Illegals (Illegal Immigrants)

As the U.S. immigration debate has escalated, this term "illegals" has been used to characterize undocumented individuals violating the immigration laws.  People referred to as “illegals” (a noun) often see the term as dehumanizing -  as if they themselves, as human beings, were being called “illegal” (“he is an illegal”, “they are illegals”), rather than just their immigration status.  Hence the common rallying cry heard among immigrant rights activists:  “Nadie Es Ilegal” (one translation: “No one is illegal”)

Others may see this concern as overly sensitive political correctness, since we commonly use another noun--“criminals”--to refer to those breaking the law.  From this perspective, the legality or illegality of one’s immigration status, while perhaps not trumping certain basic human rights (the right to life, for example), is nevertheless an issue of fundamental importance to the survival of the United States as a sovereign nation.  The right to secure one’s borders is generally considered an inalienable right of nation states, and illegal immigration is a violation of that fundamental right. Thus the label of “criminal” (and, by analogy, “illegal”) should not be seen as out of bounds, because this particular violation of national law is  far from minor in terms of the ramifications for national sovereignty, security, and the principle of the rule of law.

Immigrant rights activists, on the other hand, might respond that words have important connotations as well as minimal dictionary definitions, and that the word “criminal” simply does not capture the situation of, say, a young mother risking life and limb to cross the border in order to earn money to support her family.  For this and other reasons, many argue for an approach to immigration based more on a well-developed sense of human solidarity, and less on a sense of “national” identity.

But this, proponents of stricter border controls might point out, is precisely the threat:  any normalization of illegal immigration is bound to undermine American national identity and sovereignty.

Others would point out that American foreign policy itself has somewhat ironically been a source of at least some of the problems which caused immigrants to leave their home countries - arguably creating situations of grave social, political, and economic instability in Latin America that have pushed many people to flee “al Norte”, to the United States.  

Proponents of stricter immigration control, however, tend to lay less blame at the feet of American foreign policy, sometimes interpreting American actions in a much more positive light than Latin American immigrant rights activists, and attributing more of the instability to local causes (corrupt governments, drug trafficking, etc.).  Many of these would suggest that more American involvement in helping to stabilize and promote job creation in Latin American countries might be a better response to poverty and political chaos than simply allowing more people to head north to seek better lives in the United States.

 

Contributors: 

Arthur M. Peña

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