When most people hear about the current state of the U.S. immigration system, they picture borders and brown people. With “Immigration is a Black Issue,” we wanted to show people how Black immigrants are actually disproportionately impacted by our punitive immigration system.
As a national immigration advocacy and legal services organization, we had the anecdotal evidence and unseen data to prove there is systemic racial injustice in the immigration system. As our campaign says, “the immigration system is nasty for everyone, but it’s even nastier for Black people”. That’s what we wanted viewers to understand and be motivated by long term. You can’t fight something if you don’t know it’s happening and that’s the problem we’d noticed time and again for Black immigrant rights.
In preparing to release our video in the wake of protests after George Floyd’s murder, it was vital that the video served as an entry point to discussions about the intersection of racial justice and immigration. The challenges facing Black immigrants had not been discussed in the mainstream media with such care and detail before our campaign, so it was important to create a meaningful moment of understanding around this complex issue across platforms and media, with diverse audiences; a moment that would propel viewers to continue educating themselves and sharing with others to create meaningful systemic change.
To make this video with so much cold data work, it had to be lively and personal. So we partnered with Joyce Louis-Jean (@atribecalledJoyce), an influencer of Haitian descent who was keen to collaborate on an issue close to her heart. Joyce doesn’t typically cover immigration but when we began talking about the idea with her, we saw that her personal style and commitment would ensure this topic resonated with her audience and could snowball from there. We worked directly with Joyce from the beginning to make sure that the narration was true to her voice and that the production felt right to her.
We knew we would be presenting lots of data – which can be tedious – and upsetting information – which viewers may choose to click away from – so we had to make sure the style kept viewers interested and engaged. We used a range of production techniques to create a tempting and fun package despite the upsetting content. You’ll notice the video starts beautifully with Joyce surrounded by a bright pink bugambilia, intended to stop viewers in their scrolling tracks. It then follows Joyce around on her journey to relevant locations across Los Angeles, including an immigration detention center and an immigration bond office, creating a constant sense of movement. In the spirit of this video being the first step of a journey, light orchestral music helps carry the story through. We wanted to avoid the heavy or somber music so common in videos covering similar material since we were worried about losing viewers already struggling with constant 2020 bad news! Even though we present complex data to the viewer throughout, it never feels overwhelming thanks to the simple, clean graphics with tempting colors and Joyce’s powerful, engaging narration.
Since this story was so personal for Joyce, we decided the best roll-out strategy was to have her release the video to her 60k+ Instagram followers exclusively at launch, before sharing on our own social media. We believed the video would speak for itself and pull in a diverse, caring audience who would want to help us get this message out.
In conjunction with the video rollout, we worked with Black immigrant rights groups to produce a Facebook Live event that same week and created a landing page with further information and resources to compliment the video for people who were moved to get directly involved. All the pieces were designed to fit together, with the video as the centerpiece.
Within hours of Joyce releasing the video, it went viral with organic shares from influencers and congresspeople (such as AOC). We got 1 million views across platforms within days, with hugely diverse audiences showing how we’d successfully navigated the intersection of racial justice and immigrant rights. We soon saw publications large and small independently covering racial injustice in the immigration system, often referencing us (for example, Teen Vogue cited our work and data).
We were also moved when the Movement for Black Lives (MBL), an organization representing 50+ Black grassroots organizations, screened the video at their 2020 convention. They then decided to also screen another of our videos about abuse by the Department of Homeland Security. This was a clear demonstration of the impact this video was having in terms of uniting groups across causes and creating an environment of supportive, sustainable learning that would benefit Black immigrants.
Groups and individuals have approached us to translate the video for their communities (we now have it in Korean!). While policy change is slow to come, we have been encouraged to see immigration recommendations to the White House citing our data.
The most important impact for us came in the deep, heartfelt comments from viewers. Many were deeply moved by an issue they’d never heard of before. Others found it profoundly validating to see their experience brought to light. We believe, with time, our collective work will make the systemic changes we need.
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