Ojurongbe ’14 to Speak on Media Depictions of Immigration

After graduating this May, Oluwaremilekun "Remi" Ojurongbe '14 will spend two years working at a law firm in New York City. She plans on going to law school and eventually working with immigration law and policy. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

After graduating this May, Oluwaremilekun “Remi” Ojurongbe ’14 will spend two years working at a law firm in New York City. She plans on going to law school and eventually working with immigration law and policy. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

In this issue of The Wesleyan Connection, we speak with Oluwaremilekun “Remi” Ojurongbe of the Class of 2014. She will deliver a WESeminar at Reunion & Commencement on the topic of her capstone project, “Illegality, Criminality, and the Taxpayer’s Burden: The Incomplete U.S. Immigration Narrative.”

Q: Remi, what is your major and why did you decide to write a thesis?

A: I am a psychology and government double major, but I decided to conduct research in psychology mainly because of the classes that I took in the department. Courses like Professor Sarah Carney’s “Psychology in the Law,” and “Cultural Psychology” with Professor Robert Steele really made the connection between psychology and social policy for me. I felt that psychology was a great medium to further explore these topics of race, class, power and the media.

Q: How did you choose the topic of media coverage of immigrants and immigration?

A: I choose the topic of immigration because it is an area that I am personally familiar with, but I also wanted to learn more about it. My parents are Nigerian immigrants so I have some personal experience with the process of emigrating to the U.S. My sophomore year with the Ronald McNair program, I did independent research on past restrictive immigration and the creation of a perceived American identity. It was through this project that I learned more about restrictive immigration legislation, public attitudes and trends in immigrant representation.

The summer of my junior year, I was able to intern at an immigration law firm in Baltimore, Md., where I got an even closer look at the system. I was able to speak with immigrants in different stages of the immigration process and learn more about the system as well as personal immigrant narratives.

Seeing how immigration was portrayed in the media versus my own personal knowledge, I felt that there was a disconnect. So much is left out of media discourse and I wanted to explore this in my capstone project.

Q: Please tell us about how you conducted your research.

A: For research I conducted a content analysis looking at print media during the deliberation/passage of two pieces of immigration legislation in 1996 and 2013. I looked at over 600 articles from four newspapers: The New York Times, The Washington Post, San Jose Mercury News, and The Austin American-Statesmen. I created a coding schema based on patterns that I saw in these articles. For instance: what type of immigrants were being discussed (e.g., criminals, students, workers); nationalities mentioned; rhetoric used to describe immigrants; and the specific topics that were discussed in relation to immigration.

Q: I understand you’ve worked in the past on media analysis for the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks and analyzes political advertising in elections. How did this work inform your current project, if at all?

A: Working with the Wesleyan Media Project and taking Professor Erika Franklin Fowler’s course was a great learning experience and was extremely helpful for my thesis. I learned a lot about media analysis through this course such as creating coding schemas, and gathering and analyzing data. Working with the media project was my first experience with both content and media analysis, which was very much informative for my study.

Q: What differences did you observe in the media narrative on immigration in the two distinct time periods you considered?

A: I looked at coverage in 1996 and 2013, when significant pieces of immigration legislation received extensive media and political attention. In 1996, under the Clinton Administration, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA), which enacted harsh measures for immigrants such as expanded deportation categories and the criminalization of undocumented immigrants. During this period, public attitudes towards immigrants and immigration in general were mostly negative. On the other end is 2013, which held more positive and pro-immigrant sentiments. The Senate passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act. Though it eventually stalled in the House, the act was considered to be significantly more sympathetic to undocumented immigrants based on provisions such as a pathway to citizenship and the eradication of Green Card quotas.

In my research I found that immigration narratives in the media reflected the sentiments of their respective periods of legislation. So during 1996, the immigration narrative emphasized more negative aspects of immigration such as crime and economic burden. In 2013, the narrative shifted to highlighting immigration as a moral issue and focused on better treatment of immigrants. The media also highlighted positive aspects of immigration, such as the economic benefits of high-skilled workers and family reunification.

Q: The title of your thesis refers to “the taxpayer’s burden.” Did you find the notion of immigrants as a “taxpayer’s burden” to be prominent in the media?

A: I found this depended on the political period and the sentiments of the time. Media discourse regarding immigration heavily focused on this idea of immigration weighing down our economy. In my 1996 sample, economical burden was one of the primary depictions of immigrants. Immigrants were portrayed as mostly poor, lazy and primary users of government welfare services such as food stamps and Medicare. Politicians argued that the “American taxpayer” was overwhelmed with taking care of immigrants and in return called for more restrictive immigration measures. In 2013, we see this narrative shift and immigrants are now discussed as beneficial to the economy.

Q: Do you plan to do any further work in this area after graduating?

A: I definitely plan on volunteering with immigrant advocacy and community service groups that provide legal assistance to immigrants.

Q: What are your future career or educational plans?

A: For the next two years, I will be working at a law firm in NYC but I plan on going to law school and eventually work with immigration law and policy. I hope to work with immigration policy reform in hopes of making the immigration process more efficient for the millions of individuals who migrate and reside in the U.S.

Q: What extracurricular activities are you involved in at Wesleyan?

A: I am a part of the African Students Association, Suya African Dance Troupe, Xtacy Dance Collective and Praise Dance. The dance community at Wes is truly amazing!