April 14, 2009 by Daniel Stack
I live in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts, a cluster of towns to the west of Boston. Like many areas of the US, if you were to look in the letters to the editor of the local newspaper, you will find lots of letters about “the illegals”. Here in MetroWest it is mostly about immigrants from Brazil.
My opinions on what to do about the matter of illegal immigration are another matter, but this posting is more concerned just with the term “illegal”. Especially when used as a noun. As in “I can’t stand the illegals.” A person is not illegal. A person is a person. Maybe it’s that annoying liberal Christian part of my personality, but it seems to me the whole point of such terminology is to dehumanize people. They aren’t people with dreams for their families. They aren’t people who do good and bad things, they are illegals. That’s all you need to know about them. All their faults, all their ambitions, all of their personality can be summed up into that one word. Illegal. And why do you need to worry about the humanity of someone illegal?
Even when used as an adjective or adverb, it is often used as the ultimate word of summary. “What part of illegal don’t you understand?” But we don’t use it such for other activities. Someone who speeds on the highway is not an “illegal driver”. We don’t consider all his other rights forfeit because he drove too fast. And the usage of the word with regard immigrants is used to suggest some massive crime while under US law being a non-citizen in the United States without a valid visa or green card is a misdemeanor versus being a felony.
Do I understand that it is still a crime? Absolutely. And I will be talking about that in another posting. But even a person who has broken the law is still a person with human dignity.