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Aw look! The UCLA student government is trying to make the world a better place! Isn’t that sweet, you guys? Granted, they, like most other hippie college students looking to improve the world for
attention the good of others, did so in a completely illogical and unnecessary way, but it’s the thought that really counts, right? The misguided, ill-informed, naïve attempts of college students to make the world a better place would be adorable if they weren’t usually so obnoxious.
Last week, the UCLA student government, basically apropos of nothing other than Janet Napolitano’s recent appointment as the University of California system president, passed a resolution banning the use of the phrase “illegal immigrant,” claiming that use of the phrase violates basic human rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Never mind that banning a word violates everyone else’s constitutional rights, but whatever, fuck it. Here are the highlights of that resolution, which you can read in its entirety here.
the use of the term illegals (the “I-word”) and its derivatives when referring to people dehumanizes and divides communities, contributing to punitive and discriminatory actions aimed primarily at immigrants and communities of color
Any time you singularly categorize a large group of people, you dehumanize them; that’s true whether or not that group is oppressed, disadvantaged, or however you’d like to view illegal immigrants. For example, “frat boy” dehumanizes guys in fraternities. The term strips fraternity members of their inherent individuality and makes us sound like we’re all a bunch of white, privileged, alcoholic, date rapists when the truth is the vast majority of us are just white, privileged, alcoholics. The specific terminology used in describing a group of people only, at best (if at all), affects the degree of dehumanization. Essentially, lumping people together, no matter how or why, overlooks the individuality of all those people being grouped together, thus dehumanizing them.
You can slap whatever PC term you want on illegal immigrants, but the problem is that they’re still all being lumped together despite the fact that each illegal immigrant is here for different, individual reasons. Some came here to legitimately make a living and a better life for themselves and their families, some (likely many of the UCLA students the resolution most specifically aims to help) came here as young children and therefore are illegal immigrants through no fault of their own, and others came here to be worthless leeches. Calling these people undocumented or unauthorized instead of illegal does little, if anything, to make them less dehumanized. A general, singular term still makes illegal immigrants a faceless group, and faceless groups are easy to thoughtlessly hate or discriminate against, no matter what you call them. You could call illegal Mexican immigrants “taco elves,” two of the happiest words in the English language, and people would still attack that faceless group for what they perceive them to be doing, not because of what they’re called.
“Gotdang taco elves DEY TOOK ER JERBS!”
Empathy is important when it comes to helping illegal immigrants, as is breaking stereotypes. This resolution undoubtedly aims to achieve both, but it fails miserably because it attempts to deny something that is actually true; these people are illegally in this country. That’s undeniable, even if it is unfortunate. What’s ironic is that while this resolution is more or less a steaming pile of PC dogshit, the actual “Drop The I-Word” campaign is attempting to do exactly what I just described; it individualizes the illegal immigrant students. My advice to the “Drop the I-Word” campaign would be to drop “Drop the I-Word.” It’s an obnoxious and unnecessary goal that detracts from otherwise good work, though I guess it is a catchy name, which can’t be discounted in the age of Twitter. However, through its admonishment of the term “illegal,” the resolution implies quite plainly that people who use the term either are, or are being, racist, which is bullshit. What you’re actually being by using the term “illegal immigrant” is technically correct, but since technically correct apparently isn’t politically correct, you’re an asshole if you adhere to using the former, according to the UCLA student government.
Congratulations, UCLA student government, you’ve accomplished nothing and alienated people in the process.
the racially derogatory I-Word endangers basic human rights including the presumption of innocence and the right to due process guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution
“Illegal” is not racially derogatory. Here’s the definition of “illegal immigrant” per Wikipedia:
Illegal immigration refers to the migration of people across national borders in a way that violates the immigration laws of the destined country.
If these people came into the United States of America, or are currently living in the U.S.A., in a way that violates our immigration laws, regardless of the sensibility of those laws or your opinion on them, they are illegal immigrants, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter if they’re a Mexican who hopped a fence into California or if they’re some 21-year-old Swiss art student who went on a three-day LSD trip into the mountains for inspiration and forgot the deadline to renew his student visa; they’re illegal.
