Tuesday, April 9, 2013

No One Is Illegal

Hooray for the Associated Press in banning use of the label "illegal immigrant."


Writers now have to describe a person's status more fully, probably using a verb, not a label.

"He crossed the border east of Nogales and was found dead" rather than "The illegal immigrant was found dead."

"After traveling to Sonora to visit her dying mother, she was arrested while returning because she did not have a visa" rather than "The illegal immigrant was arrested while returning from a visit to her dying mother in Sonora."

More words rather than fewer.

A fuller picture rather than a picture that reduces a human to one label: illegal immigrant.

It's like calling someone "a gay politician" rather than "a Democrat who supports gun control and who married his long-term partner last year in Boston."

People like labels.  They keep things easy to understand.  

Black, white, legal, illegal, gay, straight.

Labels, however, keep us from having to think about humans whose complex lives intersect with many labels and issues.  They keep us from having to think, period.

In my blog posts from Nogales earlier this year, I often used the term "migrant."  It refers to anyone who crosses borders with plans to live in a new place.  

It doesn't remind the reader every few seconds about laws, jails, rights, and status with Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE).  

While we're at it, let's all resolve to stop referring to people as "illegals."  

The AP and many newspapers banned this long ago because it is even more reductive and implies that someone at his or her very core is illegal.  He or she does not have the right to exist.

Let's also stop saying, "My parents/ancestors immigrated legally" as if it were a badge of honor.

My ancestors came from Europe before any groups were banned by the US government--but the native Americans whose land they homesteaded on did not regard them as legal. 

In Georgia, Missouri, South Dakota, my forebears took land that the US had just wrested from those who had lived there for centuries.

My friend's parents emigrated from Scotland in the 20th century, but they did not face a quota requiring them to wait for 20 years.  They arrived legally and easily.

US immigration laws allow different quotas for different countries.  Anyone from a country with a backlog of applications faces years of waiting, and a decision on whether to obey the law and give up on hopes of immigrating.

Let's not judge those who immigrate illegally--but even if we choose to judge them, let's not beat them over the head with their legal status every time we speak.  

We can speak more carefully and fully about these complex problems.

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