The United States of Immigration

Making immigration statistics come alive.


Choose a topic. Define its importance. Gather data. Argue a position.

Design Brief


In the last 10 years (1999-2009), almost 11 million people obtained legal permanent resident status in the U.S. and over 7.5 million were naturalized, becoming American citizens. In the same period, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security allowed over 600,000 refugees to enter the U.S., giving half of them asylum. Concurrently, close to 2 billion of foreigners were admitted to the U.S. for leisure, business or education. Of those, over 8 million were foreign students studying at American universities. And that’s just legal immigration. As of this year, there are 11 million illegal immigrants living in the country.

While the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has a wealth of data on how many people enter and remain in the U.S., the presentation of this data is less than effective: tables filled with a 7-point size text and numbers spanning 4 pages are not exactly audience-friendly. As an example, distilling the above paragraph from the 2009 Book of Immigration Statistics took an hour. However, acquiring the data from the booklet is not the only problem. Immigration is often represented by the very statistics mentioned in the first paragraph; however, what do these numbers and totals mean, if anything? Aren’t we talking about people, their lives and experiences that help shape the American society?


Since the nation’s founding, both legal and illegal immigration has been a source of economic growth, but also a source of recurring conflict. As such it affects the entire American population. This notion is explored in the movie A Day Without a Mexican, in which the entire Hispanic population in California suddenly disappears for one day. All of a sudden, the entire service industry and day-to-day life routine collapse as there is no one to support the system.

Poor representation of immigration data and information and the knowledge it creates therefore impacts a wide range of audiences from policy makers, employers and city officials to university or neighborhood communities to a single individual. While each target audience is impacted differently, understanding the effects of immigration is most important at the personal level, where misconceptions and stereotypes give rise to exploitation, crime, hate and discrimination. The target audience for my artifact is therefore the “average American.”


The most common channel through which most Americans, who are not particularly interested in immigration, receive information about it in the broadcast and print media: news articles, radio talk shows and evening news. Especially during evening news, immigration issues are presented among other negative news, which may subconsciously contribute to negative feelings about the topic. The majority of news articles regurgitate statistics from U.S. agencies and institutes and attempt to “explain” what those mean. At best, there is a rare feature about the successful immigrant who owns a restaurant and faces 30 years in prison and $4 million in fees, because he is in the country illegally. Online media resort to interactive maps filled with numbers and color-coded fields to indicate the amount of foreign-born populations and the countries of origin.

In light of the April 23 passing of the controversial Arizona Immigration Law that allows the police to question someone they have already stopped, detained, or arrested about their legal status in the country, bringing meaningful information about immigration to Americans is more important than ever.

In a Fox News poll in June 2010, about 45% of the people asked believe that as many illegal immigrants as possible should be deported.


Employing both indexical and narrative structures, I want my artifact to show the very personal elements as well as the overall and large-impact effects of immigration. Artifact such as a booklet or an accordion book would seem a more adequate medium to appeal to the people who are not particularly interested in immigration or have negative feelings about it.

Presenting the personal not only about one individual immigrant, but also how immigration impacts the average Joe/Jane on a daily basis will be important in showing a different side of immigration than just statistics.

Gathering Data

Knowing I wanted to employ both indexical and narrative structures to show the very personal elements as well as the overall and large-impact effects of immigration, I first started distilling statistics from the Department of Homeland Security 2008 Yearbook of Immigration in Excel to get the content for the indexical structures.

I also started gathering personal information about three immigrants and the significant events through which they impacted the American population. This would enable the target audience to get to know these immigrants, develop a relationship with them, causing them to see the positive effects of immigration.

Immigration Data

Concept Development

Each successful information design piece should tell the big picture: What is this really about? The large-scale diagram on the left mapped all the content in terms of the big picture: the statistics that serve as the basis for the three narratives that in turn amplify the statistics themselves. In other words, by showing only three narratives in the context of the entire U.S. population, immigrants and visitors, the viewer can draw conclusions about the entire group that is represented by the statistics.

Immigration Data

Accordion Books

My final medium and presentation of the content was in the form of four accordion books: one presenting the big picture and three smaller ones presenting the personal stories of three immigrants. While it took a while to figure the folding mechanism of the main book, the piece was interesting enough to hold the viewers' attention. Since I wanted people to spend some time with the piece, exploring it through the interaction with the pages, the piece has accomplished its goal.

Sample Spreads


Graduate Studio I., Prof. Dan Boyarski
Carnegie Mellon University


1 month
Completed December 2009

Made With

Adobe InDesign Adobe Illustrator