Re-defining illegal immigration
Last week, a congressional panel enjoyed testimony from Jose Antonio Vargas, who – according to the Washington Times – “scolded” them for using terms like “illegal immigrant.”
“When you inaccurately call me illegal, you not only dehumanize me, you’re offending them,” he said. “No human being is illegal.”
Mr. Vargas testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee alongside Chris Crane — a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent and president of the ICE agents’ union — who is unable to arrest him under the administration’s new non-deportation policies.
Mr. Vargas, who “came out” as an illegal immigrant several years ago, delivered an emotional plea for the country to legalize him.
“What do you want to do with us?” he asked the committee.
Last week, a top House Democrat also warned colleagues against using the term “illegal immigrants.”
“Our citizens are not — the people in this country are not illegal. They are are out of status. They are new Americans that are immigrants,” Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, told colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee.
This is the kind of gobbledygook that makes one nervous about the whole “emerging consensus” for a “path to citizenship.” Vargas’ meaningless statement that “no human being is illegal” would, interpreted the way he means it, lead to the conclusion that no human being can possibly break the law. To speak of illegal aliens “coming out” is to associate them with the language of gay rights, which has in turn hitched itself to the wagon of the civil rights movement. And Conyers is doing old George Orwell proud by insisting that illegal aliens are really just “out of status” or “new Americans.”
How can we solve a problem we cannot even discuss rationally? The people playing these games with language are well aware of how language shapes thought. If their cause was as just as they claim, they wouldn’t have to resort to totalitarian word games. (And that is the correct term – the adjustment of both language and thought to conform to political directives is the work of the totalitarian. It doesn’t matter if the cause in question is purportedly just. Almost every totalitarian believes he has a just cause.)
So why can’t we set the tortured language aside, and talk about what we’ll do with a massive population that chose to ignore U.S. immigration law, producing generations of American-born children who never made any such conscious decision? The comprehensive immigration reform movement is predicated on the government keeping a number of promises to current American citizens, among them a commitment to border security (which will prevent another illegal population from accumulating in the future) and certain stringent requirements that our new provisional citizens must meet. But how can we trust the government to manage those difficult commitments when it can’t even use plain English to discuss the situation? When they’re serious about enforcing a law, they don’t seem to have any trouble speaking in terms of lawbreakers, offenses, and penalties.
Along those lines, there is a long-standing law that’s supposed to prevent immigrants from entering the country and immediately going on the dole, or “becoming a public charge.” Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) of the Budget Committee has been leading an investigation to discover just how stringently this law is enforced. The answer is, “not very.” Only one case was processed against an immigrant by the Department of Homeland Security in 2012, and that charge was later withdrawn. Meanwhile, studies show high levels of welfare dependency in immigrant-headed households, even though Sessions and his colleagues maintain that a “bedrock principle of immigration law is that those who seek citizenship in this country ought to be financially self-sufficient.”
That’s very much in line with the promises we’re hearing about comprehensive immigration reform. But the existing system isn’t doing a very good job of handling its existing duties to pursue that bedrock principle. And discussing the problem in frank terms grows increasingly difficult, as it brings everything from charges of xenophobia, to warnings that those who take these “bedrock principles” seriously – even those who question the government’s eagerness to recruit new immigrants into various welfare programs – are going to alienate an indispensable bloc of voters. Language bends to political necessity… as we cling to the illusion that we’ll be able to deal fairly and rationally with problems that we’ve just about re-defined out of existence.