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The New York Times: A Content Analysis of Articles on Illegal Immigration and Amnesty



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    The New York Times: A Content Analysis of Articles on Illegal Immigration and Amnesty


                The United States of America is now more than 300 million and still counting, according to the latest survey conducted by the national census[1]. Of that number, almost all of the residents of this nation came from a long line of immigrants, with exception to the native Indians. These immigrants came from different parts of the globe, most came from Europe migrating for new opportunities for work and also a chance to fulfill lifelong dreams.

                Although the nation known to the world as America is relatively young, many of its new residents who have relatives that grew up in this country have forgotten that this nation was built my immigrants. What are immigrants? In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is a person who comes to a country to take up permanent residence.[2] Due to the continuous flow of immigrants into this country, the nation has set up a legislative system and laws that govern processing immigrants that come into the United States. In recent years, there has been an influx of illegal immigrants into the country as well. These illegal immigrants are those that either cross the physical border of the United States near Mexico or those who enter the nation legally with a valid tourist visa, but end up not returning to their home country when their visa expires.

                Whatever the scenario, the country has continued to modify its laws regarding immigration. Due to 9/11, the nation has increased the restrictions for those who wish to become immigrants. But most recently, those restrictions have also been modified as well in light of the changing landscape of the nation as well. For according to studies, illegal immigrants number by the millions now, and these have helped the economy as well.

                Yet how does a newspaper look into the concept of immigration? There are many words that are used to describe illegal immigrants. There are many issues that surround them as well. However, there has been no in-depth study as to how newspaper use their words and how these words somehow affect the reading public with the way they perceive illegal immigrants as well. It is for this purpose that this researcher wishes to investigate and chose the New York Times, looking into at least twenty [20] news articles on the issue of immigration and what are the most common words that are employed in describing the stories about them. Are the articles carrying a dual meaning in the terminologies they use?

                This research is designed to look into the news articles of the New York Times, in order to understand how the immigration issue is being portrayed and addressed. Among the key issues that will be addressed in this study include the following:

    What are the main issues and contentions regarding illegal immigrants?
    What is the government currently doing in relation to this issue of illegal immigrants?
    What particular words or phrases are used in the context of articles on immigration in the New York Times?
    Do the words connote negative or positive attributes? How can these meanings create a public attitude towards the issue of illegal immigrants such as the word “amnesty” ?
    Is there a political affectation of these different news articles towards immigrants?

    These five main questions are the keys to unlocking the analysis of the different news articles that would be used and found in the publication of the New York Times.

    Review of Related Literature [10 ]

    A. Journal Articles

                This researcher started his inquiry into looking at the available literature on the topic of immigration. Several studies and papers have been written on the matter, with many paper focusing on specific immigrant groups as well. The researcher started with the paper of Esses and Dovidio (2002)[3], when they wrote a paper on public attitudes towards immigrants in the United States and Canada. In the article, Esses and Dovidio mention that prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York, the public perception on immigrants was generally positive. This was so because immigrants continue to fuel the economy as there were sectors in society that needed to be bridged in terms of specialties and services.

                This had a certain turnaround right after the said attack and became negative, because an inspection of the terrorists revealed that they carried US visas and some even carried tourist visas with them. It was then apparent to the government that the terrorist took some time in formulating and hatching up their plans of the attack. Furthermore, it also revealed certain aspects of ethnicity as the terrorists are of Muslim backgrounds. This proved to have a negative perception of Muslims in general right after the terrorist attack.

                Esses and Dovidio argued that public opinion and perception of immigrants is important because this would help coalesce the formation of a national identity and also in the formation of a civic society. A survey right after the 9/11 event revealed that Americans do not wish to increase the number of immigrants into the country. This paved the way for the formation of other legislative measures, which led this researcher to Lee’s paper on California’s Proposition 187.[4]

                The said Proposition 187 was designed to deprive “illegal” immigrants of welfare benefits, education – with exception to medical care. This also helped facilitate their deportation. The study showed that ethnicity continues to play a dominant role on forming the attitudes towards immigration policies. This meant that in general, there is a negative perception among the residents of California towards the illegal Mexican immigrants. Lee even uses the concept of the Ethnic Ingroup Favoritism Hypothesis, in determining the said attitudes towards the formation of Proposition 187. According to the said hypothesis – “the motivation to maintain a positive sense of social identity leads members of different racial or ethnic groups to view their own subculture in more favorable terms than other subcultures” In short, there is a reluctance to accept other forms of cultures because of the concept that this would not be favorable in developing solidarity and also improving of the local culture. So the tendency is to stick to one’s local culture and in the process not acknowledging the presence of others.

