Monday, June 18, 2012

What's In a Word?

President Obama's executive order on Friday establishing his "Dream Act" without Congressional approval has refired a debate within the world of journalism.  It surrounds how to refer to those who will no longer face deportation as part of the program.

The Associated Press Stylebook, the "Bible" of newswriting, says those young people are "illegal immigrants"--since they are not in the country legally.  But some groups--like the Poynter Institute at the Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism--say the term "illegal" is "unfair" to those people--and that the term "undocumented" should be the accepted norm....

Using the word ‘illegal’ to describe an immigrant puts journalists in the position of being judge and jury ... It casts all immigration cases as black and white: legal or illegal. That leaves little room for this most complicated law’s nuances.

Some at Poynter go so far as to compare "illegal immigrant" to the "N-word".........
History is on our side ... The n-word and dehumanizing terms against lots of groups of people have been challenged and there has always at first been resistance.
What the folks at Poynter seem to be missing is that anyone who is in the country legally--or "with documentation" as they prefer--will derive ZERO BENEFIT from the Dream Act!  They already have work visas.  They already have a path to citizenship.  They are NOT BEING DEPORTED!  The Dream Act specifically covers those who are in the country ILLEGALLY!  And to not make that differentiation is not only inaccurate--but it's another slap in the face of those who rely on us for information on what is going on in the world around us.
What's next?  Drug dealers referred to "undocumented pharmacists"?  Molesting children referred to as "horseplay"? 
It is most unfortunate that the parents of these folks chose to come here in ways that are outside how the vast majority of our ancestors choose to take when they came to the US.  And it is an anomoly that the child of someone who snuck into the country born on US soil is automatically a citizen.  But to pretend that the FACT that a person is within our borders without permission is still a FACT.  And trying to use a different term for that still won't make it go away.

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