Skip to main content

People, not pawns

The U.S. immigration system is fundamentally broken. From governors using asylum seekers as pawns to the militarization of our border to the rhetoric the media spews, we have lost sight of the humans at the center of it all.

In September 2022, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis orchestrated a flight to Massachusetts for 49 Venezuelan migrants in Texas. Although government officials had carefully planned the relocation efforts, they didn’t inform these asylum seekers about their destination. After over 1,000 miles of air travel, the migrants were thrown into the media frenzy and used as political pawns rather than recognized as human beings who had suffered great hardship. 

This isn’t the only time politicians have participated in dehumanizing efforts against individuals seeking haven in the U.S. The U.S.-Mexico border that we know today is a far cry from the rich history of the southwestern borderland region. The U.S. and Mexico have long-term political and economic connections, but the atrocities our federal and state governments have committed threaten the two nations’ relationship. Throughout the past century, the U.S. has dedicated incredible amounts of capital and resources to militarizing our border. Through this process, government officials have exhausted the possibility of equitable entry into our country. 

Prevention through deterrence in our immigration system is conducive with acts of dehumanization. The rhetoric surrounding the individuals crossing our southern border has consisted of developing threat narratives, turning public opinion away from empathy and onto expulsion.

What’s more, growing media support over the years for anti-immigration policies has led to a decrease in empathy for those suffering the throws of the immigration process. In 2017, Media Matters for America published a study that analyzed major news outlets’ coverage of immigration topics. It found that outlets such as and Breitbart were covering topics such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and sanctuary cities at rates that far exceeded their counterparts. Not only that, these platforms’ rhetoric was overwhelmingly negative, contributing to a growing body of misinformation surrounding the policy area. 

Chloe Simon, researcher at Media Matters for America, said, “Fox News has a well-documented history of egregious immigration reporting and coverage. In 2021, over a 12-week period, Fox fearmongered and complained about migrants in 693 segments.”

Modern political rhetoric has squandered the stories of those crossing the border. Too often, political takes are centered in the conversation of immigration, and the experiences of those who have migrated nNorth are swept under the rug.

All of this has come at a great human cost. In 2022 alone, over 800 migrants lost their lives in their journeys to the border. Thousands of children as young as toddlers were separated from their families by border detention. And yet, empathy is absent in U.S. policies, ranging from our most progressive to our most conservative presidential administrations, as well as in political and media discussions about immigration.

Communicating the Human Experience

It’s time to refocus on the human beings at the heart of immigration and their personal experiences and stories. As a company, we at Spitfire not only understand the impact of effective communication, but we center the human experience in our work. Our collaborations with organizations such as Upwardly Global and the Center for Media Justice have demonstrated the importance of communicating how anti-immigrant rhetoric has influenced the public. 

Looking to the future, it is important to engage in storytelling practices that highlight the experiences of individuals and families whose lives have been impacted by border militarization. These are families of mixed status navigating the health care system, spouses separated by deportation and children caged in detention facilities. As progressive communicators, we hold the power to counter the growing Latinx -threat narratives plaguing immigration reform. We have the power to encourage empathy in public opinion, reaching even the north-most corners of our nation. As a public, we must not allow geographical distance to become disconnection.

This blog was written by Spitfire Intern Allison Keeley

This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 13, 2023 at 08:13 am and is filed under Ethical and visual storytelling and Frame, narrative and message development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.