Debate Forum 11/03/15

Sticks and stones…

By Tim Walker
Immigration, legal and otherwise, is a hot-button issue in politics these days.

With inflammatory rhetoric coming from both sides, the influx of non-native persons to the United States—and the effectiveness of immigration policies designed to deal with them—have become major issues in the current presidential campaign. Early in their runs for the nomination, the major candidates from both parties staked out their positions on immigration, and the issue has been discussed many times since: in the media, during the various debates and on the campaign trail.

Texas, due to its geographical proximity to Mexico, is a state where illegal immigration is always a major concern, as it is in neighboring New Mexico and Arizona. Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas introduced a bill last week that focuses on a different aspect of the immigration debate: Castro wants to ban the term “illegal alien” from being used by the federal government in all laws and documents. The “Correcting Hurtful and Alienating Names in Government Expression CHANGE) Act” changes the terminology in U.S. code and all federal agencies’ materials and documentation—specifically, it replaces the word “alien” with the term “foreign national” and the term “illegal alien” with the term “undocumented foreign national.” The bill also ensures that all executive branch agencies will not be permitted to use the terms “alien” and “illegal alien” in any signage or literature.

“Words matter, particularly in the context of an issue as contentious as immigration,” Castro recently said. He and other supporters of this measure say ending the use of these terms could bring civility to the debate over immigration.

“America is a nation of immigrants, yet our federal government continues to use terms that dehumanize and ostracize those in our society who happen to have been born elsewhere,” Castro said. “Removing these terms shows respect to our shared heritage and to the hundreds of millions of descendants of immigrants who call America home.”

According to the congressman, the language dates to the Naturalization Act of 1790: “While that may have been an acceptable term then, the word has come to take on different meaning now. When someone says aliens, we think of Martians or space aliens, not human beings.”

Precedent exists for changing words used by the federal government, he continued. For instance, the government removed the word “lunatic” and “mentally retarded” from statutes written in less enlightened times.

Opponents to the bill say it is just another example of political correctness gone mad. The government, they say, has more important things to worry about than using language that might offend this or that special interest group. Conservative candidates who oppose such measures, such as Donald Trump and Jeb Bush, were both criticized during their campaigns for using language considered insensitive to minorities and have been forced to defend themselves and their statements in the media. While Bush insisted his use of the phrase “anchor babies” was not a racial slur, Trump simply stated that he and the country “didn’t have time for political correctness.”

Proponents of Castro’s bill, including the League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Immigration Forum, counter that words matter, that phrases and language in our laws and terms used by our government make a difference. Removing a term like “illegal alien” from official use is no different, they say, than removing an offensive symbol such as the Confederate battle flag from government buildings.

Tim Walker is 50 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their 2 children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz and black t-shirts. Reach him atTimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

Freedom of expression

By Ben Tomkins

 

“Illegal alien” has lost its meaning.

Language is the most important thing human beings possess. Without language, we have no way of communicating, no way of expressing ourselves, short of grunts and pokes with medium sized twigs, and no ability to deal with the subtle and sophisticated range of thoughts and concepts that, well, at least most of us seem to have sometimes.

I happen to be a big fan of words, and their application is of no small concern. As an example, “illegal” is a word that has a wide variety of uses and meanings. Drugs, guns, protests and all kinds of things come to mind. “Alien,” even after I’ve said “illegal alien,” still retains some semblance of linguistic solidarity. Perhaps you’re thinking of Chewbacca, a Scorsese film about the Irish or I don’t know, my own dad.

Unfortunately, “illegal alien” doesn’t accurately express the concept of an individual who is living in this country without the proper authorization. My father, for instance, was a resident alien in this country for several decades. He’s an Australian who is now a U.S. citizen, and yes, even white, English speaking people have to take a citizenship test despite a charming accent.

