I joined AILA’s Executive Committee with quite a bit of media experience under my belt. One thing I’ve known for a long time is that the news cycle can turn on a dime and what you may have thought you’d be talking about with a reporter can change, sometimes mid-interview.
As an example – AILA’s annual New York City Media Tour was planned to coincide with the one year anniversary of DAPA and expanded DACA. AILA staff analyzed President Obama’s immigration actions during his term in office and we issued a report card highlighting where he had made a good effort (DACA and DAPA again) and where he had failed (humanitarian protection and family detention), while also highlighting what was still incomplete (legal immigration reform) and unsatisfactory (enforcement). The tour was all set, appointments were made, preparations in place.
And then, attacks in Beirut and Paris happened and the backlash against refugees started. We knew the news cycle wasn’t going to be focused on executive actions on immigration anymore; instead, we read stories and watched interviews that were chock full of fearmongering and hateful speech, of lashing out and calling for isolation.
We talked, we strategized, and we went forward with the report card, but we also accepted the shift and made sure that AILA’s voice was heard.
At meetings with The Guardian, The New York Times, and the Associated Press, among others, we zeroed in on the refugee process and why the tide of negative rhetoric was wrongly aimed at a vulnerable population fleeing fear and persecution. I made sure to bring up the issue of family detention, the need to protect refugees and asylum seekers, and our own nation’s history based on religious freedom. During a radio interview, and another segment with Fox News Latino and one with the HuffingtonPost Live team, I emphasized what AILA knows can and should be done – for refugees, for asylum seekers, for the legal immigration system, and on enforcement in order to make our country stronger. We also made sure to acknowledge and applaud the sincere good efforts the president has made with original DACA and the thus far stymied attempt at expanded DACA and DAPA.
It was a whirlwind and even as someone comfortable with media, I learned a lot. The best advice I can give anyone looking to do more press outreach is to prepare as much as possible, do not freeze up despite the difficulties of the issue, but go in knowing that the situation is fluid. Be sure to check with the AILA Communications team for the latest talking points and guidance. Preparation is key, because you’ll be able to relate the emotional or political situation at hand to what AILA and its members do best: explain immigration law and policy and advocate for changes to that law and policy to make things better. We are the ones who can detail what change can mean – for immigrants and for the U.S. as a whole. That’s where our strength lies.
Right now we need to use that strength to keep educating the public about the refugee process, the benefits that past refugees and their families have brought this country, and the dangers of isolationism. One important piece of AILA’s mission is that we were established to promote justice and advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy. We need to push back on those who are fomenting fear for their own gain to the detriment of terrorized and vulnerable people. We need to do our best to shift the narrative back.
Written by Victor Nieblas Pradis, AILA President