This Journalist's Seamless Argument Against Calling People 'Illegals' Is Grace Under Fire

So much yes.

It is 2016, and there some words that society has largely agreed are offensive and unacceptable to use. But the term "illegal," used as a noun for people who migrate to countries without going through the required procedures, is still widely used today despite many people having deemed it a slur. 

As journalist and immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas wrote in TIME:

The term dehumanizes and marginalizes the people it seeks to describe. Think of it this way: In what other contexts do we call someone illegal? If someone is driving a car at 14, we say "underage driver," not "illegal driver." If someone is driving under the influence, we call them a "drunk driver," not an "illegal driver." Put another way: How would you feel if you — or your family members or friends — were referred to as illegal?

But usage of that term has yet to fade. Most recently, during an interview on MSNBC's "AM Joy," Maria Hinojosa of NPR's Latino USA launched an impassioned argument against describing undocumented immigrants as "illegals." 


"Illegals is not a noun," Hinojosa told Steve Cortes, a member of Donald Trump's National Hispanic Advisory Council, who had used the term. But when Cortes said he would use the term "illegal immigrant" instead, Hinojosa rejected his correction, saying:

What you can do is that you can say [an undocumented immigrant] is an immigrant living illegally or an immigrant living without papers or without documents in this country. But what you cannot do is to label the person illegal.

"The reason why I say this is not because I learned it from some radical Latino or Latina studies professor when I was in college," she continued. "I learned it from Elie Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust, who said, 'You know what? The first thing they did was that they declared the Jews to be an illegal people.' And that's what we're talking about at this point."

As we've learned this election, words do matter. Language is a powerful tool used to shape perspectives that form policies. Calling millions of people who have built lives in this country "illegals" not only negates their contributions and experiences, it also does nothing to further the discussion on immigration reform. The first step to progress? Not describing people as "illegals."


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