The terminology of immigration reform


Perhaps in an effort to pull off a bipartisan success, or perhaps to try to have one last claim to fame in his last two years of office, President Obama has recently been pushing to move on the issue of immigration reform.

It’s about time we had this conversation.

For too long in this country, we have pushed aside the millions of undocumented immigrants that live among us. They have become nothing more than a political toy, being manipulated and maneuvered like pawns on a chessboard without being granted a voice regarding the actions against them.

Yes, their presence in this country is a hot-button problem, and the way we plan to solve it is highly controversial. Obama and the Democrats seem to be pushing to grant amnesty to many of our country’s undocumented residents, while McConnell and the Republicans generally oppose such a measure.

From an economic standpoint, the argument boils down to a question of resources. As of now, do our undocumented residents contribute to the economy more than they cost our country? Would granting them amnesty benefit our economy by adding their contributions to our pot of resources?

But these questions also bring up moral dilemmas that plague the economic realities of the problem. Is it fair to deport people who came to America for a better life? Is it fair to grant them amnesty for illegally crossing our borders?

Politically, both sides of the aisle have something to gain here. If Democrats are to maintain their minority voters – particularly their Lation base – they will have to act on this issue and resolve it in a way that satisfies the beliefs of their constituency. Republicans, on the other hand, would do well to gain minority voters –  particularly as we barrell forward into the next presidential campaigns and the 2016 election – and with that in mind, negotiating and compromising on immigration reform may be beneficial.

This is an important, complex, and difficult issue, one that will establish a precedent for how we, as a nation, choose to view the people who come to our country in search of a better life. So let’s have the conversation – but let’s do it from a place of respect.

The term “illegal immigrant” is tossed around far too frequently with a casual, misguided sense of acceptance – so much so that it has regularly been shortened to the label “illegals.” In truth, such language is offensive, derogatory, and startlingly insensitive.

Let’s make one thing clear: no human being is “illegal.”

When we refer to undocumented residents as “illegals,” we immediately cancel their right to identity. Though they may have crossed our borders by avoiding the law, the vast majority of them did so in search of the American dream that we revere, and were fueled by a longing for a better life. Are we to say, then, that committing an illegal act invalidates their life itself, confining them to the perpetual label “illegal?”

In truth, the term “illegal” is not far off from other derogatory terms that we, as a society, have deemed inacceptable. Such terms not only insult the people they refer to, but perpetuate the cycle of dominance of the people we consider “real” Americans over the ones we choose to invalidate. This is a vicious cycle that we’ve seen in the past, and one that we cannot tolerate.


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