Moving Beyond the “Illegal Immigrant”

Yesterday, the Associated Press announced that it would stop using the phrase “illegal immigrant” to describe an individual present in the US illegally, or who entered the country without proper authorization. This is a great victory for the long history of organizing against the word “illegal” beginning with the transnational No Human Being Is Illegal campaign and more recently, the Drop the I-word campaign, in addition to the many undocumented immigrants across the country who have insisted on defining ourselves beyond the pejorative brush of illegal or illegal immigrant.

The AP dropping the I-word also has wide ramifications not just for the media, but also for the way we view and treat people. “Illegal” or “illegal immigrant” is a dehumanizing pejorative imbued with violence and oppression. I’ve written at length about how “illegal immigration” and hence, “illegal immigrant” came to be part of our lexicon through the construction of true and false immigration. There is no coincidence that the legal history of deportations coincides with the use of more virulent language to separate desirable immigrants from undesirable immigrants, and castigate the latter as undeserving of any civic or political rights.

Members of the South Central Farm attending th...

Members of the South Central Farm attending the immigrant rights march for amnesty in downtown Los Angeles California on May Day, 2006. The banner, in Spanish, reads “No human being is illegal”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By painting certain people with the broad brush of illegality, the state apparatus makes it easier to deny rights to persons without papers, and conduct large-scale violent actions against them, actions that now take the form of workplace raids, detention and deportations. Changing such language then, does help to make it more difficult to castigate people as undesirable and unwanted.

However, this is not just about political correctness. It is also about accuracy. Beyond the sheer dehumanization and violence, the use of the phrase” illegal immigrant” has always been plain lazy journalism. It presupposes that someone is in violation of immigration law without affording the person due process, which is quite contrary to our laws. In my widely-read New America Media article, It’s More Complicated Than Legal vs. Illegal, written last summer,  I mention more legal and less dehumanizing ways to categorize people,:

Overstay: Someone who overstays her admission to the country. An overstay may or may not accrue unlawful presence, and may simply be out of status.

Entry Without Inspection (EWI): Someone who enters the country without inspection or proper admission. An EWI may still be eligible for admission without leaving the country.

Immigrant: A green-card holder whether through admission or adjustment of status.

Non-immigrant: Anyone who is in the U.S. temporarily with legal status but is not a green-card holder or U.S. citizen.

Asylee: Anyone granted asylum in the United States due to past persecution or well-founded fear of persecution in their home country.

These are merely suggestions. As always, I’d err on the side of people defining themselves. I also think it is quite possible to write a story about an immigrant or immigration reform without necessarily having to categorize the actions of people who may be here without proper authorization. Maybe now, news organizations beyond the Associated Press can focus on the covering new stories and opinion pieces about the lives of actual people as opposed to painting us all with the brush of a lazy, inaccurate and dehumanizing pejorative.

There is something to be said about the continued raids, detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants, despite the change of language. While it is too soon to declare victory in terms of the treatment of irregular or unauthorized immigration and the AP will continue using the phrase “illegal immigration” as a way to describe immigration outside the law, this is a step in the right direction.

P.S. If anyone is asking, I have temporary resident status through a pending green card application.

'Anti-Illegal Immigration' is a euphemism for Anti-Immigrant

“So if the government designates a term [alien] for a group of people, I don’t see what makes it pejorative…”
-NumbersUSA

Uh-huh, similarly, when the state labels people as ‘Gooks’ and ‘Niggers,’ there is absolutely no pejorative.

NumbersUSA also cringes at the phrase ‘illegal immigrant’ because they consider it an oxymoron. An ‘immigrant’ refers to ONLY a legal permanent resident, hence the term immigrant cannot be ‘illegal.’ That’s quite a leap from any English dictionary definition. I wonder what they call someone who came here legally, filed all the correct paperwork and then ‘aged out.’ Accidentally-illegal immigrant?

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) broadly defines an immigrant as any alien in the United States, except one legally admitted under specific nonimmigrant categories (INA section 101(a)(15)). Legal or illegal entry/presence does not make one less of an ‘immigrant’ under the law.

As for using the word ‘alien’:

“Alien” is a legal term defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act and used in immigration court and Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decisions day in and day out. “Illegal alien” and “illegal immigrant” are not.

Needless to say, this roundtable conversation was disgusting and devoid of intellect and the ethnic media groups were equally as clueless.

Differentiating that someone is against ‘illegal immigration’ and not legal immigration belies and ignores a broken system of immigration that:
1. Disallows people from immigrating legally even when they want to
2. Renders and labels human beings as ‘illegal’

You still insist that you want unauthorized migrants to do things legally? Recognize that the system makes that impossible in many cases, and that it takes a certain amount of economic privilege to get all the immigration paperwork right. And even then, U.S. citizen children are fighting to keep their parents here and U.S. citizen parents are being separated from their ‘aged-out’ children. Realize that harsh economic realities such as NAFTA have pitted business above labor and devastated conditions in Mexico to the point that migration is the only resort.

If right-wing anti-immigrant groups were really against only ‘illegal immigration,’ they would be doing everything in their power to fix the broken legal immigration system so people would not be forced to either immigrate illegally or worse, ‘fall out of line.’

And referencing this great post by Dave again – ‘Illegal alien’ and ‘illegal immigrant’ are the real euphemisms.

The Perversion of Tolerance – I Don't want to be 'Tolerated' and neither should you

Tolerance is intolerant and demands assimilation.
—Herman Broch, cited in the Jewish Museum, Vienna, Austria

Conversely, what is proclaimed and practiced as tolerance today, is in many of its most effective manifestations serving the cause of oppression.

-Herbert Marcuse

The mainstream, alternative press and bloggers are so inundated and knee-deep in the discourse of tolerance that hardly anyone has stopped to analyze the etymology and meaning of tolerance and its implications for society.

Tracy Hickman laments in The San Francisco Chronicle:

How ironic that the same people who call for tolerance of diverse lifestyles are perpetrating aggression against others for standing up for their beliefs and voting for the principles they hold dear?

Gary Bauer whines about “The Intolerance of the Same Sex Movement” (See also Lone Star Times, WorldNetDaily) while John Kass expresses disappointment at the lack of tolerance shown to T-shirts with political slogans.

Religious forces such as the LDS and Catholic Church take pleasure in pointing out the random and isolated attacks on churches, defacing of anti-gay yard signs, while right-wingers like Matt Barber are slamming the opponents of H8 for taking to the streets and not respecting the “rule of law” and democracy.

Even on the pro-migrant side, bloggers and organizations call for greater ‘tolerance’ as a response to the hate-crime against Latinos such as Marcello Lucero. The history of immigration discourse is ripe with tolerance discourse on all sides — tolerance for new immigrants, intolerance for ‘illegal immigrants’ and so on. Blacks, Latinos, Asians, religious minorities, gays and lesbians are all “tolerated” groups.

I have quietly sat on the side-lines for months, silently ‘tolerating’ the calls for tolerance. Enough.

I don’t want to be tolerated and neither should you. The discourse of tolerance–a noble and grandiose liberal experiment–must be stripped naked and exposed for what it really is: a colonizing discursive tool with the power to label and reproduce our identities, thereby designating minorities as permanent Others in civil society and globality, and justifying their ‘civilizing.’

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Wall Street Collapse? Another Crisis of Capitalism

I wish I had the ability to be shocked when I hear about a ‘deep crisis’ that can cause staggering losses (a cyclical crisis of capitalism), a $700 billion bailout for private sector cronies and John McCain canceling a 2-3 hour debate appearance as a publicity stunt to resolve this crisis (as if, his presence would make a difference. Admittedly, he has a weak economic understanding). But I digress.

It’s not like a major financial crisis was unexpected in the near future. Political economists have been making predictions about the fall of the U.S. dollar for quite some time; this Wall Street financial collapse is just a start. Oil prices are dropping, Asian markets are coming down even immigration is down (ALIPAC must be happy; they are happily blaming immigrants for the meltdown too). Actually forget the contemporary political economists and politicians trying to pinpoint the source of this crisis; revisit the blog favorite Karl Marx, who held that the internal contradictions within capitalism as a system would create cycles of boom and slump, that over time would become more untenable as social forces opposing it built up, eventually leading to an overthrow of the system. What are these internal contradictions?

