Bridge of Understanding

Immigration reform is a complex issue. Efforts over the past two years have failed to bring about needed change. So what makes Lionel Sosa think he can do it in 30 seconds? Simple. He’s an ad man.

Sosa has been in marketing his entire professional life. He built one of the largest and most successful advertising firms in the country by effectively promoting products to Hispanic consumers living in the United States. Over the years he has assembled an impressive client list with companies representing everything from soft drinks to soap. However, it is his work in politics that has brought him the greatest attention. Sosa is recognized as being the mastermind behind the Spanish language television commercials for six Republican presidential campaigns spanning from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. Indeed, Sosa’s advertising savvy has led to an impressive number of Latinos to cast ballots for the GOP nominees over the last two decades. You can now add Democratic presidential campaigns to his impressive list as he has thrown his support behind New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson in the 2008 election.

Today, when Sosa is not producing commercials for presidential candidates, he is putting his energy into a different political area: immigration. Sosa is focusing his marketing talents on illegal immigration with the hope to sway public opinion and ultimately pave the way for immigration reform in the United States. He himself admits that his position goes against some of the more extreme members of the GOP, but he doesn’t falter.

The website is Sosa’s newest product launch. Oddly, this high-tech operation’s primary office is located in a log cabin-like building located on the edge of the San Antonio River in downtown San Antonio, with an additional office located in Mexico. MATT, an acronym for Mexicans and Americans Thinking Together, is an online, web-based community dedicated to educating citizens and community groups about immigration reform. “It started out as a think tank where people from the United States and Mexico could put forth ideas on solutions to problems for both countries,” remarks Sosa, who serves as the executive director of “It has evolved into being the bridge of understanding between the two countries.” He soundly believes that the issue that is dividing the U.S. and Mexico is immigration. As a result, has transformed into both a portal and a promotion.

When you land on the home page you are given a myriad of options to explore in English or Spanish. You can post comments to the site’s blog, read up on the most up-to-date news and research studies on immigration, watch educational and community posted videos, or join the effort, which is free. The site also hosts an area called People Finder, a service that focuses on locating and reuniting families and friends in the U.S. and Mexico. There, anyone can post data about a lost loved one including gender, height, weight, age and information on where the person was last seen. also features a section that touts its partnership with KIVA and ADMIC, which have come together to form a Microfinance institution that funnels small, non-collateral loans to entrepreneurs living in Mexico to cultivate startup businesses. Sosa believes this lending effort has a direct connection to immigration. “Our members have already made almost a million dollars in loans to entrepreneurs in Mexico,” he boasts. “We feel the more entrepreneurs we help in Mexico, the fewer workers will come to the U.S. We are helping create more, better paying jobs there by helping them build their own business.”

Exactly who are the members of In addition to private citizens, members include business people from the United State and Mexico who have a stake in the immigration labor issue. There are also a number of community groups, non-profit organizations, and elected officials who have joined the effort. In fact, this past January many of them convened at the second “Immigrations Solutions Forum” in Las Vegas. The gathering brought together nearly 30 local, national and regional leaders, including members from both political parties. The roundtable meeting gave the organizations and members the opportunity to develop non-partisan strategies that are intended to shape and influence the conversation in the next round of presidential debates.

One of the more noteworthy areas of is its Solution section. Resembling a policy position paper of a presidential candidate, this section of the site posts MATT’s proposals for immigration reform in three areas: job creation in Mexico, integration of illegal workers, and incentives for workers to return home. Visitors can read the proposals, watch videos, and download presentations that they can use in their own communities. Sosa explains, “At we have taken it upon ourselves to be the voice of the pro-immigrant movement because we believe there are practical solutions out there.” He shares that one of his frustrations is that images on television portray immigrant workers as criminals jumping border fences in the cloak of darkness. “We don’t see the women who are taking care of our babies, that are cleaning our offices, that are picking our fruit, that are processing the meat, that are doing all those things that allow us to keep our life style.” His answer to the absence of positive images of immigrant workers is to create 30 second television commercials that do just that, and distribute them through a mass media promotional campaign.

“We have come up with a campaign that will take 100 million dollars to air, which we are raising from both countries, from the private and public sector,” Sosa explains. “And, we are going to approach this as political campaign right before the vote comes up again. It will be an effort to tell the other side of the story. Yes, we believe in law and order, and yes we believe we should secure our boarders. But, we also believe that we can solve this problem together because we need the workers.” He admits that the biggest challenge his campaign effort faces is the hate and racism of the anti-immigrant proponents. But, he hopes to counter this with a dozen 30 second television spots. To date, the commercials have been tested in numerous focus groups with American voters who are active in their community and are unsure about what to do about immigration. “We make the ads better and better each time we test them,” Sosa remarks. So seems the case as, according to Sosa, the commercials have been receiving “standing ovations” from community groups who have gotten advance peak of the ads. The commercials have since been posted on-line at and can be viewed by the public.

How does he do it? Sosa accredits his success to keeping his message away from what he calls fringe issues like amnesty and details surrounding paths to citizenship. These “break the whole thing apart,” he explains. Sosa and the group think that can be worked out once the workers are legal and no longer criminals. “We are singularly focused on immigration reform that makes the worker legal. That’s our main message. Because it’s in the best interest of America and Americans,” says Sosa.

Sosa passionately believes that can be an important factor in solving the immigration issue, which is not relegated just to the United States. He envisions developing a model that can help solve the immigration problem everywhere around the world. Sosa speculates, “In 10 years, will be a major factor in solving the worldwide immigration issue.” Half jokingly he says, “Who knows, maybe we’ll be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.”

Sosa is deeply passionate about and its ability to help generate immigration reform. Moreover he admits that the anti-immigration message is effective. They paint illegal immigrants as breaking the law and thus would-be criminals. That, coupled with the fact that the U.S. knows little about who these immigrants are, whether they are true criminals or simply desperate people looking for work, makes’s charge difficult. But, Sosa remains optimistic. He has big plans for, and 30 second television spots are sure to be an important weapon in his arsenal to bring about immigration reform.

By Laura Barbarena