Press Room

Does news coverage promote the criminalization of undocumented immigrants?

May 6, 2019
Experts Available
Mass Media, Political

New research published in NCA’s journal Communication Monographs reveals that undocumented Latino immigrants are unjustly implicated and overly represented as criminals in news coverage, and that exposure to such news coverage triggers inequitable treatment. The researchers tested whether watching crime news coverage implicating undocumented immigrants influenced criminal sentencing. 

To test their hypothesis, study authors Andrea Figueroa-Caballero, Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Missouri, and Dana Mastro, Professor and Vice-Chair in the Department of Communication, University of California, Santa Barbara, exposed study participants to a manipulated immigrant crime news story that portrayed White and Latino suspects and differing levels of threat. 

The two-part study consisted of 444 White participants, with a nearly even split of males and females. In first part of the study, approximately 42.5 percent of participants identified as Democrat, 33 percent as Independent, and 19.3 percent as Republican. In the second part, approximately 46.2 percent of participants identified as Democrat, 28.7 percent as Independent, and 20 percent as Republican. The results echoed previous research indicating that racial/ethnic bias influences criminal sentencing. In both parts of the study, the undocumented Mexican suspect accused of the crime received a greater punishment than the White suspect. The authors also noted that given the current political climate and rhetoric from the White House, these anti-immigrant positions are unlikely to disappear from the media landscape anytime soon. 

If you are interested in exploring the impact of news coverage on the criminalization of undocumented immigrants, the authors are available to provide commentary and details on their research. Their bios are below. 


Andrea Figueroa-Caballero, Ph.D. 
Assistant Professor of Communication, University of Missouri 

Dr. Figueroa-Caballero’s research explores the link between exposure to representations of racial/ethnic minorities and other underserved groups in media content and subsequent perceptions of the self and other as well as a host of socially significant outcomes such as stereotyping, group esteem, and implicit bias. To this end, she employs a multi-disciplinary approach, bridging theories and research paradigms from mass communication, intergroup communication, cognitive and social psychology, and psychophysiology. This research program has resulted in several journal articles and book chapters. Most notably, her research can be found in journals such as Communication Monographs, Health Communication, and Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media. Figueroa-Caballero received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara. 

Dana Mastro, Ph.D.
Professor and Vice-Chair in the Department of Communication, University of California, Santa Barbara 

Dr. Mastro’s research is aimed at increasing our understanding of media effects processes related to racial/ethnic stereotyping. To this end, her work investigates the influence of exposure to stereotypical racial/ethnic images in the media on perceptions of self and other, as well as on interethnic/racial relations in society. Mastro’s research can be found in journals such as Human Communication Research, Communication Monographs, Communication Research, Media Psychology, the Journal of Communication and the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, as well as in books such as Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research. She teaches classes in media theory; mass communication; and media, race/ethnicity, & stereotyping. She received her B.A. in History from UCLA, her M.A. in Communication-Urban Studies from Michigan State University, and her Ph.D. in Communication from Michigan State University. 


To schedule an interview with either of these experts, please contact Sandra L. Rodriguez at or 202-534-1104. 


# # # 

About the National Communication Association

The National Communication Association (NCA) advances Communication as the discipline that studies all forms, modes, media, and consequences of communication through humanistic, social scientific, and aesthetic inquiry. NCA serves the scholars, teachers, and practitioners who are its members by enabling and supporting their professional interests in research and teaching. Dedicated to fostering and promoting free and ethical communication, NCA promotes the widespread appreciation of the importance of communication in public and private life, the application of competent communication to improve the quality of human life and relationships, and the use of knowledge about communication to solve human problems. NCA supports inclusiveness and diversity among our faculties, within our membership, in the workplace, and in the classroom; NCA supports and promotes policies that fairly encourage this diversity and inclusion. 

For more information, visit, follow us on Twitter at @natcomm, and find us on Facebook.