Tamar Jacoby, Frank Sharry Discuss Immigration Reform Messaging

Tamar Jacoby, Frank Sharry Discuss Immigration Reform Messaging

June 7, 2011 – Washington, DC – Keep it short. Go for the heart, not the head. Don’t argue the point too strenuously, and don’t forget to point out that America is the greatest country on earth.

Those were among the messages at the AJC Immigration Summit, as Frank Sharry, America’s Voice founder and executive director, and Tamar Jacoby, ImmigrationWorks USA president and CEO, spoke at a panel focused on reframing the language so that a bipartisan pro-immigration message can gain momentum. Andrew Mack, AJC Washington regional board member, moderated the session.

The three-day summit ‑— part of the AJC’s Bridging America Project, which trains and mobilizes leaders in strategic communities across the country — drew some 120 business leaders, labor union activists, government, law enforcement, health care officials and faith leaders.

“The other side has a much easier case to make. They say ‘it’s us versus’ them 150 different ways … that ‘bad people are getting our stuff. We’re good people. We have to stop the bad people from getting out stuff,’” said Sharry. “We need our own narrative, which puts us on the offense,” not the defense.

Too many advocates, he and Jacoby said, tend to address their messages to their hard-core base, although some 60 percent of people fall in the middle when it comes to immigration reform — and can be swayed.

And immigration activists, Sharry said, tend to speak in paragraphs, while those who oppose immigration reform speak in sound bites.

Amnesty is a big word among opponents of a path to citizenship, but Sharry said the response should be, “It’s not amnesty. It’s accountability. It’s meeting a bunch of requirements so people can get on the right side of the law.”

Activists have to emphasize, he said, that immigration reform “is about human beings and it’s about our values.”

Jacoby, who’s on the conservative side of the political scale, said she comes across two types of people who can be swayed. The elite center, who “understand that we probably do need reform, but do not think it’s urgent. They need serious, well-argued, fact-based” information about the economy, she said.

The others are the “not so elite,” a much harder audience, often motivated by fear. “They see immigrants as a threat because they’ve broken the rules, as a cultural threat and there’s often some bigotry mixed into it,” Jacoby said. At the same time, though, people don’t want to feel like they’re associated with bigots.

It’s important to emphasize with such individuals that “immigrants do want to become Americans, are becoming Americans and share our values,” said Jacoby. “We have to be talking about our values.”

Both speakers also stressed that it’s important to note that not only is America a nation of values, but it’s a nation of laws and the system needs to be fixed. “We want a system where we can screen out criminals,” Jacoby said.

The message to those who believe that immigrants are responsible for crime, Sharry said, should be: “There’s a small number of bad apples who should be kept out. What we’re talking about is hard-working families.”

The AJC Immigration Summit, June 5-7, was co-sponsored by the National Immigration Forum, Immigration Works USA, and Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, and is funded by a generous grant from the Ford Foundation.

AJC has long supported fair and humane immigration policies out of our commitment to a democratic, just and pluralistic America that is secure and strong. The Jewish historical experience and understanding of the value of every human being underpins these positions. AJC's dedication to support and protect Jews leads us to build strong interreligious and intergroup relations, and support civil and human rights for all.Date: 6/7/2011 12:00:00 AM
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