Immigration Station

A Critical discourse analysis of immigration in the 2016 Presidential Election

Critical Discourse Theory
In contrast to more traditional lines of inquiry localized to the political sciences, this project employs critical discourse analysis methods in its analysis of speech acts concerning immigration during the 2016 presidential campaign season. Rather than analyze the potential implications of platforms proposed by presidential candidates, this projects concerns itself with the linguistic underpinnings that necessitate such platforms. We argue that vastly different immigration and immigration reform proposals put forth during the 2016 presidential election cycle were rooted in as much, if not more, a given candidate's immigration rhetoric as opossed to any so-called fact based reality. Rather, in keeping with the post-modern traditions of Michael Focault, we aim to demonstrate that knowledge and reality are constructs of language, rather than objective truths . Thus, advocacy for building a wall along the United States' southern border can be a viable platform for constituencies that use the phrase "illegal immigrant"- just as amnesty and a pathway to citizenship can be fitting for those who use the terms "dreamer" and "undocumented."
Political Discourse and the 2016 Election Cycle
Defining exactly what constitutes political discourse can prove to be its own endeavor. For simplicity's sake, we find van Djik's definition of political to be most poinent: "the easiest, and not altogether misguided, answer is that political discourse is identified by its actors or authors, viz., politicians." -Teun van Djik Nevertheless, we feel it necessary to explicate further our decision to analyze immigration discourse from the 2016 presidential election cycle. Without a doubt, rhetoric from the 22 analyzed presidential candidates running for election constitutes political discourse. However, we will argue that the 2016 presidential election campaign season marked a moment of inflated political participation- both in terms of candidates and constituents. On the campaign trail candidates engaged in a considerable number of discursive acts including speeches, rallys, town-halls, and debates. At the same time, a record number of recipients attended, listened, and viewed these speech acts. Thus, we contend that the heightened degree of political participation during the 2016 presdiential election cycle, on account of politicians and constitutents, marks an appropriate moment to analyze political discourse on immigration.
Concerning Method
In our XML markup phase we focused on two levels of rhetorical analysis. On one level, tagged individual words that were relevant to immigration rhetoric. Words describing immigrants, illegal/undocumented immigrants, or refugees recieved the tag "immigrant" with attribute values "status," denoting the subject's legal immigratory status and "term" denoting the actual term used by the candidate. Immigration related terms recieved identical treatment, however under the tag "immigration" instead. In addition we included "keyword" tags, which were used on individual words or phrases pertaining to immigration such as amnesty, border, wall, pathway to citizenship, or Dreamer.
On the second linguistic level, we marked what we called "tropes." Trope tags, as inspired by the "frames of reference" described in Dr. Luke Peterson's Israel Palestine in the Print Media, were used to describe any speech utterances that disucssed immigration in terms of a specific ideological positions, or frames of reference. These ideological dispositions are often rooted in a candidate's definition of a given issue, and propogate an emotional rather than objective or fact based response. Thus, utterances such as "the fact is, since then, many killings, murders, crime, drugs pouring across the border, are money going out and the drugs coming in," employs a homeland security frane of reference. By this perspective illegal immigration should be viewed as a harbinger of crime, drugs, and death to innocent Americans. Other tropes employ economic and American value based statements in order to define immigration in a positive or negative light. In our markup, we tagged sentence similar to our example denoting the trope's "type" grouped as economic, national security, and American values. Then, when applicable these tropes were given a subtype to further specifiy an observed fram of reference. Thus, the latte example would be tagged with the "trope" element, "secure" type, and "crime drugs" subtype denoting a frame of reference that depicts immigrants as criminals and drug pushers.
Topic Modeling with MALLET
Along with our critical discourse analysis conducted through manual textual markup, a statistical textual collection and analysis tool called MALLET was implemented to identify "topics" in the presidential debates. These "topics" are generated entirely by the program, by feeding it the text of each debate, at which point the program identifies words that appear in close proximity repeated times throughout the discourse. Once the word clusters are captured by the program, it then assembles those word groups into lists which become respective "topics." It is worth mentioning that, while the topics created by the program can produce coherent textual themes that manual analysis could not produce, the program itself (obviously) has no idea what the words it selects actually mean. That is to say, the words themselves are nothing more than a string of letters to the computer, who assembles lists on that basis alone. The analysis of its topic collection and the significance of each of the topics in regard to our central research questions is where we, the researchers, re-entered the equation.
Collocation Analysis
Similar to topic modeling, collocation analysis is another corpus-level textual analysis tool that identifies regularities in word usage in a body of texts. Unlike topic modeling, however, collocation analysis does not generate topics, but rather it simply collects the words that co-occur in greatest frequency in a selected body of text. In the context of our research, the collocation elicited terms that appeared in tandem in the immigration sections of the debates.
A special thanks goes out to Gerhard Peters, John T. Wooley, and their American Presidency Project, whose debate transcripts we have borrowed for this project. We highly recommend users to take a look at their project. They can be found at