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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Thursday, July 26, 2018

Trump admin’s “illegal alien” directive continues dehumanization of immigrants

Houston Chronicle (Editorial)
July 25, 2018
Trump admin’s “illegal alien” directive continues dehumanization of immigrants

The guidance, issued from the Department of Justice to U.S. Attorneys offices, seems straightforward enough, couched in legalese and the official terminology of the federal code:

An individual in the country illegally should be referred to as an “illegal alien” — not undocumented, according to an email obtained by CNN.

“The word ‘undocumented’ is not based in U.S. code and should not be used to describe someone’s illegal presence in the country,” the email states.

The goal of the guidance, the email explains, “to clear up some confusion and to be consistent in the way we draft our releases.”

Simple enough — in isolation.

Trouble is, this is not an isolated action. The new guidance is part of a war of words that began on the first day of President Donald Trump’s campaign on June 16, 2015, the day he rode down an escalator in the New York City tower named after him and proceeded to lob verbal bombs aimed at Mexican immigrants.

They were, he said, rapists, criminals, drug dealers.

Already, in those first moments of his nascent political ascent, he dragged the language used to describe a group of human beings down to the gutter.

In the more than three years since, in the 18 months of his presidency, the descent has continued. In Trumpian syntax, African nations are “shithole countries.” He conflates all immigrants with members of the MS-13 gang, which he repeatedly refers to as animals. He tweets of people coming to “pour in and infest our Country,” as if newcomers were swarms of insects. He warns that immigration is “changing the culture of Europe,” phrasing that evokes white nationalist philosophy.

The subverting of language has seeped into government agencies, with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services changing its mission statement to remove a passage that described this country as “a nation of immigrants.”

The language we use to describe communities is not mere window dressing. It impacts public perception and can drive national policy. It can be used to dehumanize and stoke fear. It has power and can feed prejudice. That is why Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin described certain groups of people as “vermin” or “parasites” or “poisonous weeds.”

That is why media outlets carefully consider how to refer to people in the country illegally. The Associated Press Stylebook, which is used by most newsrooms including the Houston Chronicle, notes that the term “illegal immigrant” should not be used and a person should not be described as “illegal.” According to the Chronicle’s style guide, the paper does not refer to people as “undocumented” or “illegal,” “unless in a direct quote. Rather, we can follow the AP style, which is someone ‘living in’ or ‘entering’ the country illegally, or use the term ‘unauthorized’.”

In June, the president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists issued a letter calling on newsrooms “to use fair and accurate language in describing people and families at the border. No human being is illegal and seeking asylum is not illegal.”

Words matter. They influence how we think, how we act. A 1975 Stanford University experiment found that when participants overheard an experimenter call another student “an animal,” they were more likely to give that person what they thought was a painful electric shock. Recently, a viral video showed a white woman echoing Trump’s language as she insulted a Latino man and his mother. “Even the president of the United States says you’re a rapist,” the woman tells the man, who was doing yard work.

That incident illustrates what can happen when xenophobic language becomes part of our daily vocabulary. It is up to us to guard against that — to keep our government agencies and elected officials in check, to monitor not just what they do, but what they say. It is up to us to hold this country — and ourselves — to the ideals of a more noble set of words. The sonnet by Emma Lazarus, engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty, is a good place to start:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …”

For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

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