Coverage and Framing of Immigration Policy in US Newspapers

Original Scholarship Health Equity

Policy Points:

  • Although immigration policy is recognized as a social determinant of health, less is known about how mechanisms, such as news coverage of policy, influence intermediary and proximal health processes like seeking health care.
  • The extent of news coverage of federal, state, and local exclusionary or integration immigration policies can influence public agendas regarding immigrant inclusion and exclusion.
  • Exclusionary federal immigrant policies have dominated the news across the United States over the past ten years, despite active immigrant integration policymaking at national, state, and local levels.

Context: Immigration policymaking at federal, state, and local levels in the United States has proliferated in the past decade. While evidence demonstrates that immigration policy is a determinant of health, there has been limited examination of the mechanisms by which policy influences proximal health processes. News coverage has served as a central platform for debates over restrictive and inclusive immigration policies and may constitute an important health mechanism by shaping public agendas, influencing support for immigrant exclusion or inclusion, and framing policy issues, thereby influencing immigrants’ social climates. This study sought to examine the extent of news coverage of exclusionary and inclusive immigration policy at federal and state levels and variations in messages about immigrants during two periods of extensive policymaking.

Methods: We conducted a quantitative content analysis of newspapers’ coverage of immigration policy between 2010 and 2013 and between 2017 and 2019. We conducted a systematic NewsBank search of articles covering legislation, lawsuits, and other policies related to immigration (n = 931). Articles were coded for policy type and level, positive or negative framing of immigrants, and other characteristics. Our analysis then compared the patterns of the two periods.

Results: In both periods, the majority of coverage focused on exclusionary policies at the federal level, despite a significant increase in integration policies between 2017 and 2019. We found significant shifts in both the negative and positive framing of immigrants, from the dominant negative messages of immigrants as an economic drain to immigrants as criminals and the dominant positive messages of immigrants’ economic contributions to immigrants as families.

Conclusions: Since 2010, coverage of exclusionary federal policy has consistently dominated the news, as messages have increasingly described immigrants as either criminals or part of families. We discuss the health implications and future research directions of news coverages’ role in influencing the immigration policy and social contexts that have been linked to health outcomes.


Read on Wiley Online Library

Young MEDT, Sarnoff H, Lang D, Ramírez AS. Coverage and Framing of Immigration Policy in US Newspapers. Milbank Q. December 22, 2021.