Through the embrace of multiculturalism in the U.S. and the policy changes on immigration, the United States has become the country with the largest immigrant population. Since the year of 1960, immigration population has increased from 9.7 million to 43.2 million in 2015. The represents the increase from 5.4% of the total U.S. population to 13.4%. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 or the Hart-Cellar Act abolished the quota system that was intended to ensure European American Majority and allow immigrants from different countries in order to have a diverse community. Another aim of immigration was to attract skilled labors and allowing families to reunite in our country. With the growth in immigrants’ population, concerns over immigration have become a problem in mass media.
Immigration issues are universal in both the U.S. and western countries. According to Esses and Medianu, “immigration policies and the treatment of immigrants and refugees are contentious issues involving uncertainty and unease” (2013). People are often uncertain about the cost and benefits allowing immigrants to settle in the country. As a result, the media expanded on the uncertainty to transform mundane events into newsworthy events that can be sold to the public. However, the depictions were often being negative due to public’s preference and it may also not be depicting the truth. Chavez analyzed the covers of major American publications between 1965 and 1999 and found the sense of threat about the immigrants and they were portrayed as invaders (2001). Esses and Medianu also focused on how nationality played an important role in promoting dehumanization of Immigrants. Nationality was weakened for Americans due to increase in immigrants’ population, they developed the sense of uncertainty about their nation because of invasion of outsiders. Xenophobia and Nativism are often produced due to the fear of outsiders and they also played an important role in promoting dehumanization. Dehumanizing the immigrants can protect their privileged positions and keep the immigrants in a lower status. The studies they have conducted suggested that the uncertainty paired with media’s negative portrayal can lead to extreme negative reactions to immigrants and dehumanize them by removal from human race (Esses and Medianu 2013). Although dehumanization may have benefit for the host population in that they maintained their status quo, it is harmful to the group being dehumanized and they may lose their identity.
The media also amplified the potential danger of immigration because it provided a route for terrorists to enter the country. Studies of the media portrayal of Tamil asylum seekers arriving in Canada in 2010 show that negative portrayal of immigrants and refugees serves to “fan the flames of distrust and anxiety” (Esses and Medianu, 2013). As a result, the majority of Canadians viewed the refugees as potential criminals and the refugee policy was reformed. The mass shooting in San Bernardino in 2015 also alarmed people about the use of Social Media by terrorist groups. The terrorists used private messages in social media to exchange information. In response to the fear and distrust created by the media, the Department of Homeland Security started to collect social media information on all immigrants entering the United States. It has been a controversial topic in that immigrants felt being monitored and it has weakened their sense of belonging because they were separated from the community and being treated as outsiders.
Cisneros’s article in 2008 also emphasized the negative impact of media on immigrants. Differs from Esses and Medianu’s view on how media portrayed immigrants as invaders and criminals, he focused on the metaphor of “Immigrant as Pollutant” (569). According to Cisneros, metaphors create conventional understandings by connecting phenomena with familiar cultural assumptions and experiences. In the context of immigrants, medias often used metaphors to either portray them as objects and threats to society or linking immigration to physical and social ills (573). This negative portrayal often has a big impact in shaping public’s understanding on immigrants with the power of metaphors. One example that illustrated the power of metaphoric representation of migrants in media was California’s Proposition 187. The act restricted undocumented immigrants from accessing social services such as medical care and public education. In order to pass the act, the campaign accomplished to spread the danger of “illegal” immigration by characterizing them through metaphors of “pollution,” “infection,” and “infestation” (572). They characterized illegal immigrants as aliens that carry diseases and they will eventually contaminate our community. This illustrates how media can play an important role in shaping public’s view. Furthermore, the media also imposed the metaphor of “balkanization” in that the introduction of immigrants to our country will lead to societal fracture (574).
Social media allows people from immigration background to stay united. In the case of the shooting of Akai Gurley in 2014, a former New York City police named Peter Liang shot an unarmed man was facing conviction of manslaughter. However, his conviction was portrayed as “scapegoating” in the media because white officers in a similar case would be considered accident and faced more lenient convictions. This racial issue quickly catches public’s attention and Chinese Americans united to protest in more than 40 cities. Interestingly, the platform they used was a Chinese social media platform named “WeChat” instead of other American platforms such as Facebook.
Although medias often have the negative portrayal of certain events or people, it can also help to spread positive ideas. Since California’s Proposition 187 was banned, our community started to think about the issues of illegal immigrants and their futures. Recently, a web advertisement was put out by President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign called for building the wall and banning illegal immigrants from the U.S. It criticized Democrats for their action to protect illegal immigrants and called Democrats “complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants.” Other than this, he rescinded DACA in September so that no DACA applications or renewals will be accepted. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was formed by executive order of former President Barack Obama to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children from immediate deportation. The idea was that children should not be responsible or criticized for what their parents have done because it wasn’t them that made the choice. Although DACA does not grant them citizenship, they are still able to live in our community. Nonetheless, these “dreamers” are hard workers that are essential to our community. “#ProtectDREAMers” has appeared on social media and the idea of protecting 800,000 DREAMers had spread overwhelmingly on the internet. According to the social media, 86% of Americans support the Dreamers to give them the chance to stay in the United States and even the majority of Republicans also support DACA. With the refusal of President Trump to reopen the DACA program, the Democrats decided to shut down the government in negotiation with the Republicans party.
In conclusion, Social Media has an important role in influencing views’ perception and understanding of immigration. Negative Portrayals of immigrants can lead to the development of fear and distrust toward immigrants. Xenophobia may also be developed in that Americans tend to isolate immigrants and dehumanizing them to maintain their status quo. However, media also have positive effects such as uniting immigrants and spreading positive ideas. Therefore, in order to fully resolve this problem and promote the benefits of immigration to our community, it is important that the media portrayals of immigrants to not transform the uncertainty into crisis. This also requires that the media should not only focus on events that may involve threats of immigration, but also communicate the benefits of immigration toward our community. This can work to reduce the uncertainty that Americans have on immigrants, and allow immigrants to be acculturated. Only then America can consider itself a multicultural society.