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Common misleading immigration-related narratives wrongly associate migrants with crime, economic drain, cultural invasion, and illegal voting. These narratives aim to stir fear, influence anti-immigration policy, boost engagement, and sow division by manipulating the sentiments of audiences on the basis of ideologies, lived experiences, and partisan affiliation. Narrative analysis of immigration-related content circulating online in the United States and in Latin America shows actors often employ a mix of false information with selectively curated information and emotionally-targeted visual content to shape conversations.

Why Do These Narratives Matter?

The spread of false, misleading and malign narratives about immigration can have wide-ranging effects on society. It can influence individual perceptions and day-to-day interactions, alter public opinion on immigration and erode trust between different socio-political groups. Narrative analysis research shows that in the United States, these narratives predominantly circulate among or are targeted at White Americans and often paint a distorted picture of Latino immigrants. In many Latin American countries, similar patterns emerge in countries handling large influxes of migrants. Civil society organizations have cited, for example, the rise in xenophobic narratives about asylum seekers, including those about Venezuelans in Colombia and about Nicaraguans in Costa Rica. During important democratic processes like voting, bad actors spreading anti-immigration narratives may seek to undermine civic cohesion by scapegoating migrants, thereby making it difficult for communities to unite and collaborate. 

Where and How Are These Narratives Spreading?

On social media, actors such as politicians, their individual supporters, and ideologically motivated personalities such as partisan influencers leverage the tools and algorithms of social media platforms to reach a broad range of the public, sometimes to suppress votes and interfere with elections.

It’s common for anti-immigration narratives to be found on platforms associated with the alt-right such as Gab, as well as more traditional and popular platforms, such as YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Specifically, Facebook includes a reference to immigration-related disinformation in its Community Standards policy, citing content that publishes “false claim[s] that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is at a voting location” as grounds for account removal.

Despite this policy and others that aim to limit immigration-related disinformation and hateful narratives, they persist. Title 42 of the Public Health Service Act was invoked by the Donald Trump administration to combat the spread of communicable diseases, notably COVID-19. However, with its expiration in May 2023, social media platforms experienced a surge of disinformation, accompanied by misleading images and videos. Some content highly exaggerated the extent of migration, while other publications falsely claimed that the government had an “open border” policy that would now allow unrestricted migration to the United States. Furthermore, certain right-wing politicians, including Latina politician Mayra Flores, and influencers, both in Latin America and within the United States, leveraged this event to advance their agenda to discredit U.S. immigration authorities and President Biden’s administration, further fueling the already heated conversations about immigration policies.

Immigration disinformation also persists across Latin America. A recent study that analyzed stories published by Ecuadorian fact-checking agency Ecuador Chequea about Venezuelan migrants to Ecuador found that 62% were false. Such stories focused on migration, crime, international relations between both countries Ecuador-Venezuela, and the employment situation of Venezuelans in Ecuador. In addition, a study conducted by the UN in Costa Rica found that hate speech on Twitter and Facebook had significantly increased against incoming Nicaraguan migrants. The upward tick in disinformation and misinformation in Latin America has even pushed international organizations like the IOM to create new campaigns to combat this increasing trend.

In the ongoing discourse surrounding immigration, and in particular, this policy, the issue of trafficking has been brought to the forefront in various debates and forums. Some posts, including those by former Pres. Trump, have falsely claimed that the termination of Title 42 has directly caused an increase in child sex trafficking. This claim, however, is largely unsubstantiated and is often used as a form of disinformation to fuel political attacks against the current U.S. government. This disinformation distorted the larger issue of human smugglers exploiting confusion surrounding the policy to take advantage of vulnerable people to promote illegal services and increase prices for smuggling. 

Today, the potency of these narratives is amplified in the context of the upcoming elections, where immigration is set to be a pivotal issue. In one high-profile recent example, Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. used his political campaign to propagate the notion that the U.S. currently operates with an 'open border' policy, a claim that is demonstrably false. This narrative is being amplified by influencers across social media platforms, who are disseminating this idea to their broad audiences, and has spurred Republicans, including presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, to move further to the right, and propose ending birthright citizenship for American citizens whose parents are undocumented. 

Considerations for the Future 

Questioning the sources of information, challenging unsubstantiated claims, and seeking out diverse perspectives contributes to a more informed, balanced, and constructive discourse on key issues such as immigration. In the current political landscape, understanding the intricacies of the immigration debate requires rigorous scrutiny of information. In spaces where information can be rapidly disseminated and amplified, particularly through social media, it is crucial for consumers of information to exercise discernment. 

Amplify the work of Spanish-language fact-checkers - Fact-checkers work in real time to flag and debunk the use of false content, edited videos and imagery, and out-of-context information related to immigration, especially around breaking-news events. While fact-checking is not a silver bullet solution to disinformation, fact-checks have been proven to move people from uncertainty to believing false content is false. Fact-checkers based in the U.S. and the region who frequently cover immigration issues include: 

Rely on the experts - Many organizations are working to understand, address and shape immigration policy and solutions in the United States and Latin America. Consulting and sharing their analysis and guidance can help amplify fact-based, contextualized information in spaces where we consume information. Some organizations include: 

Do not stereotypically assume immigration is a Latino issue - Latinos are not a monolith and should not be stereotyped. Narrative analysis and public opinion research show that while Latinos in the United States, for example, may care about immigration, it often does not rise to the top of their list of most salient issues. In fact, a large swath of conversations happening online about immigration are taking place among White Americans. Additionally, according to Equis Research, Latino voters often have multi-faceted views on immigration. Support for immigration reform and for border security are not necessarily an either/or – instead, many Latinos support both. 

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