Monday, May 01, 2006

"Undocumented Immigrant" is a misleading term

The battle over language is an important piece of any policy debate. Everybody tries to frame their side of the debate in positive terms. Thus, people are not anti-abortion. They are pro-life. They are not pro-death, but pro-choice.

The clever term in the immigration debate is "undocumented immigrant" or "undocumented worker." I dislike these terms because, while technically true, they are not the most accurate terms because they have the wrong connotation. (I realize changing the connotation is the whole reason that people use it.)

If I have a shirt in my possession that I stole from K-Mart, I could called it an "undocumented credit card purchase."

But the honest term is "stolen."

An immigrant who has snuck into the country is not merely "undocumented." A closer term would be trespassing.

This debate is made all the more difficult because the illegal immigrants I've known (or at least that I suspected of being such given their comments and behavior) have been deeply good people and very hard workers. But even good people can make bad choices, especially when they are trying to help their family.

It is immoral for us to continue to use illegal immigrants in our workforce. They are being denied the protections of laws that our country wants to be able to grant. The current system allows the workers and their families to be abused. It shouldn't be like that.

We need much more generous immigration quotas. The people are coming, and there is demand for their services. We need to bring them in and make them fully part of our society, with full access to our legal system and our legal protections.

But I do not favor amnesty. Too many people have worked too hard to do it the right way. We slap them in the face when we reward the people that have done it the wrong way. We need to make a path to citizenship for those that have come illegally, but it needs to be difficult and it ought to be at least as expensive as what we've made every legal immigrant go through.


Scott Hinrichs said...

I disagree that the immigration process needs to be onerous. What we need is a coherent national policy on immigration that permits as many immigrants as the nation can feasibly absorb. And by absorb, I mean Americanize.

It is not the difficulty of the process that makes it good for the country; it is the aim and outcome of the process that makes it valuable. Sometimes that translates into difficulty, but it doesn't have to.

When my Dad came to this country, a kind family that didn't know him at all 'sponsored' him out of the goodness of their hearts. They agreed to be responsible for him should he fail to provide for himself (no government handouts for him) or get into trouble with the law during his first five years in the country.

Dad already knew English as a second language, but he worked to learn the American version. He attended classes and read material to prepare him for citizenship. By the time he became a citizen he knew more about this country's history and civil workings than 95% of native adults. He was proud to become a full-fledged American. What a wonderful sense of dignity this process embued!

Today's immigrants are not being assimilated and Americanized like my Dad was. We need workable policies that turn our immigrants into real Americans.

Bradley Ross said...

Well, I see you making two arguments. You don't think the process should be onerous. But on the other hand you think that immigrants should have to do all the stuff that your dad did. I agree with your latter point since for nearly all people assimilation into our culture will be difficult.

My big concern with the amnesty thing is the unfairness of it. I think that everyone should have an equally difficult or equally easy time getting into the country and becoming a citizen. It shouldn't be easier for people who did it illegally to start with.

I really like the process that people go through to become citizens. I have a friend who is just completing the process. I have a post about that later this month after she is sworn in.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Bradley, I agree fully that all of our immigrants need to be treated equally. Check out Mark Steyn's take on this here. I think that our current legal immigration system has some significant flaws that need to be corrected, even as we work to correct the problem with illegal immigration. But all should definintely be treated equal under the system.

American scholar Shelby Steele opines here that we fail to enforce our immigration laws on the southern border in a vain attempt to atone for past cultural sins. He says that this is the same reason we do not act decisively in Iraq. It's an interesting (but quite politically incorrect) take on things.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you can't even pretend to be unbiased for a second. If the neutral term for pro-life is "anti-abortion," the neutral term for pro-choce is not "pro-death," as you suggest, but "pro-abortion."
- Marina

Bradley Ross said...

Hmmm. I wasn't really trying to provide a neutral term. I was trying to give an example of a label that could be used and a label that is used instead.

I hope you didn't get the impression I'm trying to be unbiased on a blog titled Hot Blava. I'm giving and defending my opinions. That is the definition of bias, is it not? I welcome your bias in the discussion as well since we can all learn something from other viewpoints even when we are not persuaded by them.