Examining Public Information Campaigns as a Strategy of Border Enforcement

An NSF grant will help a University of Arizona researcher analyze public information campaigns as a strategy of border enforcement, comparing case studies from the United States and Australia.
Oct. 14, 2019
Jill Williams
Jill Williams
The Dangers Awareness Campaign, a public information campaign launched by U.S. Customs and Border Enforcement in 2014, aimed to communicate the dangers of unauthorized crossings to children and their families and inform potential crossers that they would not get legal status.
The Dangers Awareness Campaign, a public information campaign launched by U.S. Customs and Border Enforcement in 2014, aimed to communicate the dangers of unauthorized crossings to children and their families and inform potential crossers that they would not get legal status.

Managing the transnational flow of people is one of the greatest challenges facing countries, requiring governments to negotiate complex issues of sovereignty, national security, and human safety and well-being.

Public information campaigns, or PICs, present a potentially promising approach to regulating transnational mobility, as they are often less expensive and easier to implement than traditional enforcement strategies. However, little is known about the use of PICs as a strategy of border enforcement.

Jill Williams, associate research professor in the University of Arizona Southwest Institute for Research on Women in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, received a grant from the National Science Foundation to examine these issues. She is collaborating with co-principal investigator Kate Coddington, assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Planning at the University of Albany, SUNY.  

The researchers will compare case studies in the United States and Australia to explore how specific cultural, economic, political and geographic contexts affect the development and implementation of PICs as a mechanism of border enforcement. Research methods include textual analysis, interviews and geo-visualization techniques that combine quantitative and qualitative data.

"United States and Australian border enforcement agencies have spent millions of dollars over the last 15 years on public information campaigns aimed at discouraging unauthorized migration, but very little research has examined these campaigns and their impact," said Williams, who is also an assistant research social scientist in the School of Geography and Development and the director of the Women in Science and Engineering Program.

The research will provide insight on the best practices for effectively mobilizing PICs as an enforcement strategy. The findings will have implications for national security, ensuring that border enforcement efforts are effective, economically efficient and safe.

"This project will be an important step towards understanding how PICs function within the larger context of border enforcement and provide information necessary for policy makers interested in developing effective and humane border enforcement policies," Williams said.

The dissemination plan, including a publicly available website, will enable public engagement and provide easily accessible information for migration research and education.

"We are particularly excited to compile the data we collect into interactive and publicly available 'StoryMaps' so that the research findings are easily understandable and accessible to the general public," Williams said.