Or would you prefer the term “permanent resident” for him? When you read “resident alien” and “permanent resident” did you see or think something different? Growing up, there wasn’t anything worth distinguishing as far as I was concerned, and although he was Australian, since he was married to my mom and, to the best of my knowledge, wasn’t committing any felonies, I somehow knew that nobody was coming to take him away. It just wasn’t a big deal other than I said annoying things to my classmates every second September like “yeah…we went to Australia again…woo.”

Now that he’s a citizen it’s a moot point. I can’t say for sure as it was a while ago and since he was married he could have stayed here for as long as he liked, but I think he just got tired of bitching about politics and not being able to slam home a voting lever like a slot machine made of hate. I can’t say that I blame him; there’s a lot of annoying things that happen in this country starting in seven months, and regardless of who wins the worst result is you get one to six years of bitching rights every time things go wrong.

That’s the problem with the phrase “illegal alien.” Not only is nobody thinking of people who look like my dad regardless of being in the United States legally or illegally. They just don’t. Occasionally someone reminds us that there are illegal Germans and French people who over-stay their visas, but I’m pretty sure I’ve made my point. I say “illegal alien” and too many people think of a spectrum of Hispanics taking our jobs, sucking off welfare or whatever other political junk FoxNews has crammed down your throat. We just can’t communicate any more using that term without adding far more stock to the sauce than we may have intended. It’s not an invitation to discuss a concept on the terms of my choosing, it’s an immediate statement of an extreme that I can’t control no matter how much I try to qualify it.

Gee Ben, what’s your alternative? Well, I think something like “undocumented immigrant” is at least less charged and retains some semblance of humanity these days. It feels a little more like “Jewish” and a little less like “Jew.”

This is the problem with a recent anti-politically correct movement from a particular side of the political spectrum that is bitching about boycotting debates like babies because of questions that are too tough. They don’t want to admit that words matter. Political correctness is not about soft-shoeing your way around important issues, it’s about making sure people understand what you mean when you say it. Personally, I care a great deal that people understand exactly what I mean, particularly if it’s on a large scale, and deciding that you’re going to “call a spade a spade”…

Well, perhaps you should think about the origin of that little phrase too.

How did you think I meant it? Am I a racist? Context and familiarity with a colloquialism altered that linguistic paradigm quite a bit. Now back it up ten years, 20, 30, etc., and tell me exactly what decade it starts to feel like I’m not meaning what I just meant.

I get that there are people out there who are frustrated with illegal immigration and undocumented aliens, but “illegal alien” has become a pejorative that expresses too much. I can’t use it casually without saying more that I want to say. Any word or phrase can have a large or small effect depending on context, but “illegal alien” takes over an entire sentence regardless, and even if you want to use it pejoratively, it’s going to hit people who find its racist undertones offensive differently than you want it to.

You can have a high-five session all you want about finding a friend that lets you say in front of them all the horrible things you say in the shower, but it still doesn’t make it OK. Political correctness when it comes to dehumanization is still worth the effort, and it’s time we find some new expression.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

Political correctness run amuck

By Rob Scott

 

Political correctness has gone too far as normal and of course you can count on a politician to find a way to go farther.

Not to discount folks’ feelings, but I truly believe there are larger issues to deal with in the U.S., like a growing deficit on entitlement benefits (i.e. social security, Medicare and more), terrorism or just maybe immigration policy.

Yet one individual is trying to change how “illegal aliens” are referred to in federal laws.

Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) has introduced the Correcting Hurtful and Alienating Names in Government Expression Act. The bill would remove the term “illegal alien” and replace it with “undocumented foreign national” and keep executive branch agencies from using “alien” or “illegal alien” in signage and literature.

There are an estimated 11 million illegal aliens currently in the U.S. that are in limbo right now. None of them pay taxes and could not, even if they wanted to. How about Congressman Castro introduce a bill on this issue? Or possibly attempt to work on providing true immigration reform in order to lessen the “illegal alien” numbers?

The League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Immigration Forum are backing Castro’s proposed legislation. A related initiative, called “Drop the I-Word” was launched in 2010 to advocate the use of terms such as “undocumented immigrants” or “unauthorized immigrants” to refer to the foreign nationals who reside in a country illegally. Many news organizations complied with the campaign including the Associated Press, which changed their style guide.

