Framing Citizenship: Media Coverage of Antideportation Cases Led by Undocumented Immigrant Youth Organisations

Caitlin Patler and Roberto G. Gonzales (Harvard University)
Published in
Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Volume 41, Issue 9 (2015)

Recent literature elucidates the ways in which news coverage of immigration and immigrants reflects, as well as shapes, discourse on citizenship, rights and belonging. Scholars find that undocumented immigrants are particularly vulnerable to media representations of illegality that reinforce bounded citizenship. However, more positive representations of certain groups of undocumented immigrants have emerged in recent years. This article draws upon content analysis of English-language print and online coverage of undocumented immigrants whose anti-deportation campaigns were led by national undocumented youth organizations in the USA. We find that campaigns for undocumented students were more likely to receive coverage than those of non-students. Regardless of a mention of educational status, articles included pro-immigrant quotes four times more frequently than anti-immigrant quotes. News coverage of antideportation cases represented citizenship in three related ways: citizenship as acculturation, citizenship as civic engagement (or ‘good citizenry’) and deservingness vis-à-vis victim status. We conclude that the media regularly expose the public to understandings of citizenship and membership that go beyond nationality, in ways that express empathy for particular immigrants during the enforcement (implementation) stage of the policy process. However, selective representations of citizenship may ultimately reinforce public support for restrictionist policies.