I am very pro illegal immigrant. I support a broad amnesty, beyond even the focus on those brought here as children or young adults. I think illegal immigrants contribute significantly to this economy, to our country and culture, and I do not judge their decision to come here or stay here without legal authorization to be morally bad. In fact, I think the fact that someone deciding they want to take the risk to come here and live and work in America despite breaking the rules is praiseworthy if anything. We do not have a sensible guest worker program, and for many who come illegally there is no practical legal door outside of waiting in line for more than a decade. America has a rebellious disregard for bad rules at the heart of it’s culture and history. Since when are we thoughtless worshippers of the law for the law’s sake? How can people who love the American Revolution, the A-Team, and the Dukes of Hazzard not also love illegal immigrants? Folks, I hate to break it to you but John Rambo broke the law too!
So I think immigrants are good, and illegal immigrants are good. But I think it’s okay to use the phrase “illegal immigrant.”
This came up recently because Cato immigration scholar Alex Nowrasteh recently said on Twitter that he gets criticized by some advocates for using the term “illegal immigrant.” This despite Alex dedicating his life to fighting for laws to help immigrants in the U.S., illegal or not, and defending them in papers, blogs, and on TV against anti-immigration critics. As Alex points out, apparently all of that is not enough, he has to use the right words too.
Critics complain “but a person can’t be illegal!”. And did you know a Guinea Pig is neither a pig nor from the Republic of Guinea? And that a peanut is neither a pea nor a nut? Weird how language works some times. Illegal immigrant isn’t a technocratic legal term, it’s a widely accepted phrase that describes something we all understand quite well. Progressives bringing their innovative political correctness to this have decided that “unauthorized immigrant” is now the accepted term, and “illegal immigrant” is offensive.
There are a lot of people in this country who are against illegal immigrants in both broad and narrow senses. I try to be someone who is both pro immigrant and pro illegal immigrant, and also capable of having productive dialogue with those who are not. This is how you persuade people. Starting the conversation with “woah, actually, that term is offensive” isn’t going to persuade anyone. It’s instead going to suggest that you are interested in using political correctness to rope people who disagree with you into a group that can be labeled offensive. It suggests you are someone trying to use word games to win an argument.
I’m not interested in playing those games. In the real world a lot of immigration opponents have actually offensive beliefs, and to try to talk them off of them is tough enough without engaging in the favorite campus progressive past-time of finding new things to be offended about.
Illegal immigrants are great, and they are illegal immigrants. That’s the word we all know, and we all know what it means. If you want to change how people think about it, change their beliefs, not the words.