Drop the I Word

I just heard Monica Novoa of the Drop the I Word campaign on FAIR’s CounterSpin. The idea of the campaign is to get people to stop using the adjective “illegal” to modify human beings, as in, “He’s an illegal immigrant.” Frankly, I thought everyone had long ago given up that construction, if for no other reason than that it isn’t accurate: people aren’t illegal, acts are. Thus, we don’t refer to people who have been convicted of crimes as “illegals.” Thus, when speaking of non-citizens working in this country without authorization, we use the term “undocumented.” Here is what the website has to say on the issue:

Pervasive systems like media and government normalize their use and make it easier to deny people basic human rights through our written and unwritten rules. Use of the i-word ignores the fact that our laws are unjustly applied. Immigrants without documents are regularly hired as cheap, exploited labor. No one else who benefits from the set up, including the employers who recruit and hire these migrants, is labeled this way. No one should ever be labeled this way. No human being is illegal.

There were two things that I was surprised about in this matter. The first was that even non-right-wing news organizations continue to use the word “illegal” in this way. The second was that the original usage of the I word was explicitly created by anti-immigration activists. Even the infamous Frank Luntz has been part of this. So just in case you were still doing it: stop calling people illegal. When you do so, you are not only speaking inaccurately, you are taking part in political theater.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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