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New Book Examines Role of Public Opinion and Media in Shaping Immigration Policy – or Lack Thereof – in U.S. and European Contexts
Press Release
Monday, December 7, 2009

New Book Examines Role of Public Opinion and Media in Shaping Immigration Policy – or Lack Thereof – in U.S. and European Contexts

WASHINGTON — There is little doubt that immigration systems in the United States and Europe are dysfunctional at best, broken at worst. High levels of illegal migration are just one testament to this; another is the lagging social mobility of immigrants, which speaks to systemic policy flaws that have proved persistent over time. The question that must be answered is: Why have policymakers been unable to fix these systems, in some cases for decades?

The Transatlantic Council on Migration, an initiative of the Migration Policy Institute and its policy partner, the Bertelsmann Stiftung, today released a new book, Migration, Public Opinion and Politics, which analyzes how media coverage, public opinion and political rhetoric can play an important role in advancing — or impeding — immigration policy reforms in Europe and the United States.

The book examines what publics across the Atlantic think about immigrants and immigration and how their views should be interpreted. It also asks: What effect does media coverage have on the prospects for changing the laws and practices that shape immigration and immigrant integration? And how should politicians and others who champion reform speak about immigration?

The volume, with chapters written by migration experts, pollsters, political consultants and professional rhetoricians, examines in particular the cases of the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom with respect to public opinion, media coverage of immigration and the current policy landscape. The book offers a series of strategies and recommendations that can help far-sighted policymakers enact and implement policies that are at once ambitious and also have a chance of winning public support, particularly in an era of recession and skepticism about globalization.

“As governments begin to recover from the global economic crisis, it is more important than ever to craft sensible, thoughtful immigration reforms that not only make a difference — but that also have a realistic chance of being implemented,” said MPI President Demetrios G. Papademetriou, the convener of the Council.

Among the book’s findings:

  • A clear majority of the American public favors legalization as the best approach to the current population of unauthorized migrants. Support for legalization is lower among older Americans and those without a college education.
  • The German population's overall stance on immigration and integration has been contradictory. Although a series of political reforms have addressed these issues in recent years, certain issues such as labor migration and dual citizenship remain highly controversial.
  • British concern about immigration is not directly linked to economic competition over jobs but rather more to other factors, such as being “swamped” by foreigners, perceptions that immigrants have unfair access to public housing and other state services, and concern about weakening of community.

“Words matter in the immigration debate on both sides of the Atlantic. In order for governments to reform immigration policy, they must do more than just present a sensible reform package to parliament. They must also win the public debate on immigration by speaking to the hearts and minds of their voters,” said Dr. Jörg Dräger of the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Executive Board.

This is the third book of the Transatlantic Council on Migration, which examines vital policy issues and informs migration policymaking processes in North America and Europe. The Council brings together leading political figures, policymakers and innovative thinkers from all over the world to generate, evaluate and promote practical ideas about immigration and integration policies that can bring greater cohesion and social justice to our increasingly diverse societies. For more information on the Transatlantic Council on Migration, please visit: www.migrationpolicy.org/transatlantic.

For a review copy of the book, reporters should contact Michelle Mittelstadt at [email protected]. Book purchases can be made here.


The Transatlantic Council is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the governments of Greece (the Hellenic Migration Policy Institute), the Netherlands and Norway.

The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels.