Playing Politics with Kids’ Lives

August 15, 2014

Today marks the two-year anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy President Obama instituted by executive order. As unaccompanied children fleeing violence continue to surge into the US from Central America, Republicans continue to play politics by blaming DACA. Make the case against automatic deportation by keeping the focus on the real life experiences of these children and hold Republicans accountable for playing politics with their lives.


When we can, we ought to keep children safe from harm.

Imagine how awful life must be for a mother to feel compelled to send her child away alone – risking rape, kidnapping, and murder.

These children come from three countries in crisis, where violent drug gangs target kids individually. One child found a dismembered body on the family’s doorstep, as a warning to join the gang or die.

It’s not just the U.S. Children from these three crisis countries are fleeing in all directions: Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Belize have all been inundated with children seeking asylum, too.

America can help these children. 4 out of 5 have family members or sponsors here in the U.S. who are willing to take responsibility for them until their cases are reviewed.

All they need is the chance to tell their story to a judge so they can remain with their families in the U.S. until things get better at home.

Republican politicians’ response to these children in distress have included posing withmachine guns, starting rumors that they are carrying Ebola, and refusing to take any steps to help handle the crisis. Their behavior has been unworthy of a great nation.

Instead of treating this as a crisis to solve, they’ve treated it as a political opportunity to exploit.

 KEY:  Connect with your audience |  Make your case |  Show how your opponents differ


We developed our topline messages based on new research by Belden Russonello Strategists, Lake Research Partners and Hattaway Communications. Through a variety of methods including focus groups and message analyses, these groups came up with a number of recommendations to make messages about unaccompanied minors more persuasive. Here are a few suggestions based on that research:

  • Call them children. This turns on listeners’ compassion and urgency. Adding the term refugee can evoke different reactions for different listeners, some of which are unhelpful. It is most effective just to call them children.
  • Paint the picture of the situation the kids are fleeing. Many Americans are unaware of just how violent and dangerous Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are right now. Tell stories about the violence these children are escaping and the dangerous conditions they faced to make their journey to the US to engage compassionate feelings.
  • Talk about practical solutions. Americans easily feel overwhelmed by what they see as a large problem and that leads listeners to think there is nothing to be done. Pointing to the fact that the vast majority of these children have family or sponsors here in the US who are waiting to welcome them offers a practical solution and relieves listener anxiety.
  • Should, not must. Listeners are turned off when this crisis is discussed in terms of an American responsibility to help. Because these are children, most listeners think that we should do something, but don’t like being told that we must do something.
  • Avoid the border. Republicans have been relatively successful with their messaging about the crisis because of their ability to pivot from the crisis to illegal immigration. Invoking the border leaves an opening for that pivot; avoid it whenever possible.


ATTACK: “These kids are coming to the U.S. because Obama’s immigration policy for DREAMers (DACA) is too welcoming to them.” 


  • These kids are fleeing death threats from violent gangs. Our policies have [DACA’s got] nothing to do with it.
  • They are fleeing anywhere they can, not just to America.  Since 2009, other Central American countries (Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Belize) have seen over a 700% increase in the number of asylum applications from the three countries in crisis, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
  • We need sound policy, not sound bites and photo ops that only make things worse.
ATTACK: “The President should wait for Congress to act and not issue an executive order.” 


  • The President is just doing his job, enforcing the law as best he can. The problem is the broken law Republicans in Congress refuse to fix.
  • Congress has not given President Obama the resources to fully enforce the law because Americans know deporting 11 million of our neighbors is not reasonable. And Republicans in Congress have refused to fix the law to reflect that reality.


  • The President has asked Congress to pass a $3.7 billion supplemental bill that would increase capacity to process and temporarily house children at the border, increase immigration court capacity to speed up cases, and expand law enforcement efforts at the border.
  • House Republicans refused to pass that supplemental bill to give our law enforcement officials the resources they need at the border, increase our capacity to process and temporarily house these children, and increase immigration court capacity to speed up cases. Instead, they just passed two do-nothing bills to try to give themselves political cover while they are home in their districts this month.
  • In order to pass the bill that would get that modicum of help for the humanitarian crisis at the border, some House Republicans also required a vote on a bill that would deport half a million children, who have grown up as American kids, to a country they have never known. Republicans reportedly cheered when the bill passed
  • 7 in 10 Americans think we should treat these kids, who are risking their lives to flee violence, as refugees.
  • Between 2009 and 2012 a civilian in Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador was more likely to be killed by violence than civilians in Iraq at the height of the insurgency. Data analyses have shown that as the homicide rates go up, so do the number of unaccompanied kids migrating.
  • At the same time, the number of Mexican children trying to cross the border into the United States has decreased.
  • Meanwhile, Republicans helped to precipitate this crisis by blocking efforts to fully fund and staff immigration courts.
  • By turning the millions of immigrants currently living in the shadows into legal taxpayers, immigration reform would add billions to our economy. Experts estimate that not passing it has already cost us $900 billion. And it would probably be the law already except that John Boehner is blocking it.
  • The Pope has made some statements in the last year that suggests Republicans should take a different tack when it comes to immigration policy.
    • “Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more.” [9/2013]
    • “We ourselves need to see, and then to enable others to see, that migrants and refugees do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected and loved.” [9/2013]