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Marketing A Word That Kills: "Illegal"

by XicanoPwr Mon Apr 10th, 2006 at 09:47:01 AM EST

On Saturday, April 8th, in a joint venture with Harris County's Democratic Party and Houston's Democracy for Houston held a workshop on Immigration Reform in their first in a series of "Fighting Back! Workshops: 'Talking the Talk'" workshops. The forum was hosted by Murvin Auzenne, chair of the HCDP Communications and Message Committee and the presenter was Immigration Attorney/College government professor Toni Medellin.

Stace Medellin at Dos Centavos gave a great summary of the workshop:

Medellin presented on the legal/legislative background to the immigration issue. Of importance was Medellin's statement that neither the Senate Judiciary Committee or McCain/Kennedy bills have anything to do with "amnesty." Medellin gave the legal definition for amnesty, which basically is defined as forgiveness for past wrongdoing without any punishment or sanction against those forgiven.
Murvin Auzenne proved how great an asset he is--not just by organizing the workshop, but by also providing his insight on the framing and reframing of issues. Several discussion groups were formed for the purpose of creating values statements. Whether it was about valuing the workforce, or improving the security of the country, or valuing the diversity that a every ethnicity and race (including immigrants) provide to this country, the statements were the exact opposite of the republican and white supremacist mantra (they really aren't much different if you visit websites like those of the White Camelia Knights of Cleveland, TX, the Minutemen, and Stormfront (White Aryan Resistance).
However, Toni Medillian did remind us of one important point: "If you take anything away from this workshop, it should be that we all learn not to call these hard-working people "illegal". No Human Being is illegal."

To some, using the term "Illegal" vs. "Undocumented" is just a matter of semantics and to others it means a lot more. When one talks about a group of people who are referred to as "illegals" it never includes people who have committed a crime such as murder, corruption or theft. Nor does it include people who speed or play loud music at a party in the middle of the night. The use of the word "illegal" is only meant for one purpose - the "undocumented." The word itself dehumanizes immigrants and brands them as criminals. Yet, frequent visitor and commentor to my blog, John Konop, Congressional candidate for Georgia's 6th District, is quick to argue that in fact they have committed a crime and not acknowledging it would mean, we as a country would have to disregard other laws:

Should we stop enforcing traffic laws? Should we stop enforcing drunk driving laws? Should stop enforcing any of our criminal laws? Should we have no trespassing laws?
What Konop fails to understand, the label criminalizes the person and not the action they have committed. True the person may have committed a civil violation, but the label is used unfairly because it targets only one group of people in a way that tax cheats and car thieves are not viewed the same way. Therefore, if the argument being used by right wing extremist is that an undocumented immigrant broke the law, then we should apply the same definition universally for all criminals. A list of offenders <s>offenders</s> illegals, to just to name a few, this would now include:
  • the illegal former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham - California Republican admits selling influence for $2.4 million;
  • the illegal lobbyist Jack Abramoff - pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion charges;
  • the illegal Tony C. Rudy - pleaded guilty to charges that he conspired with the "illegal" lobbyist Jack Abramoff to corrupt public officials and defraud his clients;
  • the illegal Michael Scanlon - pleaded guilty for conspiracy to defraud Indian tribes;
  • the illegal Elliott Abrams - pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges of withholding from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence his knowledge of Oliver North's Contra-assistance activities, Bush Sr. pardoned Abrams before trial;
  • the illegal Randal David Ankeney - Republican activist from Colorado, arrested on suspicion of sexual assault on a child with force;
  • the illegal Jim Bakker - indicted on 23 federal charges of fraud, tax evasion, and racketeering
This goes beyond semantics, it is a matter of demonizing and scapegoating a whole group for the country's problems. This has been a regular practice whenever the US economy is having a problem. This issue has been mentioned before.
History has shown the Mexican labor pool is heavily utilized during times of economic boom and repatriation during economic downturns. To American capitalist the border does not exist when it comes to exploitation. When it comes to minimum wage requirements, health care benefits, workman's compensation insurance, and social security plans, both Migrant workers and employees of American firms in Mexico have always been excluded.
The fact is, under current US immigration law, an undocumented immigrant is not a criminal nor have they committed a crime, the offense is considered a civil violation, the same way speeding is considered a civil violation. By singling out and persecuting undocumented immigrants for this country's economic problems is often unfair, and itself is racism for no other reason but xenophobia and racial hatered. If not, the argument being false, then the names mentioned above and everybody who violates federal, state and local law should also be considered "illegal."

Another erroneous argument by Konop:

The number used by open boarder supporter is $ 1800 dollars per immigrant. It cost around 10k to educate a kid per year, 10k per family healthcare per year, roads, parks........ Liberal Paul Krugman admitted the math does not add up.
Just because one liberal says it doesn't mean I and other liberal/progressive should mimic the current Repug lock-n-step policy. It is rediculous to think that stopping the flow of undocumented immigrants into this country, the health care crisis will end and we can now start singing Leo Reisman's "Happy Days Are Here Again."

In a recent Drum Major Institute report, Principles for an Immigration Policy to Strengthen and Expand the American Middle Class, DMI would argue that the opposite. In fact, not only is it wrong to think that the undocumented immigrants are the cause of our economic problems, but it actually helps build a strong Middle-class.

Immigration policy should bolster--not undermine--the critical contribution that immigrants make to our economy as workers, entrepreneurs, taxpayers and consumers, because:

On average, immigrants pay more in taxes each year than they use in government services, and these taxes fund programs like Social Security that strengthen and expand the middle class.

