Coming To Terms With The Border

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Social/Cultural

There is an immigration debate going on in the U.S., but there is another debate within that debate. It’s about terminology. It seems that we can’t even agree on what to call people who cross our borders, illegally. Some prefer euphemisms while others want straight talk. Depending on your political or ethnic background, you will refer to these people in one of the following ways: illegal aliens, illegal immigrants, illegal migrants, illegal border crossers, undocumented border crossers, undocumented migrants or maybe even … economically or socially disadvantaged undeclared temporary border crossers (if this is your choice, you can stop reading now).

What you say reveals who you are

Journalists with major southwestern newspapers will probably refer to these people as undocumented migrants or illegal immigrants, depending to a degree on their ethnic backgrounds. There are “style book descriptions” prepared by news editors that tell journalists which term to use in a given situation, but some editors give considerably more latitude to writers. This is not democratizing the debate; it is clouding the debate.

The U.S. government is another story. According to the U.S. Border Patrol in El Paso, they have no guidance from Homeland Security on which term to use to describe these people. I know. I called, and the answer was, “We have no directive on that subject, but we have chosen to describe them as undocumented migrants.” When I asked a senior Border Patrol Agent why they chose this term, the answer was, “These people have not declared themselves to us as immigrants, and therefore we have decided to call them undocumented migrants as we believe they will come back.” I couldn’t resist asking, “How many of these people stop by your offices to declare their status?” The answer was, “Well, none, really.”

Adam and Eve: the first immigrants

Since Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden, millions of people have left their home countries and entered others. Some movements were migrations and diasporas, but many were for immigration purposes. Most of these happened long before laws regulated the process. Immigration is not just a legal issue; it is a moral, economic and social issue. That’s why we must see the problem from several perspectives. It has been said that if we use the term “illegal immigrant” to describe the millions of people inside our borders illegally, the Mexican government could be offended (the vast majority are from Mexico). So we allow the Political Correctness Corps to “soften the edges” for us and promote the use of “undocumented migrant,” lest anyone get upset by being called an illegal immigrant (migrants tend to go back home after awhile; immigrants don’t).  Whatever happened to calling a spade a spade?

The truth will set you free (maybe)

It’s estimated there are between 11 million and 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Does referring to them as illegal immigrants mean that we hate them or their home countries? Of course not, but calling them that does help us come to grips with the real problem: ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION. If we call them migrants, we don’t have an immigration problem, we have an undocumented worker problem, and that’s a very different issue with different remedies. People here illegally don’t want to go back to a life that is worse than the one they have here, to societies that can’t give them work or provide their children with decent schooling or adequate medical care.

Yes, other governments have let their citizenry down, but to be fair, many of these problems are global in nature. The solution, however, is not to move somewhere else, but to solve them at home. We must agree to discuss the problem, openly and honestly. Polls say most Americans want a long-term solution for illegal immigration, but realize that deporting 12 million people who have struggled mightily to get here is not practical, reasonable nor fair. Instead, we should value their human capital and potential and help them become productive, legal U.S. residents. That’s what America is all about: valuing and nurturing human potential, rewarding effort and promoting honest and fair treatment of everyone, regardless of their ethnic background. Does that mean we should look the other way and let bygones be bygones? Probably not, because that would send the wrong signal to them and to those who might follow them.

A land of laws and a lawful land

Many who hold a “gentler view” would bend our immigration laws and give these people a free pass, just this once. They say, “We can’t send you back, so you might as well stay here, and just don’t break any other laws, please, or we may be forced to consider punishing you.” Those of the opposite viewpoint will say, “You broke the law; you must pay a penalty, otherwise you won’t respect us and neither will anyone else.” How do we reconcile the views of these two groups? The answer is, we cannot, totally, because they represent two entirely opposite poles of thought. One is for selective obedience to the law; the other is for absolute obedience to the law. Instead, we must have a serious national debate and strongly urge our lawmakers to enact fair, enforceable legislation. Then we must abide by the decision no matter which side of the political divide it comes down on.

That’s the American way. And, by the way, there are other pressing problems that face North America that must be solved, and the clock is ticking. Some would say Adam and Eve were lucky. After being tossed out of paradise, they formed the world’s first democracy with only two parties and two votes. Certainly makes you appreciate the art of compromise, doesn’t it?

Stephan Helgesen is a Tijeras resident.


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