About DukeEngage Tucson 2010

Immigration is perhaps the single largest domestic challenge facing both the United States and Mexico today. People die nearly every week attempting to cross the border. Hostilities against immigrants in the U.S. rise daily. Local, state, and international relations are increasingly strained.

For eight weeks this summer, seven students have been given the opportunity to travel to Tucson, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico to study the many faces of immigration. Following two weeks of meetings with local activists, a Border Patrol agent, a federal public defender, lawyers, members of the Tohono O’odham Nation, maquiladora owners, Grupos Beta employees, migrants, and local farmers, we will spend six weeks partnered with Southside Day Labor Camp, BorderLinks, or Humane Borders in order to further immerse ourselves in the issues of immigration.

This blog chronicles our experiences and our perspectives on what we learn while here in Arizona. We hope our stories are interesting and informative.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

On using the term "Illegal"


I have often been frustrated with the media's (and sometimes friends and family) continued use of the word "illegal" to describe immigrants who do not have authorization to be in the United States. Not only is it grammatically incorrect, I also find it offensive. People break the law everyday, everything from rolling through a stop sign to much more serious offenses like theft and violent crimes. I don't know of any other group of people that has broken a law to be categorically called "illegal". I have never been called "illegal" by a police officer for committing a minor traffic offense, the privilege in this is that my character isn't questioned every time I walk down the street. No one assumes that I have done something wrong based on my appearance. "Illegal" is problematic because it conflates the crime of entering the United States without proper paperwork with being Latino. Laws like SB 1070 sanction racial profiling because looking "illegal" or looking Mexican is now a criminal offense. White law breakers aren't labeled "illegal", because that term has a specific racial implication.

Secondly, "illegal" is problematic because it frames an immigrants' entire identity and character around which laws they have broken or followed. Their very being and humanity is dismissed and replaced with a politically charged term. I say politically charged because it is neither a legally or grammatically correct term. I think "illegal" is meant to signal to community members, law enforcement and even family members that immigrants without papers are nothing more than law breakers. The intent is to over simplify the discussion and reframe it so that the root causes of immigration are completely absent from the debate. Instead of having a conversation with our friends or with media outlets about why people leave their ancestral lands, and cross a dessert where people die by the hundreds each year, advocates are forced into a semantics battle. We stop talking about the needs that compel migrants to make a harrowing journey. Needs like feeding their children and providing medical care to ailing parents. Needs that any decent person would try to meet for those that they loved regardless of whether it was legal or not.

So, let's stop playing a semantics game and talk about root causes. This post from feministing.com encourages you to contact the AP Style Book and lobby them to use "undocumented immigrant". You can email them here: info@apbookstore.com. And if you want to read about root causes, check out the rest of the blog :)

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