Thursday, May 18, 2006

People Can't Be "Illegal"

Words are very important.

At times we act as if they are not, but they always are.

Words symbolize meaning.

Words provide definition and understanding.

Words point up perceptions and assign significance.

Words set boundaries.

Words close and open doors.

Words classify.

Words clarify or confuse.

Words touch and tear.

Words can be hurled, thrown about or carefully chosen and considered.

Don't be fooled. Words are very important.

So, when I hear people use the descriptive phrase "illegal immigrant," I am offended.

The phrase offends deeply, beyond any passing sense of political correctness. I find the phrase spiritually offensive, inhumane, evil.

It reminds me of another phrase I refuse to use: illegitimate child. How can a child be anything but legitimate?

Actions can be illegal.

The failure to obtain the proper documentation may be an illegal act or an omission that is against the law.

But it is impossible for any person to be "illegal."

By definition people cannot be determined, declared or considered to be "illegal."

No person who understands the spirit and nature of humanity can reach such a conclusion.

I know, I know. My critics will tell me that the phrase does not intend nor imply this depth of judgment. There is no attack on human dignity here. The phrase simply intends to describe the actions of some who come to the U. S. from another country--those who arrive by taking steps that are against the law.

But, I'm not so sure that is the intention of many who throw the phrase about these days.

There is such a short distance between the two words. Even more telling is the proximity of the designation "immigrant" to the human beings who wear the label in the midst of our heated national debate.

So, I repeat: People can be undocumented. People cannot be illegal.

A person may lack necessary papers. A person cannot lack that which makes his or her existence acceptable.

There is a huge difference.

Words matter.

We must take care with our words. They have an affect on our hearts.


Todd said...

I agree Larry. Words shape our perceptions. (I have a similar post on my blog, although it has to do with the Bible.)

However, just as illegal is too harsh, I fear that undocumented may be too vauge.

We should adopt the same vernacular we use for individuals who have an illness:

Persons who are in America by legal means.

Todd said...

check my last sentence. It should read:

Persons who are in America by illegal means.


Larry James said...

Todd, I buy that.

Frank Bellizzi said...


I hadn't thought of it that way. Thanks for causing me to think of it that way. The "illegitimate child" analogy is powerful.

Caleb Rosado said...
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Caleb Rosado said...
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Caleb Rosado said...

Larry, it is so good to hear someone challenging this highly judgmental phrase. I have been saying that for years. People cannot be illegal; they are merely undocumented. And contrary to Todd's comment, it is not a "vague" expression. We Latinos have been using it for YEARS, I mean years. It is not of recent origin. On the other hand, no one talks of our northern neighbors across the border, as being "illegal", even though many of them have been in this country for years without documents. Thus the phrase is primarily used against Mexicans and Central Americans crossing the border "sin documentos."

Larry James said...

Caleb, thanks for your post!

I agree totally. Maybe someday we will learn in this nation.

Anonymous said...

No matter what they are called, they are breaking the law. I fear the next step the libs have in mind is giving them the right to vote.

Steve said...

Big man (or woman), anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, do you consider President Bush a "lib"? That is a bit of a reach, don't you think? Or, maybe it simply reveals the extreme position you hold.

IBreakCellPhones said...

Actually, there are lots of us who consider President Bush too liberal for our tastes.

Anonymous said...

As to G.W. Bush being a liberal, I would say yes! Look at his record. Bigger government, more intrusive government, and more international involvement than any president since FDR. Next to this president JFK is off the political spectrum - to the right! Now if he would just turn some of that government to protecting Americans from exploitation.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. A child is never “illegitimate” for just being a child. But if that child chooses to break the laws of a country by entering it illegally, then they have just defined themselves by their ACTIONS (not for their being). Just as “immigrant” defines a person by their chosen action (to immigrate), so does “illegal” define that person by their chosen action (to do so against the laws of the country).

What about other people who do things without obtaining the “proper documentation”? Is a person who drives a car without having earned a driver’s license an “undocumented driver”? Is a person who practices medicine or law with out a license an “undocumented Doctor or undocumented Attorney”? No, they did these things illegally. “I am driving my car illegally, therefore I am an illegal driver”. These people are committing crimes, thus they are criminals.

Perhaps “criminal” should be the more accurately descriptive term we should all use to describe those who (again) choose to act in ways contrary to our laws: “criminal immigrant”, “criminal emergency room patient”, “criminal student”, “criminal worker” (along with their “criminal employer”) and of course, the criminals who knowingly and willingly aid and abet other criminals who are breaking our immigration laws.