Breaking down our misperceptions


With an iPad in one hand and a microphone in the other, Joy-Ann Reid stood on stage in front of a hundred or few gawking faces. She had been invited to speak in one of my classes unbeknownst to us. Her show on MSNBC covers, analyzes and interprets the timeliest topics of our day, or as she phrased it: the “hot-button issues.”

One of these issues (and the topic she delved into) being immigration and how it is dealt with policy-wise. Reid extensively covered the stories on the thousands of unaccompanied children appearing at the border. And, to her surprise, she noted, the American audience grew angrier even in response to the videos the media showed of buses taking these children to safe houses. They actually became more anti-immigration.

This had me thinking: Does the way that the media portrays or covers immigration affect the way American citizens react towards the topic?

If there is one thing I have learned about journalism, it is that keywords in a story can produce a certain feel or desired outcome. And as I scroll down the current events revolving around immigration, I notice that the stories tend to leave out the immigrant himself — focusing heavily on policy or reform. I understand that the journalist intends to simply report the news without bias, but when there are so many misperceptions that shroud the debate, I feel the journalist is obligated to clear the air first.

Reid listed the six main misperceptions for us. The first is that all undocumented immigrants are Latinos. A poll taken in 2012 recorded thatone-third of Americans thought this to be true. Eighty percent come from all over Latin America, not just Mexico. A total of 63 percent of Latinos are U.S. born and, although 16.9 percent of the population is made up of Latinos, they only make up 10 percent of voters.

Many believe that most immigrants are in the country undocumented. Many also believe that most people who come in illegally are border-hopping when the truth of the matter is that 45 percent of the immigrants actually come in legally and simply do not return to their home countries.

One of the biggest misperceptions is that immigrants are taking American jobs. The majority of these immigrants have no other options for them besides low-paid, agricultural jobs. Now I ask: where and who are the Americans competing for these jobs? When Alabama cracked down on immigration law in 2011 with HB 56, the state actually had to relax the law because unharvested crops were dying — Americans weren’t leaping at these new job opportunities.

Another big misperception is that there is a big correlation between immigrants and crime when, in fact, since 1994 immigration has doubled in numbers and crime has dropped. The final misperception is that the immigrants are not paying taxes. ⅓ of them pay tax, including sales tax. They are actually pumping $7 billion into the Social Security system that they will never get back.

So before the media go off publishing an army of headlines about “What has become of immigration reform?” and “Illegal immigrants flood the border,” should the media consider the possibility that it may play a grand role in breaking down the misperceptions of the immigration debate?

These efforts would not be in an attempt to persuade or sway the American public, but instead to inform them — the essence of reporting.