Inventing Illegality

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Image Credit: May Day March

A new week, a new round of policies that endanger more than than they assist.

Through the debates that will rightly follow Trump’s latest round of immigration directives, notice who chooses to employ the term illegal vs. undocumented. And if that distinction doesn’t yet set your ears aflame, here’s one of the many reasons it should.

Earlier this fall, Emmy Award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa explained that you can identify an individual as having broken a law, but “what you cannot do is to label the person illegal.” Hinojosa continued,

“The reason why I say this, is not because I learned it from some radical Latino or Latina studies professor when I was a college student. I learned it from Elie Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust, who said, ‘You know what? The first thing they did was that they declared the Jews to be an illegal people.’ And that’s what we’re talking about at this point.”

As I’ve argued before, the politics of naming isn’t just about aesthetics, politeness, or the mythology known as political correctness. Language use has actual implications for how a nation creates and enforces its laws. And as Hinojosa and Wiesel argued, it also impacts way we as a society choose to value human lives.

When I’m speeding, no one calls me an “illegal driver.” When your neighbors exaggerate their tax exemptions this spring, we won’t call them “illegal taxpayers.” Though both of these crimes, routinely practiced by thousands, are more dangerous and costly than undocumented migration, no one calls their offenders illegal. To do so would not only be meaningless, but would frankly sound ridiculous.

So we must ask: Why is naming through illegality reserved for one of the most law-abiding populations in our country?

In the end, this isn’t simply about debating the merits of language use – Tumps’s latest round of directives will impact the lives of thousands. However, the very possibility that has allowed such directives to be enacted and supported (across multiple presidential administrations) stems from our failure to oppose the continued framing of human beings as illegal.

Want to fight these directives? Start with language.

For resources on fighting these directives beyond language – see here

Feel free to comment below or visit the blog’s Facebook Page.

Follow on Twitter @ChrisKBacon

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