Victims or Villians? Examining the Social Claims for Undocumented Immigrants


A copy of the in class presentation;  Undocumented Immigrants

Preliminary research on the subject

 The audience is challenged to develop an  understanding of a complex array of factors when assessing social claims concerning undocumented immigrants in this country.  Among these are:

 Geographics – physical boundaries play a role in the circumstances.  i.e. Mexican and Latino immigrants have far greater access to the U. S. borders through land routes than immigrants from other areas that require travel by air and sea. 

 Demographics – the origin and destination of immigrants are affected by the proximity to international borders and entry points, i.e. Immigrants will tend to settle in states near  their entry points. Arizona and California have higher immigrant populations  than other states and therefore experience more of the difficulties detailed in the claims.

 Economics –  The disparity of local economies across international borders helps determine the motivations for immigrants to cross those borders. 1) The economic differences between Mexico and the United States provide a much more compelling reason to cross borders than those that exist between Canada and the United States. 2) Immigrants will be drawn to states with industries that profit by employing low wage workers. Service industry jobs near the borders, low tech food processors and agricultural jobs are common draws for undocumented workers looking for work. This drives both  companies and  immigrants to maneuver around existing immigration laws.

 Politics: Governments across the globe struggle to balance internal and international economic factors in order to create regulations that bring order to the immigration process.  The U. S. faces different challenges with each nationality in light of the other factors listed above.

 Rather than relying on claims-makers for my education , I tried to find some analytical and objective information to increase my understanding of the situation.   

 My preliminary research led me to a variety of sources:

 TheU.S. government provides objective information on the size, location and makeup of the immigrant population.

From the U. S Census Bureau

Nativity Status and Citizenship in US   2009

Place of birth of foreign born population 2009

The Foreign-Born Labor Force in theUnited States: 2007

From theU.S. bureau of labor statistics

Labor Force Characteristics of Foreign-Born Workers Summary

 The Urban Institute consolidated much of the census data providing a coherent, understandable snapshot of the immigrant population’s geographics and demographics.

Undocumented Immigrants: Facts and Figures

 Other useful sources were those that outlined claims and provided evidence that contradicted those claims. Aviva Chomsky’s book ‘They Take Our Jobs and 20 Other Myths about Immigration’ deconstructs popular immigration myths while providing an analysis that compares fact and popular opinion on immigration issues. 

 The Southern Poverty Law Center and About .com, both immigrant advocacy groups, provide similar facts vs. claims analyses.

 This research, admittedly, relies primarily on left leaning resources.  One reason is that the more conservative sites I looked at almost inevitably provided claims masquerading as ’facts’ with little or no referenced sources to back them up, leaving the audience with no way to determine the veracity of the information. See more on this later in the post

 The following CILE site illustrates the  point:

Citizens for immigration law enforcement: ‘Illegal immigration facts’.

This site tries to persuade the audience based on ideologies rather than substantive information

 Framing the claims

 In investigating the claims a pattern arose which enabled a categorization of the claims and claims-makers..

1) Those claims that were made at the individual level could be characterized by underlying tones of xenophobia, racism, nationalism and fear. Sponsored by conservative organizations these claims are often driven by strong personal emotion and unsupported allegations and less by objective evidence.  Typifying stories outline the problems caused by the presence of ‘illegals’. Their diagnostic frame sees the immigration problem  as one of individuals ignoring laws and bringing poverty and disease to this country. Their corresponding  prognostic frame proposes prosecution, imprisonment and deportation of ‘illegals’ as the solution.  A healthcare claim on the CILE site advocates sending immigrants with healthcare issues back to their own country. In their typifying story the problems experienced by a specific hospital caring for uninsured ‘illegals’ are not put into any societal context. Is the problem specific to this hospital? How many hospitals are similarly affected?  How did the ‘illegal patient’ come to be injured?  Perhaps working for less than minimum wage at a plant with substandard working conditions? None of this background is readily available.

The most radical, right leaning sites advocate a position that cultural diversity itself is evil and undermines successful nation states. Immigration is part of an evil scheme to establish an ‘Atheistic Materialistic Totalitarian Dictatorship’ and  illegal immigrants are responsible for bringing a litany of diseases into the country: ‘Tuberculosis, hepatitis, dengue fever, chagas, and even leprosy are being imported into the U.S. inside the bodies of illegal aliens…And you thought they only carried heroin-filled balloons inside their bodies!’  

