I turned on the Republican presidential debate last week and learned something. In today’s GOP, the correct term for a human being who crosses the U.S. border without a visa in search of a brutally difficult, poorly paid job that few native-born Americans wish to do but on which our national economy depends is “illegal.”
Not “illegal immigrant” or even “illegal alien,” which implies that the people cooking our food and making our beds arrived here by spaceship. But merely “illegal.” Maybe in the general election, when Mitt Romney goes trolling for votes in the Southwest, he’ll soften up and merely dehumanize America’s most vulnerable people via adjective. But when you’re battling Rick Perry and Herman Cain, adjectives aren’t good enough. You need the noun.
“Illegal” is the latest in a long line of euphemisms that politicians use to signal their antipathy to a reviled racial or ethnic group, in this case, Latinos. No, no, you say, this has nothing to do with animosity toward Hispanics; it’s about protecting the border and obeying the law. Really? Then why don’t we call the CEOs of the companies that hire illegal immigrants “illegals”? Our last three presidents all violated America’s drug laws. The current Treasury secretary violated America’s tax laws. Former House majority leader Tom DeLay recently was convicted of money laundering. I look forward to hearing Mitt Romney and Fox News refer to them as “illegals” too.
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