Storytelling Strategies for Immigrant Justice in the U.S.
This article is part of a WITNESS project, EYES on ICE that offers a deep dive into how to safely, ethically and effectively document immigration abuses through tip sheets, case studies, videos, and more.
Stories shape the struggle for justice.
Strategic storytelling can be an antidote to the dehumanization of migrants that stems from the racism and xenophobia embedded in U.S. federal policies, violent enforcement practices, and dominant discourses about immigrants. Stories influence our imaginations and our understandings of the past, present, future, and each other. In doing so, storytelling molds our sociopolitical context.
Video is a powerful vehicle for storytelling. As an advocacy tool, video can drive campaigns forward, deepen impact, and connect human experiences to demands for change, such as the calls to #AbolishICE, reunite families, or free people from detention.
In order to truly be a tool for liberation, video advocacy for immigrants’ rights must be ethical. This includes centering the voices and priorities of impacted communities, taking the necessary steps to protect people from the risks that come with increased visibility, and being careful with the words and images used to convey your message. All too often, well-meaning advocates rely on damaging tropes that establish conventions of “deservingness” or an “exceptional immigrant” narrative, commodify immigrants’ place in our country, or erase histories of enslavement and indigenous genocide in painting the U.S. as “a nation of immigrants.” Many mainstream narratives also fail to encompass a diversity of immigrant stories, often leaving the stories of trans, disabled, elderly, or Black immigrants in the shadows.
To demonstrate what ethical narratives can look like, we’ve collected examples of videos that illustrate responsible, community-centered, and effective storytelling for immigrants’ rights. It’s important to note that most of these videos were made as part of broader campaigns or were interwoven into additional legal or advocacy strategies.These examples are outlined in a slidedeck which breaks down each video into core components of our video advocacy methodology:
The framings are as diverse as the stories themselves, including satirical, artistic, personal, journalistic, and practical. The purposes include use in the Supreme Court, freeing someone from detention, elevating rallies, and supporting the wellbeing of undocumented people.
Whatever your advocacy goal is, storytelling can probably help you get there. Use this resource to inform your own advocacy strategies and to learn more about the people, challenges, and possibilities illustrated by these stories.Storytelling_Immigration_US_v1
Below are snapshots of some of the stories we highlighted in the slidedeck. Get more information about these videos and check out our other favorites by downloading the full resource: wit.to/Storytelling-Immigration-US
#HomeIsHere – UnitedWeDream
We’re regularly inspired by the innovative approaches that distinguish United We Dream’s advocacy. Their #HomeIsHere campaign integrated video with marches, rallies, social media toolkits, media outreach, and a legal strategy at the Supreme Court. In an effort to get the federal courts to protect the DACA program, UWD created videos that each spotlight a DACA recipient and their impact on the community, taking care to show stories that are outside of the reductive mainstream perceptions of DACA immigrants. It was the first time video was used in an amicus brief for the Supreme Court. Check out our slidedeck for a sample video used in the amicus brief as well as a video used to elevate the relevant actions in the slidedeck.
- UWD received major media coverage as an immigrant-led org being on the “cutting edge of the way folks are heard in court”
- Campaign mobilized nearly 20K people in US to take action, informed 34K people about DACA and local events, helped over 3.7K people apply for/renew DACA (part of #HomeIsHere campaign involved getting funding for people’s renewal applications)
- Supreme Court ruled to reinistate DACA in its original form
#UNDOCUJOY – Define America, Yosimar Reyes
This visual spoken word poem by Yosimar Reyes is framed as a collective love letter for undocumented folks in the US. The video was released as part of Define American’s campaign that recruited #UndocuJoy stories from community members. Define America flooded social media with these messages to combat the “never-ending stream of doom and gloom.” This effort represents community-led reclamation of narrative. The initial video has even been used as a wellness resource for undocumented youth!
- Undocumented activists and artists used the term #UndocuJoy to launch projects and panels themed around this concept, reshaping the narrative of undocumentation
- Campaign highlighted by Latino news/culture platforms and Huffington Post
- The video itself and submissions were part of a “healing call” among partnered organizations
- Arts With Impact repurposed submissions into a database for educational mental health purposes
Black Immigrants in the U.S. – RAICES
Need to understand the immense and marginalized issue of how anti-Blackness manifests in the polices and practices of immigration enforcement? Look no further than this video from RAICES. They present key statistics, stories, and trends in a way that is compelling, cohesive, and easy to comprehend. The video is an accessible entrypoint into more complicated conversations about racial justice and abolition. The personal, powerful touches of the speaker Joyce Louis-Jean are not to be overlooked or underestimated! gmRAICES is featured more than once in the slidedeck, offering a wide variety of approaches for talking about policy, patterns, and urgent issues in ways that a diversity of audience members can connect with.
- Organically shared by partners and Movement4BlackLives during times of heightened deportations of Black immigrants
- Allow for more people to have a deeper understanding of the systemic issues facing #BlackImmigrants and the intersections between #BlackLivesMatter movement and the fight to #AbolishICE
- Made dynamic data about Black racial justice disparities in immigration available to to hundreds of thousands of people
- Sparked conversations online about the topic; release was happening shortly after the killing of George Floyd and elevated the conversation of anti-Blackness in the immigration system to a national level
- More people, mainstresm media,and alternative media streams have begun discussing and covering facets of this issue
Juan Hernandez – ACLU SoCal
This video by ACLU SoCal put together surveillance footage of an ICE raid of a mechanic shop along with interviews to tell the story of Juan Hernandez, an immigrant who was illegally detained after being racially profiled. Video was a critical component to the legal strategy that was carried out in parallel with a broader advocacy strategy to garner support for Juan’s case. Juan was freed from detention and the public got a rare look at the lengths ICE is willing to go to to carry out their deportation agenda. WITNESS captured learnings from this case in our Video as Evidence Guide for Immigration Court and a case study (Part 1: Advocacy, Part 2: Legal).
- Juan was released from detention and his family received money from fundraisers to help support them
- The story became a case study for lawyers and activists to better collaborate on using video to fight detentions and operations
- Local media coverage and viral online sharing gave more people an understanding of ICE ‘s manipulative tactics
#WeHaveRights – ACLU, Brooklyn Defender Services, WITNESS
Animation can be a great way to get around safety/security issues, present important information in a compelling way, and depict undocumented events. WITNESS supported ACLU and Brooklyn Defender services in creating instructional videos for their #WeHaveRights series. Check out this one on documenting ICE arrests.
Our friends at Black Alliance for Just Immigration also made a series featuring community members sharing essential Know Your Rights information for immigrants. Part of this series is featured in our slide deck.
- Video series viewed over 10 million times online and even more offline
- Used in Know Your Rights training sessions for activists + immigrant communities
- A part of the ESL curricula at the New York Public Library
- Shown in waiting rooms, consulates, classrooms, and police stations
- High profile media coverage and celebrity amplification allowed for expansive audience and wide-ranging discussions online about the issues highlighted in the videos