Robert L. JAMIESON JR. ‘Illegals’ term not divisive, it’s accurate

Robert L. JAMIESON JR. ‘Illegals’ term not divisive, it’s accurate

AHIJACKING of the English language just took place.

It happened earlier this month when Seattle activists accused Senate candidate Mike McGavick of using “divisive” language by invoking the word “illegals” in an ad.

In the TV spot, McGavick’s camp says Sen. Maria Cantwell “voted to allow Social Security benefits to illegals.”

Liberal activists, led by Hate Free Zone Washington, a social- justice group, blasted such language, calling it “dehumanizing.”

“This kind of anti-immigrant rhetoric is inflammatory,” the activists claimed, “and does nothing to solve the real problems to our broken immigration system.”

Immigration policy in America is broken.

The system doesn’t reflect the millions of people who sneak in and help our economy by cooking in restaurants, working as nannies, picking fruit or building homes.

But to suggest people who come from Latin America or Canada or wherever without valid paperwork are somehow here legally is ridiculous.

As David Ray of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, put it: “Referring to an illegal alien as an ‘undocumented immigrant’ is like calling a bank robbery an ‘unauthorized withdrawal.'”

“Undocumented workers” or “unauthorized migrants” are euphemisms used for a reason — to sugarcoat uncomfortable truths.

You see this verbal jibber-jabber all over the place.

Folks at Hewlett-Packard are in hot water for obtaining others’ phone records by pretending to be those people — or people with legitimate access rights — then coming up with a pretext for needing the records. The corporate world calls this pretexting. In the rest of the universe, it is known as lying.

After Hurricane Katrina, victims were not to be called refugees, but evacuees, a flaccid noun that doesn’t capture the depth of the suffering. President Bush likes to talk about reforming welfare. He means dismantling it.

What makes the linguistic spin surrounding illegals brain- numbing is that using polite words or phrases doesn’t magically give people legal status. It does wipe out accurate language in the name of protecting the feelings of people who are in this country without permission. I’m usually on the same page as Pramila Jayapal of Hate Free Zone, but not this time.

“Factually, no human being is ‘illegal,'” says Jayapal, director of the social-justice group. “People commit acts that are illegal. Many of our august Congress people have committed illegal acts — but we do not call them ‘illegal.”‘

Jayapal points out that being in America without valid immigration papers isn’t a criminal offense. The immigration system was set up as a civil system, not a criminal one. Immigration violations, she says, are typically considered civil violations. That said, people without papers aren’t following the rules. That makes them illegal immigrants or illegal aliens or illegals for short.

“It’s about stigma and dignity,” Jayapal says. She said the activists “singled out” McGavick, adding, “It was an educational opportunity.”

But to what end?

Public attention got deflected from where it’s needed — on meaningful policy discussions — and that is nothing new.

Whether they’re “refugees” or “evacuees,” the flood victims of New Orleans are still without homes.

Whether they’re “illegals” or “paperless immigrants,” the hardworking people who cross the border still are looking over their shoulders.

Meanwhile, the PC word police keep up a blindfolded pursuit. They recently called the Cantwell campaign to complain about her ad rebutting McGavick’s; the senator’s ad says “illegal immigrants.”

Uh oh.

“We’re working on changing it,” a spokeswoman for the comically hypersensitive Cantwell campaign said Monday. “They need to get the voice-over guy back in the studio to redo it.”

What will the new ad say?

“Undocumented workers,” the spokeswoman said. “Or undocumented immigrants.”

What a bunch of bovine droppings.

Robert L. Jamieson Jr. writes for the Seattle Post- Intelligencer.

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