Immigrants, undocumented or not, are being dehumanized. Here’s what you can do to prevent it.

Immigration is once again a hot topic. Media outlets are covering the caravan of individuals traveling from many parts of Central America towards the US border. Politicians are calling for everything from asylum to military force, and human rights groups want to address the poverty and violence in Central America. But before anyone can reach a solution, we must acknowledge that immigrants are being unfairly dehumanized.

They are being harassed almost every day by neighbors, authorities, and politicians.  In June 2015, President Donald Trump said Mexicans are “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

The media often portrays immigrants as dangerous people who we cannot trust. But the reality is the vast majority of people who come to the United States aren’t criminals. According to a New York Times article, The Myth of the Criminal Immigrant, the immigrant population has increased by 118 percent since 1980, while the violent crime rate has decreased by 36 percent. People from all over the world travel to the United States for a better life for themselves and their families. They work hard in order to contribute to the country and their families.

Sadly, some people, undocumented or not, are criminals and hurt the people around them. But this does not justify the discrimination that immigrants get. The campaign video of Luis Bracamontes that was posted by Trump last week conveys all immigrants as violent criminals. Just because Bracamontes is a criminal does not justify the overall prejudice and discrimination of everyone else.

There are several ways Riverside students can challenge the current narrative. First, know the facts. On college campuses across the country, an organization called Define American is trying to change the media’s narratives, specifically the ones that are poorly researched. Students from Define American chapters all over the country worked together to make campaigns like #factsmatter, which shares facts and statistics that have been independently verified. They share these as key resources with news networks.

Next, consume news from a variety of reputable sources and acknowledge slanted coverage. Media outlets have biases, even if they claim they do not. Recognizing these biases changes the way readers learn about their world. Getting news from sources across the political spectrum helps build a more balanced and informed perspective on things like, in this case, immigration.

Finally, word choice matters, too. The Associated Press tweeted on October 2018, “A ragged, growing army of migrants resumes march toward US.” The tweet portrayed the migrants like savages about to attack the United States. This is an inaccurate over-generalization.

Define American also has a media campaign, #wordsmatter, that aims to prevent the use of dehumanizing words and descriptions towards immigrants. Through this campaign, they’ve already discouraged media outlets from using words such as “illegal” or “alien” when referring to undocumented Americans. They even used the campaign to correct and repost the tweet from its previous state to,“ A vulnerable growing group of mothers and kids resumes journey toward US.” Once the Associated Press was made aware, it immediately deleted the tweet.

Define American even works with television shows to make sure that they portray any undocumented Americans in a realistic and relatable way. They’re hoping that with these steps, people will better understand the complexities and challenges undocumented Americans face.   

Everyone has a different way of viewing a particular aspect in life. Topics like the caravan are positive to some and negative to others. It may seem like there is no way to meet eye to eye, but if we pay attention to facts, sources and word choice, we can at least have a conversation.

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