A Biased Portrayal of Immigrants to the United States

Authored by Liz O’Malley

Photo is an excerpt from the Consular Officers’ Association’s newsletter, The Consular Packet, dated January 13, 1975. Courtesy of The Center for Migration Studies of New York’s Arthur P. (“Skip”) Endres Papers Collection.

In 1975, immigration in the United States was a prominent topic of political discussion. This was partially due to how “the Immigration Act of 1965…resulted in increased immigration” (Irwin 1972, 23). The media also reported the Senate’s rejection of H.R. 982 in 1973 as a failure (Hohl 1975). 

In keeping with the political news of the time, The Consular Officers’ Association covered the topic of immigration in the January 13, 1975 edition of their newsletter, The Consular Packet. They summarized an ABC program entitled “Illegal Aliens-The Gate Crashers” which aired on January 3, 1975. The summary repeatedly portrays immigrants without proper documentation as a burden, particularly economically. Although the program is ostensibly about immigrants from various countries, Hispanic immigrants are the population mentioned most. News media continues this portrayal today, depicting “Latinos as unassimilable, foreign, and an economic threat” (Brown, Jones, and Becker 2018, 122).

Researchers have found that when covering immigration stories, “outlets rely on far more nonimmigrant sources and are prone to sensationalizing their coverage” (Estrada, Ebert, and Lore 2016, 557). When an influential media outlet such as ABC runs a program focusing on immigration mainly from the perspective of non-immigrants, they further stigmatize views of immigration. Both the ABC program and The Consular Packet summary would have benefitted from a more balanced approach of this topic. Additionally, the summary repeatedly refers to people in terms that can be viewed as derogatory. Although they were quoting the program, this type of language should not be used in reporting. In recent years, “advocates have preferred to use the term ‘undocumented’ instead of ‘illegal,’ arguing that the latter tilts the debate in favor of restriction” (Merolla, Ramakrishnan, and Haynes 2013, 790).

Ultimately, this biased form of news coverage first run by ABC and then parroted by The Consular Packet directly opposes the Vincentian value of ensuring the “voices of the under and the misrepresented are heard and understood” (Angel n.d., 6). To do better by Vincentian values in the future, these documents must be preserved so that we all can learn from past misrepresentations. By recognizing where these reports fell short, we can better advocate for marginalized communities today.

References

Angel, Christine M. n.d. “Information Representation through the Vincentian Lens of Transparency: Providing the Under and Misrepresented with a Voice within Our Cultural Heritage Records.” Evolution of Teaching Philosophy: 1–7. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1VkY3xbRv1Ikuny5LApVmVWmSiZ81OTtUyJ6aSl_I3xo/.

Brown, Hana E., Jennifer A. Jones, and Andrea Becker. 2018. “The Racialization of Latino Immigrants in New Destinations: Criminality, Ascription, and Countermobilization.” RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences 4, no. 5 (August): 118-40.  http://doi:10.7758/rsf.2018.4.5.06.

Estrada, Emily P., Kim Ebert, and Michelle Halla Lore. 2016. “Apathy and Antipathy: Media Coverage of Restrictive Immigration Legislation and the Maintenance of Symbolic Boundaries.” Sociological Forum 31, no. 3 (September): 555-76. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24878783.

Hohl, Donald H. 1975. “U.S. Immigration Legislation–Prospects in the 94th Congress.” The International Migration Review 9, no. 1 (Spring): 59-62. https://doi-org.jerome.stjohns.edu/10.2307/3002531

Irwin, Richard. 1972. “Changing Patterns of American Immigration.” The International Migration Review 6, no. 1 (Spring): 18-31. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3002276

Merolla, Jennifer, S. Karthick Ramakrishnan, and Chris Haynes. 2013. “”Illegal,” “Undocumented,” or “Unauthorized”: Equivalency Frames, Issue Frames, and Public Opinion on Immigration.” Perspectives on Politics 11, no. 3 (September): 789-807. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43279647.

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