David “M-m-m-my” Sirota at Salon:
As one of the world’s largest news outlets, the Associated Press’s linguistic mandates significantly shape the broader vernacular. So when the organization this week decided to stop using the term “illegal immigrant,” it was a big victory for objectivity and against the propagandistic language of bigotry.
Cautious AP executives did not frame it exactly that way. Instead, editor Kathleen Carroll portrayed the decision as one in defense of grammar, saying that the term “illegal” properly “describe(s) only an action” and that it is not an appropriate label to describe a human being.
“Illegal,” of course, has been used as more than a mere label — it has for years been used as an outright epithet by xenophobes. They abhor the notion of America becoming more diverse — and specifically, more non-white — and so they have tried to convert “illegal” into a word that specifically dehumanizes Latinos. Thus, as any honest person can admit, when Republican politicians and media blowhards decry “illegals,” they are pretending to be for a race-blind enforcement of immigration laws, but they are really signaling their hatred of Latino culture.
How can we be so sure that dog-whistle bigotry is the intent? It’s simple, really. Just listen to who is — and who is not — being called an “illegal.”
Almost nobody uses the term to attack white immigrants from Europe or Canada who overstay their visas. Nobody uses the term to describe white people who break all sorts of criminal laws. Indeed, nobody called Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter an “illegal” upon revelations about his connection to a prostitution service, nor did anyone call Bernie Madoff an “illegal” for his Ponzi schemes.
Instead, the word is exclusively used to denigrate Latinos who entered the country without authorization. Coincidence? Hardly, especially because the term “illegal” is used to describe Latinos whose immigration status is not even a criminal matter.
What’s the catch-all term for people who operate motor vehicles while under the influence of alcohol? Where I come from we call them “drunk drivers”. We also call people who dispense illegal narcotics “drug dealers” and guys who break into other people’s houses and take stuff “burglars.” I have heard Vitter and Madoff referred to by derogatory terms like “pervert”, “crook” and “scumbag”.
There are several derogatory terms that refer to Latinos/Hispanics. There is also the old slang term “wetback” that was used to refer to Mexicans who entered the United States without permission. The origin of that term was based on the idea that they had just swum across the Rio Grande to enter Texas. But the term wasn’t accurate because both then and now many of these illegal immigrants crossed on dry land into Arizona or California.
“Illegal immigrant” is an accurate descriptive term. The people it refers to are immigrants who entered the United States illegally. The term illegal immigrant” is not exclusive to Latinos/Hispanics, but they do comprise a majority of the illegal immigrants in this country.
“Undocumented worker” is not an accurate descriptive term. It implies that their only offense was not filling out the proper paperwork. Illegal immigration is somewhat more serious violation than failing to sign the guest book at a party or reception. Some of these people are not here to work but are instead involved in the illegal drug trade.
There is nothing xenophobic about being concerned because millions of people from another nation with a different language and culture are invading our nation, taking jobs and residing in our communities. This is especially true when our economy can’t support all the people who are U.S. citizens.
We have borders. We have immigration laws. Because they enter illegally we don’t know anything about these illegal immigrants, such as whether or not they have criminal records. The fact is most illegal immigrants are not the best and brightest. They are often poor and illiterate. Many of them drive cars without licenses or insurance. When they get in trouble they run back to Mexico and then return here using different names.
I am not anti-immigrant. I spent part of my childhood living on a Del Monte farm labor camp. I actually witnessed a few immigration raids. There are communities here in the Central Valley where the illegal immigrants outnumber everyone else.
We need immigrant labor. But what we need is a regulated flow, not a flood. We need to get immigration under control.
One more thing – just because they come here to work does not mean they have to become citizens or even permanent residents. We should have a program that effectively enables them to cross the border when they are needed and go home when they are not. We need a modern version of the Bracero program.