Illegal, by the way, doesn’t automatically mean bad; by assuming as much the UCLA student government makes a mistake. Illegal just means illegal. It is what it is, deal with it. You’d be hard pressed to find a rational person who isn’t at least open-minded to the idea of letting hardworking, intelligent, contributing illegal immigrants remain in the United States. For example, if you asked me who I’d rather have living in America, a Mexican girl with a 3.2 GPA who is studying to be a social worker at UCLA, or a white, born and raised American hobro who lounges around the city of Austin all day, jobless and content with it, well then Chad would be painting his mediocre graffiti and feeding fast food to his malnourished dog that he has no business owning in a different country as soon as possible. Shit, even Rick Perry, who had possibly one of the most discriminatory presidential ads this side of George Wallace in U.S. history, is at least down with helping students like the ones the UCLA student government aims to defend first and foremost with this resolution.
“If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no reason than they’ve been brought there, by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart, I still support it greatly.”
That quote is from a 2011 GOP presidential debate, during which Perry explained his stance on offering in-state tuition to some illegal immigrants.
the I-Word is legally inaccurate since being out of status is a civil rather than criminal infraction
“Illegal” is definitely not legally inaccurate. Now you’re just arguing semantics.
LET IT BE RESOLVED that the Undergraduate Students Association Council believes: No human being is illegal; Human beings need to be central in immigration discussions in order to move toward a more civilized and humane tone in public discourse and policies on immigration; Foreign nationals, undocumented immigrant, unauthorized immigrant, immigrant without papers and immigrant seeking status are examples of terms we can use that do not dehumanize people. We can all stop unintentionally fueling racial profiling and violence directed toward immigrants, when we Drop the I-Word.
No human being is illegal; that’s technically correct. It’s not illegal for any person to be alive. How profound, UCLA student government. Imagining the prideful, reflective pause the three writers of this resolution must have taken after penning that sentence, which I half assume they all secretly believed was “I have a dream” or “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”-esque, makes me want to slam my head against my desk. They would have been better off reflecting on how useless this entire exercise was.
No human being is illegal — true. Immigrants, however, can be illegal, if they immigrate illegally, because immigration is an action, and “immigrant” is a term describing someone who is in the process of or already has committed said action. Distribution is legal. Being a distributor of any number of things is legal. However, if you distribute your goods in a way that isn’t in accordance with local, state or federal law, you are an illegal distributor. It’s the same thing.
“Human beings need to be central in immigration discussions in order to move toward a more civilized and humane tone in public discourse and policies on immigration.”
Agreed. Too bad you didn’t do that with this resolution, like at all. Instead, all you really attempted to do was address how you wished a large group of people would be described, without actually dissecting that group and highlighting their individuality and humanity. Illegal, undocumented; tomato, tomatillo. As I said before, the aim of this resolution makes illegal immigrants no less faceless, which if you want to truly achieve empathy, should be the point. The UCLA student government would be much better served highlighting the motivation, intelligence, and uniqueness of its students who happen to be illegal immigrants. Even if they had to do it anonymously, putting a personality, if not an actual face on the matter, would be a campaign that’s 1,000 times more effective than asking everyone to be more PC and calling them racist if they don’t comply. Remember, you’re going for empathy, not eye rolls.
Illegal isn’t a racial term. By ignoring the fact that people other than minorities can be illegal immigrants, the UCLA student government is fueling racial profiling as much as anyone else.
This resolution is the epitome of lame college activism. It reeks of white guilt, self-serving, pat-ourselves-on-the-back-for-being-good-people, PC bullcrap. Yes, Janet Napolitano was the head of Homeland Security and deported a record number of illegal immigrants during her tenure, though to put that all on her is to overlook hundreds if not thousands of other factors and players, including, you know, the Obama administration, which I have a hard time believing many of these students would care to blame. Why weren’t the three authors of this bill, all women, concerned about future male students being kept out of UC system schools in favor of potentially less qualified female students? Napolitano has a much more direct history with gender discrimination. Do I think that’s going to happen? No. I also don’t think the illegal immigrant students of UCLA have much to worry about from Napolitano’s appointment, and if they do, the UCLA student government should find a more constructive, intelligent, and generally useful way to help their peers, because this resolution sucks.