Tuesday, October 11, 2011

No human is illegal

On Sunday I took my son to the annual Latin American Festival. I chatted with some of the people at the Latin American Coalition, who have launched this campaign:

This, of course, is referring to the use of "illegal" or "illegals" to denote people. It is always used pejoratively and becomes an excuse to hurl all sorts of slurs. If you as an individual are defined as illegal, as opposed to your immigration status, then it becomes easy to label you as dirty, criminal, freeloading, and worthless.

I tend to see "illegal immigrant" as much less pejorative, particularly how it is commonly used (though I know many disagree). That is why "undocumented immigrant" is more common for those who want a less loaded term, though even that is problematic given that many immigrants are documented in some way even if they don't have legal status.

Regardless, language matters in public policy debates, so this is not merely a matter of semantics. Language puts particularly types of images in people's minds. Whether that image is positive, negative, or neutral affects public opinion.


the sad red earth 12:29 PM  

I agree that the simplified "illegal" is dehumanizing in its reduction. But there is nothing inherently pejorative in the words "illegal immigrant." The words may represent a legal status of the immigration that some thinks reflects badly on those who hold it, but it is the status, not the accurate language describing it that might be considered pejorative. "Undocumented" is exemplary euphemism because, uninformative, it provokes a further question, "What kind of documents are missing?" The answer - "Legal documents, documentation of legal entry" - demonstrates what is being purposefully obscured by the politicized term "undocumented."

Anonymous,  2:10 AM  

It is infact a crime to enter into the USA without first being documented. If one chooses to enter without documentation he or she does so illegally, hence the term "illegal". What concerns me is that when one tries to water down terms to sound like something they aren't, it is easier for people who don't understand what is really going on to be convinced the is nothing wrong with this behavior. The redefining of this criminal behavior is going to be used to open the door for amnisty and ultimately a path to citizenship. Criminal alien is a more correct term. The sad fact is that truth is being deminished daily in this country and cannot stand for much more criminal behavior. Unfortunately the ones who cross the borders illegally may not even know they are committing a crime and I do understand why they come here. They come to escape they brutal drug lords, opressive govt's, horrible wages and working conditions. The documentation process cannot be overlooked for any reason, it is there to keep those types who are being deported for their hardened criminal behavior. What happens to the peaceful otherwise lawabiding "illegals" is that they now are considered criminals. The application process should be streamlined and access should be more readily available to those worthy individuals. This would also reduce instances of worker abuse and intimidation by employers who have in the past paid those workers substandard wages. Make it so the benefits of being legal, out weigh the risks of not.

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