By increasing consumer demand, immigrants generate economic growth that benefits the middle class: immigration is a major contributor to the expansion of Hispanic and Asian-American consumer markets--an estimated 12 percent of the nation's 2004 purchasing power.

Immigrants also stimulate the economy by starting small businesses and attracting investment capital from their countries of origin.

There is always more than one answer to this problem, however, wingnuts refuse to admit the drain that is occurring within the healthcare and education system was created by depletion of the financial resources when Dudya instituted his pro-business/anti-citizen tax-cut and the multiple tax break to the BushCo corporations.

On TomPaine.com, Economic Policy Institute's Jeff Faux wrote:

Higher walls and more police will certainly make crossing the frontier more difficult, but recent history tells us they will not stop the illegal influx of immigrants any more than more enforcement has stopped the illegal flow of drugs. Neither will mass deportation, guest worker programs or amnesty get at the root causes, which are poverty and the lack of job opportunities south of the border.

Mexico is not the only source of illegal immigration, but it is by far the largest--representing over three-quarters of the total. Some 40 percent of the over 100 million people still living in Mexico say they would come to the United States if they had the opportunity, which can be bought for the roughly $2,500 or so it costs for a "coyote" to lead them across the border. Last year at least 400 died in the attempt.

It is not surprising that out of 400 who die, some end up dying at the hands of vigilantes are the same who call themselves Christians while at the same time wrap themselves around the American flag thumping their chest as they brutally beat the "savages" in the name of American security. Although blogger Rev. Mykeru's "American Jesus" graphic was used to depict the lunacy of the right based fundamentalist in the push for the war in Iraq, the same graphic can also used to describe the same mentality being used to justify the murder and torture whenever a vigilante organization decide to go on their migrant hunt. How Christian of them, que no? Is this what it means to a compassionate American?
In neighboring Maricopa County, the sheriff's department is investigating the killing of eight men whose bodies were found from June to September in the desert west of Phoenix. Four of the killings took place over the past two months. The victims' hands were bound by tape, telephone wires, or handcuffs. Seven were killed by large-caliber bullet shots to the head or body and one was beaten to death or stabbed. At least six of the victims were Mexican citizens; one was Ecuadoran.

Members of the anti-immigrant vigilante organization Ranch Rescue deny involvement in the killings, but admit they have mobilized some 50 people--dressed in military-style camouflage gear and armed with semiautomatic rifles and pistols--to-hunt for undocumented border crossers in southern Arizona. [New York Times 10/23/02; La Jornada (Mexico) 10/20/02; Arizona Daily Star (Tucson) 10/22/02; El Diario (Ciudad Juarez) 10/19/02]

Is this the type of Immigration policy America can be proud of? The photo below was taken by photographer José Palafox, the names on the Mexican side of the wall are the names of immigrants who ended up dying and this includes those who were brutally murdered trying to achieve the American Dream.

It is true what they say about a picture being worth a thousand words, that would explain the lack of photos in today's mainstream media. As long as the many faces aren't shown then they have no story - they have no voice.

For the unabridged version - ¡Para Justicia y Libertad!

It is nice to see someone dedicating this amount of space to the dehumanizing use of the word "illegal". I share the sentiment strongly about how this word is used.

My experience has been that it is not only the right that uses this term. I have heard many liberals use the term "illegals" as part of their day to day speech. My take on this issue is that it does not fit neatly within the "conservative" "liberal" divide.

While I would agree that there seems to be a perverse brand of Christianity that has focused its energies on the Southern US border, I think it should be noted that numerous Christians and Christian organizations have dedicated an immense amount of effort, for many decades, to fighting for the rights and dignity of those on the migrant trail.

Regardless of my additional points, I am very glad to see someone writing on this matter.

I have read about this wall of names and would like to go down to see it.

PS. link to "¡Para Justicia y Libertad!" didn't work for me.

by aden on Mon Apr 10th, 2006 at 12:07:13 PM EST
There are those Christian organizations that do a lot of great work, especially Catholic organizations, but these are the same one that the Rat Pope dislike because they advocate liberation theology.

Maybe I should have pointed that out, but when you start watching your back, wondering if I will be mistaken for being undocumented, it is easy to forget.

Here is the link, sorry about that.


Corruption and hypocrisy ought not to be inevitable products of democracy, as they undoubtedly are today. - Gandhi

by XicanoPwr (chicanopwr at gmail.com) on Mon Apr 10th, 2006 at 01:39:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
for this diary. I am ashamed of how we Texans have taken advantage of cheap labour when it was convenient to do so and then turned around and bit the hands that in many cases have literally fed us.  
by northsylvania on Mon Apr 10th, 2006 at 11:12:35 PM EST
Corporate Agribusiness and the Exploitation of Migrant Labour

To begin with the question needs to be asked who really are "illegal" immigrants on mostly territory that now comprises one third of the U.S. land mass and which in fact belonged to Mexico prior to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848 ?

Here was land literally stolen from the Mexican people by a handful of thievish land barons in what the famous land reformer Henry George once described as "a history of greed, of perjury, of corruption, of spoliation and high-handed robbery for which it would be difficult to find a parallel."

The long-term consequences of such action was that in the words of Ernesto Galarza, author of the classic Merchants of Labor, the Treaty left "the toilers on one side of the border, the capital and the best land on the other."

Therefore, it is no accident that throughout U.S. history the chronic areas of rural poverty have remained the South, where the plantation system has dominated the agricultural scene, and the Southwest, where the vast tracts of productive land have remained in the hands of a privileged few through the years.

all power is always and forever about land (until we morph into cyborgs who don't need to eat, as some wishful souls are hoping).

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed Apr 12th, 2006 at 12:26:59 AM EST

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