Framing Immigration

Perhaps no issue presents the contradictions within Americans’ thinking more strongly than immigration. Americans struggle to find the right mix of policies that would both protect our national interests and welcome newcomers accordingly.

FrameWorks research, conducted over five years, answers the following questions: How do Americans think about immigration, why do they think what they do, what consequences does that have for immigration advocates, and how might they best engage Americans in a discussion about immigration reform?

Research & Recommendations

Integrating Issues: Framing for Racial Equity and Children in Immigrant Families (2017) (PDF). This report distills the communications challenges facing advocates for racial justice and progressive immigration policies and outlines framing strategies to integrate these issues in communications.

Finish the Story on Immigration: A FrameWorks Multi-Media MessageMemo (2014) (PDF). This Multimedia MessageMemo summarizes the findings from a comprehensive multi-method investigation of how Americans view the immigration system and recommends specific reframing tools that demonstrated strong effects in redirecting thinking and elevating support for comprehensive immigration reform. It includes videos and infographics to help advocates visualize the research findings and appreciate the impact of the reframing tools.

Getting to "We": Mapping the Gaps Between Expert and Public Understandings of Immigration Reform (2014). This report lays the groundwork for a larger effort to reframe the public debate on immigration and immigration reform by comparing how experts talk and Americans think about immigration, the immigration system, and comprehensive immigration reform. Using data from interviews with both expert and pubic informants, the report details a set of key communications challenges and presents initial strategies to address these challenges.

Stories Matter: Field Frame Analysis on Immigration (2014). This Field Frame Analysis maps the competing narratives used by influential organizations to frame the debate on immigration and immigration reform. It finds that narratives that support restrictive immigration policies are more coherent and complete — and therefore more likely to “stick” in the public’s mind — than those that support comprehensive immigration reform. The report concludes with recommendations as to how organizations working towards comprehensive reform can communicate more effectively.

Don’t Stay on Message: Experimental Survey on Immigration Messaging (2013).  This is the full report of a large-scale experimental survey of 8000 Americans, which weighs the effects of pro-immigration values on immigration attitudes and policies by testing how values affect support and how pro-immigration messages fare when confronted with an anti-immigration message. (Executive Summary).

Framing Immigration: A FrameWorks Message Memo (2010).  This  important report synthesizes our research findings and recommends strategies to communicate more effectively about immigration with the American public.

Valuing Immigration: How Frame Elements Contribute to Effective Communications (2010).  Findings from several survey experiments with registered voters demonstrate that immigration advocates ought to be very careful in how they sequence issues of race and ethnicity in the conversation about immigration policy reform. We find that communications about policy reforms that remind the public that the primary beneficiaries of reform are likely to be racial or ethnic minorities fail to successfully elevate policy support, while frames that emphasize mutual benefits across groups and interconnectedness prove far more effective in building support for immigration policies. We present empirical evidence from alternative frames that do elevate support for immigration reform and provide examples from our Talking Disparities Toolkit about how advocates can structure more effective frames.


**New** Building Public Understanding of Comprehensive Immigration Reform: A Communications Toolkit (2014). This is a comprehensive toolkit containing responses to frequently asked questions, sample op-eds and letters to the editor, case studies, a metaphor visualization, and other communications resources.

Our Funders

Our latest research on Immigration is funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Earlier work on this topic was supported by the California Endowment and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.


FrameWorks Institute

  Updated: 11/16/17