Entering the US without authorization or “papers” is a misdemeanor (For comparison sake, some other misdemeanors include public intoxication, disorderly conduct or vandalism). Yet, stereotypes of undocumented immigrants as criminals persist and the use of the word “illegal” to describe these individuals has become mainstream practice.
Colorlines has provided insightful reporting on the history and current use of the term “illegal” in US media and political discourse and how it has shaped attitudes towards immigrants. This week, they report that the Associated Press’ style guidelines have been updated, dropping the use of “illegal aliens” or “illegals”, but endorsing the use of “illegal immigrant.” The AP claims that this term is accurate and neutral. Colorlines provides convincing arguments for why this term is not neutral and provides a link to the AP’s comments page. Take a moment to urge the AP to drop “illegal immigrant.”
The use of the term “illegal immigrant” has confined individuals to a single identity – one that implies criminality. How a person entered this country haunts all other aspects of his or her life, aspects which include constitutionally protected rights. Regardless of person’s immigration status, it is not illegal to attend school. It is not illegal to seek medical care. It is not illegal to seek better working conditions. And, it is never illegal to pay taxes.
Language is powerful because it shapes and reflects social attitudes and influences how policymakers think about and act on issues related to immigrants and their well-being. As we have seen in past and recent policies, terms referring to people as “illegal” has helped to justify the denial of education, medical care and safe working conditions for undocumented immigrants. In addition, this term is both a cause of and a symptom of an increasingly xenophobic culture in our country which subjects immigrants and people of color to harmful discrimination. In our fight for policies that promote justice and protect the health of immigrants, we must also consider how we speak and write. Even though the AP has yet to change its language, we can. Justice can and make sure that it is done in a linguistically just manner.
The architect of the AZ SB1070, the law that started the wave of state level anti-immigrant legislation, has been recalled. Many view the recall as a sign from voters that extreme intolerance will not be tolerated.
Because of rise in enforcement actions against employers, more are voluntarily joining the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers (IMAGE) Program. There is pressure from Department of Homeland Security for more businesses to join this program, which requires enrollment in E-Verify and allows the Federal government to review employee information.
A report, based on a sample of 252 deportation cases, by American Immigration Lawyers Association and the American Immigration Council, found that “the overwhelming conclusion is that most ICE offices have not changed their practices since the issuance of these new directives.” The report also found that training for ICE officers has been lacking. Janet Napolitano and John Morton, director of ICE, stated that more time is needed to shift a law enforcement culture where all undocumented are seen as targets for deportation to one that works on “sound prosecutorial practice.”
A study of 4,780 adult children of Mexican and Asian immigrants in Southern California found that those whose parents were undocumented finished two fewer years of school than students whose parents had legal status. Other research has shown that individuals with higher levels of education are healthier over the course of their lives, in part due to their access to better economic opportunities and resources.
A report by the New York ACLU and other civil rights groups has demonstrated that Border Patrol agents in upstate New York use unconstitutional tactics to make immigration arrests. These include riding trains and buses to target passengers and make raids on trains and buses and harassment of permanent residents up to 100 miles from the state’s Canadian border.