Immigration Narratives: First Impressions

Hello everyone!

During my first week of research, I analyzed the immigration narratives being told by the New York Times. This meant that I classified each immigration-related article as an opinion piece or a news piece, assigned it to one of five broad categories such as “Border Crossing” or “Government Policy,” and wrote down a quick summary of each story. Then, I noted whether the article carried a neutral, encouraging, or discouraging message to potential immigrants from Mexico and Central America. Each article was sourced from the time period between January 2018 and June 2019. 250 articles later, here are some of my main takeaways.

First, some raw data. 138 of the NYT articles (55.2%) carried a discouraging message to potential immigrants, 44 (17.6%) carried an encouraging message, and 68 articles (27.2%) were neither encouraging nor discouraging to immigrants. In terms of subject matter, 42.8% of the articles fell under the category of “Border Crossing/Enforcement,” a theme which dominated the coverage. Another 24.8% of the articles centered around government policy, which meant that two-thirds of all the articles fit under two of the five possible categories. The rest of the articles were classified as crime-related, economy-related, or put into a catch-all “other” category.

One of my most interesting findings was related to opinion pieces. Overall, there were 44 opinion pieces, making up 17.6% of all NYT articles. Of these, 14 carried encouraging sentiment, and 25 carried discouraging sentiment. However, the discouraging pieces were NOT espousing anti-immigrant views; rather, they were written by people who seemed to be sympathetic to the migrant plight. The reason they were classified as discouraging was because many of them would describe in detail the trauma inflicted by family separations or the racially-tinged rhetoric of the president. Although the writers clearly condemned the mistreatment of migrants, their horrified tones didn’t change the fact that immigration policies were becoming more restrictive. In this way, even the opinion pieces written by pro-immigrant Americans were generally discouraging to potential immigrants.

I also found that a breakdown of the 13 crime-related articles was particularly intriguing. While four of the articles were neutral, four were encouraging to potential immigrants and five were discouraging. All but one discouraging article described how the president and other outlets made a strong association between immigrants and crime and spread anti-immigrant sentiment. On the other hand, only one of the encouraging crime-related articles directly contradicted the claim that immigrants commit more crimes than native-born Americans. In fact, one of the “crime” articles that was encouraging to potential immigrants was classified as such because it detailed how easy it is for undocumented immigrants to skirt the law and obtain fake social security cards. Overall, it seems as though the (false) link between immigrants and criminal behavior is alive and well.

As I head into the second week, I anticipate a higher level of difficulty. This will be the week that I analyze Honduran and Mexican newspapers, so some stories may not translate perfectly. Even still, I’m most excited for this part of my research, because there is less existing literature about the immigration narratives told by migrants’ countries of origin. Tune in next week for some comparisons, contrasts, and a little Venn diagram action if I’m feeling ambitious.