                This is also directly related to the concepts of prejudice and racism. This researcher finds it interesting that this law was formulated in order to discourage “illegal” immigrants. Nevertheless, even Time magazine once had an editorial cartoon showcasing that if all the illegal immigrants are given ample rights and opportunities to work in the United States, this would mean that the employers are bound to pay them proper wages, and that means also giving them benefits that befit and are written in the labor code and constitution. This would constitute a ripple effect in the economy as prices of services could probably go up as well. Thus, illegal immigrants seem to have its own function in present day American society in supplying cheap labor.

                In spite of the fact that Bush recently signed a contract that would create a 700 mile fence in the US-Mexico border, he also reiterated that he is deeply concerned with the 12 million illegal immigrants and that there should be a law that would grant them temporary working passes into the country. The reason for his lobbying of this is that these so-called illegal immigrants are willing to take jobs in the service sector that Americans are no longer willing to take. Thus, if Americans are not willing to take those jobs, the logical argument presented here is that the illegal immigrants should be given the opportunity to take on those jobs as the jobs are as equally important in fueling the national economy and also keeping solidarity in the various service functions of the society.

                The issue on illegal immigrants centers mostly on the US-Mexico border as almost all the articles that are published in recent months in the New York Times keeps on mentioning it. If such is the depth of negativity that is being taken against immigrants, it also has a bearing on the existing immigrants as well as Portes shows in his article. Discrimination, is still the biggest issue that Mexican immigrants face into fitting into American society.[5] Cultural adaptation is difficult even for those who are “legal” immigrants of this nation and the study showed that the concept of self-esteem and self-worth is affected in the development of the children of immigrants due to the existence of discrimination. This discrimination is something that American society has continued to address, but has somehow, from this researcher’s point of view, has not been tackled with all honesty. For Proposition 187, although geared towards all illegal immigrants, is still primarily designed for those coming through the US-Mexican border.

                Yet this Proposition 187 did not last, as laws were reversed and the elections proved that there was indeed a big Latino population and politicians were pursuing these votes.[6]           Proposition 187 was later declared unconstitutional and Congress “restored Social Security and Medicaid to legal immigrants.”

                This change in behavioral attitudes was brought about mainly by the fact of the growth of the Latino population that could no longer be ignored, and that already had a voice of its own in society by the sheer number of votes among those who have already been declared “legal” by the system. The researcher then notices that even among the three articles that was read, it is clear that there is a demarcation between using the word “Hispanic” as oppose to “Latinos” within the different text. The usage of the word “Latino” referred to those that are already legal immigrants of the country.

    B. Newspaper articles

                In the September 29, 2006 issue of the New York Times, the Senate moved toward the action of creating a fence on the Mexican boarder. This involved the construction of a fence 700 miles along the border to “stem the tide of illegal migration”.[7] In the same article, the word “amnesty” appears and is used to refer to granting illegal immigrants legal status. The concept of amnesty could be traced to criminal, as an act of oblivion or forgetfulness. This comes from the Greek word amnesia, and also refers to the granting of a government to persons who have been guilty of crime. This is usually granted for political crimes. It also technically means that one is declared innocent of one’s crimes.

                Shedding light to that definition, it is clear that the reaction of the legislative body in the Senate that the use of the word “amnesty” is not in the best interest of any political group, nor should it be the word used to describe the situation of the illegal immigrants.[8] To use the word amnesty is to indicate that they (illegal immigrants) have done a political crime. Individually, illegal immigrants have committed a crime related to the laws governing immigration practices. Nevertheless, the word “amnesty” seem to connote a politically charged definition from this particular article. Furthermore, this researcher upon closer investigation of the different articles showed that the news articles of the New York Times failed to even define the concept of “amnesty” and simply assumed that the average reader automatically understands what this word is meant.

                It is therefore important that a writer such as Dobbs reminds people that the issue of illegal immigration has nothing to do with political reasons nor for terrorist or criminal reasons.[9] The main reason there is a continued flux of immigrants from the southern border of the United States is because of abject poverty and the desire to rise above it. The United States, in this regard is still seen a place where “the grass is greener” and that job opportunities are plenty.

                The issue and debate still moves and certain changes in the system has ensured that illegal immigrants know their place in society as well. In the case of Medicaid, the institution now asks for proof of citizenship for infant care as a new federal policy ensured that children born in the United States to illegal immigrants are no longer automatically entitled to health insurance through Medicaid.[10] This researcher relates this to the concept of taxation, as duly recognized citizens are properly taxed. Illegal immigrants, hiding from the authorities work in jobs that are normally not taxed by the government. The Medicaid system was designed to take care of those who are productive citizens that pay taxes and pay their share for their health insurance.

                In this particular article, the researcher notes that there is still a general negative sentiment towards illegal immigrants as it continues to address policies that are not in favor of illegal immigrants. The researcher is then also questioning the concept of ethical leanings in news reporting because the job of a reporter is to state objectively the news, but from an initial analysis of this article, it seems to indicate already that even reports printed by a popular national daily carries with it certain political leanings as well.

