plays a significant role in enhancing prejudice against immigrants as it portrays the nature of conflict amongst immigrants as they compete for the limited resources in a foreign land. Such negative stereotypes create an opportunity for the dominant groups to exploit immigrants (Deaux et al., 2006). Additionally, the media exposes cultural differences between the dominant groups and minorities.
Such differences encourage hostility as both groups compete to maintain their status quo and position in society (Munro, 2014). Furthermore, such differences form a significant part of public opinion concerning the threats of immigrants to the economic interests of the natives. Considering that most natives and policymakers believe that immigrants increase competition for the limited economic resources, there are high chances of rejecting non-restrictive immigration laws and policies (Fryberg et al., 2011).
There is a need for the people to care about public perception concerning immigration. First, public perceptions can lead to divisions in society along the lines of racial and ethnic backgrounds. Public perceptions that tend to insubordinate immigrants lead to the emergence of racial grouping in society (Soderlund, 2007). Additionally, people’s perceptions depict some aspects of in-group and out-group effects in the categorizations of different groups of people within society.
Based on the out-group effects, dominant groups classify immigrants in their own groups, which hinder diversity within society. The categorization of people based on groupings contributes to the generation of superiority, thus the emergence of social hierarchy and classes. In these groups, the dominating group-non-immigrants rank immigrants in the social hierarchy; hence, the emergence of hatred among people from different ethnic backgrounds (Deaux et al., 2006).
People’s perceptions lead to the subjugation of immigrants as they feature at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Such subjugations push immigrants to propagate their social ranking by indulging in criminal activities for malicious intentions (Soderlund, 2007). Furthermore, subjugated groups develop intolerance for the dominant groups, which affects the implementation of democratic principles. The interaction between subjugated and dominant groups contributes to the rise of psychological distress amongst people from different ethnic groups (Paxton & Mughan, 2006).
Additionally, media and public perceptions influence legislation significantly. The media may skew decisions of policymakers as they rely on the public perceptions, as enhanced by media to make decisions. For example, in the United States, media brands immigrant groups that fail to conform to the American culture as detrimental groups (Soderlund, 2007).
Social grouping of immigrants depends on people’s prejudicial perceptions toward them. However, the move by the media to propagate and maintain such perceptions propagate skewed representation of immigrants. The skewed portrayal of immigrants by the media suggests that immigrants are of lesser significance as compared to the natives. With such propagations by the media, policymakers implement policies and legislation that tend to place immigrants at a lower position in the social hierarchy as compared to the dominant groups (Lau & Schlesinger, 2005).
Mass media influences on anti-immigrant attitudes
Between 2009 and 2011, researchers embarked on surveys to establish the extents to which mass media influences anti-immigrants attitudes among native citizens. A research conducted across Spain confirmed that negative information by media in relation to immigrants contributes to the formation of negative anti-immigrants sentiments (Schluter & Davidov, 2013). Furthermore, the study affirmed that the group size of immigrants determines the level of perceived threats posed by the immigrants (Schluter & Davidov, 2013).
With the prevalence of studies that confirm perceptions of threats, media perceptions further propagate anti-immigrant hate crimes. The majority of people from the dominant groups in the United States advocate the implementation of restrictive policies to govern immigration. The media moves further to depict immigrants as sources of competition in the economy and conflicts in politics (Soderlund, 2007). Strenuous relationships between immigrants and the dominant groups arise as the two compete for the limited resources.
Negative stereotyping of immigrants by the media forms the basis through which policymakers implement legislations that hinder immigrants from accessing some sectors of the economy in a move to control competition. Furthermore, perceptions of the media contribute to strained relations between the dominant groups and immigrants through highlighting cultural differences within the groups. Differences in cultural differences propagate hatred, thus leading to the emergence of hate crimes between immigrants and anti-immigrants. In such a case, both groups resort to violence for individual security and protect their political, social, and economic interests (Fryberg et al., 2011).
Most scholars contend that people assume aggressive behaviors to counter undesirable changes and defend their positions in society. With such sentiments, anti-immigrants view immigrants as threats to the economic interests of the native citizens (Stacey, Carbone-López & Rosenfeld, 2011). Mostly, hostile actions prevail during the periods of recession. Additionally, the media propagates perceptions that most immigrants escape from adverse economic conditions in their countries. Considering the performance of the economy and the level of dominance of immigrants in a country, policymakers determine the nature of immigration policy (open or restrictive policy) to support (Fryberg et al., 2011).
Currently, the trends surrounding the causes of hate crimes between immigrants and natives have changed significantly. The majority of the native citizens embrace the idea of competition, which has led to the reduction of the rate of conflicts among people from different ethnic groups (Bender, 2010). However, the failure of the minority groups to conform to the culture of the Americans continues to spark anger between Americans and immigrants.
