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Our Own “Gang of Eight”: Preparing Immigrant Media Spokespersons

  ·  Sara McElmurry

An April 16 Reuters headline heralded what many immigrants and immigrant advocates had been anticipating for weeks, months, lifetimes: “Senators unveil immigration reform bill.”

The story devoted nearly 1,000 words to the particulars of the “Gang of 8” Senate proposal and included quotes from an Iowa Senator and unnamed “immigration expert.” Conspicuously absent from the piece, however, were the voices of those poised to be most affected by eventual reform legislation: immigrants themselves. But this troubling reporting dynamic isn’t unique to Reuters: Far too many of the thousands of stories written about immigration reform in past weeks have woefully omitted immigrant perspectives, for reasons ranging from a lack of time to a lack of will to seek out grassroots sources for stories.

The Latino Policy Forum, working in conjunction with expert trainers from the Community Media Workshop, set out to change this dynamic, equipping its own “Gang of Eight”—eight of the Latino Policy Forum’s cadre of nearly 30 Promotores de Inmigración (Immigration Ambassadors)—with skills to share their stories and perspectives with the media. The news literacy and spokesperson training, funded by the McCormick Foundation, took place on April 30.

Staff from the Latino Policy Forum gave an update on the Senate proposal, which had since evolved into a bill—SB744—and elicited participants’ perspectives around some of its more concerning aspects, including a focus on border security, the proposed elimination of visa programs for siblings and married adult children of US citizens, and the prospect of a 13-year-long pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

“The wait is too long,” said Guillermo Mata, a Mexican-born member of the Latino Policy Forum’s Promotores who has worked as a chef at a downtown hotel for the last 14 years and recently joined the employee union. “We [immigrants] contribute to the economy; we prop up the failing Social Security system.”

Thom Clark, president of the Community Media Workshop, then coached participants on how to raise these concerns with the media. Using a custom curriculum, he trained Promotores on how to identify news, to develop messages for specific audiences, to use the tried-and-true spokesperson techniques of bridging and flagging to convey key messages, and to tell stories in a concise, compelling manner.

Less than 24 hours after the training wrapped, Mata had put his new skills to practical use. Attending the May Day rally in downtown Chicago on May 1, he shared his thoughts on immigration reform with a reporter from WBEZ.

“I used what Thom taught me,” said Mata, reflecting on the conversation with WBEZ, which was his first formal media interview. “I had never done an interview before, but I used the flagging technique to share my main point: The wait is too long. I repeated it many times.”

The Latino Policy Forum and Community Media Workshop will plan a series of opportunities for local journalists to connect these newly-minted, credible news sources, elevating community voices to enrich news coverage on the issue of immigration reform. The media training effort echoes the overall goal of the Promotores program, designed to develop a cadre of community-based leaders who have a strong understanding of immigration policy and its effects of immigrant communities. The idea is that they’ll be a source of credible information for everyone from a neighbor to the news media.

“To do social good you don’t have to be part of an organization,” said Mata. “You can do good on your own.” 

Posted In: Immigrant Integration, Immigration Reform & Policy, Immigration