Thursday, June 25, 2009

Language and politics in the immgration debate

The latest push for immigration reform is just getting underway, and Senator Chuck Schumer is in the thick of it. He notes various things Democrats must do in order to get the necessary conservative votes.

Apparently one is to use the term "illegal" rather than "undocumented" immigrant.

I've told the advocates we have to come down hard on illegal immigration," Schumer said. "I say illegal immigrants. Two years ago Democrats said undocumented workers, which made people say, 'Hmm, maybe Democrats don't think it's bad to be an illegal immigrant."

I am trying to think of any other policy example where dispute over naming something became part of the debate, and using your opponents' choice of language became a strategy for passing the bill.

It strikes me as an example of how the politics of symbolism trump substance all too often in the debate over immigration reform.

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