The culture of Americans advocates the aspect of homogeneity, which allows standardized customs amongst people. In case the immigrants’ practices violate the American culture, such violations propagate perceived prejudices concerning immigrants (Deaux et al., 2006). Additionally, some of these prejudices are worsened by policies formulated through the over-reliance of conventions as stipulated by the culture of the dominant groups. Mass media highlights social conventions of a culture and portrayals of such conventions skew decisions made by policymakers. However, policies on immigration depend on whether or not the media supports immigration.
Anti-immigrant attitudes as propagated through the media contribute to the implementation of border controls that increase the level of government expenditure. The media affirms perceptions of anti-immigrants by enhancing negative stereotypes connected to the immigrants (Soderlund, 2007). Such perceptions push policymakers to adopting policies to control the entry of immigrants into the host country. Some controls include hiring immigration and police officers to monitor movements across borders. However, such controls remain ineffective as the population of immigrants already in the host country keep rising.
With reference to the current debate on immigration, media plays significant roles in shaping people’s perceptions concerning immigrants. As the media participates in dispatching information concerning the debate on immigration, most people are exposed to information that either affirms or adds to their perceptions towards immigrants. Perceptions of the media and people contribute to the public opinions that influence the formation of government policies. With the consideration of social, political, and racial relationships among people from different groups, media acts as a persuasive tool that can manipulate the policymakers’ decisions. Therefore, the immigration-crime debate hinges mainly on the media’s perception on the issue.
Brief description of sources
Demo, A. (2004). Policy and media in immigration studies. Rhetoric & Public Affairs, 7(2), 215-229.
In this article, the author reviews the state of immigration policy in the United States by analyzing various books that address the issue of immigration and media.
Bender, W. (2010). Compassionate Immigration Reform. Fordham Urban Law, 38(1), 107-128.
The scholarly article reviews ways through which media can facilitate the formulation of unbiased legislation to govern immigrants.
Fryberg, S., Stephens, N., Covarrubias, R., Markus, H., Carter, E., Laiduc, G., Salido, A. (2011). How the media frames the immigration debate: the critical role of location and politics. Analysis of Social Issues and Public Policy, 12(1), 96-112.
Frames et al. investigate the role of media in shaping the immigration debate based on locational politics.
Deaux, K., Reid, A., Martin, D., & Bikmen, N. (2006). Ideologies of diversity and inequality: predicting collective action in groups varying in ethnicity and immigrant status. Journal of Political Psychology, 27(1), 123-125.
In this article, the authors review various ideologies and their contribution to inequality among immigrants from different ethnic groups in the United States.
Soderlund, S. (2007). The role of news media in shaping and transforming the public perception of Mexican immigration and the laws involved. Law & Psychology Review, 31(1), 167-177.
The study evaluates ways in which the mass media contribute in affirming perceptions concerning Mexican immigrants and the formulation of immigration laws on immigration in the United States.
Munro, V. (2014). Hate crime in the media: A history. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
In this book, Munro examines ways through which the media enhances hate crimes between immigrants and native citizens of the host country.
Valentino, N., Brader, T., & Jardina, A. (2013). Immigration opposition among U.S. Whites: general ethnocentrism or media priming of attitudes about Latinos? Political Psychology, 34(2), 149-166
The study evaluates the contributions of the media in shaping attitudes of the Whites concerning Latin immigrants in the United States.
Paxton, P., & Mughan, A. (2006). What’s to fear from immigrants? Creating assimilationist threat scale. Journal of Political Psychology, 27(3), 549-550.
In this article, Paxton and Mughan dispel the notion of threats posed by immigrants and devise ways through which policy makers can measure the extents of threats to formulate immigration laws that embrace diversity.
Lau, R., & Schlesinger, M. (2005). Policy frames, metaphorical reasoning, and support for public policies. Journal of Political Psychology, 26(5), 77-79.
This study advocates the use of critical reasoning prior to making decisions and formulating policies based on perceptions propagated by the media.
Schluter, E., & Davidov, E. (2013). Contextual sources of perceived group threat: Immigrant group size, negative immigration-related news reports, and their interaction, Spain 1996-2007. European Sociology Review, 29(2), 179-191.
This study reviews the effects of mass media on anti-immigrant attitudes through a survey of the population of immigrants in Spain.
Stacey, M., Carbone-López, K., & Rosenfeld, R. (2011). Demographic change and ethnically motivated crimes: The impacts on anti-Hispanic hate crimes in the United States. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 27(3), 278-298.
In this article, Stacey et al. evaluate the changes in ethnic composition of immigrants coupled with how crimes motivated by ethnic profiling affect both immigrants and natives in the US.