Immigration, U.S.A.


What is really important is not that the president of the United States referred to an undocumented migrant as an “illegal.” What does worry is that this comment normalizes the language, attitudes and policies of the most anti-immigration groups in the country.

It is true that Biden sent Congress, on his first day as president, a proposal to legalize millions. But when the principal promoter of an immigration reform starts to use the words of his enemies, it signals that things are not going well.

Biden used the word “illegal” during his recent State of the Union address, when he referred to the Venezuelan immigrant accused of killing Georgia student Laken Riley. The next day he said the man was “technically not supposed to be here.”And he told NBC later that he “should not have used the word. It’s undocumented.”

The correction is welcome. The words the president choses are important. But there’s something deeper here. If Biden uses the word “illegal” and talks about “closing the border,” then something essential has changed.

The debate over immigration, at this time, seems lost in the face of the insistence by the most conservative groups in the United States to reinforce and, if possible, close the border with Mexico. There is no talk of legalizing 10 million undocumented migrants or giving citizenship to the Dreamers. President Biden and the Democratic Party have surrendered all the gains made over decades and now support a bill that would put more patrols, resources and judges on the border.

I understand that something must be done, after 300,000 undocumented migrants crossed the border in December alone. But that is not the promise made to us. Fallen by the wayside are the mass marches, protests and pressures put on lawmakers to approve an immigration reform. Today the discussion focuses on the lies that Donald Trump tells about migrants. And they are many.

“I will stop the killing,” Trump said recently while talking about new arrivals. “I will stop the bloodshed. I will end the agony of our people, the plunder of our cities, the sacking of our towns, the violation of our citizens and the conquest of our country. These people are conquering our country.”

The reality is different. There is no “invasion,” like the former president likes to say. No invading country. No plunder, no killings. The majority of immigrants are not delinquents, and crime rates are not rising because of them.

A Stanford University study showed that immigrants are 60 percent less likely to be imprisoned than US born citizens. Other studies showed that migrants commit fewer crimes than US citizens and do not drive up crime rates

But despite that, Trump continues to say that “some of these people are monsters.”

That is the language – offensive, false, disqualifying – that is permeating the campaign for the presidency of the United States, and that must not be repeated. That’s why several organizations, like United We Dream, are urging Biden to avoid using the word again when referring to undocumented migrants.

The phrase, “No human being is illegal,” comes from Holocaust survivor and Nobel peace prize winner Elie Wiesel. “That is a contradiction in terms. Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?

The term “illegal” dehumanizes migrants and promotes their mistreatment. And it makes us forget how essential they are to the economy and culture of this country. We must remember that during the pandemic it was foreigners without documents who performed the most dangerous and difficult jobs. We cannot turn our backs on them now. The United States has a long and contradictory history on immigrants. Sometimes it accepts them, sometimes it rejects them. And we are now in a bad time.

I understand perfectly well that the situation along the border is unsustainable, and that it is necessary to find a practical solution. But nothing is gained by dehumanizing and insulting those escaping from the most violent and dangerous countries in the hemisphere.

And everything starts with using the right words. Language is always the beginning of change.

By Jorge Ramos Ávalos

Image by: Wikimedia with license Public Domain

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Jorge Ramos has been the anchorman for Noticiero Univision since 1986. He writes a weekly column for more than 40 newspapers in the United States and Latin America, and provides daily radio commentary for the Radio Univision network. Ramos also hosts Al Punto, Univision’s weekly public affairs program offering analysis of the week’s top stories, and Fusion’s AMERICA with Jorge Ramos, a news program geared towards young adults. Ramos has won eight Emmy awards and is the author of ten books, most recently, STRANGER - The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era.

A survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center found that Ramos is the second most recognized Latino leader in the country. Latino Leaders magazine chose him as one of “The Ten Most Admired Latinos” and “101 Top Leaders of the Latino Community in the U.S.”