Academic journal article Social Justice

A Critical Analysis of Immigrant Advocacy Tropes: How Popular Discourse Weakens Solidarity and Prevents Broad, Sustainable Justice

Academic journal article Social Justice

A Critical Analysis of Immigrant Advocacy Tropes: How Popular Discourse Weakens Solidarity and Prevents Broad, Sustainable Justice

Article excerpt

THIS ARTICLE OFFERS AN ANALYTICAL CRITIQUE OF PREVALENT "IMMIGRANT ADVOCACY tropes (IATs), a term coined here for the purpose of this argument. IAT is an encompassing phrase used to describe themes, logics, and values contained within rhetorical figures of speech commonly associated with national, local, and private discourse that is supportive of immigration. This article will discuss how these tropes and their attendant meanings are used to combat anti-immigrant discrimination, arouse sympathy, and perhaps most important, to influence the design of public policy that is favorable to immigrant groups. The two IATs explored in this article are, They [immigrants] are not criminals and They [immigrants] do the jobs no one else will do. Immigrant advocates, sympathizers, policy reform advocates, and individuals themselves borrow and use these tropes in varied manifestations. (1)

Collective behavior and social movement (CBSM) scholars recognize many factors, both internal and external, that contribute to the outcome, expression, and evolution of collective action and social movement organizations. We examine the ideology of a broad collective that is using IATs to make claims against potent anti-immigrant sentiment and the nation's overt commitment to enforcement-centered immigration policies. Our analysis will demonstrate that these tropes are rooted (albeit unintentionally) in principles that ultimately delegitimize the claims of other groups, compromise rich opportunities for a collective voice against shared injustices, and reinforce the hegemonic structures they aim to combat. It is important to deconstruct the currencies these rhetorical tropes rely upon; we can then locate sites where goals can be merged, enhancing the effectiveness of solidarity-building efforts between movements and harvesting maximum leverage against oppressive structures.

The reader may be tempted to question whether a cohesive "pro-immigrant" social movement is now afoot in the United States, or whether a "pro-immigrant ideology" exists. We could debate the existence of a unified, national "pro-immigrant" movement, but social movement literature is quite clear about the characteristics that define collective action. Immigrant advocacy, in all its varied forms, can be called collective action and, therefore, legitimize this critique according to CBSM scholars. Porta and Diani (1999: 16) state that social movements "are networks of interaction between different actors which may either include formal organizations or not, depending on shifting circumstances." Collective action encompasses claims that affect the interests of others; it does not consist of a pressure group, a trend, a tendency, or a process (Heberle, 1951; McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly, 1996). The IATs represent claims against others (anti-immigrant positions) and indicate collective social action in the interest of advocating immigrant rights. A constellation of agents struggles against or opposes current anti-immigrant trends. Though not necessarily formally organized, immigrant "advocates" include community groups, individuals (immigrant and nonimmigrant), social service agencies, journalists, and politicians. This list includes any person or collective who asserts, promotes, and campaigns for immigration policy and procedures that differ from the dominant practice. Therefore, we assert that "pro-immigrant" advocates form a collective action that relies on shared values, evidenced by common language and praxis, working toward a mutual end--an alternative to the nation's current immigration framework.

For Blumer (1951), collective behavior involves common understanding and expectations. Heberle observed that a social movement's ideas and ideals are not always easily ascertained because they were not necessarily formally documented. Ideals can be hidden, misrepresented, or vague, so members may not always be clear about the movement's ideology; alternatively, they may still be searching for a collective way to articulate them. …

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