According to dictionary.com, an “illegal alien” is “a foreigner who has entered or resides in a country unlawfully or without the country’s authorization,” or “a foreigner who enters the U.S. without an entry or immigrant visa, especially a person who crosses the border by avoiding inspection or who overstays the period of time allowed as a visitor, tourist, or businessperson.”

“Illegal alien” is a perfectly acceptable term to describe someone who has immigrated to a country illegally when his or her immigration status is the subject at hand. As terminology, it’s thoroughly benign, devoid of any accusation or derision. It’s a given—or at least it should be—that saying that someone is an “illegal alien” in no way implies that person is illegal, as has so often been argued by the phrase’s detractors; it merely denotes immigration status. When you say that someone is a “terrible driver,” you’re obviously not saying the person in question is terrible, since the adjective “terrible” is associated only with how he or she is as a driver. The adjective “illegal” pertains only to the immigration status that’s implied in the term. Nothing more, nothing less.

The “alien” is a reference that has stood in U.S. policy and law since President George Washington, when the first immigration laws were passed. No, not the E.T. type of aliens from another planet, but rather an outsider who does not have privileges at the current location.

However, politicians still need their talking points.

“America is a nation of immigrants, yet our federal government continues to use terms that dehumanize and ostracize those in our society who happen to have been born elsewhere,” Castro said in a release.

“Regardless of status, immigrants to our nation are first and foremost human beings. Removing the term ‘alien’ from our federal laws shows respect to our shared heritage and to the hundreds of millions of descendants of immigrants who call America home.”

Congress has passed similar legislation before to remove offensive language from federal law, including the 21st Century Language Act, which removed the term “lunatic,” and Rosa’s Law, which removed the term “mentally retarded.”

“Words matter, particularly in the context of an issue as contentious as immigration,” Castro said. “Discontinuing our use of the term ‘alien’ will help lessen the prejudice and vitriol that for too long have poisoned our nation’s discussions around immigration reform,” he added.

Words really do matter and simply put what make up our form of communication. In order to address this objectively, one needs to think about their own situation of words that describe them. Thinking of words used in the past to describe me: dork, nerd, right-wing nut, neoconservative, tea-bagger, whack job, chubby, fat boy, funny white guy and scumbag attorney.

I propose we make all offensive language illegal to discuss. Probably we should just completely change the English language to remove any language offensive to anyone in the world. This way the world will be a complete utopia and no one will get angry.

If we do this, then no one can call me a right-wing neocon tea party whacky chubby white scummy attorney. Attorneys have feelings too.

Rob Scott is a general practice attorney at Oldham & Deitering, LLC. Scott is a Kettering City Councilman, founder of the Dayton Tea Party, member of the Dayton Masonic Lodge and Kettering Rotary. He can be contacted at rob@oldhamdeitering.com or gemcitylaw.com.

 

Tags: , , ,

Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Got an Opinion?

YourOpinionMatters

We are interested to hear what you think.  Please send us a message. [contact-form 4 “Opinion”]  

Springfield’s hidden gem

CoverHartman2

Referred to as an American Folk Art site, I didn’t know what I expected on my journey to Springfield’s Hartman […]

Debate 7/17: Flag on the Play

DebateBok

Q: Should persons with certain known behavioral tendencies such as suicide or violence be prohibited from owning guns? Legislatures across […]

Conspiracy Theorist 7/17: Hooray for Domino’s

Year after year, the same roads are torn up and road crews patch them. But they never really repair them. […]

On Your Marc 7/17: Good any day

First, a funny story. Larry Lee, the big tackle from Roth High School, for a number of reasons decided he […]

The Cult, Stone Temple Pilots, and Bush at Rose

CULT 2016 Tim Cadiente-2

“Rock and roll never forgets,” the classic rock song goes, and Billy Duffy, guitarist and founding member of the British […]