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Old 01-25-2010, 12:11 AM
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Jeanfromfillmore Jeanfromfillmore is offline
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Default Words become touchy subject in war over illegal immigration

Words become touchy subject in war over illegal immigration

Are they illegal aliens or undocumented workers? Illegal immigrants or unauthorized entrants?
In the raging debate over illegal immigration, words carry loaded meanings.
People on opposite sides of the issue insist on their own terms to describe people in the country illegally.
With so much at stake in the fight over the nation's future, words can't be tossed around lightly.
"Propaganda is all about language," said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington D.C.-group that favors strict limits on immigration. "You go back anywhere in history. Language has been used to influence the way people think. If you can influence the way people think, you believe you can control the outcome."
Mehlman's said his group uses the term alien because it's the legal definition of someone who is not considered a citizen under the law.
"Undocumented is not part of our vocabulary," he said. "An undocumented worker is a guy who left his wallet at home."
Those on the other side say alien is used to portray illegal immigrants in a negative light.
"To me, alien means not human," said Gil Navarro, a member of the San Bernardino County board of education. "Immigrants are human beings."
Federal immigration officials say the word alien has been part of U.S. law for centuries. The federal government's use of the term goes back to 1798, when it was used in the Alien and Sedition Acts.
"It's not a pejorative term. It's a term of law," said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "It's the accurate term to describe a foreign national who is in the country who is a noncitizen."
Elsa Valdez, a sociology professor at Cal State San Bernardino, said that immigration officials have an obligation to change with the times.
"These are certain assumptions that come with these labels, whether it's illegal aliens, or `Japs' or the `n' word," Valdez said. "When you have government agencies using that inflammatory and derogatory terminology, how can you can expect the public to recognize that they're humans just like everybody else?"
She said illegal alien conjures up images of people who are criminals. The term is applied to all Latinos in the United States whether they're here legally or not, she said.
"It doesn't just affect undocumented immigrants. It affects all of us," Valdez said.
State and local government agencies have a different term for describing illegal immigrants who request welfare benefits for their American-born children.
"Our Human Services departments tend to use the term `undocumented' because that's the word the state tends to use, so it's become habit," said David Wert, San Bernardino County spokesman.
The county doesn't have a policy establishing an accepted term or forbidding certain terms, Wert said.
Social service practitioners may prefer the term undocumented because their programs do not necessarily concern themselves with whether an immigrant is legal or illegal, but whether they have documentation to prove eligibility for certain programs, Wert said.
In the field of education, undocumented is the more appropriate word, according to the National School Boards Association.
"It doesn't have the stigma and doesn't sound as bizarre as alien," said Lisa Soronen, the Virginia-based association's senior staff attorney. "The problem with alien is it doesn't sound like a person."
In the school context, undocumented children aren't viewed as illegal because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that they have a constitutional right to receive a free public education from kindergarten through 12th grade, Soronen said.
Others say the word undocumented is used to soften the impact of illegal immigration and confuse the American people to make them sympathetic to illegal immigrants.
"It sugarcoats the criminal elements in our society," said Raymond Herrera, founder and president of We The People California's Crusader, a Claremont-based group opposed to illegal immigration.
Herrera said it's very important to use the right word in the immigration battle.
"It allows you to assess the problem and arrive at the right solution, which is to deport the illegal aliens and leave the legal immigrants in America alone," he said.
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