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The Media's Unbalanced Portrayal

By Dan Ott, IHRC Blog Coordinator.

Media portrayals of immigration issues frequently dehumanize the actual migrants by presenting them as cultural parasites or transforming them into statistics.

I’m Dan Ott, an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota and the coordinator of IHRC’s “Contemporary Perspectives on Immigration.? I have been responsible over the last two semesters for finding articles related to immigration for our weekly student and professor columnists. I have noticed while scouring the news that there is no shortage of articles about immigration policy enforcement, about policy reform and about presidential hopefuls that want to chip in their two cents on policy reform. Noticeably missing from the media coverage are stories about the migrants and immigrants themselves—the human stories beyond commentary on the most recent ICE raid or border bust. Never having to look that human migrant in the face allows fanatic xenophobes to believe that all immigrants are degenerate criminals. Media coverage that ignores the human stories further alienates immigrants (legal or otherwise) from the majority culture.

All this “news? does not encourage understanding but rather vilification of people looking for a better life. These people are human beings, not simply statistics or criminals, but rather valuable parts of our society and economy. Dehumanization of migrants leads to exploitation of them, (such as this recent case in Florida or this one in California ). It pushes migrants further into the shadows to allow further exploitation to occur or it outright drives them away. I’m sure it doesn’t help matters much, that some members of the ICE take their jobs lightly, as at least one recent story suggests.

This week, there was only one prominent piece that handled the effects of the changing political debate on immigrant culture. It details the immigrant reaction to New York Governor, Eliot Spitzer’s wavering on his promise of drivers licenses for illegal immigrants. The article enlightens the reader on how immigration policy and debate actually affects the real people that the politics are geared towards. Readers need more of this kind of media coverage in order to form balanced opinions. Stories like this one bring the humanity back into immigration coverage and tell the story of how policy and political debates actually affect the people it is designed to regulate. If there were more stories like this one, maybe migrants wouldn’t seem so different from the rest of a society that has been historically constructed of people just like them--immigrants.


Dan Ott is a Senior Undergraduate of History at the University of Minnesota. He has worked at the IHRC for the past 11 months as a blog coordinator.