Losing the Immigration Battle – Failed Strategies

By Ronald W. Mortensen on August 16, 2010

In my previous blog, I argued that despite years of effort, we have failed to make the significant gains that we would have hoped for in the battle over illegal immigration. In fact, the best we can say is that we have held the proponents of illegal immigration in check and fought them to a standstill over amnesty.

This blog looks at the reasons behind our lack of success.

Over the years, the supporters of illegal aliens have maintained the upper hand in the fight over illegal immigration by relying almost uniquely on highly personal, emotional arguments that (a) focus on the plight of the noble illegal immigrant who is portrayed as the ultimate victim and (b) that vilify those who oppose illegal immigration.

Supporters of illegal aliens recognize that the average American devotes little time to political issues and simply does not have the time or inclination to read long factual studies or to evaluate complex arguments either for or against illegal immigration.

Therefore, the advocates for illegal aliens, with the full support of the media, paint highly personal portraits of illegal aliens and their children in order to play on the compassion and generosity of Americans.

Advocates for illegal aliens also understand that most elected officials don't have the time to become fully educated on immigration issues and that the easiest way to win their votes is by playing on their emotions.

Thus, the advocates have the American-born children of illegal aliens talk directly to elected officials about the anguish suffered when a family member or friend is deported, about living in constant fear that their parents will be deported, and about constantly worrying that one day they may be forced to leave the United States in order to remain with their parents.

They have outstanding students who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents tell about how they are unable to further their education due to the high cost of out-of-state tuition. And they have religious leaders, surrounded by illegal aliens, talk about compassion and social justice while sending the message that anyone who would dare to speak out against these good people is either un-Christian or racist or both.

At the same time, those of us engaged in the battle against illegal immigration all too often play into our opponents hands by focusing on cold, hard factual arguments and on abstract concepts such as protecting the American way and the rule of law.

When we do address the human side of illegal immigration, we too often come across as tough, unforgiving, and uncaring because of the way we frame the issue in largely legalistic terms.

Just how effective the emotional argument is can be seen in the way the supporters of illegal immigrants portray themselves and how they define those of us who oppose illegal immigration.

The advocates for illegal aliens portray themselves as generous, compassionate, highly morale humanitarians standing up for innocent, downtrodden people who are struggling heroically to overcome poverty and racism in order to provide a better life for themselves and a better future for their innocent children.

They define us as stingy, mean-spirited, cruel, racists who are totally devoid of compassion for good, honest, law-abiding people who are just trying to make better lives for themselves and their families.

On the other hand, we do a lousy job at defining the supporters of illegal immigration.

For example, when we label the supporters of illegal aliens as bleeding hearts and compassion mongers, we seem to be confirming that we lack compassion and we lose the support of Americans who don’t necessarily like illegal immigration but who see illegal aliens as basically good people struggling to do what is best for their families.

When we emphasize our traditional hot button topics, the other side often turns our efforts to its advantage.

For example, when we focus on legalities ("What part of illegal don't you understand?"), the other side asks Americans if they would obey our immigration laws if they were raising their children in an impoverished foreign country with no health care, no education and no future.

When we talk about the about language, borders, and culture and about preserving the American way of life, the other side labels us as selfish, radicals, xenophobes, bigots, racists, and right-wing extremists who deny others the opportunity to achieve the same life that we enjoy.

When we talk about the high cost of illegal immigration, we are accused of depriving innocent children of an education, of food, and of health care.

When we speak out against illegal aliens taking jobs and driving down wages, the proponents of illegal aliens say that we are driven by fear and that we are callously denying good people the right to provide a better life for their families by doing jobs that Americans won't do.

When we produce long reports heavy on facts and figures but short on emotion and lacking the human element, the advocates for illegal aliens respond with their own studies that refute our studies. However, their studies often go one step further and assert that their data shows that we are driven by hatred and racism.

While we struggle to get our message out, the mainstream media works hand-in-hand with the proponents of illegal immigrants, going so far as to construct and pay for push polls that are specifically designed to get the results desired. The results are then reported as factual, objective measures.

If we focus specifically on illegal immigration, the advocates for illegal aliens emotionalize the issue by lumping both illegal and legal immigrants together under the title of "immigrants," accusing us of being against all immigrants.

The bottom line is that the supporters of illegal immigration have been exceptionally effective in using emotion and in defining their opponents in order to win the immigration battle.

So what is the solution? It is certainly not more of the same. Rather, we must add emotion and the human element to our arguments because when this happens, the game changes.

That will be the focus of my next blog.