                Co-relating this article with “The Fence Campaign”, the word “amnesty” is now tagged with the word “love” in the phrase “amnesty-loving fence haters”. This phrases comes from the article that discuses how Bush signed the bill to authorize the 700 mile border fence. This article drives the point that building a 700 mile fence would still be ineffective to control illegal immigrants from getting into the country because there would still be about 2,000 miles worth of the border in other sides that needs to be protected and built up as well. In these areas, there are no border patrols or they are often rare and there is the contention that most of the illegal immigrants, or about 40% of them still come in legally and just lets their visas expire.[11]

                Still in another article written by Swarns, the phrase “legalize illegal immigrants” is used in relation to the concept of “give amnesty” for the first time. It is in this article that the Democratic leadership of Congress somehow accepted the reality of illegal immigrants and that instead of creating more border patrols and spending more money in order to maintain the border; new legislation should be given in order to give illegal immigrants and other immigrants a chance to become legal and “ensure a reliable legal flow of foreign workers.”[12] This researcher surmised that perhaps one of the issues that is not tackled, but is written between the lines of the fear of legalization of illegal immigrants is that by developing new laws to cater to this particular group, there might be a possibility that there would be a deluge of people who would easily avail of the new law if ever such a new law was passed in order to give temporary working permits to Mexicans crossing the border.

                Once more, this researcher would like to reiterate that the issue of illegal immigrants is something important to look understanding the news coverage because this country was built by immigrants, and it is astonishing to note that a majority of Americans do not wish to give new immigrants the chance to flourish in America when in fact almost all of the people of this nation are truly immigrants. To forget this basic aspect of history indicates that there is also a new change or shift towards the value system on immigration as well.

                In addition, amnesty is also associated with the word “liberal” in the article of De Parle stating that Representative Mike Pence has “lent his conservative prestige to a form of liberal amnesty.” From the statement above, it wasn’t clear what “liberal” was intended to mean by the reporter, which is strange for a news article since a news article should be able to explain concepts that may carry a dual connotation. Liberal could be easily taken to be outside of conservatism. In the same article, the plan for the guest worker visa was outlined as that it is renewable and that only after 17 years of actively working in the United States can a person apply for citizenship.

                “Citizenship” is another word that could be synonymous to the word “amnesty” in the context of illegal immigration since citizenship guarantees a person all the rights and privileges given by the state. Nevertheless, the issue of rights is not really on the major concerns of those in legislation, as the main concern was that of border security, which is reiterated in almost all of the articles that was mentioned here by the researcher.


                The main methodology that was used in the previous section by the researcher and would be employed in the conduct of this research would be content analysis. Content analysis is looking into the discourse analysis of different text, and how words and phrases are combined to create meaning. This would be done in light of the linguistic tools such as dictionary definitions, popular definitions, the use of synonyms and homonyms and whatever else may be needed to justify an analysis of the said articles. There would be a selection of at least 20 articles that discuss the issue of illegal immigration that could possibly contain words related to the concept of amnesty for illegal immigrants, but these could go further into other similar words and phrases as well.

    [1] US Census

    [2] Encyclopedia Britannica

    [3] Esses, Victoria M. and John F. Dovidio. 2002. Public Attitudes Toward Immigration in the United States and Canada in Response to the September 11, 2001 “Attack on America” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 2002, pp. 69-85

    [4] Lee, Yueh-Ting et al. Attitudes Toward “Illegal” Immigration Into the United States: California Proposition 187. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, vol. 23, no. 4, Nov 2001, pp. 430-443.
    [5] Portes, Pedro R. and MAdelon F. Zaldy. Self-Esteem in the Adaptation of Spanish-Speaking Adolescents: The Role of Immuigration, Family Conflict, and Depression. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences,  vol. 24, no. 3. August 2002, pp. 296-318.

    [6] Michelson, Melissa R. The Effect of National Mood on Mexican American Political Opinion. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, vol. 23, no. 1, Feb 2001, pp. 57-70

    [7] Swarns, Rachel L. September 28, 2006. Senates Moves Toward Action on Fence on Mexican Border. New York Times.
    [8] Encyclopedia Britannica Online

    [9] Sirota, David. November 12, 2006. Pinstripped Populist. New York Times.
    [10] Pear, Robert. November 3, 2006. Medicaid Wants Citizenship Proof For Infant Care

    [11] The Fence Campaign. October 30, 2006. The New York Times.
    [12] Swarns, Rachel L. In Some States, Democrats Are Sending a More Conservative Immigration Message

    The New York Times: A Content Analysis of Articles on Illegal Immigration and Amnesty. (2017, Apr 17). Retrieved from

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