The DREAM Act, one of the most progressive federal immigration policies to date, passed through the House of Representatives last week by a vote of 216-198. The bill has a few short weeks to pass through the Senate before January, when Republicans (who largely oppose the policy) take over as the majority party.
Immigrant advocates have a golden opportunity to shift the public conversation on the DREAM act. The DREAM Act grants temporary legal status to children of immigrant parents under the age of 30 and provides a pathway to citizenship to those who go on to college or join the U.S. military. The bill would directly enhance the life chances of youth in this country who are excluded from contributing to our economy and communities as citizens.
Unfortunately, the public debate on this issue is trapped. Those who support the bill use the frames of Fairness and Justice. Consider the quote from Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who led the fight for the bill. He says, “In the name of justice, in the name of fairness, give these young people a chance.”
According to Frameworks Institute research, we know that these frames are not effective for mobilizing public support. Fairness and Justice invoke notions of the Rule of Law. Our research has shown that while Americans believe in access to opportunity, they are not as supportive of immigrant policy reform if they believe people have violated society’s norms.
Politicians who oppose the bill invoke the Rule of Law quite purposefully. They view the law as a form of “amnesty” and call for increased border security instead. The Alabama Republican who leads the opposition, Sen. Jeff Sessions, says this bill should not pass “until this country brings the lawlessness to an end.”
So, how can we make real communication progress on this issue?
- Start with Values: Prosperity resonates strongly with the American public on this issue.
- Use your Models. The Infrastructure model helps people understand why we need an effective immigration policy. We need a modern immigration infrastructure.
- Connect Values and Models with the Issue: Here’s an example of an effective message for shifting debate on the DREAM Act.
Ensuring a strong future for our country means building and maintaining the systems that contribute to our shared prosperity. This means creating a modern immigration infrastructure that we can rely on; a system that provides a sensible way to achieve citizenship. The DREAM Act does just that, by granting temporary legal status to children of immigrant parents who have graduated from U.S. High schools and plan to go on to college or military service.
- Choose Messengers Wisely. There are many educated and engaged immigrant young people in this country that serve as excellent messengers. These messengers defy the conventional stereotype of the “illegal alien” that is often promoted throughout the media. The messenger in the CNN clip below is a prime example.
If immigrant advocates mobilize these communication strategies effectively, then we may start to expand the public conversation on the DREAM Act.
Who else is communicating the message of prosperity and opportunity for fixing our broken immigration system? What powerful messengers have you heard express these sentiments? Who are immigrant advocates greatest allies? Feel free to leave your thoughts below and, as always, be sure to check out the Frameworks Institute’s own research on the topic to sharpen your immigration communication skills.