1. The tendency of the rate of profit to fall

2. The concentration of capital

3. Rise in unemployment

4. Overproduction or Underconsumption (crisis of realization)

5. Collapse of credit

6. Bigger firms buying out smaller and weaker firms (in this case, the government bailing out)

7. Crisis ‘solved’ till the next inevitable cycle

Do these predictions of more than 150 years ago sound familiar?
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The flawed logic of either/or – Creating spaces for intervention

black/white, straight/gay, women/men, left/right, us/them, American/Un-American, nativist/humanist, legal/illegal, liberal/conservative anti-corporate/anti-labor, capitalism/communist, butch/femme, inside/outside, developed/undeveloped, top/bottom, public/private…

Our world is tainted in simplistic, dualistic undertones since we are young and we grow up conditioned to think in this manner. It starts from the household where pink is for girls and blue is for boys going all the way to the President where you are either with him or against him and there is no middle ground, no space to negotiate and intervene.

This blog is a reflection of my personal and political philosophy. I am not concerned with whether anyone subscribes to it or not; for me, it is about building a space without the pervasive duality and dichotomy of everyday discourses. And if that space is only occupied by the presence of few, that is fine with me as well. The point is to make ruptures and disruptions in these hegemonic continuous, cyclical modes of thinking.

The intellectual work that tested my limits was Saba Mahmood’s Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject.

Saba Mahmood rejects secular liberal feminist theory and practices that cast religion (in this case, Islam), as opposed to the interests of women. Through her particular field study of the grassroots women’s piety movements in the mosques of Cairo between 1995 and 1997, Mahmood aims to provide a stark contrast to the often secular liberal depictions of women’s movements. In doing so, she questions the age-old ethnocentric notions of secular liberal feminism that requires feminism and women’s movements to be framed as opposed to structures of patriarchy and power i.e. religion and going a step further, the nation-state project. Mahmood does away with these notions of ethical norms, agency and freedom, thereby posing conceptual problems for secular feminists who would otherwise continue to push for the liberation of women from Islam and actual structures of power in order to achieve their warped-up notions of liberal emancipation of women.

I wrestled for days with this book. Essentially Mahmood was saying that feminism and being political need not denote the emancipation of women from patriarchal structures like religion and the nation-state. Women do not have to completely reject structures of power to actually carve a space and voice for themselves, and thereby work towards transforming it as the women in the piety movement carved spaces for themselves within a traditionally male sphere. I finally realized that juxtaposing Mahmood’s text with secular liberal feminism need not mean that I had to choose or submit to one. I did not and neither do you. Sometimes the questions are more enlightening than the answers to them.

So when I read comments like “how can you be anti-corporate and still pro-exploitation of cheap labor from the Third World?” it is immediately marked as spam. Maybe I should take the time to respond, to expose conditioned minds to different ways of thinking about issues, to bury the either/or in an intellectual manner. Then again, the title of the blog should be clue enough — I do not do either/or and will not submit to that discourse.

You do not need to choose between being pro-amnesty and pro-American. You need not choose between an “illegal alien” and a U.S. citizen. And you definitely do not have to be pro-migrant or anti-migrant. Focus on the becoming, not the being.

When I speak about bridges, I am referring to a metaphor for fluidity, change, channeling, multiple levels of positioning that culminate into a meeting point. I am not speak of ONE compromise or middle point–I am comfortable with no resolutions. Call it folly or postmodern emancipation. I am comfortable in-limbo; after all, that is my conditioning, no?

I realize I am flawed — There are certain categories I hold dear that I did not choose for myself. At times my patience is tested and I do slip up with the anti-_______. And I will not offer love or compassion to those who hate me because of some category, label, classification, documentation, physical feature, or preference. No, I am not a Gandhi or MLK and do not wish to go down that path. It is a tit for tat when it comes to me. But I will agree to disagree heartedly.