“We have to watch who we hire” said the woman. “We can’t have a bunch of illegals hired or else we’ll be liable”
And I saw red. The color I have seen every time I hear someone use the term “illegals” for the past decade.
“By becoming judge, jury and executioner, you dehumanize the individual and generate animosity toward them.” Charles Garcia
It doesn’t take a reader much time in Communicating Across Boundaries to recognize that I work and identify with many immigrants. I live in an immigrant neighborhood, I have conversations daily with immigrants, and I am most at home when in a group of immigrants. I look similar to those of the majority population but my worldview has a different shape to it – I am an invisible immigrant.
And with this comes a desire for fairness and a strong sense of advocacy for immigrant communities.
I am convinced that fairness and advocacy includes examining our lexicon when it comes to immigrants and immigration. We all know the power of words; they shape us daily. And we have used the word “illegals” referring to people long enough. They are not illegals. They are undocumented people; people without the proper papers and documents required by a government. They may have committed illegal acts but a person cannot be illegal.
The word illegal alien holds even more offense. While I understand the word ‘alien’ to have been in wide use since Biblical times, in combining the two words we paint a picture of an unlawful creature from Mars.
I am not arguing the importance and merits of a solid immigration policy; what I am arguing is the terms and words that go into that policy. Because words make all the difference in our attitudes and decisions to treat people as human beings or as “other”.
In an excellent piece posted on CNN Opinion Charles Garcia goes as far as to call the words “illegal alien” or “illegal immigrant” racial slurs.
“When you label someone an “illegal alien” or “illegal immigrant” or just plain “illegal,” you are effectively saying the individual, as opposed to the actions the person has taken, is unlawful. The terms imply the very existence of an unauthorized migrant in America is criminal.” (Why ‘Illegal Immigrant’ is a Slur, CNN Opinion, July 6)
His points are well made. Significant he says is that the Supreme Court, in handing down their decision on immigration, did not use this biased language except in quoting other sources.
Dehumanizing those men, women and children who are in this country without proper documentation does nothing to help promote good policy and everything to create an angry “us” vs. “them” dialogue.
It’s time to change the lexicon and take out words that make creating fair policy even harder. So next time someone uses the word ‘illegals’ I challenge you to say to them “You mean people without proper documentation of their right to be here?”
And through changing our lexicon, may we be changed and pray for wisdom and humanity to be at the heart of the discussion.