In my little (and decidedly liberal) corner of the blogosphere, it has now become inappropriate to use the word “illegal” when referring to immigrants. Colorlines, one of my favorite PB-based blog discoveries, has launched a site called “Drop the I-Word.” From the site:
How is the I-Word inaccurate – isn’t some illegal action happening here?
The I-Word is used as a sweeping generalization to label people who are out of status due to a variety of circumstances. For example, many people:
- Are brought to the country against their will.
- Are brought by employers and often exploited for cheap labor.
- Fall out of status and overstay their VISAS for a variety of reasons.
- Risk being killed in their country of origin.
- Are refugees due to bad economic policies such as NAFTA.
- Are affected by natural disasters and/or other reasons beyond their control.
- Are forced by economics and/or politics to risk everything simply to provide for their families.
This language scapegoats individual immigrants for problems that are largely systemic, such as unfair economic and immigration policies. The system itself pushes certain people into categories that are hard to get out of. There exists a backlog of people who must wait years to get processed, even when they are eligible to get papers through a relative. In this broken system, there can be families with mixed status that get torn apart because family unification is not a priority of the system.
There are other accurate words that do not dehumanize, such as: foreign national, undocumented immigrant, unauthorized immigrant, immigrant without papers, and immigrant seeking status.
“Undocumented”, “unauthorized”, “without papers” — aren’t those all just other ways of saying illegal? Is it just the use of the word “illegals”? Or is it “illegal immigrant” as well?
For the record, I don’t like the term “illegals.” If you’re going to call people “illegals”, let’s be fair and apply it to everyone who has ever done anything illegal. That would include me, you, Lou Dobbs, jaywalkers, underage drinkers, and almost everyone I know over the age of 10.
But “illegal immigrant”? The simple fact is that if one immigrates without a visa, or stays after the visa expires, that is illegal. I’m not saying there aren’t justifiable reasons for doing so, but that doesn’t make it any less against the law.
To me, this also smacks of being overly cautious. Are we using “undocumented immigrant” because the idea of “documenting” people instead of “legalizing” them is less frightening? If that’s at all the case, then that means we are allowing the other side to define the terms of reference, which has turned out really, really well in the past, what with the “death panels” (hospice), “climate change” (global warming), “pro-life” (because if you’re pro-choice, you are obviously anti-life), and “euthanasia” (assisted suicide).
Call me naive, but if one side is going to appropriate a term and try to misuse it, shouldn’t we be pushing back against the misuse, instead of trying a rhetorical sidestep? Rhetoric matters- let’s not just give up because the other side has decided to be racist, fear-mongering idiots.
I am more than willing to be wrong on this one, so please, someone make the case. What am I missing?
School me y’all.