Super Bowl immigration ads miss the mark

(CNN)There is no arena in which politics cannot intrude. First came several awards shows that featured political statements by celebrities, and then a backlash against the New England Patriots for the team’s ties to Donald Trump. And then Sunday night’s Super Bowl featured two commercials with immigration themes, one by Budweiser and the second by Pennsylvania-based 84 Lumber.

Aside from injecting a contentious element into one of the few events that brings Americans together, the problem with both commercials is that they misrepresent the stories they are supposed to be telling. They play to myths surrounding immigration, which is not helpful to understanding the issue.
The Budweiser commercial was the better of the two ads. The company presented a fictionalized version of how one of its founders, Adolphus Busch, emigrated from Germany in 1857. It shows him in steerage on the boat to America, which was probably unlikely given his family’s wealth. It shows him being targeted for being an immigrant, with a passerby yelling at him, “You’re not wanted here!”
    One scene in the commercial shows Busch’s “Immigration Identification Card” being stamped as he enters the country. The implication seems to be that Busch entered the country legally, or “the right way,” as some would say.
    In fact, in Busch’s time there weren’t many distinctions between legal and illegal immigration. Our first general immigration law was not enacted until 1882, after Busch arrived in the US.
    Immigrants from Europe in Busch’s day did not need visas. As long as they passed the physical and mental health screening at Ellis Island, most Europeans who could afford to book passage to the US could enter the country.
    Representatives for Anheuser-Busch told Variety that their commercial was not meant to be a comment on Trump’s immigration policies, and that it was intended to be a tribute to their co-founders. As such, it worked, though Budweiser has been targeted for a boycott by Trump supporters. But why not highlight a contemporary immigrant success story, like a Muslim or Latino Anheuser-Busch employee? That could have been more effective, and the company would not have had to take such dramatic license. Budweiser tried to have it both ways; they produced a controversial ad featuring an immigrant, yet played it safe by setting it in the past, with an migr who was both “legal” and European.
    The 84 Lumber commercial was more problematic. The version shown during the Super Bowl was the second version of the ad, as the first was reportedly rejected by Fox for depicting a border wall. In the version that aired on TV, a mother and daughter are seen leaving their home somewhere in Latin America and heading on a long journey together, presumably to El Norte.
    Their country of origin is not mentioned. If it is meant to be Mexico, the ad is misguided, as lately there are more Mexicans leaving the US than entering. If it is meant to be somewhere in Central America, the ad paints an unnatural picture of the trek north. Women and children who arrive at our southern border from Central America are fleeing murderous gang violence, drug cartels, and death threats. Along their harrowing trip, they face the threat of sexual violence and the risk of being captured by human traffickers.
    While the 84 Lumber ad shows the mother and child crossing the desert, leaping onto a train and running in the rain, there is no serious sense that their lives are in danger — which is a far cry from reality. The beautiful photography, Lifetime-esque soundtrack, and scene of mother and child twirling together make their journey look like a grand adventure. This is a gross distortion of the humanitarian crisis that has unfolded along our southern border.
    To learn how the mother/daughter trip ends, Super Bowl viewers had to go to an 84 Lumber website after halftime. In the full version of the video, the mother and daughter come across a border wall, which magically opens for them. The ending can either be seen as encouraging illegal immigration or presenting a fantasy of what undocumented migrants face. On Twitter, 84 Lumber called it a “symbolic journey towards becoming legal American citizens.” Never mind that it is extremely difficult for undocumented people to change their status.
    So 84 Lumber has turned the real-life experiences of vulnerable migrants into a marketing opportunity. How cynical is that? And this is a company whose president told the New York Times that she voted for Trump, whose recent attempt at halting refugees included Central Americans, too.
    The ads that aired during the Super Bowl from Budweiser and 84 Lumber are not likely to change anyone’s mind on immigration. It would have been far better for both of these companies to focus their commercials on their products, and leave politics out of our lives for one night.

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