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"Illegal Immigrant" - Semantics or persecution? April 4, 2013

Objecting to the term "illegal immigrant" is simple semantics, opines Fox's Greta van Susteren in a debate with Jose Antonio Vargas. Seriously?

As a former trial attorney and with a Doctorate of Law to boot, Ms van Susteren appears woefully ignorant about the impact of technically incorrect and manifestly inflammatory terminology. In a court of law, would Ms van Susteren not strenuously object to her client being referred to as "the murderer" or "the rapist" rather than as the "accused" or the "defendant", in the absence of a conviction? Unless this country adopted the French Code Napoleon while we were all wondering about Mark Sanford's Argentinian mistress/fiance's legal status in the USA, we still assume a presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law. And while a person who allegedly enters this country without permission, or who allegedly overstays a valid visa, may be charged with an offense and perhaps even convicted, until so charged and convicted, the presumption of innocence must prevail. Anything less is factually incorrect, inflammatory and a travesty of justice and human dignity.

But perhaps that is precisely why we prefer to use the term "illegal immigrant" -- because it is so inflammatory, conjuring up images of undesirable invaders who are stealing our jobs, over-burdening our education and health-care systems and diluting our American gene-pool. A bit like the persecution of "Jews" in Germany 1939 and "wetbacks" and "niggers" in the 1950's and 1960's USA.

That we need a solution to the immigration debacle is beyond question. However a realistic, practical and workable solution will only be the result of both sides being respectful of one another, cognizant of the dignity and inherent goodness and patriotism of both sides of the immigration divide, and absent inflammatory name-calling.


The issue is not semantics, people living and working in the USA against the law are illegal immigrants. That a specific person in a court of law may or may not be committing an illegal act is a different matter altogether. The very fact that they are in court would imply some doubt about their status and therefore quite correctly should not be charged as illegal immigrants until proven one way or the other. However the phrase used in the context of policy and goes to the debate of whether the USA should have the right to restrict immigration at all. There is an argument that it should not and people should allowed to come and go as they please. The counter is that this simply has the effect of preventing the country from ever succeeding because as soon as it is a better place to live than the next country, worse off people in those other countries flock in to restore the status quo ante. So while that debate can continue, and as long as the law of the land is that immigration is regulated, people not complying with the immigration laws are by definition illegal immigrants. Just as we would call people that intentionally kill other people murderers. To say that the act of intentionally killing another person is an undoc**ented killing would be ludicrous; it is murder. To call a specific person a murderer until proven is a different matter. Likewise, euphemizing the phrase illegal emigrant avoids us talking about the real issue, and risks us assigning it to the "too difficult to deal with pile" as so often happens in DC.

One of the flaws in your argument, Mr Field, is that living and / or working in the USA without a visa is NOT a crime. It is only a civil offense. Therefore these people are NOT criminals. Almost half of the so-called "illegal" immigrants entered the country quite legally. Admittedly, crossing the border without permission is a crime, albeit only a misdemeanor and therefor not a deportable offense. But even this does not automatically prove that a crime has been committed - as is the case of children who are illegally brought into the country buy their parents - under certain ages children cannot be guilty of crimes - they are doli incapax. While YOU might choose to "call people that intentionally kill other people, murderers", that is not the law of the land. The criminal act of "murder" requires both mens rea, a blameworthy state of mind, and actus reus, unlawfulness of conduct. Thus, intentionally killing someone in self-defense is not murder. Criminalizing people or their conduct outside of a court of law is the thin edge of the wedge and the first step of vigilantism. Your comment that "euphemizing the phrase illegal emigrant (sic) avoids us talking about the real issue" is, with respect, the real reason that we are in this immigration disaster. I suggest that it is precisely because of the term "illegal immigrant" that Americans do not feel obligated to seek a solution. It is far easier to seek a solution to a human being who is undoc**ented than to sit down with someone who you perceive to be a criminal, even if the criminality is only an imagination born out of one's own ignorance and prejudice. The bottom line is that the undoc**ented immigrants, are here to stay. They are de facto residents of the USA. And with every screw-up by the USCIS, the number will increase. America cannot legally deport these people unless they commit deportable crimes. So we had better find a way to resolve the situation through immigrant integration rather than segregation.

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