 Certainly, these are blatant, fear  driven ( see Glassner), appeals to an audience that is easily swayed by emotions rather than facts. The motivational frames are entirely emotional.  These claims-makers often rely on religious references and graphic representations of the flag and  the constitution to help frame their claims.   

2) Institutional claims were those that saw government regulations and procedures as the problem.  They tend to be more rational and fact based in their claims. In their diagnostic arguments they strive to provide  factual evidence of the problems associated with poorly constructed laws which, intentionally or not, trap immigrants in untenable conditions. One well documented paper points to complex tax laws that do not make sense and may be viewed as a way to take advantage of the immigrant population that is unable to advocate for itself.

 Other claims discuss current healthcare regulations and how new universal healthcare laws will effect undocumented immigrants and their access to care.

 These claims generally reflect a thoughtful, logical gathering of objective evidence in support of a prognistic frame that advocates  institutional and regulatory reform as a solution for undocumented immigrant issues. This information would appeal to an informed, well educated, audience. The motivational frames are primarily logical.

3) Finally, Global claims look to the social problems created by a global, capitalist economic model as the cause of issues with immigrants. The claim is that Globalization allows large corporations to move about and to exploit less economically advantaged populations for increased profits.  Solutions, if considered, include the idealistic notion that change can be brought to the current world economic order. Motivational frames are altruistic and idealistic but not very realistic.   

The players –  victims and villains


Ironically, the undocumented immigrants are alternatively viewed as  villains in individual framed claims and victims in institutionally framed claims.  Conservative claims-makers, as expected,  view the situation from an individual attribute level portraying immigrants as the villains and U.S. citizens as the victims.  Liberal claim-makers portray social institutions as the villains with immigrants playing the role of victims.

 The Media

 A very brief search of two popular media sources seems to indicate that coverage of immigration issues is relatively unbiased. Certainly, a  broader, more extensive analysis , not allowed for in this context, is needed to confirm these conclusions.

 A Google inquiry of NY Times articles on the subject yields a variety articles detailing positive and negative views on the subject:

Illegal Immigrants are Bolstering Social Security with Billions

Senate Democrats Reintroduce Dream Act

Obams Courts Latino Voters with Immigration Speech

Utah Immigration Law is Blocked

New Call in Albany to Quit U.S. Immigration Program

U. S. Warns schools Against Checking Immigration Status 

A similar query from USA Today reflects both positive and negative aspects of immigration:

 Illegal immigrants might get stimulus jobs, experts say

Fewer illegal immigrants entering USA

Rising health care costs put focus on illegal immigrants

Illegal immigrants face threat of no college

 As might be expected, the media will tend to lay low to avoid controversy in this issue.  I would not expect the media to take a strong stand in this controversy as it is caught between appealing to the personal interests of its customers, the general populace, and the economic interests of its owners, big business, which in this case conflict..

 Audience beware

 The audience varies widely in this country as do the claims surrounding undocumented immigrants. The claims-makers are challenged to construct claims differently for different audiences in order to collect sufficient support. My analysis of the claims-making going on now in the U.S.  points to  some interesting contradictions.

 Conservative republicans, normally in favor of decreased govt. intervention and increased corporate profits, need to find a way to appease their popular base by demanding immigration reform while still protecting corporate interests which favor immigration. What seems to be happening is that the republicans make a show of implementing reform legislation, but then do little to actually enforce the regulations that are put in place. One paper looks at the pattern of immigration law enforcement as a source of the problems that currently exist in the U.S.

The Illegal Alien Problem: Enforcing the Immigration Laws

An individual writing on Yahoo! sums up the issue as follows :  “On one hand you ( the conservatives) say you want to defend our Constitution and its nation of laws. On the other hand you worship corporate profits. So when the time comes to stoping companies from hiring illegals you oppose prosecution. Who wins in the case of The United States Constitution vs. Corporate profits?”  

