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Building Public Understandings of Comprehensive Immigration Reform

A Communications Toolkit

Welcome to Building Public Understanding of Comprehensive Immigration Reform—a collection of framing research, recommendations, and sample communications.


Welcome to Building Public Understanding of Comprehensive Immigration Reform—a collection of framing research, recommendations, and sample communications.

This toolkit is designed to help advocates of comprehensive immigration reform increase public understanding about:

  • why immigration is so important to our nation’s economic and social wellbeing;
  • what’s wrong with our current immigration system and why it needs to be updated;
  • the importance of building a simplified, modernized immigration system, including visa reform and a pathway to citizenship for those already here; and
  • which solutions are appropriately scaled to address the size of the problem.

This toolkit is based on research supported through a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. It is designed to help immigration reform advocates to frame comprehensive immigration reform and related issues as important policy fields and matters of public concern. The toolkit models how to use the FrameWorks Institute’s evidence-based recommendations for communicating with average Americans about these issues in ways that build public understanding and support. The kit’s materials include:

  • sample “ready to go” communications that can be used as is or adapted and repurposed for your organization’s needs;
  • communications examples that demonstrate the “do’s and don’ts” of the framing recommendations;
  • graphics and an interactive game that model the key concepts of the recommendations;
  • annotations that explain the framing strategies being illustrated.

When communicating with the public or policymakers, users are encouraged to borrow toolkit language verbatim if desired, or adapt it to their needs—no citation or special permissions are needed in this instance. For other uses of toolkit materials – such as incorporating these materials into other trainings or communications resources – please refer to FrameWorks Institute’s terms of use for guidance on seeking permissions.

For 15 years, FrameWorks Institute research has demonstrated that effective communications can help activate the public’s engagement with complex social issues—such as the changes needed to our immigration policies in order to advance the nation’s economic and social interests. This toolkit is based on the findings of nearly five years of multi-method social science research that queried the thinking of more than 13,000 Americans and included expert interviews, literature reviews, peer discourse sessions, on-the-street interviews, large-scale surveys and usability trials. For more on the evidence base that informs the recommendations in this toolkit, visit our website.

The Big Picture

This short article is intended for use by communicators and other framers working in the field of immigration reform to inform colleagues and other supporters about the logic behind the strategic framing approach. It is the short version of the strategy, intended to be accessible to people new to the idea of framing, and persuasive to those who are starting from a different set of assumptions about how communications work.

Anticipate Public Thinking

Public thinking is like a swamp – and it can be hard to get your messages through. With a map, you can navigate it.

Swamp Drop
See what cultural models look like embedded in real messaging.

Play Swamp Drop

Key Framing Guides

Useful guides to keep communicators on frame.

Sample Communications

These materials apply the tested frame elements to communications opportunities such as editorials, social media updates, and program descriptions. They can be adapted to local contexts (for example, adding local references or site-specific information) or restructured for different formats (for example, repurposing an editorial as a blog post or public remarks.)

Metaphor Visualization

This metaphor visualization is a resource that explains and exemplifies the Immigration Sail Explanatory Metaphor in a short visual narrative.