Another interesting example of ideological conflict is pointed out in Aviva Chomsky’s book. Folks who look to the US Constitution and its ideologies as a remedy for their claims face an ideological dilemma.  They are adamantly in favor of the constitutional claim that all ‘men’ are created equal but are not a bit uncomfortable with the notion that undocumented immigrants should be denied equal rights. Perhaps the dilemma could be resolved with a constitutional amendment that provides that all ‘US citizens’ are created equal.

 As illustrated  in the above discussion, a thoughtful audience audience is challenged to  ‘decode’ the diagnostics and prognostics, ideologies and facts, presented by the claims-makers to determine if their claims are valid and if the solutions actually  remedy the problem or just distract the audience from the real issues at hand. The issue is far more complex than I imagined but this research certainly allows me to more carefull  consider claims regarding immigration reform within our existing social contex.

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6 Responses to Victims or Villians? Examining the Social Claims for Undocumented Immigrants

  1. Lyndsey says:

    Undocumented immigrants is a complex topic, I think in part because claims-makers present claims from a variety of angles, many based on opinions and little objective data. Fear is certainly a driving force in the claims-making and it piggybacks on ignorance because society as a whole holds the viewpoint of “fear the unknown.”

    Your statement of “…the undocumented immigrants are alternatively viewed as villains in individual framed claims and victims in institutionally framed claims” shows the the stark contradictions in the claims being presented and certainly supports another of your conclusions: “The claims-makers are challenged to construct claims differently for different audiences in order to collect sufficient support.”

  2. Olga says:

    Immigration does seem to be a social problem that people feel very strongly about. I am prone to believe that the individual claims are made by people who are struggling with work at these times. People always want to blame someone else for their problems instead baking themselves or the system. But many of they illegal immigrants are working jobs no one else wants for far less then anyone else would. What I also find interesting s that most right wing people are in favor of globalization but globalization is a large force in fueling immigration. As long as globalization is happening there will be immigration (much f it from poorer nations). So unless we as a society are going to stop globalizing we must accept illegal immigrants and perhaps change regulations to raise their standards of life (so there is no benefit to have illegal or legal work) and then see what happens.

    • I’m not sure that preventing globalization is the right approach. There are undeniable advantages to corporate globalization and in a free society companies must be free to conduct business where they please. But its not all good news as we see with the immigration issues being experienced around the world. I see that, in a world where globalization exists, reasonable and fair accommodations need to be made for the inevitable immigration that accompanies globalization. Immigrants must be treated fairly and justly, not as scapegoats for the problems that globalization brings to ‘global’ society. Uncontrolled immigration is not specific to the United States but is a global issue. Perhaps an international agreement covering immmigrant rights would be appropriate.

  3. The fact is: Illegal immigrants do the jobs normal people wouldnt do!

    “Real estate experts say immigrants are an increasingly important part of the real estate market, and lenders are taking steps to accommodate them.”

    “Escalating Hate Violence Against Immigrants”

    Do we really have equal rights?

  4. This goes back to one of the fundamental ethical contradictions I pointed to in the conclusion. Many claims-makers wrap themselves in the U.S. Constitution and religious icons when disparaging immigrants. Do these Claims-makers believe in the democratic principle that all men are created equal or a self serving version of that principle that states instead that all ‘US citizens’ are created equal. How do they justify denying what they believe are fundamental human rights to immigrants simply because they are not citizens? What morality is the audience buying into when they support these claims?

    • ksgaherty says:

      I really like that you noted this idea in the Constitution of claims makers citing the Constitution to deny illegal immigrants rights without realizing that same Constitution says that all men are created equal. ALL of them. It was also a very important part of your project looking into the motives of all the claims-makers. The idea of who are the claims-makers seems to be one of the most important factors. This seems to be a very push-button topic but is mostly used as a political tool to gain votes. Those who have not done the extensive research on this rely on the hearsay around them that continues these myths of illegals hurting our economy and so forth. You made many great finds in your statistical research and it is great to have those tools to combat those who want to go with what they hear rather than the facts. This idea is why it seems that the audience can be persuaded with the hierarchy of credibility being very high. There are some people who are pro-immigration and others that are against foreigners and that seems to determine the beliefs. Neither side pays much attention to the counter-evidence, they just argue the same tired points. This is why this won’t be solved for quite some time.

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